November 27, 2014

A Packers / Patriots Crossover Preview Post with NE Patriots Life

This Sunday, the top two teams in the NFL will square off in a mid-season clash of the titans to decide....nothing other than the upper hand in conversation when discussing which team reigns supreme in all of the league.

In any case, here at ATT, we've partnered with the great guys at NE Patriots Life, specifically Mr. Mike Saver to discuss a few key topics that will she light on which team has the best chance of leaving the Frozen Tunrda of Lambeau Field as the NFL's elite team. Enjoy and please tweet your thoughts to both @Titletown_Talk and @PatriotsLife.

Packers and Patriots Keys Stats Through Week 12
Packers and Patriots Keys Stats Through Week 12

Topic #1: Both Green Bay and New England seem to be hitting their offensive strides, with excellent QB play and solid running attacks. Mike, for the few teams that have done it, what’s the key to slowing down Brady,  Gronk and the NE running attack?

Mike, NE Patriots Life: During the Patriots seven game winning streak, it's obviously been pretty rare that a team has slowed down any bit of the Patriots offense. However, despite all of the lopsided scores, the opposing defense has occasionally forced them to play left handed.

The thing with this year's Patriots team is that they are probably one of the most versatile teams in Bill Belichick's tenure. They can do many different things well, which is something Belichick mentioned to the team in the locker room after the 42-20 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts.
Will Gronk get the best of Green Bay's Secondary?
Will Gronk get the best of Green Bay's Secondary?

That game famously saw SI cover boy Jonas Gray rush for over 200 yards and four touchdowns. What's notable about that of course is that Brady struggled in this game (two interceptions) yet the team was able to overcome that and ride the defense and running game to a blowout victory anyway. That's not something you could say before about the Pats.

In the past, teams have always had success against the Pats offense when they've been able to get consistent pressure when only rushing four and dropping seven back in coverage. The Giants laid out this blueprint in the 2007 Super Bowl, and the Packers actually had a lot of success playing off this strategy in 2010 when they nearly upset Brady and the dominant Pats in Foxborough with Matt Flynn as the quarterback. That New England team was later upset in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Jets and afterwards Rex Ryan credited that Packers game plan for their success against Brady. When a team can execute it, the strategy has pretty consistently slowed down this team.This 2014 team has a legitimate power running game to counteract that strategy though, something that hasn't been present since the early 2000s.

You can also try to take Gronk out of the game, but that tends to just open up things on the outside. Case in point, Detroit just relatively limited Gronk, holding him to a touchdownless day (5 catches, 78 yards). If you told the Lions that going into the game, they'd likely be thrilled. They still lost by 25.

You could also try to focus on slowing down the running game, not something many teams have bothered doing, but that obviously then handicaps your ability to put extra guys covering Gronkowski.

Teams have certainly slowed down either Brady, Gronk or the running game, its just been very hard to stop all three strengths of this offense at the same time. That has been what has made the team so dangerous.

Topic #2: Shane, the Packers ability to score on opponents early has been a key to their 8-3 start, what will Belichick’s game plan be to slow down Aaron Rodgers and avoid getting down early?

Shane, Arman's Titletown Talk: At 10.4 points per first quarter Green Bay owns teams out of the game, 2 points better than any NFL team. At home they average 13.8 in the first, more than 3 points ahead of the next NFL team and a TD better than New England at home.

I guess New England will call a conservative game early and focus on establishing their run game on a suspect Green Bay front. The Patriots best chance of keeping the Packers off the scoreboard is holding onto the ball themselves and stringing together a few 10+ play drives that span 5+ minutes. Tom Brady will look to Rob Gronkowski for the intermediate pass and sprinkle in plenty of RB touches to get the Packers off balance early.
Jordy Nelson made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Cool, huh?
Jordy Nelson made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Cool, huh?

