Tag Archives: Mike Neal

Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

Believe in This Packers Team

I believe the Packers are the NFC favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. 55-7 thrashing of the Titans aside, this team is trending and peaking just in time for the playoffs. It’s not just the 9-1 record over the past 10 games; it’s the following reasons why the Packers are morphing into a juggernaut.

Offense –

Packers are looking Super as the post-season approaches.

Packers are looking Super as the post-season approaches.

I believe Rodgers is regaining his MVP form. Marred in a slump where he surpassed 250-yards only once in 6 games, Rodgers has turned it around the last two games. Against a Bears defense that has always slowed him, he was vintage Rodgers, throwing for just under 300 yards and 3 perfect TD strikes. And his completion to Cobb along the sidelines reminded me of the Falcons playoff game two years ago.

I believe Rodgers’ recent surge is due, in part, to the newfound run game. The Packers have rushed for more than 100-yards in each of their past 5 games. It has been any combo of running backs doing the work, including retirement home recallee Ryan Grant – who just amassed 80 yards and 2 Tds on 20 carries. Alex Green seems more patient and starting to get good chunks of yards per carry. And the rush attack has changed somewhat in the form of less zone stretches to more traps and pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that teams have to honor. At least a little.

I believe the offensive line has stabilized – relatively speaking – with the insertion of Don Barclay at RT and the health of T.J. Lang. Lang is not a RT. When forced to take over for Bulaga, the line had two weak links: Lang at RT and DES at LG. Barclay, though not perfect, is a grinder and fighter. He’s had a lot of success in the running game and hasn’t gotten Rodgers killed. Yes, Rodgers still takes a fair share of shots and sacks, but that also comes from Rodgers trying to extend plays. It is the catch-22 of Rodgers: he takes sacks, but also makes defenses pay by extending the plays.

I believe the WR corps is finally starting to show its teeth. Cobb has emerged as Percy Harvin 2.0, not Harvin-lite. He’s become the go-to target for Rodgers. Assuming he and Jordy are healthy in the playoffs, Rodgers will finally have his full weaponry at his disposal. To top it off, JMike has finally decided to play like the TE he’s supposed to be.

Defense –

I believe the injuries have actually made this defense better and more prepared for the playoffs. There’s no doubt the loss of Bishop was a huge loss. But, the injuries to Clay, Woodson, Raji, Shields, Perry, and Wilson forced the younger players to step up and assume important roles. And that they did. The younger players have stepped up so well that it’s fair to wonder where Woodson will play, and even whether his return is all that crucial for the defense.

I believe Claymaker and Neal are quickly becoming a strong tandem, almost a Clay-Jenkins-lite. Neal has always flashed promise with his strength and speed, but he was never healthy. Finally, he’s been able to stay relatively healthy this year. And since Clay’s return, the duo have racked up 5.5 sacks, 7 tackles-for-losses, and numerous pressures these past two weeks.

@The_Clayboy will be a common sight this post-season.

@The_Clayboy will be a common sight this post-season.

I believe opposing QB’s will be seeing a lot of The Clayboy this postseason. He looks no worse for the wear following his injury.

I believe B.J. Raji is becoming a force in the middle, like he’s supposed to be. Raji may not have the gaudy stats at the end of each game. But he’s been making an impact in each of the last several games. Raji and Pickett are tough to run against in the middle. And Raji has started getting push up the middle on throwing downs.

I believe Casey Hayward is a star in the making. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayward is second in the league in overall man-to-man coverage and tops for passer rating. Hayward has not been flagged for a penalty or allowed a TD. And he has six picks and 10 passes defended. To top it off, he ranks ninth in run stop percentage among corners, having not missed a tackle. All this coming from a rookie that plays primarily in the slot, a position that requires much more on-field awareness, preparation, and skill. As Peter King stated, his play is Pro Bowl worthy, if not All-Pro worth.

I believe that Shields’ return has cemented the Packers secondary as one of the best in the league. Shields has been downright dominant since returning from injury, including drawing an incredible three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffrey two weeks ago. Shields strong play in 2010 was the catalyst for that defense becoming the juggernaut it was.

