Friday, November 13, 2020

The Second Half of the Season Starts Now

Preston Smith Causing an Interception, Photo by
The three best things about the Packers' 34-17 win against the 49ers last week: (1) beating the 49ers, regardless of circumstances; (2) getting a mini-bye to get healthier before their next game; and (3) moving up the playoff seeding chart to the 3rd NFC seed, (as they say) if the playoffs started today.

Let's be honest.  You can't draw any firm conclusions from the Packers' win against the 49ers.  They are simply too beat up, with players lost for the season, players temporarily on IR, and players on the Covid list.  I am sure I am missing some of them, but among the key players not available last Thursday night were Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, Kendrick Bourne, and Brandon Aiyuk.  The 49ers had 13 players on IR, the most in the league.  Not a single player who touched the ball on offense for the 49ers in the NFC Championship game last year was in uniform Thursday night.  So as much fun as it was to watch, and as satisfying as it always is to this former Bay Area resident when the Packers beat the 49ers, I don't think we can just assume that all is now well again with the Packers.  And judging by the 14 point pointspread this Sunday when the Jaguars come to Lambeau Field, a dominant win in that game won't answer any questions about where the Packers are, either.

Still, all the players in the league are professionals, there are no easy wins in the NFL, and you don't get to pick when and where you play your opponents.  The undefeated Steelers almost lost to the reeling Cowboys on Sunday, and the not-great Patriots almost lost to the worst team in the league (the Jets) Monday night.  So you can't take any game for granted, as I think the Packers might have done before playing the Vikings two weeks ago.

On offense last Thursday, the two most encouraging developments were the successful return of Aaron Jones, and the re-emergence of Marquez Valdes-Scantling.  The Packers' medical/training staff is notoriously conservative, for example in holding out Davante Adams a week longer than he wanted to be held out.  So it was great that Aaron Jones played, despite reports earlier in the day that he would be held out.  It was a big boost for the offense, even though they were a bit on the cautious side in how much they used him.  

And just when everybody has had about enough of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and his drops, he gets single coverage, makes a great move on the DB and finds himself all by himself waiting for a 52 yard TD bomb.  I swear, if he had dropped that ball, people would have been calling for him to be cut at halftime.  But he hauled it in to make it 21-3 just before the half.  And he added another short TD later.  Maybe he can play well enough to be a second WR option (or maybe the third option after Lazard returns).  I laughed out loud when I saw this in one of the Packers Facebook groups during the game:

"Bears dropped Ted Ginn, Jr.  Gotta be better than MVS.

Update: maybe not."

On defense, I loved seeing the return of the "Smith Brothers" as impact players in the game.  Preston Smith created the first turnover of the game, and it seemed to change the momentum of the game.  Before that play, the Packers were sitting on a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.  I wasn't worried about the outcome, but a big play here or there for the 49ers could easily have turned the game in their favor.  Instead, pressure from Smith led to a Raven Greene interception, which led to the TD pass to Marcedes Lewis.  From that point on, the game never seemed in doubt.  And then in the third quarter, Za'Darius Smith's strip sack and recovery put a bow on the win.  The score was 28-3 at the time, but for all practical purposes, it was over then, if not before.  

Anyway, next up are the 1-7 Jaguars to start the second half of the season.  They are obviously not going anywhere this year with their 1-7 record.  But last week and this week, their second year QB Gardner Minshew will be out, so they will be led on the field by rookie QB Jake Luton.  I found him impressive in his first start.  His first completion was a long bomb TD to DJ Chark.  He threw for over 300 yards, while rookie running back James Robinson chipped in with 99 yards on the ground.  The Jaguars came within a botched 2 point conversion of taking the Texans to overtime in Luton's first start.  On the other hand, the Jaguars defense gave up some big plays, especially in the passing game, yielding long bomb TDs to Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks.  It seems to me as if a year or two ago, the Jaguars had a strong defense, giving up few points and generating turnovers.  Whatever has happened to the defense, it didn't look that good last Sunday.  So Rodgers and Adams (and hopefully other receivers as well) ought to be able to do some damage on offense.  And rookie QBs make rookie mistakes, and I will be disappointed if the Packers don't come away with some more turnovers on Sunday.  

On paper, the Jaguars game is the easiest game remaining on the schedule.  After that, the Packers will have to face the Colts, the Titans, the Bears twice, the Lions, the Panthers and the Eagles.  But "on paper" means nothing if you don't go out and win the game.  "Sufficient unto the day . . . ," and all that good stuff.  So let's go get a win on Sunday, and worry about next week's game next week!

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