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GREEN BAY – Two are making noise with all the headlines, and the other two are very quietly doing what the Packers hoped they would, too.

Back in March, when General Manager Brian Gutekunst signed four unrestricted free agents practically before the opening bell quieted down, it was natural for Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to turn heads.

They play the glamor position of outside linebacker, they get after quarterbacks, and they rack up sacks, to the tune of 21½ combined through 14 games.

The less-heralded free agents, guard Billy Turner and safety Adrian Amos, weren’t likely to compete for that kind of attention. But that’s perfectly fine.

In discussing these “other” two with position coaches and teammates, it’s fair to say they actually have more in common than their dissimilar positions and disparate personalities would suggest. Namely, they’re cerebral players whose brains bring as much to the table as their fellow free agents’ stats.

“His football IQ, in my mind playing next to him, that’s the biggest thing that stands out people may not see,” center Corey Linsley said of Turner.

Added cornerback Tramon Williams about Amos: “He’s very smart, and he’s always in the right place. He’s a person you can count on at the end of the day, you know what I’m saying?”

Intelligence and reliability. That’s precisely what the Packers have in Turner and Amos, and they couldn’t be happier about it.

Turner quickly stood out upon arriving in Green Bay for everything from his unusual haircut to his off-beat interests to a peculiar sense of humor. With everything in measured tones, he fit in as the new veteran on the Packers’ offensive line rather easily.

Starting every game at right guard this season, he’s been steady with a couple of standout performances against premier defensive tackles – Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks in the rematch with the Bears this past week.

“He does a good job for us as a tone-setter,” offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. “He’s a guy you can lean on to go against big matchups.”

It’s his mind that supplements those physical, athletic traits, though. With Green Bay already Turner’s third team in a six-year career, upon arrival in the spring he was accustomed to absorbing a new playbook in the normal course of an offseason.

Linsley, tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, and guard Lane Taylor, on the other hand, had only known one offensive system their entire NFL lives. It didn’t take long for Turner’s smarts to get noticed.

“When we got here,” Stenavich said of the Packers’ new coaching staff, “Billy had been in, I think, four different offenses in four years, or something like that, and I had bounced around as a coach.

“You come here and these guys had only done one thing for so long. With me installing new things, Billy was picking it up, like ‘OK, that’s what this is. And this is that.’ For the other guys it was harder. They hadn’t had that newness.”

Communication with his linemates has been smooth from the get-go, too.

“He’s easy to talk to. We’re on the same page a lot,” Linsley said. “There’s very few times when we’re not, but it’s very easy to fix stuff with him. If we’re coming off (the field) and had a little issue … ‘I thought you were going to do this,’ … OK, we’ll just fix it, like that.

“I could tell (early on) he was a very calm football player, very intelligent, had a feel for the defense and everything.”

Communication with a calming presence is Amos’ forte as well. The former Bears safety’s responsibilities are more wide-ranging in that respect due to his position, and he stepped into that role right away as a new veteran starter in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense.

Defensive backs coach Jason Simmons, who played some safety himself during a 10-year NFL career, said it’s obvious his teammates respect Amos for his experience and knowledge. That’s important when directing traffic for a rookie safety starting alongside him and for a cornerback group that has only one player, Williams, with more than three full seasons in the pros.

“Whenever you play safety in this league, the No. 1 thing we talk about before we talk about physicality or anything else, you have to be a good communicator,” Simmons said. “We are the coverage quarterbacks. We are the guy that everybody looks to. Anybody moves, everybody now looks to the safeties to know what they’re calling, to confirm any check or to change any check.”

Amos is very soft-spoken and understated, not the rah-rah type. But there’s no mistaking his tone when he’s making a call for his teammates to follow. He communicates with confidence and conviction, and it has helped the defensive backs look much more in sync in recent weeks passing routes off to one another in certain coverages.

“His call command is one of the best things that he does for this defense,” Simmons said. “Guys know when he says it, there’s no hesitancy, there’s no apprehension, or not sure, no uncertainty. The whole thing with him is he says it, and if it’s wrong, play what I call, and that’s OK. Play what I call and we’ll get through the next down and get it coached up on the sideline.”

Put another way, “He’s seen a lot of football at this point,” Williams said. “He brings a state of stability.”

He also ranks second on the team with 81 tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and fourth with eight passes defensed. Amos even has a sack, just the third in his five-year career.

