Packers vs. Washington: Wild Card Rants & Raves

The Green Bay Packers are in the nation's capital preparing for their wild card match up with the Washington football team.  Rarely before has there been this much of a divide amongst Packers fans as to the confidence level of this team.  Of course, rarely before have we seen a Packers team that was such an enigma.  Green Bay finished the regular season 10-6 and had clinched a playoff spot with two games left to play on their schedule.  Going into the second-to-last game, there was still a chance that they could secure the second seed in the NFC, thus ensuring a week off and at least one home game to follow.  We know that didn't come close to happening and with having lost their last two games, many see this team as having limped to the finish line.

NFL playoffs have evolved into a situation where the hottest team typically has the most success.  Over the past decade, we have seen several six seeds win championships and one seeds get knocked out much sooner than later.  The Packers have been on both ends of that equation.  Therein lies the issue with Green Bay right now:  they're ice cold.  The who, what, when, where and why have all been discussed ad nauseam over the past two months.  It all comes down to "win or go home" in this single-elimination tournament.  So what can we expect and how do the Packers win this game?

Magical Healing

The Green Bay offensive line has been banged up all season long.  Guard Josh Sitton has reached his perennial point of not practicing during the week because of his back, although it should be noted that Sitton is the only starting offensive lineman who hasn't missed a game all season.  T.J. Lang is playing with a shoulder that he has admitted will need surgery after the season.  Corey Linsley has been a revolving door, in and out of the lineup over the last few games.  And at tackle, we have the perpetually dinged Bryan Bulaga (who the Packers just gave a healthy contract extension) and David Bakhtiari, who has missed the last few games, which forced backups Don Barclay and Josh Walker into action.  Those backups have proven to serve best as bench warmers.  

Bakhtiari is a game-time decision and the rest of the line isn't going to magically heal in time for this tilt, but they're the key to salvaging what has become the Packers offense.  Aaron Rodgers was hit over 100 times this past season and sacked nearly half as many (46).  Only Blake Bortles was sacked more than Rodgers this season.  That never gets it done for teams looking for extended success.  Washington is going to get after Rodgers a ton and the Packers surely have to know it.  Somehow, some way, the line has to turn in their best game of the season if Green Bay is to have any chance of advancing.  I can assure you that Mike McCarthy has already admitted that Josh Sitton at tackle was a failed experiment and we won't be seeing that again.  Hey, I'm looking for a silver lining for you here.

Sure, Green Bay can scheme some help in the backfield with an extra tight end or fullback, but when it comes down to it, the line by itself is going to have to get it done in pass protection.  It would be amazing if the offensive game plan included more short passes to ease the load on the fat guys up front, but I can no longer make any predictions nor promises with this team.

Pick Your Poison

Washington has been a very good offensive team when at home this season and a big part of the reason why is the play of Kirk Cousins at FedEx Field.  I talk about match ups being the real key to winning games in the NFL and I don't get the warm fuzzies thinking about Washington's passing game against the Packers defense.  Green Bay's defense has been the reason that they have held on and added enough wins to make the postseason after their 6-0 start but they'll face a lot of pots on the stove that they'll have to keep an eye on on Sunday.

The Packers defense has said that their goal is not to give up any more than 17 points per game.  That should get it done against most teams but with the Green Bay offense being the hottest of messes, any more than 10 seems like a reach.  Washington features tight end Jordan Reed, who is very athletic and quick.  There's not a Packers defender that I feel confident can shut him down.  Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is not a good cover safety.  The linebackers, including Clay Matthews, can't keep up with Reed.  Slot corners Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde don't have the size or speed.  Green Bay can only hope to contain Cousin's preferred target of late.

Cornerback Sam Shields will miss yet another game due to the concussion he suffered nearly a month ago.  That takes the Packers' best and fastest corner off the field.  That puts rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins front and center in the biggest game of the season.  Both have proven that they can handle the pro game, but the postseason is a different animal.  Receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both very savvy veterans who can and will find spots in any type of zone coverage.  Going man to man?  Jackson can beat it, at least a time or two and that may be all Washington needs to run away with this game.

