Back in the Jungle – Week 3 Preview

Randall Cobb and his three touchdowns are headed to Detroit.

Randall Cobb and his three touchdowns are headed to Detroit.

By Jon Meerdink

The absolute nadir of the 2013 Packers’ season was their Thanksgiving Day trip to Detroit. This was a team without a quarterback, without a defense, without much of a hope for anything. Coming off a semi-miraculous tie against the Vikings, the Packers were thoroughly drubbed by the Lions, getting laughed off the field 40-10.

Maybe fatigue played a factor. Maybe playing a full extra quarter against Minnesota, then returning to the field just four days later was a taller order than expected. Maybe there was just too little ammunition left for a serious fight against a high octane Detroit offense.

We’ll never know why last year was so bad, but if anything else is true heading into this week’s matchup it’s this: the Packers can’t do any worse than the last time they were in Detroit.

The Countdown

5 – Consecutive road wins over the Lions when Aaron Rodgers finishes the game – That’s what’s on the line this week in Detroit. The Packers only two losses in Detroit in the Rodgers Era have come when Rodgers either didn’t play (last year) or didn’t finish (2010). Every other time, the Packers have come out on top, and they can make it five straight this week.

4 – Pass rush ranking, among inside linebackers, of Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore – He’s only been on the field a little bit, but Jamari Lattimore is carving out a nice role for himself in the Packers’ defense. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the fourth best pass rusher among inside linebackers, giving him credit for two hurries on just four pass rushes. (Yeah, okay, I stretched this stat a bit to make it fit into the countdown. I invite you to deal with it.) He’s also been pretty solid against the run, accounting for three “stops” against just one missed tackle. Brad Jones, beware. Your time may be coming.

3 – Packers players to record a sack so far this season – That’s Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix if you’re scoring at home. Julius Peppers has been robbed of at least 1.5 sacks thanks to penalties from other people, but Pro Football Focus still has him as +1.6 rushing the passer so far this year, second on the team behind Daniels. The sacks will come for everyone, I think.

2 – Wins, in 12 career tries, for Calvin Johnson against the Packers. - The Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne pointed this little nugget out. Johnson has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in those games…but no wins. Either he’s really due for a win or the Packers are just good at allowing Johnson to do enough damage without being totally devastating. 

1 – Lions players with a YPC average of 4 or better – Golden Tate, the wide receiver you may have heard of for F*** M*** related reasons from his days in Seattle, is the only Lions player to run for an average of four yards or better whenever he touches the ball. The catch is, he’s only carried the ball once. That’s right, neither Joique Bell (3.5) or Reggie Bush (2.7) is averaging better than four yards per carry. That’s far worse than expected for what was considered a possible two-headed running back monster before the season. That said, they could look pretty dangerous against the Packers’ generous defense.

Last time – Lions: 40 Packers: 10 – November 28, 2013

Like we discussed earlier, this game was an unmitigated disaster. Under Matt Flynn‘s leadership, the Packers managed just 126 total yards, including a measly 102 through the air. It was bad. Really, really, really, really, really bad.

(Interesting note: the Lions already had a 94% win probability BEFORE HALFTIME according to Pro Football Reference.)

Meet a Lion – DeAndre Levy – 6-2, 238 lbs. – OLB – 6th NFL season

Through two games, the Lions’ top rated defender isn’t Ndamukong Suh or Louis Delmas or Nick Fairley. It’s outside linebacker DeAndre Levy. Yes, the Milwaukee native with the serious beard is the pride of the Lions (get it? GET IT?!). He snagged an interception in Week 1 and leads the team with 15 tackles, only missing one tackle opportunity through the first two games.

Levy has been knocked by PFF for his pass coverage this year, but last year it was the strength of his game. He was PFF’s third rated coverage outside linebacker among his 4-3 counterparts, accounting for six interceptions on the year, half of his career total.

The Lions will win if…

…they don’t beat themselves. The biggest opponent to the Detroit Lions has always been the Detroit Lions. Whether it’s penalties, turnovers, or just undisciplined play, the Lions have been their own undoing more often than not. Playing at home against a weak defense, this feels like a game the Lions could easily win, and if they manage to stay out of their own way, they just might do it.

The Packers will win if…

…their defense brings its second half game from last week for the whole game this week. The Lions are a formidable offense, to be sure, but the Packers have slowed them in the past and played pretty well down the stretch against the Jets. Geno Smith is no Matt Stafford, but the Packers all but wiped the Jets out after the first half. If they can duplicate that effort, they could be victorious on Sunday.

The pick: Lions: 27 Packers: 24

My gut says Lions here. I think the Packers are trending upwards, but on the road with a weak defense against the high powered Lions, I don’t see it. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

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Fantasy Outlook: Week 3

Jordy Nelson looks to continue his fantasy success against the Lions on Sunday.

Jordy Nelson looks to continue his fantasy success against the Lions on Sunday.

By Jordan Huenink

We’re only going into Week 3 of the NFL season, and already there are so many questions around the league thanks to recent injuries. On team Badonka Gronk (my personal team), I have the fun task of trying to decide who to start as my RB2 between Bernard Pierce, Terrence West, Shane Vereen, Lamar Miller and Jonathan Stewart. All these guys -with the exception of Vereen – are backup running backs who have now been thrust into starting roles as a result of suspensions or injuries. And it’s always a crap shoot trying to guess who will have the big week. But since I drafted Vereen as my RB2 I’m going to start him this week – especially since the Patriots are playing the measly Raiders.

