Green Bay Packers: The 2020 NFL Draft Class and Some Possible Moves in Free Agency

Untitled

My interpretation of the 2020 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers was that the team definitely enhanced the preferred offense which is run by head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.

Five of the nine selections by the Packers were aimed at making the outside zone strategy that much more effective. Those five picks were running back AJ Dillon, tight end/H-back/fullback Josiah Deguara, guard/tackle Jon Runyan Jr., center Jake Hanson and guard Simon Stepaniak.

I had the Packers taking Runyan in my final mock draft.

The most publicized pick of the draft was definitely the first round selection of quarterback Jordan Love, who looks to be the heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, but like No. 12, also looks to be holding the clipboard for three or so years.

The draft by the Packers did not address the wide receiver situation for the team which has only one sure option in Davante Adams, plus did not help out the run-defense issue that plagued Green Bay all season long in 2019 and became an embarrassment in the 2019 NFC title game versus the San Francisco 49ers. Nor did the team specifically add to the cornerback position, as Kevin King is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season.

I see general manager Brian Gutekunst addressing those issues via free agency. In fact, he already has at the wide receiver position, as he added Devin Funchess to the team.

Plus, Gutekunst also added Christian Kirksey in free agency to play inside linebacker and replace Blake Martinez, who also used free agency to join the New York Giants. Still, even with Martinez, who was second in the NFL in tackles in 2019, the Packers were just 23rd in the NFL in run defense in the 2019 regular season.

To be more active in free agency, the Packers can help themselves by cutting guard Lane Taylor, which will add approximately $4 million more in cap space for the team.

Green Bay might have signaled that move on Saturday, when they took three offensive linemen in Round 6.

Plus the team has to be even more creative in regards to the salary cap.

Why? The Packers are currently just over $11 million under the NFL salary cap. The 2020 draft class alone will cut into that by just over $8 million. Cutting Taylor will give the team about $7 million to use in free agency. That’s not a lot if you want to add a few more players to your roster.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

David Bakhtiari

That’s why doing a contract extension for left tackle David Bakhtiari needs to be a priority. Right now, Bakhtiari’s cap hit is $14.5 million in 2020. But by re-doing his deal and extending it and using a large signing bonus, the Packers should be able to add quite a bit more revenue to use for free agency.

There are some options as to how that added revenue could be utilized.

In terms of helping out the situation at wide receiver and specifically the slot receiver spot in free agency, the Packers may look to Taylor Gabriel, as LaFleur is familiar with him during his time in Atlanta. Gabriel is small (5’7″, 170 pounds), but he’s been effective in the NFL and he’s fast (4.40 in the 40).

The Packers also still see some real upside with Allen Lazard, plus there is also Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown, who have also shown flashes. In addition, there is also Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who seemed an afterthought the rest of the 2019 season after breaking off on a long touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in the seventh game of the season.

In terms of helping out the run defense, one familiar name to look for is Clay Matthews III, who would be a great partner for Kirksey at inside linebacker. When the Packers were struggling to stop the run in both 2014 and 2015, they moved Matthews inside and he made a noticeable difference. As a matter of fact, he was named to the Pro Bowl both years.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Clay Matthews III forces a key fumble in Super Bowl XLV.

Plus, Matthews is very versatile, as he obviously can enhance the pass rush on the outside as well, as he proved last year with the Los Angeles Rams with eight sacks in just 13 games.

The Packers did draft linebacker Kamal Martin and defensive end/outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, but I see both players as having roles on special teams initially.

That’s why also adding a defensive lineman like Damon “Snacks” Harrison in free agency would be huge. There aren’t too many players in the NFL who can stop the run better than Snacks. Pro Football Focus did a piece on Harrison less than a year ago which described Snacks as an immovable force.

Snacks Harrison

Damon “Snacks” Harrison

In terms of adding quality depth at cornerback, I believe the odds are pretty strong that the Packers will be bring back Tramon Williams, who played very well last year for Green Bay at the age of 36.

The Packers did draft safety Vernon Scott, who also played some cornerback at TCU, but he too fits in more as a special team player in 2020.

Finally, even though the Packers did select three offensive linemen in the 2020 draft, bringing back Jared Veldheer would be a very important add, as the team found out in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau last postseason, when Bryan Bulaga couldn’t play due to the flu.

Yes, the Packers did sign right tackle Rick Wagner via free agency to replace Bulaga, but the depth at offensive tackle currently is iffy at best.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 draft class for the Packers, which hasn’t exactly gotten too many favorable grades from many of the “experts” out there.

I recently published a piece on Love, as NFL scout Chris Landry gave his take on his abilities. The one thing that keeps popping in my head about drafting a talent like Love is perhaps due to the injury history of Rodgers. In the last seven years, No. 12 was twice lost for half the season in both 2013 and 2017 due to a broken clavicle. Rodgers missed 16 games overall.

Plus, Rodgers narrowly missed seeing his entire 2018 season wiped out when he suffered a scary knee injury in the opening game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Although Rodgers was able to come back after going to the locker room (in what appeared to be an ACL tear) and lead the Packers to a stirring victory in that game, that injury seemed to plague him throughout most of the season, especially with his throwing motion.

In a perfect world, Love will do exactly what Rodgers did while backing up Brett Favre, which is holding the clipboard and learning the offense, while watching a future Hall of Famer. But if there is an injury to Rodgers, the Packers will have their possible heir apparent ready to go.

I also wrote a recent story on Dillon, as he might be the best part of this draft class, at least initially. Teaming Dillon with Aaron Jones, plus occasionally subbing in Jamaal Williams, gives the Packers a potent running game. Which is one needs to have in the outside zone running scheme for the overall offense to be effective.

AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last season. Adding a talent like Dillon should put the Packers in the top 10.

Another reason the running game of the Packers should be better is because of the selection of Deguara in the third round. I believe that LaFleur sees Deguara to be similar to fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk is both a punishing blocker and a very capable pass receiver. He is a big reason why the 49ers have the best running game in the NFC due to his prolific blocking. Again, the Niners also implement a outside zone running scheme under Kyle Shanahan.

Here is part of what Landry said about Deguara:

Packers selected Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara with the No. 94 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cincinnati’s all-time leader in catches (92) by a tight end, Deguara (6’2/242) was actually invited to the Senior Bowl as a fullback due to his smaller stature. Good news is Bearcats OC Mike Denbrock, who simultaneously serves as the program’s tight ends coach, has a successful track record of producing NFL players at the position. Deguara has the try-hard that front offices crave, which allowed him to pry himself open for the second-highest target share (20%) in the nation at his position last year.

In terms of the rest of the draft class for the Packers, Landry will also give his assessment for each of the players.

Landry’s assessment on Kamal Martin who the Packers selected in Round 5:

Packers selected Minnesota LB Kamal Martin with the No. 175 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Martin (6’3/240) was a two-year starting weak-side linebacker at Minnesota who missed four games as a senior with a foot sprain and knee injury that also kept him out of the pre-draft process. He has the strength, size, and tenacity to play at the next level, but poor technique and vision led to below-average tackling numbers against the run. In coverage, Martin is likely too heavy-footed to reliably cover NFL players, which may force him into a strict special teams role. His aggressive playing style and ability to work through blocks are traits that should translate there.

Landry’s take on the three offensive linemen (Runyon, Hanson and Stepaniak) the Packers took in Round 6:

Packers selected Michigan OT Jon Runyan with the No. 192 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Son of Jon Runyan Sr., a 14-year pro who was once the highest-paid lineman in the NFL, the Wolverines’ left tackle was groomed in the sport and inherited his father’s trademark nastiness in bulldozing oncoming defenders in the run game. His versatility at both left and right tackle in college, as well as the few snaps he took in between at guard, should compensate for his subpar feet, length, and strength at the next level. Overall, Runyan (6’4/306) is an above-average athlete who projects best on the interior line but may be asked to compete at multiple positions in camp.

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan Jr.

Packers selected Oregon C Jake Hanson with the No. 208 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Hanson (6’4/303) was a four-year starting center at Oregon who earned an All-Pac 12 honorable mention every season. His experience and competitiveness have him on the NFL’s radar, but he’s a well below-average athlete. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.50 seconds and lacked the strength to be put in one-on-one situations on tape. Hanson will compete for a final roster spot this offseason as a 23-year-old rookie. It’s clear the Packers made offensive line depth a priority over receiver depth in this draft.

Packers selected Indiana OT Simon Stepaniak with the No. 209 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. All 31 of Stepaniak’s (6’4/313) college starts came at guard, but the Packers announced him as a tackle. Stepaniak likely tumbled in the draft due to a Dec. 2019 torn ACL, though that was not his only injury in the Big 10. The owner of bruising size and strength, Stepaniak played with some real nastiness on the interior, but he gets tripped up by technique. 

Landry’s assessment of the selections of Scott and Garvin in Round 7:

Packers selected TCU DB Vernon Scott with the No. 236 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Scott (6’2/206) played four seasons at TCU, primarily lining up at safety, but he was well off the radar. As a senior, he mad 44 tackles across 10 games with one interception and eight pass deflections. He’ll need to show out on special teams to make the Packers final roster.

Packers selected Miami DE Jonathan Garvin with the No. 242 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Garvin (6’4/263) was a two-year starter at Miami who made 5.5 and 5.0 sacks as a sophomore and junior. Despite the average production, he declared for the NFL Draft early. He has Day 3 speed (4.82-second 40-yard dash) and will have to show more developmental traits to stick on the Packers’ roster.

To many in Packer Nation, the draft selections by the Packers in the 2020 NFL were somewhat confusing. But both LaFleur and Gutekunst have a plan and going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC title game in their first year together gives them some leeway.

Missing on certain players in the draft happens to all NFL teams. That is why utilizing free agency is so important to add to the weak areas of the team that the draft wasn’t able to address.

Gutekunst has proven over the last three offseasons that he is willing to utilize free agency quite often, which is similar to the man who hired him, Ron Wolf.

Time will tell how many more free agency moves that Gutekunst will make before the start of the 2020 NFL season. I definitely see at least a couple more though.

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Running Back AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon

In both of the mock drafts I did on the Green Bay Packers for the 2020 NFL draft, I had the team taking Jonathan Taylor in the first round. The Packers instead shocked many in the pro football world by selecting quarterback Jordan Love.

The Packers did take a running back in the second round when they selected AJ Dillon out of Boston College.