Billy Turner’s 14 starts are a career high for a single season and he’s not done yet. He’s also played every snap this year but two, when he exited for a kneel-down sequence.

But that turns the conversation back to stats, and that’s not what these “other” two free agents are about. The Smiths bring more than the numbers as well, but if it’s harder to see what makes Turner and Amos so valuable, that’s OK.

The Packers got exactly what they were looking for with them, too.

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Custom Jaire Alexander Jersey Large

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jason Simmons would take a repeat performance by Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.

The Green Bay Packers’ secondary coach might not admit that directly but as he leaned against a wall outside the Lambeau Field locker room and contemplated what his starting cornerbacks did more than three months ago against the Minnesota Vikings, a look of satisfaction crossed his face.

“The one thing they did was they realized the threat that both of those guys present,” Simmons said. “That’s probably the best tandem in the league.”

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In that, he was referring to Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

But it was after that Week 2 game — a 21-16 Packers win in which Diggs caught just one pass (a 45-yard touchdown on a ball that Alexander said he lost in the sun) and Thielen had a modest five catches for 75 yards — when Alexander boasted: “Me and [King], shoot, the best tandem in the league.”

Both proclamations — the one from Simmons about the Diggs-Thielen combination and Alexander’s — can be poked full of holes after Thielen missed most of the past two months with a hamstring injury before he returned last Sunday against the Chargers and after the Packers’ defense has been burned by explosive plays.

But come Monday’s rematch in Minneapolis (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), there’s a good chance that whichever tandem has the better night also will come out on the winning side.
Jaire Alexander, left, and Kevin King might not be “the best tandem in the league” but they were effective against the Vikings in Week 2. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

“Honestly it’s going to come down to player versus player,” said Simmons, a 10-year NFL defensive back himself. “We see these guys, they know us, we know them. The deal is a lot of times not to get in the way of good players at his point and make sure they’re able to go play fast.”

Diggs and Thielen were Packers killers last season. In the two games against Green Bay, a Vikings’ win and a tie, they combined for 37 catches, 461 yards and five touchdowns.

On Monday, they would need 31 catches for 337 yards and four touchdowns to match last season’s two-game numbers against the Packers.

What’s more, they did little damage against Alexander and King in Week 2. According to Pro Football Focus, Thielen caught only two passes for 36 yards on four targets against Alexander, while Alexander was targeted twice when he was on Diggs and did not allow a completion. King was in coverage on Diggs’ deep-ball touchdown and Alexander came over to help late. King came back to make one of the game-saving plays – a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone on a ball thrown for Diggs.

“Jaire and Kevin played great games, and it was a battle for sure,” said Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark, who had a strip sack in the first quarter against the Vikings in Week 2. “We’re going to need another performance like that from all of our top players against all of theirs.”
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Alexander, voted a Pro Bowl alternate this week, ranks sixth in the NFL in pass breakups (18), while King is tied for seventh in interceptions (four). Like Thielen, King has battled injuries. The Packers rested him in Week 14 against the Redskins to help his ailing shoulder heal for the stretch run. He returned last week and played all 84 defensive snaps against the Bears. Thielen also returned last week from a nagging hamstring injury and caught three passes for 27 yards.

In the first meeting against the Vikings, Simmons and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine charged Alexander and King with playing plenty of one-on-one coverage while they committed a safety to the box in an effort to slow down running back Dalvin Cook. If Cook can’t play this week because of his shoulder injury, it could allow them to help Alexander and King a little more.

In that game, Kirk Cousins posted his second-worst Total QBR as a starter (7.8), but he’s turned it around of late in large part due to play-action with Cook. The Vikings have the second-highest play-action rate in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and Cousins has 13 touchdowns without an interception on such plays.

“We were in a lot of single-high and they challenged us,” Simmons said. “They actually caught some passes, so I have to give them credit as well. They had some 50-50 balls — Diggs’ touchdown was a big one. But the big thing was we took the challenge. We know that they present a really good run threat to us, so we know we’re going to some single-high, and the guys have to take the challenge.”