Ah, the frustrations of fantasy football… Thanks for letting me vent.

Looking ahead to the Packers’ matchup this week at Detroit, I see Jordy Nelson having another productive week, with Randall Cobb not far behind him. The final fantasy point leader between the two will most likely come down to who catches the touchdowns – yes, plural – but look for Jordy to top 100 yards once again. The Lions ranked third worst against wide receivers in 2013, but have had favorable matchups so far in 2014 against the Giants and Panthers. As a result, I would take their early-season success against the pass with a grain of salt. (Extra Nugget: I predict a Packers tight end will catch a touchdown this week.)

Aaron Rodgers will look to repeat his Week 2 performance as well. Eli Manning (6.4) and Cam Newton (19.1) had opposite outcomes against the Lions defense so far this season, but look for Rodgers to top the 20-point mark once again. Since this game usually has the potential to be a shoot-out, you’re in a good spot if #12 is your starting, fantasy quarterback.

Eddie Lacy may find himself with another tough time this week against the Lions run defense. So far this season, they’ve surrendered only 57 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, but have allowed touchdowns in each of their games. If the Pack can do most of their offensive damage with the pass game, I see Lacy picking up a short-yardage touchdown or two to salvage a below-average rushing total.

The Packers defense hasn’t shown much this year that would warrant a start – especially against an offense that involves Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Kicker Mason Crosby got off to a slow start against Seattle in Week 1, but had plenty of opportunities against the Jets in Week 2 – including a 55-yarder. With dome conditions this week, look for Crosby to have a few long-range opportunities. He’s a Top 10 kicker for me this week.

Around the rest of the league, we certainly have some interesting matchups including a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII. Let’s look at some players that could make or break your fantasy team this week.

With Jamaal Charles sideline with a high ankle sprain, look for Knile Davis to step up this week against the Dolphins. In their last nine games at home, Miami has surrendered nine rushing touchdowns, and backs have rushed for 130+ yards in six of those games. If Davis is still (somehow) on the waiver wire in your league, grab him!

After Antonio Gates lit up the Seahawks defense for three touchdowns this past week, it seems that tight end is the only receiving position capable of scoring on the Legion of Boom so far this year. Look for Peyton Manning to continue his touchdown love affair with Julius Thomas this week, as the duo has the potential to hook up for another score this week. However, keep in mind that the Seattle defense is still stellar at home against elite quarterbacks. (Remember back to Week 1?)  You’re obviously still starting Manning this week, but don’t expect MVP numbers from the old man.

After a lackluster performance last week against the Patriots, Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson should bounce back against the Saints on Sunday. Even though this is the Saints’ home opener, their defense has been a sieve against wide receivers this year, allowing the most yards in the league. And with Adrian Peterson out for the foreseeable future, look for Patterson to maybe split some carries with backup Matt Asiata.

Given his track record against the Eagles, don’t expect much out of Washington receiver Pierre Garcon this week. While backup quarterback Kirk Cousins is more than capable of getting him the ball, Garcon has never scored a touchdown against their division rivals. His total of 1.2 fantasy points last week (even with the injury to DeSean Jackson), is discouraging as well. Depending on your roster situation, I wouldn’t start him any higher than flex, if you can help it.

After what Aaron Rodgers and the Packers did to the Jets defense last week, I wouldn’t be confident starting them in Week 3 versus Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb totaling 45 fantasy points last week against then, I don’t see Gang Green containing Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey with any more success.

Best of luck this week! I’ll be shooting to start 3-0! How about you?

Overs and Unders in Green Bay

Has Corey Linsley really outperformed David Bakhtiari? Maybe not, but he's still been quite solid.

Has Corey Linsley really outperformed David Bakhtiari? Maybe not, but he’s still been quite solid.

By Jon Meerdink

Ebbs and flows in player performance are a natural part of every season, but eventually they start to become trends. Sooner or later, those trends become habits, and once those habits are formed, they’re hard to break. Just two weeks into the season, it’s hard to see any trends forming, much less if any of those trends are becoming habits, but there are a few players who have already begun to separate themselves from the pack – for good and bad reason.

Here’s a quick look at some of the guys who have overachieved so far…and some of their more negative counterparts.

Overachiever – Corey Linsley

When Linsley became the Packers’ starting center by default just two weeks before the start of the season, it was fair to wonder if he’d really perform. But not only has he performed, he’s been remarkably solid, allowing just two pressures in the first two games. Of the starting offensive linemen, only Josh Sitton has done better than that, and he’s playing at an All-Pro level through the first two games. Linsley has been a very, very pleasant surprise, and at this point, it would be a shock of J.C. Tretter got his job back.

Underachiever – David Bakhtiari

I don’t want to say that Bakhtiari has regressed in his second season, but he certainly isn’t a dominant force on the left side by any stretch of the imagination. His pass blocking is okay (ranking 19th in the league among tackles in pass blocking efficiency, Pro Football Focus’s combined measurement of QB hurries, hits, and sacks), but his run blocking has been a disappointment. That’s not to say that the running game as a whole hasn’t been disappointing, because it has, but Bakhtiari hasn’t done much to alleviate that disappointment. He’s currently the 66th ranked tackle in the league based on run blocking alone. That puts him below the starting two tackles of every team in the league.

