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

Jonathan Taylor Combine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 Combine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb Have Joined a Legendary Fraternity

Clay Matthews XLV (1)

Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.

Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.

Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.

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 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.

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.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.

No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.

A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Most notable was Brett Favre.

After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.

No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year.  Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.

Plus there was Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966.  Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.

However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.

Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor in 1962

There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.

The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.

Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.

But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.

But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.

Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals.  Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.

Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19.  Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.  The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.  Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.

Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi.  The result of his tenure?  Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.

Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins.  The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.

People like Billy Howton, Tobin Rote, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Boyd Dowler, Elijah Pitts, Lee Roy Caffey, Donny Anderson, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Mike Holmgren.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.

That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.

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.

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.

A Scout’s Take on Undrafted Rookie WR Michael Clark of the Green Bay Packers (Practice Squad)

Michael Clark

If you attended the training camp of the Green Bay Packers this summer, you saw that one player certainly made a name for himself. I’m talking about undrafted wide receiver Michael Clark, who played his college football at Marshall.

Clark had a number of plays in camp that reminded some people of another NFL wide receiver out of Marshall…Randy Moss. Clark sometimes looked like a man among boys with some of his acrobatic catches, which highlighted his size and jumping ability.

Clark also had four catches this preseason for 34 yards and a touchdown.

But seeing that wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on the Packers, and also that the Packers selected two wide receivers in the 2017 draft, the odds of Clark making the final 53-man roster were somewhat slim.

In the end, Clark did not make the final roster, but he did find a spot on the 10-man practice squad. And if history is a blueprint for the future, things could get interesting for Clark and the Packers down the road.

Case in point, look at wide receiver Geronimo Allison. The former Fighting Illini star had a great training camp with the Packers in 2016, as he was also undrafted, but Allison missed out on getting on the 53-man roster.

But the Packers were able to keep Allison on their practice squad and then elevated him to the roster in late October last season. Allison then had 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, plus had five receptions for 65 yards in the postseason.

Allison will be serving a one-game suspension in Week 1 of the 2017 season, but has established himself as the fourth wide receiver in the pecking order of the Packers, behind Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.

Allison and Clark have a couple of things in common. One is size. Allison goes 6’3″, 202 pounds, while Clark is even bigger, as he’s 6’6″, 217 pounds.

Both players are from the Tampa Bay area. Allison is from Tampa, while Clark is from St. Petersburg.

I wanted to get a good read on Clark, who only played one year of college football, by talking to NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had an opportunity to talk with Landry about Clark last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, as we also talked about the Packers signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

I mentioned to Landry that Clark had shown real athleticism in training camp with his size and leaping ability, but still was a bit raw, due to his lack of experience, as he also played some college basketball. I also asked what type of future Clark has in the NFL.

“Well, you described him [Clark],” Landry said. “He’s very lanky. He can elevate. He’s got very good natural hands that can catch out of frame. Very raw as a route-runner.

“But he’s is certainly a guy who is going to make it and be a big slot and can play X. He’s really a good physical specimen with some ability.”

Clark now gets to practice and keep learning under the guidance of his wide receivers coach Luke Getsy, along with getting some tutelage from the veteran receivers on the team.

Clark and fifth-round draft pick DeAngelo Yancey were the only wide receivers that made the practice squad, as both seventh-round draft pick Malachi Dupre and Max McCaffrey did not.

McCaffrey had an exception training camp as well, and he ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints to join their practice squad.

Meanwhile, Clark has a great opportunity to shine in Green Bay down the road. He has the natural athleticism and size to be a force in the passing game, but needs to continue to get better in running routes and learning the nuances of playing wide receiver in the NFL.

Time will tell what will happen down the road with Clark and his future with the Packers, but this past training camp tells us that Clark can be a real weapon at some point fairly soon.

Green Bay Packers: Offseason Priorities

aaron-in-super-bowl-xlv

When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was just phenomenal in the 2010 postseason run which led the hoisting of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In that run of four games that postseason, Rodgers threw nine touchdown passes versus just two interceptions for 1,094 yards. That added up to a 109.8 passer rating, as well as No. 12 becoming the MVP in the Super Bowl.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers and the Packers came close to getting to another Super Bowl, but didn’t quite make it. You certainly can’t blame Rodgers for the Packers not getting to Super Bowl LI.

