After an early loss in the regular season, it’s common for sports fans to say “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” The idea being that the season is long, and the team that comes hot out of the gates may not be the one to cross the finish line first.
Of course, the metaphor works another way.
Marathons are long and miserable, and the farther you go the worse you feel until finally you collapse in a heap and spend the coming days and weeks regretting the choices you made that led you to participate in the race in the first place.
So, you know, one way or another, that phrase is going to apply to the Green Bay Packers this season.
I spent enough time on Monday excoriating the Packers’ pathetic display in Jacksonville, so I’m not going to waste too much more space venting about what we’re all tired of reliving by now.
The good news is that when you start with a 38-3 shellacking, really the only way to go is up.
The Packers get a bit of a break in a Monday Night home game against the Lions, who valiantly fought back in week one after spending the first portion of the game getting absolutely annihilated by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Lions were bad in 2020, and are likely going to be worse in 2021. They are clearly worse at the quarterback position (going from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff), lost their best receiver, still don’t have a defense to speak of (particularly secondary), and have an insane head coach who’s more likely to become a meme than a mainstay.
It’s a good chance for the Packers to hit the reset button, get back into their offense and figure out what the hell it is they want to do on defense.
Good teams, even great teams, can have bad losses.
Here’s hoping we remember this start to the season as a blip in an otherwise extraordinary season.
The 2021 Packers as the 2014 Packers?
There have been a lot of parallels drawn over the last few days to the 2014. That team started slow (R-E-L-A-X), thanks in large part to a new and relatively young offensive line with a rookie center. They had some issues gelling early on, but over the final three months of the season became a top offense in the league, and were supported by solid defensive play.
I’m not particularly worried about the Packers’ offense. At some point, David Bakhtiari will return, and the quality snaps the young guys like Josh Myers and Royce Newman are getting will begin to pay dividends.
But it’s the defense where the parallels start to fall flat for me. Is this unit, with its current makeup and under the leadership of Joe Barry, capable of playing defense at the same caliber as that 2014 team?
Now, that 2014 team was not the best defense we’ve seen in the Rodgers era. It was middle of the pack in DVOA, and didn’t do particularly great with scoring defense or ranking by yardage. But it felt like that was the last time in the Dom Capers era where the defense stepped up and made big plays when needed and was capable of occasionally winning the team some games.
The Packers’ 2020 defense was very comparable in DVOA to that 2014 defense. The talent level of that defense (which is essentially the same as the 2021 defense) is also pretty similar.
I guess ultimately the question is whether you trust the Packers’ defense will be able to improve over its 2020 results with primarily the same players, and Joe Barry as defensive coordinator.
The results from the first game certainly are not promising.
But again, for better or for worse, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Wisconsin Beer of the Week
I started a new weekly tradition this week when I asked my Twitter followers before the game which type of beer I should crack for kickoff of the Packer game. The choices I provided were:
Light and Crisp
Strong and dark
Fruity and sour
Choice A won out in the end, and so I went into my fridge and pulled out a truly great summertime beer, Cream City Brix by Enlightened Brewing Company here in Milwaukee
I’ve chosen a couple Enlightened beers before as my Beer of the Week. This is their most broadly distributed beer, the company’s flagship. It’s a light cream ale that goes down incredibly smoothly at 5 percent ABV.
Cream style ales predate prohibition, as do Milwaukee’s cream city bricks, which were used to build many of the most historic structures in our fair city. The word “brix” is a measure of sugar used when making wines and ciders, so it’s sort of a play on words for a Milwaukee-based beer.
It’s a very light, crisp and slightly sweet beer akin to a pilsner, the kind of beer you grab after you finish mowing the lawn, or when you’re going to head to the beach or a volleyball game. Just about any beer lover will enjoy this one.
You can pick up cans at the brewery in Milwaukee, but they also have some limited regional distribution. I purchased my cans at my local Woodman’s.
Week one weirdness abounds
Every year there’s some really unusual stuff that happens in week one, and then things tend to sort of correct themselves throughout the rest of the season.
The Packers weren’t the only victims to week one weirdness this season.
The Cincinnati Bengals unexpectedly took down the Minnesota Vikings on their home turf in overtime. The Vikings came into the season with a lot of hype (stop me if you’ve heard this before), only to come out and lay an egg against a team that was among the worst in the league a season ago.
The Arizona Cardinals beating the Tennessee Titans wasn’t a massive surprise, but the forcefulness with which they did it certainly was. Derrick Henry was thoroughly bottled up, and the Cardinals looked like championship contenders in the process.
The Dallas Cowboys very nearly took down the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their own stadium in an exciting opening night matchup.
The Bills, another common choice for a Super Bowl appearance, looked flat and gave the game away to the Steelers while playing at home.
The Eagles, an offseason punching bag for many fans and analysts alike, absolutely crushed the Falcons on their home turf.
The Houston Texans, THE offseason punching bag for many fans and analysts, embarrassed the Urban Meyer/Trevor Lawrence Jaguars.
Week one is the hardest week to predict every single year, but it was especially chaotic this season. We’ll see how many of these teams continue to surprise us.
Wisconsin corn mazes for your fall enjoyment
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “corn mazes are a fall tradition in Wisconsin.” I’ll have to take their word for it, because I’m a city boy who doesn’t get out to farmland very frequently. Not that I’ve never been to a corn maze–I just don’t think about making it a part of my fall each year.
The article I linked above provides a list of some of the best corn mazes to visit in the state, including hours of operation, costs, locations, contact info and other fun things to do while you’re there. A couple are located relatively close to Milwaukee, but the selections are spread throughout the entire state, so go wild.
