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12 completions, GROSS. 87 yards, DISGUSTING. 3.5 yards/attempt, SICKENING. Zero 3rd down conversions in the second half. INEXCUSABLE.

ZERO.

Combine that with a defense that was on the field for nearly 37 minutes, gave up 485 yards, and failed to produce a single second-half punt is not what you call a recipe for success in the National Football League.

Yet, there the Packers were late in the 4th quarter down 19-17 and needing just one stop to give their young QB, Brett Hundley, a chance to go win the game. Unfortunately, Green Bay hadn’t done much to stop Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints all day and that trend continued as he marched them down the field 55 yards in 8 plays for the dagger!

So here the Packers are, heading into the bye week at 4-3, coming off back to back losses and the reality that this is what life will look like for the foreseeable future. Or, at least until week 15. That is the soonest that Aaron Rodgers will be available to come off IR, assuming he is cleared to play by then, and Green Bay is miraculously still alive in the playoff hunt.

And somehow optimism still resides in Titletown, USA. But where does all that optimism stem from?

Is it Mike McCarthy’s track record of performing under adverse conditions? The idea that Brett Hundley’s prior preseason success will make a seamless transition to regular season success? Could it be the emergence of electric rookie running back Aaron Jones? An All-Pro offensive line finally getting healthy? The belief that a young but talented defense can make the jump into the top half of the league? Or is it being the beneficiary of a weak division? Or a combination of all the above?

Well, here is your chance Mike.

For a coach who is in his 12th year with the franchise and has a record of 118-64-1, he doesn’t always seem to get the credit he deserves. Particularly because the team has been led by All-Pro future hall of fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The question always becomes is it Rodgers that made McCarthy or is it McCarthy that made Rodgers? The fact of the matter is that they’re both damn good at what they do.

However, if McCarthy can keep this team together and put the Packers in a position for another Super Bowl run upon Rodgers’ return, it could very well be his finest job to date. One that could possibly give him his first realistic shot at earning a Head Coach of the Year Award. It will be a tall task, but it can be done, and McCarthy is not someone I would bet against in this situation.

Remember, it was Mike McCarthy who revived Brett Favre’s career in his second year as the Packers head coach. He guided the team to a 13-3 record in 2007 in what was one of Favre’s best years before an overtime loss in the NFC title game ended that run.

Three years later, he brought the Packers to victory in Super Bowl 45.  He did that with 15 players on IR, and 10 of those being starters!

In 2013 it was McCarthy that kept the ship from sinking while Rodgers missed 8 games with a broken collarbone. Rodgers came back for week 17 and won the division before the Packers were bounced the following week in the playoffs.

Then in 2014, after starting the season with a blowout loss in Seattle, the Packers went on to finish 12-4 and faced the Seahawks in the NFC title game. NOBODY gave Green Bay a chance in that game, but McCarthy’s squad rolled into Seattle and had the defending champs on the ropes for 57 minutes only to collapse and lose the game in overtime.

And just last year after losing four straight and falling to 4-6, McCarthy didn’t fold. Instead, he led the Packers to 8 straight wins only to fall in the NFC title game to the Atlanta Falcons.

It’s 2017 and Green Bay finds themselves in a similar position, backs up against the wall, and my gut tells me McCarthy finds a way pull it off.

“Brett Hundley’s my quarterback,” McCarthy states with so much confidence he almost came off angry at the notion of anybody thinking otherwise.

Okay, Brett’s the guy and that’s not going to change. The fate of the Packers 2017 season will ride on the development of the third year pro Brett Hundley and Mike’s ability to put him in position to succeed. He’s confident, McCarthy is confident, and this team is confident that they can win with him as the quarterback. Even after suffering back-to-back losses.

And why shouldn’t they be confident?

The kid has sat behind and studied every single move of one of the greatest to ever do it for the past 2 ½ years. He has studied the system in and out and knows exactly what McCarthy wants and is looking for from him. His preseason career has been stellar with 98 completions on 148 attempts, 10 TD’s and 2 INT’s. In fact, his 10 TD’s are the most of any QB in the preseason during that span. The problem is that it’s the preseason. In the regular season, Hundley has completed only 33 of 69 passes for 261 yards, 1 TD and 5 INT’s. Not very good. At all.

So, why the confidence?

