Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chance to Go 3-0 in Division on the Line

Photo by Evan Siegle, Green Bay Press-Gazette
It is not news to any of us Packer fans that having a healthy running game is a huge plus for the Packers.  For years, in one context or another in these posts, I have lamented the fact that the Packers (usually) did not have that healthy running game.  But this year I have been excited about the fact that, with the drafting of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, it looked like they finally had a dependable running game.  The value of this was never clearer than it was on Sunday night.  The Packers beat the Vikings 44-31, in the Packers' last visit to the Metrodome, in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score.

The Packers have had a productive running game in all 7 games this season, as noted by T.J. Lang in comments after the game.  But this was the first time all year that the Packers made substantial use of both Eddie Lacy and James Starks, with both staying healthy from start to finish of the game.  This allowed the Packers to batter the Vikings with the big back, Eddie Lacy, for most of the first three quarters, and then have James Starks available with fresh legs to continue gashing the Vikings and give Lacy a breather for half a quarter or so.

The problem with a high-powered pass offense is that it can sometimes misfire.  A pass is dropped, a ball gets batted, a receiver slips, and the next thing you know the defense is back on the field.  But if you have a balanced offense, as the Packers did on Sunday night, everything opens up.  Receivers have an easier time getting open, the play action and screen passes are more effective, and the other team's defense gets exhausted instead of your own defense.  The game stats clearly show this:
  • Combined Lacy / Starks stats: 39 carries for 151 yards, 
  • Combined 3rd and 4th down record for the Packers: 15 out of 20
  • Time of possession: the Packers had the ball for 40:54, more than twice the possession time of the Vikings.  The Packers outgained the Vikings, 464 to 243.
  • The Packers never punted in the game.
And then there was Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers has been notorious throughout his pro career for keeping various chips on his shoulder, starting with the fact that so many teams passed him up before falling to the Packers.  Did Rodgers have a chip on his shoulder about some of Greg Jennings' comments during the offseason?  I think so.  In the week before the game, he was asked about Jennings' comments, and said he was focused on the players in the locker room.  When a follow-up question was asked how he could forget about these comments, he said, "I didn't say anything about forgetting, I just said focusing." 

Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette put in context how dominating Rodgers' game was on Sunday:
In five appearances at the Metrodome before Sunday, Rodgers completed 70.1 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, just one interception and a phenomenal 123.2 passer rating.
It didn’t seem possible, but Rodgers proceeded to take those impressive numbers to a higher level on Sunday, when he completed 24 of 29 passes (82.8 percent) for 285 yards and a passer rating of 130.6.
This dominating performance, along with Greg Jennings' stats (1 catch for 9 yards), led to the uncomfortably long hug by Jennings of Rodgers, depicted above.

And now the Bears come to town.  The Packers will need to beat the Bears to stay in first place in the division, and if they do win, they will go up 2 games on the Bears, and 1 game on the Lions.  When the Bears started the year 3-0, I thought that maybe the addition of the Boy Genius (Marc Trestman) as coach might have really turned the Bears around.  I call him that because, when he was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, the media here treated him as the next great coach.  His NFL career never went anywhere, but then he went off to Canada, won some Grey Cups as head coach, and now has come to Chicago.  Since I don't follow the CFL at all, it was conceivable to me that he had really come into his own, and that in the Trestman offense, the Cutler-Brandon Marshall connection would be a big deal again, as it had been in Denver.

After their 3-0 start, they have lost 3 out of 4, and they will almost certainly be without Jay Cutler on offense and Lance Briggs on defense on Monday night.  Packer fans are not about to feel bad that the Bears are missing a couple of stars, given the Packers' injuries this year.  The Packers have shown, so far this year, that they are a better team than the Bears, and they have done that despite their many injuries.  The Bears' defense is nothing like what it used to be - you would not call this unit the Monsters of the Midway.  They are in the bottom 10 in the league in both passing and rushing defense.  While the Packers have given up way too many yards passing, too, the Packers are no. 4 in rushing defense, which ought to slow down Matt Forte just a little bit.  On offense, meanwhile, the Bears are no. 14 in rushing offense.  Not too bad, except that (I can't even believe I am typing this) the Packers are no. 3 in rushing offense.  The Bears are no. 11 in passing offense, again not bad, but the Packers are no. 5.  Without Jay Cutler, this should be a serious mismatch favoring the Packers.

I noticed a couple of interesting items in a article about this game.  First, the Packers will be honoring U.S. Marine Corps Lieutentant Jon Eisele before the National Anthem.  In addition to being a a Marine and a Packer shareholder, he is also a member of the Central Florida Packer Backers, where we will visit next month.  The other item stuck out like a sore thumb to me:
John Vincent will perform the national anthem, and four large American flags will be unfurled on the field.Vincent is a singer at Mike Ditka’s Steakhouse in Chicago, Ill.
Ditka's Steakhouse?  You must be kidding!  But then I did a little research, and discovered that, in addition to having a powerful baritone voice, Vincent also performed the National Anthem at Lambeau Field last season, in the week 2 Thursday Night Game when the Packers dismantled the Bears, 23-10.  My take is that the Packers, as an organization, are every bit as superstitious as everyday Packer fans.

Maybe Rodgers can even find something to put a chip on his shoulder about the Bears.  I see a big win for the Packers.

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