By Peter Sowards, Featured Columnist Bleacher Report
~For 16 weeks, the Green Bay Packers proved themselves as one of the best teams in the league—and their hard work paid off with a No. 2 seed and first-round bye.
But to reach the Super bowl for the first time since the 2010 season, the Packers will need to be better than very good; excellence must be achieved.
In this article, I’ll take a look at five key adjustments the Packers must make in order to have a successful postseason run.
-Photo Christian Peterson Getty Images
Regain Confidence in Davante Adams
It’s been somewhat of a boom-or-bust season for the rookie wide receiver from Fresno State.
Adams has four games of at least five catches but no more than two in the other 10 he’s played. Mike McCarthy’s game plan in the Week 13 showdown vs. the New England Patriots featured Adams, and he responded with a season-high 121 receiving yards on six receptions.
But since that game—really, since the fourth-quarter touchdown drop vs. the Patriots—Adams has hit the rookie wall, and he’s hit it hard.
Bleacher Report’s Zach Kruse tweeted this opinion during the Week 16 win at Tampa Bay, when Adams was targeted four times and dropped two passes:
In his last four games, Adams has just four catches on 12 targets. Against Detroit in Week 17, he was not targeted.
This is not to say that Adams is not having a fine rookie season—38 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns is good production. But it’s the recent drop in production and in the rookie’s confidence that has to have this team worried just even in the slightest entering the most pivotal time of the year.
Photo Chris Graythen, Getty Images
Better Execution and Play-Calling at the Goal Line
With Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and the complementary weapons on the Packers, there’s no way this team should run seven plays in a goal-to-go situation and come away with zero points.
That was the case on Green Bay’s first offensive possession in the Week 17 showdown for the NFC North vs. Detroit. The Packers had 1st-and-goal at Detroit’s 7-yard line but were unsuccessful in gaining the final seven yards, even when a pass interference penalty gave the Pack a first down at the 1-yard line.
Photo Sporting News -Eddie Lacy has had good blocking most of the season, especially the second half of the season. But he’s been stuffed a few times against the Lions. Once for a safety here, and last week on 4th & goal from the 1. Packers must not leave points on the board in the playoffs against great teams or offenses like Seattle, Dallas, and New England.
McCarthy, inexplicably, went away from Lacy until fourth down. Instead, he implemented short-yardage guru John Kuhn and passes to Nelson and Andrew Quarless.
Thankfully for Green Bay, Detroit stalled on the ensuing possession, and Micah Hyde returned Sam Martin’s punt 55 yards for a touchdown.
Green Bay also lost the ball on downs at the opponent’s 1-yard line a week prior at Tampa Bay, a drive lowlighted by an odd-looking sweep across the formation run by Kuhn on 2nd-and-goal that unsurprisingly went nowhere.
Points come at a premium in the playoffs, and the Packers can’t afford to march their way to the opponent’s goal line only to come up empty handed.
Photo Christian Peterson, Getty Images
No More Blocked Kicks
I haven’t seen this many blocks since Dikembe Mutombo was wearing a Houston Rockets uniform and wagging his finger at diminutive opponents.
The Packers have had a league-high seven kicks blocked this season. Three of the blocks have come from the field-goal unit, tied with Jacksonville for most in the NFL.
“It’s disappointing,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum told Ty Dunne of the Journal Sentinel. “We’ve spent a lot of time, because we’ve had some problems this season in our placement protection. We’ve devoted the necessary time in practice. We were very good in the previous game; we were good inside in that ball game.”
Whatever the reasons may be—Slocum insinuated that left wing Andrew Quarless was the guilty party on the blocked 52-yard attempt against Detroit—they need to get cleaned up—and fast. The Packers have been playing winning football on offense and defense (mostly), but big plays in the opponent’s favor on special teams can turn the tide like no other.
Photo Getty Images
Force More Turnovers
For the first 12 weeks of the season, the Packers were continuing a trend that’s been a mainstay under defensive coordinator Dom Capers: forcing turnovers.
But, against the Patriots in Week 13, the defense failed to produce a turnover for the first time this season, breaking a streak that ranked No. 1 among all NFL teams. And it has forced just one turnover in each of the last four games, despite playing against the turnover-prone Falcons, Bills, Buccaneers and Lions.
The 27 turnovers forced by the 2014 Packers are good for ninth best in the league, but they’re coming too infrequently at the end of the season. The 2010 postseason showed us just how impactful turnovers can be: Tramon Williams’ game-sealing interception at Philadelphia, his pick-six at the end of the first half at Atlanta, B.J. Raji’s pick-six and Sam Shield’s clinching pick at Chicago, and—who could forget—Nick Collins’ pick-six and Clay Matthews forced fumble in Green Bay’s 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
Give the offense more opportunities to score by forcing more turnovers, and this team has a great chance to win the Super Bowl.
Photo Cliff McBride, Getty Images
Eliminate Stupid Penalties
Brad Jones has played better in the latter half of the season as the defense’s dime linebacker. He has tremendous speed (4.54 40-yard dash) for a man of his size (6’3″, 232), and his coverage abilities are decent enough.
But had the Packers lost their Week 17 contest against Detroit and ultimately lost the NFC North, much of the blame would be rightfully placed on Jones’ shoulders.
With less than a minute to play in the first half, the Lions faced a 3rd-and-13 at the Packers’ 35-yard line. Detroit’s offense had done nothing up to that point, and Green Bay held a 14-0 lead. But, Aaron Rodgers had just been carted to the locker room with an injury that looked like it would sideline the MVP candidate for the rest of the game, if not the season.
Stafford dropped back to pass and fired over the middle to Reggie Bush, but the attempt came up short. It looked as if the Lions would be forced to punt or kick a 52-yard field goal, neither desirable options. But then the penalty icon populated just below the box score on the Fox broadcast, and replays showed that Jones had whacked Stafford in the face on his way past the quarterback.
Was it a ticky-tack call? Yes. But by the letter of the law, it was the right call.
On the next play, Stafford found Calvin Johnson for a 20-yard touchdown, and the Lions were right back in it.
The call ultimately didn’t come back to bite Green Bay, but it gave the Lions a much better chance to win, and it can’t happen again if the Packers want a shot for their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Original story here where you can click thru it slide by slide to read it in it’s original form
By Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
~ Dez Bryant is all about winning right now.
Obviously, he’s happy about setting the Dallas Cowboys’ single-season franchise record for receiving touchdowns with 16 after scoring two on Sunday, but he wasn’t really that interested in talking about it.
“Oh man, it feels good [to set the record], but that’s not what I want,” Bryant said. “We’ve worked too hard and have got an opportunity to do something special. That’s on my mind.”
Each of Bryant’s touchdowns Sunday were terrific individual plays that highlighted his growth as a player, while demonstrating just how difficult it is for opposing teams to defend the 26-year-old receiver.
Packer fans saw last year what Bryant can do, even when covered well.
Play press coverage and he’s gotten better at his release, and if he gets a step he never gives it back. Play off and the Cowboys will throw him a hitch or a slant, and he’s hard to bring down when he’s on the move.
And he makes more contested catches than any other player on the roster. If he’s blanketed, he can still catch the ball.
After DeSean Jackson gave Washington a 7-3 lead in the first quarter on a 69-yard wide receiver screen, Bryant took a hitch 65 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown on the Cowboys’ next possession.
He caught the ball, made one move on David Amerson and sprinted down the left sideline for a touchdown.
On the next series, Amerson had Bryant covered tightly in the corner of the end zone, but Bryant maneuvered his body so he could snatch the ball and still get his feet down. After coach Jason Garrett challenged the play, the ruling on the field was reversed and Bryant was awarded a touchdown.
The nation saw what Julio Jones did to the Packers defense earlier in December. And that was without the threat of a great running game like Dallas has. Bryant is better and stronger and more competitive than Jones is, and Romo is better than Matt Ryan is. The Packers have to give help to Shields and Tramon Williams on Bryant. But then the top-rated Dallas OL will have an easier time opening up holes for DeMarco Murray.
“I knew I was in,” Bryant said. “I know the end zone. The ref said I was on the white, but there was a big ole divot on the green where my foot hit.”
Bryant is playing his best football, when it matters most.
