5

January

Wild Card Playoff Round – 49ers vs. Packers: Keys To The Game

49ers vs. Packers 2013 wild card

This may be very indicative of what most fans will look like after Sunday’s game. The Packers face the 49ers in the postseason for the second straight season

The stage is set: Lambeau Field, 3:40 pm on Sunday afternoon is where the Green Bay Packers will play host to the San Francisco 49ers for a wild card round playoff.  It seems a bit odd that a team that finished 8-7-1 and needed nearly every last second of their season to secure a playoff berth is hosting a team that finished 12-4.

Such is life in the NFL.  We need only go back three years and to San Francisco’s very own NFC West to remember a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team that hosted a wild card game.  They beat the New Orleans Saints before losing to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round.  That game was won on an incredible and long touchdown run by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

I know this isn’t Seattle and it certainly isn’t 2010, but I always talk about the possibility of history repeating.  The Packers happen to have a hard-nosed running back of their own in Eddie Lacy.   So there’s that.

Last week, the Packers faced a tough must-win game in colder temperatures and found a way to get it done.  The 49ers pose a much tougher challenge, at least on paper, than do the Bears.  For the Packers, having a healthy Aaron Rodgers is great, but they will need a near all-pro performance out of most of their players to get to the next round.

So how do they get there?  Let’s look at the keys to this week’s tilt between two old rivals.

Avoid Freezer Burn

The temperature is expected to be near zero degrees with a wind chill near -20, which could make this one of the coldest games on record at Lambeau Field.  The coldest recorded game was the famous ”Ice Bowl” in 1967 at -13 degrees.

Lambeau Field used to be a huge advantage for the Packers and that advantage was their opponents having to come into those frigid conditions to play whereas the Packers weren’t as affected by it.  Thus was born the nickname “Frozen Tundra” to describe the venue.  Lately, that has not always been the case.

13

October

Packers at Ravens: Keys to the Game

Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs

Ngata and Suggs remain as standout holdovers from last year’s Super Bowl championship team

The Green Bay Packers will hit the road again and head to Baltimore to face the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.  The Packers have yet to have back-to-back home or road games this season and they will alternate home and road games until early November.

Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy, regardless of the opponent and the Packers have shown a tendency to win the hard way when away from Lambeau Field.

The Ravens entered this season having lost some of their salty veterans, but were still favorites to compete in the AFC in 2013.  The Packers were also among the NFC favorites and are looking to take another step towards solidifying that notion with a big road win.

While it has been close to eight years since Green Bay visited Baltimore, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was there.  It was his rookie season and he saw some playing time that Monday night.  Unfortunately that was because the Ravens were pounding the Packers and then-quarterback Brett Favre.  Rodgers was sacked three times and had an interception in relief of Favre.  On ESPN’s “Tuesdays with Aaron” show this week, Rodgers recounted that game, showcasing more of his innate memory skills.

While Baltimore has had their share of struggles with a shaky offensive line and a lack of playmakers in the passing game, they are still the defending champions and they have not lost at home yet this season.  If the Packers are going to emerge victorious, they will need a top-flight performance all around and mistake-free football to get it done.

Let’s look at this week’s keys to the game.

Pressure On

On defense, the Packers will be without linebacker Clay Matthews and they will need to find a way to keep pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.  Flacco has been sacked 14 times already this season and the Baltimore offensive line has struggled overall.  Last week, the Ravens traded for Jacksonville Jaguars starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to help solidify the line, and Monroe is expected to make his debut on Sunday against Green Bay.

Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Packers were able to keep pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford with outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal.  Both are expected to start on Sunday and an equally productive performance will be needed this week.  Green Bay could be very thin on the outside, as rookie Andy Mulumba is nursing a knee injury and has not practiced this week.

31

December

Stopping Adrian Peterson: Time for Packers to Bring Back the Big Oakie?

Packers Vikings Adrian Peterson

Packers will be chasing Adrian Peterson once again

Prior to this season, the Packers have had some success against Adrian Peterson. From 2009-2011, they’ve had at least one game where they held Peterson to under 100 yards rushing. In November of last year, their 31st ranked defense held Peterson to 51 yards. So it is possible.

Over the years, when Peterson has hurt the Packers, it’s been by bouncing runs outside after drawing everyone in. That was never more evident than today’s game.

The Packers’ defensive line actually did a very good job clogging up the middle. Raji, Pickett, Wilson, Worthy, et al caused Peterson to have to stop and look to bounce outside. When the Packers have had success stopping Peterson, there have been players outside waiting for Peterson. In last night’s game there was mostly no one.

Correction. In a few cases, Tramon Williams was there, but it was still like having no one.

All week, Mike McCarthy kept talking about how their focus was on stopping Peterson. Supposedly, they spent an unusual amount of  time in practice (for this point in the season) on tackling drills.

I really thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would have a special plan for Peterson today.  I was sorely disappointed.  The entire Packers’ defense kept getting sucked inside, showing little positional integrity. Capers played it like Peterson was just another running back. Despite all the talk, there was nothing special for Peterson.

So what should the Packers do?

OLBs Stay Put: On many occasions in this game, the Packers’ OLBs joined the pile in the middle in an attempt to stop Peterson. In way too many cases, Peterson had nowhere to go, so he just bounced it wide to where there was plenty of open space. If the OLBs had kept their outside position, Peterson would have had a far different game. Perhaps he would have gained a few more yards up the middle, but that’s much preferable to letting him run in space where he has only safeties and corners to deal with (and run through).