Hangin’ With Havel

Hangin’ with Havel

For Monday September 26th

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to their website/Facebook)

** Chrysler World

Ten minutes north of Green Bay off Hwy. 41, Chrysler World has more than 340 used vehicles to choose from and they service and back what they sell. Chrysler World also has more than 250 new cars, SUVs and trucks on the lot. See their lineup at www.chryslerworld.com.

** Packer City Antiques

Twenty-eight years in business, owner Mike Worachek features rare Packers and sports memorabilia at 2208 S. Ridge Rd., Green Bay. Card and Coin also buys gold and silver at www.titletownnostalgia.com.

** BoxDrop Green Bay

BoxDrop Mattress Clearance Center carries all the big name brands: Simmons Beauty Rest, Serta, Sapphire Sleep and more. Save up to 80% off retail prices. Call (920) 770-2067 to make an appointment. Tell them Chris Havel sent you to receive an additional 5% off your purchase.

** Los Banditos 

Los Banditos is a cozy cantina serving California-Mexican fare plus margaritas, tequila and beer. Steve “Swobey” and kitchen manager Jason run a clean, customer-friendly business. Dine-in or drive-through is available at 2335 W. Mason St. across from Oneida Casino. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Sundays. Call Los Banditos as (920) 494-4505 for more information. 

Packers’ defense seals 14-12 win on late stop

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense came out hotter than the Tampa Bay sun.

The visiting Packers scored on consecutive possessions to turn an early 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 lead against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

That was the good news.

Even better was the way Green Bay’s defense made it stand in a 14-12 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday at steamy Raymond James Stadium.

Trailing 14-6 with less than three minutes to play, Brady and the Bucs mounted a last-ditch drive to try to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Brady moved the offense and capped the 13-play, 89-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage to make it a two-point game with 14 seconds to play. It appeared the Bucs were going to run for the tying 2-point try, but were flagged for a costly delay of game penalty.

Backed up to the 7-yard line, Brady rolled right and tried to force a pass to Gage in the back of the end zone, but the Packers’ De’Vondre Campbell leaped high and swatted it away to seal the win.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur could’ve done without the game’s end drama, but he still managed to smile at the outcome.

“It’s about finding ways to win football games,” LaFleur said. “Every team is going to face adversity throughout the course of the season and it really doesn’t matter. Nobody really cares. I told our guys we’ll never apologize for winning. You’ve just got to find a way and we did.”

Indeed, the Packers (2-1) found a way to win. They also found a few answers to key questions in the process.

Here are the big takeaways:

** No. 1 – The Packers’ defense slugged it out in Tampa’s heat and humidity for four quarters and still made the clinching play at the end. Green Bay’s defense also proved it can wreak havoc when rushing four, and that the secondary is deep enough to overcome Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander’s absence due to a first-quarter groin injury.

** No. 2 – Romeo Doubs doesn’t look, play or act like a rookie receiver. The fourth-round pick out of Nevada is fast-becoming a legit weapon. Doubs caught eight passes for 73 yards and a 5-yard touchdown catch. It was the first touchdown of his NFL career.

Doubs’ big game was badly needed on a day when Sammy Watkins (who was placed on IR) and rookie Christian Watson were out with hamstring injuries.

As an aside, Randall Cobb had two catches for 57 yards. Both converted key third downs and both contributed to the Packers’ scoring drives.

** No. 3 – All-Pro David Bakhtiari’s return to left tackle for several series is the last, final piece in the offensive line puzzle. If Bakhtiari’s comeback goes as planned, the Packers’ offensive line undoubtedly rates among the NFL’s finest units.

** No. 4 – The Packers’ special teams units aren’t merely hoping to play to a draw. They are making the plays that help teams win.

All of that contributed to the Packers’ road victory against one of the NFC’s top teams, and one of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks.

The defense’s late stop was the highlight.

Campbell had 14 tackles (eight solo) and defended the key pass.

Rodgers heaped praise on the defense and Campbell.

“He’s a special player,” Rodgers said. “He’s really coming into his own as a leader. To think a couple years ago nobody really wanted him and here he is, 14 tackles, a deflection at the end of the game … It says a lot about the type of person that he is.”

The Bucs (2-1) were shorthanded, so to speak, at receiver.

Mike Evans, their top receiver, was serving a one-game suspension. Julio Jones (knee) was a game-time inactive, and Chris Godwin (knee) also was out. The Bucs were so decimated they signed Cole Beasley, who caught three passes for 12 yards on short notice.

It wasn’t nearly enough against Green Bay’s active defense.

Coordinator Joe Barry didn’t blitz in the first two games. He did blitz against the Bucs, but only sparingly, and managed to prove his point. Why blitz if your defense can be impactful and disruptive when rushing Rashan Gary and Preston Smith off the edges, with Kenny Clark and whomever (take your pick) coming inside.

Clark had four tackles and two sacks. Gary had three tackles and a sack. Dean Lowry had three tackles and Jarran Reed had a tackle and fumble recovery. Rookie Quay Walker had five tackles and a forced fumble.

The Bucs’ receiver woes were offset by Alexander’s absence. In his postgame news conference, LaFleur said he was unsure of the severity.

LaFleur added that special teams’ ace and slot corner Keisean Nixon had a strong game in place of Alexander.

“Our defense was playing great,” LaFleur said. “A couple of times (the Bucs) got into a rhythm but we caused turnovers. Nixon busted it on teams and then he played a ton of snaps on nickel. Shemar (Jean-Charles) was out there, Rasul (Douglas) played some in the nickel, and 21 (Eric Stokes) seems to have a pretty quiet number of targets his way, so give him credit.”

Brady finished 31 of 42 for 271 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked three times and posted a 98.4 passer rating.

Rodgers was 27 of 35 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked once and had a 103.9 passer rating.

Rodgers’ primary weapons were Doubs and Cobb. Doubs was smooth as silk while catching eight passes in as many targets for 73 yards and his first NFL touchdown. Doubs’ 5-yard touchdown grab gave Green Bay a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter.

Doubs also had a 21-yard catch and was sure-handed throughout.

Rodgers said he is going to look at the tape to see if Doubs might’ve had more opportunities to inflict further damage. It was interesting that Rodgers’ tone concerning Doubs was so matter-of-fact, as if the 8-catch, 73-yard day was expected.

Allen Lazard also had a strong game.

Lazard had four catches for 45 yards and a 6-yard touchdown that capped the Packers’ 12-play, 71-yard drive that made it 14-3.

Lazard’s 26-yard catch on a blitz-beater late in the game gave the Packers an opportunity to seal the game with a Mason Crosby field goal. But on the next play, Juwann Winfree was bumped off his route, which led to a drive-killing incompletion.

“That should have been a completion to Juwann inside field-goal range,” Rodgers said. “Bada bing, bada boom, ball game.”

If only it were that easy.

Neither team could run the football effectively.

The Bucs’ Leonard Fournette banged away 12 times for 35 yards with a long run of 6 yards. Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 36 yards with a long of 10, and A.J. Dillon also had 12 carries and finished with 32 yards. Jones caught three passes for 11 yards and Dillon two for six.

The Packers rushed for three first downs. The Bucs rushed for one. The Packers were 6 of 15 (40 percent) on third-down conversions while Tampa Bay struggled to go just 2 of 11 (18.2 percent).

Brady and the Bucs finished with only 285 total yards of offense.

LaFleur was looking for the Packers’ offense to back its defense’s play by delivering the knockout punch in the second half.

It didn’t happen.

“What I was disappointed in was so much good field position in the second half and we did nothing with it,” LaFleur said. “It felt like we could close out the game and we didn’t do it on offense.”

LaFleur paused, and added, “This game was won by our defense and special teams.”

And for that nobody in Green Bay is going to apologize.

Packers get early test vs. tough, smart Bucs

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – One of the hallmarks of a Hall of Fame quarterback is the ability to make their teammates better.

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have been doing it forever, or so it seems. On Sunday, they will be put to the test in that regard by salty defenses and circumstances beyond their control.

When the Packers (1-1) take on the Bucs (2-0) at 3:25 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium temperatures will be in the high 80s, but that’s not the only reason the heat will be on Brady and Rodgers.

Both of the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks’ receiving corps is decimated.

The Bucs’ receiving corps is depleted due to Mike Evans’ suspension and injuries to Julio Jones (knee) and Chris Godwin (hamstring). Neither Jones nor Godwin practiced Thursday.

The Packers’ plan for life after Davante Adams has been complicated by injuries to Allen Lazard (ankle), Sammy Watkins (hamstring), Christian Watson (hamstring) and Randall Cobb (undisclosed illness). Cobb sat out Wednesday and none of the four practiced Thursday.

Evans, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, was the most-targeted receiver on a sputtering Bucs offense. Lazard, who missed the season opener with the ankle, played well against the Bears but may have had a setback.

Most weeks, the Bucs would bang away with Leonard Fournette, throw to the tight ends and rely on Brady to back their defense’s play. Likewise, the Packers would ride Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, move the chains with precision passes and rely on Rodgers to make the big play.

That’s a much greater challenge given the Bucs’ and Packers’ defenses. Tampa Bay is the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (13 points allowed) through two weeks. Green Bay’s defense has surrendered 33 points, but has yet to allow a second-half touchdown.

That doesn’t mean Brady and Rodgers can’t generate offense. It just means the margin for error is slim and it’s going to be awful difficult, especially with the ravaged receiving corps.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was asked to compare and contrast Brady and Rodgers.

“All you have to do is No. 1 look at their ability to win games and lead teams,” LaFleur said. “Tom’s won a ton of Super Bowls (seven). You look at the talent of both (Brady and Rodgers) and it’s not surprising why they’re referred to as two of the greatest ever. I think they’re both great competitors.”

Brady, 45, is averaging just 201 yards passing per game with two touchdowns and an interception. He threw 43 TD passes last season. The Bucs have ridden Fournette hard through two games. He has 192 yards on 45 carries for a 4.3 average.

Rodgers, 38, is figuring things out without Adams.

The Packers’ one-two punch (Jones and Dillon) has combined for 287 yards rushing on 48 carries. After ignoring Jones in the season-opening loss at Minnesota, LaFleur relied on him in the win over the Bears.

Bucs coach Todd Bowles is aware of the Jones-Dillon challenge.

“They both can do everything,” Bowles said. “Obviously, Aaron is faster – he plays wide-out, he plays running back, he moves inside, he moves outside, he plays the slot – he does a lot of things great. He’s very explosive when he catches the ball and when he runs the ball, he can break it and he can turn a 4-yard gain into a 60-yard gain.

“A.J. is just tough to bring down. He’s tough – not only is he tough, but he has very good feet. He can catch the football as well. Those two, along with Aaron (Rodgers) and the rest of the guys – it’s going to be a tough draw.”

The Packers catch a break with Bucs defensive tackle Akiem Hicks out with a plantar fascia injury. It should make running the ball that much more do-able, but nose tackle Vita Vea is still a beast. The 6-4, 330-pound defensive tackle has 1 ½ sacks this season.

The Bucs’ linebacker corps is led by Devin White, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett. They are fast, aggressive and battle-tested.

