Can the Green Bay Packers Upset the Pittsburgh Steelers on SNF?

Packers vs. Steelers

Going into Sunday night’s game between the 5-5 Green Bay Packers and the 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas has the visiting team from Titletown as 14 point underdogs.

And based on NFL statistical information, the wise guys in Vegas may have the line just about right. It would be a huge upset if the Packers could topple the Steelers on the road.

First off, the Packers are reeling and the Steelers are surging.

The play of quarterback Brett Hundley was just dreadful against the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field last Sunday, as the home crowd showered Hundley and the offense with boos on more than one occasion.

Hundley threw for 239 yards, but also tossed three picks without a touchdown pass, as the Packers were shut out by the Ravens 23-0. No. 7’s passer rating for the game was an abysmal 43.8.

And this performance came a week after Hundley had the best game of his NFL career against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, as he completed 72 percent of his passes and threw one TD pass without an interception and had a passer rating of 110.8.

So which Hundley will we see on Sunday night? That is a very interesting question. You know that head coach Mike McCarthy wants to see Hundley perform well in his hometown. But will he?

For the season, Hundley has definitely had his ups and downs since replacing an injured Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, after No. 12 suffered a broken collarbone. Overall this season, Hundley has thrown two TD passes versus seven interceptions for 940 yards. That adds up to a mediocre passer rating of 63.6.

It’s no wonder that the Packers are 1-3 in the games that Hundley has  started at quarterback.

Contrast that to Rodgers, who led the Packers to a 4-1 record before he was injured against the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth game of the season. No. 12 had thrown 13 TD passes versus just three picks for 1,385 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers was a very robust 103.2.

Now I realize that it’s very difficult to replace a legend like Rodgers and even come close to his production, but there has to be a middle ground somewhere between the way Hundley has played and the way Rodgers plays. That is where the Packers need Hundley to be.

Have a passer rating of 83.5 or so. Throw at least as many TD passes as you throw interceptions. That will at least give the team a fighting chance to win, depending on how the defense and special teams performs.

So what are the odds that Hundley will do well on Sunday night against the Steelers on the road? Not good. The Steelers are ranked third in the NFL in passing defense. The opposing QBs have a passer rating of 74.2 when they face the Steelers. Plus, they have only allowed nine TD passes versus 12 interceptions.

Mike McCarthy and Brett Hundley

Add to that, the Steelers are second in the NFL with 34 sacks. One of the pass rushers for the Steelers is rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who the Packers could have drafted at pick No. 29 in the 2017 NFL draft. But the Packers decided to trade back instead. The Steelers then took Watt with pick No. 30.

Hundley has not shown much pocket presence as a passer, plus does not see open receivers at times and holds the ball too long. Those three variables have led to Hundley being sacked 17 times already this season in four-plus games.

As a whole, the defense of the Steelers is very good, as they are ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. Besides defensing the pass well, Pittsburgh also plays the run tough, as they are ranked eighth (97.6 yards per game) in rushing defense. This is a key factor, as the Packers need to have some balance on offense and Jamaal Williams and company have to be productive against the Steel Curtain.

Getting back to McCarthy, going back to his hometown is going to be quite a sentimental experience for the head coach of the Packers. McCarthy is still having trouble dealing with the passing of his younger brother Joe, who died of a heart attack playing racquetball on January 21, 2015 at the age of 47.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com wrote a very nice story about that emotional homecoming.

Can McCarthy get his team to play an exceptional game on Sunday night versus the Steelers as big underdogs, especially knowing that he wants to honor his brother Joe? Well, he’s been able to that in the past on a number of occasions, as Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote on Saturday.

Still, it’s going to be a very difficult test for the Packers to stay with the Steelers on Sunday night based on statistics.

The Steelers are ranked 10th in the NFL in total offense, as they average 357.5 yards per game. The Packers are ranked 18th in total defense and give up an average of 340.1 yards per game.

Add to that, the Packers will be dealing with the the Killer B’s…quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Roethlisberger has had better seasons in the past, but he still can wing it with the best of them. For the season, Big Ben has thrown 16 TD passes versus 10 interceptions for 2,597 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 87.8.

