Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Last week, the Packers did what many fans have been waiting for since either the Fail Mary (which is still a joke to this day) or the 2014 season, when Green Bay blew a 16-0 lead in the NFC Championship. The Packers did get revenge last season, but this past Sunday took revenge to a whole other level. The Packers took it to Seattle behind three Aaron Rodgers touchdowns, along with 6 total turnovers, 5 of which being interceptions off of Russell Wilson. Yes, the Seattle offense looked mediocre most of the day, but not all of Wilson’s picks were his receivers’ fault. Wilson did make bad decisions, and the defense took advantage. This game reminded me of the Giants game back in 2010, where Eli Manning and company had six turnovers. The game against Seattle proved that the Green Bay defense still has the personnel to be opportunistic. While the game brought joy to many fans, this Green Bay team still has lots of work to do to get into the postseason.
With “Run the Table” now a possibility, how should the Packers approach the final weeks?
I’m not sure how many people actually believed when Rodgers talked to the media the week before the Monday Night game against Philly, when he believed that this Green Bay team could “run the table”. Now, with the Packers taking down Philly, Houston, and Seattle in consecutive weeks, it looks more and more like this declaration could become true. The Packers’ final three games are all against divisional opponents, and it looks like the Packers will need to win them all. The Lions hold a two game lead in the NFC North over the Packers and Vikings for now, but with Detroit’s finishing schedule (at NYG, at DAL, vs. GB), the Packers have the chance to win the division. The Lions need to lose one game of the next two, and as long as the Packers take care of business, the division is on the line in week 17. As far as the wild card race goes, the Packers need a lot more help.
So, with three divisional tilts standing in their way, how do the Packers approach these games? Well, the same-old-same-old applies here. The Packers need to focus on the opponent at hand, and don’t wander to thinking only about week 17. Every game matters the rest of the way, and none of the games will be easy. Chicago’s defense could spell trouble, and the cold weather won’t be kind. Plus, divisional road games are never easy. Minnesota comes to Lambeau on Christmas Eve, and even though they are reeling, the Vikings will give the Packers all they’ve got. Detroit finds ways to win games late, so I expect that game to be a close one the whole way. There needs to be a playoff-like atmosphere in the locker room, where the attitude is win or go home. One loss likely takes them out of the division and wild card race. That sense of urgency should surround the locker room, but that shouldn’t take away from being loose and letting the game come to you. Getting nervous, or “tight”, brings about unnecessary errors and mental lapses. They have to trust in the game plan on all three phases, and trust that it will get them a win.
How much will Rodgers (hamstring, calf) be impacted down the stretch?
This isn’t something new for Aaron Rodgers. Two years ago, he injured his calf against New Orleans, and suffered a setback against Detroit in week 17, when the division title was on the line. He returned in the second half to deliver Green Bay the win, but his calf was still impactful. He didn’t have his usual mobility for the Dallas game or the Seattle game, and that affected his mobility, especially when he tried to escape pressure. What can we expect this time? Well, with two different injuries on his legs, Rodgers’ mobility will be severely limited the next couple weeks, and there’s no bye week to get extra rest. The fact of the matter remains: Rodgers will have to play through pain the rest of the way, no matter how far the Packers go. The question is is how much will the Packers offense be affected. Last week against Seattle, he looked alright moving around in the pocket, but when he needed to run downfield or back to the bench, the limp was very evident. With rest each week, Rodgers can have enough mobility to escape at times and throw on the run, but other times, the Packers will need to trust the route combos to work against their opponents. The presence of a run game will limit the amount of Rodgers’ drop backs, but when it’s crunch time, the Packers need him to move the ball. With Rodgers playing well in 2014 despite injuries, I think he will be okay down the stretch here and will be able to go if indeed the Packers make a playoff run deeper into January.