Overachiever – Jordy Nelson

This is obvious, but Nelson has been so good, it’s impossible to not devote a little time to him here. PFF ranks Nelson as the best wide receiver in the league through the first two games, and while some of that might have to do with the fact that he’s been thrown to more than any other receiver in the league, he’s also just playing incredibly well. Only Andre Johnson creates more yards every time he’s on the field than Jordy Nelson, and he’s run fewer than half as many routes as Nelson so far this year. Jordy Nelson has been dominant, plain and simple.

Underachiever – Jarrett Boykin

The Packers may have drafted Davante Adams to be their number three receiver of the future, but Jarrett Boykin was given every possible opportunity to be the number three receiver of the present. There was no inclination that Adams had any shot at unseating him until Boykin’s bad, bad drop on Sunday. After getting erased by Richard Sherman (whether by design or otherwise), Boykin figured to bounce back against a softer secondary this week, but he didn’t. Though I dislike the expression, he’s been “just a guy” through two games. I thought we’d see more.

Overachiever – Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels is stopping the run better than every 3-4 defensive end in the league, except one: Calais Campbell. For sake of comparison, Calais Campbell is 6-8 and weighs 300 pounds. Mike Daniels is 6-0 and weighs 305 pounds. Calais Campbell is a giant. Mike Daniels is a giant who was cut off just below the knee.

The point is, he’s been excellent. He gets moved around from time to time, but his effort is outstanding and he makes full use of the leverage he gains by just being smaller than people. It’s hard to be the low man in a blocking situation if the guy you’re blocking is lower than you to begin with.

Oh, and for good measure, he’s ranking a not-too-shabby sixth in the league rushing the passer among 3-4 ends…just ahead of Calais Campbell.

Underachiever – Datone Jones

Typically, Packer Perspective tries not to be overly negative when discussing players. Football is fun and negativity is not. However, Datone Jones has been utterly anonymous on the football field so far this year. It’s not necessarily that he’s been bad, but he’s just not that good. He doesn’t really stop the run, he doesn’t put much pressure on the quarterback, he doesn’t create turnovers, and he’s not someone the offense ever has to gameplan for. But he’s still a former first round pick, and given his lack of production, he’s the perfect example of an underachiever.

Overachiever – Davon House

Mike McCarthy raved about Davon House in training camp, saying the fourth year corner was having far and away his best year. House has backed that up on the field, ranking as the Packers’ third best cover man according to PFF’s numbers. He’s been thrown at three times, allowing just one reception. House’s physical attributes have always been excellent, and now he’s finally making use of some of his potential.

Underachiever – Casey Hayward

The same can’t be said for Casey Hayward, who was pulled from Sunday’s game after his hamstrings apparently tightened up. Like House in Week 1, Hayward didn’t log a single defensive snap on Sunday. Mike McCarthy has always said that one of the key attributes he looks for in a player is availability, and Hayward seems to be available less and less often. His ball-hawking rookie year is looking farther and farther away.

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Fantasy Rewind: Week 2

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Aaron Rodgers soared over the rest of the league, scoring more fantasy points than anyone else in Week 2.

By Jordan Huenink

A crazy Week 2 is in the books. The Pack finishes with a comeback win, and so does my fantasy team! (Thanks, Andrew Luck!)  But before we dive into the studs and duds from this past week, let’s see how my predictions fared. Gulp…

HITS: I predicted Aaron Rodgers to score in the mid-20s on Sunday. He finished with 28.6 in ESPN standard leagues. I also said that Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson would have huge games as well. They scored 18.5 and 26.9 respectively. The passing game hit their stride in the second half on Sunday. Looking forward to more explosive weeks out of this combo.

MISSES: I recommended starting Eddie Lacy if he cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol. He had a rough day against the Jets front four, and finished with only 6 fantasy points. I saw Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell repeating his Week 1 25.7 point performance on Thursday night against Baltimore – he only came out with 10.7 points. The Dallas defense surprisingly held Jake Locker (10.1) and Kendall Wright (3.1) in check, thwarting my big prediction for them this week. I recommended benching Zac Stacy with his decreased workload, but the unpredictable running back found the endzone against Tampa Bay, finishing with 11.1 points despite a fumble.

Who would have thought that the NFL was unpredictable? Hopefully I’ll do better with my predictions on Thursday! Make sure to check back then to see who I’d start or sit for Week 3.

Stud of the Week: Aaron Rodgers was the highest-scoring offensive player in Week 2. Despite losing a fumble on the first snap of the game, Rodgers bounced back nicely for fantasy owners to throw for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

Duds of the Week: The injury bug struck many fantasy teams hard this week. Players like Robert Griffin III (dislocated ankle), Jamaal Charles (ankle), DeSean Jackson (shoulder), Knowshon Moreno (dislocated elbow) and A.J. Green (toe) all left their games early with various injuries, leaving only minimal points behind. If you own any of these players, make sure to monitor their activity during the week.