The reason I had Green Bay taking a running back early in the draft was how important the running game is in the overall success for the offensive strategy which the Packers utilize under head coach Matt LaFleur. I’m talking about the outside zone running scheme.

Yes, I know that the Packers have Aaron Jones, who had a fantastic year in 2019. Plus the Packers have a decent compliment to Jones in Jamaal Williams. Still, the Packers were ranked 15th in the NFL in rushing. Plus, both Jones and Williams are slated to become free agents after the 2020 season. Add to that, LaFleur told the media that he wanted to add a third running back to the mix via the draft.

If the outside zone scheme is really effective, the passing game will be that much better. And that will make quarterback Aaron Rodgers a happy camper, as the play-action passing game will really open up.

For instance, while LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, the team used the outside zone scheme as Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. The running game flourished due to the two-headed monster formed by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In addition to that, so did the success of quarterback Matt Ryan, who was the NFL MVP in 2016.

In 2017, LaFleur became the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and he had to fix an offense which really struggled the year before.

In seven starts as a rookie in 2016, Jared Goff was 0-7 as a starter and had just five TD passes versus seven interceptions for 1,089 yards. That adds up to a paltry passer rating of 63.6.

But in 2017, under the guidance of LaFleur, Goff really took off, as he was 11-4 as a starter, plus threw 28 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 3,804 yards. Goff’s passer rating improved to a very nice 100.4 level.

Not only did LaFleur get Goff on the right track, but the Rams started using the skills of talented running back Todd Gurley much better in 2017 by using the outside zone running scheme.

In 2015, Gurley was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but in 2016, things went south for the former Georgia Bulldog. In his second season, Gurley only rushed for 885 yards and his yards-per-carry average went down by over a yard and a half, as he only averaged 3.2 yards per rush.

But in 2017 under LaFleur, Gurley had a monster year, as he was named Offensive Player of the Year. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards (4.7 average) and 13 TDs, plus caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six more scores.

In 2018, when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, the offense struggled early, as quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury which would linger all season long.

Tennessee didn’t flash statistically under LaFleur (25th in total offense and 27th in scoring), but he figured out the best way to run his offense down the stretch. It led to five straight wins before the Titans were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in the final game of the season, in a game which would see the winner get into the playoffs.

Knowing that he had an ailing Mariota dealing with elbow issues, LaFleur leaned on the running game for the last quarter of the 2018 season. Running back Derrick Henry became a force, as he rushed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in four games to end the season.

Henry carried that momentum into 2019, as he was dominant, both in the regular season and postseason. In addition to that, look at how effective Ryan Tannehill was at quarterback for the Titans.

Which takes me to the selection of Dillon in the second round by the Packers on Friday night. If there is any running back that Dillon can be compared to, it’s Henry.

Like Henry was at Alabama, Dillon was a force at Boston College. In three years with the Eagles, Dillon rushed for 4,382 yards (5.2 yards per carry average) and scored 38 touchdowns.

Dillon was named first-team All-ACC three times at Boston College, plus was named third-team All-American in 2019.

NFL scout Chris Landry also named Dillon to his All-ACC squad, as well as naming him to the third-team on his All-American team.

Landry said this about Dillon before he did drills at the NFL Scouting Combine:

Boston College RB AJ Dillon is a feature runner with power, strength and underrated burst. Dillon measured in at 247 pounds for the combine, making him the heaviest back in Indianapolis. He finished out his Eagles career having taken 845 carries (including 300 or more carries in 2017 and 2019).
Dillon measured in at 6-foot 3/8 inches and 247 pounds and was actually down three pounds from his last listed weight at Boston College, but regardless, he weighed in as the heaviest running back in Indianapolis. Those 247 pounds, by the by, made for an identical match to Derrick Henry’s combine measurement. Dillon would obviously love for his pro career to unfold like that of King Henry and will look to impress in athletic testing this weekend, but keep in mind that Henry’s athleticism at such a weight is an outlier, not the norm.

Landry then said this about Dillon after his workout at the combine:

RB AJ Dillon recorded a vertical jump of 41 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine. We hesitate to invoke the name Derrick Henry when it comes to Dillon, but when it comes to a back performing in tests at size, the 6-foot, 247-pound Dillon (same weight as the Titans back) was putting in slightly better marks than those of King Henry on Friday. His 41-inch vertical jump was the best jump of any running back in Indianapolis — and four inches better than Henry’s 2016 jump — and his 4.53-second 40-yard dash just barely bettered Henry’s 4.54-second rumble from a few years back, while his broad jump went for 10-foot-11, one inch better than Henry’s. He was a clear winner from the day, at least in terms of some of the less agility-centered tests.

The bottom line is that the Packers can now utilize a running back like Dillon in short yardage situations, which was a problem for the team in 2019. Dillon is the type of back who can not only get you a first down in those situations, but also take it to the house.

The 6’0″, 247-pound Dillon is also the perfect type of back to lean on when Lambeau Field truly becomes the frozen tundra in December and January.

Dillon would be the thunder in the Green Bay backfield, while Jones would be the Lightning. Williams will have a role as well, to keep everyone fresh.

Expect to see the running game of the Packers to get much better in 2020, which will also help the effectiveness of Rodgers at quarterback. In terms of who No. 12 will throw to in 2020 besides Davante Adams, I’ll hold off on that discussion in another story.

Green Bay Packers: Why Drafting Jonathan Taylor with Pick No. 30 is a Possibility

Jonathan Taylor Combine

There is absolutely no doubt that Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. Taylor is sixth on the all-time rushing yards leaders list and would have passed everyone in front of him had he played his senior year in Madison.

No. 1 on the list is former Badger Ron Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 yards in four seasons with the Badgers. No. 33 also was able to win the Doak Walker Award and the Heisman Trophy his last season with Wisconsin in 1999.

When Taylor announced that he was moving on to play in the NFL shortly after the Rose Bowl, No. 23 had accumulated 6,174 yards rushing (and 50 touchdowns) and had averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season.

Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football  history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Although Taylor never won the Heisman Trophy, he did win back-to-back Doak Walker Awards in 2018 and 2019.

Had Taylor played in 2020 with the Badgers, it was virtually certain (unless he was injured) that he would have been the all-time rushing leader in college football history and by a wide margin.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Ball security has to be the number one item that Taylor has to improve on. That being said, in his junior year, a number of the fumbles occurred while the Badgers were running the Wildcat offense and also when Taylor was fighting for extra yards.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

NFL scout Chris Landry noted this about Taylor’s performance at the combine:

“Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.”

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

In terms of of the 2020 NFL draft, I believe it’s a real possibility that the Green Bay Packers might select Taylor at pick No. 30 in Round No. 1.

Why?

There are several reasons. For one, head coach Matt LaFleur runs the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

Being put in space is something the Packers do on third down with running back Aaron Jones, who is coming off a great 2019 season. Besides rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, Jones showed off his great receiving skills last season, as he had 49 catches for 474 yards and three scores.

Both Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2020 season.

That being said, there is a mutual interest in extending the contract of Jones, as the Packers were slated to meet with the agent of Jones last week to talk about getting a new deal done for No. 33 as he enters his final contract year.

So, why would the Packers draft another running back, especially in Round 1?

All one has to do is look at the running game of the San Francisco 49ers which is three-deep (and at times four-deep) in terms of quality depth. LaFleur basically learned the outside zone scheme from working with the current coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan.

LaFleur and the Packers learned a painful lesson in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, as the Niners ran for a whopping 285 yards, with 220 yards coming from running back Rasheem Mostert, as the 49ers beat the Packers 37-20.

San Francisco was second in the NFL in rushing with 2,305 yards in 2019 and had three running backs who ran for at least 540 yards last season. Mostert ran for 772 yards, while Matt Breida ran for 623 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards.

And when there were some injury issues, a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, ran for 125 yards. Add to that, wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also utilized on end around plays and jet sweeps, as he rushed for 159 yards.

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last year, but by adding a weapon like Taylor would surely enhance the running game.

Plus, let’s not forget that Jones was shut down in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to knee injuries.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

Williams is a solid back, especially on third down due to his pass-blocking ability and his receiving skills, but he is not the game-breaker that Jones is or Taylor is.

Plus by adding the former Badger, both Jones and Taylor can be utilized at the same time. For instance, Jones could be utilized in the passing or running game like the Niners use Samuel in the slot, while Taylor is in the backfield.

Improving the running game will also help quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, as play-action passes have a much better rate of success, plus defenses will put more players in the box to stop the run, which opens up deep passing lanes.

Just take a look at the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterback coach.

The Dirty Birds had a great running back combination with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,944 yards.

Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.

The Packers go into the 2020 NFL draft with 10 picks overall.  The Packers have a first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.

The Packers have a number of needs going into the draft. The two most glaring needs are at wide receiver and at inside linebacker.

The Packers need to find a bookend to Davante Adams at receiver. Fortunately for the Packers, the 2020 wide receiver class in the draft is one of the deepest in several years. The Packers can select a very good receiver in Round 2 because of the depth in this class.

By the way, Adams was a second-round pick by the Packers in 2014.

The Packers are most likely moving on from Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, as he is an unrestricted free agent. No. 50 is a tackling machine no doubt, but his lack of speed hurts him when he chases down running backs on the edge, as well as in pass coverage.

Both positions can be improved before the draft because general manager Brian Gutekunst is not afraid to go after players he targets in free agency.

All one has to do is look at the haul Gutekunst made in 2019, when he signed safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Preston Smith, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and guard Billy Turner.

Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 Combine

Gutekunst is reportedly interested in a couple of players who could definitely help the Packers. One is tight end Austin Hooper of the Falcons, while the other is inside linebacker Joe Schobert of the Cleveland Browns. Schobert hails from Waukesha, Wisconsin and also played his college football for the Badgers in Madison.

If Jimmy Graham is cut by the Packers, it would free up an additional $8 million in salary cap space. That money could be utilized to help sign Hooper, who had his rookie year when LaFleur was the QB coach in Atlanta.

In the past two years with the Falcons, the 6-4, 254-pound Hooper has caught 146 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The 6-1, 245-pound Schobert made a number of big plays for the Browns defensively, as he had two sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2019. Schobert plays the pass much better than Martinez, plus also is a tackling machine against the run, as in 2017, Schobert tied with Martinez and Buffalo’s Preston Brown for the NFL lead in tackles with 144.

There is also speculation that the Packers might be interested in bringing back slot receiver Randall Cobb. The former Kentucky Wildcat played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, after spending eight years in Green Bay.