There's no easy answer to "who do you take away?".  The Packers' best bet to keep these passing weapons in check is to get home on their pass rush.  Keep Cousins rattled and moving and hope he makes a mistake or two.  I can see it happening.  The defense has still been forcing turnovers through the lackluster play by the offense over the last 10 games.  A big key in getting to Cousins is what Green Bay does with Matthews.  Washington's left tackle is Trent Williams.  Unless he falls asleep during this game, Matthews isn't getting by him.  Clay best serves the defense in the middle this week.  Delayed blitzes and good disguises by defensive coordinator Dom Capers will allow Matthews to get into the backfield.  Clinton-Dix has come on as a blitzer this season and at this point for the Packers, why not try everything you got to create pressure and create mismatches for the Washington protection.  This is the key to keeping Washington out of the end zone.

Win On Short Yardage

The Packers offense is what it is.  We've beaten that drum all year long.  In a "win or go home" scenario like this one, it's going to be important that the Packers are successful and convert in their short-yardage situations, especially on third down.  The run game is sporadic at best and the backs are fumbling the ball of late.  Receivers can't win at the line and separate enough to throw a slant or a stop.  When they do have a step on the defender, Rodgers is missing them.  All of this amounts to that the Packers are going to have to come up with something magical in this game.  I still, 17 games into this season, can't believe I'm writing this about a Green Bay offense and Rodgers who have been so masterful in recent years, including early in this season.

Much like the offensive line not getting noticeably better overnight, the offense isn't going to suddenly start clicking and churning out yards and/or points.  Washington will be prepared and come in with a lot of confidence but if there's an area of their defense that can be had, it's the secondary.  It's hard to ask one guy to carry the burden of "being the man" but this is going to fall on Randall Cobb.  Cobb is Green Bay's best receiver, in terms of his overall skill set.  He has better speed than the others (minus Janis, who's not likely to see any snaps as a receiver) and he can make contested catches.  If the Packers are to win this game, Cobb is going to have to stand out on the stat sheet.  More importantly, Rodgers has to get him the ball quick and hope he can make a move.  I've been calling for the "Cobb in the backfield" experiment to end and if we see it in short yardage, I'm changing the channel.  Outside of Cobb, the only other option for a quick pass is James Jones but he hasn't been reliable in getting off the line fast.  

Then there's the run game.  Remember the days when Ahman Green was in the backfield it was acceptable for the Packers to run it on 3rd and 5?  I referred to the current Packers run game as sporadic and I think that's a fair term to use.  Eddie Lacy has not been Eddie Lacy this season between his early-season ankle injury, his discipline issues and a struggling offensive line.  Lacy has struggled in short yardage this season.  It's tougher sledding this week against Washington with a stout middle of the defensive line, anchored by Terrance Knighton aka "Pot Roast".  I foresee any attempts to run up the middle resulting in Lacy or Starks getting eaten (maybe literally) alive.  The bad news there is that the Packers have not had a lot of success running outside of the tackles this season.  The Packers hopefully can work in some screen passes or heaven forbid they try a delayed handoff just to keep the defense guessing.  This goes along with the "take chances" mantra that we have heard the coaching staff and players talk about.  This is the time to throw some different looks at the defense and start winning the chess match portion of the game.  Even if the Green Bay run game isn't outstanding, they're key to keeping Washington defenders up at the line and somehow, some way, open up some space for those receivers.  

Green Bay's third down conversion rate is going to have to buck the trend this week if they're going to come away with a win.