In the 7 games since Arizona held him to a pair of catches for 15 yards, Bryant has 38 catches for 685 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has 13 catches of 20 yards or more.
“Dez is really a remarkable player,” Jason Witten said. “As a teammate, as leader, as a veteran guy, you take a lot of pride in seeing the growth of Dez and DeMarco mature as players. Dez is a unbelievable player, he’s a dynamic player, and it’s great to see his growth.”
Original story here
From Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
Cowboys’ diversity on offense makes them a team no one wants to face in playoffs
~LANDOVER, Md. — Two plays and 51 seconds in a season full of memorable moments showed why these Dallas Cowboys aren’t content with winning the NFC East.
Or being the only team undefeated on the road after beating the Washington Redskins. Or winning 12 games, including all four in December, to forever end any chatter about December swoons.
They want to do more. And they have the offense to do it.
With 3:05 left in the first quarter, DeMarco Murray burst off the left end behind a block from Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for a 32-yard gain that broke Emmitt Smith’s 19-year single-season franchise record of 1,773 yards.
AP Photo/Richard Lipski
In addition to finishing the regular season with a league-best 1,845 yards rushing, DeMarco Murray eclipsed Emmitt Smith’s 19-year single-season franchise record of 1,773 yards.
On the next play, Tony Romo threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant, who made a sensational toe-tapping catch in the corner of the end zone that required a challenge flag and a replay in order to count, giving the Cowboys a 17-7 lead.
Romo finished with 34 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a league-best 114.4 passer rating, while Bryant set the franchise record with a league-leading 16 touchdown receptions.
Murray ended the season with a league-best 1,845 yards rushing, winning the title by more than 400 yards.
Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson of the ’70s Cowboys passed the legacy of dynamic offensive football to Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin of the ’90s, who have now passed it to Romo, Murray and Bryant.
Dallas 44, Washington 17.
“We’re going to push the envelope and be an aggressive, attacking-style offense that can run it and throw it,” Romo said. “For us, we just want to score on every possession we have the ball.”
The Cowboys did that in the first half against Washington, gaining 294 yards with 16 first downs as they scored on each of their first four possessions to build a 27-10 halftime lead.
The way they’ve played offense since an embarrassing 33-10 loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day has been phenomenal.
The Cowboys have scored more than 40 points three times in the past four games and finished the month with 165 points — the most in franchise history. They have scored on 25 of 45 possessions this month, and three times they have scored on four consecutive possessions in a game.
“We’re versatile,” left guard Ron Leary said. “You try to stop one aspect of our offense and we’ll get the other one going. It’s real balanced, and we have a lot of great players on offense. We’re rolling now, and it’s only going to get better.”
Who’s going to doubt them?
These Cowboys scored 467 points, the second-highest total in franchise history. Only the 1983 Cowboys (479 points) scored more. Dallas scored more than 30 points 10 times, including each of their last seven road games.
Romo-to-Bryant has been nearly unstoppable this year as defenses have been forced to pay more attention to #29 getting handoffs behind that fantastic offensive line.
The Cowboys’ diversity makes them the best offense in the playoffs. When teams use their safety near the line of scrimmage to stop Murray, Romo attacks deep with passes to Bryant or Terrance Williams, as the QB did Sunday.
Bryant had touchdown receptions of 65 and 23 yards, while Williams had a 51-yard catch and drew a 26-yard pass-interference penalty that set up a field goal.
When teams use a safety to double Bryant or tight end Jason Witten, the Cowboys will run Murray all day long.
Murray finished with 20 carries for 100 yards, and Joseph Randle added a 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. A holding penalty negated an apparent 80-yard touchdown run by Lance Dunbar in the second quarter.
You can’t help but watch this offense and think about the Triplets of the glory days of the ’90s, when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls and dominated the NFL.
“We have playmakers on our team,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If guys go out there and do their job, then plays are going to be made. We believe that.
“It starts with having a physical offense — physical upfront, physical on the edges, physical runners and a physical receiver.
Dallas had no trouble in Seattle, simply pounding it thru the smaller Seattle defense, and not allowing the Seahawk DB’s to dictate the flow of the game by getting away with grabbing and holding the Dallas receivers all day long.
“We emphasize that more than anything else: Come off the ball, control the line of scrimmage, be a physical team, and everything else will follow.”
No longer does Romo trust himself more than his teammates. He’s more than willing to let others make plays, which has made him a better quarterback.
Romo, who has 45 career 300-yard games, had one this season. The 34 passes he threw against Washington marked just the fifth time he’s thrown more than 30 passes this year.
Finally, Garrett and Romo have figured out less can be more.
It’s winning time and the Cowboys are playing their best football, and the latest version of the Triplets makes these Cowboys a team no one wants to deal with in the playoffs.
Original story here
From Greg A Bedard, MMQB
Why They Should Worry
Every postseason for the past decade, at least one team with a first-round bye has lost its first playoff game. This January, two teams who earned a week off are ripe for a one-and-done postseason
In New England, Seattle, Denver and Green Bay, fans will wake up this morning thinking about how great the bye week will be, a chance for their teams to rest up and then be one victory—a home victory—away from the conference championship, with the Super Bowl to follow. They can almost taste the dry air of Glendale, Ariz., home of Super Bowl XLIX.
But those fans should remember one inescapable fact: The odds are very strong that at least one of those easy-living teams will lose its first game in the playoffs. The 2004 season was the last time the postseason played to chalk, with the two top seeds in each conference holding serve at home. Two teams that earned bye weeks went one-and-done after the 2005, ’07 and ’10 seasons. Three teams kicked rocks in the massacre of ’08.
Good luck trying to find a Seahawks, Patriots, Broncos or Packers fan who thinks his team will be the one bounced early from the dance. In some cases, that involves temporary amnesia.
The 2012 Broncos rolled into the postseason at 13-3 with 11 straight victories. They were facing a Ravens team that they had just hammered less than a month prior—on the road, no less—by a score of 34-17. The result?
Safety Rahim Moore cost the Broncos the game and probably a Super Bowl appearance, with this one unbelievable misplay.
Broncos fell 38-35 in overtime thanks to safety Rahim Moore’s coverage gaffe near the end of regulation. Moore still starts for Denver.
What about the Packers? In 2011, Green Bay was 15-1. They had league MVP Aaron Rodgers steering the ship. And in their first playoff game, the Packers were dumped 37-20 by the Giants at Lambeau Field.
Hakeem Nicks hasn’t made a good catch in 3 years. This one over Woodson to end the first half was a killer.
And who could forget about the 2010 Patriots, who finished 14-2, with eight straight victories, including four by 29 points or more? They welcomed the Jets to Gillette Stadium, the same field where New England tattooed Gang Green 45-3 just six weeks earlier. Result? The Jets dominated the Patriots 28-21 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.
The Seahawks have never choked after a bye (they hadn’t had many before last season), so their fans might not be sure what we’re talking about. They will continue on in their (elite) neophyte bliss (ah, newbies).
The Seahawks are the team least likely to go one-and-done after a bye. Unless Detroit upsets Dallas, Seattle will host either the Panthers (7-8-1) or the Cardinals (who could still be on their third-string quarterback). Hard to see Seattle losing at home to Ryan Lindley, and it’s even more difficult to project a Panthers win at CenturyLink Field.
The Patriots would be heavy favorites against the Colts and Bengals, two teams New England already beat this season by a combined 85-37. And while, yes, a Ravens victory over the Steelers would stir up some nauseating nightmares about Playoff Exits Past among the New England faithful, Baltimore doesn’t have near the defense needed to halt Tom Brady and company.
But the other two teams—Green Bay and Denver, in that order—are prime candidates to taste quick defeat.
All things being equal, Denver is the ripest for an upset. Peyton Manning hasn’t played consistently well since before the loss to the Patriots in Week 9, and that could be due to a tired arm, if not an outright injury. The bye week should help get him ready for the divisional round, but all bets are off after that. The formula for beating this version of the Broncos is to stop the run and force Manning to throw the ball more than 40 times. Denver is 2-4 in those games, including the four-interception performance against the Bengals on Dec. 22. Also, the Broncos are 2-3 against other playoff teams (the worst mark among the league’s top four seeds) and haven’t beaten one since Oct. 5, against the Drew Stanton-led Cardinals. Denver is, however, 9-3 against teams that finished .500 or better.
