Packers at Bears Prediction

This is another tough one to predict.   Through three games I can’t determine if this year’s team is a typical Mike McCarthy slow starting team or just not very good.

Looking back the offense has been borderline bad for 10 of 12 quarters played.  Except for the second half of the jets game the offense can be best described using words like:  uninspired, passive, soft and predictable.  The tight end play has been abysmal with Richard Rodgers looking like a serious reach as a 3rd round pick.  The offensive line seems to have regressed with even the typically dependable Sitton and Lang having tough outings.  Outside of Jordy Nelson the wide receivers have been almost non-existent.  Given all of this it is probably should not be much of a surprise that even All-World Aaron Rodgers has looked human and out of sync.

The defense has shown signs of improvement from the 1st to 3rd week.  They started poorly when they were overrun by Marshawn Lynch in the opener.  In the first half vs. the Jets they were cut to shreds by Gino Smith of all people.   However they followed that up with a strong second half vs. the Jets and a very solid showing vs. a loaded Lions offense.   The only dent in that improvement came at the end of the Lions game, where they seemed to revert to past seasons and were unable to get a 4th quarter stop with the game on the line.

If the Packers are just having a slow start this game, on the road vs. a hated division rival would be where you would expect the turn-around to begin.  If they are just “not very good”, the Bears have been playing well and should be able to finally get a home win vs. their rival.

I may be picking with my heart, but when forced to choose I still believe the Packers are a talented team, with playoff potential.   I feel we will see major improvement from the offense today, especially with improved performances from Eddie Lacy and Randal Cobb.  My prediction Packers win 27-23.

Packers at Lions Prediction

This has been a very hard game to pick.  I keep weighing the vision of the Lions completely dominating the Packers at Detroit last year vs. my feeling that the Packers are the better team.  Of course in last year’s loss Matt Flynn was behind center instead of Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand the Detroit front 4, lead by Suh, so completely dominate the Packers’ offensive line that it didn’t much matter who was at QB.

The other thing on my mind is that it is not uncommon for the Packers under Mike McCarthy to get a slow start to the season.  Based on the first two games it seems that pattern is repeating this year.

Bottom line I expect a close game, but I give a slight edge to the Lions at home.  Chalk this up as another early season Packers loss – Packers lose 34-30.

Give Dom a Break

First off, I am not a Dom Capers apologist.  In fact I was one of the founding members of the “Fire Dom Capers” club after the 2011 season.  Caper’s worst in the league 2011 defense squandered a great NFL offense that was primed to perform a rare repeat as NFL Super Bowl champions.   I have also pointed out how Capers career arch consistently follows the same pattern, a quick turnaround followed by a steady and consistent march to the bottom.

Capers’ schemes are simply too complex and are much more successful confusing his own players than the opposition.  I suspect that as he implements his system, season to season, he continues to burden his players with additional complexity.  This is how you come to rely on marginal talents like AJ Hawk, because they know “the system”, which is no small feat given the increasing complexity.  I also contend that Capers’ reliance on complex schemes is the exact opposite strategy you need for Ted Thompsons draft and develop method of building a team.  Simply put Capers is a bad fit for the Packers and in my opinion should have been replaced several seasons ago.

However, this season, at least this early in the season, I can’t place the blame for the defenses struggles on Capers.  If, and it’s way too early to know, this defense does not improve this season the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy was the one who envisioned and championed this new hybrid defensive scheme using slogans like: “less schemes, more personnel”, “smaller, more athletic defensive lineman”, “elephant position”, etc.   McCarthy was clear in the off-season, he would present the vision for the revamped Packers’ defense and it was up to Capers and his staff to implement it.   This still could end up being a great move over the course of the entire season.  By forcing Capers to reevaluate everything, he might force Capers back to “first year mode” where his schemes are simpler and he has had most of his success.