Roethlisberger is always looking for a big play, as evidenced by his 33 completions of 20-plus yards or more and his 10 completions of 40-plus yards or more.

Big Ben has only been sacked 14 times and that doesn’t bode well for the Packers, who are 21st in the NFL with 21 sacks.

In addition to that, the Packers are ranked 18th in the NFL in passing defense and allowed opposing QBs to have a cumulative passer rating of 95.5. Opposing QBs have thrown 13 TD passes versus seven picks against Green Bay.

Roethlisberger loves to look for Brown in the passing game, which is evidenced by the 70 catches for 1,026 and yards and six scores by No. 84. The receptions and yards by Brown lead the NFL.

Besides trying to stop the passing game of the Steelers, the Packers also have to contain Bell in the running game. That will be a tough task. Bell leads the NFL with 886 yards rushing and also has five touchdowns.

Bell is also exceptional catching the football, as he has 49 receptions for 308 yards.

The Packers are better defending the run, as opposed to the pass, as they are 11th (105.7 yards per game) in the NFL in that category. But the defense will be missing a key cog, as defensive lineman Kenny Clark will be out, while outside linebacker Clay Matthews will also most likely be out.

The bottom line is the Packers will have a monumental task ahead of them in trying to win this game.

That being said, I believe the Packers will give a very spirited effort on Sunday night and will play the Steelers tough for the most part. If Hundley continues to play poorly, I don’t think McCarthy will hesitate to put in backup Joe Callahan.

McCarthy wants his team to play with pride and passion on national television in his hometown. I see that happening. Will that mean a victory? Probably not, but if I was betting this game, I would bet the under.

Green Bay Packers: Looking at the 53-Man Roster Heading Into Week 1

mike-mccarthy

The Green Bay Packers have certainly put together a very interesting 53-man roster heading into the opening game of the season versus the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

The Packers are just three days away from that game, which will take place under very hot and humid conditions in northeastern Florida.

One of the most surprising aspects of the roster is that four undrafted rookies made the team. It’s not surprising that an undrafted rookie made the team, as it seems to happen every year for one or two players, but four is almost unheard of.

Three of the four undrafted rookies are defensive backs. They are Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins. All three of those players had fabulous camps, plus also shined in preseason games. With the addition of those three players, the Packers now have 11 defensive backs on the roster.

The other undrafted rookie who made the club was quarterback Joe Callahan. In a recent story, I wrote that Callahan was the offensive MVP for the Packers this preseason. Even with that, I still didn’t believe that the Packers would keep No. 6 on their roster. But indeed, Callahan made the club.

“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”

Another surprise on the roster was seeing the Packers keeping seven wide receivers. In the McCarthy era, the team has kept five receivers for the most part and sometimes even six. But seven? Time will tell how all of the receivers will be utilized.

The seven receivers are Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis.

To even get to seven, the Packers had to cut Geronimo Allison, who had a great training camp. The Packers were able to add Allison to the practice squad.

The kicking game of the Packers also went through some alterations before the current 53-man roster was set.

First, the Packers cut veteran punter Tim Masthay last week, after it appeared that he had won a training camp punting dual versus undrafted rookie Peter Mortell. But even after Mortell was released, the Packers thought they could still do better, so they cut Masthay and brought in Jacob Schrum, who punted for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2015.

Schrum punted very well in the last preseason game in Kansas City and locked up a roster spot.

Then the Packers released longsnapper Ricky Lovato in the final cut, which meant that the team needed a new longsnapper. The Packers actually brought back their old longsnapper, Brett Goode, who handled those duties from 2008 until late last season when he tore an ACL.

The Packers also made one waiver claim, when the team picked up rookie running back Jhurell Pressley from the Minnesota Vikings. Pressley was timed at 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day at New Mexico. Pressley gained 2,725 yards (a 6.9 average) and scored 35 touchdowns in his career as a Lobo.

The most shocking development in the final roster cuts was when the Packers released left guard Josh Sitton. That release stuck out like a sore thumb, or in Sitton’s case, a sore toe.

Sitton is considered one of the best guards in the NFL. Over the past four seasons, Sitton had been named to three Pro Bowls and was named second-team All-Pro twice.

As good as Sitton has played throughout his career in Green Bay, many observers saw a drop off in his performance last season. A lot of that could be blamed on injury issues.

