12

September

2012 NFL Regular Season Week 2: Packers – Bears Preview

Clay Matthews sacks Jay Cutler

Clay Matthews sacks Jay Cutler

To quote the Black Knight from Monty Python, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

The Green Bay Packers (and to an extent their fans) took one right in the chops during the season opener last Sunday at Lambeau, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 30-22.  The Packers made a game of it late in the second half, but thanks once again to putrid play by the Packer defense and some assists from the replacement officials, the Packers start the season 0-1 for the first time since Mike McCarthy’s rookie year as head coach in 2006.

Thankfully, the time for licking wounds and taking heat from rival NFC North fans is very brief this week as the Packers face their archrival Chicago Bears Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Bears are 1-0 after a 41-21 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.  They are currently tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions at 1-0 atop the NFC North.

While no Week 2 game is truly a “do or die” proposition, starting 0-2 with two conference losses and one loss to a divisional foe is not a hole the Packers want to be in. With the Lions already dangerous and the Bears showing marked offensive improvement, the last thing the Packers want is to play a game of catch-up when their defense is already suspect.

Let’s take a look at the Bears

Scouting the Bears

Though he’s a subject of scorn and ridicule amongst Packer fans (as well as the other 30 teams in the league), Jay Cutler had a great season debut and the chemistry between him and Brandon Marshall picked right up where they left off when they were last together in Denver in 2008.

Cutler finished 21 of 35 yards for 333 yards and two touchdowns along with one interception. Marshall racked up 119 yards on nine catches and had one touchdown.  Yes, the Colts secondary is poor, but the Packers don’t exactly have an elite defensive backfield either outside of an aging Charles Woodson.

Throw in a happy Matt Forte who signed a new contract in the offseason and the Bears suddenly have an offense to be reckoned with.   If Cutler can avoid the boneheaded throws and bad decisions, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the game.  Do not underestimate Cutler’s abilities. He has the tools.

26

December

Packers vs. Bears: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 35-21 Win over Chicago

Jermichael Finley was a catalyst for the Packers' opening touchdown drive. (Photo: Rick Wood, JSOnline)

Behind five touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers wrapped up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and won a franchise record 14th game in 2011 with a 35-21 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Five observations from the game:

1. Next man up

The Packers makeshift offensive line bounced back in a big way Sunday night. Facing one of the better defensive lines in football, Rodgers wasn’t sacked and rarely was hurried. The banner performance came from left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who all but took All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers out of the game. This was a big time performance with just two players, Scott Wells at center and Josh Sitton at right guard, starting at the same position they did to begin the 2011 season.

2. Missing Pickett

It’s been shockingly evident how much the Packers miss Ryan Pickett up front. Without him the past two weeks, the Packers’ run defense has been gashed repeatedly. On Sunday night, third-string running back Kahlil Bell ran for 121 yards as the Bears totaled 199 on the ground. If not for a big lead in the third quarter that took the Bears out of their game plan, Chicago could have ran for 250 or more yards. Getting Pickett back will help, but the gap discipline from the run defense has to be much better. They were all over the place against the Bears. Frank Gore, Michael Turner and the rest of the NFC running backs had to be salivating watching Sunday night.

3. End of discussion?

Is the case finally closed? After a week of MVP debate surrounding Drew Brees and Tom Brady as potential candidates, Rodgers might have stamped his name on the trophy with his first career five touchdown passing game. He now has 45 passing touchdowns and 48 total on a 14-1 team. If that doesn’t win you the MVP, I’m not sure what will.

4. Making their case

Think all the “blueprint this, blueprint that” talk fell on deaf ears in the Packers’ offensive meetings? Not the case. James Jones, who caught two touchdowns Sunday night, mentioned after the game how that discussion was motivation for the offense to put their best foot forward against the Bears. Mission accomplished. Jones had one of his finest games of 2011, Jordy Nelson went for 115 yards and two scores and Jermichael Finley was the catalyst for the Packers’ opening touchdown drive. Even though Greg Jennings is expected back for the playoffs, this was a confidence-restoring performance for the Packers’ passing offense.

23

December

2011 NFL Season Week 16: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Preview — Home (Field) For The Holidays

Packers vs. Bears

Packers vs. Bears

After giving their fans a lump of coal last week in Kansas City, the Green Bay Packers look to make amends and stuff Packer Nation’s stockings with home field advantage for the playoffs as well as beating their despised archrival.