That will be an interesting dynamic regarding Cobb, if indeed the Packers are interested in bringing him back. In Dallas, he could be reunited with head coach Mike McCarthy, while if he comes back to Green Bay, he would be back with many of his closest friends, including Rodgers.

Cobb had a good year for the Cowboys in 2019 playing mostly slot receiver, as he had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns.

Time will tell what Gutekunst will do in free agency this year, but one thing is for sure, he looks a lot more like Ron Wolf when he headed the front office of the Packers than the man who proceeded him at GM, Ted Thompson.

Wolf utilized free agency freely, while Thompson rarely dipped his toes into those types of transactions. And when he did, it was usually after a player was cut by his former team (see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers) or by signing undrafted rookie or street free agents.

If Gutekunst can help the team via free agency before the draft, then the Packers don’t have to focus on need as much in Round 1, as opposed to selecting the best player available.

Taylor might just be the best player available at pick No. 30 on the draft board of the Packers, especially knowing what an impact he would have with the Green Bay outside zone running scheme. Not to mention adding another home run threat to the offensive backfield and adding quality depth behind Jones.

When Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft takes place on April 23rd, don’t be shocked if the Packers select another stud running back to make their outside zone running scheme even more dangerous.

That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.

Wisconsin is Currently Going Through a Great Era in Pro Sports

LOGO

2019 was a pretty good year for the state of Wisconsin in terms of professional sports.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who had a 60-22 record, made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before they were beaten by the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who were 89-73, made it to the MLB postseason for the second consecutive year, before they were beaten by the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals in the National League Wild Card round.

The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North with a 13-3 record in 2019, plus made it all the way to the 2019 NFC Championship Game before they were beaten by the San Francisco 49ers, who then lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

All in all, I would say that pro sports in Wisconsin was pretty, pretty good in 2019.

In fact, only once before in the history of professional sports in Wisconsin, have the Bucks, Brewers and Packers all played in the postseason at the same time. That was in 1982.

Sidney Moncrief

In the 1981-82 season, the Bucks won the NBA Central Division under head coach Don Nelson with a 55-27 record. The Bucks later lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks were a very balanced team that had seven players average double digits in points per game. They were Sidney Moncrief (19.8 ppg), Marques Johnson (16.5 ppg), Brian Winters (15.9 ppg), Bob Lanier (13.5 ppg), Mickey Johnson (12.9 ppg), Quinn Buckner (12.9 ppg) and Junior Bridgeman (12.5 ppg).

The Brewers made it to the postseason for the second year in a row after narrowly winning the AL East with a 95-67 record behind the leadership of manager Harvey Kuenn. Not to mention the play of MVP shortstop Robin Yount and Cy Young award winner Pete Vuckovich.

Seeing as I was covering the Brewers back in those days, really made this is fantastic experience for me personally.

In the final series of the 1982 season, Milwaukee went into Baltimore with a three-game lead with four games to play.

Milwaukee made Brewer Nation very nervous, as the Brewers lost the first three games of the series. That meant the winner on Sunday would win the AL East. That game pitted Jim Palmer versus Don Sutton, who the Brewers had traded for late in the 1982 season.

Once again it was No. 19 who led the way. Yount was three for four, scored four runs and had two homers, as the Brew Crew won 10-2.

Robin Yount in 1982 postseason

That meant the Brewers would be facing the California Angels in the ALCS. Just to be even more dramatic, the Brewers lost the first two games of a best-of-five series in Anaheim. But the Brewers stormed back to win the next three in Milwaukee to earn a trip to their first World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Brewers dominated Game 1 in St. Louis, as they blew away the Cards 10-0. Paul Molitor had five hits, while Yount had four. Mike Caldwell pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout.

The season-ending arm injury that Rollie Fingers suffered in September hurt the Brewers in the rest of the series. If the Brewers had the services of No. 34, the Brewers probably win the series. Milwaukee lost late leads in both Game 2 and Game 7. Bottom line, the Cardinals won it all, with ex-Brewer Darrell Porter winning the series MVP.

The Packers made it to the postseason in 1982 for the first time since 1972, when the team finished 5-3-1 in a strike-shortened season behind head coach Bart Starr.

Green Bay was ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense. Quarterback Lynn Dickey had a dynamic wide receiver tandem to work with in James Lofton and John Jefferson, plus had a very productive tight end to pass to as well in Paul Coffman.

The Packers also had two talented running backs in Eddie Lee Ivory and Gerry Ellis.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense. Linebacker John Anderson led the Packers in interceptions with three, while Ezra Johnson led the team in sacks (5.5).

James Lofton and John Jefferson

In the 1982 NFC playoffs, the Packers won their first postseason game at Lambeau Field since the “Ice Bowl” game in 1967 by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 41-16, as Jefferson caught two touchdown passes, while Lofton had one.

The following week the Packers lost to the Dallas Cowboys 37-26 at Texas Stadium.

In 2020, things look promising again for the Bucks, Brewers and Packers.

The Bucks are having a record-setting year and now have a 47-8 record. Milwaukee has a chance to better the record of the 1970-71 team which had a 66-16 record and won the NBA title.

The current Bucks team is led by 2018-19 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who looks like he will win his second straight MVP. The “Greek Freak” is averaging 30 points per game and has had 40 double-doubles (points and rebounds) this year. In addition to that, No. 34 has also had four triple-doubles (points, rebounds and assists).

The Bucks have a very balanced team under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 119.7 points per game, plus lead the NBA in rebounding as well, as Milwaukee averages 51.8 rebounds per game.

There is plenty of talent on the Bucks even when Antetokounmpo is on the bench or doesn’t play. I’m talking about players such as Kris Middleton (20.9 ppg), Eric Bledsoe (15.7 ppg), Brook Lopez (10.8 ppg), George Hill (9.6 ppg), Donte DiVincenzo (9.2), Wesley Matthews (7.5 ppg) and Ersan IIyasova (7.3 ppg).

The Bucks also have a very deep bench and can play the matchup game with players like Kyle Korver (6.4 ppg), Robin Lopez (5.3 ppg), Sterling Brown (5.2 ppg), Pat Connaughton (4.8 ppg) and have recently added Marvin Williams (4.5 ppg) to their roster.

Giannis II

I like the chances of the Bucks to bring back their second NBA title to Milwaukee in 49 years.

The Brewers have had a number of roster changes going into the 2020 season, but the team still will be led by Christian Yelich, who narrowly missed winning his second straight NL MVP award in 2019. No. 22 probably would have won it if not for a knee injury which ended his season in early September.

The Brewers also have one of the best managers in the game in Craig Counsell, plus have a general manager in David Stearns who has one of the sharpest eyes in searching for talent in MLB.

While the Brewers saw players like Mike Moustaskas, Yasmani Grandal, Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz. Jordan Lyles, Eric Thames, Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra and Travis Shaw all leave the team via trade or free agency, the Brew Crew has added some very intriguing talent to the team the same way.

The starting rotation of the Brewers has three new additions going into the 2020 season, as LHP Brett Anderson (free agency), LHP Eric Lauer (trade) and RHP Josh Lindblom (free agency) will get every opportunity to hold down a starting role for the pitching staff.

RHP Brandon Woodruff is the No. 1 starter on the staff, while RHP Adrian Hauser or RHP Freddie Peralta look to be the fifth starter.

In terms of the relief pitching, LHP Josh Hader will welcome the addition of RHP Corey Knebel, who missed all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. When he is right, Knebel is sometimes unhittable and he and Hader would be a great one-two combination late in the game.

The rest of the bullpen will have LHP Brent Suter, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Ray Black, RHP David Phelps, RHP Devin Williams and RHP Corbin Burnes, who is hoping for a season like he had in 2018 and not the nightmare year he had in 2019.

The catching corp lost Grandal, but the Brewers did sign slugger Omar Narvaez (22 homers in 2019 for Seattle) to team with Manny Piña.

The infield in 2020 will have unbelievable depth and very versatile players manning down the positions. The only everyday starter looks to be 2B Keston Hiura.

At 1B, Ryan Braun looks to get some time playing there along with Justin Smoak, who is a switch-hitter.

At the SS position, Counsell has a number of options. Orlando Arcia will have to beat off the competition if he wants to remain a starter, as the Brewers traded for a young talented player in Luis Urias, plus have veterans like Eric Sogard and Brock Holt who they signed in free agency to play there as well.

At 3B, Holt, Sogard and Urias can all play the hot corner, plus the Brewers also have Jedd Gyorko and Ryan Healy to get some opportunity there as well.

In terms of playing the matchup game, both Holt and Sogard hit from the left side of the plate.

Christian Yelich II

The outfield situation will change up somewhat in 2020, as Braun will not get as much playing time out there, as the Brewers signed Avisail Garcia in free agency to get the majority of time in the outfield, along with Yelich and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Ben Gamel will come off the bench like he did in 2019, plus Holt can also play the corner outfield positions. Corey Ray will get an opportunity to make the roster, plus the Brewers brought back Keon Broxton, who can play any outfield position with defensive prowess, plus has some nice pop in his bat.

The NL Central looks to be the best division in the National league this year, as the Cincinnati Reds look much improved, plus the St. Louis Cardinals are always tough. One can’t sleep on the Chicago Cubs either, even without manager Joe Madden.

Time will tell what the Brewers will do in 2020 with all their new additions, but I wouldn’t put it past Counsell and Stearns to go to the postseason for a third consecutive year.

The Packers have some holes to fill, even with the 13-3 record they had in 2019. We will find out what moves the team will make this offseason, as free agency begins in March, plus the NFL draft will take place starting on April 23.

Speaking of the NFL draft, I’ll be doing my first mock draft after the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is over.

Currently, the Packers have almost $24 million in cap space going into free agency. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have a number of options available to him, but he wants to hold off on any decisions until the combine is over and the CBA situation is settled.

On offense, the Packers need to add another bookend to Davante Adams at wide receiver, plus need to shore up the situation at right tackle. Both Bryan Bulaga and Jared Veldheer are free agents. The Packers would be very happy to re-sign both of them if at all possible, plus add another RT in the draft.

Even with the great season running back Aaron Jones had in 2019 (1,558 total yards and 19 touchdowns), both he and Jamaal Williams will be free agents after the 2020 season. The Packers are aware of that heading into the draft, which is why they will most likely select another RB, perhaps early in the draft.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

And even with Aaron Rodgers having another nice season in 2019 (26 TD passes, four interceptions and 4,002 passing yards), the Packers are aware of No. 12’s injury history, plus they know he is 36 and not getting any younger.