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When: Monday 12/23, 7:15 PM CST
Where: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
How to Watch: ESPN
Head to head: Packers lead 60-53-3 Playoffs 1-1

Bulaga (Al Bello/Getty Images) (Photo: Scout.com)

 

Storylines to follow
All the Marbles (Not really)

The first time these two teams met, the Packers jumped out early to a 21-0 lead and looked like they may run away with the game. Then to quote Aaron Rodgers, “Mike Zimmer happened.” Green Bay ultimately hung on to win the game 21-16 and have not relented the divisional lead all season. Since week two, both teams have lost three games with the head-to-head matchup being the difference while this game could potentially play a significant factor in the NFC North title race. The Packers still control their destiny in that race, even with a loss to the Vikings. A loss to the Vikings and a victory over Detroit next week ensures an NFC North title in Green Bay. What is more critical is seeding; if the Packers can win their next two games, they will lock up the two seed, and potentially the one with some help. Winning the North is on this team’s checklist, but no one in the NFL will want to come to play this team at Lambeau in January.

Hypothetical: 49ers lose to the Rams on Saturday and Seahawks lose to the 49ers Week 17. Packers beat Vikings and Lions.

The NFC playoffs would go through Lambeau Field.
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) December 16, 2019

Unstoppable Force, Immovable Object

The Packers have never won at US Bank Stadium
The Vikings are 7-0 at home this season
The Vikings are 0-8 with Kirk Cousins under center on Monday Nights.

Something has to give.

With the loss to Seattle, Kirk Cousins now falls to 0-8 on Monday Night Football.

The winless record is the worst by any quarterback in MNF history ?? pic.twitter.com/UPXXh6q9c9
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) December 3, 2019

Game Tilting Matchups
Can Green Bay Stop the Run?

Dalvin Cook will not play, but whenever Gary Kubiak is involved, it often does not matter who receives the handoff. Clearly, the Vikings would love to have their top back, but the Packers will still have their work cut out for them. The Viking’s top backup is Alexander Mattison, who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, Mattison is coming off an ankle injury, but is expected to play. If Mattison is limited, the Vikings would then turn to Mike Boone, who looked impressive with two touchdowns in last week’s victory. The Vikings offense starts with the run; then, they like to throw over the top of defenses with play action. Green Bay did a good job limiting the run game in week two, and an even better job of not biting on any play-action shots. Expect Mike Pettine to have a similar game plan this week.

With Raven Green or Ibraheim Campbell on the field for the #Packers, they’re giving up 16.1 points per game, and that includes the 37 to SF.

Without them, the Packers give up 24.1 points per game.

That hybrid nickel safety is CRUCIAL to this defense.
— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) December 17, 2019

Kenny Clark vs. Minnesota Interior O-Line

Kenny Clark is a game wrecker. Never has that statement been more evident than the first time these teams met in week two. Clark tallied seven total pressures and a sack en route to his second-highest graded game of the season per PFF. Pat Elflein vs. Clark may be the most favorable matchup anywhere on the field for either team. Elflein has struggled all season with his transition to guard. Rookie center Garrett Bradbury opened the season poorly but has since rebounded, and shown plenty of promise. This game will be an excellent litmus test for him to see just how far he has come this season, and he will no doubt want to put his first matchup with Clark behind him and leave Monday’s game with some better football on film. Unfortunately for him, Kenny Clark has played like a one-man wrecking crew.

69 get’s out in front of his skies a tad, and Clark makes him pay big time.

Clark is playing at a level that, if you aren’t getting help, you better be perfect to stand a chance. https://t.co/SBT4N5KsM4
— Jake Morley (@JacobMorley) December 19, 2019

Bakhtiari and Bulaga vs. Hunter and Griffen

Studs. All of them. Last week we talked about how sacks ruin drives; pressure can wreck games. There is only one duo in the NFL that has registered more pressures than the Smith Bros. That would be the EDGE rushers in Minnesota. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have combined for 147 QB pressures this season. For comparison’s sake, the Smith Bros have accounted for 139. In week two, the Hunter and Griffen tandem registered 16 QB pressures and one sack. Griffen did most of the heavy lifting with 11 pressures, but Hunter had the sack. Bulaga and Bakhtiari rank amongst the best pass blocking duos in the National Football League. They will need to play to that standard Monday night if the offense has any hope on the road in a rowdy stadium.

Congrats my guy @DavidBakhtiari on his pro bowl bid. Plays like this is why he’s one of the best. pic.twitter.com/zq3ooPI2Ih
— TJ Lang (@TJLang70) December 18, 2019

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MINNEAPOLIS (WLUK) — In the middle of answering a question about Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari stopped to scan the TV cameras in the media scrum.

“Who’s a big-time camera? Who’s got big-time news?”