Surprise of the Week: After getting trounced by the Dolphins in Week 1, many people had written off the Patriots defense for Week 2 against a potentially explosive Vikings team who dropped 34 points on the Rams in Week 1. But without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings looked miserable against a re-energized New England defense. A blocked field goal return of a touchdown along with four interceptions and six sacks translated into 29.9 fantasy points for Bill Belichick’s crew in Week 2.

Honorable Mention: Kirk Cousins stepped up in a big way when RG3 went down in their contest against the Jaguars. Cousins threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns in their 41-10 boat racing of Jacksonville, finding new targets Ryan Grant, Andre Roberts and Niles Paul for big yardage. If DeSean Jackson and tight end Jordan Reed are out for an extended period of time, Paul and Roberts may be sneaky sleeper targets in your league if you are lacking in those areas.

I hope your team fared as well as mine this week! I’m currently 2-0 in my league and looking strong! I’ll be back on Thursday will a preview of Week 2. In the meantime, best of luck on the waiver wire!

 

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Big Bounce Back – Packers: 31 Jets: 24

jordy nelson

Can’t catch me! I’m Jordy Nelson.

By Jon Meerdink

I really want to be extraordinarily excited about this win, but the first quarter and a half still bothers me. The Jets came into Lambeau Field and looked like they were going to run the Packers right back into the locker room. They were bigger, faster, and just better than the guys wearing Green and Gold, and they knew it, too.

Then the switch flipped, Aaron Rodgers became Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson turned into a superhero, and the Packers stuffed the stat sheet all the way to a win. Yes, it was a satisfying win, but it’s not one without a few questions.

Which offense is the real Packers offense? The one who went missing for the first six quarters of the season, or the one who piled up offense in the second half of this week’s win?

Is there a defense hiding somewhere in Lambeau Field? It looked like it at times this week, but other times it looked like Geno Smith was throwing against air.

Who is Dom Capers and why does everyone on Twitter want him fired? I know there used to be a defensive coach by that name, but I thought the defensive guys have just been coaching themselves the last couple years.

Does 1-1 feel better than 0-2, even if the one win was pretty ugly at times? I can answer that one: it’s a yes, for sure.

Three Packers

Jordy Nelson (9 catches, 209 yards, 1 TD) – Could it be anyone else? Saying Nelson was terrific doesn’t begin to encapsulate the awesomeness of his performance. This was only the fifth 200 yard receiving game in Packers history, ranking only behind Don Beebe‘s 11 catch, 220 yard performance during the 1996 Super Bowl season. Typically, finishing behind Don Beebe in something wouldn’t be that exciting, but in this instance, I think it’s okay.

Mike Daniels (5 tackles, 1 sack) – The vocal leader of the Packers’ defense, Daniels played like he talks: loud. He had one sack, a couple nice stops, and his hit on Geno Smith led to an interception by Tramon Williams. More of this, please.

Mason Crosby (3/3 field goals, long of 55) – I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past where some people may have called for Mason Crosby to be replaced. Those people are hard to find now, because since dispatching Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez in training camp last year, Crosby has been kicking the heck out of the ball. With four successful field goals this season, Crosby has now made 37 of his last 41 field goal attempts dating back to last year. That’ll do.

Three Numbers

3.6 – yards gained per carry on the Packers’ 22 rushing attempts – I commend the Packers for sticking with the run as much as they did, but man, there was just not a lot to be had on the ground. The Jets are going to cause a lot of headaches this year if their defense can avoid brain farts like the ones that plagued them in the second half against the Packers.

8.2 – yards per pass by Aaron Rodgers – That’s an improvement of 2.5 yards over last week. Sure, an 80 yard completion helps those numbers a bit, but even without Nelson’s monster catch and run, Rodgers would still have been more than half a yard better than he was against the Seahawks.

65 – rushing yards, on 25 attempts, for Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson – The Chrisses rampaged over the Raiders last week, but the Packers kept them in check. The Jets had success early with read-option looks, but forgot about them as the game went on. Why? We’ll never know, but Johnson and Ivory stayed bottled up.

Three Bad

Derek, Derek, Derek – It’s tough to be Derek Sherrod. First you can’t beat out Marshall Newhouse as a rookie. Then you’re on ice for two years after your leg gets horribly broken through no fault of your now. Now you’re expected to fill-in not only for Bryan Bulaga, but for his popular and talented backup, Don Barclay. Sherrod was rough early, but smoothed out a little as the game went on. Hopefully, he manages to capture something close to his potential, because I’m not sure there’s anyone else out there who can come to the rescue at this point.

Cobb Creativity – While Percy Harvin runs jet sweeps with the Seahawks and Cordarrelle Patterson becomes an offense unto himself in Minnesota, the best the Packers can do with Randall Cobb is pretend like he’s a tiny version of Eddie Lacy and line him up in the backfield. Here’s a guy who played three positions in college, but the coaches can’t find him anything interesting to do. He’s talented, but underutilized.

Bye, Bye, Boykin? – Were the coaches just waiting for an excuse, or was Jarret Boykin’s drop really that bad? I’d tend towards the former, because Davante Adams jumped into Boykin’s spot and never looked back. Five catches for 50 yards isn’t a Pro Bowl performance, but Adams managed more in one game of serious playing than Boykin did in two.

