21

January

NFC Championship Preview – Packers vs Bears Rivalry Reaches New Heights – The Playoffs

Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and the NFC Championship.

I don’t think it can possibly get any better than this.

After the Packers impressive 48-21 over the Atlanta Falcons and the Bears’ easier than it looked 35-24 win over the upstart Seattle Seahawks, both teams prepare to meet for only the second time in their long and storied rivalry. For the first time since 1941, the Packers and Bears get together for– to steal a line from Brent Musberger–all the Tostitos.

Since the Packers faced the Bears twice already this season, I don’t think it’s necessary to break them down once again. We know them well enough by now and the same could be said for the Bears knowing the Packers. It’s a division rivals against one another, so the familiarity between the two teams is rather obvious.

Instead let’s go ahead jump to FIVE (hey, it’s a big game alright?) keys to the NFC Championship

1. The condition of Soldier Field

Much has been made this week over the shape the sod in Soldier Field is in. It was already showing noticeable damage during the Seahawks game last week, and with brutal cold settling in across the entire Midwest, there hasn’t been enough time to re-sod the entire football field

With the game also expected to be played under cold temperatures, the condition of the field will be crucial to both teams. The Bears obviously have had some experience playing in it and the Packers have not. You would think that would give the Bears an edge, but the Packers have played their share of games in Lambeau with the sod coming up in chunks.

While Lambeau has never been in this bad of shape, both teams will likely struggle with poor field conditions.

2. The officiating crew
In this week’s sign of the apocalypse, the NFL announced that Terry McAuley’s crew will be calling the NFC Championship Game.

Why is this significant?

Remember the Week 3 game in Soldier Field against the Bears where the Packers were flagged for a staggering 18 penalties? McAuley’s crew worked that game.

Will they do the same in this game?

20

January

A Cold Shower for Overly Excited Green Bay Packers Fans

I can’t remember ever feeling this good about a Green Bay Packers team. I liked their chances against the Eagles, I was very confident they would beat the Falcons, and I have a good feeling about Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

This feeling of positivity just does not seem right. I’m not sure how to handle it. Usually I’m pessimistic and grumpy to a fault. I expect the worst and wait for everything to come crashing down with another last-second Mason Crosby clank off the goalpost, Mike McCarthy clock kerfuffle or Aaron Rodgers sack/interception.

I feel I need to channel my old pessimistic self, so that is exactly what I am going to do now. There are many reasons why the Packers will not win on Sunday. For those overly excited Packers fans like me, consider this a cold shower.

It’s the Bears. It’s Soldier Field
That about says it all doesn’t it? Very little has gone right for the Packers at Soldier Field recently. Too many penalties, blocked field goals, special teams meltdowns. You name it and it has gone wrong.

And how about that turf? If you dumped a can of green spray paint on a gravel road in Menomonie, WI you would have a better playing surface. That mess of a field neutralizes any speed advantage Bears’ opponents might have and forces you to muck it up and play their slop brand of football.

If I was a prison warden, I would not even allow my prisoners to set foot on that disaster of a playing surface.

Devin Hester
Led by Hester, the Bears average 17.1 yards per punt return. I said 17.1 yards per return! How many times have the Packers gotten 17 yards on a punt return this season? Not very many. The Bears get it almost every time!

Sure, Tim Masthay and the special teams unit contained Hester in week 17. Big whoop. They were just delaying the inevitable. Lovie Smith probably looked at the matchup on special teams and immediately instructed team officials to start making plans for Dallas.

Jay Cutler is super talented
Cutler’s physical tools are unbelievable. Sometimes he throws these deep balls where he appears off-balance, yet somehow manages to flick a perfect strike to one of his streaking wide receivers.

12

January

How Did We Get Here Revisited: 5 Plays Responsible for the Green Bay Packers’ Late-Season Surge

Tramon Williams locks up the top spot on the list with this game-clinching interception against the Eagles.

Back in December I wrote about the five plays that best highlighted why the Green Bay Packers were 8-6 and fighting for a playoff spot. Many of us thought the Packers should have been 10-4 and thinking about a first-round bye, but a few notable blunders and miscues left our favorite team on the brink of mediocrity.

Things have gotten better since I wrote that piece – a lot better. So I think it is only fair that we go back and highlight the five plays that have helped the Packers turn things around and get to where they are today.