And while a potential matchup against the high-scoring Steelers would be difficult, like the Ravens, this version of the Steelers defense doesn’t approach its predecessors (30th in FootballOutsiders.com DVOA—defense-adjusted value over average—heading into Week 17) and would have difficulty holding serve against Manning. An upset is certainly a possibility, but less so than the chances of a Packers loss.
The Original Triplets eliminated the MVP Favre and the Packers 3-straight playoffs, from 1993-1995.
Since the Thanksgiving blowout loss against the Eagles, the Cowboys are scoring an average of 41.3 points and allowing 19.8, and a lot of the games haven’t been that close. Dallas’ defense (22nd in DVOA) would certainly have problems stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ high-octane offense, but the ultimate antidote is a ball-control offense. Few teams can control the clock like the Cowboys, thanks to an outstanding offensive line and running back DeMarco Murray. And Green Bay is still unproven against the better rushing offenses. The Packers have faced four teams ranked in the top 10 for run DVOA (Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota twice and Miami) and gone 3-2, with two of those victories being squeakers over the Dolphins and Vikings.
The New Triplets -Romo just became the Cowboys all-time passing leader, and beat Rodgers for the 2014 Passer Rating Title. -Murray just eclipsed Emmitt Smith’s Cowboy single-season rushing record. -Bryant just set the Dallas single-season receiving touchdown record. Remember what Julio Jones did at Green Bay on December 8th? Bryant is better, and stronger. And has a better QB and much better RB for the Packers defense to worry about.
Add in the Dallas passing game (Tony Romo finished with a higher passer rating and completion percentage than Rodgers) and the fact that the Cowboys were a perfect 8-0 on the road this season, including a victory at Seattle, and the setup is there for a tremendous matchup, if not an outright upset, if the two teams meet at Lambeau Field.
All four teams that earned postseason byes also earned the confidence that goes along with an excellent regular season. But if the past decade has taught us anything, it’s there are no free rides to the conference title games. Fans in Green Bay and Denver should be bracing themselves for the worst.
Original story here
From Tyler Dunne, Journal Sentinel
~Beat writer Tyler Dunne answered your Packers-Lions questions after the game Sunday.
Q: Ralph hamilton, Joplin mo – Who would you expect the packers to play next?
A: Tyler Dunne – Ralph: How’s it going, everyone? Thanks for staying up late tonight for the Packers chat. Ralph, you have to think it’s the Dallas Cowboys. Really hard to see this Detroit team going into Texas and winning after such a demoralizing loss. The Cowboys are the rare team that could hang with Green Bay drive for drive with those weapons, and for all the good vibes the Packers have out of Sunday, Dallas could head into that divisional round match-up on a 5-game winning streak. It’d be one heck of a game.
Q: Hugo, Honolulu – Hey Tyler, Crazy game- for a minute I thought it was Favre hobbling around the turf throwing strikes! Any thoughts on the offense and how successful it was against the number one run defense? Aloha
A: Tyler Dunne – Hugo: This is the kind of game that further builds a legacy, that’s for certain. Aaron Rodgers injured a different part of that left calf and gritted through it. As he said himself afterward, the big picture was on his mind. A loss meant playing AT Dallas…in six days. A win meant a two-week rest and getting Dallas (or whoever’s the top seed) at home. Who knows if Rodgers could’ve realistically recovered in time for a wild card game? He appeared to be in serious pain. The fact that he has effectively changed his game — a lot of shotgun, a lot of staying in the pocket — and still been playing at this level is remarkable. While the team probably knew this injury was more serious than it let on during the week, one of QB coach Alex Van Pelt’s comments rang true this game: “He knows how to play the game from a lot of different places on the field.” Right now, that’s shimmying inside the pocket.
Q: Rich, Dayton – Thanks for the chat. Was Rodgers’ calf injury the reason he played out of the shotgun the entire second half?
A: Tyler Dunne – Rich: Yes. Rodgers asked McCarthy upon returning to stick to the shotgun.
Q: HC, Carlsbad CA – Cutting right to the chase. What are your thoughts on the Suh incident?
A: Tyler Dunne – HC: Like most, it looked like something we’ve seen from Suh repeatedly through his career. Many times, he’s had incidents like this and decried it as an accident, as playing through a whistle. Remember Suh initially defending the stomp in 2011? One step, maybe, is incidental. But it’s pretty clear that the 305-pounder took two steps on Rodgers’ leg. The offensive linemen hadn’t seen footage of the play, but as T.J. Lang said, “There’s some history there.” If there’s intent, it’s a dirty play on par with everything else he’s been fined for.
Q: Cheesehead Sports Nut, @CheeseheadSN – The Packers ran the ball well early on but oddly seemed to struggle running the ball as the game wore on. Usually rushing yards are gained the opposite way in the NFL with running backs piling up yards in the second half as teams are trying to salt away wins. What are your take aways from their running performance against the best rush defense in the NFL?
A: Tyler Dunne – Cheese: The Lions have been allowing less than 70 yards per game on the ground and Green Bay went for 152 on 38 attempts. That’s a pretty emphatic success here. Against this two-deep look, the Packers needed to gash Detroit early and that’s exactly what they did with Eddie Lacy gaining 67 yards on 11 first-half carries. That success — making the Lions respect the run more — had to help Rodgers in his return, too. When asked by one reporter afterward if it’s safe to say Rodgers doesn’t do what he does if the run game isn’t rolling early, Bryan Bulaga said “I’ll never count out anything he can do but I think it definitely helped. I think we kept a pretty clean pocket for him. He didn’t have to move around too much when he came back in, which is important.” He’s right. The Packers were able to keep Detroit off balance with the run and pass. Rodgers had a MVP-like day but this offensive line has come a long ways since Week 3, too. They mostly manhandled one of the best front fours in football.
Q: sjupton – Starks. Howard Green. Erik Walden. Guys that played outside of themselves late and propelled the ’10 team to a Super Bowl. If we are sitting here a few weeks from now and talking about a win in Glendale-who in your opinion will have stepped up their play exponentially to become a key contributor to another championship team?
A: Tyler Dunne – SJ: Good question. Agree that for any team to make a Super Bowl run, you need those two or three contributors that practically come out of nowhere. Who are those players on this team? Tight end Richard Rodgers played a ton on Sunday. He caught all five passes thrown his way and held up as a blocker — and you might remember him getting beat on that safety in Detroit, too. Possibly, he continues to be a solid third or fourth option for Aaron Rodgers. At some point in the postseason, the kicking game will be a difference one way or another for this team. Seven blocked kicks in one season is beyond bizarre. Not a good trend at all for this team. And Micah Hyde tied a team record with his third punt return for a score. Kick returner DuJuan Harris didn’t even dress on Sunday, too. As Mike McCarthy said this week, the return game takes on a larger emphasis at this point of the season. There’s going to be shorter kicks; more chances at returns. If Hyde makes the first man miss, he gets north quickly. He might be a candidate for your question as well.
Q: Dawg 13, Broken Arrow OK – Not that I’m complaining but do you have any idea why Detroit didn’t use any TO’s with less then 5 minutes to go and down 14? That allowed us to take an additional 2:30 or so off the clock. Almost seems they weren’t concerned about winning or not.
A: Tyler Dunne – Dawg: More than clock management, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Joique Bell and Reggie Bush under-utilized in the run game. Yeah, the Lions had to flip into a 2-minute mode after the Packers went ahead 28-14, but even before that the Lions had abandoned a productive rushing attack. Bell was bouncing off defenders to the tune of 5.3 yards per carry in the first half and then had two attempts in the second. Bush had 34 total yards on four touches in the first half. Yet the Lions kept on throwing and Matthew Stafford had more incompletions (21) than completions (20).
Q: Steve, West Des Moines, IA – Tyler, not the first time Brad Jones has committed BAD penalties at the worst possible time – wouldn’t cutting him first thing tomorrow send a message? Fine line on playing aggressive but that was TERRIBLE. Do coaches warn players about repeating boneheaded stuff or do they just let it go? I just can’t understand how Jones could think he’d get away with a blatant and unnecessary helmet slap on a QB in today’s NFL.