I also strongly suspect McCarthy was the one who insisted on the “cloak and dagger” approach to rolling out the new 4-3 hybrid scheme.  In hindsight it appears obvious that the Packers should have been using every opportunity, both in open practices and in preseason games, to give both the coaches and players experience running this new defense.   Given this constraint I find it hard to blame Capers for the early season confusion running this new defense.

Capers has let Packer fans down for several seasons and I am as pessimistic as anyone.  However, he was presented with a vision from Mike McCarthy to re-design the defense, and we need to give him a time to implement that vision.

Home opener at Lambeau

Just as I fully expected a Packers loss in the season opener, I expect a win in the home opener.  The Packers were fairly easily handled by the Seahawks, but I don’t think any other NFL team could have come out of that game with a win.  The Packers have their weaknesses, but they also have their strengths.  I fully believe they are a top 10 team and need a win.  The Jets on the other hand, got a win, at home vs. the Raiders, one of the worst teams in the league.

On offense, I am looking for a big game from the Packers.  The Jets defense is good, but it’s not Seattle good.   Even with Derrick Sherrod starting at right tackle I expect the no-huddle offense will be very effective.

On defense, I am excited to see what Lattimore can do in place of Jones.  Everyone (except Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers, and Ted Thompson) knew that the Packers couldn’t afford to go very long with Brad Jones at inside linebacker.  Will Lattimore be great?  Probably not, but competent would be a HUGE improvement. I am also hoping to see what Pennel can do at Nose Tackle.

Prediction: Packers 34-19

Packer Football is BACK!

The Packers kick of their 2014 football season and I couldn’t be more excited.  I just can’t wait to get a look at Rodgers and Lacy, Peppers and Mathews and the reworked defense.  Capers has to prove it to me, but perhaps Mike McCarthy’s insistence that Dom focus on simplifying his schemes and better utilizing his talent will kick him back into “new team mode”, where he has had most of his success.

I really expect to see a tough, competitive football game, similar to the Saints @ Packers game that kicked off the 2011 season. 

There are a lot of similarities to that game. The Packers were the team that just won a Super Bowl and largely because of their youth a lot of people were thinking dynasty or at least a repeat.  The Saints were a former Super Bowl champ with a devastating offense, but a disappointing defense from the season prior.  That 2011 game ended up being a track meet that was won by the defending champs in a very entertaining shootout.  

I don’t expect this game to be a shootout, but I am hoping that the Packers can bring the same type of fire into the Seahawks’ stadium that the Saints brought into Lambeau.

As far as a prediction, I must admit that I once again expect the defending champs, in this case Seahawks, to come out with a win.  I fear the emotions and intensity of this banner raising season opener will just be too much for the Packers to overcome.   Prediction: Seahawks 27-20.  I hope I’m wrong.

 

Preseason Game 1 – Packer’s Starting Defense Fails at only “Adversity” chance.

First off some disclaimers: Yes it was only one play in a meaningless pre-season game and no it’s not necessarily an indicator of how the Packer’s defense will perform this season, but I did find it funny that Caper’s decided to send out his starting defense for an adversity challenge and they managed to fail so spectacularly.

Now I know I shouldn’t find if funny because a talented Packer’s team has been largely held back from reaching its full potential over the last several seasons due to the inability of the defense to handle adversity.  Big games, tight spots, coming off turnovers, one stop to save the season, name almost any adversity you can imagine and it is more likely than not that the defense came up small when the opportunity presented itself.   I found it funny, because it just seemed ironic to me that after an off-season of:  “more personnel, less scheme”, and “put it in big letters the DEFENSE WILL BE BETTER” that the first adversity play, produced the same result we have come to know and hate.

When I saw the play live I was sure the primary person responsible for the failure was Brad Jones.  While the play was in progress I saw Jones running up his own defensive lines backside even while a HUGE hole was opening to his immediate right.   Now after reviewing the play several times, and reading from people who know more about football than me, I am still convinced that Jones and his complete lack of instinct was a primary failure point – but not the only failure.

