Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

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

Brett vs. 49ers in 1997 NFC Title game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score, Packers 23, 49ers 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron getting sacked by the Niners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davante Adams vs. 49ers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Za'Darius Smith vs. 49ers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron vs. 49ers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett in the snow vs. Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, more on this game later.

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

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

Aaron and Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Packers did not have one turnover in the game.

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

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

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

Al Harris pick-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Packers were quickly down 14-0.

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Grant vs. Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brandon Bostick flub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devante Adams vs. Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

 

Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys: A Historical Perspective

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

The Green Bay Packers joined the NFL in 1921, while the Dallas Cowboys joined the league in 1960. Since that time, the teams have met 28 times in the regular season, with the Packers holding a 15-13 edge.

The two teams have also met eight times in the postseason, with each team winning four times.

Overall, the Packers have won 13 NFL titles, including four Super Bowls, one of which was won at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium). The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls overall.

When the two teams meet on Sunday at AT&T Field, it will be the 15th time that the Packers have played Dallas on the road in the regular season. The Packers were 2-1 at the Cotton Bowl, 2-7 at Texas Stadium and now are currently 2-0 at AT&T Stadium.

The Packers are also 2-4 in the postseason in the Big D area. With the latest game being the 2016 NFC title game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay to a stirring 34-31 victory.

In Wisconsin, the Packers defeated the Cowboys in their inaugural year 41-7 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) and are now 7-2 overall versus the Boys in Green Bay during the regular season.

The Packers and Cowboys also played five games at County Stadium in Milwaukee in the regular season, with the Cowboys holding a 3-2 edge.

The Packers have also won two postseason games against the Cowboys at Lambeau Field, including the legendary “Ice Bowl” game on December 31, 1967.

The two teams were destined to become quite a rivalry, as Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Packers when the Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 and their head coach was Tom Landry.

Lombardi and Landry had coached together in New York with the Giants, as the team won the NFL title in 1956. In essence, Lombardi ran the offense for the G-Men, while Landry ran the defense during their tenure in the Big Apple.

Lombardi never lost to Landry while he coached the Packers, both in the regular season (3-0) and in the postseason (2-0).

Both postseason games were NFL title games, with the first being played at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1967. The winner of that 1966 NFL championship game would be playing in Super Bowl I.

Bart Starr 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl

Quarterback Bart Starr was magnificent in that game, as he threw four touchdown passes (including a beautiful 51-yard pass to Carroll Dale) without throwing an interception for 304 yards. No. 15’s passer rating for that game was 143.5.

The game came down to the Cowboys being on the 2-yard line of the Packers with less than a minute to go, trailing 34-27. And on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys was pressured by outside linebacker Dave Robinson and with No. 89’s arms draped around him, Meredith threw an errant pass that was intercepted by safety Tom Brown of the Packers to seal the victory.

The Packers then went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super I two weeks later.

The two teams met again the very next year in the 1967 NFL title game, this time in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. I have written about that classic game a number of times, including a story that has fullback Chuck Mercein, halfback Donny Anderson and right guard Jerry Kramer describing their epic final drive to win the “Ice Bowl” 21-17 with just seconds remaining.

Starr was once again the hero, as he threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler in the game and then scored the game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with just 13 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having zero time outs.

Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, which turned out to be Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

The next time the two teams met in the postseason was after the 1982 season, when Starr was the head coach of the Packers and Landry was still at the helm of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Lynn Dickey threw for 332 yards, while wide receiver James Lofton had five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, plus had another score on a 71-yard run. Still, that wasn’t enough as the Cowboys, led by the three interceptions of Dennis Thurman, won 37-26 in a second-round NFC playoff game at Texas Stadium.

The next three postseason games would all be played at Texas Stadium in the 1990s, as Jimmy Johnson was now the head coach of the Boys after owner Jerry Jones had fired Landry after the 1988 season.

The Packers were coached by Mike Holmgren during that time.

The Cowboys were led by their triplets, quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. The Pack was led by quarterback Brett Favre on offense and defensive end Reggie White on defense.

In 1993 (27-17) and 1994 (35-9), the Cowboys beat the Packers in NFC divisional playoff games. In 1995, the Boys beat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC title game. Dallas would end up winning the Super Bowl twice after defeating the Packers in the postseason that decade.

In all, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, while the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season.

The Packers won Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) after the 2010 season, when Rodgers was the game’s MVP, as the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

Green Bay and Dallas again met in the postseason in a 2014 divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the 26-21 victory by the Packers, but the game was marked by controversy.

That occurred when quarterback Tony Romo completed a long pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on fourth down which took the ball to the 1-yard line of Green Bay that was later ruled a non-catch. The Packers than marched down the field and ran out the clock.

The last postseason game that the two teams played was a 2016 NFC divisional game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys came into the game as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Packers behind Rodgers got off to a quick 21-3 lead.

But Dallas came roaring back behind quarterback Dak Prescott and tied the game 28- 28 with four minutes left in the game.

