Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Week 16 - Packers wallop Titans

I am living quite a charmed life because I got to see my second consecutive Packers game.  Last week I attended the Packers/Bears game in Chicago with Papa Cheese.  This week I attended the Packers/Titans game with Cheesehead Chick, UP, and Sam.  Luckily we all got to enjoy an old fashion butt kicking with the Packers stomping the Titans 55-7, which was the most points they've scored since October 2, 1983 against Tampa Bay and just two points short of the team record for most points scored set in 1945.

I really enjoyed using Peter King's "10 Things I Think I Think" gimmick last week so I am going to use it again this week:

#1) It took some brass balls to bench starting center Jeff Saturday in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Apparently the Packers wanted to make the move sooner but losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season forced the Packers to move starting left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and insert Dietrich-Smith at left guard.  Lang looked uncomfortable at right tackle so they moved him back to left guard and inserted undrafted rookie free agent Don Barclay at right tackle.  With Lang and Barclay settled at left guard and right tackle, the Packers felt comfortable inserting Dietrich-Smith in place of Saturday.  It is only one week so take the results with a grain of salt, but Dietrich-Smith looked much better run blocking than Saturday.  Absent an injury, it looks like the starting offensive line left to right for their Super Bowl run will be Marshall Newhouse (LT), Lang (LG), Dietrich-Smith (C), Josh Sitton (RG), and Barclay (RT).

#2) After starting 2-3, the Packers went 9-1 to control their own destiny for the #2 seed.  The Packers jumped the 49ers in the standings so they are in line for a first round bye.  I know the Packers lost last year after a bye but their last month of the season in 2011 they were barely winning shootouts thanks to their porous defense.  This year the defense is much improved thanks to an influx of young talent via the 2012 NFL Draft and some nice rookie free agent pickups.  All that separates the Packers from a #2 seed and a first round bye is a road win in Week 17 against the Vikings, which would most likely eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention too boot.

#3) Let's relax on Ryan Grant's performance against the Titans: 20 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns along with one reception for 34 yards.  On paper that is pretty impressive but Grant only gains the yards that are blocked for him and not a yard more and fumbled last week against the Bears.

#4) The defense put up some pretty impressive stats: only gave up 180 yards (79 rushing and 101 passing), had 2 interceptions (Shields and Walden), and 7 sacks (Hawk 2, Jones 1, Matthews 1, Neal 1, Moses 1 and Shields 1).  You read that correctly, A.J. Hawk actually registered two sacks to go along with 20 times that he ran directly into the offensive line without creating any pressure.  While the state line is impressive, don't forget the Packers did that against a number of 2nd and 3rd string offensive lineman since the Titans are missing 80% of their starting offensive line due to injury.  That and Jake Locker looks like a bust just two years into his NFL career.

#5) Nice to see the Packers finally hand out a start to finish butt kicking.  Call me greedy but once the score got into the 30's I was much more interest in the shutout than pouring on more points.  Don't get me wrong, it was great to see the offense in sync but shutouts are so rare that it would have been cool to see a shutout at Lambeau.

#6) What would Chris Johnson cost to acquire via trade from the Titans?  Despite his measly output against the Packers (11 rushes for 28 yards), I still remember how explosive Johnson was when he first entered the league.  I know there is the "Curse of 30" for running backs but Johnson is only 27 and hasn't come close to 300 carries since 2010 so he has fresh legs.  The real problem is what Johnson would cost the Packers.  In 2011 Johnson signed a six-year, $56 million deal, which probably makes him to expensive to fit under the salary cap unless Johnson would be amenable to restructuring his contract for the chance to join an already potent offense like the Packers.

#7) I am going to take the wildly unpopular stance that the Packers need to keep Randall Cobb as their return guy in the playoffs, assuming he is healthy, despite the fact that he got hurt returning a punt against the Titans.  Jeremy Ross looked good returning punts after Cobb left injured but he only has a handful of returns under his belt and one of them was a dropped ball in Chicago on a ridiculous fake punt.  Is that really enough experience for a guy to be your main return-man in the playoffs? Say what you want about Cobb besting Ahman Green's all-time single-season record for net yards because Cobb got to include special teams yardage while Green only touched the ball on offense but it speaks to how well Cobb has done in the return game.  How quickly people forget that the Packers have had an absolutely putrid return game for the better part of a decade until they drafted Cobb.  Plus Cobb is a sure handed, smart football player.  Take his heads up play at the start of the second half when he stepped out of bounds before he possessed the ball on the kickoff netting the Packers almost 40 more yards.  It is one thing to know the rule, it is quite another to pull it of as seamlessly as Cobb did.  With so many quality wide receivers (Boykin, Cobb, Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, and Ross) and tight ends (Crabtree, Finley, Taylor, and Williams) I hope the Packers keep Cobb as their main return guy for the stretch run to the Super Bowl.

#8) Speaking of special teams, let's relax on the Crosby is back talk.  Crosby converted from 26-yards and needed a favorable bounce off the goal post from 48-yards to have his first game since Week 6 that he did not missed at least one field goal.  Let's see him go a few weeks without any misses before we start talking about him being back.

#9) Finley is finally starting to put it together for the first time in a couple seasons.  Before the Packers/Bears game my favorite sports writer of all-time Bob McGinn wrote an article that said according to sources within the organization, absent a huge improvement in Finley's play for the rest of 2012, the Packers were going to trade or cut Finley in the off-season.  It is unclear whether Finley read McGinn's article but Finley sure has been impressive the last two weeks.  If the Packers continue to use the no huddle, I would love to see a personnel package of Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Finley.  I know that means the Packers would be without a running back but they could occasionally have Finley line-up as a blocker or Cobb line-up in the backfield as a running back.  As long as the new-look offensive line discussed above can block, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the aforementioned quintet of skill players would be essentially unstoppable.

#10) I am sure that everyone has holiday traditions that they look forward to each year.  In my family we are starting to make new traditions because two of my cousins adopted children from Ghana.  It is amazing to see these little kids embrace the cold weather and snow in Wisconsin because the climate where they were born is the exact opposite for 365 days a year.  I am sure the holidays are rough for some people so I am not trying to rub it in but enjoying the simple pleasures of Wisconsin when we went sledding yesterday still has me smiling a million times more than any Packer victory.  Happy Holidays to everyone.

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