November 27, 2013

Packers Keys To Victory in Season-Deciding Game at Detroit Lions

By: Shane Arman

Green Bay Packer fans had to know this moment was coming, after watching their team go winless the last four weeks with a revolving door at quarterback. It’s win or home for the Green Bay Packers; a win gives them the NFC North division lead and maintains the “control your own destiny” path. A loss makes it VERY difficult to win the division, the only likely path to the postseason. So what do the Packers need to do to beat the Detroit on Thanksgiving? See below for three keys that will help give Green Bay the best chance to steal a win.

Feed the Beast
(Photo: Benny Sieu Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
Detroit surprisingly ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards surrendered per game at just 88 yards, while the Packers average 139.9, good for fifth best in the NFL. The Packers need to give Eddie Lacy a chance to break down the Lions defense, even though they’ll likely load the box with eight. Flynn should also look to Lacy as a pass-catcher, much like he did last week when Lacy was able to make some nice open field plays.

Score Early
Playing on the road and especially on Thanksgiving means Ford Field will be very loud. Getting off to a fast start is so important for the Packers, given they’ll look to control time of possession and keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. Over the past four weeks, the Packers have usually dug themselves early holes that have forced them to play from behind. The Packers have been outscored 50- 17 in the first half of the last four games; that can’t happen Thursday at Detroit. This Packers offense without Rodgers operates much better with a lead.

Make Big Plays When They’re Available
At various points through the last four weeks, the Packers have been in position to make big, game-changing plays—mostly on defense. From Davon House’s dropped interception against Minnesota, to Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett’s missed interception on the deep TD pass in the Eagles game. Matthew Stafford will give the Packers a few turnover opportunities and whether the Packers make them will go a long way toward deciding the game's outcome. On offense, Matt Flynn will need to hit a few big, down-field passes to stretch the Lions defense. If there’s no threat of a deep ball, the Lions defense will feast on Lacy and make it very difficult to get the ground game going.

November 17, 2013

Arman Three Pack Preview: New York Giants

This week Adam and I head to MetLife Stadium to watch the Packers in live action against the New York Giants. Below we take a look at three key issues that will go a long way in deciding who wins this pivotal NFC matchup.

Scott Tolzien will start for the Green Bay Packers as they take on the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. How will McCarthy cater the game plan to put Tolzein in the best position to succeed? 

Shane: McCarthy will do much of the same thing he did with Seneca Wallace against the Eagles, when Wallace started 5-for-5. McCarthy will call designed quick-hitters to sure handed receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Expect to see short drop backs, a few WR bubble screens and plenty of Eddie Lacy. Anything McCarthy can do to gain 3-5 yards on both first and second down, will be a recipe for success. The Packers can’t afford to put Tolzein in 3rd-and-long situations and McCarthy will do his best to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Adam:  Tolzien seemed to have success with the short passing and screen game to help move the chains. The inconsistency at the quarterback position has seen the Packers struggle to finish drives and threaten teams with the big play. I don’t expect McCarthy’s gameplan to be too conservative. I would like to see them take a few shots down the field in response to the heavy fronts they’ve been seeing without Rodgers.

Pick the one most important group on the Packers that will have the biggest effect on the outcome of Sunday’s game and tell us why: the QB, offensive line, running backs, WRs, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, special teams coverage, special teams kicking or the coaching staff.

Shane: This is a tough one, but I’ll go with the Packers secondary for a few reasons. Eli Manning has thrown the most interceptions in the league, so there will be more opportunities than usual for the secondary to create turnovers. It’s absolutely crucial Green Bay takes advantage. I said this last week and I’ll say it again, the Packers defense needs to make a big play if the Packers have a chance of winning. I think that play does come from the secondary—they’re due. The tackling has been especially awful the past two games, so if the secondary can limit Cruz and Nicks’ yards after the catch Green Bay can more easily contain the Giants offense.