No Dirty Laundry

The Packers have killed themselves with penalties throughout the last half of the season.  No penalty is timely but some of them have moved this offense from third and short to third and long or out of field goal range.  The offensive line owns most of these with holding calls.  Once a team establishes a reputation, the officials start looking for it.  More of the 10 and 15-yard variety are going against Green Bay this year and it will stymie this team if it continues in this game.  That goes for both sides of the ball.  Washington isn't necessarily the better team, but they're playing better ball right now.  Green Bay can't afford to spot any team yards or additional chances to score.  Washington is going to come out and play physical and the Packers best be ready for it.  If not, frustrations likely mount and that's when we start to see dead ball fouls.  It baffles me that guys still shove after a play and that players still don't remember that it's always the guy who retaliates who takes the fall.  Don't be that guy, Packers.

McCarthy said this team is going to clean up their house and show everyone who the hell they are.  A big part of that is coming out mentally prepared and disciplined.

If Nothing Else. . . 

The Minnesota Vikings play the first game on Sunday, hosting the Seattle Seahawks, so we'll know the result of that game before they kick off in Washington.  Conceivably, the Vikings' season could be over before Green Bay's, by virtue of the day's schedule and how funny would it be that the Vikings won the division and STILL had their season end before the Packers' ?  Some fun food for thought.

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (43)

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Razor's picture

January 09, 2016 at 01:46 pm

It just doesn't feel right after 16 games to "show them who the hell we are" and make a run in the playoffs.

Playoff trend over last five years is not encouraging.

Ultimate responsibility - Mike & Ted.

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tjm65's picture

January 09, 2016 at 01:49 pm

I live in Seattle, believe me I'm rooting for the Vikes....

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tjm65's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:36 pm

Went to the NFCCG last year in Seattle, still trying to overcome the psychological trauma that game produced....

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:43 pm

Same for me with the 49ers playoff game.

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ray nichkee's picture

January 09, 2016 at 01:55 pm

I was listening to the radio while reading this and the guy refered to "the conveyor belt of crap known as the detroit lions." had to share.

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dobber's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:08 pm

Now that I live in the Detroit market, I can say that most fans jumped off that bandwagon early and didn't jump back on when they started to play better late in the season. They're ready to see Caldwell move on.

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D Ernesto's picture

January 11, 2016 at 06:22 pm

Ya they want the Fords to move on too

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barutanseijin's picture

January 10, 2016 at 10:11 am

Thanks for sharing!

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Tundraboy's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:21 pm

" I've been calling for the "Cobb in the backfield" experiment to end and if we see it in short yardage, I'm changing the channel.

LOL sort of. If they do,I won't change the channel but the TV may suffer. Well not really but I will be beyond pissed and will continue to watch what other dumb formations and plays inevitably follow.
On a positive note , after getting only halfway through the article I wondered how we could ever possibly win, but that's why they play the game. Hey you never know, they could shock us all and play a great game. Have until tomorrow night to cling to that at least. There is always hope, for now.
Go Pack Go

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Oppy's picture

January 10, 2016 at 08:00 am

last season there were two or three games where the offense was stalled for a half of play, until they started running hurry up featuring the lining up of Cobb out of the backfield pre-snap. Cobb didn't always stay there until the snap of the ball, but that personnel group and they way they use Cobb in the backfield to draw favorable matchups and exploit them is valuable. In those games, Cobb practically single-handedly jumpstarted the offense, and his lining up in the backfield, and motion in general, is the catalyst.

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Tundraboy's picture

January 10, 2016 at 02:37 pm

True but that was last year. Oline is in shambles this year

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 11, 2016 at 03:22 am

I like that formation (Cobra), but it's just not as effective as it once was because he's the ONLY legit threat on the field.

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D Ernesto's picture

January 11, 2016 at 06:25 pm

My issue is you don't nee Cobb in the back field you;ve got a running back with speed called Starks. Use him or lose him. Cobb goes down and now your really have no one to pass too. The rest kind of just suck

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Lphill's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:40 pm

Can't go against the team I love, I think the Packers play a good game and win by at least 7 , just a gut feeling.

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EdsLaces's picture

January 09, 2016 at 02:55 pm

I want us to win so freakin bad....but will we?

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 10, 2016 at 02:02 pm

That's why the games are played...

