3

January

Will Packers Defensive Coordinator be up for the Task against 49ers?

Time for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to step up on Sunday.

The fate of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers likely will not be decided by what happens on Sunday against the 49ers, nor should it be. Decisions on whether to hire or fire a coach should not be made based on a single game.

But if Capers gets outclassed by Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers yet again, Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy would at least have to swallow hard before deciding to stick with Capers for the 2014 season.

Under Capers, the Packers defense has been completely run over by the 49ers. In their last three meetings. San Francisco has:

  • Averaged 483 total yards
  • 200 rushing yards
  • 5.5 yards per rush
  • 284 passing yards
  • Completed 67 percent of its passes
  • Averaged 35 points.

And all of those abysmal performances came with Clay Matthews healthy and playing.

This entire Packers season has been about hanging in there, catching a break here and there among all the injuries and chaos, and eventually persevering. That’s exactly what the Packers need from Capers and his defense on Sunday.

We’re not asking for a shutout or a repeat of the 1994 wild-card game where the Packers held Barry Sanders to -1 rushing yards. A handful of three-and-outs mixed in with a couple of turnovers will be perfectly acceptable. Oh, and consistently getting off the field on third down would be nice.

It’s nice having Aaron Rodgers back and all, but let’s not make him feel like he has to score every single time he has the ball.

In their last three playoff losses, the Packers have allowed 45, 37 and 51 points. It’s time for Capers and his defense to step up in a big spot and come through. Yes, I realize the defense is filled with young and inexperienced players — I don’t envy any defensive coordinator who has to rely on Andy Mulumba and M.D. Jennings as much as Capers does — but Packers fans stopped caring about excuses a long time ago.

Very few Packers fans think Capers is up for the task. Very few Packers fans also thought Green Bay would make the postseason. When the Packers are down and out, they usually end up rising and proving a lot of people wrong.

30

December

Yell it Loud Packers Fans: KUUUUUHHHHHHNNNNNNN!!!!!!!

Aaron Rodgers

Take that, Chicago Bears. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates after connecting with Randall Cobb for the winning touchdown.

Since Packers fans at Soldier Field were too nervous to do it during the game, let’s honor Packers fullback John Kuhn right now with the signature yell:

“KUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!”

Why are we staring at our computer screens and yelling KUUUUUUHHHHHNNNNNN!!!!? Because without John Kuhn, the Packers probably don’t beat the Bears and win the NFC North for the third season in a row.

Facing 4th and 8 with the season on the line, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown with 38 seconds to play. Guard T.J. Lang described the pass protection on the play as a “clusterf***”, and he was right.

When rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari didn’t hear Kuhn’s protection adjustment, future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers came unblocked and had Rodgers locked into his sights. Green Bay’s season looked like it was about to end because they forgot to block one of the best pass rushers of the last 10 years.

Then Kuhn dashed over and cut Peppers down at the last minute, allowing Rodgers to roll left, connect with Cobb, and strike the greatest celebration pose of all time (see picture in upper right).

Maybe James Starks or Eddie Lacy is able to make that block, but I doubt it. We’ve seen Rodgers chew out Starks for missing blocking assignments several times and Lacy is still a rookie learning the ins and outs of pass protection.

Kuhn is on the team for his pass blocking and he showed why on that play. Not only did he recognize that Peppers was coming free, but he also made the block. And it was anything but an easy block.

Earlier in the drive, the Packers faced 4th and 1 from their own 22-yard line. Instead of punting, coach Mike McCarthy went for it and Kuhn crashed ahead on the fullback dive, picking up the first down with about 10 inches to spare.

The fullback dive to Kuhn is easily my least favorite play in the Packers playbook. Kuhn isn’t a good runner and when he gets it from the fullback position, he usually doesn’t have enough momentum to surge ahead and pick up the yards he needs. Well, it worked this time and Kuhn deserves a ton of the credit.

15

January

Packers Stock Report: Season’s Over Edition

Sam Shields was one of the bright spots for the Packers against the 49ers.

The Packers season is over. They got smoked by the 49ers in the NFL playoffs on Saturday night.

I’m sick of writing about it. I’m sick of talking about it. I’m sick of thinking about it.

On to the stock report:

Rising

Sam Shields
The combination of Shields getting healthy and realizing he’s a restricted free agent really got him going. Shields will likely get a first-round tender and I expect the Packers to open their checkbooks and lock him up for the next few years. Let’s hope he stays motivated, keeps improving, and plays like he did down the stretch.