Adam: I would say the Packers offensive line will have the most effect on them winning Sunday. The Giants pass rush has stepped up with 8 sacks in their last two games and seems to be returning to form. Tolizen needs to be protected for any chance to get a win in his first NFL start and controlling the line of scrimmage with the run game is crucial to a Packers win. Unfortunately, like with many areas of this Packers team there are question marks and uncertainty.

Which New York Giant player(s) should the Packers be most worried about heading into Sunday’s matchup at MetLife Stadium?

Shane: Without a doubt it’s Andre Brown. He has breakaway speed and the Giants will likely give him plenty of touches to soften up the Packers defense. Green Bay must make the New York one-dimensional and taking away the run is the best solution. If Brown gets in a groove early, the Packers secondary will be in for a long day trying to cover Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

Adam: The Packers need to start with stopping Andre Brown and the Giants run game. Dom Capers builds his defense around stopping the run to create third and longs and unleash his blitz packages. The Packers have failed to win the battle in the trenches lately and need to stop Brown first.

Score prediction

Shane: This is a must-win game for the Packers. Coupled with the fact that the Giants left a sour taste in Green Bay’s mouth the past few meetings, I expect Green Bay to make the necessary plays to win the game. The defense plays better and gets to Eli, while Tolzein appropriately manages the game just well enough to eeek out a victory, 20-17.

Adam:  20-14 Packers. The defense needs to step up and force a turnover or two in this one combined with a methodical ball control style offense from the Packers.

November 9, 2013

Arman Three Pack Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

Everyone is talking about Seneca Wallace and how different the passing game will be without Aaron Rodgers. Discuss how Rodgers' loss might affect the Packers successful running attack (if at all). Keep in mind T.J. Lang will also likely miss this game with a concussion, meaning Marshall Newhouse moves to RT and Barclay to RG.

Adam: The Packers will still be able to run the ball effectively. The key will be staying in 3rd and manageable situations and Seneca Wallace being able to convert in the short passing game. The Packers were 1 for 9 on third downs against Chicago with Wallace at QB despite rushing for 170 yards. I expect McCarthy to design some boot legs and screens to help Wallace stay in favorable positions. I'm confident McCarthy will put Seneca in the best position he can to succeed.

Shane: I think the Packers will really have to stick with the run game this week, more than ever. The Eagles aren't stupid and they'll likely hedge their bets and dare Seneca Wallace to beat them. Expect the Eagles to overcrowd the box with eight-man fronts, especially early and possibly for the entire game. If I'm Chip Kelly, the only way I get beat is if one of the Packers RBs go off. He won't let that happen. Lang out definitely adds an extra blow and Newhouse is still the same old dud. I'd be a little scared if I was Wallace dropping back.

Mitch: Yikes. With Rodgers gone, the Eagles will most certainly challenge Wallace's ability to make a few throws. They will probably stack the box and make Wallace beat them. That is what I would do at least; and I'm not an NFL coach.

Was last week's defensive debacle an aberration or should we be concerned about the defense's ability to stop opponents, like say, the Philadelphia Eagles? How will the Packers defense fare this week?

Adam: You can't underrate the correlation one side of the ball has to the other. The Packers inability to sustain anything offensively and convert on third downs kept the Packers defense on the field more than usual against the second ranked scoring offense in the NFL. Part of the Packers recent success has been their dominance in time of possession. Their ball control covered up a lot of inadequacies of their beat up defense. I think the defense will be fine this week if the offense can sustain some long drives and have a reasonable third down conversion percentage. It will help getting some playmakers back in the lineup at linebacker to help a pass rush that was ineffective against Chicago.

Shane: I agree with Adam in that the offense's inability to sustain ANY kind of drive and not convert third downs, made the defense look worse than it was. Capers was simply out-coached in the Bears game and I don't see that happening again. If the Packers have a chance at winning this game, they will absolutely need to force multiple turnovers. If they don't, I just can't see them being successful enough on offense to keep their defense off the field. I think A.J. Hawk will have another stellar performance, as Capers uses him up the middle while the defense keys on Clay Matthews. I expect Hawk to make a big play in this game.