A week after suffering their first loss of the season, the Packers return to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field to take on the Chicago Bears Christmas night on national television.   Should the San Francisco 49ers lose on Saturday to the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers will have home field wrapped up before they take the field and there is the possibility Mike McCarthy could rest his starters.

Should the 49ers win, the Packers can secure the NFC number one seed with a win over the Bears.  The game plan could go one of two ways depending on Saturday’s outcome.

Regardless, the Packers come into the game with a battered offensive line.  Bryan Bulaga is out this week with an ankle injury and Derek Sherrod, Bulaga’s replacement, broke his leg in gruesome fashion and is out for the remainder of the year.  Throw in an off day by Aaron Rodgers and his receivers in Kansas City, and the Packers have plenty of motivation to play well even if they have the top seed locked down.

The Bears meanwhile are looking like they could be in a complete tailspin. With top offensive players Jay Cutler and Matt Forte sidelined, the Bears turn to Josh McCown at quarterback after Caleb Hanie stunk up the joint the past few weeks.  Marion Barber carries the load on the ground.  The Bears also lost Johnny Knox to a scary injury last week, though Knox fortunately was able to gain feeling back in his extremities.

Let’s look at the key Bears to watch on Sunday.

QB Josh McCown

I would normally say this should be all too easy with the Packers facing a quarterback that is out of practice and having one the best ball hawking secondaries in the league.  After watching their performance against a supposedly rusty (and injured) Kyle Orton a week ago, I’m not taking anything for granted.

McCown is already a legend to Packer fans after he led the Arizona Cardinals to a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 that clinched the NFC North for the Packers, and fans hope he wraps a few more gifts on Sunday in the form of interceptions.

2

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Chad Clifton

1) Introduction: A couple of games into the 2010 season, many of us were convinced Chad Clifton was finished. He looked old, slow, overmatched and hobbled. Replacing Clifton with rookie Bryan Bulaga seemed like a logical move to avoid getting Aaron Rodgers killed. But Mike McCarthy insisted that Clifton was banged up, and that once he got healthier (we probably will never be able to say Clifton is fully healthy), he would keep his job. That patience paid off.

2) Profile:

Jeffrey Chad Clifton

Position: T
Height: 6-5    Weight: 330 lbs.

Born: June 26, 1976 in Martin, TN
College: Tennessee (school history)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 2nd round (44th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Above average. Clifton signed a three-year, $20 million contract in the offseason. Normally those types of salary figures come with high expectations, but I’m not sure that was the case with Clifton. Everyone could see Clifton was aging and breaking down, and he was resigned because he was the only other logical option (unless you were comfortable with Bulaga the rookie). Not many expected a pro bowl season out of the grizzled veteran.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Clifton took on Peppers for most of the season finale and kept him away from Rodgers. He also handled Lamar Woodley and James Harrison during the Super Bowl. Lowlights included a bad first two games and giving up a costly sack late in the Redskins game.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Significant. It was a down year for left tackles in the NFC, but that shouldn’t diminish Clifton’s pro bowl selection too much. Clifton never blinked against the likes of Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. He wasn’t quite lights out in pass protection, but he was very good. Clifton struggled to run block, but he was probably just saving his energy whenever the Packers called a running play so he would be fresh to protect QB1.

6) Player’s contributions during the 6-win end-of-season run: Clifton was a big reason why Rodgers played his best football down the stretch. Clifton was left on an island against some solid pass rushers late in the season, and he delivered big time. You could sometimes see Rodgers get a little jumpy when he saw Bulaga engage his man near the line. That was never the case with Clifton.

12

February

NFL Concussion Conundrum is Enough to Make You Feel Woozy

One of the biggest headlines during the 2010 season was the issue of player safety, most notably concussions. After a congressional hearing criticized the NFL for not taking the matter more seriously, the NFL took to the issue with a renewed fervor. What resulted was mass confusion for everyone; players, coaches, referees, the media and the fans had no idea what constituted an illegal hit.

This was followed by frustration by many players, most notably Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who was fined upwards of $10,000 per infraction. Harrison lead the league in fines (with over $100,000) and criticism (with a meeting with commissioner Roger Godell in New York and a fiery jab during the Super Bowl media day) and even threatened to retire should these fines continue.

I believe that the NFL is heading in the right direction, concussions are a serious matter and the ramifications for players as they retire and grow older can be devastating, but the system with which officials determine what constitutes an illegal hit and the repercussions that the NFL enforces afterwards are a little baffling.