I’m more of a pumpkin patch or apple orchard person, myself, because I think corn mazes would either freak me out, make me anxious or both. But if this is your kind of thing, be sure to check one out.
I’ll be heading out to my first pumpkin patch of the season in a few weeks on a field trip for my three year old’s preschool. But I’m definitely looking forward to getting some fresh apple cider (the thicker and more opaque, the better!) and some caramel apples very soon as well.
I’m not one of those folks who spends all summer waiting for fall to arrive for all the basic fall foods and activities. But come on, who doesn’t love orchard-fresh apples?!
Around the NFC North
Here we go once again around the NFC North leading into week two.
-The CHICAGO BEARS are still engaging in the Andy Dalton charade for some odd reason. At this point, Dalton is who he is. I refuse to believe he gives the team a better chance to win than Justin Fields. At least Fields doesn’t have a cap on his ability at this point in his career. I also don’t buy the argument that the Bears are holding Fields out to protect him from the Bears’ terrible offensive line. I really just think Matt Nagy is that dumb and stubborn.
-The DETROIT LIONS had a wild opening week against the 49ers. They went down big, nearly came back and ultimately collapsed as they are wont to do. Jamaal Williams had a solid debut for the team with over 100 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, so that was nice to see from a former beloved Packer. The team lost Jeff Gladney for the season, thinning them out even more at defensive back. This week they travel to take on the Packers who are going to have some frustrations to take out, so it’s unlikely things will get much better. If the Packers’ offense returns to form, it could easily be two weeks in a row to start the season that they give up more than 40 points, which would sort of make this year’s Lions the bizarro version of the 2020 Packers.
-The MINNESOTA VIKINGS have their work cut out for them this season. A loss to the Bengals to get things kicked off is disastrous for a team that had a slow start a year ago and doomed its season. This week they’ve got a date with the Arizona Cardinals, who looked like one of the better teams in football in week one in decimating the Tennessee Titans, who were expected to be contenders themselves.
Time for the Packers to insert their new blood
I brought it up briefly in my Game Changing Play of the Week article on Monday, but I just do not understand the continued insistence on giving large numbers of snaps to guys like Kevin King, Tyler Lancaster and Dean Lowry.
All of these guys are in at least their fourth year with the team. They are known commodities who are either below average to average (Lancaster and Lowry), or startlingly inconsistent, ranging from absolutely horrendous to surprisingly capable (King).
You can absolutely do worse than Lancaster and Lowry if you’re talking about, like, rotational players (true second or third string guys). But we’re talking about guys that are still being asked to take starter reps in year four for Lancaster and six (!) for Lowry.
It’s unbelievable to me that the team has not made any legitimate effort to improve the position. How many more times does Brian Gutekunst need to see these guys get blown off the line of scrimmage before he decides to get serious about investing some serious assets in the defensive line? Because Kenny Clark can’t do it all by himself, and you can’t count on Jack Heflin and TJ Slaton to be the solutions to the problem (though you should still at least give them some opportunity to show what they’ve got).
Kingsley Keke is rapidly getting into this territory as well, by the way. He gets this year to prove himself, and then will likely be a bubble player in 2022.
As for King… where to even begin? I was surprised when the team brought him back for this season. I really thought that the baggage was going to be too much, similar to Brett Hundley in 2018. The Scotty Miller play is forever going to live in Packer fan nightmares, along with 4th and 26, the Jerry Rice fumble that wasn’t, the Elwaycopter, the Bostick onside kick flub… you get the picture.
I understood the decision to bring him back, though. King played solid football at the beginning of the season when healthy, and was not at all at full strength in the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe, he could get back to the level of play he achieved while healthy.
The problem is, well, King is never healthy. And what we saw out of him in week one was him picking up exactly where he left off against Tampa: getting bamboozled on simple deep out routes and being spun all over the field in coverage while mediocre receivers run right past him.
I’ve seen everything I need to see from King. There’s no reason to start him any more. He’s useful as depth and as a situational player, but Eric Stokes is far more athletic and has far more upside. It’s time to put King on the bench and move on to the guy who’s going to be getting all those snaps after this season anyway.
Manningcast: Surprisingly excellent
I had a chance to go back and watch some extended cuts of the Manningcast from Monday Night Football this week.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, ESPN has Peyton and Eli Manning on a separate broadcast of Monday Night Football adding their own insight, commentary and reactions, with some occasional guests popping in and out throughout the evening.
I watched the full end of game and overtime, and it was really outstanding. Way better than any MNF commentary we’ve seen in years. An excellent balance of humor and really smart football with a laid back feel to it. Awesome to see these two quarterbacks dissecting plays as they’re happening live. Their reactions to a lot of plays were hilariously low key, also–you can tell they’re watching games completely differently than how fans do. Their responses tend to be quite academic, though every now and then they get pretty excited about what’s happening.
The alternate telecast airs on ESPN2 and ESPN+. It’ll be happening on 10 different editions of MNF throughout the season, so any time it comes on I’ll definitely be giving it a watch.
I have to admit that I thought this would come across as gimmicky and lame, but it actually ended up being a really cool and unique telecast and I hope they continue to explore this more.
Prediction for Lions vs. Packers
So obviously I’m picking the Packers to win against Detroit on Monday Night.
I just cannot believe this team is so far up its own ass that they’re going to come in and overlook the Lions after getting thoroughly embarrassed in week one.
This team has a history of performing very well after losses under Matt LaFleur. The Lions’ weaknesses are innumerable, and the Packers will almost certainly attack that weak secondary with the play action while giving Aaron Jones plenty of the touches that he failed to get in week one.
This one shouldn’t be close.
But if it is… hoo boy, this team’s in worse shape than we thought.
Packers 31, Lions 17 with some garbage points.
Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.