Rodgers puts Packers back in championship contention

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

When news broke Thursday that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was slated to return Sunday for the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, the outlook for the rest of the Packers’ season changed dramatically.

Without Rodgers, the Packers went 2-4-1, not including the first Packers-Bears game in which Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on the game’s first possession. Coming into that game, the Packers were 5-2 with a favorable schedule and perhaps the hottest quarterback in football.

But despite a newly-feared running game providing balance to their offense, the small crack in Rodgers’ collarbone looked like a death blow to the Packers’ season, as Seneca Wallace would be starting the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles and for the foreseeable future. But Wallace was forced out of the lineup after the first possession, giving way to recent practice squad call-up Scott Tolzien. Then, the Packers signed a recycled Matt Flynn, who would get his chance a few weeks later against the Minnesota Vikings.

Flynn quarterbacked the Packers to one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent memory—a 40-10 Thanksgiving thumping at the hands of the Detroit Lions. For a team who had two All-World quarterbacks for the better part of two decades, the 2013 season was a slap in the face for a (let’s face it) spoiled fan base.

But somehow, at 8-7-1 with one game to play and Rodgers ready to roll, the Packers remain in contention for the NFC North title. A week 17 win in Chicago would punch the Packers’ ticket into the postseason, and they’d host either the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints in the wild card round January 4 or 5.

And as is the case year after year in the unpredictable NFL, anything can happen in the league’s 12-team tournament.

Typically, there’s a “hot team” that hits its stride late into the season and enters the postseason with a head of steam, much like the Packers’ unlikely run to Super Bowl XLV in 2010. Last year’s Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens backed into the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but once the regular season is over, a new season begins. The Ravens 2012 regular season didn’t end well, but their postseason ended with a flood confetti and a Vince Lombardi Trophy.



Packers Making the Most of Opponents’ Penalties

Mike McCarthy

Packer coach Mike McCarthy conversing with a pair of refs.

The Packers have had plenty of calls go against them this season, but they’ve also taken advantage of some penalties that have gone in their favor.

Remember the Packers opening drive against the Texans? Aaron Rodgers missed an open James Jones deep and we all groaned while trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with our MVP quarterback. Thankfully, the Texans lined up offside on a punt, giving the Packers a free fist down and Rodgers a re-do on a his deep pass.

This time, Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 41-yard touchdown on the very next play. From there, the route was on and order was restored in the Packers universe.

Before continuing, I want to be clear that I’m not saying the Packers have gotten lucky when it comes to penalties going their way. See the Fail Mary, phantom pass interference calls on Sam Shields and various bogus roughing penalties if you think that’s been the case. All I’m doing is pointing out a few instances where the Packers have taken advantage of an opportunity created by an opponent’s penalty.

I was in the stands when Jeff “I Should be a Replacement Ref but for Some Reason I’m Actually a Real Ref” Triplette and his crew missed a key fumble on a New Orleans kick return late in the game. The Saints appeared to take the lead after a field goal on the ensuing drive, but saw those three points wiped off the board due to a holding call.

The field goal re-try was no good, probably because the wind from all the Packers fans inside Lambeau breathing a sigh of relief caused the kick to sail wide.

How about this Sunday against the Jaguars? Hanging onto a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Packers faced third and 7 from their own 47. Instead of going the safe route and trying to just pick up enough yards for a first down, Rodgers launched a bomb to Jones, who held up his hands looking for a pass interference penalty as the ball fell to ground incomplete.

The official closest to the play did not throw a flag. Two of his colleagues did, however, allowing the Packers to extend the drive and eventually kick the game-clinching field goal. Replays showed it was probably the correct call, but a case could also be made that there wasn’t enough for interference.



Is Marshall Newhouse as Good as his Pro Football Focus Numbers?

Marshall Newhouse

Packers T Marshall Newhouse has been solid so far this season.

Regular readers of this site know that we like to cite Pro Football Focus (PFF) metrics when talking about the Packers. I wouldn’t call any of us football sabermaticians, but PFF does some excellent work trying to make football analysis as objective as possible.

Too often, people either treat sites like PFF as the be-all and end-all of analysis, or dismiss their work entirely. I do neither. PFF is another tool in the toolbox as we continue to try and understand this complicated game called football.

Anyway, PFF had a doozy the other day: Marshall Newhouse is rated as the fifth-best pass blocking offensive tackle in the NFL. That’s according to PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency statistic.