White has three sacks and the Bucs’ defense has forced six turnovers.

Look for the Packers to deploy Jones and Dillon together to balance up the Bucs’ defense in an attempt to make them defend the entire field. Draws and screens are difficult because of the Bucs’ defensive speed, but play-action passes can be successful if the run game gets going.

On defense, the Packers have yet to blitz this season.

That could change Sunday, but it’s a greater gamble given Brady’s experience and the possibility of creating run lanes for Fournette. It’s only two games but neither De’Vondre Campbell nor Quay Walker has blitzed from their inside linebacker spots. Rasul Douglas also hasn’t blitzed when he’s been lined up in the slot.

Will Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry change up the tendency? It seems unlikely. It’s almost as if Barry is doing some reconnaissance in terms of answering the question, “Can we get home rushing four?”

Barry talked about it.

“We do like to bring multiple people but, on the other end, too, when we do choose to rush four, the four guys we have rushing are pretty effective and pretty good,” Barry said. “But by no means do I ever want to think that we’re not a pressure team because we can, we will, we like to do that. It’s just the way the two games have gone. We’ve defended quite a few runs. We’ll get to the point where we do that, but I really do like our four-man rush. I think it’s highly effective.”

Edge rushers Rashan Gary and Preston Smith each have two sacks. Nobody else has a sack.

Brady said he’s been getting quality protection up front.

“I’ve been getting great protection,” he said this week. “The guys up front have been competing very hard. I think that’s part of why we’ve run the ball so well. We’ve been able to run it a bunch of times and … control the line of scrimmage. It’s a big challenge. Great pass-rushers, one of the best inside players we’ll face all year, Kenny Clark; Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are great rushers. It’s another big challenge but we’ve got to meet it.”

Prediction: Bucs 20, Packers 19

Packers bury Bears as

Jones runs roughshod

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If the Packers’ winning formula was predicated solely on Aaron Jones touching the football Green Bay’s season would be nothing but outrageous victories and Super Bowl berths.

It would be pure bliss.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur could simply call Jones’ number with impunity, and No. 33 would do the rest.

If only it were that simple.

The mercurial Jones was dominant in the Packers’ 27-10 victory over Chicago on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, but it wasn’t purely because of his incredible talent.

The healthy return of right tackle Elgton Jenkins (to solidify the line) and receiver Allen Lazard (to shore up the downfield blocking) had a huge impact on Jones’ 170 yards from scrimmage.

Jones rushed 15 times for 132 yards (an 8.8 average) and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.

A.J. Dillon had Jones’ back by hammering away 18 times for 61 yards and delivering several jarring blocks to spring his backfield mate.

“A.J. does it all,” Jones said. “He catches the ball. He can block. He was blocking their starting middle linebacker, Roquan (Smith) on that and he sprung me into the touchdown. That shows a lot. A.J. cares about me. I care about him. We’ll lay it all out for each other.”

Aaron Rodgers did his part by completing 19 of 25 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns and a 131.1 passer rating. Rodgers threw for 10 first downs to keep drives alive and allow Jones and Dillon to do their thing.

“Tonight was really about 28 (A.J. Dillon) and 33 (Jones), getting them the football,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t play great. I feel like the stats look a little better than the game. … I missed some throws that I should never miss. There were some opportunities for more points out there.”

Green Bay’s defense also factored into Jones’ success by bending early, recovering after the Bears’ opening-drive touchdown, and proceeding to administer a first-rate butt-kicking.

“We got smacked in the mouth and then came back and responded,” the Packers’ Kenny Clark said.

The Bears’ offense eked out 228 yards, just 25 yards more than the Packers rushed for as a team. Chicago was a dreadful 1-for-7 on third down attempts and converted only two passing first downs all night.

Justin Fields finished 7 of 11 for 70 yards, one interception and a 43.8 passer rating. Fields was sacked three times, an incredible total given the infrequency with which he passed, and the Bears’ 48 net yards passing was the fewest allowed by a Green Bay defense in 16 seasons.

Chicago’s David Montgomery did his best to offset the onslaught by racking up 122 yards on 15 carries (an 8.1 average) but it wasn’t enough. As sub-standard as the Packers’ run defense was Sunday night, their pass rush and pass coverage were synced up.

Fields had little time to throw and when he did nobody was open.

The Packers’ Jaire Alexander didn’t get the shutout he was hoping for, but he approved of the performance just the same.

“I think that today our secondary came to play and we communicated,” Alexander said. “We’ve got to stop the run a little bit better, though. As far as passing, I think we were all on the same page and it was much better than last week.”

Alexander’s dazzling interception highlighted the effort.

“I was like, ‘I’ve been waiting all game for this,” he said. “They had gotten me on the flea flicker. I was like, ‘I need something else.’ I was getting ready to let that route go and then something told me to just stay with it.”

Alexander stayed with that play the way the Packers’ offense stayed with the running game. It was good old-fashioned dogged determination.

“We set high goals for ourselves in that room,” Alexander said. “We want to be the best secondary in the league. It’s a long season. So, at the end of the year, we want to be the best and we’re just taking the steps towards it.”

Preston Smith had a team-high seven tackles and two sacks. Rashan Gary, his edge-rushing bookend, had a sack and two QB hits.

On offense, the Packers ran everything through their running backs.

Jones and Dillon combined for 237 total yards on 37 touches. It was up from their combined 23 touches for 167 yards in a Week 1 loss.

LaFleur vowed to get the ball to Jones. He made good on his promise.

“Aaron Jones, man, he was absolutely electric,” LaFleur said. “Every time I’d think he was going down, he’d somehow find a way to squirt his way through. And he’s just a hell of a competitor and he’s a guy that just embodies everything that you want in a football player: the way he works, how selfless he is, how he cheers for his teammates, how he supports his teammates.

“They don’t make many like this guy. He is one of a kind. We’re lucky to have a guy like that.”

The Packers had eight different players catch passes.

Lazard, who was making his season debut after missing the opener with an ankle injury, hauled in a nifty 13-yard touchdown catch to make it 24-7 to close out the first half.

Rodgers was sacked three times, which is three too many, but he didn’t endure anything close to the beating he took at Minnesota.

Rodgers also looked more in sync with his receivers, and in particular rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson.

Veteran Sammy Watkins made the most of his three catches by racking up 93 yards. His 24-yard grab late in the first quarter helped set up the Packers’ first touchdown. His 55-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter set up Mason Crosby’s 28-yard field goal to make it 27-10.

Randall Cobb also was efficient catching three passes in as many targets for 38 yards.

Bears’ secondary will

test Packers’ receivers

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers have sufficient cause to take the Bears seriously going into Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field.

The concern begins with a disjointed Green Bay offense that produced little but contributed mightily to a 23-7 loss at Minnesota in Week 1.

The Packers (0-1) are 10-point favorites against Chicago (1-0).

Apparently the Las Vegas odds-makers see Green Bay’s defense pitching a shutout. If the Bears eke out 10 points can the Packers score 21? As crazy as that sounds, it’s a legitimate question.

Then there is Chicago’s surprising 19-7 upset of the 49ers in last week’s monsoon at Soldier Field. The Bears’ defense generated a pass rush, forced turnovers and was solid in coverage against San Francisco.

Furthermore, Jaylon Johnson and the Bears’ cornerbacks are above average, with talented veteran Eddie Jackson and promising rookie Jaquan Brisker backing their play at safety.

Win or lose, there’s also this nugget: The Buccaneers (1-0) looked to be in fine form – especially on defense – in Week 1. They await Green Bay in what will be a marquee Week 3 matchup at Tampa Bay.

If the Packers aren’t careful head coach Matt LaFleur may go from having never lost back-to-back games to staring down the barrel of a three-game losing streak to open the season.

LaFleur is 6-0 versus Chicago with Aaron Rodgers throwing 16 touchdown passes to zero interceptions in those games. That might explain the massive 10-point spread, but that was with Davante Adams.

Now it’s up to Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and the rookies to add to Rodgers’ lopsided six-game total. It won’t be easy because the Bears’ defensive secondary is no joke.

Johnson, the left corner, is among the Top 10 in the league. He has terrific instincts to go with his obvious talent. Vildor Kindle, the right corner, is aggressive and loves to hit. Kyler Gordon, a second-round pick in April, is the starting nickel back.

Brisker, the Bears’ other second-round pick, recovered a fumble and was in on four tackles. Jackson, his mentor, made a key interception and added four tackles in the Week 1 win.

Roquan Smith, the Bears’ middle linebacker, is a terrific player. He posted a team-high nine tackles and a half-sack against the 49ers.

Robert Quinn is the most experienced pass rusher, while rookie Dominique Robinson had seven tackles, two QB hits and 1 ½ sacks in his NFL debut.

On offense, the Bears’ Justin Fields played with much more poise and confidence in his first start of Year 2. Fields was 8 of 17 for 121 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and an 85.7 passer rating.

Fields’ touchdown passes both came in the second half.

On Wednesday, he was asked about the difference in Year 2, and in particular offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the play caller.

“It’s confidence,” he said. “That’s one thing that I take from him, he’s a very confident guy. I think he gives confidence to the rest of the guys.”

LaFleur said he was impressed with Fields against the 49ers.

“I think he looks more decisive out there, and I think that’s a natural progression,” LaFleur said of Fields. “Obviously, I know Luke Getsy very well, a guy I have the utmost respect for and I know he’s a damn good coach. I’m sure he’s really helped (Fields’) growth. I thought just the resiliency he showed, that’s a tough football team. They battled them and were more physical than San Fran. Most importantly, especially for young quarterbacks, it’s just staying resilient, and he definitely did that.”

The Packers are bringing back former players such as Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler and safety Johnnie Gray to celebrate the home opener.

Fields sees an opportunity to rain on the Packers’ parade, so to speak.

When asked about the Packers-Bears rivalry, Fields said, “It means a lot. Of course, I want to win every game I play. But it’s the tradition of this rivalry. It means a lot to us as a team, to the fan base, to the people upstairs. It just means a lot to everyone in this building.”

Undoubtedly, the game is important in the Bears’ attempt to become relevant in the NFC North. But given everything the Packers have on the line, especially in Week 2, Green Bay needs this win to restore its divisional dominance and all that goes with it.

Consecutive division losses with Tampa Bay waiting in Week 3 would be a challenging way to open the season.

Clearly, the Packers have other ideas.

Prediction: Green Bay 20, Chicago 9

Packers’ offense lame, 

‘D’ tame in 23-7 loss 

By Chris Havel 

Special to The FAN 

GREEN BAY, Wis. – After months of hype and high hopes the Packers managed to raise concerns and lower expectations in a single afternoon. 

The Packers’ disappointing 23-7 loss to the Vikings in Sunday’s season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium isn’t unprecedented. They were drubbed by the Saints, 38-3, in last year’s opener at Jacksonville. 

To be sure, the 2021 fiasco was ugly, but this year’s is alarming. 

The Packers’ offense had months to determine how to proceed without All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. It was assumed head coach Matt LaFleur would deploy “21” or “22” personnel – two backs and one tight end, or two backs and two tight ends – to account for Adams’ loss. 

Instead, LaFleur under-utilized Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon – his top two weapons – by handing it to them infrequently and throwing it to them sparingly. 

