Final 2020 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst 2020 Combine III

Even though we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NFL draft will still take place starting three days from now on April 23. Which means I’ll be doing my final mock draft exercise for the Green Bay Packers, which I have been doing now for 20 years.

I first started doing my mock drafts when I was with Packer Report, and that continued with Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report (for three and a half years) and now my own site. Over the years, I have had a decent track record in correctly naming some players who the Packers did select in the various drafts.

Over the past several years, I have utilized the wisdom and insight of NFL scout Chris Landry and I basically use his positional draft boards and horizontal draft board to guide me through my selections for the Packers.

In the past, I have done a number of mock drafts each year, some starting shortly after the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl were over. I would then do another mock draft after the NFL Scouting Combine. This year will be different. I’m doing just two mock drafts and this will be my second and final one.

My first mock draft for the Packers in 2020 is right here.

Again, making use of the expertise of Landry is very helpful. I’m talking about a scout, who has also been a coach and an administrator, who has been to every NFL Scouting Combine since it’s inception in 1982.

That’s why I use his various draft boards to help steer me through my selections.

Besides using his draft boards to select any given player, I will also add comments which Chris has made about that particular player, whether at the combine or at other events like East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl practices.

It’s important to note that towards the end of a draft, teams look to improve the special team units on their team. That is what I have tried to do in this mock with my Round 7 selections.

I’m sure Packer Nation is hoping that general manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouting staff will have similar success in drafting like scout Jack Vainisi did in the 1950s, especially with the 1958 draft class which saw three future Pro Football Hall of Famers come to Green Bay.

Based on the two-year track record of Gutekunst running the draft for the Packers, one should expect some trades. I expect Gutekunst to use some of his late-round extra draft picks (five total picks in Round 6 and Round 7) to try and move up in the middle rounds of the draft.

But for this mock draft, there will be no trades.

Okay, the Packers on the clock.

Round 1: Running Back Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Jonathan Taylor in the Rose Bowl

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 226 pounds

Almost seven weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why drafting Jonathan Taylor was a decent possibility for the Green Bay Packers. I still feel the same way today, perhaps even stronger.

In fact, I also had the Packers taking Taylor with pick No. 30 in my first mock draft three weeks ago.

When he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards (plus scored 50 touchdowns) and 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.

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.

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.

This is what Landry said about Taylor 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 (more on him below) 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.

The Packers under head coach Matt LaFleur run the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. This bodes well for Taylor picking up the offense quickly.

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.”

There is one other reason that the Packers will have Taylor on their radar. A number of players are due to become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The list includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley, cornerback Kevin King and both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who are the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs on the team.

The Packers need to try and cover themselves at each one of those positions in the draft, although I do expect the team to do extensions for Bakhtiari and Clark for sure.

Doing an extension for Linsley is questionable, as is the case for King and Williams. I believe the Packers will also extend Jones, but that he won’t be a priority.

That’s why drafting Taylor is a growing possibility for the Packers.

Round 2: Defensive Lineman Raekwon Davis (Alabama)

Raekwon Davis

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 311 pounds

The calling card of Raekwon Davis has been his run-stopping ability on the defensive line at the University of Alabama. Which is not to say, Davis can’t get after the quarterback, as he did have 8.5 sacks when he was a sophomore for the Crimson Tide and he was named first-team All-SEC.

The production for Davis fell off a bit as a junior, but as a senior was named second-team All-SEC.

But stopping the run is what he does best and in four years at Alabama, Davis had 175 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

The Packers need someone to help to disrupt the opponents run game, even with the talented Kenny Clark on the defensive line. The Packers were ranked just 23rd in run defense last year and were thoroughly embarrassed trying to stop the run in the 2019 NFC title game.

Stopping the running game starts in the trenches.

Landry said this about Davis prior to the Citrus Bowl:

Davis is a true senior and two-year starter who can line up on the inside in a base four-man front or at defensive end in a base three three-man front. He’s a powerful run-defender with the length and upper-body strength to stack blockers, locate the ball and shed in time to make the play. He’s not as effective rushing the passer, but pushes the pocket and has enough quickness to get better.

Round 3: Wide/Slot Receiver Antonio Gibson (Memphis)

Antonio Gibson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

The Packers certainly have some dangerous weapons on offense for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to utilize. Running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams come to mind.

The offense would become a lot more potent with the addition of players like Jonathan Taylor and slot receiver Antonio Gibson. Not to mention faster, as both Taylor and Gibson ran a 4.39 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The Packers need someone at receiver to take some the emphasis away from Adams. Young players like Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow all have upside. The addition of Devin Funchess will definitely help.