Special Teams –

I believe in Mason Crosb… ok, so I don’t believe in him. My green-and-gold kool-aid isn’t that strong (though its close).

Intangibles –

I believe the Packers are getting healthy just at the right time. Throughout the season, the Packers were riddled with injuries, including to many key figures. Now, most of those players have returned or are set to return in time for the playoffs. Though the young players proved they belong, Jennings, Jordy, Clay, and Woodson will only improve an 11-4 team.

I believe this Packers team is battle-tested. Outside the Texans and Titans games, the Packers have had to battle for each victory. Faced with what seemed like insurmountable injuries, the Packers haven proven resilient as they inch towards a 2-seed. Such resiliency will bode well in the playoffs where every game is a battle. Unlike last year when the Packers simply didn’t know how to face adversity, this squad has faced it and thrived.

I believe that even still, the Packers will face a tough road to get to the Super Bowl. The NFC is simply stacked with both the 49ers and Seahawks playing at elite levels. But, unlike last year, this Packers team can win any style of game. It can grind out games, play stout defense, and not simply rely upon scoring a ton of points.

I believe this is a Super Bowl team. Do you?

Packers’ Training Camp Primer

In his pre-training camp presser, Mike McCarthy made it clear that he was displeased with his team’s focus leading up to camp. He even went as far as saying some players were taking it for granted. But, with one swift personnel decision – cutting Charlie Peprah – he made a loud statement that should get everyone’s attention: each player must earn their spot on this roster. Peprah, a starter (albeit by default) for the last two seasons, was cut the day before camp opens, despite the fact there is no clear cut starter opposite Morgan Burnett. The Packers go to camp with an M.D. Jennings – an undrafted free agent a year ago – and Jerron McMillian – a rookie fourth-round selection out of the national powerhouse of Maine.

The battle between M.D. and McMillian (and perhaps Woodson) is just one of several intriguing story lines to watch during training camp. Here’s a look at several other position battles and players development worth watching.

Offense –

Yes. I know. Our offense was about as good as it gets last year. But, there’s still plenty of things to watch over the next 1-month-plus. I think the most important thing to watch for is the continued (hopefully) development of LT Marshall Newhouse. A fifth-round selection two drafts ago has ascended to the starting LT spot after an up-and-down season last year. He has prototypical size and length, and the requisite quickness to man the position. As expected though,  as a first-year starter, he had his fair share of growing pains. He, by far, gave up the most sacks among offensive linemen with 11.5. But the constant refrain from the coaching staff about Newhouse has always been that he is smart and never gets beat by the same move twice. And to that point, Newhouse need only look at fellow tackle, Bryan Bulaga, who similarly suffered through a rough first year starting, only to bounce back with a near-Pro Bowl year last season. They say the biggest jump occurs between the first and second season. It would be a coupe for the Packers to find their LT of the future in Newhouse to pair with Bulaga going forward.

Staying with the player development theme, I can’t wait to see how Randall Cobb progresses in year two. He immediately became a household name in Packers country after the first game when he returned a kickoff 100+ yards, which included an unreal act of balance mid-run, and he also took a quick dump-off to the house for a 30+ yard TD. Unfortunately for him, he set the bar awfully high going forward. As much as the Packers offense has to offer, Cobb has a unique blend of speed and athleticism. He needs to be on the field more. To do so, though, he needs to refine his route-running and become reliable. If he does, he should get more looks than both Jones and Driver.

An under-the-radar player to watch is D.J. Williams. Williams was a highly-regarded fifth-round selection a year ago. A John Mackey award winner. But, he looked far from the nation’s top tight end in his rookie season. He simply did not pass the eye test whenever he saw the field. He is short and not particularly a blazer either. And, to top it off, he lost the trust of the offense when he lined up wrong in the Week 7 matchup against the Vikes. This gaffe necessitated A-Rodg calling a timeout. He rarely saw the playing field after that moment. Still, the Packers need him to take that second-year leap. With Quarles most likely starting the season on the PUP list, the backup TE position is wide open. Both Crabtree and Ryan Taylor are assets to the team in other ways than catching the ball. Given the number of formations employed by McCarthy, which includes two tight end sets, Williams must show he belongs.