Jones had five carries for 49 yards. Dillon had 10 for 45. The Vikings’ run defense didn’t stop them. LaFleur’s play-calling did. Dillon added five catches for 46 yards and Jones had three catches for 27 yards. 

It was telling that LaFleur didn’t activate a third running back. 

With that game plan why bother? 

LaFleur’s game plan resembled the disaster otherwise known as the Packers’ NFC divisional playoff loss to the 49ers in January. It seemed as if it was predicated on tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins being healthy and ready to roll – both then and Sunday. 

With the Packers’ top two offensive linemen inactive, LaFleur went with Jake Hanson at right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle, and neither appeared up to the task. 

Newman was responsible for two of the Vikings’ four sacks. If Jenkins isn’t ready to play against the Bears on Sunday night, LaFleur needs to seriously consider Zach Tom or Rasheed Walker at right tackle. 

LaFleur also must figure out how heavily he is going to rely on the backs. Jones is a dynamic, big-play back whose touchdown-making ability is unquestioned. 

Dillon is another terrific weapon who possesses tremendous size, strength and agility for such a big man. He also has soft hands. 

None of that impressed LaFleur enough to rely on his backs. 

Instead, he asked Aaron Rodgers to drop back 38 times (62 percent) and make it work with a collection of aging veterans and unproven rookies at receiver, plus backups Yosh Nijman and Newman at tackle. 

The result was predictable. 

Rodgers completed 22 of 34 passes for 195 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 67.7 passer rating. By comparison, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins hit on 23 of 32 for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Cousins posted a 118.9 passer rating while being sacked once. 

Christian Watson’s drop of a would-be 75-yard touchdown catch on the Packers’ first offensive play of 2022 set the tone. Dillon getting stuffed by smack-talking ex-Packer Za’Darius Smith on fourth-and-goal at the Vikings’ 1 early in the second quarter extended the misery. 

Justin Jefferson’s dominance of the Packers’ secondary sealed the deal. Halfway through the first half concerned fans should have tweeted Jefferson’s bio to Green Bay defensive coordinator Joe Barry. 

Was Barry somehow unfamiliar with Jefferson’s work? It looked like it. 

Cousins hooked up with Jefferson on nine of 11 targets for 184 yards and two touchdowns. It looked eerily similar to Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp with the Rams, where Vikings’ first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell was the offensive coordinator a year ago. 

Jefferson wasn’t merely open. He was playing solitaire. 

Even the Vikings’ terrific young receiver was surprised he was so open on his second touchdown catch of the game. It was a 36-yard grab in which there wasn’t a Packers defender within 10 yards as he sprinted into the end zone to make it 17-0 with 35 seconds left in the first half. 

“I was thinking somebody was about to come from behind and tackle me,” Jefferson said. “I thought (Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander) had run with me. But he wasn’t there. It kind of shook me up a little bit, but I’m glad I got into the end zone.” 

It shook up Alexander, too. 

“All week, (I) was asking for that matchup,” Alexander told reporters. “But it ain’t about me. It’s about the team. It ain’t about me. If it was my way, you know what I would be doing.” 

None of this rises to the level of mutiny, but it’s likely to shake the lines of communication between the defensive coordinator and his players. 

Offensively, the Packers and Vikings each ran 61 plays. That’s where the similarities between the offenses ended. 

Dalvin Cook, the Vikings’ star running back, rushed a workmanlike 20 times for 90 yards (a 4.5 average) with a long of 16. 

The Packers’ defense actually played well in stretches. 

Both teams were 1-for-3 in the red zone. The Packers were just 3 of 9 on third-down conversions, but the Vikings (4 of 13, 30.8%) were worse. 

The Vikings’ four sacks were a significant factor in the outcome. 

Trailing 17-0 with the football on the opening possession of the second half, Rodgers drove the Packers to a first down at Green Bay’s 44. LaFleur called a slow-developing pass play, Newman couldn’t hold up and Rodgers was sacked by Jordan Hicks. The football came loose and Minnesota recovered. 

The Packers’ defense bucked up and held the Vikings to a field goal to make it 20-0, and Green Bay’s offense finally found the end zone on its next possession to close it to 20-7. 

But it was too little, too late. 

“We had a lot of chances today,” Rodgers said. “I’m not taking anything away from their defense, but we hurt ourselves many times, myself included. We had a lot of opportunities to score more than seven.” 

Rodgers said he should have kept the football on the RPO (run-pass option) in which Dillon was stuffed at the 1. 

Watson’s opening-play drop didn’t help. 

“Obviously, it’d be great to have a 75-yard touchdown to start the game, but drops are going to happen. It’s part of the game,” Rodgers said. “It’s the mental stuff that we just can’t have because we’re hurting ourselves. Whether we’re going the wrong way on a block or missing a protection something or missing a hot or not running the right route, the right depth, there was just too many mental mistakes.” 

Many were anticipating the Packers’ deploying Jones and Dillon together. Instead, they scarcely used either one. They combined for 167 yards on just 23 touches. That has got to change. 

On the bright side, the Packers’ special teams’ wasn’t the culprit. It wasn’t even culpable. It was a non-factor, which qualifies as progress, I suppose. 

Clearly the Packers have lots of work to do between now and Sunday’s 7:20 p.m. kickoff against the unbeaten Bears (1-0) at Lambeau Field. 

The Packers are favored by 9 ½ points. Las Vegas really must believe the Chicago Bears still suck, because that’s more points than Green Bay managed in four quarters on Sunday. 

Packers at Minnesota:

Week 1 curiosity high

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ offense has been living on the edge for what feels like forever.

Ever since the Packers’ all-everything tackle tandem of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins have been sidelined with serious knee injuries it has been a study in patience, the art of adjustment and winning with what you have (or don’t have).

This precarious situation dates back to New Year’s Eve of 2020 when Bakhtiari’s knee crumbled during practice leading up to the Bucs-Packers NFC Championship. Jenkins went down with a torn ACL on Nov. 21 in a 34-31 loss at Minnesota.

Finally, after a 21-month eternity, the bookends are back.       

That’s the word anyway leading up to the Packers’ regular-season opener Sunday at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m. with hot and heavy action guaranteed to ensue.

Their healthy arrival couldn’t be more welcomed.

The Vikings’ defense features edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. Hunter brings a cat-quick first step and closing speed. Smith has a similarly dangerous skillset in addition to a Paul Bunyan-sized axe to grind with Green Bay.

Smith, who had injury and contract issues with the Packers, was unceremoniously released after last season. Initially, he signed with his former team, the Ravens. Then he did a 180 and went to Minnesota in hopes of tormenting his former team.

Now, he’ll have to do it while squaring off against Jenkins. On the other side, Hunter and Bakhtiari are familiar adversaries. Whichever tandem owns this battle likely will go a long way toward deciding who wins the game.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was coy about his tackles’ status, but he did say they’ve been working in 11-on-11 drills with the first unit.

“There are never enough reps but we feel good about our guys,” LaFleur said. “Our guys are experienced. We’re going to put the best five out there and try to put them in the best position possible, however that may be. And we’re going up against a really good defensive line. They’ve got a couple great pass rushers (Hunter and Smith), and then having the inability to probably hear on most of the snap counts, it’ll be a great test for our guys to see where we’re at.”

Aaron Rodgers admits there’s a comfort level with Bakhtiari and Jenkins.

“It would definitely settle everybody’s nerves maybe a little bit about that,” Rodgers said.

The Packers may be without receiver Allen Lazard, who had his ankle stepped on last week and still hasn’t practiced. If Lazard can’t go it will be up to Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb and the youngsters to make it work at receiver.

Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure and Juwann Winfree are in the mix of a handful of receivers expected to do the job.

“There are about five guys that we kind of expect to be in the mix consistently playing receiver for us and, if one of them goes down, then the other four better be ready,” Rodgers said earlier this week.

The Packers’ game-like practice last week should help get them up to speed.

“The speed is amped up,” Rodgers explained. “They felt the other day, I think, what me in a game-like situation is like – my energy, the expectation, the tempo with which we play at. Look, they know what the expectations are. We’re not going to put them in positions to not be successful, but there’s going to be opportunities for them when they get out there to make plays, and I’m confident they’re going to make the plays that are available.”

The Packers’ concern on offense would be greater if not for the return of tight end Robert Tonyan, who also is back from a serious knee injury. Tonyan is a capable receiver and above-average blocker whose presence is a key to the attack.

“He looks great,” Rodgers said of Tonyan. “He’s really gifted. He has great hands. He’s a really intuitive route runner. He’s got great instincts. He’s made a couple plays in practice that (are) just different than what we’ve had from those other guys in his absence, and it’s no disrespect to those guys. It’s just that the level that he’s capable of playing at is at that Pro Bowl caliber level, so we’ve got to get him feeling healthy and playing like he was playing a couple years ago and get him going early.”

Clearly, if the Packers’ regular- and post-seasons go as smoothly as training camp and the preseason it’s a fair bet Green Bay fans will be partying in Glendale, Ariz., in early February.

There’s just one problem with that way of thinking.

As LaFleur knows firsthand it’s seldom easy. The NFL schedule’s 17-game grind is a beast to navigate with injuries, illnesses, the occasional poor performance and plain old bad luck.

The Packers will combat it with optimism, professionalism and talent.

The challenge is considerable. The goal is attainable. The reward for being the NFL’s best team in any single season lasts a lifetime. As if the Packers needed to be reminded, LaFleur invited Pro Football Hall of Fame safety LeRoy Butler to lend perspective in a speech last week.

LaFleur called it one of the best speeches he’s heard in the last decade. The fuse has been lit.

The Packers come in as 1 ½-point favorites. The point total is 48 ½.

Take the Packers and the under. A look at the offense, defense and special teams entering Week 1 will explain why.

** Packers’ offense

Rodgers has done a 180 in the past 18 months.

It wasn’t known in the spring of 2021 if Rodgers would play for the Packers. A rift between the future Hall of Fame quarterback and GM Brian Gutekunst seemed irreconcilable at one point.

Today, it’s a different dynamic.

Gutekunst and Rodgers have an open line of communication and the GM routinely consults his quarterback in terms of the roster. Their relationship went from being at death’s doorstep to fairly flourishing.

Now, a rejuvenated Rodgers is eager to attack the 2022 season.

He likes his young receivers, he loves his running back tandem and he is ecstatic about having his bookend tackles  back from serious injuries.

Three of the Packers’ biggest questions were on offense this offseason.

In addition to the health of Bakhtiari and Jenkins, fans are curious to see the debut of Watson. The 34th pick overall elected to have a knee scope and as a result missed camp and the preseason games. Now he is back at practice and getting up to speed.

Rodgers has been effusive in his praise of Watson’s physical skills. Now we’ll see how quickly he is integrated into the offense.

The other question is how frequently the Packers will deploy two-back formations. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are two of the team’s top five weapons, and Rodgers has said repeatedly that the best 11 will play.

The Packers didn’t show any two-back sets in the preseason. I won’t be surprised if they deploy it on nearly 20 percent of the snaps.

Rodgers talked at length about ways to attack with two backs.