But production from the slot receiver for the Packers stuck out like a sore thumb all year long for the Packers in 2019.

This is where a great athlete like Gibson can step in. Last year at Memphis, Gibson caught 38 passes for 735 yards (19.3 average) and eight touchdowns. In addition, Gibson ran for 369 more yards and four scores. Think jet sweep (like Deebo Samuel) with a guy like Gibson when he’s not catching the ball.

Plus, even though the Packers have a talented return man in Tyler Ervin, Gibson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 for the Tigers.

Landry said this about Gibson at the NFL Scouting Combine:

Memphis WR/RB Antonio Gibson ran an unofficial 40-yard dash of 4.40 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gibson (6’0/228) and Devin Duvernay are currently tied with the fastest unofficial 40-yard dash times among wide receivers at the combine. The Memphis speedster is a position-versatile dynamo who could see work at both running back and receiver in the pros.

Landry also said this about Gibson at the Senior Bowl:

The fact Gibson was even at the Senior Bowl speaks volumes as he was not on the scouting radar before the season began. He’s a receiver in a running backs body.

Round 4: Offensive Tackle Alex Taylor (South Carolina State)

Alex Taylor

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 308 pounds

Even though left tackle David Bakhtiari will eventually get a contract extension before he reaches free agency in 2021 and the Packers signed Rick Wagner in free agency to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who also left via free agency, the Packers need to add some offensive tackle talent in this draft.

Alex Taylor of South Carolina is an intriguing prospect. Taylor is huge, as he goes 6’8″ and is north of 300 pounds. Add to that, he has a massive 36 inch wingspan. You wouldn’t think a guy that big could run very fast, but Taylor ran a 5.09 in the 40 at the combine.

Taylor has started 22 consecutive games for South Carolina State at right tackle and was third-team all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as a junior and third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-MEAC honors as a senior.

While Taylor is learning the NFL ropes, the Packers could also re-sign offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to add to the offensive tackle depth chart, as Veldheer played very well in the absence of Bulaga in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks last postseason.

Landry said this about Taylor at the Senior Bowl:

Alex Taylor has arguably the most upside of any player in the Senior Bowl. His frame and length would be top in the NFL. However he lacks technical refinement, and is a ways away from being a competent NFL protector. Taylor got better over the week, but his lack of refinement was obvious. Taylor could be a top tackle in the NFL. I just wonder if he’ll ever meet that ceiling.

Round 5: Cornerback Dane Jackson (Pittsburgh)

Dane Jackson

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 187 pounds

The Packers have two pretty good starting cornerbacks in Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. The third cornerback who the Packers used a lot last year is free agent Tramon Williams.

Williams could be an option to come back, as he played pretty well for someone who recently turned 37. King has two issues in terms of his future. One, he has been injury prone in his career. Two, he will be a free agent in 2021. And who knows if he’ll be back, as David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark and Aaron Jones will be much bigger priorities in terms of doing contract extensions.

Which leads to me to the selection of Dane Jackson of Pittsburgh. Jackson played four years with the Panthers and played in 46 games. In that time, Jackson had 149 total tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions (one for a touchdown), 39 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

Jackson was honorable mention All-ACC as a junior and second-team All-ACC as a senior.

Jackson ran a 4.57 in the 40 at the combine, but his ball awareness makes him look much faster on tape.

This is what Landry said about Jackson at the Senior Bowl:

Dane Jackson was one of the best defensive backs in Mobile. I wasn’t too aware of his tape coming in but his physicality and athleticism in coverage during drills had me excited to see the traits on his tape. It was a great week for Jackson, capped off by being voted the best DB on the South squad by his teammates.

Round 6: Linebacker Chris Orr (Wisconsin)

Chris Orr

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 228 pounds

With Blake Martinez leaving the Packers via free agency and even with the signing of Christian Kirksey, the Packers are still looking for help at inside linebacker. Yes, Oren Burks could come on and be the guy, but after two years of little or no contributions, don’t hold your breath.

There is also a chance that the Packers might bring back Clay Matthews III to play at inside linebacker.

Which takes me to Chris Orr of the Wisconsin Badgers. Orr played in the same type of defensive scheme that the Packers utilize under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, as Jim Leonhard (who played under Pettine in the NFL) runs a similar 3-4 defense for the Badgers.

Orr has sort of flown under the radar in this draft, which is surprising to me. Especially based on what he did his senior year for the Badgers and the great workout he had on his pro day.