A: Tyler Dunne – Steve: That was a huge penalty and Brad Jones has certainly had a handful of those in his limited snaps this season (at Seattle, Miami). Dont think youll see the Packers outright cut Brad Jones any time soon. Theyve stood by him before and defensive coordinator Dom Capers has said multiple times that he likes Jones ability to rush. All players today know they cant smack a quarterback in the head. A major gaffe at the worst time here. Jones playing time has fluctuated all year, so maybe the Packers do go with someone else in that role. I just wouldn’t hold your breath. Capers likes using so many different linebackers in his packages. Don’t know if they’d want to double-up somebody else as the dime.
Q: Mike, Evansville, IN – What a gritty performance by Our MVP! Do you see the NFL suspending Suh for their playoff game for stepping on Rodgers? What would be the key for the Packers to avenge their opening day loss to Seattle if we meet them up there again for the NFC Championship? Even though it would have been nice to gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs, don’t you think a win in Seattle would seem sweeter?
A: Tyler Dunne – Mike: The Seahawks have allowed 39 points in their last 6 games (that is an average of 6 1/2 points per game).
OK, so they played Ryan Lindley and Colin Kaepernick. That’s still an insane number. Right now, they’re still the favorite. Do think the way the Packers’ offensive line is playing right now gives you reason to think a return to Century Link Field goes differently this time.
Q: Brad, Missouri – It seems like our d-backs played pretty well today, what say you Mr. Dunne?
A: Tyler Dunne – Brad: You can call me Tyler. Don’t let this receding hairline fool you! Yeah, Calvin Johnson did score two touchdowns but this is probably the best the Packers have contained Megatron in a while. He did get behind the Packers’ secondary once deep and Matthew Stafford overthrew the receiver on a would-be TD. But he finished with only 39 yards on 11 targets. Green Bay will take that. Tramon Williams did a nice job of positioning and leveraging routes, not letting Johnson get to his desired spots.
Q: Steve – Adams was running free on a couple of routes, Boykin was open on the slant in the endzone in the first series, but Rodgers didn’t throw to either today. Is is a case of him losing confidence in them and waiting for those he know can catch to come open?
A: Tyler Dunne – Steve: Probably a combination of progressions and trust. Adams’ two drops last week surely didn’t help his cause and Boykin hasn’t really been involved much all season. The Packers only had 23 pass attempts, so there weren’t a ton of opportunities. But did notice the open Boykin. The Packers finally started punching in those red-zone opportunities Sunday. After stalling at the 1-yard line in the first half, they were 6 of 17 in the red zone in their last four-plus games.
Q: Bart, Rhinelander – Hey Tyler, Appreciate your burning the midnight oil on game day, which undoubtedly is already a long one for you. My comment is on Brad Jones. Beyond the penalty that sustained a scoring drive for Detroit (I recall that this is the second such offense for Jones this year) using him as the dime linebacker absolutely perplexes me. He’s not good in coverage, he’s fair at best on open field tackles and unless nobody touches him, he has little chance of reaching the quarterback. I know we are thin at inside linebacker, so wouldn’t Sean Richardson be a much better option from both a coverage and tackling standpoint? That’s outside the box, but Dom is noted for going there… your thoughts?! Thanks Man!
A: Tyler Dunne – Bart: Thanks a lot. Capers has been using Sean Richardson more and could, theoretically, get creative there. But don’t think they’re going to do anything radical defensively at this point. Jones was playing better after getting thrown back into the defense. At Buffalo, in his 11 snaps, he ended three drives. He took down receivers short of the market twice with open-field tackles and then broke up a third-down pass to Fred Jackson. So even though we’ve got dozens upon dozens of Jones-related questions in tonight’s chat, I’m not sure they’ll bench him after one hand to the QB’s head. The Packers like the fact that he can cover and blitz in that role, and as Capers has said they want to use as many different players as possible.
Q: BigFatFloridaGreek, Safety Harbor, FL via Milwaukee, WI – Suh is just a lousy, despicable human being. Tyler, How much do you wanna bet 1) he denies it was intentional (it most certainly was) 2) the wrist slap Suh gets from the league won’t be nearly enough?
A: Tyler Dunne – Big Fat: We don’t know what Ndamukong Suh was thinking on the play because he didn’t speak to Detroit reporters. As far as league punishment, given his history, you have to think anything’s possible.
Q: Danl, Expat Milwaukeean – Here’s my Suh question: Football seems like a game where these guys likely step on each other all the time, still it’s only the guys in Detroit who get caught on film doing it?
A: Tyler Dunne – Danl: I think players know where that line is. There’s not as much gray area as you’d think in this game. This play kind was something like a hockey player hip-checking a another into the boards when that player’s skating to the bench. Yeah, players do get stepped on, but not like this. Suh took two steps back into Rodgers after the play. Only Suh knows what Suh was thinking, but Step No. 2 alone could lead to discipline from the NFL.
Q: Dave Piskorski, Mounds View, MN – The offensive line has been playing at a very high level, both in the run game and giving Rodgers time to throw. The O-line may be the best chance GB has in advancing into the playoffs. With Lacey running the ball at 5 yards a carry and Rodgers having time to wait on Nelson and Cobb to get open, GB can definitely play with any of the playoff teams. As much as this pains me, should we all root for Detroit next week against Dallas?
A: Tyler Dunne – Dave: The Lions put this game on their defensive line and the defensive line failed. Aaron Rodgers was hardly touched and Eddie Lacy gashed them early when it mattered most. Not surprisingly, the Lions played both safeties deep. This time, Green Bay took advantage. Suh and Ansah were not factors against a Packers’ offensive line still playing as well as it has under McCarthy. Rodgers had a lot of time in a wide cup of a pocket his 13 second-half pass attempts. You can root for Detroit, but it’ll probably be more of the same in Dallas. Tony Romo’s offensive line has played just as well this season.
Q: Brad, Missouri – Would Carolina or Arizona pose any threat to the Seahawks?
A: Tyler Dunne – No.
Q: Matt, Detroit, MI – Just to clarify, I’m forced (wife) to live in MI and I’m so excited that I don’t have to listen to the lions fan’s for awhile. What is the problem with our blocking on FG attempts. Is it is scheme, is it low kicks by Crosby, something else?
A: Tyler Dunne – Matt: They’ve said it’s the blocking up front, not Crosby’s trajectory. Giving Lang and Sitton a blow on special teams seemed to be a problem early but seven blocks? Two in a season is high. Shawn Slocum talks to us tomorrow, so we’ll more info then.
Q: Jesse, Tahlequah OK – Hey Ty, Great win and Rodgers is Superman. Being 4x in a row division champs is truly dominating our closest rivals. Awesome. BUT… I have to say I don’t like GBs matchups in the playoffs. A likely home game against a power running Dallas team with a good playaction game, and IF they win that, yet ANOTHER trip to Seattle (probably) to face the ground-and-pound LOB. Assuming 90% or higher health for ARod can they get back to the big game? Will they?
A: Tyler Dunne – Jesse: Sure. He’s the one player nobody else in the NFC has. And whether it’s that fake spike at Miami, six touchdowns in one half, edging Tom Brady or this, he’s finding different ways to beat you. His scrambling ability completely taken away — confined to the pocket — he converted crucial third downs. Dallas and Seattle are difficult match-ups for sure. Even though they haven’t played much in the cold this season, Dallas’ big receivers and power rushing attack should be able to travel. The Packers will need Rodgers as close to 100% in two weeks. And Seattle is the obvious favorite at home, but Rodgers probably doesn’t avoid Richard Sherman completely the second time around. Still see the Seahawks as an obvious favorite, but it’s a different Packers offense. Remember, Derek Sherrod played that game.
Q: Michael , Middleton – What exactly is Rodgers injury? We’re all assuming he’ll be fine in two weeks. Is that a good assumption?
A: Tyler Dunne – Michael: Right, he said he injured a different part of his calf. He didn’t simply re-aggravate the same injury. Two weeks help but he’ll keep playing with that heel pad and need a lot of treatment. Hard to say what kind of shape he’ll be in by Jan. 11. … OK, guys. Thanks a lot for chatting tonight. Catch you all soon.
Here is the complete schedule for the 2014 NFL playoffs.