Three Good

Play like you mean it – The Packers looked  lackadaisical early on, especially on defense. That might actually be an understatement. They looked like they didn’t care to be out there in the least, which was good because they didn’t have to be out there long at all. Eventually they came around and decided they wanted to play, but there was a while where the defense didn’t look like they cared if the Jets scored in one play or 15. Seeing the attitude change was fun.

A pulse for Peppers – He had another sack taken away, but even without the statistical designation of success, Peppers looked a little better this week than last. I’d still like to see a truly dominant Julius Peppers, but maybe this is what he is at this point. A flash now and then is still better than what we’ve from Nick Perry, though. Maybe that’s all it takes to be the sidekick to Clay Matthews.

A win is a win – As I said up top, it’s better to be 1-1 than 0-2, no matter how ugly the win is. Huge credit to the Packers for hanging tough when things looked bleak in the first half. Whether or not they should ever have been there is a different matter, but we’ll take the win.

Up next – The Packers travel to Detroit for a noon date with the Lions.

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Been Here Before – Week 2 Preview

Aaron Rodgers and Company have work to do to get back on track at Lambeau.

Aaron Rodgers and Company have work to do to get back on track at Lambeau.

By Jon Meerdink

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Packers are in an 0-1 hole after Week 1. Really? You haven’t heard that one? That’s odd, because it happened last year. And the year before that. In fact, the Packers haven’t won their season opening game since 2011, when they beat New Orleans in a Thursday night shootout at Lambeau Field.

A slow start has become a bit of an unfortunate theme for the Packers, and it’s one they’ll have to reverse pretty quickly if they hope to climb out of the cellar and catch up to NFC North leaders…Detroit and Minnesota? Okay, yeah, maybe it is still early.

The Countdown

5 – Players who scored a PFF ranking of 1.6 or higher on the Jets defense – As I touched on briefly Monday, I’m not sure Pro Football Focus is the be all, end all when it comes to player evaluation, but five players at 1.6 or more is still a good day, even if it is against the Raiders. Muhammad Wilkerson (more on him later), Antonio Allen, Damon Harrison, Dawan Landry, and Calvin Pryor all had good days, and when you throw in Kyle Wilson (1.3) and Sheldon Richardson (1.0), suddenly everybody on the Jets defense is looking good. Oh, and the oft-maligned Jets secondary landed three people on that list, not even counting Dee Milliner, their best cornerback.

4 – Packers linemen who gave up a QB hurry last week. – Six Packers linemen played, and of those six, only Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang managed to keep pass rushers from getting at least bothering Aaron Rodgers. The situation at right tackles is already precarious, and the Packers can ill afford any shaky play from anybody else.

3 – Jets players with five catches in Week 1 – Geno Smith, as we’ve discussed, is no world beater at quarterback. However, his Week 1 stat line was solid (23/28, 221 yards, 1 TD), and he got a lot of guys involved. Seven players caught passes, and Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, and Jeremy Kerley all had relatively good days.

2 – Productive running backs in the Jets backfield – Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson (or “the Chrisses”, as nobody calls them) carved out productive careers in New Orleans and Tennessee, respectively, before teaming up in New York, and early returns on their partnership have been good. Ivory scampered for 102 yards on just 10 carries, while Johnson netted another 68 yards on 13 carries. As you may know, the Packers were all kinds of miserable against the run last week, so these two could be in line for another above average week.

1 – Sacks by the Packers in Week 1 – The highly touted Clay Matthews/Julius Peppers pass rushing duo extraordinaire was less exciting than promised in Week 1. They would have shared a sack were it not for a penalty by Brad Jones. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix nabbed Russell Wilson one time, but it barely counts as a sack to begin with. Wilson was at the line of scrimmage and didn’t lose any yards on the play. The Packers will have to do better this week if they hope to pressure Geno Smith into some mistakes.

Last time – Packers: 9 Jets: 0 – October 31, 2010

On Halloween four years ago, the Packers dressed up like a team with a good defense and shut down the Jets, securing the shutout en route to a Super Bowl championship. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but even as someone not given to hyperbole, it’s truly astonishing to imagine a Packers team shutting out an opponent. Aaron Rodgers was ordinary at best that day (15/34, 170 yards), John Kuhn ran the ball eight times, Ladainian Tomlinson was in uniform for the Jets, and the two teams combined for 15 punts. Truly a game to remember.

Meet a Jet – Muhammad Wilkerson – 6-4, 315 pounds – DE (4th NFL Season)

Wilkerson fits the exact profile of the kind of guy you’d want along your 3-4 front. He’s large and angry and also a very good pass rusher, clocking in at 9th best in the league in PFF’s rankings at his position. He’s credited with an excellent 10.5 sacks last year and has raised his sack total ever year he’s been in the league. If the Packers are shaky again up front, Wilkerson could be the guy reaping the benefits.

The Jets will win if…

…their ground and pound success carries over from Week 1. Neither Chris Ivory or Chris Johnson is Marshawn Lynch, but I don’t know if we can reasonably expect the Packers to really buckle down in just a week’s time. If the Jets can duplicate or closely approximate their performance from last week, it’ll be an uphill climb for the Packers to get back into the game. I think the Packers are capable of playing from behind, but we’ve seen enough late game collapses from the Packers’ defense to make me nervous about falling behind and needing a stop or two to get back into the game.