Finally landing on a winner, Bakhtiari made his message to those who decide the All-Pro teams loud and clear: “You’re an idiot if you don’t vote for him for All-Pro. He is a stud.”

Bakhtiari let it be known last week that leaving Smith off the Pro Bowl roster was a mistake, calling him the best player on the Packers.

After his Pro Bowl snub, Za’Darius Smith posted a career-high for sacks in a game with 3.5 against the Vikings Monday night and helped Green Bay seal its first division title since 2016.

After the win, Bakhtiari recalled the first time he practiced with Za’Darius and went against him in a one on one drill.

“I remember when he first came in, without pads on he was kind of doing some stuff and I was like okay, we’ll see. No one really knew about him and his name still isn’t even really that well-known, but the first time we got pads on I kind of hemmed them up a little bit and I was like, alright back to my old ways,” recalled Bakhtiari. “Then the next day, he was in front of me one moment and the next moment he wasn’t. I was like, that man is too big to flash like that.

“I didn’t want to admit it then, but now that I see what he’s been doing every week I’m like ‘eh, makes me feel pretty good.’I feel better about how I go up against him in practice, I mean the guy is an animal.”

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GREEN BAY – Packers linebacker Blake Martinez has been chosen as the team’s 2019 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

The annual award is one of the most prestigious in the league, recognizing one NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field. From the league’s 32 nominees, one winner will be announced during the NFL Honors ceremony on Super Bowl weekend.

Martinez, in his fourth NFL season out of Stanford, currently is second in the league with 129 tackles (79 solo, 50 assists) in addition to two sacks and a forced fumble. He’s started 45 consecutive games at inside linebacker dating back to the Packers’ 2017 regular-season opener against Seattle.

Since being drafted in the fourth round out of Stanford in 2016, Martinez has been active both in the Green Bay community and back home in Tucson, Ariz. Earlier this summer, he also was honored as the team’s 2019 community service award recipient.

“One of the things I wanted to get into once I got my feet underneath me in the NFL was being able to help out anybody, whether it be kids, adults, high school, whomever,” Martinez said. “To be a good role model, help out the less fortunate, and use my platform for the greater good. It’s just a testament that doing the right things always ends up helping yourself and the other person out. This nomination gives me more and more motivation to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Martinez’s charitable and community involvement began during his time at Stanford, when he and his fellow teammates would volunteer at homeless shelters and visit children’s hospitals and museums.
Blake Martinez, Dean Lowry & Tyler Lancaster sign autographs for charity

Packers LB Blake Martinez and defensive linemen Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster signed autographs at Lambeau Field Monday night in exchange for donations to the Salvation Army.

In Green Bay, Martinez has been involved extensively with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Salvation Army. He also participated in the Packers’ annual Tailgate Tour in 2018 and the team’s annual Give Back Celebrity Bowling Event, which raises money for the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) Promise Scholarship and for the Wisconsin Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association.

An avid gamer, Martinez donates to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for every 100 followers he gets on twitch.tv/packernation50 as well as 100 percent of the money he receives from subscriptions and ads. He played in the Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am this past June in support of St. Jude, a cause close to his heart since his childhood friend, Richard Blau, passed away before his 15th birthday due to complications from osteosarcoma.

More recently, Martinez became a spokesperson for the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, visited cadets at the Challenge Academy in Fort McCoy, Wis., and helped with a Play60 football camp at nearby Syble Hopp School.

“We just helped them catch footballs, do certain obstacle courses, asked questions, talked to them. We just had a blast,” Martinez said. “It’s those type of moments they don’t typically get to do that. They don’t get to take that time away and just be kids. It was cool to see them have that moment and … being able to see them have a smile on their face.”
Packers kickoff third year of Packers vs. Cancer

Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, Packers LB Blake Martinez and K Mason Crosby helped kick off another year of Packers vs. Cancer.

As a nominee, Martinez will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.

Martinez is the fifth consecutive defensive player to be the Packers’ annual Man of the Year nominee, following Kenny Clark in 2018, Clay Matthews in 2017, Jayrone Elliott in 2016 and Sam Barrington in 2015. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the team’s nominee, and eventually a league finalist, in 2014.

Whoever is chosen Walter Payton Man of the Year will have $250,000 donated to a charity of his choice, while the other 31 nominees will have $50,000 to a charity of their choice.