• Saturday, Jan. 3: Arizona at Carolina, 4:35 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Saturday, Jan. 3: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
• Sunday, Jan. 4: Cincinnati at Indianapolis, 1:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
• Sunday, Jan. 4: Detroit at Dallas, 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX)
• Saturday, Jan. 10: TBD at New England, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
• Saturday, Jan. 10: TBD at Seattle, 8:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
• Sunday, Jan. 11: *Dallas at Green Bay, 12:05 p.m. CT (FOX)
• Sunday, Jan. 11: TBD at Denver, 4:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
• NFC title game: Sunday, Jan. 18, 2:05 p.m. CT at *Seattle (FOX)
• AFC title game: Sunday, Jan. 18, 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
Super Bowl XLIX
• Sunday, Feb. 1, 5:30 p.m. CT (NBC), University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
* My projections, betting favorites.
~ GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers is limping into the playoffs with a smile.
Green Bay’s franchise quarterback threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy gashed Detroit’s defense for 100 yards and the Packers claimed a fourth straight NFC North title with 30-20 victory Sunday.
Maligned by a left calf injury, Rodgers will appreciate a week off after the win, as the Packers (12-4) earned a bye. Detroit (11-5) will start the postseason at Dallas next week.
Rodgers was carted to the locker room after tossing his first score to Cobb late in the second quarter.
Rodgers throws a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, as he re-injured the leg. AP Photo Tom Lynn
He hobbled back on to the field in the third quarter with the game tied at 14. He led Green Bay on a seven-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard score to Cobb with 3:33 left in the quarter. The Packers didn’t look back from there.
The Packers 14-0 lead that Rodgers helped get the Packers out to had erased, and was 14-14 when Rodgers was able to return, after one crappy Matt Flynn-led drive.
-AP Tom Lynn photo
Rodgers plunged forward across the goal line from 1 yard out with 8:45 left to help Green Bay regain a two-touchdown lead. “MVP! MVP” chanted adoring fans while light snow dusted Lambeau Field.
Rodgers finished 17 of 22 for 226 yards. He was out of the game for about a 7-minute stretch between the second and third quarters. In between, receiver Calvin Johnson had touchdown catches of 4 and 20 yards on consecutive drives to help the Lions roar back from a 14-0 deficit.
Detroit hasn’t won a division title since 1993. It hasn’t won a road game against the Packers since 1991. For a few moments while Rodgers was out, it looked like both those streaks might come to an end.
Eddie Lacy became the first RB this year to hit 100 yards on the Lions vaunted run defense.
Photo Chris Graythen, Getty Images
Instead the Packers were celebrating again at Lambeau Field. They finished the regular season 8-0 at home.
The Lions did draw to within 30-20 with 1:45 left after Matthew Stafford connected with Theo Riddick for a 6-yard touchdown pass. But Riddick’s 2-point conversion run failed, Tramon Williams recovered the ensuing onside kick and Green Bay ran out the clock.
Stafford finished 20 of 41 for 217 yards, while Johnson had four catches for 39 yards.
The Lions head home at least with the comfort that they had clinched playoff berth regardless of Sunday’s outcome. It’s just the second playoff appearance since 2000 for the often-forlorn franchise.
They could have accomplished so much more if not for some painful mistakes.
After blocking Mason Crosby’s 52-yard field goal attempt, the Lions lost the ball when Stafford fumbled on what looked like an aborted handoff to Joique Bell. Morgan Burnett recovered at the Detroit 42 with 13:28 left in the game.
Mordan Burnett recovers a Lions fumble when the score was 21-14 Packers. That was the service break the Packers needed to open it up to a two score lead, which the Packers did.
-AP Tom Lynn photo
The Packers cashed in with Rodgers’ 1-yard sneak into the end zone on their next drive.
Rodgers felt more pain later in the quarter after Detroit’s 305-pound defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, stumbled back and stepped on Rodgers’ left ankle while the quarterback was on the ground at the end of a play. There was no penalty, and Rodgers tried to shove Suh back as the defender walked away.
The Packers ended up walking away with another division title. They tacked on a safety after Stafford was whistled for intentional grounding in the end zone after being pressured by end Datone Jones late in the fourth quarter.
The miscues came early, too, for Detroit.
The Lions stuffed Lacy on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first quarter. They forced Lacy to fumble early in the second quarter deep in Detroit territory.
Micah Hyde takes a punt back 55 yards for a touchdown to open up the scoring.
-Photo AP Tom Lynn
But five penalties maligned the Lions in the first half, when their average drive started on their own 14. The short field worked to Green Bay’s advantage when Micah Hyde returned a punt 55 yards to the end zone with 4:49 left in the first quarter to open the scoring.
AP Tom Lynn photo
ESPN story here
From Robert Zizzo, PackersNews.com
~Happy Friday everyone. It’s time to chat about the Packers.
Robert Zizzo fielded Packers questions and comments in a chat on Friday afternoon. To learn more, read the replay.
From LORI NICKEL, Journal Sentinel
~Journal Sentinel Packers beat reporter Lori Nickel answered questions in a Friday chat.
- Q: steve, Madison – Hi Lori, I hope you and your family had a nice Christmas. I get how older players can hit a wall and regress but how can younger players like Bostick and Boykin regress? Thanks
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Steve, Christmas was great, and same to you. Thank you and everyone else for participating in this chat. I’m filling in for Bob McGinn this week. Chat was supposed to start at noon, but I’m going to start early because Mike McCarthy talks at 12:30, hope that’s OK. Let’s get started. After reading your question, I wanted to check a few stats first, out of curiosity. ~ Jordy Nelson has been targeted 143 times in 2014; Randall Cobb has been targeted 121 times; and Eddie Lacy has carried the ball 220 times. That’s 484 plays over the course of the season, or an average of 32 a game. The Packers have 939 offensive plays this year, or about 63 a game. ~ So, about half of all of the offensive plays are going to The Big Three (32 of 63). That makes it extremely competitive for James Starks, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams to fight for what’s left. And don’t forget about Aaron Rodgers’ 41 carries this season as a running back. ~ Those are all proven players and the rookie Adams is a high draft pick. They’re going to get their minutes, looks and plays in the big book. Now, also consider that Green Bay has remained healthy this year. Guys haven’t missed significant game or practice time with injuries. (Hallelujah!) ~ Is it possible with that you are seeing the Packers play primarily with this strong nucleus? And that other guys have been on the outside, looking in? I think so. Consider young receiver Myles White. Did he regress? Or is he on the practice squad this year after playing in seven games last year simply because of numbers and health? Having said that, we do know from Tom Silverstein’s reporting that Bostick hasn’t mastered all the tight end assignments and TEs coach Jerry Fontenot refuses to put him on the field until he does. “I need to feel more comfortable with the things we’re doing in practice,” Fontenot told Silverstein. “I need to see that he’s making split-second decisions, the right decisions. We’re still getting there.” I also wonder if Bostick and Boykin are the kind of players who do better if they get involved in the game earlier. Or more frequently. Jermichael Finley, if I recall, was a little like that. It is very hard to just jump in for one play when it is well known it will likely b the only play for the game. That can affect not only the performance of these guys in the game – but also their attitude, and approach, in practice. We all saw them this training camp. We see the physical talent is there. This, to me, from the outside, all looks mental – and understandable to a degree.
- Q: michael, R Richland Hills, tx – I have heard Janis isn’t a great route runner, but there must be a package of routes he can run and his return work on special teams should help get him on the field. Do you think he will play this year, and if not, why not? The packers are getting nothing from Boykin.
- A: Lori Nickel – Janis was fun to watch in camp and he’s obviously tough as heck to overcome shingles and just make this team in the first place. But I don’t see what benefit there would be to having him play much right now, just because of all the reasons I gave to Steve in the previous answer.
Jeff Janis used his deceptive speed to get behind the Kansas City Chiefs for a touchdown in the final preseason game on August 28th at Lambeau Field. It’s very puzzling why he’s not been active for any games in a long time.
- Q: Alice from Ormond Beach – Hi Lori, Merry Christmas and thanks for talking Packers with us on Boxing Day. Can the team afford to let Randall Cobb go as a FA? I think he should Jordy size money if necessary. If you agree. who is the next most important player to lock up?