The Packers will win if…

…the Jets secondary can’t slow down the Packers aerial attack. 10 or 11 paragraphs ago, I praised the Jets’ secondary, but there’s no Richard Sherman on this team. The Packers will have the full field available to them, and guys like Jarrett Boykin and even Davante Adams will have an opportunity to work a little bit more freely. Options can only help the Packers.

The Pick – Packers: 24 Jets: 17

I think the Packers are the better team, but I think the Jets have the players to push on Green Bay’s weak spots. If they can pound the defense and pressure the passer when the Packers are on offense, there’s a chance the Jets could keep it close…or even win. But at their home opener with a week to lick their wounds, one would expect the Packers to come out firing. The Jets won’t go away easy, but the Packers will put them down on Sunday.

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Fantasy Football : Week 1 Wrap-Up & Week 2 Preview

Aaron Rodgers is happy to be facing the Jets at home after a rough Week 1 in Seattle.

Aaron Rodgers is happy to be facing the Jets at home after a rough Week 1 in Seattle.

By Jordan Huenink

Week 1 of the fantasy football season is in the books. We had some NFL elites put up some pretty measly numbers, and some no-namers blow the roof off. Before moving into my Stud, Dud and Surprise of the Week, let’s take a look at how the Packers fared from a fantasy standpoint.

Like I said last week, Seattle is a mighty fine defense. They wasted no time adding Aaron Rodgers to their list of elite quarterbacks who have struggled to efficiently move the ball against them. The Legion of Boom limited Rodgers to 189 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception on the night, which was good for only 9.4 fantasy points in ESPN standard leagues.

Eddie Lacy didn’t fare much better as he only managed 34 rushing yards and 4.5 fantasy points. He also left the game early after suffering a concussion after a rough hit from Seattle safety Cam Chancellor. Lacy’s night could have been salvaged with a touchdown, but John Kuhn got the first quarter, goal line call and punched in the short score to vulture points from Lacy. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into the norm for the season.

Despite Rodgers’ struggles passing, the receivers still managed decent fantasy nights. Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 83 yards (good for 8.3 points in non-PPR leagues), and Randall Cobb‘s late touchdown gave him a total of 11.8 points.

Stud of the Week: Matt Ryan absolutely obliterated the Saints defense on Sunday, throwing for 448 yards and 3 touchdowns for a total of 31.3 fantasy points. This is the elite play we expected to see out of Ryan last year, but an early injury to #1 receiver Julio Jones squashed his chances of a monster year. Looks like he’s poised for a huge 2014! (Thankfully, my Week 1 opponent had Ryan on his bench. Phew!)

Dud of the Week: Despite the Chiefs only having the ball for a total of 22 minutes against the shockingly impressive Titans defense, Jamaal Charles‘ 11 touches was still a surprisingly low number. To make things worse, those touches only translated to 3.4 fantasy points (19 yards rushing, 15 yards receiving). As a running back who was consistently drafted Top 3 in most fantasy drafts, these Week 1 numbers are insanely disappointing. While the team doesn’t have any easier of a task next week at Denver, Charles’ production should be much higher.

Surprise of the Week: With Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts sidelined by a hamstring injury, rookie Allen Hurns made a fantasy splash catching four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Unfortunately, those stats were wasted in virtually all leagues since Hurns was only owned in 0.5% of leagues at the time. With Shorts still questionable for Week 2, a pick-up of Hurns may not be a bad idea in deeper leagues if you’re lacking in the wide receiver department.

The Packers’ Week 2 matchup against the J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! at home looks juicy for fantasy owners. The Jets defense last year gave up an average of 261 yards and 1.6 TDs/game to opposing quarterbacks – good for 19 fantasy points per game. Add in the fact that 1) it’s the home opener at Lambeau and 2) Eddie Lacy could be sidelined or see limited action, and Rodgers’ numbers could reach the mid-20s. Be excited about him this week! This also translates well over to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – must starts!

Unless Lacy is cleared to play, I would probably stay away from playing any other Packer running backs this week. While their pass defense is middle-of-the-pack at best, the Jets have really built up a solid defensive line that hold opposing backs to only 72 yards per game in 2013. If he plays, Lacy will be running hard to make up for his performance in Week 1, but I don’t trust James Starks to shoulder the load at running back for my fantasy team this week.

As for the rest of the league, here are a few players I’m excited about this week:

1. Even though he’s on short rest with a Thursday night game, it’s hard to ignore and push aside the performance Le’Veon Bell had on Sunday against the Browns. Look for him to do more of the same against their rivals in Baltimore.

2. Quarterback Jake Locker looked fantastic in the new-look Titans offense on Sunday against the Chiefs. In Week 2, they travel home to Nashville to face the porous Dallas Cowboys. Look for both Locker and his #1 target Kendall Wright to light up the fantasy scoreboard.

3. If you think you can get trade value for him, I would advise to get rid of Zac Stacy! In Week 1 he already saw his offensive snaps down more than 35% to teammate Benny Cunningham. With a bad offensive line and potentially a third-string quarterback taking the reins Sunday at Tampa Bay, I’m not sure I’d play Stacy this week if I had the depth.

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What to Know About Geno

With any luck, Geno Smith will be making this face a lot on Sunday.

With any luck, Geno Smith will be making this face a lot on Sunday.

