Jason Hirschhorn is a pretty good dude, but the one drawback that would prevent him from becoming anyone's BFF on this site is his loyalty to That Team We Hate The Most, the Green Bay Packers. Still, that one fatal character flaw aside, he's a guy you'd like to have a beer with, as long as it's not that inferior Milwaukee product.
Leinenkugel's is good, can we agree on that? Either way, Jason is also one of the head cheeses...cheeses, get it???...over at Acme Packing Company, the SB Nation Green Bay site, and he was kind enough to venture into the heart of enemy territory and answer our questions leading up to Sunday's clash.
So give Jason a hearty SKOL, remember your manners in the comments, and enjoy.
After a 6-0 start, the Packers have stumbled, losing their last three. There have been several theories thrown around as to why the Packers are on a three game losing streak for the first time since 2008--maybe losing Jordy Nelson was a bigger deal than originally thought, maybe Aaron Rodgers is hurt, maybe the playcalling isn't what it should be. So, what is it? Is it one of those three issues, a combination of those, or something else entirely?
Certainly, the absence of Jordy Nelson has impacted the offense, as has the regression of Eddie Lacy. Still, the best answer I can give you is Aaron Rodgers doesn't seem in sync with the rest of the offense. When in the pocket, Rodgers looks far less comfortable than he has at any time I can remember, and he seems to miss receivers more often than ever. These are execution errors, and there's only so much we can say about them before devolving into baseless speculation. What matters is that the unit simply isn't moving the ball as well as it did the first three weeks of the season.
At the same time, the offense's struggles can't last forever. Quarterbacks of Rodgers' caliber don't simply lose it during their prime, and at some point he will break out of his funk. Whether that happens this week against a good Vikings team is another matter.
There's no shame in losing to Denver and Carolina on the road. They are two of the top teams in the NFL this year, and if Green Bay gets those teams at home, the outcome might be different. But man, losing to Detroit, at home...that's just something that isn't supposed to happen to the Packers. And hadn't, actually, since 1991. Was it just 'one of those days', or do the things you talked about above mean the Packers are in real trouble right now?
I don't think you can write off the loss against the Lions as an isolated event. After the three-week stretch the Packers have endured, one has to think the Packers are stuck in a legitimate quagmire. Besides the offensive issues, the defense has struggled to generate pressure on the quarterback after excelling in that area for much of the season. A team can sometimes survive one of its two units breaking down, but not both at once. Yet, that's precisely where Green Bay finds itself entering Week 11.
Accordingly, the Packers have little margin for error if they plan on getting back into the conversation for the Super Bowl. A loss to Minnesota not only puts them effectively three games behind the division lead, but it puts them on their backs just before a short week and a game against the suddenly decent Bears. As such, Sunday's game may be the most important matchup left on the schedule.
You mentioned Aaron Rodgers above. For a guy that is truly one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, he's having kind of a down year, at least for him. The Packers are only 22nd in passing yards, but his TD:Int ratio is still ridiculous. He seems to get rattled in the pocket more than in past seasons, and his throws aren't always the accurate lasers we have become accustomed to. Have teams found out a way to throw him off his game by pressuring him and keeping him in the pocket, or is this just a blip on the radar?
The offensive line hasn't done as strong a job keeping the pocket clean compared to previous years, but Rodgers seems uncomfortable even when the defense isn't within reach. He has taken more hits this season, so perhaps he has grown more tentative as a result. Too often, Rodgers hesitates to make a quick throw and then finds himself without a viable second option and has to awkwardly dance around the pocket in hopes that something changes.
That sort of situation develops over the course of weeks, and may take just as long to fix. That isn't the type of offense the Packers can expect to work against good opponents, and unsurprisingly it hasn't.
When Eddie Lacy was drafted back in 2013, it looked like Green Bay finally had a running attack to match their passing game. In Lacy's first two years, that was true, as he ran for over 1,100 yards in 2013-14 and had 20 rushing TD's his first two seasons. But Lacy was recently benched in favor of James Starks, and to be honest, neither one of these guys has set the world on fire so far. Is this a line issue, has Lacy regressed, or is it something else? And will running back be something Green Bay might address in the draft?
The offensive line and Lacy both deserve some blame for how the ground game has regressed. The Packers haven't opened up many holes for their backs to run through, and that certainly has a significant negative impact on the performance of the tailbacks. Still, when Lacy has the ball, he doesn't seem to make quick decisions nor does he move the pile. Those in Green Bay claim the issue has nothing to do with his conditioning, but that's becoming a harder idea to swallow. Lacy has never played at the 230 pounds the team lists him at, but he probably hasn't been heavier at any time during his NFL career. Jerome Bettis may have played effectively at weights in excess of 250 pounds, but he's the rare exception. Given that Lacy becomes eligible for an extension after this season, it's surprising to see him not take better care of himself.
As for whether Green Bay would consider addressing running back in the upcoming draft, they probably have to consider it. However, that has as much to do with James Starks hitting free agency and Lacy one year from his contract expiring than it does with the latter's struggles in 2015.
This rivalry has sucked, from Minnesota's point of view, over the last 11 games. The Vikings have only one win and one tie since the 2009 Zombie Favre sweep, but that's because, for the most part, the Vikings have been a bad football team. That seems to be changing under Mike Zimmer, and this is the first time in awhile I have a reasonable expectation that the Vikings can win this game and it not be a fluke. How worried are you about the Vikings over the course of the next several years in general, and this game in particular? Are Green Bay's days numbered as the defacto ruler of the NFC North, or is their spot atop the division secure for the next several years?
As it pertains to Sunday's game, I don't have a strong inclination about which team emerges victorious. The Packers have performed poorly of late, but they tend to get up for divisional foes. At the same time, this is a Vikings team playing good football, but could slip following its signature win thus far in 2015. Regardless, the fact that this game is a tossup after the stretch of dominance Green Bay enjoyed since 2009 is a telling statement about the state of the rivalry.
Ignoring the malaise the Packers find themselves heading into this particular game, it does seem like their time as the unchallenged kings of the NFC North has come to a close. If Mike Zimmer isn't the best coach in the division, he's a close second, and the Vikings' have an abundance of young talent on the roster that should continue to mature in the coming years. If you thought the Vikings were title contenders entering the season as I did, then you have to be encouraged by what the team has done thus far in 2015. They look like the best young team in the NFC with a bright future ahead.
Thanks to Jason and the folks over at APC for taking time out to answer our questions. Here's to a hard fought, injury free game on Sunday.