Of course, we will all be watching the running back position. Starks is the lead horse right now; but he must prove he can stay healthy for a season. Alex Green is coming off an ACL injury, but is needed to play a prominent role in spelling Starks and becoming a third-down type back. This battle will be written about more extensively in the coming weeks.

Defense –

Every player. Every position. That could very easily sum up what we are all looking forward to the most – a respectable defense. But there are a few players and battles worth our extra attention.

Lost in the excitement of the Packers drafting Worthy and Daniels, and signing Hargrove, Merling, and Muir, is last year’s darling to replace Cullen Jenkins – Mike Neal. A second-round selection in 2010, Neal flashed promise his first season before going down with a season-ending injury. Last season, he was hampered with a nagging injury that some say was a major reason for his limited production. He undoubtedly has talent if he can get past the injury bug. Of course I’m excited to see the fresh faces and what they can offer; but I’m not ready to give up on Neal quite yet. Unfortunately, any strides he makes during training camp will be tempered while he serves a 4-game suspension.

A.J. Hawk demonstrates every fans reaction when he makes a “play.”

My favorite training camp battle is A.J. Hawk vs. D.J. Smith. As much as the coaches sugar-coat Hawk’s play and value to the team, they cannot mask the fact he is an average, at best, middle linebacker. He creates no turnovers, gets swallowed up by linemen in the run-game, and when he does make a tackle, its five-yards down the field. Heck, even at a charity golf event, Hawk can’t wrap-up! Enter D.J. Smith. Undersized and under-appreciated coming out of Appalachian St., Smith has done nothing but make tackles his entire career at all levels – and not simply the five-yards-down-the-field variety either. In the limited action Smith got in place of an injured Hawk, Smith made his presence felt. In three starts, he had 27 tackles and 1 INT. Smith attacks the game, similar to how Bishop attacks it. And this was noticeable from his very first play from scrimmage (the first play of the video) when he subbed in for Hawk agains the Lions. When is the last time you saw Hawk diagnose the play, attack the line, shed a block, and make the tackle… wait for it… BEHIND the line of scrimmage?! But for the enormous contract Hawk somehow signed last offseason, Smith would figure to be the leader for the starting spot. It will be a very interesting battle to watch. And if Smith makes that second-year leap, the coaches will need to make the tough decision and bench (maybe even cut) Hawk.

Obviously, the whole secondary could be highlighted. The safety position is in flux, as mentioned at the outset. Tramon is still injured from the first game of last season. And we still have Jarrett Bush on our squad (although, I have slightly warmed to him after the way he played in Super Bowl XLV). But, two players that could be key for the Packers’ secondary success are Sam Shields and Davon House. Shields was a rockstar his first year after being undrafted out Miami. It can safely be said that, but for Shields’ emergence, the Packers don’t make it to Super Bowl XLV. His ability to line up one-on-one that season allowed Woodson to roam and wreak havoc. That emergence was about as surprising as his rapid decline last season. The loss of an offseason due to the lockout hurt no player more than Sam Shields. (You can also wonder whether his first-year success, culminated by the Super Bowl win and gaudy neck tattoo, got to his head and resulted in less-than-stellar offseason training.) Davon House, meanwhile, was hyped during training camp for his ability to track the ball and make a play on it. He suffered an injury midway through camp, and never returned to form. When he did see the field, he looked lost and not NFL-ready. By all accounts, though, he has taken advantage of the full offseason. With everyone’s eye on Casey Hayward, the second-round pick, as well as the other new faces on defense, House has slid under the radar. If he can return to form, he may be a critical piece to the Packers’ defense.

Check back here in the coming weeks for a further breakdown of what is necessary from our defense in order to get back to the promised land. Clearly, the worst statistical defense won’t get the job done. So, what will? That talker, and more, to come. But for now, we can all rejoice in the fact that football season is finally here!