The Packers like backup QB Tim Boyle, but if the right QB is there for the taking in the draft, I could see Gutekunst selecting that player early in the draft. Plus, I would not be shocked if the Packers took at look at free agent QB Marcus Mariota, who played under head coach Matt LaFleur in Tennessee when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator there in 2018.

On defense, the Packers have to get the Front 7 of their defense better in playing the run, plus the linebacker speed has to improve in pass coverage. Which is why I would not be surprised if the Packers do not re-sign Blake Martinez. No. 50 has been a tackling machine, there is no doubt about that, but his lack of speed has hurt him, both in stopping the run and covering receivers.

I could see Gutekunst adding a faster free agent linebacker to play on the inside to replace Martinez, plus add another linebacker or two in the draft.

The addition of the “Smith Brothers” was huge for the defense of the Packers in 2019, as both La’Darius and Preston had big years. Gutekunst will try and add some more talent like that to the D via free agency, although it depends on the player and his price tag.

The Packers also know the cornerback Kevin King will also be a free agent after the 2020 season, plus are aware of his shoulder issues since he came into the NFL, so I would expect the Packers to draft a CB in the draft for sure.

One never knows what will occur for a NFL team in terms of injuries, but if the Packers stay as injury-free as they were for most of the 2019 season, I like LaFleur’s team to get to the postseason again in 2020.

Bottom line, no matter what, 2020 will be an exciting year for professional sports teams in Wisconsin and if it’s anywhere near what happened in 2019 and 1982, fans from the Badger state will be quite pleased.

Plus, in addition to that, the professional teams in Wisconsin all have fabulous venues to play in front of their fans. The Bucks have Fiserv Forum, the Brewers have Miller Park (American Family Field in 2021) and the Packers have Lambeau Field.

All the better for viewing sports in the postseason.

Green Bay Packers: Preview of the NFC Championship Game vs. the San Francisco 49ers

Brett vs. 49ers in 1997 NFC Title game

When the 14-3 Green Bay Packers take on the 14-3 San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara this Sunday, it will occur 22 years and eight days after the two teams also met in the 1997 NFC title game at 3Com Park, which was more commonly known as Candlestick Park.

In that game, both teams were also 14-3 going into the title game. The Packers were defending Super Bowl champions, plus had beaten the Niners in the postseason for two straight years heading into this game.

The Packers made it three years in a row, as quarterback Brett Favre, running back Dorsey Levens, wide receiver Antonio Freeman and the defense of Green Bay all came up big that day.

Favre threw for 222 yards and a touchdown and did not throw a pick. No. 4’s passer rating for the game was 98.1. Favre’s touchdown toss went to Freeman on a 27-yard pass play in the second quarter. For the day, Freeman had four catches for 107 yards and a score.

Because of the conditions in the game, with a rainy and muddy environment, the Packers relied on their strong running game behind Levens, who rushed for 114 yards on 27 carries. No. 25 scored a touchdown, plus caught four passes for 27 more yards.

The defense of the Packers was very good that day, as they held the 49ers to 33 rushing yards, while they also held down quarterback Steve Young, as they sacked him four times (including one by Reggie White). No. 8 did throw for 250 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass, although he did throw a key interception to safety Eugene Robinson.

The bottom line is the defense did not allow a touchdown and the only one that the Niners scored was on a kickoff return late in the game.

Final score, Packers 23, 49ers 10.

It was a very interesting scenario that day, as head coach Mike Holmgren of the Packers was taking on one of his former assistant coaches in the game, as Steve Mariucci was now the head coach of the 49ers.

A similar connection will take place this Sunday when head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers takes on head coach Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. The two have had quite a history together.

LaFleur has worked under Shanahan in three different locations when the son of Mike Shanahan was an offensive coordinator. This occurred with the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Falcons.

When LaFleur was working under Shanahan in Atlanta as quarterback coach, his brother Mike was also on the staff. Today, Mike is the pass game coordinator for the 49ers.

LaFleur also has a history with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh of the Niners, as both were on the same coaching staffs at Central Michigan and with the Texans. Now they call themselves best friends.

I’m sure they weren’t talking to each other this week.

Especially after the 49ers whipped the Packers 37-8 at Levi’s Stadium in late November.

The good news is the Packers haven’t lost since. But it will be more than a mild upset if the Packers can turn the table on the 49ers this upcoming Sunday.

Never say never, especially when one looks back on the history between these two teams.

For the Packers to win this Sunday, one thing is for sure. They have to play well in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

The Packers should have their full offensive line available versus the Niners this Sunday. When they played in November, right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game early with a knee injury, and his replacement Alex Light did not have a good night.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Packers was sacked five times and pressured on several other occasions while attempting to pass. The result? Rodgers had one of the roughest games of his career, as he only threw for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Aaron getting sacked by the Niners

Fortunately for the Packers now, if Bulaga goes out again, they have a capable backup in Jared Veldheer, who played the entire game against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round game last Sunday as Bulaga had the flu. Veldheer did a very nice job as well.

The Green Bay offensive line (LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins, C Corey Linsley, RG Billy Turner and RT Bulaga) has to be ready to play their best game of the season against that very tough San Francisco front, which includes Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford.

Ford didn’t play against the Packers in November either.

Behind that line is linebacker Fred Warner, who is having a great season this year. The secondary is also solid and it includes the ageless Richard Sherman, who is in his ninth season in the NFL.

This 49er defense was ranked second in the NFL in total defense and first in passing defense.

Pro Football Focus has the Green Bay offensive line ranked No. 6 in the NFL.  Here is what PFF says about the Packers offensive line.

The perception of the Packers’ offensive line doesn’t always meet reality. Aaron Rodgers consistently holds onto the football with one of the longest average time to throws in the NFL. As PFF Data Scientist Timo Riske explored with offensive line survival rates, that significantly increases the chance for quarterback pressure and sacks. Their 22nd-ranked pressure rate allowed isn’t all that impressive, but their average time to allow a  pressure of 2.62 seconds (best in the NFL) is much more so.

So what does that mean? Rodgers has to get the ball out quickly, but will still have time to look at his options briefly.

This where LaFleur has to game plan accordingly. Like he did against the Seahawks, he has to utilize running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams early and often in this game.

Davante Adams vs. 49ers

The 49ers can be run on. But you have to stick to it. San Francisco gave up an average of just over 112 yards per game on the ground.

That being said, the Niners held talented running back Dalvin Cook to just 18 yards when they beat the Minnesota Vikings in their divisional round game last Saturday.

Like Cook, Jones can hurt a team on the ground and through the air.

I’ll bet LaFleur called head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angles Rams this week Why? First off, LaFleur was the offensive coordinator under McVay with the Rams in 2017. The Packers and Rams run basically the same offense. Plus, McVay dialed up a great game plan against the Niners in their most recent matchup less than a month ago.

The Rams lost 34-31 in Santa Clara, but LA put up 395 total yards and quarterback Jared Goff threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Goff also was never sacked. Running back Todd Gurley chipped in 48 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns.

That’s the type of production the Green Bay offense has to exhibit this Sunday to win. Hopefully LaFleur has studied the tape from that game and also gotten some pointers from McVay about how to attack the 49ers.

Now the Packers did rush for 117 yards in the game in November, so that’s a good sign. But Jones has to get a lot more than the 13 touches he had in that game. Those were all carries, which gained 38 yards. Jones needs 20-plus touches in this game, both on the ground and in the air.

Jamaal Williams also added 45 yards on the ground in that game on 11 carries, plus caught seven passes for 35 yards.

Adams caught seven passes for 43 yards and a score in that game, but he has to come up bigger than that in this game.

Plus, Adams needs some help from somebody else in the receiving corp. Tight end Jimmy Graham had a nice game against the Seahawks and the Packers need to utilize him again.

But at least one of the other receivers have to make some plays as well. It doesn’t matter who, but someone from the group that includes Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Marques Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow has to.

The defense of the Packers has to play much better this time around to even think about springing an upset.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo picked the Packers apart, as he threw for 253 yards and two scores. That adds up to a robust 145.8 passer rating. The Packers did sack Garoppolo three times, including 1.5 by Za’Darius Smith and a half a sack by Preston Smith.

The “Smith Brothers” need to have a bigger presence in this game.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine put a new wrinkle in the defense for the Packers after that bad loss in Santa Clara and now puts out what is called the “Z Package” scheme.

Smith moves all over the place in that scheme (inside or outside) and has had great success, not only in sacking the quarterback, but also in stopping the run. The formation basically has a four-man front and a roving linebacker.

The scheme also allows the secondary to be in a dime look, or six defensive backs.

Za'Darius Smith vs. 49ers

I expect the Packers to utilize that look often in passing situations.

They have to do something, especially due to the way tight end George Kittle exploited the secondary in November. Kittle had six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, which included a 61-yard post pattern score.

The problem with the Packers covering Kittle, is that covering tight ends has been a persistent issue for the Green Bay defense this year. Good or great tight ends have had substantial success against them.

Somehow, Pettine has to figure out a coverage scheme to at least limit the production of Kittle, who also is a great blocking tight end for the running game.

The secondary of the Packers will also need to beware of wide receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel. Green Bay held Sanders to just one catch for 15 yards, but Samuel had two receptions for 50 yards and a score.

Still, with all the threats at receiver, the calling card for the San Francisco offense is their running game. The Niners averaged 144 yards a game in the regular season.

The Packers did hold the 49ers to 112 yards rushing, but San Francisco averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Green Bay has gotten much better in their run defense the past several weeks, but the three-man monster that the Niners use against their opponents can be lethal. Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida all have different styles and each rushed for at least 500 yards this season, with Mostert leading the team with 772 yards.

After the 49ers throttled the Green Bay defense in that game, the defense had a players-only meeting and discussed what the issues were. The big point that was brought up was a lack of communication in that game.

It seems that issue has been resolved a bit, as the Packers have only allowed 15.7 points per game in six games since.

Plus, there is the special teams importance in this game.

Kicker Mason Crosby of the Packers has had a fabulous year, as he made 22-of-24 field goals, which adds up to a field goal percentage of 91.7.

Kicker Robbie Gould of the 49ers on the other hand, has not been nearly as efficient, as he has made 23-of-31 field goals, which adds up to a field goal percentage of 74.2.

Punter JK Scott of the Packers has averaged 44 yards per punt, while Mitch Wishnowsky of the 49ers has averaged 44.9 per punt. The punting game looks very solid for both teams.