1. Tramon Williams’ game-clinching interception vs. Philadelphia Eagles
This play has to be No. 1. It just has to. Everyone knew how explosive Michael Vick and the Eagles’ offense was. We knew no lead was safe and we had visions of another crushing loss in a close game as Vick was leading the Eagles down the field in the final minutes. Then Williams made a play on a slightly underthrown ball in the end zone intended for Riley Cooper, and the rest is history. It wasn’t a great throw by Vick, but how many times have we seen that type of play result in a pass interference, or the bigger receiver jumping over the smaller defensive back to make the catch anyway? Williams stepped up big time to make that play, and he deserves the top slot on this list (I’m sure he will put a copy of this list on his mantle, next to the game ball from Sunday).

2. John Kuhn’s 8-yard touchdown run vs. New York Giants
Um, what? A John Kuhn touchdown run is No. 2 on this list? It sure is. The Packers were driving to extend their lead to 21-7 in the second quarter when Jordy Nelson fumbled. One play later, Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham for an 85-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14. The Giants had all the momentum and fans at Lambeau Field were getting nervous. But instead of tightening up, the Packers went on a six-play scoring drive capped by Kuhn crashing into the end zone right after the two-minute warning. The run put all the momentum back in the Packers’ favor and they have been riding the wave ever since.

11

January

Game Changers: Film Study of the Top 3 Plays of Packers – Eagles Playoff Game

Watching the Packers – Eagles video again, three Packers players made plays that  stood out for me in terms of greatly affecting the outcome of the game.

The phrase “game changer” can have many meanings. It can be a play that sends a message, changes momentum, affects the score, cripples another team, etc. To me, I always include an incredible individual effort into the equation.

I look for individual players chasing perfection and catching excellence during the game. Players and plays that would make Vince Lombardi proud.

Of course, this is very subjective. I’m sure many of you will have different opinions, and I want to hear them. But for me, here are my three plays, in order of importance:

PLAY #3: Sam Shields Sends a Message:


The speed and talent that the Philadelphia Eagles have at wide receiver is no secret. They have won many  a game with big plays down the field to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Eight minutes into the first half, the Eagles decided to take their first shot.

As could be expected, they went after undrafted rookie Sam Shields. Seeing Shields with single coverage on Maclin, the Eagles tried to setup Shields and catch him looking in the backfield. As Vick give a half roll to his left and pump fakes, Maclin takes a few jog steps like he’s not involved and then suddenly turns on the burners.

You really couldn’t have blamed Shields if he had started drifting toward the middle of the field, but he didn’t.  You couldn’t have blamed Shields if he had let Maclin got behind him, but he didn’t. You couldn’t have blamed Shields if allowed Maclin to pull in a picture-perfect pass from Vick, but he didn’t.

Instead, on this play, Shields looked every much like the Pro Bowler that Tramon Williams should be. While we can expect Shields’ speed to be an asset, could we really expect a guy in only his second year playing the position to execute his coverage so perfectly while running at top speed? To stay shoulder to shoulder with him the whole way, not get called for interference, make a perfect play on the ball (preventing the catch by Maclin) and almost coming up with the ball himself?

10

January

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Playoff Edition–Packers 21, Eagles 16

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in a nail-biting NFC Wild Card game Sunday afternoon. The Packers now move on to face the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night in the divisional round for the right to play in the NFC championship game.

After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, the Packers let the explosive Michael Vick and the Eagles offense back into the game, but the defense made enough plays at crucial moments to extend the Packers’ season another week.

There were plenty of highlights and even some lowlights to look at, so let’s jump right into Game Balls and Lame Calls: Playoff Edition.

Game Ball

QB Aaron Rodgers

While he didn’t eat up the Eagles defense for big chunks of yardage, Rodgers did throw three touchdown passes and had pinpoint accuracy throughout the game.

He spread the ball around to multiple receivers and served notice to the rest of the playoff field that the Packers have multiple weapons and you cannot shut them all down. Throw in Rodgers’ scrambling ability and you have an incredibly dangerous quarterback and offense.
More importantly and more significantly, he became the first Packers quarterback not named Brett Favre to win a playoff game since Lynn Dickey on January 8, 1983. That’s eight months almost to the day before I was born folks. That would be a long time.

Oh yeah, and he did something Favre couldn’t: he won a tight playoff game in Philadelphia.

Congrats to Rodgers on his first playoff win. Hopefully, it’s the first of certainly many more to come.

RB James Starks

The hype over this kid has gone to beyond a level of even a Tim Tebow amongst Packers fans, but in the biggest game of the year Starks came up. BIG.