In 2019, Orr had 78 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, five passes defended, one recovered fumble and two forced fumbles. Orr played four years for the Badgers and had a great career in Madison overall, which included two interceptions, including one for a 78-yard touchdown.

Because of his great season in 2019, Orr was named second-team All-Big Ten at inside linebacker.

Or didn’t receive an invite from the combine for some ridiculous reason, and all he did was run a 4.65 in the 40 to add to his great stat line.

This is what Landry said about Orr after his pro day workout in Madison:

Wisconsin LB Chris Orr ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at the school’s pro day. Orr additionally logged 20 reps on the bench press to go with a 36.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9-foot-2 before taking part in on-field drills. While the linebacker did not receive an invitation to the combine, some corners of the evaluating community are quite high on Orr.

Round 6: Quarterback Nate Stanley (Iowa)

Nate Stanley

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 235 pounds

I do expect the Packers to select a quarterback in this draft. It might be early if the right QB is on the board, but more than likely, I see the one taken later in the draft.

Which takes me to Menomonie, Wisconsin native Nate Stanley, who played for the University of Iowa and started for three years.

In his career with the Hawkeyes, Stanley threw 68 touchdown passes versus 23 interceptions for 8,297 yards.

Stanley was also a sparkling 3-0 in bowl games he started.

While he is certainly not a real mobile quarterback, he also is not a statue and he can move around the pocket. Stanley also has a rocket for an arm.

Landry said this about Stanley prior to the Holiday Bowl:

Nate Stanley is 2-0 in bowl games (now 3-0). He was just okay against Boston College in the win Pinstripe Bowl win two years ago – throwing for 99 yards and a score – and last season he kept his cool against the tremendous Mississippi State defense hitting 68% of his passes for 214 yards and three scores with a pick. He doesn’t have to bomb away against the Trojans, and he only threw 14 touchdown passes on the year, but he’s the senior veteran who won’t make the big mistake.

Round 6: Offensive Lineman Jon Runyan Jr. (Michigan)

Jon Runyan

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 306 pounds

Chris Landry knows a little about the Runyan bloodline, as he was part of the front office of the Houston Oilers when they drafted Jon Runyon Sr. in 1996.

Like his father did, Jon Runyon Jr. played at Michigan and had a very nice career. In fact, in both 2018 and 2019, Runyan was named first-team All-Big Ten at offensive tackle.

Although he was solid as a tackle in college, his best position in the NFL might be at guard as you will see with the comments of Landry.

Landry said this about Runyan at Day 2 of the East-West Shrine practices:

I was impressed with Jon Runyan on a number of occasions today. The former Michigan tackle has lined up at guard the past two days and looks like a natural at the position.

Landry said this about Runyon on Day 3 of the practices in St. Petersburg:

On the offensive line, Jon Runyan had another solid day and seems to be improving with each practice.

Round 7: Linebacker/Safety Khaleke Hudson (Michigan)

Khaleke Hudson

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 224 pounds

Khaleke Hudson is one of those tweeners. He’s basically one of those hybrids who can play both safety and linebacker. That versatility put together a great career for Hudson at the University of Michigan.

In four years with the Wolverines, Hudson had 225 total tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Hudson had a great senior year for the Wolverines, as he had 102 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and also a blocked kick.

Hudson ran a 4.56 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 30 reps on the bench press.

Landry said this about Hudson at the Senior Bowl:

Hudson’s Senior Bowl week has been outstanding. He weighed in with good numbers and his week never came down from there. He flew around in coverage and kept making plays in every drill. For a stud athlete coming from a pretty big school, the lack of buzz coming into Mobile was pretty surprising. But, it’s safe to say he’ll have plenty of it leaving Mobile.

Landry also talked about Hudson playing both safety and linebacker:

Michigan DB/LB Khaleke Hudson is a safety who converted to linebacker. He moves very well but is engulfed vs size and is not a big asset in coverage. His best skill set is his toughness and awareness. I like him as a sub package situational player and he can excel on special teams.

Round 7: Tight End Stephen Sullivan (LSU)

Stephen Sullivan

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

When one thinks about the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers, most people will recall that the son of Randy Moss played tight end most of the time. I’m talking about Thaddeus Moss. Moss had a nice year catching the ball from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, as he caught 47 passes for 570 yards and four scores.

But like all great teams in the SEC, all positions have fantastic depth, which was the case for the Tigers at tight end. The backup to Moss was Stephen Sullivan, who definitely is not a slouch, plus he did start two games in 2019.

In his three-year career at LSU, Sullivan had 46 receptions for 712 yards and three touchdowns.