In the return game, the Niners will be facing someone that they didn’t see in the game in November. That someone is Tyler Ervin. The Packers brought Ervin on late in the season to invigorate their return game which had done basically nothing all year.

Ervin changed all that in the four games he played in the regular season, as he averaged 9.6 yards per punt return and 26.7 yards per kickoff return. Ervin has also seen some time on the offense, as the Packers have tried to utilize his great speed on jet sweeps.

Richie James is the main returner for the 49ers and has averaged 8 yards per punt return and 21.4 yards per kickoff return.

So, how do I see this game? Well, I believe that the Packers have a fighting chance to win this contest.

Aaron vs. 49ers

Yes, I was also on record as saying that the Packers would play much better than they did in the November game between these two teams, but some of the factors which I have mentioned earlier in this story lead me to believe the Packers will play much better this time around.

Bottom line, it is going to take a great effort by the Packers to win this game. Winning inside the trenches is the key. Even if you don’t win, at least make it a stalemate in that battering zone.

I also expect Rodgers to continue the great play he showed last week versus the Seahawks. In fact Rodgers now has a passer rating in the postseason of 100, which is fourth all time.

No. 12 passed Drew Brees on that list after his performance against the Seahawks.

If that happens and Green Bay plays smart and physical football, plus create a turnover or two, I like the chances of the Packers in this game.

The Postseason History Between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks

Brett in the snow vs. Seahawks

When the Green Bay Packers play host to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in a NFC Divisional Playoff game, it will be the fourth time the teams have met in the postseason.

The Packers lead the series 2-1, as they have won both games played at Lambeau Field, while the Hawks won the game played in Seattle. More on those games later.

Green Bay also leads the regular season series by a 11-8 margin over Seattle.

The Packers and Seahawks have built up quite a rivalry recently, as this will be the sixth consecutive year that the two teams have played each other. In the five previous games, one being the 2014 NFC title game played in Seattle, the home team has won each and every time.

In the past six games between the two teams, two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL have faced off against each other. I’m talking about Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks.

When I say the best, I mean the best. Rodgers and Wilson are ranked 1-2 in the all-time NFL career passer rating statistic. In fact, they are the only two quarterbacks with a passer rating above 100. Rodgers has a passer rating of 102.4, while Wilson has a passer rating of 101.2.

In his career against Seattle in the regular season in nine games, Rodgers has a 6-3 mark. No. 12 has thrown 12 touchdown passes to just two interceptions for 1,995 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.8.

The former Cal Bear has also rushed for 89 yards a score.

In the 2014 NFC title game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Rodgers was playing with a calf injury which hampered him down the stretch in the 2014 season and in the playoffs.

Rodgers threw one touchdown pass versus two picks in the game for 178 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 55.8. One of the interceptions occurred when Rodgers saw that defensive lineman Michael Bennett appeared to be offside, which meant he had a free play and he threw a jump ball into the end zone that was picked off by Richard Sherman.

But the refs did not see it that way and the pick stood.

Rodgers was hampered not only by his calf injury, but also the way Mike McCarthy was coaching so conservatively with his play-calling. Especially late in the game, when a first down completion by Rodgers could have basically sealed away a win. But instead the Packers ran it three straight times.

Again, more on this game later.

Meanwhile, Wilson is 3-3 against the Packers. In those six games, Wilson has thrown nine touchdown passes versus six picks for 1,150 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 81.9.

In the 2014 NFC title game, Wilson really struggled until the very end. In the game, the former Wisconsin Badger threw one touchdown pass (the game-winner) versus four picks for 209 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 44.3.

Aaron and Russell

Back to the postseason series between the two teams, the first time the two teams met was in a 2003 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field. Former Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren was coaching the Seahawks and his team was quarterbacked by the former backup to Brett Favre in Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck.

They would be going up against Favre and head coach Mike Sherman of the Packers, who was part of Holmgren’s last coaching staff in Green Bay in 1997.

A week after this game, in a NFC Divisional Playoff game in Philadelphia, Sherman would be remembered for not stepping on the throat of the Eagles when he had a chance and instead his team suffered a painful loss. Similar to the way McCarthy coached in the 2014 NFC title game.

But back to this game now. The Packers had won the NFC North with a 10-6 record and were fortunate to be playing in the postseason. The Minnesota Vikings and the Packers were both 9-6 heading into the last game of the season and had the Vikings won, they held the tiebreaker over the Packers and they would have been the NFC North champ.

But on the last play of the game in Arizona, as the Vikings were taking on the Cardinals, Arizona quarterback Josh McCown threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Poole as time expired and the Cards won.

Meanwhile the Packers whipped the Denver Broncos 31-3 at Lambeau Field, which made the Pack the kings of the NFC North in 2003.

The Seahawks had finished with a similar 10-6 record, but finished second in the NFC West behind the 12-4 St. Louis Rams.

The Seahawks led 3-0 after the first quarter before both teams got in end zone in the second quarter. First, Ryan Longwell and Josh Brown traded field goals to put the Hawks up by a 6-3 score before Favre hit tight end Bubba Franks with a 23-yard touchdown pass. Longwell then followed with another field goal and the Packers led 13-6 at halftime.

Both the Packers and Seahawks got their respective offenses going in the second half as both Favre and Hasslebeck got hot and the running game of each team also made some noise.

Favre ended up throwing for 319 yards and one touchdown without a pick and had a passer rating of 102.9. No. 4 was helped along by running back Ahman Green, who rushed for 66 yards and two touchdowns. No. 30 also had five catches for 44 yards.

The Packers did not have one turnover in the game.

The Seahawks weren’t so lucky. Hasselbeck threw for 305 yards, but his accuracy was not great (25-of-45) and was also sacked twice. Hasselbeck also threw an untimely pick. More on that in a bit. The passer rating of No. 8 was just 67.4.

Running back Shaun Alexander was held to 45 yards rushing, but he scored all three of Seattle’s touchdowns, including one with just 51 seconds remaining in the game to force overtime.

When the team captains met on the field and Seattle won the toss, Hasselbeck shouted, “We want the ball and we’re gonna score.” Those words would come back to bite Matt right in the keester.

Al Harris pick-6

Why? Because with a little more than four minutes played in overtime, Hasselbeck threw a Pick-Six to cornerback Al Harris, who took the football 52-yards to the house.

The result? A 33-27 victory by the Packers over the Seahawks in OT.

The Seahawks and Packers would meet in the postseason again four years later. The setting was the same, as the game was at snowy Lambeau Field. Holmgren and Hasselbeck were back as well, while Favre had a new second-year head coach in Mike McCarthy.

The Packers finished with a 13-3 record and won the NFC North, while the Seahawks had won the NFC West with a 10-6 record.

The week before, Seattle had defeated the Washington Redskins 35-14 in the Wild Card round, while the Packers had a bye.

In this game, the Packers got off to a slow start, as Alexander scored on a short touchdown run and then Hasselbeck hit Bobby Engram with an 11-yard touchdown pass.

The Packers were quickly down 14-0.

But the Packers were almost unstoppable after that, as they scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives in the “Winter Wonderland” of Lambeau.

Favre once again played very well against his former coach in the playoffs, as he threw for 173 yards and also tossed three touchdown passes without a pick. No. 4’s passer rating in the game was a sparkling 137.6.

Greg Jennings led the way for the Packers at wide receiver, as he had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

But it was running back Ryan Grant who had the real big game, as he ran for 201 yards and scored three touchdowns.

The Packers ended up doubling the Seahawks in total yardage, by a 408 to 200 margin.

Ryan Grant vs. Seahawks

Hasselback did throw for 194 yards and a touchdown, but a lack of a running game really hurt the Hawks, as they were only able to gain 28 yards on the ground.

In the end, the Packers and the winter elements were just too much for the Seahawks, as Green Bay won the game 42-20.

When the Packers and Seahawks met in the 2014 postseason, it was for all the marbles, as the winner would be advancing to the Super Bowl. As I mentioned earlier, the game was played a CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

The Seahawks behind head coach Pete Carroll, the great play of Wilson and the tenacious play of the Seattle defense were the main reasons why the Hawks were the defending Super Bowl champs coming into the game.

McCarthy was the head coach for the Packers again in this game, while the NFL MVP of 2014, Rodgers, was his quarterback.

The game would go down as the most painful loss in Green Bay history, at least in my opinion.

Yes, even worse than the loss in Super Bowl XXXII to the Broncos.

Or the 1998 Wild Card loss to the San Francisco 49ers on the Terrell Owens touchdown catch in the final seconds at Candlestick Park in Holmgren’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Or the 2003 Divisional Playoff game against the Eagles, which will be forever known as the “4th and 26” game.

Yes, this game was worse because the Packers had outplayed the Seahawks by a wide margin for about the first 56 minutes of the game.

Even at that point, Green Bay only had a 19-7 lead, which should have been much larger if not for some conservative play-calling by McCarthy and also because of mistakes by players such as defensive tackle Mike Daniels (15-yard penalty for taunting) which moved the Packers back to the Seattle 19-yard line instead of being at the 4-yard line after a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix interception early in the game.

Or by linebacker Brad Jones, who the Seahawks had scouted as being vulnerable on a fake field goal attempt because of his aggressive tendency to try and block the kick. With the Packers leading 16-0 and the Seahawks doing absolutely nothing on offense, the Hawks were attempting a field goal when former Packer punter Jon Ryan, who was the holder, picked up the ball and threw to an wide open Gary Gilliam for a 19-yard touchdown, as Jones came crashing in as expected.

Also on this play, A.J. Hawk decided to go after Ryan instead of going over to cover Gilliam and the Seahawks were back in the game 16-7.

Then with the Packers driving again, Rodgers threw a pass to an open James Starks, who just missed the pass which would have resulted in a touchdown. The Packers ended up settling for a 48-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to go up 19-7.

Later in the fourth quarter, with just a little over five minutes remaining in the game, Morgan Burnett picked off Wilson at the Packers 39 and instead of running to wide open spaces for which could have resulted in perhaps a touchdown, Burnett went down at the 43-yard line after being waved down by Julius Peppers of the Packers.

In the ensuing drive, McCarthy had Eddie Lacy run the ball twice for -6 yards, plus forced the Seahawks to use two of their three timeouts. It was 3rd and 16, so McCarthy had Rodgers hand the ball off to Lacy once again for two yards and the Packers had to punt with 4:00 to go, still leading 19-7.