In fact, the stats of Rodgers this postseason are almost identical to what he did in the 2010 postseason.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers once again threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,004 yards. The passer rating ended up being 103.8.

Rodgers put up those stats in three games in the 2016 postseason, as opposed to four games in the 2010 postseason.

It’s pretty easy to surmise that the play of Rodgers was not the reason why Green Bay isn’t playing in Super Bowl LI.

The reason why is pretty obvious. It’s the inconsistent and mediocre play of the defense for the Packers.

When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the team went into that postseason with the No. 5 rated defense in the league.

The defense played like it that postseason as well. The Packers had 11 sacks, eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and four recovered fumbles in four games.

When you add that performance and that of Rodgers and the offense of the Packers, one can see why the team won Super Bowl XLV.

The 2010 season was the last time the Packers have had a top five defense. As a matter of fact, the Packers have not even had a top 10 defense since then either.

In his career, Rodgers has a 9-7 record in the postseason. Why the seven losses? Is it because of his performance in crunch time? No. In 16 playoff games, Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes versus just 10 interceptions for 4,458 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 99.4.

Those numbers might get a quarterback a NFL MVP award in a particular season.

In the seven losses the Packers have had with Rodgers at quarterback in the postseason, the offense has averaged 26 points a game.  That’s not too shabby. When a team averages 26 points a game in the NFL postseason, the odds should be pretty strong that a victory should be in order.

Not so with the Packers in those seven games. Why? The defense has given up an average of 36 points per game in those losses.

Something has to change this offseason. That means either a coaching change or a concept change in getting talent for the defense. Perhaps even both.

If you saw head coach Mike McCarthy’s postgame press conference after the Packers were beaten 44-21 in the NFC title game by the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, one could see he was not happy at all with the performance by his defense.

McCarthy has been very loyal to his assistant coaches over the 11 years he has been head coach, but he has also made some key changes to his staff as well when he deemed it necessary.

It might be a necessity to move on from defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In his first two years in Green Bay, Capers had top five defenses playing under him. In 2009, the defense was ranked No. 2, while in 2010 was ranked No. 5 in total defense.

But nothing close to that has happened in his tenure in the six years since. Starting in 2011, the defense of the Packers has ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.

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This past postseason reflects why the defense needs to get rebooted in 2017. In three games, the Packers had four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. In the NFC title game, the Packers were shut out in all three categories.

Yes, I know there were multiple injuries this season on defense. But that is where quality depth would come in handy if a certain general manager changed his course of talent additions to the team just slightly.

Yes, I’m talking about Ted Thompson. Thompson’s draft and develop method for acquiring talent has been outstanding for the most part in the tenure in which he and McCarthy have piloted the ship of the Packers.

In 11 seasons, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

A lot of franchises would be thrilled to have a track record like that.

But when you peel back the onion and take a closer look, there are some obvious issues. McCarthy is 10-8 in the postseason as a head coach. But with just a little luck, the record of McCarthy in the postseason could be favorably compared to Bill Belichick.

McCarthy has lost four games in the postseason in overtime, plus lost another one on a last second field goal. His 10-8 record might be 13-5 or better with another Lombardi Trophy or two in the Packers Hall of Fame with some fortunate bounces.

Belichick more times than not gets those fortunate bounces in his postseason wins. In Belichick’s four Super Bowl wins, the victories have been by a combined 13 points.

Bottom line, it’s the defense which is the primary culprit as to why the Packers have had to go home early at times in the postseason in the Thompson/McCarthy era.

So to me, you have two choices. Either you make a coaching change (or at least a philosophy change) or you rectify the way you add talent to the defense. Again, maybe you do both.

Let’s say that McCarthy decides to stay with the status quo and keep Capers as his defensive coordinator. In that case, all of the burden to improve the defense will be put on Thompson, if indeed he stays on as general manager, which may not be a given.

Thompson will have some very difficult decisions to make regarding maintaining, adding and subtracting talent to the defense.

The first thing I would do if I were Thompson, is to look at the great success I have had in adding talent for the team in free agency.

In 2006, Thompson added defensive tackle Ryan Pickett via free agency and then also added cornerback Charles Woodson to the team after he became a free agent after his release by the Raiders.