“They can both, obviously, run the ball really well,” he said of Jones and Dillon. They can both catch it out of the backfield well. Different types of backs. I was talking to Matt (LaFleur) this morning about it, they’re both I feel dangerous in the open field. Jonesy’s such a slasher and, when he gets the ball, he’s tough to take down. He’s got great balance, low center of gravity. And 28 learned how to run behind his pads, and he can punish, especially in the wintertime, but he can also make you miss. He’s tough to bring down. He’s got tremendous quad size and strength.”

Ideally, the Packers will wear down the Vikings’ defense with an array of short and intermediate passes mixed with a heavy dose of the run game. I suspect the Packers will run right at Hunter and Smith to test their willingness to tackle, as opposed to just pinning their ears back.

** Packers’ defense

Packers’ fans haven’t anticipated watching a great defense in years.

This is that year.

The Packers’ 10th-ranked defense has been galvanized by a second season with De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas, plus the ongoing improvement of edge rusher Rashan Gary.

Kenny Clark remains one of the league’s top defensive tackles, and he’ll have veteran Jarran Reed lining up next to him. Dean Lowry is coming off a solid season and second-year tackle T.J. Slaton has looked good.

Rookies Devonte Wyatt and Jonathan Ford will be brought along slowly, a luxury they can afford right now.

The corners are loaded with All-Pro Jaire Alexander, promising second-year pro Eric Stokes and Douglas. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage will direct traffic at safety.

The Packers’ defense is feeling the vibe – and the vibe is good.

** Packers’ special teams

NFL rosters annually undergo a 33-percent makeover. The Packers were no different. They kept all 11 draft picks plus an additional seven players. Reed and Watkins were the offensive and defensive niche players, while the other five roster spots were devoted to special teams.

Safeties Dallin Leavitt and Rudy Ford, plus corner Keisean Nixon, each led their teams in special teams tackles the past three seasons. Punter Pat O’Donnell and long snapper Jack Coco are the others. With new coordinator Rich Bisaccia running the show the coverage units should be better. The return game appears to be in the hands of Amari Rodgers on punt returns and perhaps Romeo Doubs or Rodgers on kick returns.

** Prediction

The Packers’ offense is likely to experience some growing pains while the tackles and tight end Robert Tonyan settle in after their injuries. The absence of Rodgers’ go-to receiver, Davante Adams, also is a factor.

Meantime, Green Bay’s defense is excited about the challenge presented by Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and the Vikings’ offense.

So long as the Packers’ special teams units don’t sabotage the effort, look for Green Bay to notch a 26-19 victory at Minnesota.

Packers’ final roster

covers present, future

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ final 53-man roster and 16-player practice squad is a deal brokered in common sense. There was the GM’s ability to protect the roster’s future, and there was the coach’s need to win now.

There was something for Packers GM Brian Gutekunst, and head coach Matt LaFleur, with the shared knowledge that the collaboration is just beginning. Who’s to say there isn’t another Rasul Douglas out there waiting to be plucked? If the Packers don’t snatch him up it won’t be for a lack of vigilance.

Furthermore, the game-day “call ups” and greater roster flexibility make it an ongoing, fluid situation. The Packers’ roster cuts were announced Tuesday, but they were hardly finished.

Green Bay’s below-the-radar acquisition of ex-Jaguars safety/special teams whiz Rudy Ford was particularly impressive. Ford admitted that it was Green Bay’s immediate interest that tilted his decision in their favor. They were on top of it, and now we’ll see if it pays off, but Kansas City was among the other teams bidding for Ford’s services. He chose the Packers.

Ford, 27, joins fellow safety (in name only) Dallin Leavitt, 28, and cornerback Keisean Nixon, 25, as the trio of special teams’ mercenaries. Gutekunst devoted those three roster spots, although Nixon can play slot corner to some degree, to the pursuit of special teams’ competence. It’s been hard to come by in Green Bay.

Nixon led the Raiders in special teams tackles with nine in 2019. In 2020, Ford led the Eagles with 11. In 2021, Leavitt led the Raiders with 12. They’ve been there, done that, in terms of being professional gunners, jammers and what-not.

Now, with special teams’ coordinator Rich Bisaccia in charge, and a handful of his hand-picked mercenaries to deploy, the expectation is vast improvement on teams.

The roster also allows for safe-guarding the future of all 11 draft picks who have proven worthy thus far, while it has room for hardened mercenaries whose NFL livelihood relies on their ability to own special teams. It has a terrific balance between winning now while laying the groundwork for the future.

To some, the Packers’ final roster conjured few, if any, surprises.

On the contrary, the roster’s very nature is a surprise.

It is nothing short of astounding that A) the Packers drafted 11 players in the first place and B) all 11 earned a roster spot, capped by C) the fact that each of the spots was earned by the player, and rooted in good football sense.

It isn’t a stretch to see any of the 11 draft picks contributing in some way.

Quay Walker, the 22nd overall pick, is paired with All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell to form one of the Packers’ most intriguing inside linebacker duos in forever.

Devonte Wyatt, the 28th pick, and Christian Watson, the 34th selection, will be worked in as Wyatt lines up behind Jarran Reed and Watson continues to get up to speed after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

Receiver Romeo Doubs will be a game-day active at Minnesota in Week 1. The only question is how many snaps will he be lining up for that day? The Packers’ roster has it covered with veteran receivers Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb, each of whom has gotten their work in and is deemed full go.

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon also are in a similar situation. They have prepared without any preseason snaps, but did participate heavily in the joint practices and Wednesday’s “game-like” practice that drew rave reviews.

The Packers’ offensive linemen got a ton of reps during training camp and the preseason, especially center Josh Myers, left guard Jon Runyan, left tackle Yosh Nijman and the versatile Zach Tom. The Packers kept 10 offensive linemen. Seven of the 10 are in their first or second NFL seasons. Runyan’s entering his third. Left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Elgton Jenkins are the old men in the room.

Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love will handle the QB duties with a practice squad assist from Danny Etling. Rodgers said he likes the chemistry of the roster, and its makeup, while also being pleased to retain the services of rookies such as tackle Caleb Jones, a massive 6-foot-9, 338-pounder (slimmed down from 370).

“I thought Caleb had a great camp and deserved to be on the 53,” Rodgers said. “Lucky to get him back on the p-squad. Looks like he has a bright future in this league. You can’t teach that kind of size. But, take the 6-9, 340 out of the way, the way that he worked from spring to fall camp and then throughout fall camp, he has what it takes to be a player in this league. I told him that a couple of weeks ago.”

Rodgers appreciated the efforts all the rookies made to maximize their development between OTA’s and today. It’s fairly impressive that none of the 11 draft picks incurred an injury that required them to miss extended time. Watson’s knee surgery was elective, and he’s back in time for the season.

Otherwise it was a clean bill of health.

Some suggested it was a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Packers’ GM and coach to keep all 11 draft picks. It was a way they could say, “See how smart we are? Every draft pick is good enough to make the 53-man roster.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The draft will only be confirmed when players step up in meaningful games. Until then it’s just a lot of speculation. In addition, if any of the 11 draft picks can’t play, but the Packers kept them anyway, it’s going to catch up with them.

Gutekunst explained.

“When we invest in these guys, there’s a reason, and however many weeks in training camp they’re here and OTA’s, that’s a part of it,” he said. “There’s also a lot of work on these guys, not only on the draft picks, but the undrafted free agents and even the guys we pick up off the street. We’re watching these guys and there’s a lot of investment and time into what these guys are. So, I think you weigh a lot of different things, but it’s not simply because they’re drafted. I think it’s because of the work we’ve done on them and where we think they’re going to be down the road.”

Brewers still in hunt;

Packers’ cuts coming

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Brewers continue to persevere in their pursuit of what would be the team’s fourth playoff appearance in the past five seasons.

Milwaukee (67-59) captured the weekend series against Chicago by outslugging the Cubs 9-7 in Sunday’s win. It came on the heels of a 7-0 shutout victory on Saturday at American Family Field.

The Brewers trail NL Central-leading St. Louis (74-54) by six with 36 to play.

In the wild-card race, Milwaukee sits 1 ½ games behind San Diego (70-59) for the NL’s final playoff spot. The Brewers trail the Phillies (72-56) by four games and aren’t apt to catch the top wild-card, Atlanta (79-50), whom they trail by 10 ½.

The one-game playoff to break ties has been eliminated, meaning the Brewers need to finish a full game ahead of the Padres (who won the season series).

The good news is that the Brewers’ bats are beginning to spring to life.

Christian Yelich and Kolten Wong each homered with a baserunner aboard to carry the Brewers past the Cubs on Sunday. On Saturday, Yelich’s three-run home run capped a four-run seventh inning to carry the Brewers to victory.

Yelich is hitting .264 with 11 home runs, 44 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He is a white-hot 16 of 39 (.410) in the past 10 games. He also flashed the power stroke that has long been absent by blasting home runs in back-to-back games.

The Brewers’ bats also got a lift from Garrett Mitchell, who was called up from Triple-A Nashville on Saturday and contributed the next day.

Mitchell delivered the go-ahead, two-run single in the fourth inning. It was his first big-league hit and he eventually came around to score. Mitchell’s family and friends were jubilant in the stands.

Mitchell’s contributions helped Milwaukee win its first three-game series since July 29-31.

Now, the Brewers play host to Pittsburgh today while trying to snap a five-game losing streak to the last-place Pirates. Pittsburgh has won just three of its past 16 games and won’t have scheduled starter JT Brubaker available Monday. Brubaker was placed on the paternity list, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pirates haven’t named a starter yet.

Meantime, the Brewers will counter with Corbin Burnes (9-6, 2.84) on Monday. Burnes is 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA against the Pirates this season and a glitzy 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 19 career games against Pittsburgh.

Burnes tossed five scoreless innings before Oneil Cruz’s three-run home run keyed a four-run sixth in the Brewers’ 5-3 loss at Pittsburgh on Aug. 2. Burnes was uncharacteristically wild, yielding five walks in 5 1/3 innings.

Milwaukee expects its ace to be much sharper tonight.

“If you’re on top of your game, the saying for me is always that good pitching can beat good hitting,” Burnes said. “If you’re not on top of your game, they’re able to back you into corners and get good pitches to hit.”

If the Brewers are looking for a Pirates killer in their lineup, they have to look no further than Wong, who is hitting .322 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 16 games versus the Pirates this season.

** Packers closing in on final roster cuts

The Packers must trim their active roster to 53 and their practice squad to 16 by Tuesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Here are my final roster predictions:

** Quarterback (2): Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love will handle the quarterback duties with Danny Etling winning a spot on the practice squad.

** Running back (2): Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are as fine a one-two punch as there is in the league. The third running back will be a game-day elevation off the practice squad (either Tyler Goodson or Patrick Taylor) until Kylin Hill is ready to come off the PUP list. Hill looks like he’ll be ready after the required four weeks.

** Tight end (4): Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis will be on the 53-man roster. Until Tonyan’s return, Davis is expected to be the quote/unquote “pass catcher” of the group. I wouldn’t discount Deguara, whose versatility will be integral in the Packers’ two-back sets.