The Packers then took a 31-28 lead on a 56-yard Mason Crosby field goal with about 1:30 to go in the game.

Prescott then led the Cowboys to a game-tying 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 35 seconds left.

Aaron vs. the Cowboys

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the game on a third-and-20 from their own 32-yard line, Rodgers completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook to set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal by Crosby as time expired.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2017 regular season, when Rodgers once again led the Packers to a late victory, as he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining, as the Packers won 35-31.

Overall in his career versus the Cowboys, Rodgers is 4-2 against them in the regular season, as he has thrown 11 touchdown passes, compared to just one pick for 1,702 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 101.2.

No. 12 has also rushed for 162 yards on 30 carries and had two more scores.

In the postseason, Rodgers is 2-0 against the Cowboys and has thrown five touchdown passes versus one pick for 671 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 111.0.

So, what to expect on Sunday? The Packers are banged up a bit and Adams has been ruled out because of a turf toe injury. Still, the track record of Rodgers against the Cowboys has been fantastic.

Plus, the Packers have never lost in AT&T Stadium in four games, with one of them being Super Bowl XLV. That being said, every game against the Cowboys has been very close and in one of the wins, it was backup quarterback Matt Flynn who led the Packers to a victory.

Bottom line, I also expect the game on Sunday to be very close. It may come down to which team has the ball last. And if it’s Rodgers and the Packers, I like their chances.

Green Bay Packers: Evaluating the Free Agent Situation in 2016

Ted Thompson II

We are now less than a month away from the start of free agency for the NFL in 2016. That wild and crazy time starts on March 9. It’s not so wild and crazy for the Green Bay Packers though, as general manager Ted Thompson uses a different approach in putting together the roster of the team.

For the most part, under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have become a draft and develop team. The Packers try to sign as many players on their own roster before free agency begins, and only rarely will they try to get free agents who have played with other NFL teams.

But when Thompson has tried the “pure” free agency route, he has hit gold. Examples are Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006, plus Julius Peppers in 2014.

Normally, Thompson prefers to sign “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents. Examples are Tim Masthay, Sam Shields, Don Barclay, Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.

But all in all, it is the NFL draft which has mostly put together the roster of the Packers and that approach has paid some dividends.

Since the alliance of Thompson and McCarthy began in 2006, the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in the regular season in 10 years. In that time, Green Bay has also won five NFC North titles, plus have gone to the postseason eight times, which includes seven consecutive years now.

That also includes a victory in Super Bowl XLV, as well as three appearances in the NFC Championship Game.

Looking at free agency in 2016, the Packers have already signed a couple of their potential free agents when they signed defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion to contract extensions.

The Packers signed Daniels to a four-year, $41 million deal in mid-December and then last Friday signed Guion to a three year deal worth $11.25 million.

Letroy Guion

Letroy Guion of the Packers tackles Robert Turbin of the Cowboys

The Packers still have some work to do as they have a number of other players who will become unrestricted free agents as of March 9. The list includes players like Mike Neal, Mason Crosby, Sean Richardson, Nick Perry, Andrew Quarless, James Starks, B.J. Raji, Don Barclay, Scott Tolzien, Casey Hayward, Brett Goode, John Kuhn and James Jones.

The Packers also have three restricted free agents. They are Lane Taylor, Andy Mulumba and Chris Banjo. Justin Perillo is an exclusive rights free agent.

Currently, the Packers are in very good shape in terms of their salary cap. Green Bay is estimated to be nearly $23 million under the cap. That means they do have plenty of room to sign a number of their own players, plus perhaps even sign a “pure” free agent or two.

Plus, the team has to figure in the money for the 2016 draft class, plus cap decisions down the road, which includes 2017 free agents. Included in that group is Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy, JC Tretter and Sam Barrington.

For the 2016 free agents though, I would think the first priority is to re-sign Crosby. No. 2’s cap value was $3,550,000 in 2015, so he is certain to get more than that in his next deal. But seeing that Crosby is one of the best kickers in the NFL, I would almost guarantee a deal will get done.

It won’t be an easy decision as to who to choose from in regards to Neal and Perry. I can see the Packers bringing one of them back, but not both.

Neal was steady for the Packers last year, but he will be 29 years old in 2016. Plus, his cap hit was $4,250,000 in 2015.

Perry came on strong for the Packers late in the season and in the playoffs. No. 53 will be just 26 and his cap hit was just $2,386,125 in 2015.

Both Neal and Perry have also had their share of injuries in their time in Green Bay. But from a cap standpoint and also factoring in the age, the Packers might tend to lean towards Perry. We shall see.

Another interesting decision will need to be made about Raji. With the signings of Daniels and Guion, plus the development of Mike Pennel, not to mention the upside of Christian Ringo, who is currently on the practice squad, Raji has been put in a tough situation.

No. 90 was having a fine season in 2015 before a groin injury really slowed him down. That being said, if Raji would accept a similar deal to the one he signed in 2015, when his cap hit was just $1,750,000, he could be back with the Pack.