Sullivan converted to tight end in 2019 after playing wide receiver for the Tigers in 2017 and 2018.

Besides having great size for a tight end, Sullivan ran a 4.66 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry said this about Sullivan at the Senior Bowl:

LSU TE/WR Stephen Sullivan caught the ball smoothly and moved exceptionally well for his dimensions” during the Reese’s Senior Bowl practice week. Sullivan also run-blocked well during the week. He has a chance to stick on a roster as a mid-late round pick.

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.

 

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.

2018 NFL Draft: Four Wisconsin Badgers in the 2018 East-West Shrine Game

Natrell Jamerson

Natrell Jamerson of the Wisconsin Badgers in the Orange Bowl.

In terms of NFL teams getting ready for the 2018 NFL draft, two of the college all-star games, the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, get played this weekend. Both games will primarily feature players who will be drafted in the later rounds of the draft or will just be undrafted rookie free agents.

I focus more on the East-West Shrine Game, as the game is played in the area (St. Petersburg, Florida) in which I live.

The Green Bay Packers have drafted some players recently who have played in this game and one of those players has turned out to be a pretty good performer in the NFL, even though he is no longer a member of the Packers.

I’m talking about defensive back Micah Hyde, now of the Buffalo Bills. Then general manager Ted Thompson met with Hyde (Iowa) during the week of the East-West game in 2013 and ended up drafting him in the fifth round.

In four years in Green Bay, Hyde started 33 games at both cornerback and safety and had 234 total tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, eight interceptions and 25 passes defended.

Hyde was not played at his best position enough, which is safety, and his lack of great speed hurt him at times when he played cornerback. All in all though, Hyde was solid in the secondary in Green Bay more times than not.

Hyde was also exceptional at times with his ability to return punts, as he returned three of them for touchdowns in his fours years as a Packer.

But when Hyde became a unrestricted free agent in 2017, the Packers did not make him a priority and saw him sign a new deal with Buffalo, where he excelled last season. As a Bill, where he played strictly safety, Hyde had five picks and made the Pro Bowl.

Last year, the Packers and Thompson drafted one player (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue) who played in the East-West Shrine Game and signed another (offensive lineman Adam Pankey of West Virginia) as an undrafted free agent. Both Yancey and Pankey are on the current roster of the Packers.

This year things will be a bit different for the Packers, as Brian Gutekunst is now the general manager, although Thompson is still in the front office as a senior advisor in scouting.

In this year’s East-West game, there will be four members of the Wisconsin Badgers on the defense of the West team. They are safety Natrell Jamerson, linebacker Leon Jacobs, defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and defensive lineman Alec James.

NFL scout Chris Landry has said that all four of these players are draft eligible in 2018. So is fullback Austin Ramesh, who is playing NFLPA game this Saturday.

Green Bay should be taking a close look at all of these players, because all of them could help the depth for the Packers at the positions in which they play. Not to mention, the Badgers also play the 3-4 defense, just as the Packers do, although Green Bay will be more flexible in their defensive schemes under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

The Badgers didn’t just play the 3-4 defense well in 2017, they played it exceptionally well. Wisconsin finished second in the country in total defense, only behind national champion Alabama.

The Badgers were also ranked third in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in passing defense.

Everyone of the Wisconsin defensive players in the Shrine game played a key role in that success.

Landry has been especially impressed with the way Jamerson has looked so far this week in East-West practices. This is what Landry noted about the former Badger safety earlier this week.

“Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson had an impressive opening day. In the team scrimmage, he flew across the field to track down an interception in front of a receiver and cornerback. It was a very nice play as Jamerson showed speed and an ability to track the ball. Jamerson (6-0, 198) is a versatile athlete who could end up really helping himself this week.”

Jamerson really flourished as a senior with the Badgers at safety, as he had 51 total tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, had 10 passes defended and had two interception, including one for a touchdown.

Jamerson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a sophomore.

Jacobs has also helped himself according to Landry.

“Leon Jacobs of Wisconsin, who primarily played on the line of scrimmage for the Badgers, has been used in a more traditional linebacker role here at Shrine practices and has looked solid. His footwork scraping laterally and dropping into coverage needs work, but Jacobs has held his ground against tight ends and running backs who come across the field.”

Leon Jacobs

Leon Jacobs

Jacobs had a very solid career at Wisconsin. The 6’2″, 245-pound Jacobs had 142 total tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown).

Sheehy and James did excellent work in the trenches for the Badgers in their careers, as evidenced by the way the Wisconsin defense has been able to stop the run over the past four years.