“It just gives you more motivation to keep influencing and keep motivating the younger generation,” Martinez said. “It’s those small little interactions that can change a person’s life. Whenever I have those moments, if I can go there and change one person’s mentality or give one person motivation, it’s going to be a positive interaction for me.”

For the fifth year, each Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee will also take part in the Charity Challenge, a social media challenge that encourages fans to post on Twitter using a unique hashtag for each player. Fans are encouraged to vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee’s last name. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most between Dec. 12 and Jan. 12 will receive a $25,000 contribution to their charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations.

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Tight end Jimmy Graham and cornerback Kevin King are both active for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but starting inside linebacker B.J. Goodson won’t be available against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

Graham and King were both listed as questionable but will play. King is returning after missing last week’s win over the Washington Redskins with a shoulder injury.

Goodson, a run-stuffing linebacker, wasn’t listed on the Packers’ injury report. His absence should mean more snaps for safety Ibraheim Campbell and second-year linebacker Oren Burks on Sunday.

The Packers inactives:

WR Ryan Grant
RB Dexter Williams
CB Tony Brown
CB Ka’dar Hollman
OT Jared Veldheer
OT Yosh Nijman
LB B.J. Goodson

The Bears will be without receiver Taylor Gabriel, linebacker Danny Trevathan, offensive lineman Bobby Massie and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris.

Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday, is active.

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Jeff from Athens, WI

That makes eight. AR12 said in the beginning of the year, “We have a defense,” and the season has shown that we do. In eight games (so far), the Packers’ defense has held the opponent to fewer than 20 points. That is a good way to win football games. Oh, and if you love defense – that is winning pretty.

And the best part is the Packers don’t just have a defense – they have a team. And that team is pretty darn good at finding ways to win football games. Merry Christmas!

Justin from Raleigh, NC

Za’Darius Smith in an emotional postgame interview said all he wanted for Christmas was a shirt and a hat. I’d say he earned them. I’ve never felt so confident about our chances to win in a game we were down 10-3, but if we didn’t spot the Vikings 50-plus yards, it really felt like they weren’t going to be able to move the ball on us. Was that what a complete game looks like, minus the turnovers?

First off, Za’Darius Smith needs to be in the conversation for NFL defensive player of the year. I couldn’t care less about the Pro Bowl at this point. He’s an All-Pro worthy of such consideration. He does it all, both on the field and in the locker room. You’re right. Give that man his hat. He earned it. That was the most complete defensive performance the Packers have had since the opener against Chicago and Za’Darius is a big reason for that.

Justin from Los Angeles, CA

Reggie White and Charles Woodson are the eternal gold standard for free-agent signings in GB, but Za’Darius is quickly moving up the list. What players do you think are above him that he’d have to unseat to move into that three spot?

I can’t think of any other free agents not named Reggie White who came to Green Bay and knocked the doors off the building faster than the Smiths. Even Woodson needed a few seasons to realize an All-Pro season in Green Bay. One Smith, if not both, could wind up doing it in his first year with the Packers.

Edward from Portland, ME

Is the Vikings’ OL that bad or were they just confused with Packers’ defensive schemes? I can’t remember ever seeing such a total mismatch.

I actually think Minnesota’s offensive line is better than it’s been the past few years. The Packers just took it to them from start to finish. That snowball just kept rolling.

Ronald from Panabo, Philippines

Insiders, I love that the Packers came in as underdogs, turned over the ball early (just like San Francisco), overcame that and dominated on defense. This is the signature win of the season, isn’t it?

I said over and over last week how the Packers needed to go into U.S. Bank Stadium and hand it to the Vikings. Sure, it might have been ugly early but the Packers persevered and got the statement win they were looking for. There’s one more piece of business to tend to this regular season. Beat Detroit and rest up.

Howie from Saint Ignace, MI

How do the coaches guard against a letdown versus the Lions after the euphoria of winning the NFC North and beating the second-best team in the division?

Glance down at their shirts: “The North is not enough.” On to the next battle.
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Wes from South Saint Paul, MN

Losing the turnover battle was totally offset by the dominant defense – just look at the time of possession! The Packers had the ball a full quarter more than the Vikings – that’s how you negate the load of turnovers.

In this game, the only thing more powerful than turnovers is points.

Justin from Black River Falls, WI

Offense identity! Am I the only one that sees the short passing game combined with the run game as being the best way to move downfield? Whenever the Packers tried deep they had trouble connecting.

