On that note, we talked to Jason Hirschhorn over at Acme Packing Company to get caught up on what's been happening for the Pack in the first half of the season, and to pick his brain on a couple of topics.
WCG: McCarthy just got an extension this week - given his success level as head coach of the Packers, what's the general reaction to this?
Though the news did not arrive until this week, an extension for Mike McCarthy became inevitable once the Packers extended general manager Ted Thompson earlier this year. McCarthy's success (six playoff berths including five straight dating back to 2009, two conference championship appearances, and a Super Bowl victory) makes him on the most decorated coaches in the league, and there was little chance the team would let him walk away. Now, the Packers have their GM, head coach, and quarterback locked up for the long haul, giving them the stability at all levels of the organization.
WCG: After the Packers slower start, what was behind the big four-game win streak (besides the fact that the Bears invited the Packers to Soldier Field, and then allowed them to do whatever they felt like?
Two factors drove the Packers resurgence over that four-game winning streak.
The defense, in particular the secondary, began to force more turnovers. Cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Sam Shields each produced multiple picks during that stretch while the team averaged over two takeaways per game. As we've seen in past years, such plays can transform Dom Capers defense from a sub-par unit into one of the most effective.
The primary catalyst for the team's winning streak, however, was the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Though the Packers had plenty of issues during their first three weeks, Rodgers' inaccuracies proved too much for them to overcome in Seattle and Detroit. In the time since, Rodgers has played as well as anyone in the league, throwing 14 touchdowns against only two picks. As is the case for most teams, the Packers will go as far as their quarterback can take them.
WCG: Was it a down performance two weeks ago against the Saints, or did the Saints lay out the gameplan for taking down the 2014 Packers?
The Saints are just a good team at home. The fast track of the Super Dome plays to the strengths of their speedy playmakers Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks while Jimmy Graham is a tough matchup for anyone anywhere. That said, it certainly didn't help the Packers when Rodgers tweaked his hamstring. At the time of the injury, the game was tied at 16. Though I picked New Orleans to win, perhaps things play out differently if Rodgers remains 100%.
As for a blueprint to stopping the Packers, that's been there all along. The teams that consistently create pressure without blitzing can drop back into coverage and take away most of the explosive plays. At that point, it's up to Eddie Lacy and the ground game to balance things out, and for the most part that hasn't worked out well for Green Bay this year.
WCG: The Packers are near the bottom of the league in yards allowed (somehow, even, behind the Bears!) As long as the McCarthy regime is in, are the Packers ultimately going to be more about outscoring the opponent, and less about stopping them?
You're mixing up the metrics here. The Packers are indeed 26th in the league in yards allowed per game (379.3), but they're markedly better at keeping points off the board. The defense currently ranks 19th in per game scoring (23.9), and has held opponents to 24 or fewer points in six of their eight games. Advance metrics like Football Outsiders' DVOA like Green Bay's defense even more, ranking them 16th even after the blowout in New Orleans.
As for your big-picture question about defense under McCarthy, I'm not sure I agree. The Packers fielded an elite defense in 2009 and '10 (Dom Capers first two years with the team) and since have been up and down. It's certainly still a problem area for the team, but I don't see it as one that can't or won't be resolved during McCarthy's tenure.
WCG: Give us a prediction: How's this one shaking out?
I don't see the blowout that many are predicting. Despite all the criticism Marc Trestman is taking for the Bears' 3-5 start, he remains once of the most creative offensive minds in the NFL. Giving him a bye week to self-scout and play around with the scheme should produce far better offensive production than we've seen from Chicago thus far. Still, there's probably not an in-season cure for the Bears' defense, and the Packers too have the advantage of coming off the bye. I see a tight game through three quarters with Green Bay taking the lead for good in the final stretch.
Thanks, Jason. May your team make it through the game injury-free and scoreless!