Mitch: I think it was a one week oopsie. The performance of the defense until last game I think surprised us all and was stout. Getting Matthews back this week, and hopefully Perry in the near future, leads me to think our D will win us a few games coming up.They will HAVE to.

The Packers get Clay Matthews back this week and possibly Nick Perry. How effective can Clay be with a club on his hand and will his presence make a difference?

Adam: The Packers are a conservative team when it comes to letting players come back from injury so I expect Clay to be ready to make an impact. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Packers limit his snaps and get a nice rotation that includes Perry on the opposite side. I'm sure there was an emphasis this week around tackling especially going up against a team with the shifty LeSean McCoy that likes to use the screen game. The Packers will need to be on point in terms of tackling if they want to keep this offense in check. Packers fans need to come to the realization that any wins over the next few weeks without Rodgers are going to be a grind and take great execution particularly on defense and special teams to compensate.

Shane: More than anything, Clay will draw the Eagles attention. I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles still double team him which will free up other players to make a difference. I worry about Nick Perry coming back this early from a foot injury and I'd feel better if he didn't play. If the Packers can limit the Eagles big plays, they'll have a chance to win the game.

Mitch: I think whenever you have a specimen as talented as Clay is, there is no doubt he will have some sort of impact, club or not. Just his presence will change some of the Eagles game planning, and I personally think he will be effective.

Score prediction:

Adam: Packers 24-20...Seneca will have to be much improved in this one for the Packers to get the win. 200 yards 1 TD and 40 yards rushing is about the needed stat line and only one turnover. If he can be in that range I think the rest of the team performs well enough to squeak out the win, but the room for error without Rodgers is scary thin. Go Pack Go!!

Shane: Sorry but I just don't think the Packers defense can hold down LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. Coupled with the fact that Seneca Wallace will lead many, many three-and-outs on offense, this will be a frustrating day for Packer fans. Unless Green Bay's defense or special teams can score a TD or make a HUGE couple of plays, the Packers lose this game 31-23.


November 7, 2013

Surviving Life Without Aaron Rodgers

Just when Packer fans thought the mounting injuries couldn’t possibly get any worse, doomsday hit Monday night at Lambeau field when Aaron Rodgers hit the turf. Wincing as he slowly got up, an empty feeling was surely in the stomach of thousands of Green and Gold bleeders. Four to six weeks is the prognosis, so now the million dollar question is, what will life be like without Aaron Rodgers? Here’s a sampling of how the Packers can mitigate the damage and stay afloat in the NFC North.
Aaron Rodgers Breaks Collarbone on Shea McClellin Hit

It’s ALL about defense
Perhaps most concerning is the Packers utter collapse against the Bears’ number two scoring offense in the NFL on their home turf. Given the Packers haven’t faced an elite offense in the last four weeks (Cleveland, Minnesota, Calvin-less Detroit and Baltimore) it’s not a shock they struggled so much. The Bears finally exposed the Packers depleted defense in every way.  No pass rush led to open receivers in the secondary, which the Packers simply weren’t used to. Consistent third down conversions tired out the entire unit and it simply fell apart. In the time Rodgers is out, the defense MUST get off the field on third down and start to force turnovers. Green Bay is near the bottom of the NFL in forcing fumbles and interceptions, and it can’t continue. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry both eyeing potential returns this Sunday against Philadelphia, the Packers should pick-up the pass rush. Given Green Bay's injuries, the team is simply not constructed to win a shootout or come back from a large deficit.

Added Emphasis on Special Teams
Green Bay’s current healthy offense is a borderline average team. Probably below average without Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and Bryan Bulaga. That means moving forward, kick/punt return coverage needs to be disciplined. No big returns. Field position will be extremely important throughout the course of every game so return yardage needs to improve. Seneca Wallace will need all the help he can get and the Packers simply won’t be able to afford surrendering yardage in this manner.