I’m going to use this Allen Lazard quote from my Monday story on the Packers’ first-year receiver to answer this. I feel like fans and media “have had the answers to the test this whole time and they chose to ignore them.” Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. When they produce, the Packers win. Period.

Stephen from Menomonee Falls, WI

So the Pack is 3-0 in games this year when A-Rod has not thrown a TD pass. Who’da thought?

Craziness. It’s almost like you need more than just one player to win games in this league.

Tom from Iron River, WI

People criticize the Packers for having one receiver in Adams, however, every game Lazard or Kumerow has key receptions and provides consistent run blocking. When are they going to get a little love?

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were willing blockers but I can’t recall a receiving corps that’s this proficient in blocking during my time on the beat. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a terrific block on Jones’ 56-yard touchdown, as well. As Jones told me after the game, those blocks aren’t just important because they spring him for big gains – they also keep hits off him. That keeps tread on the tire.

Craig from Milwaukee, WI

How far do you think this team can really go?

To infinity and beyond.

Steve from Land O Lakes, FL

I didn’t notice it until I watched the replay today how many of the offensive linemen were in the end zone to congratulate Aaron Jones on his TD run. That’s a long run especially at the end of a hard game. It’s great to see the offense so tightly bonded.

There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jones and the offensive line.

Mike from Chaska, MN

ML – Coach of the year…by a long shot. EJ – Rookie offensive player of the year. AJ – All-Pro (should be in the Pro Bowl). ZS – Defensive player of the year (should be in the Pro Bowl). MC – Best kicker of the year award. Undrafted rookies/players of the year award…AL and JK. BG – GM of the year…Smiths, Amos, starting guard, starting rookies, hiring ML! Scary thing…This is still a very young team on both sides of the ball with great leadership!

I mentioned on “Unscripted” Tuesday that Gutekunst needs to be in the running for NFL executive of the year. He made a big investment in those four free agents last March and all four have earned those contracts. Gutekunst also drafted Elgton Jenkins and unearthed a few gems in Allen Lazard, Chandon Sullivan, Tyler Ervin and more.

Chris from Cedar Rapids, IA

The Packers Monday night, and perhaps through the whole season, reminded me of the Patriots of the past few years – it never looked amazing but there was an inevitability about them. They just kept moving the ball and didn’t seem to doubt that they would win the game.

You better jump on this team early, because if it’s a one-score game, the Packers are tough to beat in the fourth quarter.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Wes, Kyler Fackrell drawing a penalty neutralizing the touchdown throw to Johnson with four minutes left does not appear on anyone’s radar. I thought that was big. Don’t know what the Packers defense was doing there, though. Thoughts?

Massive play. Blake Martinez was giving Fackrell praise for it in the postgame locker room. And Fackrell earned every bit of that penalty, too. If he doesn’t get held, Fackrell sacks Cousins. He’s played well this season behind the Smiths.

Uriah from South Vienna, OH

I was thinking the same thing about Minnesota’s choice next week. Do you take a “bye” or try to win? I think I would take the week to rest. Which one would you do, and why?

I’d sit the running backs and Eric Kendricks but everyone else is playing if I’m Mike Zimmer. If the Vikings are going to do anything in the postseason, I’d argue Cousins needs a tune-up fight to get some confidence back after that performance Monday night.

Kristopher from Fulton, WI

What are your thoughts on the five (potentially six) Packer finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020?

As Spoff knows all too well, I’m a massive fan of Cecil Isbell. He undoubtedly would’ve been a Hall of Famer had he not stepped away from the game following the 1942 season. He had the NFL’s first 2,000-yard passing year, while his 24 touchdown passes that season were the franchise’s single-season record for 40 years. I was thrilled to see him included. If I had any gripe, it’s that there are three contributors getting inducted and only two coaches. That should’ve been flipped. It’s much more difficult for coaches to make the Hall.

Barry from Wausau, WI

I liked the way the Monday night game was officiated. No ticky-tack calls and you barely noticed the refs. I was worried that Rodgers might have suffered a concussion on that last sack as his helmet bounced off the turf and saw his reaction when he got back up. Glad to see he was OK. Happy holidays!

Bill Vinovich’s crew is the best in the game, in my opinion. Always clear, concise and generally lets the players play. If you don’t focus on ticky-tack penalties, you’re more likely to catch the real ones.

