After a brief hiatus and some time away from football, we’re back to take a look at Packers-Saints, the bye week, and the state of the Packers going forward. We’ll touch on a few points from last week’s game, but all in all the defensive re-watch of the game screamed “burn the tape.” Plenty of other news dropped during the bye week, as well. Here is my Week 8 Pick Six.
1. Secondary Breakdown – For a team that had shown great strides over the past 3-4 weeks in the defensive backfield, everything came crashing down against New Orleans in the Superdome. In hindsight, playing a QB the quality of Brees in a must-win game at home with a starting CB and safety out was a death wish from the start, but one might like to see the Packers play better adversity football in that situation. Big games against the Eagles and Patriots are coming, and it’s arguable that the Packers have not won a game against a true, quality playoff opponent since beating the 12-4 Texans in Houston back in 2012.
2. Offensive Line Shuffle – The Packers released former first round pick Derek Sherrod, ending a disappointing stint in Green Bay that was derailed by injury. The roster spot was filled by second year center J.C. Tretter, who will now act as the primary back up swing lineman. He’s likely to see action early, as both T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton sat out of practice this week leading into the Chicago game. Lane Taylor would man the right guard spot and Tretter would likely back up Sitton at left guard if neither can go. It would be another opportunity to play adversity football and not let the level of play fall significantly.
3. McCarthy Extension – Over the bye week, Mike McCarthy inked a new contract that will keep him as Green Bay’s coach through 2018, linking the length of his contract with GM Ted Thompson’s. McCarthy has been more of a polarizing figure than he probably deserves given his .640 career winning percentage as a head coach, including playoffs. I’m on board with the extension, and like McCarthy as a leader and a play caller. As mentioned above, he’s outsmarted himself in big games over recent years, but much of that comes back to trying to patch roster holes and account for weaknesses. I look forward to the Thompson, McCarthy, Rodgers combination as the heart of this franchise for at least the next 4+ seasons.
4. Run Defense – ESPN Milwaukee posted a question on their Twitter account asking about confidence level that the Packers will be able to fix their run defense in 2014. I gave it a 3/10. Of all the things on this team that I’m confident will get sharper as the season goes on, this part of Green Bay’s game will likely continue to be their Achilles heel.
There simply is not enough bulk up front to occupy blockers and free up linebackers to make plays when down and distance dictates a key running situation. We’ve seen teams chew up the last 7-8 minutes of a game multiple times over the past two and a half years, and with an undersized Mike Daniels starting at one end and average talents in Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel manning the nose tackle, I can’t see it being enough to turn it around.
With that being said, if Dom Capers is willing to be bold (a major question mark), the only thing that may help the Packers is going to a more Cover 1 style of play with a 3-4 front. This would put more stress on the strength of the D (Cornerbacks, HaHa Clinton-Dix) to play man on man deep and allow Burnett or Hyde to play down toward the box and neutralize the run. Sitting back and getting pounded up the gut will result in a slow, painful death to the season.
5. Hamstring Watch – The bye could not have come at a more perfect time for Green Bay, as it gave Aaron Rodgers a full two weeks to rest a tweaked hamstring that changed the tide in the Saints game two weeks ago. Early reports are that Rodgers was all systems go in practice this week. It will be interesting to watch the injury report, but don’t expect Mike McCarthy to slim down the boot action portion of his playbook on Sunday night. It’s where Aaron Rodgers and his favorite targets are most dangerous and most apt to create the big play. If the injury is worse than is being let on, expect a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy in the short to intermediate passing game, just as we saw in the Big Easy in week 8.
6. A Look Ahead – The Packers return to action for a second straight Sunday night prime time showdown with the rival Chicago Bears. Simply put, the Packers are a superior team and playing at home, and if they hope to be a force in the NFC playoffs, this is a game they need to win. Mike McCarthy has the book on the Chicago Bears, and I expect the Packers to win comfortably, but stranger things have happened in this rivalry and an offense with the weapons of the Bears cannot be taken lightly.
Looking past the Chicago game, the Packers have 5 of their final 8 at home, with the only road games being Minnesota, Tampa, and Buffalo. Anything less than 5-3 would be a disappointment. Anything better would give the Packers a fair shot at a first round bye and one of the top two seeds in the conference. I’m excited to watch it unfold. Go Pack!