How can the Rams possibly beat the Green Bay Packers? All but one of ESPN's dozen NFL leads and both of their computo-robot football fans picked the Packers, so there's no way the Rams could pull off the upset right? Is life just one big discount double-check commercial?
I linked up with Kevin McCauley of Acme Packing Company to get some info from the Green Bay side of things.
Green Bay is one of the most confusing NFL teams to me. Unlike the others, I expected the Packers to be much better than most of the league. Is that still true? Probably. But looking at the Seattle and Indianapolis losses, I can't help but wonder what really happened. How do you explain a 3-3 record? To put that in perspective, that's the same record as the Rams. In other words, a team that went 15-1 last year has the same record six weeks in as a team that went 2-14. I recognize that strips all the context out of the situation. But as a Packers fan, how do you describe the road traveled thus far?
I describe the Packers and Rams records as cases of small sample size not indicating how good each team is. It's very easy for a couple of bad series to turn a football game into a trainwreck, and it's easy for one big play to flip the momentum of a game. Upsets happen all the time in the NFL because it's just the nature of the sport.
Having said that, the Packers have certainly underperformed this season. A lot of fans think it's a case of playing down to the level of their opponents. They were in the San Francisco game until the very end, and thoroughly outplayed the Bears and Texans, who are probably two of the ten best teams in the league. Of course, there's no excuse for the Packers to have three losses right now. For a team as good as the Packers to play as poorly as they did in the first half against Seattle and in the second half against Indy, a combination of factors has to be at play. There's no one thing to pinpoint.
How much of a concern is the offensive line? Football Outsiders ranks the Pack's line 24th in Adjusted Line Yards, a rushing metric, and 30th in Adjusted Sack Rate as their passing gauge. Is that fair? Is the O-line the weak point of your offense?
The offensive line was very poor until the Texans game, when they really stepped up. J.J. Watt had two sacks, but one of the two was a coverage sack, and the Texans' pass rush was ineffective outside of the one very good sack that Watt had in the first half. The offensive line shouldn't be a serious weakness, but it has been. Bryan Bulaga played at a Pro Bowl level last season, but he's been the team's weak link this year. T.J. Lang appears to have regressed as well, while Jeff Saturday is showing his age. There's no doubt that the line has played poorly and Football Outsiders' stats are an accurate reflection of how they've played thus far, but I have a hard time believing that they're actually this bad.
>Moving over to defense, how does the front seven look? I know that injuries are forcing some substitutions, but is the front seven (beyond Clay Matthews' pass rushing skills) reliable? I, for one, was surprised at the GB draft class. Has the early trio of Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels provided anything of merit in year one?
The front seven has been much better than last year. Worthy, Perry and Daniels all look good for rookies and have provided a serious boost. Ryan Pickett also did a great job filling in for B.J. Raji on the nose last week, and Erik Walden is having a much better year than he did in 2011. I think the addition of new players and addition of those rookies has forced offenses to think about protection beyond simply stopping Clay Matthews, which has put Matthews in more one-on-one situations and allowed him to get back to being the best version of himself.
As for the passing defense, what is the soft spot? The Rams are working to craft an offensive identity in the absence of Danny Amendola. Last week, everything looked fine, save for the red zone inability and sporadic penalties. If you were a fan of a team facing off against the Packers, how would you gameplan for your passing offense?
The Packers have run a lot of soft zone coverage and zone blitzes this year, something that drives fans crazy when opponents convert on 3rd down and 10. If your offensive line performs and gives Sam Bradford more than a couple seconds to throw, he'll find pockets in the zone. If your line doesn't perform (and I know it's been so-so but not terrible this year), there will still be passing lanes, but Bradford has to make the right reads. The Packers' DBs are more aggressive about looking for interception opportunities than the average team. I'm hoping that the Packers stray from using a lot of zone blitzes this week, because if Danny Amendola isn't 100 percent (or playing at all), I like any of the Packers' DBs in man against anyone the Rams can throw at them.
I don't think people appreciate the job Mike McCarthy's done in transitioning from the Brett Favre era to the Aaron Rodgers era for the Packers. I'm sure you guys are all over it, but I'm not sure nationally that McCarthy gets a Mike Tomlin-like credit from taking a strength franchise through a QB transition to similar status. What do you see as his weaknesses? Is there anything he does as a head coach, in season or offseason, that irks the Packers faithful?
McCarthy will occasionally get away from the run too early if the Packers are trailing, which is my biggest complaint. Aaron Rodgers is at his best when the team is balanced and the defense has something to think about. The Packers don't need to have a great running game, but they need to run a few times every drive and average something like 3.5 yards per carry simply to give Rodgers a chance to be the best version of himself. McCarthy's playcalling on 3rd down and short is also often infuriating. Other than those two small issues, he's been a fantastic coach for us and I think he's one of the best in the league.
Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer these.