In terms of running back James Starks, according to Pete Dougherty of PackerNews.com, No. 44 is expected to re-sign with the Packers. That being said, Dougherty also didn’t expect the Packers to re-sign Guion, which they recently did.

The running back position is where Thompson might attempt to make a big splash in free agency this year. Matt Forte is not expected to be re-signed by the Chicago Bears  and will be an unrestricted free agent.

Starks played well at times for the Packers in 2015, as he rushed for 602 yards and had two scores, plus had 43 receptions for 392 yards and three more touchdowns. But No. 44 also coughed up the ball five times on fumbles and lost three of them.

The Packers needed a good performance by Starks, as Lacy certainly had an off year, as he rushed for just 758 yards and three touchdowns, plus caught just 20 passes for 188 scores and two more scores.

No. 27 was hampered by the fact that he was overweight in 2015 and was most likely north of 260 pounds. The Packers have told Lacy that he needs to lose thirty pounds going into training camp this upcoming summer. Plus, remember that Lacy will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.

That’s why I believe Forte could be the wild card in this particular situation. Granted, Forte is 30 years old and has already played eight years in the NFL, but he would be a great one-two combination with Lacy, plus he catches the ball better than any running back in the NFL.

The Packers know all about Forte and his skills, having faced him twice a year every season. In his career, Forte has rushed for 8,602 yards and 45 touchdowns, plus has a whopping 487 receptions for 4,116 yards and 19 more scores.

Julius Peppers

The Packers have already brought on a discard from the Bears when they signed Peppers back in 2014, and No. 56 has definitely been worth the signing. In two years in Green Bay, Peppers has had 17.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and picked off two passes, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Peppers could serve as a recruiter to help the Packers snag Forte via free agency. My guess is if the Packers do indeed dip their toes into the “pure” free agency waters, it will be Forte who they will go after.

If that Packers do indeed sign Forte, Starks would be the odd man out.

In terms of the other potential 2016 free agents that the Packers have, I only expect a few of them to possibly come back.

One would be fullback John Kuhn, but only if he accepts a minimum contract again. No. 30’s cap number in 2015 was just $635,000.

Although the offense played well below it’s normal efficiency in 2015, it did improve after Kuhn was given more of a role in it later in the season.

Brett Goode was one of the best long snappers in the NFL during his tenure with the Packers over the seven-plus seasons he played with Green Bay. But after he suffered a torn ACL, he was replaced by Rick Lovato, who did a good job in his absence.

Goode’s cap number was $976,250 in 2015, while Lovato’s was just $450,000. Based on the pay differential, the Packers may side with Lovato in 2016.

James Jones had a great year for the Packers in 2016, after he was picked up after being first discarded by the Oakland Raiders and then the New York Giants.

The Packers brought Jones back to the team just prior to the beginning of the regular season after Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. No. 89 led the Packers with 50 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jones did all that with a cap hit of just $585,000 in 2015.

Even with that, its a long shot that Jones will be back in 2016. Why? Nelson will be back, plus the team still has wide receivers like Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis coming back.

Montgomery showed flashes of being very good before he injured his ankle in Week 6, which eventually put him on injured reserve. Plus, both Janis and Abbrederis showed how good they can be in the playoff game versus the Arizona Cardinals.

Looking at the other free agents, I don’t see any of them returning to the Packers.

Quarless is probably the best blocking tight end the Packers have on the roster, but with Richard Rodgers on the roster, and the expected drafting of a tight end fairly early in the 2016 NFL draft, I see No. 81 moving on.

Barclay flamed out out both right and left tackle when given a chance to perform there in 2015. Yes, he was coming off an ACL tear just the year before, but his performance was not very good, as he gave up nine sacks in limited playing time.

The only way the Packers would even consider signing Barclay is if they decide to play him strictly at guard, which was what they planned to do when they first signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

The Packers also need to look at the ramifications of No. 67’s cap hit, which was $1,542,000 in 2015. No way the Packers will offer Barclay anywhere near that figure if he does come back.

I see Tolzien moving on to find a job as a potential starter at quarterback for some team in 2016.

Hayward is a talented cornerback, especially in the slot, but the Packers have enough depth at the position to allow him to leave.

I see Richardson retiring after suffering his second neck injury.

In terms of the restricted free agents, I would expect that Packers to try and keep both Taylor and Banjo. Taylor was much improved in 2015 when he got his opportunity to play guard, while Banjo was probably the best player on special teams, next to Janis.

Perillo will also probably come back as an exclusive rights free agent.

Matt Forte

Bottom line, expect more of the same in terms of how the Packers approach free agency, except there may be minor shock wave if the Packers make a run and sign someone like Forte.

Forte would help the team in a number of capacities. His skills would certainly help the Packers achieve the No. 1 goal of the team each and every season.

That is, winning the NFC North. By adding Forte, that would definitely tilt the odds in their favor, plus it would also increase the chances of advancing farther in the postseason overall.