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Alice and same to you. The cruel result of how Green Bay has run things under Ted Thompson is that they can afford to let receivers go. Green Bay has survived the departures of Greg Jennings and James Jones, and both had incredible talent and contributions to the success (and record books) around here of late. Thompson replaced them with more good WRs. But I think Randall Cobb has some things in his favor. Cobb is very young and Rodgers really trusts him. You have to be a smart receiver to play in this offense and you have to follow directions well; he does that. The coaches really like that Cobb is tough, too. He is your shifty, nimble slot guy. Now, I’m not even sure if this year’s crop of college receivers will be as good as last year – and that may be a big factor in Thompson’s decision – but I am guessing that they will try to keep him around. ~ Meanwhile, Rob Reischel did an excellent free agent story on this just this week for Packers Plus, which you’ll find interesting: ~ http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/cobb-bulaga-top-list-of-off-season-packers-free-agents-b99412558z1-286705541.html
- Q: CoachPlyoGuy, Winona MN – Hi Lori. Thanks doing this! Tom writes frequently about Lambeau Field and the Packer’s comfort level and advantages of playing there. We know that in 2014 the Packers score a lot of points there and not nearly as many on the road. Las Vegas’s odds makers only give the home team 3 points; I’ve heard them say it in interviews on TV. I have vivid memories of the packers Getting drilled at home in January by the Falcons, Giants (2x), and 49ers. Two of those games were under brutal weather conditions that one would think would favor the Packers. So, what’s up with that?
- A: Lori Nickel – Hey Coach Plyo ~ I actually wrote about this for the Packers story today, so nice timing! Aside from what I already wrote in there, I will tell you, the December and January games (and even November) here have been miserable for the Packers in recent years. Awful. In ’09, ’10, ’13, I can remember writing about the nasty temps or heavy snow for the Packers. Temps with a high of zero, stuff like that. And I think living here can actually be a disadvantage sometimes. That’s right. You get SICK OF IT. All that stuff about living in a snow globe and working in the Frozen Tundra and how you get used to it? Bubkus. You don’t get used to a cold car first thing in the morning. Or salt tracked in to stores, homes, offices. The sinus infection from being inside all the time in dry, forced air. The wind that whips around Lambeau and slaps your face like a wet towel. Or the 16 hours a day of pitch black darkness around the Winter Solstice. Brutal. It matters and people who say it doesn’t must not A) live here or B) ever do any kind of regular activity outside (skiing, shoveling not snowblowing, hiking, ice fishing, hunting, or running, jogging or walking, etc). It takes a certain kind of ornery personality to live in these conditions (much less revel in them) and all these Packers from California and the South are in for a real shock. And by south, I mean any city below Bryan Bulaga’s hometown. I think opposing teams, with their non-frozen joints and nothing-to-lose attitude, can actually come in to this Polar Vortex and survive once in awhile because they only have to deal with it for four hours. The whole reverse psychology thing, once in awhile, has relevance, and we’ve had some brutal Januarys for the Packers in the last decade. ~ Now, aside from all that, the Packers have said they want playoff games at home this year anyway. And the temps have been extremely mild in December – just when the Packers took their act on the road. I think it all comes down to this: In 2012 the Packers lost at Seattle in the Fail Mary game, and when it was all said and done, ended up with just one home playoff game against the Vikings. I wonder if the Packers think it cost them the home field advantage and the Super Bowl that year. Wicked winters or not, home teams win more often than not and Green Bay wants other teams to come in here and beat them because they’ve been on fire here all year.
- Q: Barbara, Marion, WI – Lori, Since the Packers have launched the “Get Loud Lambeau” campaign for this week’s game, (& yes, gloves & mittens negate the clapping sounds), why don’t they give the fans some type of noisemaker gadget? Are there rules about what they can give out as fans are coming in to Lambeau? Thanks~
- A: Lori Nickel – Barbara, really good point in the gloves and mittens… I have never heard of any rules but I am sure there are some regarding horns or whatever. Still, a great idea on your part.
- Q: Lennie Durow, San Diego – Hey, Lori. Hope you had a great Christmas and thanks for taking our questions. Please tell us the recent increase in John Kuhns touches doesn’t mean MM will once again hand the ball off to him in the playoffs with his drive stopping 3rd and 3 situations where kuhn gains 1/2 yard. I know the fans love yelling “Kuhn” but the 1-2 carries we give him in big playoff games year after year never work.
- A: Lori Nickel – Hey Lennie – Same to you, I hope you had a nice holiday. We know McCarthy likes that call and Kuhn has the full trust of Aaron Rodgers. One of those four carries against Tampa seemed to have the element of surprise. And James Starks just couldn’t get it rolling that day (7 rushes for 3 yards total). I wouldn’t be surprised with Kuhn getting the carry once in awhile, but yeah, I’m sure everyone wants the ball in Lacy’s hands now going forward for as much as possible. Including John.
- Q: jim, cumberland – with rodgers being hobbled somewhat one would hope that Lacy and Starks will be used more in the run and pass game do you feel that harris will get some more work in the game also thanks Jim
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Jim, no, I don’t. Nothing against Harris. I’m guessing Rodgers will play though whatever is bothering him and two backs in this offense is more than enough.
- Q: Jeff Delvaux, Altoona, Iowa – Six years in a row into the playoffs. One of the things I haven’t read about is the raid on our front office, especially in the personnel department, that is, John Dorsey, Reggie McKenzie and John Schneider. Yet, we’ve been picking in the 20’s in the draft for at least 7 of 8 years. Doesn’t that say a lot about Thompson’s ability to find very good players and McCarthy’s coaches making these guy’s so competitive year after year. Of course, I know it starts with Rodgers. But I’d like to hear what you see and how we’ve survived to be a contender despite this philosophy which isn’t unique to GB but not followed by many teams it seems.
- A: Lori Nickel – You’re right. And, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have spoiled the fans. This just doesn’t happen, typically, and it should be really impossible for a small market team. Ask your friends in Michigan, South Florida – shoot, even San Francisco – if they’d take a run like this in their lifetime, much less immediately after the Favre era. Tom Silverstein wrote about your topic last year (here is the link:~ http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/packers-long-on-scouting-talent-d38sch6-192417711.html) ~ The thing that I notice is the type of guy that comes in to Green Bay. These guys are pretty boring. They don’t even have one single flashy WR or DB. The best quotes out of that locker room come from the bigs – the linemen, and only after years of service, when they’ve earned it. That means there’s very little drama and that also gives you insight to the personality of the team (starting with McCarthy). This is a very tightly knit group, at least the guys who play and contribute a lot. They don’t trash talk, they don’t grumble on the side. Whatever grievances they have – and they must all have some – they keep private. So, I think while Ted tracks vertical leaps and cone shuttle times and all that on his scout sheet, he looks for teammates first. Football can turn in to a very individual sport on teams that stink, but Green Bay has – in addition to all the things you mention – functioned almost like a college team. All for one, one for all. After that, the staff here has, as you said, made everything work. Huge credit to them.
Will Randall Cobb follow Jordy’s path and re-sign with the Packers, or will he follow Greg Jennings and take the max money somewhere else? James Jones wanted to stay, but the Packers didn’t try and keep him.
- Q: Jeff, Mercer – Hi Lori, great to see you out here… with all the potential free agents the Packers are going to have do you find it strange to hear Randall Cobb say nothing is happening right now on a deal for him? and on Sunday do you think the Packers will try to pound away more with Lacy or spread the Lions out with 4 or 5 receivers and beat the Lions down the field before the rush gets to Rodgers? thanks…
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Jeff, thank you! I like Randall a lot – but I don’t ever believe anyone, ever, when they say nothing is going on. They have nothing to gain by talking contract stuff right now, nothing but distraction. That would turn in to a media frenzy with weekly check ins because that’s what we have to do as reporters, follow that up. So whether true or not, it is wise of Cobb just to keep quiet. Unless he wants to give me the scoop. Kidding. Cobb really isn’t to that kind of stuff, that’s not his personality anyway. Also: Some guys really do tell their agents they don’t want to hear the day-to-day stuff, too. … As for the game plan, I really think if 12’s leg is OK, they throw like usual and they play uptempo and they wear the defense down. If he’s hobbling, well, they … oh, it is Rodgers. He’ll play through it. Lacy has to factor in to the plan too, of course.