I’m not kidding. Marshall Newhouse. The guy who was supposed to be the weak link on the Packers offensive line. The guy who PFF rated as one of the wort tackles in football last season. Yeah, that guy.

Don’t believe me? Check out the story for yourself. In addition to all the rankings, you can see exactly how PFF comes up with its pass-blocking efficiency (PBE) stat (also check out their pass-block rating stat because I’ll be talking about that later on).

Marshall Newhouse? For Real?

I’m not questioning PFF’s work, but my immediate reaction upon hearing that Newhouse has been the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the league so far was to snort and laugh a little.

“C’mon,” I thought. “Really? I’m all for using numbers and formulas to try to better understand football, but this is ridiculous. I watch the games. Newhouse can’t be the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the league.”

But the more I thought about it, the more my mind opened to the possibility (don’t you wish we heard that sentence more often in today’s political world? I digress…)

Our perceptions often lead to a false reality. We’ve been told over and over again that Newhouse is no good, so we probably assume that he’s just not that good, or at least nowhere near as good as the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in football.

Since the Packers line has been shaky, and since most casual observers follow the ball and not the offensive line when watching games, it’s easy to assume that a big reason for the line’s struggles is Newhouse. He was supposed to be bad this season, so he must not be playing well if the line is struggling, right?



Packers Stock Report: Breathing a Sigh of Relief Edition

Jeff Triplette

Jeff Triplette proves he’s worse than a replacement ref by signaling Saints ball after an obvious Darren Sproles fumble on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Whew. Glad the Packers escaped that one a winner.

Normally if a Packers’ opponent is flagged for holding on the go-ahead fourth-quarter field goal minutes after a star running back drops an easy third-down catch, the Packers should consider themselves lucky for winning.

Not the case this week. The real refs blew a couple more calls on Sunday, and the Saints late misfortune was actually some long overdue breaks for the green and gold.

Also, one more note about that holding call: Don’t forget that the refs had called holding on two previous extra points, one against the Packers and one against the Saints. For some reason, they were looking for holding on kicks on Sunday and actually calling it.

I don’t buy the make-up call argument at all, so if someone tells you that was a makeup call just go Cutler on them and walk away.


James Jones
What a day for Jones. He intercepts a touchdown pass intended for Jermichael Finley (more receivers should try this given Finley’s inability to catch the ball) catches another touchdown that was actually intended for him, and ices the game with an amazing catch while getting taken to the ground by the defender. Jordy Nelson is showing signs of life, but Jones has been the Packers best receiver through four games.

(One more note on Jones: I was at the game on Sunday and I don’t think people appreciate how great that final catch was. Fans were too busy yelling at the refs to make sure the interference got called that they didn’t notice Jones actually catching the ball. Take the time to watch that catch again on replay if you can.)

Randall Cobb
I couldn’t figure out why Cobb didn’t play more against the Seahawks. I think McCarthy said something about matchups, but that’s nonsense. Cobb is good enough to play regardless of matchups. If Cobb continues improving, he might end up looking a lot like Darren Sproles, the Saints RB/WR/KR that is impossible to stop if given a little room to operate.



Did Sunday’s Victory Save the Packers’ Season?

Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb played a big role in the Packers’ emotional win over the Saints on Sunday.

I laughed when the headline to Kevin Seifert’s game story popped up on my Twitter account Sunday night: “Emotional Packers save their season.”

“Really, Kevin?” I thought. “A season cannot be saved in week four. Calm down.”

I thought Kevin was reaching for a story angle to try and be different, get people riled up and generate web traffic.

But Seifert is an excellent reporter, one that isn’t prone to hyperbole and weird narratives that attempt to push reader’s buttons just for the hell of it. So I clicked on the story, read it, and decided that Seifert might be on to something.

This passage in particular stood out:

At 1-2, the Packers were facing some long odds if they lost Sunday’s game. Since the NFL moved to its current playoff format, 85.3 percent of teams that started 1-3 missed the playoffs. In a league in which most teams have relatively equal talent, the so-called “snowball effect” is very real.

I won’t summarize Seifert’s entire post — read it for yourself — but he makes some excellent points about emotion and the toll it would have taken on the Packers to lose another emotionally-charged game, this time at home to a team that was just as desperate as they were.