Jake from Farmington, MN

Did you guys see/hear that the Vikings showed the play where Rodgers got hurt on the big screens before the game? I hope a thousand years of losing curses them for such low-class behavior. May they never win another game.

I’m a big karma guy. I’m not saying others need to be. I can also appreciate the “pro wrestling” aspect of rivalries. But once I saw that clip, I immediately thought to myself, “Oh boy, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Locker Room Pass: Packers at Vikings

Look inside the locker room as Packers players celebrated winning the NFC-North division title.

Lowell from Tuscola, IL

That horn was pretty quiet in the fourth quarter. Packer fans weren’t though.

Horns in the first quarter. Tail lights in the fourth.

Brad from Clemmons, NC

The “Go Pack Go” chant sounded great on TV. How loud were the Packers fans in person?

Pretty darn loud. The reaction to Jones’ 12-yard touchdown run was one of the loudest of the entire evening.

Nathan from Lino Lakes, MN

5-0 in the division? Did not expect that. Do you know the last time the Packers went 6-0 (or undefeated) against division opponents?

Man, y’all really did black out memories of the 2011 season, huh? That’s like the 12th time I’ve gotten that question this year and the third time I’ve answered it.

Gordy from Plymouth, WI

Great team win. Smith Bros. showed they are great cough eliminators, with outstanding support from everyone else. I also want to commend you on the article about Lazard, shows him as a classy receiver.

Lazard has come a long way…and he’s not done yet. He’s going to be an important piece to this playoff puzzle.

Corinne from Madison, WI

Merry Christmas, Wes! I understand that the Pack can get the No. 1 seed if Green Bay beats Detroit and Seattle beats San Francisco. Are there other (reasonably possible) scenarios where Green Bay gets the first seed in the NFC?

The Packers can’t get the top seed with a loss. They can still get a bye with a loss if Carolina turns back New Orleans.

William from Rosedale, IN

Greetings, what a great game. The defense was powerful and had more energy than I have noticed in previous games this year. With the regular season about to end, I would like your opinion of the deal the Bears made to acquire Khalil Mack. Although their defense is amazing, the Bears haven’t achieved much in the postseason. Was giving up all the draft choices a good deal, looking back?

They had no choice. GM Ryan Pace and the Bears needed a playmaker to put that defense over the top. The real issue has been the offense not being able to catch up quickly enough to capitalize on Mack’s arrival.

Brad from Crystal Falls, MI

No question today just a comment. Last night I sat on my recliner, 7-day-old daughter in my arms, dog between my feet, and watched the team I’ve loved my whole life win its division for the first time after a brief drought. I found myself for the first time truly understanding what is meant by “it’s the memories that make us rich.” Thank you Insiders for always keeping the tradition, memories, and family, as they say after every game, of this team and this game in perspective.

Cheers!

Jeff from Tucson, AZ

Merry Christmas to all.

And to all a good night…and a quick shout-out to Cheryl from Strawberry Point, IA, for the wonderful Insider Inbox frames. Spoff and I loved them. “Insider Inbox: A quest for the answers to the questions that won’t go away.”

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Custom Oren Burks Jersey Large

Oren Burks came into this season with plenty of questions.

“I know what type of ball I’m capable of playing, and I’m feeling like I didn’t live up to my own expectations,” said Burks after last year. “I’m hungry to get back after it, to prove to myself, prove to the team, my worth.”

The second-year inside linebacker is scratching and clawing to get on the field once again this year. To be fair, luck hasn’t been on his side as the third round pick was sidelined with a shoulder injury in the 2018 preseason and he compounded that with a pectoral injury in the 2019 preseason opener.

Worth is a touchy subject. The Packers’ defense has been gouged to the tune of 826 yards on 69 receptions and six touchdowns via the tight end. Burks was supposed to be the dynamic playmaker that Green Bay has desperately missed from the inside linebacker spot.

“You want to be dominant, but if that’s off the table, if you’re going to choose where you’re going to be good, it’s going to be keeping teams out of the end zone,” said Mike Pettine this week. “With the issues we’ve had this year, I think that’s one area where we have done a good job.”

The keyword from the above quote is issues. I really like Blake Martinez. He’s a sure tackler and an excellent leader. However, he is getting exposed in coverage and he needs to be complemented with a quicker, more dynamic version. That was supposed to be Burks, who started out playing in the secondary at Vanderbilt.