Something we saw that we liked
There is a running game blossoming before our eyes. Losing Eddie Lacy to most meant that the running game would effectively go dormant. Well, it seems the Packers have resurrected the running game. After trying Don Jackson, Knile Davis, a Cobb/Montgomery combo, and a washed up Starks, Green Bay has found something that is serviceable. Ty Montgomery seems to be a swiss army knife that the Packers can do a lot with. We all saw glimpses of what could be last season, especially against Seattle, but an injury ruined his rookie campaign. Now, carrying the ball in the backfield has provided a new dimension to this offense. Montgomery wants to carry the load and make contact. He is built to be able to be an effective runner, and the fact that he can share time with Christine Michael, the ex-Seahawk who runs tough, creates what many feel to be enough to keep defenses honest. Plus, with the nice weather heading south for the winter, running the ball will be key down the stretch and in postseason play, should the Packers get there.
Also, we will give a shout out to Morgan Burnett. Burnett played a type of hybrid-linebacker role in sub packages, and did very well at it. If Burnett can play how he did with consistency, Clay Matthews would be able to play outside more.
Something we didn’t like
The defense played better, and the secondary was very opportunistic all game, but they definitely were handed some interceptions. Damarious Randall’s second pick happened to fall in his lap, and Micah Hyde’s pick off of a high throw on a screen play was lucky. That said, the secondary did give up some big plays. I’m not sure how you lose a fullback that badly and let him get behind you, like the Packers did with Marcel Reece. Tanner McEvoy’s touchdown felt like a “we’ve got this in the bag so we will play a little softer” play. The secondary still has some injuries, and with Sam Shields not returning a big downer, the Packers need their young talent to step up.
Also, this game had an aura similar to the 2014 NFC Championship game. Green Bay got off to a huge lead, and were it not for some bad interceptions in the second half, Seattle could have been right in this game. Why? Well, as soon as the game got comfortable, Mike McCarthy went back to his conservative mode. What did that result in? An early third quarter punt. You would think after blowing the lead two years ago that the football IQ would click in a little more.
It is supposed to be an extremely frigid game on Sunday at Soldier Field. The Packers have the “run the table” mindset on the line, but this will be no easy task. The Bears have played better than their record shows. Jordan Howard has emerged as a real threat in the backfield. If either of their Pro Bowl guards play, Green Bay will need to make sure their run defense shows up. Matt Barkley has been effective throwing the ball, even if his receivers have dropped half of his passes. The Packers cannot overlook this game.
What does Green Bay need to do offensively? It starts with the run game. The Packers have a top five offensive line, and they need to utilize that. Christine Michael and Ty Montgomery are effective enough to make defenses pay attention to them. Running the ball will keep the Bears honest, and this will allow Rodgers some rest for his leg during the game. Creating mismatches will also be important. The Packers haven’t played a team yet that can cover Montgomery one-on-one out of the backfield (yes Wagner and Kendricks are good linebackers, but asking them to cover Montgomery every play would not work). That matchup needs to be utilized, as well as using tight end Jared Cook. Cook is back this week after taking a precaution last week, and using him down the middle of the field will be key. The Bears have improved at middle linebacker, but Cook is still too fast for them. It will be about matchups and offensive timing to move the ball effectively.
Defensively, it’s all about stopping the run. Jordan Howard has been the focal point of the offense, and has carried the Bears lately. Matt Barkley has been solid, but he still isn’t the guy who can completely take over a game. The Packers will need guys like Letroy Guion, Kenny Clark, and Mike Daniels to plug holes and take on blocks in the run game. Freeing up downhill linebacker Jake Ryan will be a huge factor. The more that the defensive line creates pressure will also limit how much the secondary gets burned. It’s a young secondary, so it will happen. This game revolves around being effective up front.
Green Bay has a better roster, a better quarterback, and better weapons. This game screams Packers, but divisional road games aren’t easy. It wouldn’t shock me to see Green Bay struggle early in the elements. But, being able to run the ball effectively will seal the deal, and I don’t think the Bears have enough firepower to keep up.
Packers 23, Bears 13