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nostradanus's picture

January 09, 2016 at 03:23 pm

To all fellow cheeseheads:
Yes things for our beloved Packers do look as bleak as the winter winds descending upon Green Bay this weekend. But take heart oh those of you ,while wringing your hands with worry and yea of little or faith. This proud and banged up Packers team is not going out quietly, I have great faith that Big Mike will have his legions ready to play in this do or die Wild Card game. The Packers have one thing in their favor, playoff experience.
The Pack will go into this game like a proud yet wounded boxer leaving it all out there though bloodied and battered, wanting to prove their doubters wrong.
I predict the Pack will go toe to toe with the upstart skins and the Packers experience shall win the day!
So do not despair, sit back with a growler of your finest ale by a blazing fireplace, stay warm and enjoy the game my friends.
The Packers shall prevail this day Packers 27 Redskins 7
NostraDANus "the optimistic Packers mystic

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EdsLaces's picture

January 09, 2016 at 03:40 pm

No beer for me ....it's Flu season and I'm on antibiotics :(

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Dan Stodola's picture

January 09, 2016 at 04:52 pm

Antibiotics don't work on the flu. If you really have the flu and are on antibiotics, its only to prevent a sinus or pulminary infection from developing. Or maybe to fool you into thinking your getting better. You'd be better off being on tamiflu.

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GVPacker's picture

January 09, 2016 at 07:33 pm

Hat's off to you Stroh you know your Stuff!

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 09, 2016 at 04:15 pm

Watching the Texans and the Chiefs and I find myself jealous of players on other teams and the way they are playing. It's been a long time since I've felt that.

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Dan Stodola's picture

January 09, 2016 at 04:39 pm

"I can assure you that Mike McCarthy has already admitted that Josh Sitton at tackle was a failed experiment and we won't be seeing that again. "

I wouldn't be so sure! If Bahktiari can't go what are the alternatives? They've proven Barclay can't play LT and Walker proved he can't play RT yet, so LT is even more of a stretch.

Other than moving Bulaga to LT and Barclay to RT, using Sitton at LT instead of LG is really the only alternative. Clearly Sitton is an outstanding OG and not nearly as good at OT, but its a distinct possibility Sitton will get the call at LT if Bahktiari can't play.

Probably a 50/50 guess w/ Sitton or Bulaga at LT IMO.

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tjm65's picture

January 09, 2016 at 04:53 pm

Tretter at tackle?

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Dan Stodola's picture

January 09, 2016 at 05:51 pm

Forgot about him. Good catch. Why didn't he play LT last game tho? Certainly he would be better than Barclay or Walker. Wouldn't he?

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tjm65's picture

January 09, 2016 at 05:54 pm

I think so. Worth a try at least I think

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jasonperone's picture

January 09, 2016 at 06:26 pm

MM said this last week Sitton is a guard, not a tackle. Read that however you want. My money is on our never seeing him on the end again, barring injury issues

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Oppy's picture

January 10, 2016 at 08:08 am

What they proved was that even a pro-bowl guard like Sitton needed help with a guy chipping when placed at LT.

That's something they never even attempted to do for either Barclay or Walker. So why not leave Sitton at Guard where he's simply one of the best, and could provide help for a green LT, as well as placing Kuhn in the backfield to help chip the outside speed rush or pick up anything that gets inside outright... Like they ended up doing for Sitton.

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Lphill's picture

January 09, 2016 at 06:53 pm

The Redskins pass rush is nothing to write home about, they are in the playoffs because they won one more game against a bad team then the rest of the division , If the Packers show up it should be a W.

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Rossonero's picture

January 09, 2016 at 08:17 pm

I'm not very confident in our offense, but am comforted by the Redskins' woeful 26th ranked rushing defense. That ranks lower than the Bears and Cowboys -- two teams the Packers had a lot of success running against.

The Redskins secondary is banged up too. CB Quinton Dunbar and safety Dashon Goldson are both questionable.

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Lphill's picture

January 09, 2016 at 09:31 pm

Heavy rain forecast for Sunday.