However, he’s been stung with injuries and pedestrian play. So, now the Packers have to start wondering how much time is left on Burks’ clock. He has two years remaining on his deal, but his dead cap number for next year is $410,378 and it’s $205,189 in 2021. Those are numbers the Packers can easily swallow.

I was excited about Burks heading into this year. I didn’t want the Packers to draft Devin Bush last spring because of his tackling inconsistency. But nobody could’ve predicted that Burks would’ve been bitten time and again by the injury bug.

The defense is excellent at defensive line, good at outside linebacker and has been steady at defensive back. The one gigantic wart on the Packers’ defense is inside linebacker.

And unless Burks can play more than 6.5 percent of the defensive snaps the rest of the season, he doesn’t deserve to come back. Aaron Rodgers just turned 36. He has shown signs of wear this year, so the best way to help him out would be to beef up the defense. The reason the Packers started 5-1 was because of the defense. That unit got pressure and Rodgers knew he didn’t have to do too much.

However, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco set the template for beating this team: throw it over the middle and keep Rodgers off the field with a running game that consistently gets first downs.

Burks had plenty of promise, but it’s time for Green Bay to jump ship. Injuries aren’t the fault of the player, but it’s time the Packers get out too soon rather than too late.

——————-

Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on “Clubhouse Live” and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on

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Custom Dean Lowry Jersey Large

Lowry (ankle) is officially active for Monday night’s game against Minnesota.

Lowry has yet to miss a game this season, and was a late addition to the injury report Saturday ahead of the game. Now that he’s officially active, he’s expected to assume his usual starting role across the Packers’ defensive line.

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Custom Kingsley Keke Jersey Large

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are so healthy that the biggest “news” from Friday’s practice was a massive jersey swap among some of the players on defense.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith and Montravius Adams, outside linebacker Preston Smith and defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell and defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster traded jerseys. It wasn’t all so cut-and-dried, though. Outside linebacker Rashan Gary was in Dean Lowry’s No. 94, defensive tackle Kingsley Keke was in Gary’s 52 and Lowry was in Keke’s 96.

During the Vince Lombardi era, the Hall of Fame coach often had his players wear different numbers for fear that his team was being spied upon on the practice field. There were no such fears on Friday, though, as the team worked inside the Don Hutson Center in preparation for Sunday’s showdown against the Chicago Bears.

“We were just chilling,” Clark said. “I heard Z and Mon talking about something and I was like, ‘Let’s switch jerseys today.’ So, we all switched. Just having fun. … I had on P’s jersey. I was trying to do his little celebrations and all that today. We had fun with it.”

Added Adams: “Honestly, we were just trying to have a little vibe, little fun at practice. At the end of the day, this is everybody’s job here but you don’t want your job to feel like work. I feel like that’s part of the reason why we’ve been so successful. It’s not like we’re working. We did go to work and do our job but we had fun at the same time.”

As for the injury report, the Packers’ secondary should be at full strength for Sunday. Cornerback Kevin King, who was a surprise inactive last week due to a shoulder injury, is questionable. So is tight end Jimmy Graham (wrist/groin). Both players practiced all week.

“He did a nice job,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “I don’t want to speak out of turn, but yeah I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready to go, but there’s still 48 hours or whatever before game time.”

The Packers have been healthy for most of the season, and that’s true in the secondary. Of Green Bay’s top five in the defensive backfield – corners King and Jaire Alexander, slot Tramon Williams and safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage – only Savage (two games) and King (one game) have missed a game.

Only one member of the Packers didn’t practice on Friday: practice-squad receiver Malik Taylor.

Chicago listed four players as out, including inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. That means Chicago’s starting tandem and leading tacklers, Roquan Smith (100 tackles; injured reserve) and Trevathan (70 tackles) will not play. Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris is questionable. He has two sacks in his last three games against Green Bay. Bears coach Matt Nagy said, “We like what we’re seeing” from Pro Bowl defensive end Akiem Hicks, the latest signal he will be activated from injured reserve before Sunday’s game. He’s missed the last nine games with an elbow injury.

PACKERS INJURY REPORT

Questionable: TE Jimmy Graham (wrist/groin), CB Kevin King (shoulder).

BEARS INJURY REPORT

Did not participate: TE Ben Braunecker (concussion), WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion), OL Bobby Massie (ankle), ILB Danny Trevathan (elbow).

Questionable: DE Roy Robertson-Harris (foot), WR Javon Wims (knee).