When Hundley excelled in the preseason it was almost always with the second stringers. When playing with the 1’s, typically in the first quarter of these preseason games, the offense looked sluggish at best. Chemistry takes time to develop and naturally you’re going to find success with the guys you practice with most often. The Packers have talented playmakers at all levels and with some more reps between them and Hundley they should find a rhythm rather quickly. Now, that’s assuming Hundley can stay upright and has enough time to make plays as the ever-shifting offensive line has been horrendous thus far.

Green Bay is currently tied for 2nd in the NFL with 24 sacks allowed. That’s not going to cut it if they want to win games, especially when they’re riding on life support with a backup QB.

There’s some silver lining however as Sunday marked the first game of the year that both their all-pro tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, started and finished a game. The Result – 1 Sack Allowed, fewest on the season.

You know what else produces when the offensive line plays big?

The run game. And the Packers may have found the answer with their electric 5th round draft pick, Aaron Jones. The kid is a straight BALLER. He’s got the vision, patience, and quickness to find holes and cut through the tackles inside. He also possesses enough speed to get around the edge to the outside and break a big gain. And, as evidenced by Hundley’s TD run, he has the ability and isn’t afraid to pick up and lay a block on blitzes.

Since Jones became the starter, the Packers are averaging 137.7 rushing yards per game. That number almost doubles the production of the previous four games in which the Packers averaged 74.5 rushing yards per game. If Green Bay is going to have a chance without A-Rod under center, they will need to keep that pace up for the long haul. That production will alleviate some pressure off Hundley and create some bigger windows for him to throw in.

The Packers don’t have to be great offensively right now either, they just need to be decent. They need to do enough to get by. Expecting them to come out and be the same team without Rodgers is just ludicrous. It will be a collective team effort, and everyone must step their game up a little bit because they won’t have someone that can cover up their mistakes and weaknesses like Rodgers has done so often in the past.

Possibly most important are that Dom Capers and the defense step up. And like the offense, they too don’t have to be great. They just need to be decent. But decent is far better than what they have been to this point so far.

Over the last three games, Green Bay has given up 26.7 pts/game. Currently, 24.7 pts/game is the most by any team with a winning record in the NFL. That team is the Tennessee Titans who are led by third-year stud Marcus Mariota and possess one of the best running back tandems in the league. That number is also inflated a bit due to Houston dropping 57 on them in week 4.

To find a team that’s winning with mediocre quarterback play you have to go as far down as 17 pts/game allowed! That team? The Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Case Keenum. 17 pts/game may be too much to ask from this defense, but if they can meet somewhere in the middle it may be just enough to keep the ship afloat.

The Packers will play a minimum of 6 more games before Rodgers potentially returns. To be on the conservative side, we’ll say 7 games which puts his return in week 16.

In his absence they will face the Lions, Ravens, and Bucs at home while traveling to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Carolina. Several winnable games and to stay alive they will need to win at least three maybe four of those. With the way the division currently sits, and the fact the last two games of the year are divisional games, I can’t see a scenario where the Packers wouldn’t still be alive upon Rodgers’ potential return.

Detroit, currently sitting at 3-3 and coming off their bye week, will face the Steelers and Packers in back to back weeks. Even if Detroit gets hot and goes on a bit of a roll I don’t believe they scare anybody. They don’t scare the Packers, the Vikings, or the rest of the NFL either. Who Detroit scares the most is probably themselves. We have seen them get hot year in and year out only to have an epic collapse at the end of the season. It’s nothing new, it’s who they are, it’s what they do.

The Vikings are looking solid at 5-2 with a game against the winless Browns coming up before they enter their bye week. Minnesota features a top-10 defense and has the best defense in the division. But, what they also have is an offense that has been extremely inconsistent and comes with the unknowingness of who their quarterback will be going into the back half of the season.

The Vikings also play a slew of tough games down the stretch as they will face the Redskins, Rams, Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals and Packers all in a row!

So, while the Vikings and Lions may be licking their chops right now, I can assure you that nobody is running away with this division. I fully anticipate the NFC North coming down to the wire and being as dramatic a finish as ever.

The question for the Packers is, do they have enough dog in them to survive? Because we all know with a healthy AR-12 in their arsenal leading the troops, they will have as good a shot as anyone to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy, should they still be standing upon his eventual return.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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