Both players had excellent tenures in Green Bay, as Pickett was very solid in his run-stopping ability in eight seasons, while Woodson was just tremendous in his time in Green Bay.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume.  Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns.  Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more.  Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

Add to that: Woodson was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  No. 21 was also named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.

After the signings of Pickett and Woodson, Thompson basically went into the sleep mode in terms of signing free agents for a number of years. Thompson still signed “street” free agents (like Erik Walden) and undrafted rookie free agents (like Sam Shields), but rarely looked at NFL veterans who had solid careers in the league or at least showed flashes.

In 2012, Thompson signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrave and center Jeff Saturday in free agency, but neither made big splashes in Green Bay. Hargrave didn’t even make the final roster, while Saturday ended up losing his starting job at center late in the 2012 season to Evan Dietrich-Smith.

In 2014, Thompson made another excellent free agent signing when brought in defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers after he was cut by the Chicago Bears.

julius-peppers-in-2016-postseason

Even though he was 34 years-old at the time of his signing, Peppers put together three nice years in Titletown, as he had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and also had two interceptions which  were both returned for touchdowns.

Peppers has also earned his money in the postseason, as he has had 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in three years.

Thompson also really helped the offense by adding tight end Jared Cook via free agency after he was released by the Rams prior to the 2016 season.

So, what should Thompson do this offseason to try and add some defensive talent to the Packers? Definitely utilize free agency, without a doubt.

The Packers are in decent shape currently regarding the salary cap, as the team is 10th in the NFL in terms of cap space available ($9.4 million). The team can add another $9 million approximately after the team releases cornerback Shields due to his concussion issues.

In terms of current players on the Packers who will be unrestricted free agents, I would bring back a number of them, both on offense and defense.

Right now there will be 11 UFAs on the Packers once free agency starts. They are Peppers, Cook, running back Eddie Lacy, running back Christine Michael, guard T. J. Lang, outside linebacker Nick Perry, outside linebacker Datone Jones, longsnapper Brett Goode, offensive lineman Don Barclay, offensive lineman JC Tretter and defensive back Micah Hyde.

On offense, I would certainly re-sign Cook, as his presence was a major reason why the offense clicked after he came back from an ankle injury starting in Week 11.

I would also bring back Lacy with a one-year deal, which will more or less be a prove it to me deal.

Lang also deserves to be rewarded for all he has done on the offensive line through the years, which not only includes great play on the field, but also playing hurt.

I would bring Barclay back, but only at the minimum salary. Mostly because of his versatility to play all the positions on the offensive line.

Goode also has proven to be one of the very best longsnappers in the NFL, so I would bring him back at a minimum salary, just like Barclay.

On defense, re-signing Perry would be my priority. No. 53 was the best player on the defense for almost all of the 2016 season.

I would also bring back Hyde because of all the versatility he can provide in the defensive backfield.

If Peppers wants to come back, I would offer a one-year deal which would amount to about half of what No. 56 currently makes, which would put him at approximately $4 million a year. That would be very fair, especially if Peppers has limited playing time.

My friend Pete Dougherty of USA Network-Wisconsin wrote a piece today about the 11 UFAs the Packers will have.

Dougherty agrees with me on a number of the players I would re-sign, but he wouldn’t bring back Peppers, plus he would re-do the contracts of both Clay Matthews ($11.1 million) and Randall Cobb ($9.5 million). Dougherty brings up an excellent point, as Matthews and Cobb will have the second-and third-highest salaries on the Green Bay roster in 2017.

Time will tell what will occur with both Matthews and Cobb, as injuries have definitely been a major reason why both have not performed up to the level of their pay-grade, but the release of Shields will definitely help to bump up the cap space for the team.

In terms of acquiring players from other NFL teams via free agency, I’m sure Thompson will first focus on players who will get released by their current NFL teams (usually due to cap reasons), looking mostly at defensive players. Again, that is route he took in acquiring Woodson, Peppers and Cook.

Those additions worked out pretty good.