The first issue, of course, is what constitutes an illegal hit due to the threat of concussion. While some hits, such as the Julius Peppers’ hit on Aaron Rodgers during the NFC championship game are pretty obvious, others, most notably when defenders end up hitting quarterbacks on the head, are a little harder to explain (such as Trent Cole’s “hit” on Peyton Manning this season). Perhaps if Deacon Jones was still playing and axe chopping quarterbacks that might be an issue, but usually these penalties occur when defenders are trying to bat balls or throwing arms and their hand coincidentally ends up touching the quarterback’s helmet.

The second issue comes from how penalties are handed out. These hits are treated as personal fouls, with a 15 yard penalty, an automatic first down and a likely monetary fine somewhere down the road. A 15 yard penalty with an automatic first down is a good start, the percentage of success for an offense rise exponentially based on their position, so usually such a large penalty will result in points, but if a cornerback can be penalized 45+ yards for pass interference holding by a wide receiver’s arm, hitting a defenseless receiver or knocking out the quarterback should probably be a bigger penalty.

27

January

Aaron Rodgers and Illegal Hits: When Will the NFL Walk the Talk?

When I read that Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was fined $10,000 by the NFL today for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s NFC Championship, one thought and one thought only went through my head:

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

For a player who recently signed a huge free agent contract that could total $91.5 million, $10,000 is like pennies to you and me. During the regular season, the NFL apparently made it crystal clear to teams and players that hits that involve the leading of the helmet would not be tolerated and would be met with stiff fines and possible suspensions.

If $10,000 is a stiff fine to multi-millionaires, then I’m the King of England.

Look at Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (who the Packers will face in Super Bowl XLV). He has been fined for times for illegal hits and the fines total $125,000 for an average of roughly $31,000 per offense. Again, pocket change to the millionaire players of the NFL.

But let’s get back to Peppers, and more importantly for Packer fans, Rodgers.

This is not the first time Peppers has rung Rodgers’ “bell.” In a regular season game at Lambeau Field in 2008, Peppers was flagged for a bruising hit on Rodgers out of bounds when he played for the Carolina Panthers. That hit can be seen here: Julius Peppers Nails Aaron Rodgers

If the NFL really is taking multiple offenses seriously, why aren’t they looking at past seasons so they can definitively establish a pattern of illegal hits from a player? As a lot of fans are so fond of saying when criticizing coaches, it’s not one game—it’s the “body of work.”

Worse yet, this fine once again raises a question that Packer fans have been asking over the past year and maybe more:

“Why is the league so interested in protecting 31 other quarterbacks but not Aaron Rodgers?”

Is some of this fan protectionism of “their” guy? Possibly. Have other quarterbacks taken shots like Rodgers has and not had a flag thrown? No question.

Still, it seems like Rodgers takes more illegal hits that don’t get called than any other quarterback in the league. The question everyone is asking is: why?

24

January

Packers Game Balls and Lame Calls: NFC Champions Edition -On to Super Bowl XLV

First of all let me get one thing out of the way:

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, with that out of my system let’s move on.

Green Bay Packers 21, Chicago Bears 14. The Packers are headed to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 6.

As thrilling as the spoils of victory have been, the game turned out to be a near 60 minute heart attack for Packers. The game wasn’t over until a Sam Shields interception with under a minute to play after the Packers let the Bears back into the game after getting out in front 14-0.

So who gets a Game Ball and who gets a Lame Call for the NFC Championship?

Let’s take a gander.

Game Balls


RB James Starks

Starks didn’t break the century mark, but his ability to break some big runs opened up a lot of playaction opportunities for the passing game.
As the sudden “star” of these 2010 playoffs, “Neo” (as Starks is called) has given much needed life to what was a lifeless Packers rushing attack and finally helped bring the Packers” offense into balance at the most critical time of the year.

His touchdown run put the Packers up 14-0 and the Packers were able to remain aggressive on defense the rest of the game, allowing Dom Capers the chance to work his magic to ensure the Bears had no chance.

CB Sam Shields

His two picks were crucial to sealing the Packers win, with his second one being the obvious dagger to the heart of the Bears’ hopes of advancing to the Super Bowl.

Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent. Not bad at all.

NT B.J. Raji

The Bears had “The Fridge,” now we have “The Freezer.”

Raji showed off his underrated pass coverage ability picking off Caleb Hanie deep in Bears territory and taking it in for the touchdown.

After nearly channeling his inner Leon Lett by holding the ball out in celebration before reaching the end zone, Raji put an exclamation point on his emergence this season as one of the most athletic nose tackles in the NFL.

QB Aaron Rodgers