** Receivers (6): Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Amari Rodgers will be on the 53. Samori Toure and Juwann Winfree are locks for the practice squad, unless another team scoops up one or both, although that seems unlikely.

** Offensive line (10): David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom, Sean Rhyan, Jake Hanson, Yosh Nijman, Royce Newman and Rasheed Walker make the 53.

Walker, who displayed great footwork against Kansas City, was a dependable starter at Penn State. He looks the part and is just too good to let go.

** Defensive line (5): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, Devonte Wyatt and T.J. Slaton are locks. Jack Heflin could be on the outside looking in unless the Packers deem him more valuable than a seventh receiver.

** Outside linebacker (6): Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Kingsley Enagbare, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai and Kobe Jones.

** Inside linebacker (4): De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker, Krys Barnes and Isaiah McDuffie.

This is among the best units on the team.

** Cornerbacks (6): Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, Shemar Jean-Charles and Kiondre Thomas.

Thomas is a tough call. He has NFL experience and is reputed to be a good special teams’ player. If that’s the case he’s on the 53-man roster.

** Safeties (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Shawn Davis, Tariq Carpenter and Dallin Leavitt.

** Specialists (3): Jack Coco, Pat O’Donnell and Mason Crosby.

Packers fall to KC as

special teams struggle

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – When will the Packers be confident kicker Mason Crosby is ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Minnesota?

That’s easy. It’s when he’s healthy enough to tackle, because he’ll have plenty of opportunities based on the Packers’ atrocious special teams play in a 17-10 loss to the Chiefs in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Kansas City.

Special teams’ coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s coverage and return units were badly outplayed by Kansas City’s crews. Some fans and media members chalk it up to the Packers’ roster being in a state of flux before Tuesday’s roster cuts. If that’s the case why did Kansas City’s special teams’ units look so good? The Chiefs’ coordinator faced the same challenges as the Packers’ Bisaccia.

It’s a lame excuse. The sub-par special teams play has been habitual since 2006. Mike Stock, Shawn Slocum, Ron Zook, Shawn Mennenga and Maurice Drayton all tried and failed to kick-start the special teams’ units into competency.

Now it’s the much-acclaimed Bisaccia’s turn to get it right. Thus far, it hasn’t been good for the alleged special teams’ guru. They’ve been penalized for having 12 men on the field. They’ve been gashed because they’ve only had 10 on the field.

If this is progress how come we’re still waiting to see it?

The Packers’ punt coverage unit yielded 118 yards on six returns for a 19.7 average. They allowed punt returns of 35, 20 and 17 yards to THREE different Kansas City punt returners. The kick coverage crew allowed a 45-yard return to open the second half and suck the life out of the Packers’ sideline.

Green Bay wasn’t much better in the return game. It got zero yards on one punt return and managed a meager 14-yard average on four kick returns. Unblocked Chiefs were crashing the Packers’ return game with a vengeance.

Punter Pat O’Donnell was the lone bright spot on special teams. He punted six times for an average of 56.3 yards and a long of 69.

The Packers have 17 days to figure it out on special teams.

Other takeaways from Thursday night’s preseason finale:

** Quay Walker is exactly what the Packers had hoped when they selected the Georgia linebacker with the 22nd pick back in April.

Walker, the only defensive starter to play against the Chiefs, was terrific. He roamed sideline-to-sideline to make plays all over the field. He is instinctual, fast and strong. He finished tied for the team lead with five tackles (three solo).

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur can’t wait to see him paired with All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell in the season opener.

“I thought Quay had a nice night,” LaFleur said. “He is far from a finished product but the guy takes unbelievable mental reps every play. I asked him why he was sitting so far away from the defense late in the game. He said, ‘I can see everything from here.’ That’s a great answer. That’s what I do. When I’m calling plays and I’m 30 yards behind the sticks that’s what I’m trying to do, to see everything.

“I love watching him run,” LaFleur continued. “He’s a big guy that can really move sideline-to-sideline. I’m excited to see him paired up with another creature (Campbell) who’s a 6-foot-4 inside linebacker.”

** Jordan Love’s final statistics don’t entirely reflect his performance.

Love was 16 of 26 for 148 yards with one sack and an interception. He finished with a paltry 61.1 passer rating.

Nevertheless, LaFleur liked what he saw from his third-year quarterback, especially after consecutive three-and-out drives to open the game.

“He showed a lot of resiliency right there,” LaFleur said. “I saw the maturation process that he’s done over the last couple of years. I look at the numbers – that doesn’t make sense – (because) I thought he did a lot of really good things.”

Love directed an 11-play, 68-yard touchdown drive on the third possession. The offense converted five first downs on a drive that was capped by Tyler Goodson’s 24-yard touchdown run.

Love’s fourth drive covered 84 yards in 13 plays and yielded four first downs. It ended with a 23-yard Ramiz Ahmed field goal. Love hit on passes of 19 and 23 yards to rookie Samori Toure, and a 15-yard completion to Amari Rodgers.

Love’s footwork looked good and his accuracy and velocity were NFL caliber.

** The battle for the third running back spot has been a dandy.

Goodson exploded through a gaping hole for his 24-yard touchdown run, and caught five passes on as many targets for 26 yards. He is quick as a cat and appears to have a nose for the end zone.

Patrick Taylor also had a decent game rushing seven times for 34 yards (a 4.9 average) while catching three passes in as many targets for 17 yards.

“I thought both did a nice job,” LaFleur said. “That’s a tough one. A lot of it’s going to come down to how they performed on special teams. I saw guys fighting for tough yards and making plays in the passing game. I’ll have to look at the number of opportunities in pass (protection). A lot of it’s going to come down to special teams play.”

Love looks smoother,

Packers edge Saints

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jordan Love passed the football and the eye test with flying colors Friday night in the Packers’ 20-10 preseason victory over New Orleans.

Love didn’t look like he was playing quarterback as much as directing an attack – specifically, head coach Matt LaFleur’s attack.

The distinction may be subtle but it’s hardly inconsequential. For the first time with Love behind center, the Packers’ offense fairly resembled what we’ve come to expect the past three seasons. The tempo was good and the execution decent.

Certainly, it could be better, but Love’s improvement suggests it will be better.

Love, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2020, showed progress in the wake of last week’s preseason opener and two joint practices against the Saints. In front of an expectant Lambeau Field crowd, Love didn’t disappoint Friday night.

The Utah State product completed 12 of 24 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a77.3 passer rating. He also ran three times for 13 yards and was sacked once.

The Packers’ targeted receivers accounted for five drops among the 12 incompletions as well as Tyler Davis’ fumble after a 7-yard catch that would have produced a first down and kept a late-first half drive alive.

The statistics are misleading. Love’s 21-yard dart to Juwann Winfree and his 17-yard bullet to Romeo Doubs were big-time NFL throws. He went through his progression, read the defense correctly and delivered a strike on target.

Love, 23, remains a work in progress, but his footwork, balance and decisiveness were better. All of that led to more velocity and improved accuracy.

“I’ve gotten more comfortable being decisive, being able to let it rip and not waiting and being hesitant for a play to open up,” he said. “It comes down to being comfortable with the offense and understanding where the receiver’s going to be.”

Love threw three interceptions in the preseason opener at San Francisco. At least one of the three (Tyler Davis’ drop and deflection) wasn’t his fault. The other two interceptions were questionable decisions despite mitigating circumstances such as a collapsing pocket and substandard route-running.

Love was much smoother against the Saints.

“I think he’s light years ahead of where he was a year ago,” LaFleur said. “I think if you asked our guys in that locker room, every one of them would tell you they’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I think we would all agree in that locker room that he’s one of the most improved guys over the last year.”

The Packers’ offense gained 177 yards in the first half with impressive balance. They threw for 91 yards and rushed for 86 yards.

Love’s first drive netted 18 yards before a third-down incompletion on a difficult pass for Romeo Doubs along the sideline led to a punt.

The second and third drives were practically picture perfect.

The Packers went 73 yards in 14 plays before having to settle for a field goal. They went 75 yards in 11 plays and capped the second drive with a 4-yard Love-to-Doubs touchdown pass.

Davis’ fumble on the second play of the drive killed Green Bay’s fourth possession. The fumbles and drops won’t be tolerated by LaFleur or his MVP quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

A year ago, the Packers had just 12 drops for the entire season. They had five on Friday night. The Packers also had just 35 offensive penalties last season, or scarcely more than two a game.

They play fast and they play clean. Any player giving anything less will be given a seat on the bench, and that’s if they’re not released.

The standard is set. Love is slowly but surely elevating his game to meet it.

“I know the numbers don’t necessary reflect probably how I feel,” LaFleur said of Love. “He stood in the pocket and was throwing on rhythm. Unfortunately again we had too many drops. He was decisive. I think that’s the big thing from him. I see a much more decisive player out there. I think that’s going to lead to a much more effective player.”

** QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM PRESEASON GAME #2

** Romeo Doubs made another positive impact and clearly is the No. 4 receiver if the season started today. Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins are going to receive the majority of snaps in Week 1 at Minnesota, but it’s likely that Doubs will have a role and play perhaps a dozen or more snaps.

He hauled in a tough 17-yard catch with two defenders draped all over him and looked smooth grabbing three catches for 24 yards. He had another drop, but overall his ability to get open and make plays is readily apparent.

Love liked what he saw from Doubs.

“We’ve had a really good connection, I think, since he got here for OTAs,” Love said. “He’s been a guy that’s just been making plays out there.”

LaFleur agreed.

“It’s not going to be perfect,” LaFleur said. “There’s going to be some lessons along the way. He’s a guy that is pretty resilient. He doesn’t get fazed by a negative play. He just keeps on playing. That’s what excites you about him.”

LaFleur also appreciates his ability to get open as quick as a hiccup.

“He’s been able to separate, which is something that’s tough to coach,” LaFleur said. “Guys can either do it or they can’t. There’s stuff to clean up, for certain, but he’s a guy that we are excited about. We’ll see where we are in Week 1.”

** The Packers’ defense balled out Friday night.

From defensive tackle T.J. Slaton to safety Micah Abernathy the Packers’ young defenders acting as if defending their turf mattered to them. They played fairly fast and free with cornerback Kiondre Thomas crashing down to make tackles, linebacker Isaiah McDuffie making big strides and second-year corner Shemar Jean-Charles breaking up passes.

Abernathy’s diving sideline interception was a thing of beauty. He leapt over the intended receiver, caught the pass and managed to stay in bounds. On a night when veteran safety Shawn Davis played well, and the other safety, Vernon Scott, was injured, it was important that Abernathy stepped up.

Packers get healthier;

‘Grandpa’ Pujols hits 2 HRs to KO Brewers

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay fans received great news Sunday when head coach Matt LaFleur announced that Elgton Jenkins, Robert Tonyan and Christian Watson were activated off the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.

It followed a solid showing by the Packers in Friday night’s preseason opener at San Francisco, which resulted in a 28-21 loss but showcased the talents of more than a dozen players who are battling for roster spots.

The weekend’s big news is the return of Jenkins, Tonyan and Watson.

Jenkins and Tonyan are coming back from ACL tears, while Watson underwent a scope on his right knee a few weeks ago.