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Packer_Pete's picture

January 09, 2016 at 09:52 pm

There's always a silver lining... watching the game right now, at least we don't have thug like Burfict on the team. Or sore loser fans like in Cincinnati... real classy people there.

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ray nichkee's picture

January 09, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Other than the injuries caused i like how the bengals dug their grave. Horrible team and fans.

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PaulRosik's picture

January 09, 2016 at 11:32 pm

It was a rivalry game. I have been at Packer / Viking games where the home fans cheered for injuries also. But yes it was an ugly game and the Bengals lack of restraint cost them with 30 penalty yards in the final minute.

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ray nichkee's picture

January 09, 2016 at 11:52 pm

Burfict made some good plays but his bad plays outshined the good. He needs some time off next year. I like hard hits but the game is being tarnished with crap like he does. Id clap if he got kicked out forever. He could have been a hero and not an ahole. The big ben sack was fairgame.

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Packer_Pete's picture

January 10, 2016 at 10:21 am

Burfict, while talented as a football player, is a head case. There is a reason he wasn't drafted. There are some players on his own team who say they knew he'd cost them a game. Problem is, the coaches enable guys like that, if they can make some plays. Burfict is a multiple and repeat offender. Most personal foul calls in the NFL in the last few years. Last game he layed out a Ravens player away from the play. This game, he was constantly in every fight. I remember he was on the opposite side of the field on a 3rd down, then once Bengals had stopped the Steelers, ran over to the Steelers sideline and screamed at them, right in front of a ref. No flag. Came off the field, Marvin Lewis took him aside. Didn't help. I think Lewis should've pulled him out. He is just too idiotic and thuggish to be left on the field. He'll cost you. And I am glad the Bengals lost. Apparently some idiot yelled after the Burfict foul on Brown 'i hope he is dead'. Pacman said it was 'an acting job worthy of an academy award'.. Tells you everything you need to know.

There are some people I really dislike in the NFL, mostly since they just appear to be not sportsmanlike. As a team, I really dislike the Vikings. I will add the Bengals to that list, after last night's game...

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Packer_Pete's picture

January 09, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I am so glad that karma came through and knocked that disgrace of a team with their sore loser fans out. Burfict is out of control. What a thug. Look on his face at the end is priceless. LOVE IT. And the fact that fans throw debris to me means they should have to play the whole next season in front of empty seats at home.
And as usual, BENGALS CHOKE fans cry

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ray nichkee's picture

January 09, 2016 at 11:55 pm

The fans threw debris at the steelers players so they bailed into the locker room. I hope there was plenty of security.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

January 10, 2016 at 12:59 am

I preferred signing Knighton instead of Raji. Apparently Knighton is playing well now after being up and down earlier whereas Raji played well early. I'll be interested in who plays well tomorrow since both are playing for new contracts.

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4thand1's picture

January 10, 2016 at 08:52 am

Raji was playing great till he started getting banged up.

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lou's picture

January 10, 2016 at 11:58 am

Great to have some old school nicknames, Knighton fits his, "Pot Roast". He is listed about 355 but most believe he is at least 380 pounds. Big men like he and Raji with agility are really hard to find, in Gilbert's younger days he had that size and Cullen Jenkin's quickness - some kind of player if only for a short span - how the Vike's gave up on him makes no sense.

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sheppercheeser's picture

January 10, 2016 at 08:56 am

I would put half of AR's sacks on his own doing. Good QB's know how to throw the ball away- not sure why he didn't get the memo. You'd think after about the 10th sack, he'd develop a plan to release the ball before (1) a sack and (2) loss of yards. C'mon man!

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4thand10's picture

January 10, 2016 at 03:32 pm

254 yards passing combined for Wilson and Bridgewater in a playoff game....Ya, I'm not going to complain about our QB.

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4thand10's picture

January 10, 2016 at 03:38 pm

Still happy about the Vikings choking. I left APC because there was just way too many closet Vikings fans on that blog. I have no love for the Vikings. Go Pack Go.

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