James Jones
With Greg Jennings likely gone and Jermichael Finley possibly following him out the door, Jones can establish himself as an upper-echelon receiver next season. Jones came to play on Saturday night. It was nice to see Jones use his size a bit this season. I always thought he played smaller than he was, but he went up and got a few balls in traffic this season and played angrier.

Marshall Newhouse
How often did we hear about Newhouse down the stretch? Hardly at all. And that’s a good thing. Jared Allen and Aldon Smith didn’t do much against Newhouse in the last three games. I was thinking about the offensive line today. Would T.J. Lang have any trade value? He’s young, decent enough, and has a favorable contract. Perhaps the Packers could move him for an extra pick and the line in 2013 could be Newhouse at LT, Barclay at LG, Dietrich-Smith or a rookie at C, Sitton at RG, Bulaga at RT, Sherrod as the backup T and Dietrich-Smith or a rookie at backup G. Who knows. This is just me daydreaming and pretending I’m Ted Thompson.

Steady

DuJuan Harris
Another solid game for Mr. Car Salesman. I have no idea why McCarthy ignored Harris in the second half against the 49ers. Look for Harris to be in the mix for the starting running back job next season.

Clay Matthews
Matthews probably belongs in the rising category. He closed the season strong and I’m looking forward to getting Nick Perry on the other side once again for next season.

Falling

13

January

Packers Defensive Struggles Go Beyond Capers

Are Dom Capers’ days in Green Bay over?

Before you read further, I want to make one thing clear: This post is not a defense of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. After the Packers got shredded for almost 600 yards on Saturday night, Capers cannot be defended.

Go ahead and call for Capers’ firing and criticize him all you want. He deserves it.

However, Green Bay’s problems on defense go much deeper than Capers. I don’t think there was any magical scheme that Capers could have come up with that would have stopped the 49ers from winning Saturday. San Francisco was bigger, stronger, faster and tougher than the Packers. It’s too simple to just pin that performance solely on the guy with weird hair who sits in a booth high above the field.

Look at the Packers’ linebackers. Brad Jones, Erik Walden and A.J. Hawk are no match for a team like the 49ers. An elite offensive line combined with an athletic quarterback, bruising running back, and talented tight ends? The 49ers had to be salivating all week while watching film and preparing to face that unfearsome trio.

The Packers are built to take a lead, then play aggressive defense that relies on blitzes and creating turnovers. They’re not the type of team that is able to stand toe-to-toe against physical teams and out-tough them. That’s extremely frustrating, but true.

I suppose Capers deserves some blame for his defense’s lack of toughness, but I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do to prevent Walden from losing contain over and over or Jones looking helpless trying to chase down Colin Kaepernick.

Again, Capers’ gameplan was pathetic on Saturday (no spy on Kaepernick?). There’s no excuse for it. He probably deserves to get canned.

But even if he gameplanned better, I’m not sure if the Packers could have pulled that one off. The 49ers are a better team, a tougher team. Regardless of who is calling the plays, the Packers are not a team that is able to line up and feel confident that they’re better physically than their opponent.

Getting Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and D.J. Smith back should make the Packers defense tougher next season. Further development from Jerron McMillian should also help.

Go ahead and vent about Capers. He deserves it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that some magic scheme could have shut the 49ers down on Saturday.

10

January

How the Packers Should NOT Guard Randy Moss on Saturday

Randy Moss

There’s no reason to treat 2013 Randy Moss like 1998 Randy Moss

When the Packers play the 49ers on Saturday night in the NFC divisional playoffs, they need to remember that it’s 2013, not 1998, and treat Randy Moss accordingly.

Here’s video from the Packers vs. 49ers from week one. That’s Moss at the top of the screen. That’s Jarrett Bush lined up across from Moss, waaaaaaaayyyyyyy across from Moss.

In 1998, Moss’s rookie season — the season where he torched the Packers and altered Green Bay’s future draft strategies — Bush was 14 years old. He very likely has little or no memory of Moss’s dominance over the Packers from 1998, but you would never know that based on how Bush treats Moss on this play.

Bush lines up 10 yards off the now 35-year-old Moss, and starts back-pedaling as soon as the ball is snapped. It’s like Bush thought Moss must have taken a bath in the fountain of youth before the game.

Alex Smith connects with Moss for an easy 20-yard gain.

I know it’s Jarrett Bush, the same Jarrett Bush who will not be playing any coverage (hopefully) on Saturday night. But I don’t care who it is: There’s no reason to be scared of 2013 Randy Moss. Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Sam Shields. Hell, even Charles Woodson if it comes to that. Regardless of who guards Moss, they need to get on him and not worry about getting beat over the top. No 10-yard cushions and immediate back-pedaling.