On defense, I gander the Patriots will focus on playing coverage defense and trusting their talented corners to win on the outside match-ups against Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. No doubt, New England has a talented secondary, but what they won't account for is what every other defense doesn't - Aaron Rodgers escape-ability. His knack for extending plays makes it almost impossible for the secondary to shut out receivers, and I think we'll see Rodgers scramble and find his guys ad-hoc for a few big plays early. Green Bay will feed off the home crowd and find a way to make plays early and get a lead.

Topic #3: While both coaches will be working hard on game plans, NFL outcomes usually down which team can win more individual matchups. Mike, what’s one individual matchup you think the Patriots will try to exploit to gain the upper hand on Green Bay?

Mike, NE Patriots LifeAs has been the case so often this season, I have to point to the secondary here and the battles between Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis and Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Eddie Lacy has come on as of late, but like the Patriots, the Packers bread and butter is their passing game and future Hall of Fame quarterback. As a result the job that the Pats star studded secondary can do in slowing Rodgers down is likely going to determine the outcome of the game.

Revis has mostly looked like his old self, and most recently added Megatron to his growing list of impressive receivers he's limited. Of course the Pats have used Revis a little differently than the Jets did back in the day - electing not to have him line up on one receiver all game - and so Revis will probably see time on both Cobb and Nelson. When he's not covering one of them it'll be up to the likes of Browner to disrupt the timing on the receivers' routes to try and buy the Patriots pass rush some extra time against an impressive Packers front.

The defensive game plan starts with Revis, so that's the matchup to watch from the Pats perspective.

Similarly Shane, what’s a key matchup you think the Packers should focus on to contain Brady and attack the Patriots offense?

Shane, Arman's Titletown Talk: It's Rob Gronkowski, no question. The Packers have been historically terrible at covering tight ends and this year has been no different. I imagine Dom Capers has conjured up a very specific game plan for tracking Gronk's every move with the goal of keeping him under 75 yards and 5 catches. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are fully capable of holding down Edelman and LaFell, but those matchups can't be ignored because if either guys has a step on the Packers DBs, Brady WILL find them.
Hi, you should follow us on Twitter @Titletown_Talk, thanks!
Hi, you should follow us on Twitter @Titletown_Talk, thanks!

Ultimately, it comes down to protecting the middle of the field. Edelman works the inside routes better than most NFL WRs and Gronk opens up the seams as good as any TE. The Packers inside LBs will be tested and that just happens to be one of the Packers' biggest weakness. Brad Jones or AJ Hawk against Gronk makes me want to throw up in my mouth.

Topic #4: Lastly, let’s both predict what kind of game this will be in the frozen tundra – a high-scoring air affair between two of the game’s best QBs, or a lower-scoring grind-it-out battle won between the tackles. Oh, and a final score prediction.

Mike, NE Patriots LifeThis will be a pretty significant test for the Pats as they are entering a buzz saw in Lambeau. I do ultimately see the Pats pulling this one out. The Pats offense may look to exploit a Packers run defense that has been shaky (-26.9 rush defense rating according to PFF) and that could play right into the hands of the defense as they'll want to keep the red hot Aaron Rodgers on the sideline as much as possible.

I still see it being a relatively high scoring affair, but the Patriots have proven this year that they actually have the personnel to take over a game when they need to with their rushing attack. I think that will ultimately end up being the difference as Rodgers simply may not be able to get enough time on the field to keep up in a shoot out with Brady and company.

Over the last seven games, teams are averaging 19 points against the Patriots. I have to think that Aaron Rodgers and company will be able to best that average, especially at home.
The sight Packer fans hope to see many times this Sunday
The sight Packer fans hope to see many times this Sunday

Patriots 34, Packers 28

Shane, Arman's Titletown Talk: I think this game will be a lower scoring, grind-it-out victory for the Green Bay Packers, Eddie Lacy will continue taking on a larger role in the offense and Aaron Rodgers will hit just the right amount of "home run plays" to keep the Patriots offense off balance. It will be back-and-forth throughout the game, but two Brady INTs will be the difference in a 24-21 win for the Green Bay Packers.

Follow Mike Saver and NE Patriots Life on Twitter and Shane Arman and Arman's Titletown Talk on Twitter.