By Jon Meerdink

Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft, only three started a game last year: E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, and Mike Glennon. With Josh McCown installed as the starter (for now) in Tampa, leaving only Manuel and Smith as the returning starters for their teams. The Packers will see Manuel in Buffalo on December 14th, but they get Smith and his New York Jets this week. Here’s what you need to know.

Eugene Cyril Smith III (I’d probably go by Geno, too) played in 44 games with the West Virginia Mountaineers in college, starting every game from his sophomore year on and racking up nearly 12,000 passing yards and 98 touchdowns. Billed as solid (but unspectacular), Smith was knocked a bit for his spread offense background in college. Scouts worried a bit about his accuracy from a traditional dropback, and in large part those fears were realized last year: he only completed about 56% of his passes on the season.

Smith was also eviscerated by serial pot-stirrer Nolan Nawrocki, formerly of Pro Football Weekly, who declared Smith was “not a student of the game,” “does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire,” is “not committed or focused” and “cannot handle hard coaching” among other things. Of course, exactly zero of those claims were independently verifiable outside of those ever-present “anonymous sources,” but Nawrocki cannon-balled into the spotlight as he seems to do every single year around draft time. A cynical person would wonder if Nawrocki just enjoys feeling the hate from everyone, but we’re here to talk about Geno Smith.

The scouts without an axe to grind pegged Smith as a possible first round pick, likely slated to come off the board in the 20’s. CBS ranked him as their number one quarterback, but also had him going 21st overall, which says as much about the weak quarterback class as it did for Smith’s chances in the NFL.

Smith has good arm strength and is an excellent athlete. I think you could compare him (athletically) to a slightly faster Aaron Rodgers, right down to the unique ability to be a good runner without being a scrambling quarterback. Like Rodgers, Smith has the speed to make plays with his feet, but he knows how to use it. He doesn’t rely on his athleticism. It’s just a tool in his arsenal.

Like just about every young quarterback, though, there are flaws in his game. Smith has had problems with pressure dating back to his college days, and dealing with the blitz was one of his main bugaboos in 2013. Smith was pressured on 217 of his 517 dropbacks in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. On those “pressured” dropbacks, he was abysmal, piling up a passer rating of just 42.6, or a PFF rating of -15.0. For comparison’s sake, fellow rookie E.J. Manuel was pressured on 114 of his 358 dropbacks, and he managed a passer rating of 60.6 and a PFF rating of -9.9. Still not stellar, but miles ahead of Smith.

However, it’s important to note that while Manuel’s numbers against pressure were better, Smith’s overall numbers improved as the season went on. He finished in the green in his last two starts, according to Pro Football Focus, posting a much-improved  71.1 passer rating and a .7 PFF rating against Cleveland in Week 16, and an even better 77.1 passer rating/ 1.5 PFF rating against Miami in Week 17. Smith can get it done.

That said, the Packers’ ultimate solution for success against Smith will be pressure, and that’s one of the areas they struggled mightily against Seattle. Only Josh Boyd and Nick Perry graded out on the positive end last week, and although the secondary was mostly solid, the Packers will need to be much better this week to make Smith pay. Without a pass rush to bother him, even Geno Smith might be a headache for the Packers.

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Finding the Positive

josh sitton packers

Josh Sitton was one of the lone bright spots for the Packers.

By Jon Meerdink

As close as it was to a total washout, the Packers managed to escape at least a few positives. Four Packers left Century Link Field with positive grades from the guys at Pro Football Focus, and a deeper look at the numbers shows there could be a reason for hope at Lambeau Field. Or, that’s what I’m telling myself, at least.

By the PFF metrics, Josh Sitton was the highest performing Packer on Thursday, finishing with an overall grade of 4.4. In context, if he were to maintain that pace, he would more than double his cumulative grade from all of 2013, when he was the second rated guard in the entire NFL. He was the only lineman to grade out positively in pass protection, and beat the next highest graded run blocker by six tenths of a point.

That next highest graded run blocker was rookie center Corey Linsley. With J.C. Tretter on short-term injured reserve, Linsley has no competition for the center spot, and if he keeps playing like this, he may never have to compete for the job again. In the harshest of environments, against the most tenacious of defenses, Linsley performed admirably. He graded out positively in run blocking, and while his pass blocking didn’t blow anybody away, he didn’t have any major gaffes either.

Defensively, as you might expect, there’s not a lot to get excited about, but two players did have relatively good nights. Sam Shields, owner of a rich new contract, earned his money on Thursday. Shields was to blame on the option-pass touchdown from Russell Wilson to Ricardo Lockette, but allowed just one other catch on the night. He finished with an overall grade of 3.2, the best on the defense.

Mike Daniels also got a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, although this could be a situation where you may want to take their numbers with a small grain of salt. Daniels was knocked for his pass rush on Thursday, but PFF gave him a 3.7 grade in run defense, the highest individual grade given to players on either team. But the Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn, who uses his own rating system, crushed Daniels for his run defense. To wit:

Mike Daniels (46 snaps) might have played his poorest game as a Packer. Given his leverage, strength and intensity, the Packers expected Daniels to overcome being just a shade over 6 feet and stop the run. Daniels did resist the run last year in the 3-4, just not on a regular basis. Matched against one of the NFL’s more massive guards in James Carpenter, Daniels was consistently covered up and displaced.