If Thompson wants to look at a “pure” free agent who can help his defense, the No. 1 player I would look at is cornerback Stephon Gilmore of the Buffalo Bills, who was recently named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Gilmore is just 26 years-old and already has 14 interceptions on his resume in his five-year career in the NFL. The 6’0″, 190-pound Gilmore, who played his college ball at South Carolina, ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

I’m sure Cook, who is also a former Gamecock, would put in a good word about coming to Green Bay to Gilmore.

ted-thompson-minicamp

In the 2017 NFL draft, I would advise Thompson to use the strategy he used in the 2009 draft. That is, trading up to get a player who can definitely help his defense, especially if it’s an elite cornerback or pass-rusher.

In the 2009 draft, the Packers traded back into the first round of the draft to acquire linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick of that particular draft. It cost the team a second-round pick and two third-round picks, but the trade-up tuned out to be a great move by Thompson.

Matthews has been hampered by injuries at times as I mentioned earlier, but he still has had an excellent career in Green Bay, as he has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, six picks (two for touchdowns) and also has been named to six Pro Bowl teams.

Like Peppers, Matthews has also excelled in the postseason, as he has 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Bottom line, something has to change this year with the defense. Either with the coaching philosophy or the means of adding talent to the squad.

Just look at how Albert Einstein defined insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That is what the Packers have been doing since 2011 trying to improve their defense.

And that’s also a major reason why the Packers have not been in another Super Bowl since the 2010 postseason.

A Scout’s Take on the Packers vs. Cowboys NFC Divisional Round Matchup

packers-vs-cowboys-in-a-nfc-divisional-game

When the No. 4 seeded Green Bay Packers take on the No. 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the NFC divisional round, it will be the eighth postseason meeting between the two iconic teams.

That ties the Cowboys with the New York Giants as the two opponents the Packers have played the most in their postseason history.

It all started on January 1, 1967, when the Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-27 in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl. Dallas came very close to forcing overtime as the Cowboys were at the 2-yard line of the Packers and had a first and goal situation in the final moments of the game.

But on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys, who was facing heavy pressure from linebacker Dave Robinson of the Packers as he rolled to his right, had his pass in the end zone intercepted by safety Tom Brown with 28 seconds to go, as the Packers escaped with a victory.

Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl I two weeks later on January 15, when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

Coincidentally, when the Packers and Cowboys meet this Sunday afternoon, it will be on the 50th anniversary of the very first Super Bowl.

The two teams met again in the 1967 NFL title game on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field, which is better known as the legendary “Ice Bowl” game.

The Packers were down 17-14 to the Cowboys with just 4:50 remaining in the game. It was extremely cold, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero. The offense of the Packers had to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

It came down to this: just 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line.

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Starr followed right guard Jerry Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh, and he found a hole behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown, as the Packers won 21-17.

Two weeks later the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II.

The next time the Packers and Cowboys met in the postseason would be in the 1982 postseason, when they played in a NFC second-round playoff game at Texas Stadium on January 16, 1983.

The Packers rolled up 466 total yards in the game, but quarterback Lynn Dickey also threw three interceptions (all made by Dennis Thurman), one of which was a pick-six, as the Cowboys won 37-26.

This game set a trend in the postseason series between the two teams, as the Packers would lose three more games at Texas Stadium to the Cowboys in the 1990s.

The first occurred in the 1993 postseason in a NFC divisional round game on January 16, 1994. Led by three touchdown passes by quarterback Troy Aikman, the Cowboys beat the Packers 27-17. Brett Favre also threw for 331 yards for Green Bay and had two touchdown passes, but it wasn’t enough to beat Dallas.

The Cowboys would go on to win Super Bowl XXVII two weeks later by beating the Buffalo Bills 30-13.

The Packers and Cowboys met again the very next year in another NFC divisional game on January 8, 1995 at Texas Stadium, but Dallas got off to a quick start and never looked back, as the Boys won 35-9. Aikman threw for 337 yards and had one touchdown pass in the game.

The two teams met again a year later, but this time the stakes were higher, as it was the NFC title game, played on January 14, 1996.

The Packers led 27-24 in the fourth quarter, but two Emmitt Smith touchdowns in the fourth frame led to a 38-27 victory by Dallas over Green Bay. Smith rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns, while Favre threw three touchdown passes for the Packers.

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The Cowboys went on to win Super Bowl XXX two weeks later as they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

The last time the Packers and Cowboys met in the playoffs was in the 2014 postseason, when Dallas traveled to Lambeau Field. This game had plenty of controversy. The Cowboys were faced with a fourth-and-two at the Green Bay 32-yard line trailing 26-21 with just under five minutes left in the game, when quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant on a 31-yard pass play to place the ball at the 1-yard line of the Packers.

