It's Packer Playoff Week in these parts, and these two teams know each other very well. You might think we might not have five good questions to ask at this point, but the artist formerly known as Pack Apologist, Devin Shanley, agreed to do another 5 segment with me for the Wild Card playoff.
An interesting bit of trivia: When Pack Apologist changed his account name to his real name on SB Nation, he changed his real name to Pack Apologist in real life.*
*Might not be true. Probably not true. Not true. Allegedly. He does have his basement wallpapered with Packers stock though.**
**Most certainly not true. At $350 a sheet, that would be expensive.
Anyway, thanks to Devin and the folks over at APC for another good exchange of info.
1. Aaron Rodgers had a great game Sunday in the Metrodome, has torched the the Vikings throughout his career, is a Super Bowl champion thanks to an epic run in 2010, yet...he's never won a playoff game at Lambeau. Last year as the #1 seed the 15-1 Pack got bounced by a 9-7 Giants team, and Rodgers struggled--he wasn't as accurate as he normally is (26/46 passing, 5.2 ypa) and turned the ball over twice. Everyone talks about the weather affecting the Vikings, but how will the cold weather affect the Green Bay passing game, and is that something that concerns you?
It doesn't concern me that much. Back in 2010 people would put out some similar chatter that Rodgers did not win a playoff game yet, even though he had only played in one playoff game and played pretty well in that game. Right now he's only had one home playoff game. He was off in the game, but so was everyone on the team that day, for example there were more drops than you could shake a stick at in that game. Meanwhile, Rodgers has won in cold weather environments during the playoffs, the best example winning the NFC Championship game in Chicago. He also has played well at Lambeau late in the season in cold weather games as well....so it's not quite that much of a big deal.
2. The Packers have been a running back by committee this year, but more by choice than design, due to injuries. On Sunday, DuJuan Harris ran for 70 yards on only 14 carries. Was this expected, and do you see him taking over the lion's share of the carries from Ryan Grant Saturday night? And how much of a run/pass balance do you expect to see--what we saw Sunday, or something different?
Funny story about DuJuan Harris. During the week leading up to the Lions game I came across some mentions of Harris by Rodgers and McCarthy. They quickly noted how impressed they were and how they thought he was going to be a factor down the line. I mentally wrote it off as the two of them being a bit of a stramp tramp again, but filed it away as something to write about the following week. I then went to that game and saw Harris breakout with a solid performance and start to become the buzz of Packer Nation. So while fans in the stands that day were wondering "Who the hell is this Harris guy?" I was just kicking myself for sitting on that particular thought.
Moral of the story is that what we have seen out of Harris has been fairly expected. He came to the Packers during the season and his role has increased as he becomes more familiar with the playbook. He's also a bit different from our other running backs both physically (being shorter and quicker) and mentally (he seems to run a bit tougher than Grant or Alex Green).
As for the run/pass balance, I was going to touch on this with the previous question but thought it would be a better fit here. The only real concern I have with the Packers offense in the cold is the balance with the run/pass game. If the Packers can keep what they had going last week in the run game then they should be fine. It could even be a bit less really with the Packers only needing about a 4.0 YPC mark to really get the offense humming. If they can't, or if they try to just throw the ball all the time then there are going to be problems....especially with the edge pass rush of the Vikings.
As it stands right now I'm not too worried about that. For all the bad press that they get the Packers offensive line really has come a long way since early in the season and the running game has dramatically improved since its low point about midseason. As long as McCarthy and company don't forget about the run they should be fine.
3. Charles Woodson and Randall Cobb are expected to play Saturday. How effective do you expect them to be? Cobb was out with an ankle issue, I believe it was, and Woodson has missed several weeks with a broken collarbone. How rusty do you think Woodson will be with a long layoff, and will he play corner or safety?
I'm not worried about Cobb at all. He only missed one week and I think they were mostly being cautious with that particular injury. Woodson is the more interesting issue at this point. There is bound to be some rust there. The luxury for the Packers is that there is a pretty deep secondary to fall back on. This means that Woodson's role is probably going to be a bit different than before he was hurt....much more safety and much less slot corner. As long as he is not blowing his zone assignments and able to effectively tackle then he should be fine and an improvement over M.D. Jennings....who struggled again last Sunday.
4. In the lead up to last week's game, I read a lot of stories about how Green Bay was prepared for Adrian Peterson, and I think it was B.J. Raji (but might have been Ryan Pickett of THE Ohio State University, ahem) who said the defense went to somebody's house every night for extra film study, and they felt confident in stopping him. Given Peterson's performance in two games this year, how demoralizing was that for the Packers, and is there anything different the Packers are going to try this week?
Yes and no. I was reading today over at ESPN's NFC North blog about some of the Packer reactions to AP's performance. Lots of nothings about gap integrity and the like, nothing earth shattering, but in the piece was some interesting information that seemed to jive with my gut reaction as I was watching the game. There was a significant difference between AP's ability to move the ball on the outside than between the tackles.
For the most part I would chalk this up to a talent problem for the Packers. Clay Matthews was rocked on the last play, but I thought he did alright overall. The real problem is that Erik Walden is basically useless on the other side of the ball and after the injury to Nick Perry there is not a good option to bench him should he continue to struggle.
5. Green Bay's defense was much improved in 2012, but I saw a lot of bad tackling, mental breakdowns in the secondary (thanks for the hands to the face penalty Tramon, woot woot), and mediocre linebacker play (which made me happy and sad, because I'm still a big AJ Hawk fan). Even Clay Matthews was fairly quiet Sunday, with only an early sack and not much else. Uh, what happened, and has the defense been trending down in recent weeks, or are you satisfied that this was just one of those days where a good unit has a bad game?
With some guys- like Matthews, Williams, and Casey Hayward - I think it was just a bad game and I'm not worried. Games like that happen and the Packers were still in it despite those struggles. With some guys though there is a bigger concern. Guys like Erik Walden have shown they just can't be counted on down in and down out. Walden can play pretty good for stretches, be okay for stretches, and just be awful for stretches. Hawk is another guy who fits this bill. I'm not as down on him as many, but he can disappear for a time and has not consistently struggled to get off the blocks of Viking players this year....that's concerning.
Perhaps most concerning to me was the fact that Dom Capers held off the dogs this past game. That has now become a pattern of his when playing games in the Dome. The best example I can point to was during the last drive on third and long and he sent only three pass rushers. Ponder is a quarterback that you have to hit and you have to pressure, and for some reason he did not unleash the improved pass rush like was willing to during Week 13. Now there are countless explanations for why this was done, but in the end he did what he did, Hayward was too shallow in coverage, and the pass was complete. Hopefully this week Capers unleashes the hounds a bit more and really tests the Vikings' offensive line...especially the right side of the line and Phil Loadholt who seemed to struggle last week.
Thanks to Devin and the folks over at APC. Here's to another great game in a great rivalry Saturday night.