Sitton has had back issues for a couple of years now. Plus, in 2014, Sitton tore a ligament below his left big toe midway through the season and that injury hampered him all year long.

And in training camp in 2015, Sitton disclosed that the toe injury had not yet fully healed. Last season, the Packers allowed Sitton to miss a number of the practice sessions to rest and rehab his toe and back issues, but it was pretty apparent that Sitton’s performance on the field was affected by his injury issues.

That situation may have played a part into why Sitton was released. Another reason was the fact that four offensive linemen, including Sitton, would be unrestricted free agents after the 2016 season. The other three linemen are David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang and JC Tretter.

According to an USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, the Packers reportedly told both Sitton and Lang that their contract situation would not be discussed until after the 2016 season.

On Monday, Lang confirmed that report that he and Sitton were told their contract negotiations would be put on hold while the Packers worked on younger players’ contracts during the season.

That means that Bakhtiari and Tretter were bigger priorities in terms of extending their contracts, as opposed to Sitton and Lang.

josh-sitton-ii

Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin also put out a very interesting article  the other day which talked about how Vince Lombardi often looked to move on from older players on his roster. Dougherty gave many examples from the that era, which saw players like Jim Ringo, Bill Quinlan, Dan Currie, Bobby Dillon, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger move on from the Packers.

Dougherty compared that history with the release of Sitton, who turned 30 back in June.

Included in that same piece was some insight from an NFL source. The source said that in the eyes of the Green Bay organization, Sitton had become haughty and uncommunicative.

When asked about why he decided to release Sitton, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t really add any insight.

“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. “Not right now, no.”

Thompson did however have a comment about the former No. 71 of the Packers.

“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made.”

After his release, Sitton didn’t burn any bridges with the Packers via any comments and instead quickly signed a three-year deal with the divisional rival Chicago Bears.

The bottom line is that an issue or a variable of issues precipitated this shocking release.

Before training camp started for the Packers, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about how Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense of Packers will perform in 2016, compared to 2015.

“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.

“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.

“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”

Landry said this when he assumed Sitton would be the starting left guard. It appears now that it will be Lane Taylor starting at left guard with the release of Sitton.

In addition to that, center Corey Linsley has missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and will start the season on the PUP list. In the absence of Linsley, Tretter has manned the center position and has had a great camp.

Still, questions still linger on the offensive line. Can Taylor do the job at left guard? No. 65 is an effective run-blocker, but can struggle at times with his pass protection.

Also, what is the next course of action if Taylor doesn’t play effectively? Don Barclay would most likely get the next shot at left guard, as he has also had a great camp since he moved inside from offensive tackle and has manned the center and guard positions this summer.

We shall see how things develop on the offensive line. If the line does hold up, the offense should be much improved with all the weapons Rodgers will have at his disposal.

Nelson is back after missing the entire 2015 season because of a torn ACL, while the Packers also added tight end Jared Cook in free agency.

In the running game, Eddie Lacy had an excellent camp/preseason and looks much like the back who performed so well in 2013 and 2014.

The defense has also made some improvements. The secondary looks to be the biggest strength of the defense. There is talent everywhere, plus the depth is outstanding.

The inside linebacker position looks to be solidified with the addition of rookie Blake Martinez, who appears like he will be given the duties of a three-down linebacker.

Blake Martinez II

Blake Martinez

Martinez will be paired with Jake Ryan at inside linebacker, with only Joe Thomas in reserve. That is because the Packers waived Sam Barrington. If injuries occurred at the position, Clay Matthews can move back inside or the Packers could simply call up Carl Bradford, who had an excellent camp and preseason.

The Packers are also very deep at outside linebacker, with Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott and Kyle Fackrell manning the position.

The defensive line is a bit short-handed with only five linemen on the roster. They are Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion and Kenny Clark. The reason the group is lacking in numbers is because Mike Pennel is serving a four-game suspension.

The Packers also have the option of using both Peppers and Jones on the line in passing situations.

Special teams improved quite a bit last year under the leadership of Ron Zook, who took over as coordinator in 2015. After finishing a NFL-worst 32nd in 2014, Zook had his units climb up 15 spots to be ranked 17th last season.