I know hindsight is 20-20, but I would have let the NFL MVP of 2014, Rodgers, throw at least once in the previous sequence of downs. Probably on second down when it was second and 12. Bottom line, why not trust the league MVP to finish off the game?

When the Hawks got the ball back, they finally put together their best drive of the game. Wilson threw for 46 yards in the drive, including a 26-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch, plus carried the ball twice himself for five yards, which included a 1-yard touchdown run. Steven Hauschka kicked the extra point and now Seattle trailed by 19-14, with just 2:13 remaining and just one timeout in their pocket.

Brandon Bostick flub

Everyone and their mother knew that the Seahawks would be attempting an onside kick. The short kick hopped high in the direction of tight end Brandon Bostick and wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

The plan was for Bostick to block any approaching Seattle player and let Nelson field the ball. The plan went awry, as Bostick tried to play hero and catch the ball himself. He couldn’t hang on to the ball and Chris Matthews of the Seahawks recovered and Seattle had the ball at the 50.

With Clay Matthews out with an injury, the Seahawks took advantage and between Wilson and Lynch, gained 42 yards on the ground, with Lynch scoring on a 24-yard scamper. The Seahawks now led 20-19.

And when the Hawks went for two points, Wilson, who was being harassed, threw up a prayer high in the air towards tight end Luke Wilson. Clinton-Dix was in position to bat the ball away or even intercept it, but he completely misread the pass and Wilson caught it for two points and now the Seahawks led 22-19 with 1:33 remaining in the game.

McCarthy now had no choice but to let Rodgers throw and throw he did. Two quick pass plays of 15-yards apiece to Nelson and Randall Cobb got the Packers to the Seattle 48 with 1:00 to go. Rodgers than ran for 12 yards, bad calf and all, and the Packers were on the Seattle 36 with 43 seconds remaining.

Rodgers and Lacy were not on the same page on a screen pass attempt that looked like it had great potential. In the end, a Rodgers to Nelson pass got the Packers to the 30-yard line of the Hawks and Crosby came in and calmly nailed a 48-yard field goal to tie the game at 22-22 with 19 seconds left.

The Seahawks won the toss to open overtime and faced a 3rd and 7 from their own 30. Wilson was able to somehow complete a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin. One play later, Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

It was a perfect pass by Wilson, as Tramon Williams had good coverage. So even though he had thrown four picks and basically gave the game on the platter to the Packers, Wilson was able to pull out a victory, due to a number of key miscalculations by both coaches and players on the Packers.

Which takes to to the game on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau. I know the Seahawks have a 8-1 record on the road this year, but the Packers are also 7-1 at home and should have been 8-0.

Wilson has never won at Lambeau and in three games there, has thrown three touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 604 yards. That’s a little over 200 yards per game.

Wilson has also been sacked eight times in those three games.

But in the postseason, Wilson has been money for the most part, as his has a career passer rating of 96.0, which is eighth all time.

Rodgers is fifth all time, with a 99.4 passer rating in the postseason.

No. 1 on the list in terms of postseason passer rating is Bart Starr of the Packers, who had 104.8 mark.

One reason I see Wilson having some issues is the way the defense of the Packers is playing as of late. It’s seems like La’Darius Smith has been unblockable in the new “Z Package” scheme that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (who was a consultant for the Seahawks in 2017) has been putting out on the field in passing situations.

Smith moves all over the place in that scheme and has had great success, not only in sacking the quarterback, but also in stopping the run. The formation basically has a four-man front and a roving linebacker.

The scheme also allows the secondary to be in a dime look, or six defensive backs.

The key to stopping Wilson is to not let him scramble and also to take advantage of the injury issues on the offensive line of the Seahawks and keep applying pressure on No. 3.

The running game has been a big strength for the Seahawks over the 2019 season, but injuries have decimated the depth chart. The Hawks have lost Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise for the season.

The Packers will see rookie Travis Homer and Lynch on Sunday. Lynch returned to the Seahawks for the last game of the season after the rash of injuries, after not playing at all earlier in 2019.

The big threat at wide receiver for the Seahawks is rookie D.K. Metcalf, who is really starting to make a name for himself in the NFL with his play recently.

Devante Adams vs. Seahawks

The offense of the Packers has not been exactly lights out recently, but with Rodgers under center and Aaron Jones and Davante Adams as his main weapons, head coach Matt LaFleur has to game plan getting the ball to both Jones and Adams early and often.

This Seattle defense looks nothing like the defenses of old that the Seahawks used to run out there. They still have very good players like linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the D can be run on and passed on consistently.

The offensive line for the Packers looks to have all five starters for the game, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and center Corey Linsley (back) ready to play.

The bottom line is that in the recent series between these two teams, the home team wins. In the three most recent games with Wilson under center at Lambeau, the Hawks have been outscored 82-36.

I don’t see the Packers blowing out the Seahawks by any means, but I do see them moving on to the NFC title game, either back at Lambeau to face the Vikings or at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to face the 49ers on January 19th.

 

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: A Historical Perspective

Jim Taylor scores vs. the Lions

The Green Bay Packers entered the NFL in 1921, while the Detroit Lions (then the Portsmouth Spartans) joined the league in 1930.

Portsmouth moved the franchise to Detroit in 1934 and became the Lions.

In their history since then, the Packers lead the series 98-72-7 in the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. The 98 wins over the Lions by the Packers is the most that Green Bay has over any NFL opponent.

The two teams have always been in the same conference or division. When the NFL started using the division format in 1967, both teams were part of the NFL Central Division, which later became became the NFC Central in 1970 and then the NFC North in 2002.

Since the divisional play started in 1967, the Packers have won 14 divisional championships, while the Lions have won three.

In terms of NFL championships, the Packers have won 13 titles, including four Super Bowls, while the Lions have won four, with the last one coming in 1957, the year that Lambeau Field was originally built.

The Lions were a dominant NFL in the 1950s, as they won three of their NFL titles (1953, 1954 and ’57) that decade. That same decade, the Packers had the worst record that they ever had in any decade in their history, as the team went 39-79-2, which is a .331 winning percentage.

Even with all that losing, the Packers were able to build championship teams that decade, thanks to the expert drafting by Jack Vainisi. In the 1950s, Vainisi would draft seven players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and would help head coach Vince Lombardi win five NFL titles (including the first two Super Bowls) in the 1960s.

Those players are Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

The acquisition of those players led to quite a rivalry between the two teams in the early 1960s. The Packers won the Western Conference title for three straight years from 1960 through 1962, which also led to NFL championships in ’61 and ’62.

The Lions finished second to Packers in each of those years. The 1962 season was especially memorable, as the Packers finished with a 13-1 record, while the Lions were 11-3. The Packers only loss of the season happened on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

But before we get to that game, we have to set up why the Lions were more than ready for the Packers on that Turkey Day.

In the first meeting between the Packers and Lions in the ’62 season at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), the Packers had narrowly won 9-7, as quarterback Milt Plum threw a late interception to Herb Adderley which set up a game-winning Hornung field goal.

The Lions were furious after the game. Alex Karras reportedly threw his helmet at Plum’s chest after the game. Jerry Kramer could hear all types of screaming and banging in the Detroit locker room.

“We were undefeated when we went into Detroit on Thanksgiving,” Kramer said. “Detroit hated our guts. One of my best pals in college, Wayne Walker, played linebacker for the Lions. He hated that the Lions could never get over the top against us to win a championship. He never got over that.

“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game. Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.

“They did things that they had never done before. Alex [Karras] would line up just about everywhere. Over the center, over my right shoulder and anywhere he felt like he could do some damage. Add to that, the Lions were incredibly motivated.

Bart being harrased by the Lions in 1962

“They got Bart about 11 times that game. On the way home to Green Bay, Fuzzy said that all wasn’t bad, because we invented a new block called the look out block. As in, ‘Look out, Bart!’

“I don’t think we even watched film of that game afterwards, as we went down the road and continued to have success.”

Lombardi hated playing the Lions on Thanksgiving Day each year and he ended that series in 1963. The Packers had played in that game for 13 consecutive years from 1951 through ’63. Green Bay had only won three times during that period (twice under Lombardi) and tied once in the final game in ’63.

Since then, the Packers have played eight more games in Detroit on Thanksgiving, winning five of those contests.

The next time that the Packers and Lions became really big divisional rivals was in the early 1990s. Detroit won the NFC Central in both 1991 and 1993, plus was a Wild Card team in 1994 and 1995. The Lions also made playoff appearance in 1997 and 1999.

The Packers were also very successful in the ’90s, as the team won three NFC Central titles and were in the playoffs six times overall. That included winning Super Bowl XXXI.

During that period, the Packers played the Lions twice in the postseason. One after the 1993 season at the Pontiac Silverdome and once at Lambeau Field in two very memorable games.

Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers and Wayne Fontes was the head coach of the Lions.

The playoff appearance in the 1993 postseason by the Packers was their first since 1982 and only their third since the Packers won Super Bowl II.

The stars for the Packers that year were quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and defensive end Reggie White.

The big star for the Lions was running back Barry Sanders, who did not disappoint in this game, as he rushed for 169 yards.

Quarterback Erik Kramer threw for 248 yards for the Lions, but was sacked four times (including twice by White) and threw two costly interceptions, including one for 101 yards and a score by safety George Teague.

The biggest threat in the Detroit passing game turned out to be wide receiver Brett Perriman, who caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Favre threw for 201 yards, plus tossed three touchdown passes, compared to one pick. Sharpe caught all three of those touchdowns and had five receptions overall for 101 yards.

But none was bigger than the one No. 84 caught with the Packers trailing late in the game 24-21.

Football: NFC playoffs. Green Bay Packer

Yes, with less than a minute to go in the game, Favre threw a bomb across the field to No. 84 for a 40-yard touchdown pass to win the game 28-24.

In the 1994 postseason game between the two teams at Lambeau Field, both squads went in as Wild Card teams as the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC Central.

The defense of the Packers was magnificent that day, especially in stopping the run. Sanders who had run wild against the Packers the previous postseason, was held to -1 yard in 13 carries. That’s mind-boggling when you really think about that stat.

Quarterback Dave Kreig threw a touchdown pass to Perriman, but was also sacked four times, including twice by linebacker Bryce Paup and once each by White and Sean Jones.

Favre meanwhile, threw for 262 yards. Favre was missing Sharpe, who had suffered a career-ending neck injury late in the 1994 season. Robert Brooks became the key receiver for No. 4 and had seven catches for 88 yards.