Moss is old. He’s still serviceable, but he’s no longer scary. There is no reason to poop your pants when matched one-on-one with Moss.

Dom Capers has said before that he gives his corners the option of playing press or playing off whomever they’re guarding. There’s a chance that the Packers’ corners are still buying the myth of Moss as a big, bad, scary deep threat, and don’t want to be embarrassed by getting torched deep on national TV.

That is nonsense, and Capers needs to make sure his corners know that this week. If any of them talks about giving Moss a big cushion, Capers needs to hit the offender with a stick.

I don’t expect Moss to be a major factor on Saturday. Hopefully the Packers don’t turn him into a factor by being scared of him.

9

January

Packers Spread Formations can Keep 49ers’ Willis off the Field

Patrick Willis

49ers LB Patrick Willis might spend a lot of time on the sidelines if the Packers spread things out.

The Packers best bet to to overcome the physicality and viciousness of the 49ers’ defense in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game might be to go with four and five wide receivers and spread things out.

Yes, the Packers’ running game has shown signs of life in the last month. But do you really think the Packers will win Saturday because they line up against San Francisco and blow them off the line in the running game? Doubtful.

You know how teams say the best way to slow down the Packers is with long possessions on offense that keep Aaron Rodgers of the field? The best way to attack the 49ers’ defense might be to try and get one of their best players off the field.

If the Packers use a bunch of four- and five-wide sets, it likely means that San Francisco’s all-pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis will spend a lot of time on the sideline. The 49ers will need another defensive back, probably Perrish Cox, on the field to deal with the Packers receivers instead of Willis.

What gives the Packers a better chance of winning? Running at a stout 49ers defense with Willis manning the middle of the field? Or using four or five receivers and putting the game in the hands of Aaron Rodgers while Willis watches from the sidelines? I vote for the latter.

All the Packers receivers are finally healthy (or at least healthy enough to play). Might as well use them, right?

Of course, the Packers should mix in run and power plays when needed. This isn’t Madden on the PS3. But spread sets and passing should set up those traditional formations and running plays, not the other way around.

Justin Smith, San Francisco’s mauling defensive lineman, will be slowed by a shoulder injury, which should reduce some of the stress on the Packers’ offensive line. Either way, there will be a lot of pressure on the offensive line to hold up and on Rodgers to make decisive throws if a receiver gets just an inch of separation.

The chess match on Saturday night will be interesting.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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9

January

Are the Packers Underdogs Against the 49ers? Depends What you Think of Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

Can you really call a team with Aaron Rodgers at QB an underdog?

Las Vegas has the Packers as three-point underdogs against the 49ers in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game. The vibe I get from most NFL pundits and talking heads also points to the Packers being underdogs.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking the Packers are underdogs. The 49ers are better on both lines, have an elite group of linebackers, an athletic tight end, and a bruising running back. All of these things typically give the Packers fits.

But I’ll be picking the Packers to win. I don’t think a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback is an underdog.

If we get the Rodgers from week one against the 49ers on Saturday night, well, then yes, the Packers will likely lose and I’ll look like an idiot. Rodgers was under siege and indecisive in the season-opener. He didn’t look prepared for the 49ers’ speed and the whole offense looked lost because it couldn’t march down the field like it did so easily throughout 2011.

A lot has changed since that opening-week letdown.

  • New faces on the offensive line and in the backfield have sparked the Packers running game.
  • The defense, especially the secondary, is more aggressive and improved.
  • Rodgers recovered from his shaky opening week and went on to have another MVP-type season, even if he flew under the radar compared to 2011.
  • Rodgers now realizes that he has to make plays under duress, whether that means scrambling or navigating his way around a hectic pocket and making plays downfield.
  • Rodgers is aware of what winning in the playoffs means for his legacy. Winning a wild-card game at home against Joe Webb doesn’t do much for his legacy. Winning a road divisional game against the team that passed him in the draft does.

Greg Cosell from NFL Films said on Tuesday that Aaron Rodgers is not playing “particularly great football.” Here’s the full quote:

“I’m not saying this to be bold or controversial, but I don’t think Aaron Rodgers is playing particularly great football. I think he’s so physically gifted — he can throw it on the run better than anyone in this league — but he’s leaving an awful lot of plays on the field. I think he’s indecisive and tentative in the pocket. He’s not pulling the trigger on throws that are there. I think this has been an ongoing thing all throughout the season. Some people would say I’m nitpicking because of his numbers, but he’s so physically gifted that there are times that he still makes plays. The biggest concern with Aaron Rodgers and their pass offense right now is not the rhythmic flow of it, it’s the extension of plays. That’s where he’s at his best right now.”