Although there are still question marks about the punting situation, kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the business at his position. Plus, before his ACL injury, Goode was as automatic as they came as a longsnapper.

The speed of the special teams should be excellent, especially with the additions on the roster at defensive back and wide receiver.

Finally, in looking at the current 53-man roster, it’s definitely still a fluid situation. Moves will have to be made after both Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson serve their four-game suspensions.

In addition, the Packers may add a free agent who is considered a vested veteran. The defensive line is one place where a player like that might be added. Players who might be able to help the Packers there include Terrance Knighton, Red Bryant or former Packer Cullen Jenkins.

By signing a player like that after Week 1 of the season means that the player’s salary would not be guaranteed for the entire season, which it would be if they opened the season on the 53-man roster.

Adding a defensive lineman during the season has helped out the Packers on a couple of occasions in recent history. Examples are Howard Green and Grady Jackson.

Time will tell how the 2016 Packers will fare this season. The opening act starts on Sunday afternoon in hot and humid Jacksonville, Florida.

Ironically, Jacksonville is the place where Sitton was born.

Green Bay Packers: Joe Callahan is the Preseason Offensive MVP

Joe Callahan

Joe Callahan

The Green Bay Packers are 3-0 so far in the 2016 preseason schedule. The Packers have have beaten the Cleveland Browns 17-11, the Oakland Raiders 20-12 (both at Lambeau Field) and the San Francisco 49ers 21-10 at Levi’sStadium.

Green Bay is undefeated despite the fact that starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played just two series this preseason (against the Niners) and backup quarterback Brett Hundley has basically played just a quarter.

The majority of the snaps have gone to undrafted rookie Joe Callahan, who hails from Division III Wesley.

Callahan has been helped by a deep roster that general manager Ted Thompson has assembled for head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff.

Callahan has played against the starters from the other teams, as well as second and third string players. No matter what defense he faces, Callahan seems unflappable.

So far, Callahan has thrown two touchdown passes without a pick for 356 yards in three games. That adds up to a passer rating of 89.1.

Callahan’s passer rating would be even higher, if not for some untimely drops by his receivers. In the recent game against the 49ers, Callahan did a nice impression of Brett Favre, as he rolled left and threw across his body to the right deep downfield, only to see Davante Adams fail to snare a perfect pass for a touchdown.

In that same game, Callahan went deep down the right sideline only to see rookie Trevor Davis just miss a pass off his fingertips that would have been another touchdown.

Time after time, McCarthy put Callahan in pressure situations as the Packers went for it on fourth down several times in the 49er game. More times than not, Callahan completed a fourth down pass to keep the drive alive.

Callahan has a strong arm and has excellent mobility, which fits in well with the offensive system which McCarthy implements. Rodgers and Hundley have the same attributes.

Callahan has escaped pass pressure a number of times this preseason and then completed passes to keep drives alive. No. 6 has also rushed for 28 yards.

The knock on Callahan is his size, as he goes 6’1″, 216 pounds.

As well as Callahan has played this preseason, the odds are slim and none that he will make the final 53-man roster of the Packers heading into the season. That may change, if the Packers determine that Hundley has not recovered sufficiently enough from his ankle sprain to be ready for the start of the regular season on September 11.

For now, it appears that the Packers will waive Callahan on the last cut on September 3, as he figures to get the majority of snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs this upcoming Thursday (September 1).

Other NFL teams will have seen a lot of film on Callahan at that point to make a claim on the talented quarterback, who won Division III’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

If he is not claimed by another team, I would expect Callahan to be part of the Green Bay practice squad. I would not be surprised if the Packers offer Callahan the top salary a practice squad player can make, which is a way to entice a player to stay with the team, even if another team offers him a roster spot.

The Packers did the same thing late in the 2015 season with both guard Matt Rotherham and defensive lineman Christian Ringo.

I would expect that Callahan would want to continue playing in the same offense in which he has excelled in so far, plus get the opportunity to continue learning from both Rodgers and Hundley.

If an injury occurred with either of them, Callahan would be a quick call up.

Bottom line, Callahan is definitely one of the many pleasant surprises that the Packers have seen so far this training camp and preseason from their rookie class.