In his career with the Badgers, the 6’3″, 272-pound James had 100 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

Sheehy also had an excellent career while playing at Wisconsin, as he had 94 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and one forced fumble.

The four Badgers will be going up against three very dynamic quarterbacks on the East squad, including one that they are very familiar with. That would be J.T. Barrett of Ohio State.

The 6’2″, 220-pound Barrett once again put up great numbers in 2017, as he threw 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,042 yards. Barrett also rushed for 809 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Another quarterback on the East squad is one I am very familiar with, as Quinton Flowers played here locally with the USF Bulls. The 6’0″, 210-pound Flowers is similar to Barrett in a number of ways. In 2017, Flowers threw 25 touchdown passes versus six picks for 2,911 yards. Flowers also rushed for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The third quarterback for the East squad is Riley Ferguson of Memphis, who has the best chance of the three to advance to the NFL level at quarterback, as both Barrett and Flowers will probably change positions at some point.

The 6’4″, 210-pound Ferguson threw 38 touchdowns versus nine picks for 4,257 yards.

The East squad also has a player who has definitely made a name for himself in front of the scouts this week. I’m talking about wide receiver Daurice Fountain of Northern Iowa. The 6’1″, 210-pound Fountain has impressed scouts like Landry, as he explains.

“Fountain showed flashes of ability during the initial two Shrine practices then really pulled it together on Wednesday morning and was the top receiver on the field. He catches the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to win out for contested passes. Fountain was probably the fastest receiver on the field during East practice, showing a terrific burst and the ability to outrun defenders down the sidelines. He looks primed to be a fourth or fifth man on the depth chart at the next level, and displaying return skills during Saturday’s game will only enhance his draft stock.”

The Packers would be wise to keep their eye on Fountain knowing the issues the team now has at the wide receiver position.  That’s because both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will most likely be looking at getting their contracts renegotiated at a lower price, especially with the re-signing of Davante Adams to a four-year $58 million contract extension.

Nelson is set to make $10.2 million this year, while Cobb will make $9.5 million.

Bottom line, the Packers can help themselves by keeping a close eye on the talent in the East-West Shrine Game, especially the home grown defensive talent who played with the Badgers.

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.

How will Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Fare vs. the Panthers

Aaron vs. Panthers

In a must win situation, just how will the 7-6 Green Bay Packers and the just cleared to play Aaron Rodgers fare against the 9-4 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday?

Based on some historical data, I would say quite competitively.

First, both teams have a lot to play for on Sunday. The Packers need a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, most likely as a Wild Card, while the Panthers still can win the NFC South and perhaps get a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers and the New Orleans Saints both are 9-4, but the Saints own the tiebreaker over the Panthers because of beating them head-to-head twice and also because of a better divisional record.

The Packers have a slim chance of winning the NFC North, but the Minnesota Vikings would have to lose all three of their remaining games (including one vs. the Packers at Lambeau), wile the Packers would have to win all three of their remaining games.

The Wild Card appears the most likely route for the Packers to get into the playoffs, as the Packers will hold a head-to head edge on the Panthers with a victory, plus have that same edge on both the 8-5 Seattle Seahawks and 7-6 Dallas Cowboys currently if all ended up with a similar record at season’s end.

Currently the Packers are seeded ninth in the NFC playoff picture, but a lot could change in three weeks. No matter what, the Packers have to run the table, just like they did in the 2016 season, to make the postseason.

Which takes me to the historical data.

In 2016, the Packers were 4-6 and needed to win all of the remaining six games to make the playoffs. Not only did they do that, but they also won the NFC North. Plus, the Packers also won two games in the postseason to advance to the NFC title game before they lost for the first time in two months.

So winning out in 2017 is definitely possible, plus the team is already on a two-game winning streak thanks to back-to-back overtime wins the past couple of weeks keyed by backup quarterback Brett Hundley.

But how will Rodgers perform coming back from a broken (right) collarbone and against a stout Carolina defense, which is ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense.

Again, let’s go back to historical information.

Rodgers has done this before, as he also broke his (left) collarbone in 2013. In the first game back after the injury, which happened to also be a do-or-die situation in Week 17 vs. the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Rodgers performed very well overall.

In that particular game, a lot rode on the outcome. The winner would win the NFC North and the loser would go home.

Rodgers wasn’t sharp early in that game, but as the contest wore on, his performance improved. No play was bigger than the one that No. 12 made with just 46 seconds to go in the game and the Packers facing a fourth and eight situation from the Chicago 48-yard line and trailing 28-27.