“It’s just like the next step in the process,” LaFleur said. “It’s not like they’re going to be out there in team drills. But they’ll do some individual (work) and with them being back, now it allows you to do some walkthroughs, which is going to be obviously very beneficial for, especially for a guy who hasn’t played in the NFL like Christian. So it’ll be great to get ‘em out there for some of the walkthroughs.”

It doesn’t guarantee that they will play in Green Bay’s Sept. 11 season opener at Minnesota, but it does pave the way for the possibility.

Jenkins, a talented and versatile player, could start at left or right tackle when he’s ready to roll. Tonyan is the team’s top pass-catching tight end. Watson, a talented receiver and the 34th overall pick in April, is another piece in the puzzle that is figuring out how to replace All-Pro Davante Adams.

While some teams are dealing with mounting injuries in training camp, the Packers are getting healthier. Safety Dallin Leavitt incurred what’s described as a “serious” shoulder injury Friday night, but no other significant injuries were reported.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur announced the PUP list activations during his pre-practice news conference Sunday.

“It’s just like the next step in the process,” LaFleur said. “It’s not like they’re going to be out there in team drills. But they’ll do some individual (work) and with them being back, now it allows you to do some walkthroughs, which is going to be obviously very beneficial for, especially for a guy who hasn’t played in the NFL like Christian. So it’ll be great to get ‘em out there for some of the walkthroughs.”

LaFleur didn’t commit to playing Jenkins at a particular position.

“There’s not too many guys that are, No. 1, as talented as he is, but also as versatile as he is,” LaFleur said. “We can put him anywhere on that line. Shoot, we could probably put him at tight end. Maybe we will, I don’t know. You guys want to write a story about that?”

Jenkins’ stance and footwork during his individual work on Sunday, according to ESPN, suggests he’ll line up at right tackle. That makes sense, especially if All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari is activated off the PUP list in time to play in the regular-season opener.

If Bakhtiari remains on the PUP list to start the season he will have to miss at least the first four games. Jenkins seems the likely starter at left tackle if that’s the case.

With Jenkins at right tackle, the Packers’ offensive line would be Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Josh Myers at center and either Royce Newman, Jake Hanson or Zach Tom at right guard.

The Packers still have three players on the PUP list: Bakhtiari, veteran kicker Mason Crosby and running back Kylin Hill.

Also Sunday, rookie Kingsley Enagbare picked up where he left off Friday night, when he notched a sack and three pressures against the 49ers. Enagbare, the team’s fifth-round pick, destroyed right tackle Royce Newman in the two-minute drill.

Enagbare, by his own count, had three sacks.

“The last couple practices, I feel like I’ve been coming along and I’ve been able to stack a couple good days,” he told reporters. “It’s trying to stack each day and having a focus each day, whether it’s my hands, my get-off, things like that. Just have a focus each day and try to attack that so, slowly but surely, getting better each day.”

Enagbare could be the Packers’ No. 4 edge rusher behind starters Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, and Jonathan Garvin, who appears to be the No. 3 edge right now.

The Packers held a closed-to-the-public walkthrough Monday. They host the New Orleans Saints for joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday beginning at 10:30 a.m. at Ray Nitschke Field. They will be the final public practices of camp.

** Ageless Albert Pujols crushes Brewers in Sunday’s series finale

The Brewers dropped two of three at St. Louis during the weekend to find themselves 1 ½ games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central standings.

The Cardinals’ ageless wonder, Albert Pujols, did most of the damage in Milwaukee’s 6-3 loss in Sunday’s rubber match. Pujols’ 688th career home run cut the Brewers’ lead to 2-1 in the second inning.

He continued the rampage with a three-run shot in the eighth to seal the win. It was the 42-year-old Pujols’ 689th career home run. He currently is fifth on Major League Baseball’s all-time home run list, trailing only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Alex Rodriguez (696).

“I’m the grandpa in this clubhouse,” he said after the game. “I’m having a great time. I’ve been putting some good swings all year. Sometimes, you’re going to get breaks. Sometimes you are not.”

Pujols has 10 home runs and 30 RBI in what he said will be his final season.

Meantime, the Brewers’ hitters couldn’t solve Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas (9-9), who allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings. He struck out six and didn’t walk a batter.

Mikolas’ performance overshadowed a decent start by Brewers’ left-hander Aaron Ashby, who allowed two runs on three hits in six innings. Ashby struck out five and walked two.

Hunter Renfroe’s two-run home run in the second gave Milwaukee a quick 2-0 lead. It was Renfroe’s 20th bomb of the season.

Rowdy Tellez blasted his 24th home run in the ninth but it wasn’t enough.

Love’s play uneven in

Packers’ loss to 49ers

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jordan Love needs to build on the positives and learn from the negatives following the third-year quarterback’s uneven play in Green Bay’s 28-21 loss to the 49ers in Friday night’s preseason opener at Santa Clara, Calif.

Love played with poise and confidence while flashing his first-round arm talent on a handful of throws. But the good was mitigated by two poor decisions on throws that were deflected by his receivers and resulted in interceptions.

The Packers’ backup to Aaron Rodgers alternated between sharp and shaky during his 36 snaps. He threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 13 of 24 for 176 yards and a pedestrian 66 passer rating.

Love’s touchdown throws were nicely delivered 33-yard lasers to rookie receivers Romeo Doubs and Danny Davis. He also commanded the huddle, got them in and out crisply and was accurate on his intermediate throws and check-downs.

His reads and decision-making on several throws was disappointing, though.

Two of his three interceptions were the result of passes that were deflected by his receivers. The third was an ill-advised throw to Amari Rodgers over the middle. He wasn’t perfect, to be sure.

Love seemed to take it in stride.

“The ball wasn’t bouncing our way tonight,” Love said. “A couple misfortunate plays. I think for everybody it could have been a better night. The ball bounced weird ways and they capitalized on those plays. Obviously no one wants that to happen and it sucks when it does. It’s something to learn from.”

Love’s first pick came on a pass that sailed through the hands of Tyler Davis, who is battling to make the team as the fourth tight end. Davis has to make that catch if he wants to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

The second pick was high and behind Doubs, who contorted his body and nearly made a terrific play before having the football wrestled away by the defender. It should serve as a great teaching moment for Doubs: Finish the play.

The third pick had almost no chance to be completed and shouldn’t have been thrown. Amari Rodgers bowed his route, which allowed cornerback Samuel Womack to step in front for an easy interception.

“Certainly, he’s going to want a couple of the throws back and certainly some of the reads,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “But it’s never perfect for a quarterback. But I thought, by and large, just watching the things like how the operation was, it was a smooth operation.”

LaFleur didn’t entirely absolve Love for throwing the interceptions, but he acknowledged it wasn’t all the former Utah State quarterback’s fault.

“I think two of those you can totally take off him,” LaFleur told reporters. “The third one, we had two busted routes because the ball really shouldn’t have gone there on that play (to Rodgers). He had nowhere else to go with the football, and he forced it in there and the defender made a good play. We’ve just got to clean up everything around him. We say it all the time about quarterbacks, they’re going to get too much credit when we do well and they’re going to get a lot of the blame when we don’t, and that’s just the reality of playing that position in this league.”

Love will have plenty of opportunities to make the necessary corrections. He is likely to receive plenty of reps during the Packers-Saints joint practices, as well as the Saints’ and Chiefs’ preseason games.

Here are other key takeaways from Week 1 of the preseason:

** Amari Rodgers is a much sleeker, more explosive player than a year ago. The third-round pick dropped 10 pounds from his 5-foot-9 frame and appears quicker at 202 pounds.

Rodgers had a nifty 22-yard touchdown catch on a Danny Etling pass in the second half. He also made a terrific read on an incredibly well-blocked kick return and raced 50 yards before being forced out-of-bounds.

On the touchdown catch, Rodgers said: “I just had a flat route and the nickel blitzed off me, so I knew I had a chance of getting the ball. I saw that and I got my eyes around quick and made the first man miss. The second had a good angle on me. I was thinking about cutting back but I saw his angle so I gave him a little hesitation to see if I could stop his speed and it worked.”

Then what?

“I just reached for the pylon,” he said with a smile.

On the kickoff return, Rodgers followed his blocking, made one would-be tackler whiff and then kicked it into high gear.

“It was well-blocked and I think the hardest hit came when he got to the sideline and Rashan Gary knocked him on his butt,” LaFleur said.

** The Packers’ offensive line held up against the 49ers’ defensive starters.

Love wasn’t sacked and had a clean pocket to work in. Etling took one sack.

The Packers finished with 299 yards passing on 19 of 32 for three touchdowns. Perhaps even more impressive was a Packers’ running attack that produced 141 yards on 34 carries (4.1 average) and six rushing first downs.

“I thought our offensive line did a much better job,” LaFleur said. “I thought they held up really nicely throughout the course of the game. It wasn’t perfect. There were a couple runs that I think we could’ve blocked up a little bit better. But by and large I thought they did a nice job.

“I was really happy with the effort that the guys gave really in every phase. I thought guys were competing, playing with great urgency, playing with great effort, playing together. Nobody was making up their own stuff out there which tends to happen sometimes when you get your first exposure in an NFL football game, a preseason game, and so by and large the guys did a nice job.”

** There’s keen competition to be the sixth/seventh receiver.

Doubs had three catches for 45 yards on seven targets. He had two drops, which he’ll learn from, but overall he ran really good routes and showed he belongs.

Samori Toure is my longshot to make the 53-man roster. Toure had three catches for 42 yards on four targets. His speed translates on the field. After Toure’s NFL debut it’s easier to see why he had a knack for getting behind defenders. If the Packers choose to have Christian Watson on the PUP list to start the season – and I think it would be a disservice to him if they didn’t – Toure has a legit shot.

Juwan Winfree also had a nice game with three catches (three targets) for 27 yards. Then there is ex-Badgers receiver Danny Davis, who caught two passes for 45 yards, including the 33-yard touchdown grab.

The receivers will be Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Romeo Doubs and either Toure, Winfree or Davis in Week 1.

** The third running back job is up for grabs.

Patrick Taylor, Dexter Williams, B.J. Baylor and Tyler Goodson are battling for one roster spot behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. This is perhaps the keenest competition on the roster.

Taylor and Williams have been in the system for a while now, while Baylor and Goodson flashed more quickness and better hands out of the backfield.

The turning point may be which is most capable on special teams, although the Packers have invested in Keisean Nixon and Dallin Leavitt – a pair of defensive backs – to shore up the teams’ play.

Right now, I’d put Taylor slightly ahead of Goodson, with Baylor and Williams as the longshots.

** The defense was stout against the run.

Green Bay held the 49ers to just 57 yards rushing on 18 carries (a 3.2 average) through the first three quarters. The 49ers then ran 11 times for 63 yards in the fourth quarter to skew the numbers a bit.

The Packers racked up three sacks and had decent pressure most of the night.

The problem was the two big pass plays that went for touchdowns. Danny Gray hauled in a 76-yard bomb behind Leavitt and Ray-Ray McCloud scored on a 39-yard grab when Rico Gafford slipped and fell.

“On one of them, we went up and challenged them, and the receiver made a nice move off the line of scrimmage, similar to the one Romeo scored his touchdown on,” Lafleur said. “The other one Rico (Gafford) slipped on the back end.”

