Monday, September 19, 2011

Déjà Vu

(Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Photo)

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra (my favorite baseball player as a kid), "It's déjà vu all over again." Just like last year, the Packers are 2-0 after two weeks, leading into their week three matchup at Chicago. True, last year the Bears were also 2-0, and by beating the Packers they took control of the division, kept it almost all year, and ended up as the NFC North Champ for 2010, sending the Packers on the road in the playoffs. This year, if the Packers can beat the Bears at Chicago, they would put the Bears two games plus a tie-breaker behind them. That would be a nice result.

(There is another little problem down the road for the Packers - the Lions are also 2-0, looking every bit as good as we expected they might be this year. But since the Packers don't play them until Thanksgiving, there will be plenty of time to talk about the Lions later.)

As for the Bears, I admit that they surprised me in Week 1 by beating the Falcons, and beating them solidly. Sure, you can say that the Falcons have a problem on defense, as the Packers illustrated in the playoffs last year. And you can certainly criticize the Falcons for trading as many draft picks as they did for wide receiver Julio Jones, rather than addressing their defensive problems. But it is quite another thing for them to be picked apart by Jay Cutler, who may very well deserve more credit than I usually give him. Speaking of Cutler, as I was driving around late last night, I heard an ESPN Radio guy make the observation that the Bears need to do something about their offensive line, “or they are going to get Jay Cutler killed back there.” He added, “maybe that is the plan.” I paid just enough attention to the Bears game Sunday to realize that, despite getting sacked repeatedly, Cutler and the Bears’ offense made enough good plays to keep it close into the third quarter, but this time the Saints pulled away.

Against the Panthers, the Packers’ offense looked good, after getting into a 13-0 hole in the first few possessions. A fumbled kickoff return by rookie Randall Cobb contributed to the problem, but even without that the Panthers had a TD drive and another field goal drive to create the 13-0 lead. Rodgers was pretty close to flawless in parts of the second half, the running game was reasonably productive, and I really like the change-up in running styles created by playing both Ryan Grant and James Starks. Jennings, Nelson, and Finley did most of the damage in the passing game (which presumably means James Jones will continue to be irritated at the paucity of passes in his direction). Driver only caught one pass, but it was the pass that gave him the record in pass receiving yardage as a Packer, surpassing James Lofton. (He wrote a very gracious letter of thanks to the Packer fans, as noted here.) He may be nearing the end of the road, but he continues to be a contributor. For the second week in a row, he was the “hands” team guy to go up high and grab the onside kick in the closing minutes of the game.

The Packers’ defense is beginning to look like it could be a problem. Mike Neal missed the game on the defensive line, and is likely to miss a “significant” number of weeks with his injury. The Packers made what seemed at the time to be a good decision by also making Tramon Williams inactive, giving him an extra week to heal up. After all, they were playing a rookie QB, what could possibly go wrong?

When it became apparent that last week’s game was not a fluke, and that Cam Newton is the real deal, the absence of Williams became more problematic. And when Nick Collins was taken off the field strapped to a plank after a scary looking injury, things got even more troublesome. We just learned this afternoon that Collins is out for the season, which is terrible news, but I am thankful that he was well enough to return to Green Bay and attend the team meeting to tell his teammates the bad news.

So here we go - Packers and Bears in Week 3, just like last year, with injuries becoming problems for the Packers, and with a lot on the line.  Déjà vu.

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