Rodgers rolled left and eluded a sack from future teammate Julius Peppers, with some help from fullback John Kuhn on a chip-block, and he threw long to wide receiver Randall Cobb for a game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass with just 38 seconds to go.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

In the 33-28 victory, Rodgers threw for 318 yards and also two touchdown passes to go along with two interceptions. Rodgers had only a 85.2 passer rating in the game, but he was clutch when he needed to be, which also included running for a key first down on the game-winning drive.

In an ironic twist, after playing with the Packers from 2014 through 2016 (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns), Peppers now plays with the team that drafted him, the Panthers. And now once again, Peppers gets to face Rodgers in his first game back coming back from a broken collarbone.

Peppers is currently tied with Mario Addison in leading the Panthers in sacks so far in 2017 with 9.5. Carolina is tied for third in the league with 40 sacks.

Now let’s look at how Rodgers has fared against the Panthers. Overall in his career versus Carolina, Rodgers is 2-2, but has played very well. In those four games, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdown passes compared to just two picks for 1,230 yards. That adds up to a 112.2 passer rating against the Panthers.

But let’s peel back the onion even more and look at two fairly recent games against the Panthers, when Rodgers faced up against Cam Newton at quarterback and a number of the defenders he will be facing on Sunday were playing.

The first occurred in 2014 at Lambeau Field in Week 7. In a 38-17 victory by the Packers, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 255 yards. His passer rating for the game was 154.5.

Then, in Week 9 of the 2015 season at Bank of America Stadium, the same year the Panthers were on their way to the Super Bowl, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes versus one interception for 369 yards (96.6 passer rating), as the Packers lost to the Panthers 37-29.

So, based on all that, what will happen when Rodgers and the Packers face the Panthers on Sunday?

Well, just the fact that Rodgers will be in the lineup makes the Packers much better, even though Hundley kept the playoff hopes of the Packers alive by going 3-4 in seven starts.

The new and improved running game behind Jamaal Williams the last five games (352 yards rushing and three touchdowns) makes the offense much more versatile.

The play-action pass should be very effective this Sunday, as should the screen pass, which has also been a nice weapon as of late for the Packers.

Speaking of the passing game, Williams has also been an asset there as well, as he’s had 18 receptions for 193 yards and two more scores in the past five games.

Since Rodgers has been out, Davante Adams has become the No. 1 receiver on the Packers with Hundley at quarterback, while both Cobb and Jordy Nelson have had secondary roles. With Rodgers under center now, I believe No. 12 will distribute the ball better to all of his receivers, which also includes the tight ends.

The offensive line of the Packers has been solid as of late, with Jason Spriggs playing okay at right tackle now that Bryan Bulaga is out for the season (torn ACL). The rest of the line remains intact with left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor, center Corey Linsley and right guard Jahri Evans doing their usual reliable work.

Before he broke his collarbone in Week 6 versus the Vikings, Rodgers was having another MVP-type season, as he had thrown 13 touchdown passes versus three picks for 1,385 yards (103.2 passer rating).

So, how do I see this game? The defense of the Packers definitely has holes, both in stopping the run and with injuries in the secondary. I believe that Newton and company will get their fair share of points against the D of the Pack, but I also think that Rodgers and company will do the same against a very good defense.

Will that mean a win for the Pack? That I can’t say for certain, but this could be the type of game that comes down to the final possession.

Just like the Week 17 game against da Bears in Chicago in 2013.

The Bye Week and the Lions are a Good Combination for the Packers

Lions vs. Packers

As the 4-3 Green Bay Packers prepare for their Monday night meeting against the 3-4 Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, there is some good news and bad news heading into the game.

Let’s start with the bad news first. Brett Hundley has not exactly set the world on fire since replacing Aaron Rodgers as the starting quarterback of the Packers, after No. 12 broke his collarbone early in the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 15.

Since then, Hundley has completed 30-of-58 passes (52 percent completion percentage) for 244 yards, which includes throwing just one touchdown pass compared to four interceptions. That adds up to a very poor 39.8 passer rating.

Granted, Hundley had to face one of the best defenses in the NFL when he had to come in relief of Rodgers versus the Vikings, but it was expected that he would do much better against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau, seeing as they were ranked 26th in the NFL in total defense going into the game on October 22.

Still, Hundley has the potential and talent to be much better, like he showed in his career at UCLA and also with the Packers in the 2015 preseason, when he led the NFL with 630 passing yards, completed 45-of-65 passes (69.2 percent), plus had seven TD passes versus just one pick.