The play was initially ruled a catch, but after head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers challenged the play, the pass was ruled incomplete since the replay official deemed that Bryant did not maintain possession when he hit the ground.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the Green Bay win.

In the seven games that the Packers and Cowboys have played in the postseason, four times the winner of the game went on to win the Super Bowl.

Although the Packers never fared well at Texas Stadium in the postseason, Green Bay has found the new home venue of the Cowboys to their liking.

The Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV at the stadium, when it was then called Cowboys Stadium. Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the game and was named MVP.

The Packers also played at AT&T Stadium versus the Cowboys in the 2013 regular season, when backup quarterback Matt Flynn engineered a stellar comeback against Dallas, as the Packers overcame a 26-3 halftime deficit and shocked the Cowboys 37-36 in a thrilling victory.

The Cowboys became the No. 1 seed in the 2016 NFC playoffs mostly because of the play of two rookies. The rookies are quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

One of those two players will definitely be named the 2016 NFL Rookie of the Year and both are in the discussion for the 2016 NFL MVP award.

In leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the NFC East title, Prescott threw 23 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions for 3,637 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.9. Prescott also rushed for 282 yards and six more scores.

Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards and he also scored 15 touchdowns. The rookie also caught 32 passes for 363 yards and another score.

Speaking of MVP candidates, Rodgers of the Packers is certainly one. After the Packers stumbled to a 4-6 start in the 2016 regular season, Rodgers led the Packers to six straight wins and the NFC North crown.

Rodgers had another stellar season, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.2. Rodgers also ran for 369 yards and had four rushing touchdowns.

In the last seven games of the season, Rodgers threw 18 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 1,788 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 120.1.

In addition to that, Rodgers was simply marvelous in the 38-13 victory over the Giants at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card playoff game last Sunday, as he threw four touchdown passes without a pick for 362 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 125.2.

The game this Sunday looks to be another classic confrontation between these two storied franchises in the NFL. I wanted to make sure that I was able to get an opinion on the game from one of the very best in his business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I was able to speak with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show this past Wednesday.

Before Landry gave his take on the game, Duemig interjected and asked me how the Packers would be able to overcome the loss of Nelson. That was an excellent question, at least based on how sorely the team missed Nelson in 2015 when he tore his ACL in the preseason and then how Rodgers and the offense of the Packers struggled at times in the passing game throughout the season without No. 87.

I answered by saying that the Packers would be better off because of the play of Adams, who in my opinion had a breakthrough year in 2016 (75-997-12) and who now would be the No. 1 receiving option on a number of NFL teams.

Coincidentally, Rodgers was asked a similar question at his locker on Wednesday after noon.

“We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better,” Rodgers said. “I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point, and Richard [Rodgers] and Jared [Cook] are making plays for us, and I think we’re a little deeper at receiver now with the emergence of Geronimo [Allison]. Davante [Adams] is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well.”

It’s also important to know that the 38 points the Packers put on the Giants last week came after Nelson left the game with the rib injury. Rodgers was on fire from late in the second quarter on, as he threw for 362 yards  and four touchdowns.

Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Cobb had five catches for 116 yards and three scores.

Landry then weighed in with his analysis of the game.

“Well, I felt going into last week, that Green Bay would win last week and Green Bay would also beat Dallas this week,” Landry said. “I felt that is was going to be Atlanta hosting Green Bay in the NFC championship game. That was the way I felt before the playoffs started.

“I would feel a little more comfortable with that, had Jordy Nelson didn’t get injured. That’s a big factor. This game to me is pretty simple. If it gets into a shootout, Green Bay is going to win it.

“They [the Packers] have the most talented quarterback in the league. No one, I mean no one, throws the ball outside the pocket better than Aaron Rodgers, ever, in the history of the game. Better than [Fran] Tarkenton. Better than anybody.

“It’s uncanny, and we talk about getting your feet under you and squared away [as a quarterback], this guy does things with his body in unsound ways that just puts it in spots that are unbelievable. He can extend plays as well as he can with his protection.

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“Last week the Giants lost a corner early, I get that, but they still had great cover ability. But you just can’t cover when this guy can run around and scramble. So if it’s a shootout, Green Bay wins.