The big offensive star for the Packers in the game was running back Edgar Bennett, who rushed for 70 yards, plus caught six passes for 31 more yards, as the Packers won 16-12.

In recent years, the Packers have done well in this rivalry up until 2017, as the Lions have won four consecutive times. Under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers were 18-4 against the Lions from 2006 through 2016.

None was a bigger win than the “Miracle in Motown” game in 2015.

The Packers were down in that game 23-20 at Ford Field with just seconds to go in the game.

Saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to get one more shot at a miraculous finish.

Rodgers did not disappoint either.

The Packers were on their own 39 yard line and Rodgers was going to need some time to launch a pass to the opposite end zone. That’s if he could get it there.

Rodgers was able elude the three-man rush, first going left, then scrambling to the right and then running up to launch his moon-rocket pass that soared way up into the air and traveled close to 70 yards.

Tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers leaped up and caught the ball at it’s highest point in the end zone surrounded by several players from both teams.

The result? The 6’4″, 272-pound Rodgers had unbelievably secured a 61-yard touchdown pass to end the game, as the Packers won 27-23.

Richard Rodgers catch vs. the Lions

As I mentioned earlier, the Lions have won the last four games between the two teams, although Aaron Rodgers did not play in three of those games.

But Rodgers will be behind center when the 4-1 Packers take on the 2-1-1 Lions at Lambeau Field on Monday night.

Historically, Rodgers has fared very well versus Detroit.

No. 12 is 13-5 against the Lions in his career and has thrown 37 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 4,526 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 109.0.

Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Lions is 7-10 against Green Bay. No. 9 has thrown 34 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 4,921 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 89.6.

The game on Monday night will be the first time new head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers takes on second-year coach Matt Patricia of the Lions. Detroit was 6-10 under Patricia in 2018, with two of those wins coming against Green Bay.

Both the Packers and Lions have surprised experts this season, as most thought that the NFC North would be controlled by the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. But the Packers have already beaten both da Bears and Vikings, while the Lions have yet to play anyone in the division as of yet, but did beat the Philadelphia Eagles who gave the Packers their only loss of the season.

Rodgers is having a typical season thus far for him, as he has six touchdown passes versus just one pick for 1,307 yards. That being said, his passer rating this year (93.4) is below his career passer rating of 102.8.

However, that has to be expected seeing as he is running a new offense under LaFleur, which has started to get much better the past two games.

Stafford has thrown nine touchdown passes this year, compared to just two picks for 1,122 yards. No. 9’s passer rating for the year is 102.6.

So quarterback play will be a key on Monday night. As will the play of the running backs.

The Green Bay ground game is led by Aaron Jones, who has rushed for 302 yards and has eight touchdowns. The Detroit running game is led by Kerryon Johnson, who has rushed for 251 yards and one score.

Detroit is ranked ninth offensively in the NFL, while Green Bay is ranked 25th, but is improving as of late.

The Packers are ranked 22nd defensively, but it doesn’t tell the true story. Green Bay is eighth in the NFL in points allowed (18.6) per game. The Packers are also tied for 10th in the league with 15 sacks, plus have held opposing quarterbacks to a 75.9 passer rating, as they have allowed six touchdown passes while picking off seven passes.

The weakness for Green Bay has been run defense, as they are ranked 26th in the league in that category. The Packers have allowed on average 138.2 yards per game on the ground. That can’t continue to happen if the Packers want to continue their winning ways.

The Lions are ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, as they give up an average of 405.5 yards per game, as well as 23.8 points per game. Detroit is ranked 29th in stopping the pass and 20th in stopping the run.

I look for Rodgers to have a big night, even without wide receiver Davante Adams, who has been ruled out.

Finally, the two teams have met on Monday night three times in their history. The series is even at 1-1-1. Overall on Monday night, the Packers are 32-32-1.

I expect that Packers to go up in the series 2-1-1 and also get their 99th victory in the regular season versus the Lions.

The Packers Can Exorcise Some Demons in Seattle on Thursday Night

Brandon Bostick Flub vs. Seahawks

Since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in 2008, he is 6-2 lifetime versus the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season and 0-1 against the Hawks in the postseason.

All three of those defeats happened at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where it seems like every game between the two teams in the Emerald City has been written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame.

In 2012, the Packers lost 14-12 on the final play of the game on the infamous “Fail Mary” pass that was “caught” by Golden Tate.

In the season opener in 2014, the Packers were whipped 36-16, as Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half alone.

But the topper was the 2014 NFC title game.

The Packers dominated that NFC championship game for about 55 minutes, but a late meltdown in all phases of the game led to the most agonizing postseason loss in the history of the Packers, as they lost 28-22 in overtime.

The Packers had a number of opportunities where they could have basically ended the game with just one play.

Plays like safety Morgan Burnett going to the ground after an interception, when it looked like he had a good chance to run the pick back for a touchdown, which would have clinched the game.

Or just getting one more first down. Instead of allowing Rodgers, the MVP of the league in 2014 to throw the ball, head coach Mike McCarthy had the Packers run it three straight times when getting just one first down basically would have ended the game.

Or just not screwing up on an onside kick, which is exactly what backup tight end Brandon Bostick did. Instead of blocking like he was supposed to do, so Jordy Nelson could catch the ball, Bostick tried to be a hero and catch the ball himself. He didn’t and the Seahawks recovered.

But all that is in the past now.

The good news is that Rodgers normally plays very well against the Seahawks. In the eight regular season games he has played against Seattle, Rodgers has completed almost 69 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,663 yards.

That adds up to a passer rating of 101.5.

That comes close to Rodgers’ career rating of 103.5, which is tops all time in the NFL, based on 1,500 passing attempts.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Seahawks

On Thursday night, Rodgers will be going up against the quarterback who is second on the all-time career passer rating. That would be the former Wisconsin Badger, Russell Wilson, who has a career passer rating of 99.7.

Wilson is 2-3 against the Packers in the regular season, and 1-0 versus the Pack in the postseason. All three of his wins happened at CenturyLink Field.

In the five regular season games, Wilson has thrown seven touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 925 yards. The completion percentage for Wilson is just under 58 percent. All told, his passer rating is just 75.8.

Both Rodgers and Wilson are playing better than the 2018 versions of their respective teams.

The Packers are 4-4-1, but Rodgers is having another Pro Bowl season, as he has thrown 17 touchdown passes versus just one interception for 2,741 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of exactly 100.

The Seahawks are just 4-5, but Wilson has thrown 21 touchdown passes compared to five picks for 1,967 yards. That adds up to an outstanding passer rating of 110.2.

In terms of how this game will play out, the Packers are ranked seventh in total offense and 11th in total defense. The Seahawks have struggled a bit on offense at times, as they are ranked 22nd in total offense and 12th in total defense.

As good as both quarterbacks have been for each team, the Packers and Seahawks both are more successful on offense in different ways.

The Packers are sixth in the NFL in passing, while the Seahawks are just 27th. But when it comes to running the rock, the Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing, as they average over 152 yards per game. The Green Bay running game (14th in the NFL) is getting better as well, as Aaron Jones has been a catalyst in that improvement.

While the Packers primarily use Jones (494 yards and a 6.8 yard rushing average) and Jamaal Williams (270 yards) to tote the rock, the Seahawks have been effective with three different running backs.

The Hawks have used Chris Carson (497 yards), Mike Davis (346 yards) and Rashaad Penny (254 yards).

The Packers are tied for the NFL lead in rushing average with the Denver Broncos, as they average 5.2 yards per carry. The Seahawks are tied for seventh with a 4.8 rushing average.

When it comes to the passing game, the Packers look to Davante Adams more times than not and No. 17 is having another outstanding season. Adams has 62 receptions for 787 yards and nine touchdowns.

The wide receiver who is really coming on for the Packers is rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The rookie out of USF has 23 catches for 402 yards (17.5 average) and two scores. Lately the rookie has been getting as many snaps at wide receiver as Adams has. That tells you how much the Packers think of him.

The Packers also have former Seahawk Jimmy Graham at tight end. No. 80 has not produced like many thought he would in Green Bay, but is still a dangerous weapon, especially in the red zone. For the year, Graham has 33 catches for 439 yards and two touchdowns.

One of the reasons that the passing game has not jelled as much as it could for the Seahawks has been because of the injury issues (knee) with Doug Baldwin (23 catches for 275 yards). No. 89 is as healthy as he has been all year right now.

Russell Wilson vs. Packers

The primary target for Wilson has been Tyler Lockett, who has 33 receptions for 483 yards and seven touchdowns.

Nick Vannett has been the primary target at tight end, as he has 20 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

The strength of the Green Bay defense has been the play of their young secondary, especially rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Overall, the Packers are 5th in the NFL in passing defense.

On defense, the Packers might have an advantage, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was a consultant with the Seahawks in 2017 under head coach Pete Carroll. Pettine knows the personnel of the Hawks pretty well and he understands what it will take to stop Seattle defensively.

Stopping the run is No. 1 and that is where the Packers have to improve, as they are ranked 22nd in the NFL in run defense, as Green Bay gives up an average of almost 121 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.

Going up against the best running team in the NFL will be a real test.

But if the Packers can stop the run or at least shut it down somewhat, Green Bay should be able to put pressure on Wilson when he goes back to pass.

Some may find this hard to believe, but the Packers are tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 31, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have given up 29 sacks, which ranks them seventh in the NFL in sacks allowed.

Like the Packers do with Pettine, the Seahawks also have someone who knows the Green Bay personnel pretty well. That would be backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who the Hawks acquired via trade.

Bottom line, this should be one hell of a game, but I like the Packers to exorcise some demons in this game and get a big victory. A win would be a key turning point for the team in 2018.

That’s how important this game is for the Packers, especially with the Vikings being their next opponent on the road.

The Packers have beaten the Seahawks three straight times. All of those wins occurred at Lambeau Field in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

I see that streak going to four in a row, but this time the win will finally come in Seattle.

Green Bay Packers: Give Aaron Jones the Rock Often vs. the Miami Dolphins

Aaron Jones at Lambeau

When the 3-4-1 Green Bay Packers host the 5-4 Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field on late Sunday afternoon, the host team should be in a good position to win the game.

For one, the Fins are starting Brock Osweiler, who is their second-string quarterback. In addition to that, Miami might be without three of their starting offensive linemen, as guard Ted Larsen (neck) is doubtful, while both left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee and ankle) and right tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee) are questionable.