The Packers don’t expect Hundley to even come close to the numbers (13 TD passes vs.  three picks for 1,385 yards and a 103.2 passer rating) that Rodgers was putting up prior to his injury, but they need Hundley to take his game up a notch or two.

And history says that he just might do that against the Lions. For one thing, Mike McCarthy has a 9-2 record after the bye week since becoming head coach in 2006. In addition to that, McCarthy has never lost a game at Lambeau after the bye week.

That includes beating the Lions three times after the bye week, which includes two victories at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

Overall, McCarthy and the Packers seem to have the number of the Lions. Since 2006, the Packers have a 18-4 record against the Lions. That includes a 10-1 record at Lambeau against Detroit.

As a matter of fact, the Lions have only won one game in the state of Wisconsin since 1991, and that was in 2015 when Mason Crosby had a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but he badly miss-hit his 52-yard field goal attempt.

Both the Packers and Lions are struggling on both sides of the ball right now. The Lions are ranked 19th in total offense in the NFL currently, while the Packers are ranked 22nd. In terms of total defense, the Lions are ranked 21st, while the Packers are ranked 23rd.

But even with those less than mediocre stats, there are more factors besides history which can help Hundley and the Packers on Monday night against the Lions.

For one, the entire starting offensive line practiced on Tuesday, as left guard Lane Taylor returned. It would be a huge development if the Packers will have the services of Taylor, left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley, right guard Jahri Evans and right tackle Bryan Bulaga on Monday night.

That is especially important, due to all the injuries (most notably at offensive tackle) and the line-shuffling the team has had to go through up to this point in the season. Consistency on offense starts in the trenches in the NFL.

Another reason to be excited is the new and improved running game which has put rookie running back Aaron Jones into the limelight. Since Jones has come onto the scene, No. 33 has rushed for 346 yards (5.6 yards per carry average) and scored three touchdowns.

In fact, Jones has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the games he has started at running back.

With Jones and also Ty Montgomery at running back, plus having receivers like Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, not to mention a tight end like Martellus Bennett, Hundley has a number of weapons to work with.

But the biggest factor which might aid Hundley as he goes up against the Lions, is the return of Rodgers, who came back to Green Bay on Tuesday after being in the Los Angeles area for several days for his surgery and his initial recovery.

McCarthy sees that as a big plus, as he talked to the media on Tuesday.

“When he walks in the room, he has great presence,” McCarthy said talking about Rodgers. “So it’s great to have him back. I think really him stepping away and being out of town, I think, really helped him deal with his situation. But he’s Aaron. I’m not going to say it, but he feels good about the way things are going so far. I got a full, detailed look at everything with him and Dr. McKenzie this morning. Yeah, it’s great having him back in the building.”

Mike, Aaron and Brett

McCarthy also talked about how Rodgers can help Hundley.

“The biggest thing he can get to Brett is just to play a little faster,” McCarthy said. “That’s something as a football team we need to do a better job of. We need to play faster, both offense and defense. So Aaron can assist in that.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve got to get dialed into the game plan (for the Lions), and that process is the same for Aaron that it is for any quarterback. He’ll definitely help Brett with that.”

Hundley stayed in Green Bay during the bye week as he continues to try and get more comfortable running the offense of the Packers. The Packers are also adding another practice this week, which will only help Hundley as he continues to get reps.

“He [Hundley] was in here working out pretty much during the course of the week,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s always beneficial when you can step away from the normal schedule and push the focus toward the individual, and he’ll have an extra practice today. We’ll be able to do some situational work, he’ll have an extra two-minute drill that he’ll participate in today. We’ll be able to get into the whole normal down and distance run and pass game today, so he’ll have a head start and have extra work going into the Monday night game.”

Bottom line, as Zeke Bratkowski told me a couple of weeks ago, the key for Hundley is to stay within himself and also within the offensive concept of the team.

Add that together with all of the other positive things which are going on for the Packers currently, and Green Bay has a great opportunity to go 5-3 on the season and 2-1 in the NFC North on Monday night.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones Adds a New Dimension to an Already Dangerous Offense

<> at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Going into their Week 5 game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers had averaged just a paltry 74.5 yards per game on the ground. The season had started slowly for starting running back Ty Montgomery as well, as he had gained just 152 yards on 46 carries with two touchdowns, which equates to 3.3 yards per carry average.

All that being said, the running game wasn’t helped due to the fact that the Green Bay offensive line had used four different line combinations in each of the first four games because of injuries to both starting tackles, David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle).