Instead let’s focus on the immediate future. If the Packers lost Sunday, not only would they be facing long playoff odds at 1-3, they’d be facing them with their next three games on the road; a tough situation in any case, let alone coming off two straight heartbreaking losses.

It’s silly to project more than three games into the future during the NFL season (even three games might be too far), but there’s a common theme among the Packers next three road opponents: Hope. The next three teams the Packers face all have reasons to be hopeful, and likely view the Packers games as a chance to go from hopeful to confident.

  • The Colts are coming off a bye week armed with a phenom quarterback and Dwight Freeney returning. Their coach was also just admitted to the hospital for treatable leukemia, which means emotions will be running high in that stadium. There’s hope for a promising future in Indianapolis, and what better way to take a step forward than by beating the Packers.


Packers Tough Opponents More Worrisome than Quirky Early-Season Schedule

Packers Training Camp

There is not much structure in the Packers early-season schedule.

I’m one of those people that shows up early to work and tries to get as much done as possible before other people start filing into the office and my phone starts ringing.

Yeah, it’s no fun dragging myself out of bed at 5:15 a.m., but once I get to the office and get rolling, it’s nice to have a few hours of relative quiet time so I can get my busy work out of the way before tackling the tasks that require me to interact with other human beings.

With the Packers first four games starting at 3:15 p.m., 7:20 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., rising early is not an option.

The training camp schedule also is a little different. After a week of practices starting at 8:15 a.m., the Packers will have seven consecutive practices at night, followed by a week of practices that start at 11 or 11:15 a.m.

McCarthy originally thought about eliminating night practices this season, but changed his mind once he saw the quirky start times for his team’s first four games. From PackerReport:

“The fact that we come out of the gate and play Sunday afternoon on national TV at home, then play Thursday night at home and then go away 11 days later on a Monday night, and then on a short week here at home, I wanted to make sure our players were challenged from the fact of the regularity is going to be a little up and down to start the season,” McCarthy said.

Many Packers fans might be asking why start times and dates of games are such a big deal. To us, it probably isn’t that big of a deal. And in all likelihood, it probably won’t be that big of a deal to the Packers, either.

But this is the kind of stuff that drives an NFL coach crazy. Coaches want their teams to get into a routine. Players like routine, too. Routine helps coaches control their players and it helps players develop positive work habits and structure.

If the Packers were an unproven team filled with players that had questionable levels of maturity, this lack of an early-season routine might be cause for concern. But they’re not. They’re a team with a lot of talent and very few players that won’t be able to handle a quirky schedule (as far as I know, anyway).



Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

For those looking for Adam Czech, I’m sorry to report I am not him. I’ll be filling in for him in this edition of Surviving Sunday.

Ted Thompson continued his uncharacteristic off-season by continuing to be extremely active in free agency. The Packers signed Anthony Hargrove after the move was speculated last week. So far this off-season, the Packers have added Jeff Saturday, Daniel Muir, Anthony Hargrove, and re-signed Jermichael Finley and Jarrett Bush.

The Packers also brought in Dave Tollefson, formerly a New York Giant, for a visit that began on Thursday and continued into Saturday. Whether or not Tollefson is signed, it is clear Thompson is not playing around when it comes to revamping the Packers defense.

It was clear that the Packers defense needed reinforcements, but no one could have predicted just how active Thompson would be. It makes sense with how quickly Super Bowl windows open and close. The Packers’ window to compete for and win Super Bowls in the near future is open and Thompson’s activity shows the Packers aren’t interested in waiting around to strictly develop new talent on defense.

Brian Carriveau over at Cheesehead TVhas a great piece on the Packers’ recent activity and the possible implications of the moves. In the article Carriveau points to the Packers moving towards a hybrid defense with situational role players being shuffled in accordingly.

Packers Thoughts:

The Packers made the re-signing of Jarrett Bush official. Bringing back Bush is a great move for the Packers because of his contributions on special teams. While his cornerback play leaves much to be desired, Bush fits the mold of Woodson’s role as a hybrid corner playing in the slot, blitzing off the edge and roaming around.

The NFL announced that the Cowboys have gotten the nod to play the Giants in the season opener. Many thought it would be the last two Super Bowl champions, the reigning MVP vs. the reigning Super Bowl MVP. The ratings for Cowboys-Giants will be incredible and the NFL couldn’t pass it up. It’s disappointing for Packers fans who wanted revenge on the Giants as soon as possible, but now that will have to wait until later in the season.