“But it comes down to this. Dallas wants to make it a short game. To use a basketball analogy, a half court game. They want to run the football. So if they can run the football and keep Green Bay’s defense on the field, and obviously keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, than that’s a big advantage for Dallas.

“To me, it’s look at the style of the game, the flow of the game. It’s two different styles. You have one team which clearly excels one way, while the other in another way. To me, it’s real simple how you deal with that.

“If Dallas can control the football, protect it and not turn it over, and they can keep Green Bay off the field, than it’s a huge advantage and a great chance of shorten it and make it simple. Not succumb to any of the pressure and all that.

“But if they get into a matchup where it’s a shootout, I’m telling you, Green Bay, Atlanta, whoever Dallas plays, they [the Cowboys] will not win a shootout type of game. Because their defense will get exposed. They haven’t been exposed, because Dallas has been able to control the football on the offensive side.

“It’s going to be interesting to see. I like Green Bay’s chances. I liked them better with a healthy Jordy Nelson, but I still think their chances are pretty good. But again, the style is the key as to who is going to win. The style will determine [the winner].”

When the Packers hosted the Cowboys in Week 6 at Lambeau Field, the Packers had the No. 1 run defense in the NFL going into the game. But you wouldn’t have known it, based on the way Elliott ran that day. Elliott rushed for 157 yards that day (a 5.61 average) and just kept gashing the Green Bay Front 7.

I asked Landry how he thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would try and stop the run in this game.

“Well, they have to load the front, there’s no question,” Landry said. “They are going to play some more Bear fronts. I think that they are going to be very aggressive bringing in an extra guy in the box. Particularly on early downs. Force them into the air and that’s where Dallas will have to make plays.

“I think if Dallas is going to have success throwing the football, as they can, it will be because they [the Packers] will have removed the safety out of the middle of the field. And they are going to have one on one on the outside, outside of the hashes. Plus they will be able to work the middle of the field to [Jason] Witten.

“Again, the run game will dictate it. There can be big plays by Dallas in the passing game, but that will be because the Packers are overplaying for the run. You have to stop the run. If you don’t stop the run, you have no shot. And if you can, you have to hope that maybe you can create enough pressure and force enough bad throws where you can make enough plays on the back end.

“You just can’t let them [the Cowboys] get into a rhythm in the running game. You are going to have to switch things up a little bit. But again, you are going to have to crowd the front most of the day.”

Bottom line, the game between the Packers and Cowboys looks to be a classic battle between two teams who will attempt to try and impose their will versus their opponent.

Which ever team accomplishes that goal will be playing in the 2016 NFC title game.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is the King of the Castle in the NFC North

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Since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in 2008, the team has won the NFC North four times and gone to the postseason seven straight times.

If the Packers beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday night at Ford Field, it will be five NFC North titles and eight straight trips to the playoffs.

All I know is that the Lions should expect another great performance by Rodgers on national television (NBC) Sunday evening.

Rodgers almost always plays well versus the Lions. The same thing holds true for the other members of the NFC North…the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

In his career against those three teams, Rodgers is 38- 13. In those 51 games, Rodgers has thrown 107 touchdown passes versus just 21 interceptions for 12,728 yards. That adds to to a cumulative passer rating of 108.6.

Not bad, huh?

If you just look at his touchdown pass to interception ratio in his career versus NFC North opponents, Rodgers has been humming along at a five to one clip. That is truly mind-blowing.

Against the Lions, Rodgers is exactly at a five to one ratio, as he has thrown 30 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 3,758 yards. No. 12’s career passer rating against the Lions is 108.0.

Rodgers is also 12-3 in his career against Detroit.

Rodgers doesn’t just hurt the Lions, Vikings and Bears…oh my…with just his arm either. He can scamper for yardage via the run about as good as any quarterback in the NFL.

Versus Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota, Rodgers has run for 697 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Even with a bad calf last Sunday against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, Rodgers ran six yards for a touchdown, while making a nice move near the goal line as he dove into the end zone.

Rodgers has been playing out of his mind the latter part of the 2016 season, which also includes the stretch of three games against NFC North opponents to end the season.