In a nutshell, that’s the exact reason why you don’t want to trust any one source for your analysis (other than Packer Perspective, of course). It’s possible for two people to view one play and come to starkly different conclusions. PFF claims to be objective, but they strive to evaluate player performance independently of play design. McGinn, with his network of professional talent evaluators, does exactly the opposite. Who do you trust?

Yourself. You trust yourself. Watch the games, make notes, and compare them to what you’ve seen yourself. Then watch the games again. Does the evaluation still make sense? If so, why? If not, why not? Always be asking questions, and hopefully you’ll never be led astray.

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Disasterpiece – Seahawks: 36 Packers: 16

Too much this. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

Too much this. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

By Jon Meerdink

That was something.

No need for a F*** M*** here. The Seahawks picked up right where they left off in the Super Bowl, dominating every phase of the game. Honestly, I can’t think of a single area where the Packers were better than the Seahawks. There was just nothing there.

There are so many things to consider as this game fades to the rearview mirror. The defense was atrocious…but still got penetration. The offense wasn’t much better…but still showed it could move the ball with ease at times. The special teams…well, they didn’t turn the ball over. Seattle can’t say that! Yes! There it is! There’s the area where the Packers won!

Three Numbers

207 – Rushing yards by the Seahawks. Passing yards will happen, but the Seahawks’ running game sliced and diced the Packers with amazing efficiency on Thursday. It just wasn’t even close. Remember how the Packers wanted to be young and fast on the defensive line? Seattle is just fine with that. They manhandled the Packers’ front, and even when they didn’t the Packers couldn’t make plays in the backfield. I think the days of Mike Pennel sitting inactive on the sideline might be numbered.

8 – Penalties, for 65 yards, by the Packers. Without looking at the play-by-play analysis, I can think of three penalties that were hugely costly: Mike Daniels running into the punter, Julius Peppers jumping offsides, and Brad Jones stepping onto the field. Daniels’ penalty led to the Seahawks first points. Peppers’ penalty changed Seattle’s down and distance from a 3rd-and-10 to a 2nd-and-5, which they easily converted, going on to score just a few plays later. Brad Jones just got worked again and again, and extended Seattle’s drives with penalties on at least two occasions.

0 – Seattle players with more than 60 receiving yards. – There wasn’t one person who beat the Packers through the air, but they came up with a few timely receptions. Zach Miller‘s third down catch over Clay Matthews comes to mind, and Ricardo Lockette executed the read-option pass to perfection en route to his 33 yard touchdown. But by and large, the Seahawks just found the right spot rather than purely dominating through the air. The execution was impressive.

Three Good

Bryan Bulaga isn’t dead – His injury is described as a knee sprain, which could be a big break for the Packers. He may not be a top-flight guy, but he’s certainly better than Derek Sherrod. Having him back sooner rather than later is a huge plus.

James Starks picks up where he left off – In small doses, Starks continues to be the slashing, galloping back we saw in the 2010 Super Bowl run. He had 37 yards on just seven carries and picked up 11 yards on a couple catches. Not a bad night for Starks.

Nine catches for Jordy – Yes, the drop that led to the interception was huge, but he still managed to navigate through the secondary for nine catches. He never tested Richard Sherman, but honestly, so what? If the Seahawks want to leave their best defender on one half of the field, that’s fine. He can sit and cover Jarrett Bush if he wants.

Three Bad

Derek Sherrod – While Bulaga’s injury isn’t described as serious, Thursday’s situation had to more or less encapsulate the Packers’ greatest fears in their life after Don Barclay. Derek Sherrod entered the game and immediately showed why a his two-year recovery from his broken leg really didn’t make much of a difference anyway. He got out-quicked by speed rushers…and then those same undersized speed rushers proceeded to push him around. He had no leverage, no hip bend, and no awareness at all. He lunged and shoved instead of anchoring and punching. It was bad, and it’s hard to imagine the Packers going into next week with Sherrod starting.

Brad Jones – I recently jumped on the Pro Football Focus bandwagon. I figure their scouting, flawed though it may be, is at least some kind of standard system. Well, as soon as he money leave my account on that transaction, Brad Jones happened. Why does that matter? Well, this article strikes me as funny in light of Thursday’s game. Yes, Pro Football Focus declared Brad Jones a secret superstar leading into last season. Describing the Jones/A.J. Hawk/Desmond Bishop inside linebacker triumvirate, PFF writes ” All three have their own weaknesses, with Jones’ being that he missed too many tackles. If he can cut down on those he could put himself among the best inside linebackers in the league.”

Yep. Brad Jones. One of the best linebackers in the league. He finished as the 28th best inside linebacker in football in PFF’s own rankings.

The Narrative – OH MY THE UNSTOPPABLE SEAHAWKS DOMINATED AGAIN. I can hear the dynasty buzz starting in Bristol right now. I can hear the 12th Man cutting the tags off their jerseys, breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to convince the store to take them back, even if they’ve still got the tag and receipt. I can feel the tidal wave of tweets building, declaring the Seahawks an unstoppable juggernaut.

And you know what? The worst part is, they might be right.

Up Next – A 3:25 date with the Jets at Lambeau Field

 

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