The 15th-ranked Green Bay defense has to take advantage of that against the 28th-ranked Miami offense in the NFL.

But the big edge that the Packers should have against the Dolphins is when they are on offense. The Packers are ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense, while the Dolphins are ranked 26th in total defense.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 15 touchdown passes versus just one interception for 2,542 yards (98.9 passer rating), should have a nice game against the 21st-ranked pass defense of Miami.

But the biggest advantage should come in the Green Bay running game, specifically by utilizing running back Aaron Jones.

Why is that?

Well, the Dolphins are ranked 28th in the NFL in stopping the run. Miami gives up an average of 136 yards per game on the ground and allow a whopping 4.6 yards per carry.

The Dolphins have also allowed 10 runs of 20 or more yards and two runs of 40 or more yards.

And this is where the Packers need to use Jones to their advantage.

Jones leads the NFL (with 50 rushes or more) with a rushing average of six yards per carry. Jones has also had two runs of 20 yards or more. But his touches have been limited.

Right now Jones has averaged less than 10 carries a game over the six games he has played. That is ridiculous based on his production.

Yes, I know that until Ty Montgomery was traded, Jones was part of a three-man rotation along with Montgomery and Jamaal Williams. Now, thanks to the subtraction of Montgomery, Jones should get ample opportunity to carry the rock.

But that also means that head coach Mike McCarthy has to be committed to the run game.

Jones has rushed for 349 yards in just 58 carries. Williams has rushed for 267 yards in 70 carries (a 3.8 average). Between the two of them, they only have three rushing touchdowns, with two of them coming from Jones.

The Packers are ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing attempts. Green Bay averages 22 rushes per game. That total need to get closer to 30 per game, even with Rodgers as your quarterback.

For one thing, that will make the play-action pass that more dangerous for Rodgers and give the opposing defense something to think about instead of pinning their ears back and rushing Rodgers.

Rodgers has been sacked 23 times this season already (tied for 8th in the NFL), including one that almost ended his season in Week 1 versus da Bears.

It just doesn’t make any sense why the Packers don’t run more often. The team is ranked 20th in rushing in the NFL, but that is almost solely based on the lack of rushing attempts.

The Packers are tied for fourth in the NFL in rushing average, as the team averages 4.8 yards per carry. And remember, Jones averages six yards per carry.

In the last two weeks, with both games on the road, Jones ran for 86 yards (and one TD) on just 12 carries (7.2 average) against the 8-1 Los Angeles Rams, and for 75 yards on just 14 carries (5.4 average) against the 7-2 New England Patriots.

Aaron Jones vs. the Pats

Yes, it was a fumble by Jones in the fourth quarter that turned the game against the Pats around. But it wasn’t a case of being careless with the ball. Jones had two hands wrapped around the ball as he ran through the hole and it took a great defensive play to force the fumble as Jones was rushing for more yardage.

That is the only fumble of the year for Jones, by the way. It was also the first fumble of No. 33’s NFL career…in 139 carries.

Bottom line, the Packers need to run the ball at least 30 times against the Dolphins, with Jones getting at least 20 of those carries.

For the Packers to salvage their postseason hopes, the team is going to need both of the guys named Aaron on offense to come through.

It’s pretty obvious to me that Jones needs to shoulder the load this week.

A Scout’s Take on the State of the Green Bay Packers

Dom Capers III

For the first time since the 2008 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers will not be playing in the postseason. There are a number of reasons why the Packers are 7-7 and already eliminated from playoff contention in 2017.

Injuries are certainly one big reason why, especially the broken right collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, which kept him out of action for several weeks, a time in which Green Bay went 3-5, to put their record at 7-6 going into last Sunday’s game versus the Carolina Panthers.

Even with a gutty performance by Rodgers, who was hit a number of times during the game, it wasn’t enough, as the Packers lost 31-24, which more or less eliminated the playoff hopes of the Packers.

That became official, when the Tampa Bay Bucs lost to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in Tampa.

Rodgers was not 100 percent in the game against the Panthers, as one could tell with three deep passes that were under-thrown and picked off. Still, Rodgers did throw three touchdown passes as well for 290 yards and had the Packers in position to score the game-tying touchdown. But after Rodgers completed a pass to Geronimo Allison, the second-year wide receiver fumbled and the game was all but over.

After the Packers were officially eliminated, the Packers placed Rodgers back on injured reserve and ended his 2017 season.

But it wasn’t just the injury to Rodgers and to other players which torpedoed the 2017 season for the Packers.

There was also the uneven and inconsistent play on both the offensive and defensive lines. Being good in the trenches is a vital ingredient in terms of winning in the NFL or in any type of football.

The area that stuck out the most this year for the Packers, was the very disappointing play by the defense of the Packers.

This came after the 2017 NFL draft conducted by Ted Thompson and his scouting staff, which gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers the first four picks (CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DL Montravius Adams and OLB Vince Biegel) that the team utilized in the draft.

Add to that, Thompson also signed a couple of free agents to help the Packers on defense, which included former All-Pro and Pro Bowl OLB Ahmad Brooks.

But you wouldn’t know that based on the performance of the defense this season.

Going into Saturday night’s games versus the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the Packers are ranked 26th in total defense in the NFL. The Packers give up on average 356.4 yards per game, as well as 21.3 first downs per game. The “D” also gives up 5.6 yards per play. That just won’t cut it in today’s NFL.

It gets worse.

The Packers are ranked 24th in passing defense, as they give up 240 passing yards per game. What’s even more troubling, is that they allow opposing quarterbacks to have a 100.5 passer rating, which is third-worst in the league.

Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 26 touchdown passes versus just 11 interceptions, plus have been able make big plays, as they have completed 48 passes of 20-plus yards. In addition to that, the Packers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a whopping 68.4 percent of their passes, which is the second-worst mark in the NFL.

The Packers are also dead-last in the league in giving up first down completions. It seems like the defense just can get off the field, at least until after a score. Part of the reason that the Packers are susceptible in the passing game is the lack of a pass rush. The Packers have just 32 sacks, which ties them for 16th in the NFL. Compare that with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a league-leading 51 sacks.

In terms of stopping the run, the Packers were fairly solid in that area early in the season, but have fallen off as of late. Currently, the Packers are ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing defense, as they allow on average 116.4 yards per game and a 4.0 average per rush.

The bottom line is that the Packers allow 23.8 points per game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score, especially when you have a backup quarterback starting a game, like the Packers have done seven times with Brett Hundley. The third-year quarterback from UCLA now gets to start two more games to end the 2017 season for the Packers.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to get a read on the Packers by talking with one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry. I was able to do that on Wednesday, as I spoke to Landry 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

Before I talked with Landry, he and Duemig were talking about defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David of the Bucs. Landry had told Duemig that he had given both McCoy and David blue grades for their performance defensively in 2017 thus far.

Here is how the color ratings work according to Landry’s grading scale:

BLUE (B) = The best. The top line players in the league. Blue players make the plays that are the difference in close games. Superior talent, big plays and consistent.

RED (R)= Red players win for you. They have starter type production in the league. Top line Reds are usually Blues in either the running or passing game but fall short in the other. Red players are impact players and start on contending teams.

PURPLE (P)= Purple are players you can win with. They are usually Red in some areas and can match up with some Reds but overall fall a little short of Reds. A very good player. Solid starter who will usually get the job done at least in some areas. NFL scouting axiom is to not play anyone who is below purple.

Thompson, Murphy and McCarthy

Knowing all that now, I wanted to find out who on the defense of the Packers had a blue grade and also what the status of Capers might be.

“The Packers didn’t get any blue grades at all this year,” Landry said. “Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels were red-grade guys, who had pretty good year’s. To a lesser degree, you had Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, who were what we call high-purples and partly in the red at times.

“If you go on the offensive side, [David] Bakhtiari graded in the red. Aaron Rodgers is the only guy when he’s been healthy is in that upper tier, and he’s certainly a perennial blue-grade player. This year hasn’t been quite so much. Davante Adams is a high-purple and Aaron Jones has done some good things.

“But the biggest problem that they have is that I don’t think they are talented enough on defense. I don’t think they have enough bodies there. I think Dom is a good coach, but he could pay for this with his job. That’s just the way it works in this league. They’ve not been good enough on defense with him. Why haven’t they been able to consistently improve that defensive personnel, where it needs to be, particularly with edge-rushers, is beyond me.

“They have just missed. It’s pure and simple. They just haven’t been good enough in doing that. I don’t think their defense is very good. It’s quite frankly, a team which is built, or totally reliant on the quarterback. And I think playing him [Rodgers] last week is a perfect example. And I’m all for that. It’s the only chance that they got.

“And going into next year, if they don’t play any better, they are kind of in the same boat. And it’s unfortunate, because they have got an elite quarterback, as good as anybody in the league and one of the best of all-time in terms of physical skill-sets, to not have a defense, to not have a better running game, to not be a better team at the line of scrimmage, is almost criminal when you think about it from a football standpoint.

“They have just completely missed the boat. I don’t just dismiss the one Super Bowl, I don’t want to make it sound like that, but this is a team with this quarterback, that there is no reason why they couldn’t be what New England is, in the NFC. They are good enough with their quarterback. They go in every year with a chance. But the rest of the team pulls them back.

“I think that is a byproduct of them missing an awful lot in a lot of the personnel moves that they have made over the years. So, that’s my take on it.”

After that emphatic declaration, I responded that Ted Thompson also bares some responsibility with all the personnel issues which were brought by Landry.

“That whole staff did,” Landry said. “The whole personnel department. They have missed on some personnel moves.”

So what does this all mean? It means that the Packers won’t be playing in the postseason for the first time in almost a decade and there were definitely some reasons for that. Landry brought up a number of them.

Lack of talent on defense was his No. 1 issue. Is that because of the complicated schemes that Capers utilizes? Or it because Ted Thompson and his scouting staff just aren’t drafting or acquiring the right players? Or is it both?

No matter the cause, there is a sense that changes will definitely be made within the organization of the Packers this offseason.

It’s not that the Packers have not been successful under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy since they joined forces in 2006. Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 122-68-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

But as Landry noted, there should have been even more success over that time.

So now the onus is on team president Mark Murphy to see if he’ll dictate any changes in the front office this offseason. Plus, there will be pressure on McCarthy to make changes on his coaching staff, especially regarding the status of Capers.

Time will tell what will happen, but based on the comments from Landry, one of the best of his kind in the scouting business, something has to give.