Offensive Game Plan Adjustment
Seneca Wallace can hardly see over the line of scrimmage and everyone saw that Monday night when multiple passes were batted down—and one intercepted. For this reason and for comfortability, Mike McCarthy needs to design more suitable plays for his backup quarterback. Designed roll-outs, short slants, screen passes and delayed handoffs should dominate the offensive play calling. Maximizing other talent on the offense will be another key to keeping the ball moving  and putting up points. Expect more Jordy Nelson in the slot, expect shorter screen plays to quick players like Jonathan Franklin and expect a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Overall, every aspect of the team will need to pick up the void created by the Rodgers loss. While the above three areas represent key areas of focus, much more will need to be done if the Packers expect to play winning football as their MVP quarterback heals over the next four to six long weeks. I simply don’t see the Packers winning more than two or three games out of the next five or six, and that could be as good as it gets. Expect Rodgers to return for the week 15 matchup when the Packers travel to Dallas and play a pivotal road game with their record at 7-6.

November 2, 2013

Chicago Bears Pregame Report: What To Watch For

Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears. As far as rivalries go, it's doesn't get much better than this. Even the usually vanilla and cliche ridden Mike McCarthy pointed out, "This is the game every year. In my humble opinion, this is the game in the NFL.”

Most Packers and Bears fans would agree, as would many other fans, pundits and players around professional football. Let's take a look at three key areas to watch during Monday night's game that will likely go a long way in deciding who wins in this prime-time divisional match up at Lambeau Field.

Creating Turnovers
Historically, the Chicago Bears have been one of the best teams in the NFL at forcing turnovers. Whether its their defensive line pressuring QBs without blitzing or their secondary punching out fumbles, Chicago feeds off turnovers and uses them to suck momentum out of teams. While this year's Bears defense is depleted and looking old, they've still forced 15 fumbles (recovered eight) and picked off opposing QBs 10 times, accounting for three defensive touchdowns. The Packers meanwhile have forced just 10 fumbles (recovered 4) and intercepted QBs only three times for one defensive TD. The point is, Green Bay needs to focus on protecting the football and winning the turnover battle. In four wins the Bears have forced 14 turnovers and in three losses have only forced four. Simple equation.

Finishing on Defense
Eighty points. It's the amount the Green Bay Packers have given up in the fourth quarter this season. While the Packers defense ranks 4th overall is rush defense, their finishing of games has been unacceptable. The offense meanwhile has only put up 43 points and has let teams hang around and in one game (Cincinnati), they lost because of it. This team has yet to show the "foot on the throat" mentality, but Monday night at home might be a chance to make that statement, loud and clear. Getting separation in the NFL (and especially in division games) isn't an easy thing but GREAT teams don't just beat their inferior opponents, they CRUSH them. The Bears are a much inferior team and are without their offensive and defensive signal callers; time for the Packers to crush.

Getting Even on Special Teams
Another area the Bears always seem to steal momentum is special teams. Hester hasn't been as potent at scoring TDs lately, but he's still a dangerous threat to give his team exceptional field position at any time. The Packers MUST limit Hester's effectiveness and limit the Bears return yardage on punts and kickoffs. On the flip side, Micah Hyde flashed a burst of surprise on his 93-yard punt return TD against the Vikings last week. The Packers don't need that every game, but they need more consistency out of their kick returners. Field position is important and the return game needs to do its part in setting up the offense in better starting drive position.

Score Prediction
Packers 45, Bears 20

The Bears are ranked 25th or worse in both rush and pass defense. Aaron Rodgers is lethal anywhere, but at home is simply filthy. Expect a healthy balance of Starks and Lacy coupled with early and often TDs from Rodgers to Nelson. The Bears simply won't be able to keep up with the scoring.