- Q: RP, Boise, ID – Lori, wondering if the lackluster performance by Rodgers the last 2 weeks has something to do with him coming down with the flu in Buffalo and then still recovering in the Buc’s game. I know when I am under the weather my game is off and I don’t have 300 pounders chasing me.
- A: Lori Nickel – RP, I don’t recall him saying that, but – it makes total sense to me, especially in the Tampa Bay game. You can’t breathe well, so you don’t get the same oxygen in to the body, etc, – that’s a detriment right there. Then there are all the other symptoms that prevent a good night of rest, or digesting nutrition properly, have to play a role. Adrenaline can only overcome so much. And there is something else that’s weird that I have learned, in talking to people like marathon runners and top trainers for other stories I’ve written. They all swear their immune systems are exceptional. They don’t get the regular, common cold stuff; but when they do get sick, they tell me they get really, really sick. I wonder if that’s what happened to 12. Just got clobbered with some super strain of something. Also, it seems like 1/3 of the people around here are sick, ask any teacher or pediatrician. It’s been going around. Thanks for reminding me to take my Echinacea.
- Q: Steve Warnecke, Virginia Beach, VA – How much of a factor will the suspension of Center Raiola play? Will Clay and others have an easier time reaching the pocket?
- A: Lori Nickel – As soon as I heard of his suspension, I thought, game, set, match, Packers. Green Bay’s defensive line did OK in the first matchup against the Lions. Now Lions rookie Travis Swanson is expected to play center, and the Packers basically sent a Fan Manifesto to Packer nation to be extra loud Sunday so the Lions can’t function on offense. That could affect a play or two. Corey Linsley had some ups and downs at that Seattle game, remember that? Rodgers chewing him out in the second quarter for a bad snap? But I don’t think he had any false starts – so that was good, and a credit to him. We’ll see how Swanson manages in a big game like this, on the road, against a Packers defense that went nuts a week ago. Hello, Clay Matthews, your new Inside Linebacker. Losing Raiola, the Lions also lose a leader – and remember they’re already missing Nick Fairley. He missed practice this week and isn’t expected back. Now, I see that Calvin Johnson has missed some practice time with that ankle. (Although this is from the Detroit Free Press: “Johnson appeared to aggravate the injury in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears, but after taking a few plays off he returned to the field and said after the game his ankle shouldn’t be an issue going forward.”) . … But the real issue will be whether or not Green Bay’s offense had made enough adjustments to play the Lions better this time around. And how Aaron Rodgers’ calf is feeling Sunday.
- Q: Evan, Waukesha – Hope you had a great Christmas, do you think the Lions will use the same scheme they did to cover Nelson and Cobb. If yes, will the Packers try to utilize Davante Adams like they did against the Patriots? He has had a few drops the past two games, does he still have Rodgers’ confidence? Thanks!
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Evan, and same to you. That was not a good day for the WRs. Was it them? Or was it the Lions secondary? After the game, McGinn wrote: “CB Darius Slay has made remarkable strides in his second season. He played like a No. 1 cornerback, brimming with confidence and talent as he contained Nelson.” Cobb was ripped for being mediocre in camp and letting it carry over in to the season. Nelson got nowhere. I would expect to see more from Nelson and Cobb in this game, first of all. That’s the starting point. They should find some single coverage sometime. They shouldn’t have to turn to third and fourth receiver options right away. Adams just needs to get the drops out of his head. Adams had four passes thrown to him at Tampa Bay and (2 catches) and four to him at Buffalo (1 catch), indicating to me that Rodgers has in no way lost confidence in him yet. Watch Aaron sometimes. If a RB fumbles, I swear he gets the ball back in the next play or two 90% of the time. A WR drops? He gets another chance, too. Some drops are physical too. I’ve actually been working on an Adams profile story and you know, the one early he dropped at Tampa Bay was a bullet. He’s still getting used to that from 12. The second one he lost because he was just drilled as the ball came to him; there’s got to be some understanding on the team’s part about that. In fact, some of his teammates have come to his defense big time – especially Nelson – when Adams has been asked about his drop in an otherwise excellent New England game. Nelson tries to intervene with reporter’s questioning. Adams believes then he had earned some of Rodgers’ trust, and Aaron hasn’t stopped going to him since.
The Lions and Suh dominated the Packers in week three back in Detroit.
- Q: Brian, Sherood – Hi Lori: I’ve often wondered what the players do in the off season for conditioning? Do you think they’re following you into cross-fit, yoga/pilates? Also how prevalent is chiropractic, massage etc for players?
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Brian. Funny enough – as popular as yoga has been with several Packers, Jordy Nelson told me recently he hates it. It actually made him feel worse and didn’t help with his flexibility at all. But a lot of players like yoga, starting with Rodgers. I’ve written a few stories on this topic; I hope it is OK that I post the links: ‘Friday schedule change helping players recover from daily grind of NFL’ ~ http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/friday-schedule-change-helping-players-recover-from-daily-grind-of-nfl-b99370815z1-279231032.html ~ ‘At Packers training table, nutrition has become a science’ ~ http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/at-packers-training-table-nutrition-has-become-a-science-b99334746z1-272105681.html
- Q: Dave w, Santa Ana ca – Hi Lori, nice to see you get this opportunity. Do you believe that first year players such as Adams, Rogers, Clinton-Dix etc “hit the wall” at this point. Seems to me that if they aren’t injured, and are getting enough rest and good nutrition, they should be just as effective as the veterans. Agree?
- A: Lori Nickel – Thanks Dave. Totally agree. But now, it is a mental struggle for rookies. Focus is everything. Now is when the season feels really long. They should almost look at the Lions as a non-division opponent and study. And study. And study.
- Q: jim peddle, az – do the packers ever practice tackeling they suck inthat dept
- A: Lori Nickel – I had to look. Green Bay has 1,008 tackles this year, 11th in the league. But I know that’s not what you mean. Bottom line? I’ve always wondered if you give up a little in the sound, sure, fundamental part of tackling if you are almost always trying to strip the ball and cause a turnover. Packers have 18 interceptions in the NFL (tied for sixth), just 11 forced fumbles. But they are often going for the ball instead of the ball carrier.
- Q: Jerry, South Australia – Lori, I know it is a big dream, but could you discuss how it would be possible to get a Wisconsin boy back to Green Bay in JJ Watt? I realise that he just signed a 5 year deal, but could it happen?
- A: Lori Nickel – Jerry – I know. What a great player. From what I hear, the community of Houston adores the guy. But you probably already know the answer…
- Q: Michael, Naples, FL – Thank you for the chat Lori. It appears to me that there is not an NFC play off team that position to position across the roster is any better than the Pack and with several positions are not as good. Will come down to game plan and obviously execution. In your opinion, what is the weak link and primary ares of concern going into play offs?
- A: Lori Nickel – Michael, I agree. Well, I thought of one, maybe, assuming none of the big playmakers get hurt. I think about physical defenses like Seattle, Buffalo (the line) and most definitely, Detroit. I don’t think Green Bay shies away from the fist fights, but I do think Green Bay’s offense relies on such precision (route running, timing, protection, intelligent players) and can get disrupted when a WR doesn’t get a free release or when Rodgers is picking himself off the ground four, five times a game. Now, Eddie Lacy? Forget it, he’s a snow plow. But defenses that go after Green Bay’s other skill positions with brute force may cause just enough of a disruption beat the Pack.
- Q: Grace from SF, CA – Are your reporting assignments different in scope than the other sport reporters at the JS? If so, how?
- A: Lori Nickel – Yes, very different. I am no longer a ‘beat’ writer for the Packers. I rarely cover the day-to-day news (who is hurt, who is hot, whose time is next from the practice squad). I’m supposed to come up with features and profiles and story ideas that are unique and original. Sometimes I do, sometimes… Well. That is very challenging, since there are so many good reporters on the beat and it is very competitive. Away from the Packers, I also write sports features and cover games when needed.
- Q: doug g, san Antonio – Hi Lori-great job all year! I am curious about Scott Tolzein. It seemed the battle for #2 was “paper-thin” close. Not only did Tolzein end up being #3, but as far as I can tell, he is never even active. How do you think this might play out next season? MM seems to really like Tolzein, but he is not playing at all. Thanks
- A: Lori Nickel – Thanks Doug G. I guess when you have two decent backup candidates, you always go with experience when you are in a Super Bowl hunt, and Flynn’s track record is there. While he’s worn green and gold. From Green Bay’s perspective, there is nothing bad about letting Tolzien sit around for a year and learn.