But the Packers were still 3-1 in those four games, mostly due to the incredible play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an improving defense that also is dealing with key injuries.

In the Week 4 contest versus the Chicago Bears, the Packers saw Montgomery get off to a quick start with 28 yards in five carries. But in that sequence of carries, Montgomery broke some ribs and was forced from the game. That led to the entrance of rookie running back Aaron Jones.

Like Montgomery, Jones played very well behind an offensive line which had Lane Taylor at left tackle, Lucas Patrick at left guard and Justin McCray at right tackle.

Jones had 49 yards in 13 carries and one touchdown. No. 33 opened some eyes on the Green Bay offensive coaching staff with that performance.

So with Montgomery not be able to play against the Cowboys in Week 5, Jones got the opportunity to start at running back. And did Jones take advantage of that opportunity. The rookie out of Texas-El Paso gained 125 yards on 19 carries (6.6 yard average) and a touchdown.

Jones also caught a pass for nine yards and looked solid in his pass protection picking up blitzes.

And Jones did that behind an offensive line that had Taylor starting again at left tackle, while McCray moved to left guard, as Bulaga returned to play right tackle.

Thanks to another impressive and winning performance by Rodgers on the last drive of the game for Green Bay, the Packers are now 4-1. But it was the success of the running game which caught everyone’s attention.

Up until the game versus the Cowboys, the Packers had only rushed for 298 yards in four games. In the Dallas game alone, the Packers rushed for 160 yards.

Green Bay certainly liked what they saw of Jones in college at Texas-El Paso.

Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA in 2016.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.

When the Packers drafted Jones in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft, this is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about that selection:

On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”

Jones was one of three running backs who the Packers selected in the draft, as Green Bay also took Jamaal Williams of BYU in the fourth round and Devante Mays of Utah State in the seventh round.

Although Williams was selected a round before Jones, it certainly appears that Jones has earned the right to be on the field much more often due to his productivity.

Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers has noticed. At his press conference on Monday, McCarthy praised his rookie running back, but also said that he’s going to need some help.

at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

“I hope I have a 1-4 punch,” McCarthy said via Packers.com. “That’s why we drafted three running backs. It takes time. It’s a young man’s league, I get it, and Aaron had an opportunity he cashed in. I’m proud of him. He’s earned more opportunities moving forward.

“But this is not a one-man show. It’s going to take them all. I want to make hard decisions who’s on the 46(-man roster on game day).”

What this also means is that when Montgomery gets healthy, the Packers could have a running back combination similar to how the Atlanta Falcons utilize Devonta Freeman and Telvin Coleman.

Just imagine a running game getting the type of production that Atlanta gets each week from their two backs. Add that type of performance to an offense which already has a prolific passing game with Rodgers throwing to the likes of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett, and you are looking at a really dynamic offense.

Just like the dynamic offense that quarterback Matt Ryan of the Falcons leads.

Plus, with the return of Bakhtiari to the lineup, the Packers can start utilizing the best offensive line that they can put on the field each and every week.

The Packers know how important a productive running game can mean to their offense with Rodgers at quarterback. In the 2010 postseason and an eventual win in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers played lights out (nine TD passes vs. two picks for 1,094 yards and a 109.8 passer rating), but it was the emergence of rookie James Starks who made a big difference with the offense that postseason.

Starks gained 315 yards in four games in the postseason, which led all NFL running backs.

If a defense has to contend with another weapon on offense, namely a productive running back, it really opens up the passing game.

at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Case in point, in the game against Dallas, Rodgers used a play-action fake to Jones, which froze the linebackers and safeties of the Cowboys for a moment, and that led to an easy touchdown pass to wide open Nelson.

Bottom line, the Packers saw how effective their offense can be behind a steady and productive performance by a running back (Jones) in their game against the Cowboys.

Couple that together with bringing back two key players (Bakhtiari and Montgomery) who are getting close to getting back on the field, and one can envision one of the top offenses in the NFL week in and week out.

The Packers will face a very tough Minnesota Viking defense this upcoming Sunday. The Vikings are seventh in the NFL in total defense, which includes being 20th in passing defense and seventh in rushing defense.

The Vikings have only allowed 80 yards per game on the ground. If the Packers can get their running game going similar to how it produced against the Cowboys, it would open things up for Rodgers to exploit the secondary of the Minnesota defense.

Time will tell how Jones will perform down the road in the 2017 season for the Packers in the running game, but in a small window (174 yards on 38 carries, a 4.6 average and two TDs), that future looks very bright.

Not just for Jones, but for the entire Green Bay offense.