Pepper’s, playing his first ever game at outside linebacker, did charge up the field too far.  But in my mind his job was to protect and set the edge, which he did.  However, I guess he could be partly to blame.   Mike Daniels seems to shoulder more of the blame.  Instead of closing his gap, he drove the defender inside, in effect making the block for the offense.  If Daniels would have covered his gap, Jones would have been in a perfect spot to fill his gap and stuff the run.

In spite of this I still feel Jones was the weakest link.  Why?  Mainly because Daniels can’t see what Jones is doing, but Jones can see what Daniels is doing.  With just a bit of football instinct Jones should have realized Daniels had destroyed the possibility of an inside run and redirected to fill the resulting gaping hole.

So where does the Packers defense go from here?  I would say a good start would be to recognize their limitations and work with them.  Their problem is that they have an inside linebacker who has limited inside linebacker smarts.  One way to address it is for the guys in front of Jones, to play disciplined gap control defense and funnel plays to his gap since that’s most likely where he’s going to be regardless of what is playing out in front of him.  Another way would be to hope that Sam Barrington, Joe Thomas, or Jake Doughty; guys with legitimate inside linebacker instincts, can replace Jones in the starting lineup.  Either way, by recognizing and working with what they have perhaps the Packer’s defense might be able to start performing better in adversity in the future. Now that I would put in BIG LETTERS.

Prediction: Packers have not done enough in off-season to significantly improve defense.

Just wanted to get my prediction out now, before the game, so no one could claim I am overreacting to a meaningless pre-season contest. Regardless what happens tonight I am still left with the feeling that the Packers did not do enough in the off-season to make meaningful improvement to one of the worst defenses in the league over the last 3 seasons.

First off lets start with the coaching. While it seems cool now, before games have been played, to claim “Dom’s my guy” it’s hard to argue with the fact that Dom Capers’ schemes have consistently done more to confuse his own players than it has to confuse opposing offenses. Defensive backs and linebackers pointing at each other and shaking their heads after a big play has been an all too common occurrence. McCarthy seemed to admit this problem with his “more personnel, less schemes” talk during the off-season. Was McCarthy able to shake up Capers enough to fix the problems. I hope so, but history tells us it’s not likely. Capers’ defenses over the years have consistently gotten worse overtime, if it improves this year that will an exception, far from the rule.

Now on to the players. I don’t agree that the Packer’s defensive talent is bottom 10 in the league, although that is where they consistently rank. There is no doubt however that up the middle (nose tackle, inside linebackers and safety) the Packers talent is very much below average. What did Ted Thompson do to address this weakness during the off-season? Almost nothing.

Thompson did invest a first round pick at safety in Clinton-Dix, but will that pay significant dividends this season? Probably not. See the previous comments about Capers’ schemes confusing his own players along with Tramon Williams comments at the end of the season about the team needing more veteran players and it is likely we will see a talented but often out of position young player. The same is also likely for first year safety, Micah Hyde.

At inside linebacker, which a lot of experts considered as great of a need for upgrade as safety, Thompson did nothing. That’s right nothing! We are left with the starting tandem of AJ Hawk and Brad Jones. Although Hawk’s overall performance is average at best, I understand his value. He is almost never hurt and is assignment sure (which is quite a challenge given Capers’ schemes). Brad Jones on the other hand is simply not an NFL caliber starting inside linebacker. If the Packers cut him tomorrow he might get picked up by another team for depth, but he certainly would not find another starting spot.

Finally at nose tackle we have BJ Raji. Raji has simply been the poster boy for under-performing, on an under-performing defense. If his stats don’t tell you how poorly he has played over the last two years the complete lack of interest in free-agency should have. Will he play better at nose tackle than defensive end? Probably, but probably not enough to be a significant improvement.

I hope I look back at the end of the season at this post and laugh at how wrong I was. I hope if I am correct, the defense can be just good enough to allow the offense to carry the team. But at the end of the day, with a critical eye, I believe we will see another season limited by a bad defense.