- Q: Dave – CA Packer Fan – When a team is close to their own goal line and the quarterback drops back to pass, but has to scramble and is downed with half of the football beyond the goal line and half of the football behind the goal line is it ruled a safety and if not, where is the ball placed?
- A: Lori Nickel – Normally, I would ask a coach. I want to say safety but then I looked at the rules below and my brain started to swell. You should ask the other three if you want a real answer, especially Tom, since he does the in-game blogs. Here is the link to the rules if you want: http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/14_Rule11_Scoring.pdf
- Q: PackerPatrick, Folly Beach, SC – Do you think there will be any changes on “Special” Teams this weekends game and the playoffs?
- A: Lori Nickel – You mean Cobb as punt returner? Mike McCarthy has said he’s going to go with his best, and Cobb is the best. It’s got to be hard to put him out there, but I am sure the coaches (or Cobb) can’t think that way. And basically every game just gets more important from here on out, so why not.
- Q: mark, milwaukee – I have a funny feeling about the game on Sunday vs. Detroit. What are your thoughts on how this game is going to be played?
- A: Lori Nickel – Whew, good question. I’m waiting on the McCarthy press conference before I make my prediction for the paper. Part of me thinks Packers will run away with it, part of me thinks they could be in real trouble. I like the Lions, fun to watch them this year. I do wonder if the referees let ’em play a little. I hate making predictions…
- Q: Colleen, Appleton, WI – Hi Lori! Clay Matthews is having a great year. To what degree do you think the change in where he’s playing is responsible for that productivity?
- A: Lori Nickel – Hi Colleen, thanks you you for the question, we will wrap up here on the chat. Sorry about the weird formatting – every time I used an apostrophe we got ???. I don’t know why. Anyway, I think Clay is having a great year because of that, because he didn’t resist the change and most importantly – he’s been healthy. I hope to write about that for the playoffs. Thanks everyone for your questions and your patience.
From TYLER DUNNE, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay — He’ll absorb a wincing hit to the left rib cage again. Maybe Sunday. Maybe in the playoffs. And the next time Davante Adams gets drilled by a safety, it’ll sting even more in the cold, the wind, whatever weather strikes northeast Wisconsin.
So when asked if he graded Adams’ incompletion at Tampa Bay last weekend as a “drop,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett is direct.
“We expect him to make plays and catch the football,” he said.
‘Tis the season for difficult catches over the middle. No question, the rules have sanitized NFL secondaries. Still, last week was a reminder that more contested catches are coming. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson — in rolling to 179 receptions for 2,640 yards and 23 touchdowns — are track-fast, sure-handed and see what quarterback Aaron Rodgers sees. But they’ve also toughened up at the point of contact.
Green Bay’s top receivers — Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson (87) and Davante Adams — have to be ready for the big hits that are coming Sunday and in the postseason. Photo – Ricky Wood
The rookie Adams remains a work in progress. And catching the ball in traffic is a heightened focus for the tight ends.
Even in 2014, more bruises are looming — from Detroit’s James Ihedigbo this week to maybe Seattle’s Kam Chancellor down the road — for the Packers’ receiving corps.
Everyone probably should take the lead from Nelson and Cobb. Toughness, Bennett said, is “the starting point” for both.
“And then you start looking at all of the other things as far as just that mind-set, that attitude,” Bennett said. “That’s from a physical and mental standpoint — to have that toughness. That’s one of the greatest attributes you can have.”
A case of alligator arms could’ve infected this receiving corps, too. They all witnessed exactly how dangerous their position is on Oct. 20, 2013, the day Jermichael Finley ran a slant route against the Cleveland Browns and was drilled by Tashaun Gipson.
Finley laid motionless on the turf. Went numb. Hasn’t played a down since.
On Friday, this nightmare scenario is replayed to Cobb. Over the middle — any play, any hit — it could be over. Cobb didn’t blink.
“That’s the risk you have to take,” Cobb said, “every time you walk out onto the field.”
So Green Bay’s 1-2 punch operates accordingly. In Tampa, Nelson climbed the ladder for 28 yards on third and 13. From the right slot, he took a linebacker vertical, turned his post route in and knew what was waiting.
Nelson extended, took the hit and crashed to the turf. His shoulder pad hanging out over a grass-stained jersey, Nelson signaled “first down” and the Packers offense was finally in business.
Granted, the Ronnie Lott days — heck, the Roy Williams days — are long gone. This hit was JV compared to headhunters of yesteryear. Ask former Packers receiver Antonio Freeman. He suffered seven concussions, a broken forearm and a broken jaw patrolling the middle. After the jaw in 1998, he said he had to drink Ensure and milkshakes through a straw — for 13 days — with Mom in town.
Yes, life is much easier for receivers today. Slants. Crossing routes. Skinny posts. Freeman says safeties would wait to run through you. Still, Freeman knows toughness for all wide receivers is a must this time of year. His mettle in January — 482 yards, five touchdowns — keyed back-to-back Super Bowl runs.
“It’s about getting dirty and sacrificing for your teammates,” Freeman said. “It’s where receivers really make their mark.” Receivers have to take on a different personality — ‘Whatever I need to get done, to win, you have to be willing to do that.’ And with that quarterback in Rodgers, when he sees that type of attitude, he’ll want to get you the ball more.”
The accurate Rodgers, Freeman added, is the best at ball placement, at not hanging receivers out to dry.
However you slice it, hits are coming. The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks remain fueled with jarring safeties, allowing 33 points over their last five games. The way defenses are playing Green Bay — safeties back, cornerbacks aggressive — the contested ball will become the norm.
Cobb doesn’t remember many walk-the-plank catches from his days at Kentucky. But Bennett said he spotted toughness on the college film. And on those well-orchestrated street-ball extended plays in Green Bay, he’s often open to hits. This after a season-ending leg injury in 2013.
“You know you’re going to take a hit,” Cobb said, “so you might as well catch the ball.”
He says Rodgers “for the most part” puts the ball in the right spot. On a 30-yarder that sealed the win last week, Cobb was in full stride, eyes forward, safety safely away. When this 5-foot-10, 192-pound former college quarterback does get hit, he usually pops up.
“I love his attitude, I love his toughness,” Bennett said. “That’s part of his makeup, that’s part of who he is.”
Said Freeman, “As a punt returner, he took that fearlessness to the offense. He does the dirty work. He has displayed such a toughness for such a small guy.”
Bring up specific plays to Bennett and he pauses, tilts his eyebrows and says this is football. A “contact sport.” To him, all noise around the pass catcher should be irrelevant. Catch the ball. That’s the job description.
In practice, players emulate the on-site collision. Tight ends over-simulate distractions with position coach Jerry Fontenot. For one drill, he has his players clutch and smack and distract a pass catcher as the ball arrives. Throw after throw. No, tight ends haven’t been a top priority in the passing game, but Andrew Quarless did hang onto a 24-yarder when Philadelphia’s Nate Allen dinged him on a third and 18.
“The most important thing is catching the football — forget about everything else,” Fontenot said. “If you do that then everything will take care of itself.”
Like Adams, this remains a process. Like Adams, Quarless could see more opportunities. He has 29 catches for 323 yards on 45 targets. Fontenot said Quarless can still use his body as a shield more often, knowing he’s going to get hit. He tells Quarless, “it’s your ball or nobody’s ball,” and does see improvement in the vet.
Against this coverage, the level of difficulty rises.
“And obviously with playing Detroit — a playoff-caliber team — it’s going to be tight coverage,” Fontenot said. “So it’s all about catching the football and then reacting to what you see.”
A college season would be finishing up right now for Adams. Wisconsin winters are a tad different from Palo Alto, Calif., winters, too. Playoff runs past, Freeman, Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones had that thick skin needed over the middle.
While the Packers got away with two Adams drops in Tampa Bay, they may not Sunday. So for Adams, Bennett says it’s about “understanding what’s at stake.”
Wide receivers don’t relish taking hits over the middle. It is, however, part of the job.
“If I have to,” Cobb said. “I will.”
Original story HERE
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