“We gave up two big-time plays and had three turnovers on offense. That was ultimately the difference in the game.”

Love to start Packers’

preseason game at SF

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – There’s an old adage that claims you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

That’s not entirely true.

Jordan Love will start at quarterback in the Packers’ preseason opener against San Francisco on Friday night in San Jose, Calif. It is hardly the third-year signal caller’s first appearance in front of fans, but it may be the most important to date, and it could begin to ease the angst over Aaron Rodgers’ longevity.

What’s past is past, and what matters most is how Love plays against the 49ers. He’ll also get the majority of reps against the Saints and Chiefs this preseason. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has ruled Rodgers out for Friday night’s game, but stopped short of declaring that he won’t play at all this preseason.

Meantime, Love has been fairly impressive through 10 training camp practices.

The 23-year-old is more decisive in terms of when and where to throw the football. He also has displayed better footwork and rhythm, which has led to increased velocity, improved accuracy and greater consistency.

Perhaps Love’s signature play was a 54-yard strike to Samori Toure with defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt bearing down on him. Wyatt is certain he would’ve recorded a sack, but that doesn’t diminish Love’s coolness under pressure during Friday’s Family Night Scrimmage.

“I feel like I’ve just got more rhythm in my drops, keeping that same tempo, just being in rhythm,” Love told reporters. “When I first got here, I might have been rushing my drops a little too much, trying to go too fast. My brain’s just trying to process information quickly so it’s speeding my feet up. But I’m more relaxed in the pocket, more relaxed with my decision-making and just kind of slowing the game down I think has slowed my feet down. I definitely think my feet, so far through camp, have been a lot better than what they were the last two years.”

Love has taken 131 snaps in the regular season.

The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder has played in six games, with the lone start coming in a 13-7 loss at Kansas City last season. Love is 36 of 62 (58.1 percent) for 411 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has been sacked three times and his passer rating is a modest 68.7.

Love acknowledged delivering passes under pressure is a work in progress.

“It’s something I’ve got to improve on,” he said. “Going back to the Lions game last year at the end, the two-minute drive, I had a throw with a guy in my face that I missed and it could have been a big play. That’s something that I looked at during the offseason and thinking about how I have to get better at being able to stay in the pocket and take those hits and still be able to make those throws.”

Love credited quarterbacks coach Tom Clements with his improved footwork. Clements, who is in his second go-round with Green Bay, has been praised by Rodgers for his ability to coach him up as a young player.

Now, Clements is working to do the same with Love.

LaFleur likes what he’s seeing in camp.

“I think (Love) is much more in rhythm, I think there’s much more decisiveness,” LaFleur said Sunday. “I think you see it in his footwork. He’s not getting what I call ‘stuck’ at the top of the drop where both feet are hitting at the same time and he’s just kind of sitting there. It just looks more rhythmical, just looks more fluid, and I think it’s translated in his play.

“I think he’s definitely thrown the ball pretty accurately and has made pretty good decisions. You’ve got to give Jordan a lot of credit for taking the drill work to team and, hopefully, we can take the practice to the games.”

Love’s play is going to be scrutinized throughout camp and the preseason.

The Packers have to determine if the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL draft is capable of leading the team whenever Rodgers decides to retire.

The next step in the process occurs Friday night.

LaFleur added that Rodgers may play in the preseason finale against the Chiefs. He said he wasn’t concerned about the state of the offensive line with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins still rehabbing from injuries.

Yosh Nijman is working at left tackle while Royce Newman and Zach Tom split time at right tackle. LaFleur said he absolutely wouldn’t hesitate to play Rodgers behind those tackles.

“I think absolutely we would,” LaFleur said. “We still have confidence in those guys. Those guys are going to have to play. We’d just be very particular about what plays we’re calling. We’re not going to have open edges and seven-step drops that take a long time to develop. We’d just be super-intentional about what we call, which we are in every instance usually, anyway.”

NOTEBOOK

** Vernon Scott worked with the No. 1 defense after Darnell Savage pulled a hamstring in Friday night’s scrimmage.

Scott, a third-year pro, has been derailed by injuries and a lack of opportunities early in his career. However, the Packers must like something about Scott to keep him around this long.

Scott worked with the No. 1 defense ahead of free-agent acquisition Shawn Davis.

** Rasul Douglas, Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes are all getting work as the slot cornerback. Douglas has taken the lion’s share of snaps there, but Alexander and Stokes have been more work there of late.

The thinking is that it makes the cornerback trio more versatile, covers the defense in case of injury, and allows the Packers to go with the best game-specific matchups.

** Samori Toure capped an impressive week with the 54-yard TD grab from Love. Toure, a 4.35 40-yard dash speedster, brings a valuable dimension to the offense. He has the speed and the knack for being able to get behind defenders.

In Green Bay’s play-action happy attack a legit deep threat is vital. The Packers’ offense struggled mightily when Marquez Valdes-Scantling wasn’t available last season. Frankly, the Packers had no other options in terms of stretching the field.

With Toure in house – and Christian Watson still recovering from knee surgery – it isn’t a stretch to see the rookie from Nebraska crack the Packers’ 53-man roster.

** My most impressive player so far?

That’s Zach Tom, the 6-4, 308-pound lineman from Wake Forest. Tom combines the agility of a tight end with really good feet and the power of a lineman.

The Packers wouldn’t be working Tom at right tackle if they didn’t think he could handle it. My best guess is that he starts at right tackle in Week 1 if neither Elgton Jenkins nor David Bakhtiari is available.

If one or the other is able to go at Minnesota, I’m banking on Tom to be the Packers’ starting right guard ahead of Newman.

Brewers’ season goes

kaput in Pittsburgh

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers traded away more than Josh Hader. They sent any chance to reach the postseason packing in the process.

The Brewers acquired multiple players in a trade that sent the All-Star closer to San Diego before the Tuesday deadline. Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said the move was best for the organization long-term and that it didn’t mean the Brewers were waving the white flag on this season.

The Pirates’ three-game sweep of the Brewers suggests otherwise.

Milwaukee (57-48) dropped into a first-place tie with St. Louis (57-48) atop the NL Central. The Brewers’ 5-4 loss on Thursday – their fourth straight – coincided with the Cardinals’ doubleheader sweep of the Cubs.

St. Louis’ fourth straight win was led by newly acquired pitcher Jose Quintana, who started the nightcap and allowed just one run while striking out seven in six strong innings.

Meantime, the Brewers are listing badly, and to the port side no less.

The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds was a one-man wrecking crew in the series.

Reynolds hit a ground-rule double to drive in the tying run Thursday, and then scored the winning run on Matt Bush’s wild pitch with the bases loaded and the score tied at 4-4.

Reynolds’ walk-off home run against Devin Williams lifted the Pirates to an 8-7 win Wednesday night.

Clearly, the Brewers missed Hader during the series. They lost each of the three games after the Pirates rallied from multi-run deficits.

Now, the Brewers must return home and try to pick up the pieces.

They have a three-game weekend series with Cincinnati at American Family Field. If the Brewers intend to compete for a playoff berth they have got to nip their current four-game losing streak beginning Friday night.

I wasn’t thrilled with trading Hader but I understood it as a business decision. What disappointed me is the way the organization handled it. They could’ve gone one of two ways:

** Acknowledge Hader’s greatness and what he meant to the organization, and follow it up with naming Devin Williams the closer going forward. It would have given Hader the respect he earned, and it would have kept Williams from the embarrassment of having to be asked, “Why aren’t you the closer?”

** Or they could’ve downplayed it by saying it’s difficult to trade “good” players but they did what’s best long-term while still competing for the playoffs.

They chose Door #2 which was a bad idea.

Williams was unscored upon in 30 straight appearances and should’ve been given the closer role. He earned it. Instead, manager Craig Counsell twisted in the wind and blathered nonsense about “situational roles” and doing it “by committee.”

It seemed Counsell wasn’t at all keen on the trade, either.

The Brewers were the only NL contender who got worse at the trade deadline. The fact that the Dodgers, Padres, Mets, Giants and Phillies all got better compounds it.

Stearns has been a strong presence as the team’s president of baseball operations. In this instance, though, the fact that he was uncomfortable acknowledging Hader’s contributions and greatness made him sound shallow.

He didn’t fool anybody. Not the fans. Not the players in the clubhouse. He was kidding himself, too, if he was to be honest.

The Brewers had a lot invested in this season. They acquired Hunter Renfroe and promoted Jonathan Davis and were getting Freddy Peralta back off the IL with Adrian Houser on that same path.

In the good old days, like a week ago, the Brewers were playing 7-inning games. It was whichever top-flight starter they trotted out with Williams and Hader to finish.

Now it’s a cluster.

If the Brewers manage to get it together and make the postseason that would be great. It would mean their bats finally heated up and the defense tightened up. It also would mean they were able to overcome the loss of Hader.

Here’s the sad part. If indeed the Brewers reach the postseason they’d have had a puncher’s chance with Hader. Now, even if they find their way in, their chances of winning a three-game series without him seem mighty slim.

Here’s the bright side: The Packers’ Family Night Scrimmage is tonight, with the first of three preseason games just a week away.

As for the Brewers’ playoff chances I say, “Maybe next year.”

Brewers trade Hader;

Packers’ D delivering

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers did the unthinkable. They traded former Brewers pitcher Jerry Augustine’s idol. They traded Josh Hader.

It is another not-so-gentle reminder that baseball can be a brutal business.

It was the correct move strategically, but it was a sad farewell nonetheless.

Augustine, a regular contributor on Sports Line, pitched 11 seasons in Milwaukee. He and Mike Caldwell – a pair of left-handers – were the “Yankee Killers” back in the mid- to late-1970s. “Augie” aka the Pride of Kewaunee didn’t believe the Brewers would trade Hader until after the 2022 season.

It didn’t go down that way.

Milwaukee’s president of baseball operations, David Stearns, elected to pull the trigger and send Hader, who is baseball’s pre-eminent closer, to San Diego. In exchange, the Brewers received left-handed reliever Taylor Rodgers, left-handed pitching prospect Robert Gasser, right-hander Dinelson Lamet and outfielder Esteury Ruiz.

Rodgers has 28 saves this season, but also totes around a hefty 4.00-plus ERA. He has been struggling the past two months, and the Brewers are hoping a change of scenery will do him good. He’s also only a rest-of-this-season rental.

Ruiz, a slight but powerful 6-0, 169, is a strong defensive outfielder who hits for average .344 in Triple A plus more power (50 home runs in 2 ½ seasons) than one might suspect. The Brewers assigned Ruiz to Triple-A Nashville and Gasser to Double-A Biloxi.

Gasser is a left-handed strikeout pitcher who had 115 Ks to 28 walks in 90 1/3 innings at High A, where the second-round pick in 2021 is currently pitching.

Lamet, 30, is an intriguing story. He made 12 starts in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He has been injured for much of the time since then and is only now getting healthy.

Hader, 28, had sustained back-to-back awful outings that shot his ERA to an unthinkable 4.24. However, Hader is healthy and his stuff is as electric as ever. I will be shocked if he doesn’t return to form with the Padres.