Starting with the game against Washington in Week 11, when the Packers lost on Sunday night, Rodgers has thrown 14 touchdown passes without throwing a pick. In those six games, No. 12 has had a passer rating of over 100 in five of those contests.

The only game in which Rodgers did not have a passer rating of over 100, was the frigid game against da Bears at Soldier Field, when his rating was just 87.0. That being said, had wide receiver Davante Adams not dropped two sure touchdown passes in that game, Rodgers would have had a passer rating of over 100 yet again.

Plus, it was Rodgers who threw a 60-yard bomb to wide receiver Jordy Nelson with less than a minute to go on third down, which set up the game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby in the 30-27 victory by the Packers.

Sunday night will be the first visit to Ford Field by Rodgers and the Packers since the Miracle in Motown game on December 3, 2015.

The Packers were down 23-21 with just seconds remaining to the Lions when Rodgers and the Packers were saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game.

The penalty allowed one more opportunity for Rodgers to lead the Packers to a miraculous finish.

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

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

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

The result? The Rodgers to Rodgers combination had secured a 27-23 victory over the Lions on that phenomenal  61-yard touchdown pass.

More NFC North lore for Rodgers as well.

This Sunday night will be the fourth straight year the Packers will be playing for the NFC North title in Week 17.

In 2013, the 7-7-1 Packers played the 8-7 Bears at Soldier Field in Week 17. The winner would win the NFC North.

Rodgers was finally cleared to play against the Bears in that game, after ironically breaking his collarbone against Chicago in Week 8 that season, which caused him to miss seven games.

Although Rodgers appeared to be a bit rusty due to his layoff, No. 12 threw for 315 yards with two touchdown passes versus two picks.

But the second touchdown he threw in that game was one that will live on in Green Bay lore. With 46 seconds to go in the game and with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27, Rodgers and the Packers faced a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers first avoided being sacked by current Packer Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to wide receiver Randall Cobb.

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In 2014 against the Lions at Lambeau Field, it was once again a winner-take-all game for the NFC North crown.

Rodgers had hurt his calf the week before against the Tampa Bay Bucs at Raymond James Stadium and was really limited in terms of mobility.

Both the Packers and the Lions were 11-4 going into the game. Things started out well enough, as Rodgers had the fans at Lambeau cheering wildly for one fleeting moment and then sitting in hushed silence quickly thereafter.

That’s what happened when Rodgers threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Cobb with three minutes and 55 seconds left in the first half to take a 14-0 lead over the Lions.

But even before the pass was in Cobb’s hands, Rodgers crumpled to the turf. No. 12 didn‘t get up either. He clutched at his left calf writhing in pain. Rodgers had to be helped off the field by the training staff and moments later was driven to the locker room in a cart.

Things didn‘t get much better after that. It didn‘t help matters when the Lions came right back and scored a touchdown just before halftime.

When the Packers came out for the second half, there was no sign of Rodgers. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn was warming up and it was Flynn who took the snaps on the first series of the second half. The series went nowhere after Flynn was sacked on third down.

Just a moment later, the crowd roared as Rodgers gingerly walked out of the tunnel and toward the bench of the Packers.

The urgency of the game quickly changed as well, as the Lions quickly came back to score another touchdown and the game was tied 14-14.

But Rodgers, even with his limited mobility, led the Packers on a 60-yard touchdown drive which ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cobb to give the Packers a 21-14 lead.

Then in the fourth quarter, Rodgers finished another drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown which put the Packers up by two scores. The sneak happened in the south end zone—the same place where Bart Starr scored on his legendary sneak in the “Ice Bowl” game.

This game certainly added to the Rodgers’ legend, as the Packers ended up winning 30-20.

Last season, the Packers once again played for the NFC North title versus the Vikings in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. Both teams went into the game with 10-5 records.

Rodgers was under constant pass-pressure in the game, as the team started Josh Sitton at left tackle due to the ankle injury suffered by David Bakhtiari two weeks earlier.

Rodgers was sacked five times in the game, but he did throw for 291 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but Green Bay lost 20-13.

This sets up the fourth straight year that Rodgers and the Packers can win the NFC North versus a NFC North opponent. That is very apropos.

And based on the track record of Rodgers versus the NFC North in general and also his history against the Lions, the legacy of Rodgers in the NFC North looks to grow even more legendary.