November 21, 2014

Arman Two Pack Preview: Minnesota Vikings

The Packers play on the road at Minnesota this week, and then have arguably the AFC's best team in New England at home the week. How can the Packers avoid overlooking Minnesota and take care of business on the road?

Shane: They need to take Minnesota seriously and exploit their weaknesses, plain and simple. Teddy Bridgewater gets the ball out quick and is capable of making big plays. Minnesota's run game also isn't anything to sneeze at; at least statistically they are better than Green Bay in that category and we all know the Packers biggest weakness is run defense. The Packers need to exploit Minnesota's lack of balance on offense and tendency for turnovers.

Mitch: This is a good question and a main concern coming up in the next couple of weeks here. The Packers must do three things: stay healthy, protect Aaron Rodgers and continue to be an opportunistic/turnover producing defense. We know the offense is on a monumental roll right now, and if the defense keeps showing up like they have, good luck beating the Pack, anywhere.

How much credit does Dom Capers deserve for the past few weeks' improved defensive performances? And are those aberrations or can the Packers defense maintain their high level of play, perhaps if the offense has an off day?
Green Bay Packers Dom Capers raising his fist in celebration
Green Bay Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers

Shane: Dom deserves a good chunk of credit for the way Green Bay's defense has been playing lately, but the challenge will be if they can keep it up. Teams now have tape and won't be surprised when Clay is lined up everywhere. I'll be particularly interesting to see how the Patriots and Bill Belichick try to neutralize Clay.

Mitch: I think Capers deserves some of the credit, especially with the move of Clay to ILB. Seems to have sparked the defense. Whether the defense can keep it up remains to be seen, but I think if the Packers are able to improve stopping the run, the defense will be given opportunities to make game-changing plays like they have been.

Given the current state of the NFC standings, predict where you think the Packers will finish, including playoff seeding and final record? Also, who would you be most nervous for the Packers to face in their first playoff game, assuming they get in?

Shane: The Packers finish 12-4 and secure the number two seed in the playoffs, earning a first round bye. Games of concern include New England at home, Detroit at home and surprisingly, at Buffalo, which I think will be a tougher game than some Packer fans think. In fact, I predict the Packers will lose that game at Buffalo and beat both New England (in a close game) and Detroit (in a blowout). Either way, the Packers should be poised for a deep playoff run, finishing the season winning 7 out of their last 8. If the Packers happen to falter at home in week 17 to Detroit, I would hate for them to travel to New Orleans in the first round, is a very real possibility.

Mitch: The NFC picture is crazy. A lot of good teams floating around the 4-8 seeds. Here is how I see it:

  • Arizona has Seattle twice (including on the road this week), San Francisco one more time, and a tough game versus a streaking Kansas City team. I still think they are the king of the hill, and will end up 13-3 as the #1 seed. 
  • I mention the above because I see the Packers right behind the Cardinals at 12-4 as the #2 seed. I'm going to tread lightly saying this, but with their two toughest remaining games being at home (New England week 12 and Detroit week 17), I can't see this team losing two more games. 
  • As far as who I would most not like to see in game one (at Lambeau), I would have to say San Francisco if they end up in the playoffs. Just one of those teams who has the Packers number the last couple years. 
  • I will add that if the Packers make the road to the Super Bowl come through the Frozen Tundra, I do not think there is a team in the NFC that can come into Lambeau and walk away victorious.

Predict the Minnesota score and player of the game for Green Bay, not named Aaron Rodgers. 
Eddie Lacy Running Past Oakland Raiders Charles Woodson
Is Eddie Lacy due for a breakout game at Minnesota? 

Shane: Green Bay controls both lines of scrimmage and has a big day running the football on a brisk day in Minnesota. Packers, 34-10. Eddie Lacy is the player of the game, eclipsing 150 yards rushing for the first time this year and adding a few catches with two total TDs.

Mitch: This Sunday at Minnesota I like the Packers 31-17. Player of the game will be a guy who is having a hell of a year, pre free-agency; Randall Cobb.