Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Unbeaten Packers Start Their Second Quarter

Monday Night Stud, photo by Evan Siegle, Packers.com

Before we get to some comments on last week's win against the Falcons, and some comments on the upcoming game against the Buccaneers, I feel as if I have to comment on what a terrible disappointment Week 5 (the Packers' bye week) has been. Not only did a legitimate NFL star, Dak Prescott, suffer a catastrophic injury on Sunday, but the games I cared about most went the wrong way. 

I had hoped, during the Packers' bye week, that the Packers would get some help in other games. Instead, on Thursday night, the Bears won a game against the Buccaneers that they could easily have lost. The Bears even got a big assist from a "senior moment" by Tom Brady, when he lost track of the down before turning the ball over as the Buccaneers were trying to get in position for a potential game winning field goal. The Bears' 20-19 win left them at 4-1, half a game behind the Packers. 

Then, on Sunday night, the Vikings, to my great amazement, were in position to upset the Seahawks, which would have left the Packers as the only unbeaten team in the NFC. But as the second half progressed, I just knew that the Vikings were going to blow it. And indeed they did. Many will focus on Mike Zimmer's decision to go for the kill shot at the end of the game, when it was 4th and 1. A first down there would have effectively sealed the win for the Vikings, 26-21. But an "easy" field goal (easy, except it was raining pretty hard at the time) would have made it an 8 point game, meaning the Seahawks would not only have to drive down the field for a touchdown, but also get the 2 point conversion, just to tie the game and take it to overtime. Instead, the Vikings did not convert, and the Seahawks' ensuing touchdown won the game for them, rather than just giving them a chance to tie the game up. I can't really criticize Zimmer for the call, though, because I am generally in favor of being more aggressive in trying to secure a win. As a matter of fact, there is a statistical argument that you should go for it on 4th and 1 from any place on the field.  The Seahawks' win brought them to 5-0, half a game ahead of the Packers.

Anyway, getting back to the Monday night game against the Falcons, you figured going in that the 3-0 Packers should beat the 0-3 Falcons.  But the problem for the Packers was the injuries, especially at receiver.  Allen Lazard was on IR after surgery, Marcedes Lewis was out, and Davante Adams thought he was ready, but the Packers decided to hold him out anyway.  Plus Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark were both out on defense.  Could the Packers handle the Falcons without three starting receivers?  Enter Robert, "Big Bob" Tonyan.  Or, as someone called him on the NFL Network, "I, Tonyan," noting that he took a figurative tire iron to the kneecaps of the Falcons' defense.  This was a real coming out party for Tonyan, who caught all 6 passes thrown his way for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns.  

You might wonder when the Packers last had a tight end with 3 TD catches in a game.  It turns out this is only the third time in Packers history when this has happened.  Keith Jackson got the hat trick in the 1996 Super Bowl year, and Jermichael Finley had one in 2011, en route to a 15-1 season.  So Tonyan is in pretty elite company among Packers tight ends.  When Davante Adams and Allen Lazard return, it is doubtful that Tonyan will have more 3 TD games.  But having him around can only make the receiving game more explosive going forward.  Other tight ends have had their moments in the years since Jermichael Finley was lost to injury.  But nobody has been a consistent, elite performer.  You can't say, based on Monday night's game, that Tonyan is there yet.  But going into week 5, Tonyan was tied with Mike Evans for most receiving touchdowns in the league.  If Tonyan can even be a reliable contributor, this could be a huge plus for an already potent Packers offense.

Now that this week's bye is over, the rested and healthier Packers will play in hot Tampa against the Buccaneers, who have had 10 days of rest leading up to the game with the Packers.  I am not sure what to make of the Buccaneers.  They are 3-2, in a bunch at the top of the NFC South.  The two losses were to the Bears and Saints, while the wins were against the Panthers, Broncos and Chargers.  They have a very good (top 5) run defense, but the Packers are much better on both rushing and passing offense.  While the Packers have zero interceptions this year, the Buccaneers have four, so there is a better chance of picking off Brady than Rodgers.  They have some good offensive weapons in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Ronald Jones, and of course Brady.  They just have not been getting as much production out of them as have the Packers.  

Going into the season, I would not have predicted that the Packers would be 4-0 after one quarter of the season.  Of course, the only one of the four teams they beat with a record above .500 was the Saints.  But the Packers have looked unstoppable on offense, and "good enough" on defense to keep them in the games and let the offense win.  What will the second quarter bring?  At the moment, the next four games only have one team above .500, the Buccaneers, followed by three below .500, the Texans, the Vikings and the 49ers, who will present a big challenge to the Packers regardless of their record.  

Home field advantage will continue to mean almost nothing in the second quarter, even if there are some fans in the stands as will be the case in Tampa this week.    Weather can still be a home field issue, and while it is mostly in the 50's in Wisconsin this week, the projected high temperature in Tampa for Sunday is 88 degrees.  Because of this, I think the Tampa Bay game and the 49ers game are the two where the Packers have the best chance of being beaten.  While I could see the Packers losing the Buccaneers game, I don't think it will happen.  I think, with the likely return of Davante Adams and Kenny Clark, the pass-catching abilities of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, and the emergence of Tonyan as a threat, the Packers will be too much for Brady and the Buccaneers.

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