Running for 123 yards (it was easy as 1-2-3!) behind an offensive line that was the Packers’ biggest Achilles heel a season ago, Starks showed how dangerous the Packers can be with a strong rushing attack. It’s been assumed that since Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending injury that Rodgers would have to carry the team on his arm and for 95% of the season he has.

Now, with the Packers’ rushing attack and in particular Starks’ emergence, the Packers have achieved a balance offense and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

9

January

Packers Send the Eagles Back to their Nests: Packers 21 Eagles 16

There would be no “flying’ for the Philadelphia Eagles today. Instead, they were sent sulking back to their nests to wonder what went wrong.

The Green Bay Packers saw to that, stifling Michael Vick for most of the game and running a balanced offense with their secret weapon for the day, running back James Starks.

Yet it still came down to  the last 40 seconds, Eagles with the ball in Packers territory. And this one ends just like the Bears game. Interception by the Packers (Tramon Williams this time) and Green Bay advances.

My game day impressions:

PREGAME:

I’m predicting two Michael Vick strip fumbles today…

LeSean McCoy has caught 78 passes this season.

Bradley inactive for the Eagles.

MY KEY TO THE GAME: If I had to pick JUST ONE thing, it would be this: Don’t over-scheme for Michael Vick. Don’t try to spy him. Just work on some basic team contain principles and make him beat you as a quarterback, not a running back.

My 1A key to the game: Use the running game today. Please. Make the Eagles secondary think run first. Unleash James Starks.

Inactive for Green Bay on Sunday:

Green Bay inactives: QB Harrell, S Bigby, FB Hall, CB Gordy, LB Zombo, OL Dietrich-Smith, OL McDonald and DL Green.

Jenkins finally returns to the active list and boy am I happy to see him in there against Vick. Huge Howard Green is out, which makes the most sense. packers want their most athletic defensive linemen in there.

James Starks (Neo) is active today!  He will be the Packers’ secret weapon today.

MM Comments on WTMJ Pregame show:

It’s been an excellent week of practice and our guys are ready to go.

Stay true to the heartbeat and the pulse of your football team. the last two weeks we’ve had to fight to be in the playoffs. That’s good for our younger guys.

We feel as a football program that trhe way we conduct our business, we will always be an improving football team.

We need to be smart with Cullen’s reps. Make sure he has his fastball in the 4th 1/4, so we’ll have to put him on a bit of a pitch count.

Vick: I feel he’s the best player on their football team.

9

January

Mining the Mind of McCarthy: His Evil Master Plan for the Eagles

Normally, when I put on my miner’s hat and go digging deep into the mind of Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, it’s after a game. I look back at certain situations in the game and try to figure out what in the world he was thinking at that moment. Usually, I’m searching for an answer to the question WHY did you do that, Mike?

Frankly, I just haven’t been that successful. Sometimes, I can come up with a rational approximation of his thought process, but most of the time, I remain flummoxed.

So I decided to try a different approach. This time I’m going to try to figure out what he’s thinking BEFORE the fact. We ll know McCarthy likes to do the unpredictable, like throw deep to the end zone with your weak-armed backup QB on fourth and one with a minute left in a game you’re losing by 4 pts. Can you say, “threw the game away?” But I digress.

I’m going to attempt to take his element of surprise (NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition) along with a little reverse psychology and tell you what McCarthy’s sometime unorthodox decisions have been leading up to.

Basically, my theory is that McCarthy has been setting everyone up. You, me, other teams, maybe even his own players. This game, he will unleash the lion and shock everyone. I’ve managed to dig deep into his brain, and here’s what he has planned:

The Fullback Dive on the Goal Line: Nothing exemplifies McCarthy’s seeming stubbornness more than this play. Or has he just been setting everyone up? If the Packers find themselves on the goal line in a big spot, expect Aaron Rodgers to put the ball out for John Kuhn, and then tuck it away and run a naked bootleg to the corner flag. It’s coming folks…

James Starks: (Neo, The One, The Franchise) McCarthy has handled this like a master of subterfuge. The Packers secret weapon has been hidden on the PUP, kept inactive for several weeks and seen limited playing time. McCarthy almost blew this by forgetting his plan and giving Starks too many carries in the 49ers game. Luckily he limited Starks in the Lions game and then kept him inactive for 2 more weeks before giving him a little warmup against the Bears. McCarthy’s evil plan was to limit the game film on Starks so their first playoff opponent will be completely unprepared when McCarthy lets Starks loose. The Eagles will have no idea what hit them.