Hader said he understood the move but that didn’t make it any easier to pack.

“Thank you for the support throughout my career,” Hader said. “Y’all have been great to me. The people, the energy, the love! There will always be a special place in my heart for MKE.”

Some Brewers fans were puzzled by the move.

Milwaukee (57-46) holds a three-game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central. The Padres (58-46) trail the Dodgers by 12 games in the NL West, although they hold a two-game lead over Philadelphia for the second wild-card slot.

Why are the Brewers sellers and the Padres buyers at the trade deadline?

The Brewers don’t view the Hader trade as waving the white flag.

“We felt this was the right time, and it was only a player of that caliber that could garner such a significant return to make such an impact on the future of the organization,” Stearns said.

Devin Williams, who has been one of the top closer the past two months, will become the Brewers’ closer. Rodgers likely will be the 8th-inning setup man with Brad Boxberger working the seventh.

The Brewers have started fast at 7-2 since the All-Star break. They open a three-game series at Pittsburgh tonight with Corbin Burnes on the mound. After that they return home for a three-game weekend series with Cincinnati.

** PACKERS DEFENSE DOMINANT EARLY IN CAMP

The scoreboard is 1-2 in favor of the defense after it got the better of it Thursday and Saturday. Friday was a light walkthrough and Sunday was a day off. The Packers will practice with shoulder pads Monday and full pads Tuesday, with Wednesday off.

Gary, whose name is being mentioned along with some of the NFL’s top pass rushers, has been difficult to block. He looks leaner, quicker and stronger than in the past, which is saying a lot.

Overall, the defense has played as fast and ferocious as practice allows.

Preston Smith, a defensive leader, is excited by Gary’s ascension.

“He’s been impressive since he’s been here,” Smith said of Gary. “Just seeing Rashan grow from a rookie until now, it’s just very impressive, man. We just seen what he did last year (9 ½ sacks), and I called it. I did call it early in the offseason. He just keeps stacking those years and keeps coming in working hard. He’s growing into a leader of his own. He’s grown into his own. He’s getting tremendous confidence and he’s playing at a high level and been really consistent with it.”

Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, cornerback Rasul Douglas and the mildly surprising Shemar Jean-Charles, a second-year corner, all have played well thus far. Veterans such as Kenny Clark, De’Vondre Campbell and Adrian Amos – as well as Smith – have been rock solid.

The defense has been vocal in terms of communicating with each other and directing some of the salty stuff at the offense.

“It’s a lot of trash-talking, a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “You just feel the energy in the meetings, out there in practice. Guys are feeling confident, guys are playing real fast, guys are playing at a high level and guys are playing together. We’re trying to stack our days, build off it and keep moving forward.”

A spirited defense undoubtedly will sharpen the offense.

At least that’s the plan.

Doubs shows out early as Packers open camp

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Romeo Doubs is a perfect 2-for-2 after a pair of eye-opening practices replete with sweet catches to kick off the Packers’ 2022 training camp.

Doubs (6-1 ¾, 202) grabbed everything thrown his way – and everyone’s attention in the process – by showing up fit, mentally sharp and ready to roll.

It’s a ray of hope at a position that’ll take all it can get.

Davante Adams’ departure is a source of anxiety. When a young receiver such as Doubs steps up like a pro it makes the growing pains easier to manage.

Obviously, it’s only a scintilla of a sample size, but it’s better than opining about how Doubs appears unable to catch a cold, much less a laser from Aaron Rodgers. That isn’t the case. Doubs body is hard, his hands are soft, and his mind is bright.

Doubs, the 132nd player selected in the draft, was a highly productive, sure-handed receiver at Nevada. He fit the Packers’ modus operandi at receiver: He finds ways to catch passes and make plays despite the fact that the defense knows the quarterback is coming his way.

It was the same for Jordy Nelson at Kansas State, Greg Jennings at Western Michigan and Davante Adams at Fresno State.

Whether Doubs attains their high level of proficiency is impossible to say.

What the rookie does have going for him – and it was the same for his predecessors – was Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football.

There are other similarities between Doubs and the aforementioned greats. He is potential bursting at the seams. He also is thoughtful and soft-spoken. He doesn’t seem to have one shred of prima donna in him.

He’s humble. And he’s a receiver? Go figure.

“I’ve been doing it since high school,” Doubs said of his low-key approach. “Everybody knows that I’m not this big …”

He is too much the gentleman to curse, but he made his point nonetheless.

“And I understand that celebrating his important,” he continued. “I just make sure I try to focus on the next play. That’s my biggest thing for me. You can have a great play, next play could be bad. Emotions change, so that’s why I try to make sure I stay flat-lined.”

It showed in his Day Two approach after an impressive debut.

LaFleur was asked about Doubs’ big Day One before Thursday’s practice. He said, “Anybody can do something one day.”

Now it is two days and counting for Doubs.

One of his more impressive plays came in the red zone when lined up against cornerback Eric Stokes. Rodgers underthrew a pass to the corner of the end zone, but Doubs reached over Stokes and hauled it in for a touchdown.

Doubs was nearly as impressive while discussing it with reporters afterward.

“I knew it was a man look because he had heavy eye on me,” Doubs said. “I just wanted to get attack leverage and Aaron threw a great ball and I was able to make a great grab and go on to the next play.”

Did he think the football was coming his way?

“Yes, because I had just enough space from the sideline to make sure I can get the ball and get my feet inbounds,” he said. “Pre-snap, I had a feeling the ball was coming to me just based on the spacing.”

But wait … there’s more.

“Stokes’ back was turned. I’ve noticed watching film that the majority of some of the QBs’ throws, receivers get chances based on the DB’s POV (point of view). His back was turned. From that point, he doesn’t know where the ball’s going to, if it’s going to go over him, under him. His back was turned, Aaron gave me a chance and I was able to make something happen.”

Sounds like a seasoned veteran.

Clearly, he is making the most of his opportunity while veteran Sammy Watkins and rookie Christian Watson are on the PUP list.

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst isn’t surprised by Doubs’ impressive start.

“He plays fast, runs by a lot of people, so we’re good there,” he said of Doubs’ 40-yard dash time at the combine. “The 40’s great but that play speed on the tape is real.”

So is his play speed on Ray Nitschke Field.

Doubs’ other big plays included a touchdown catch against De’Vondre Campbell. It was a case of the rookie taking advantage of a mismatch, even if the defender happens to be an All-Pro inside linebacker.

“I thought today was just another great day of practice,” Doubs said. “Just being myself, I make sure that I try to be as humble as I possibly can. Just stay consistent, just focus on the little things.”

Packers’ camp opens

with SB LVII the goal

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers is back for his 18th season with a singular purpose: Leading the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

That’s it.

Anything less would be disappointing at this stage of the future Hall of Fame quarterback’s illustrious career. Rodgers has done and won practically everything there is for an NFL quarterback, but the four-time MVP wants one more ring.

The 38-year-old quarterback is all in and he wants his fans to know it.

“In March, when I made the decision to return, that’s 100 percent in,” he said. “Of course, you think about the next chapter and what’s next in your life all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re not fully invested. When I said I’m back, I’m 100 percent invested. When I’m here, I’m all in, and those guys know that. They know what to expect from me, the type of play, the type of leadership, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Rodgers’ commitment is unquestioned, as is his ability to play at a high level: Witness his by back-to-back MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021.

While a third straight MVP seems less likely because of Davante Adams’ departure and the sheer difficulty of the feat, it’s not out of the realm of possible.

Rodgers won his second straight MVP (and fourth overall) after leading the NFL in passer rating, touchdown percentage and interception percentage. He threw for 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and his passer rating was 111.9.

Naturally, Rodgers’ success depends upon the offensive line play, and right now that position is the team’s greatest concern.

Both starting tackles – David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins – will open the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

It means Yosh Nijman, Cole Van Lanen, Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom will need to step up at the tackle positions until they return.

Thanks to head coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme, the staff’s coaching and GM Brian Gutekunst’s acquisitions the Packers should be able to survive until their No. 1 offensive line is healthy and in place.

LaFleur surely prefers dealing with the known, such as Adams’ departure, rather than tap-dancing around the unknown. Adams was traded March 18, so he’s had four months to calculate.


Fortunately, LaFleur knows he’ll have his trigger-man (Rodgers) from Day One.

The rest he can figure out.

It starts with teaching his team to play great offense despite being without one of the NFL’s top receivers.
If this were jeopardy, LaFleur could pose the answer, “Aaron Jones.”

To which Rodgers would reply, “Who put up insane numbers when the Packers were without Davante Adams?”

That is the correct answer for a chance to win Super Bowl LVII.

More accurately, given A.J. Dillon’s emergence, the question to the answer is Jones AND Dillon replacing Adams in the offense. The only reason Jones’ numbers weren’t better with Adams out is that he had to occasionally take a series off to catch his breath from all the big plays.

Now it’ll be Jones and Dillon collectively inflicting damage.

LaFleur’s offense will revolve around the running backs, rather than one receiver, which should make it less predictable. Whether it is more explosive remains to be seen, but the potential is exciting.

Then again, as Rodgers said, “I like production over potential. We have some production. We have a lot of potential.”

The potential-to-production transformation is going to require patience, persistence and practice to make it work. The Packers are up for the challenge on the heels of back-to-back losses in the NFC title game. They’re willing to do whatever takes to clear that final hurdle.

On offense it’ll require a bit of rewiring.

The Packers, 13-4 last season, ranked 10th in points (26.5 per game) and yards (365.6 per game). They were third in turnover ratio at +13 with 26 takeaways (18 interceptions, eight fumbles recovered) to just 13 turnovers (five interceptions, eight fumbles lost) in 2021.

LaFleur’s offenses have been among the NFL’s best in terms of avoiding turnovers, pre-snap penalties, drops and blown assignments. Any one of those, in and of itself, can be a game-killer. The Packers have kept them to a minimum under LaFleur and the win-loss record bears it out.

Those tenets of his offense aren’t likely to change.

The play-action pass remains a critical component of the Packers’ attack.

Opposing defenses face a difficult choice against Green Bay’s offense.

They can play it straight with six or seven in the box and hope that the Jones-Dillon duo doesn’t crush them. Or they can commit more players to stopping the run and pray Rodgers doesn’t gash them.

Good luck with that.

Defensively, second-year coordinator Joe Barry has a simple approach in Year 2.

“Daily excellence is our goal,” he said earlier this offseason. “I tell the defense all the time, if you can walk out of this building 1 percent better than you walked in it – and it sounds maybe kind of corny or cheesy – but I think if you take that mentality every single day …

“I think it’s so great that we have guys that, they look back at last year and even though from a team standpoint it was brutal, devastating, we didn’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy, so in our mind it’s a failure as a team, but when you do look at the specifics of the way we played, we played good. But our goal is to play great and our goal is to play great every single week, and we’ve got a bunch of guys in that locker room with that mindset and we’re chomping at the bit to get started.”

So how good can Green Bay’s defense be in 2022?

“It’s going to be scary,” edge rusher Rashan Gary said. “Once we get our communication down and we’re all on the same page, it’s going to be good.”

“Just nasty,” All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander added.

The defense features All-Pro Kenny Clark up front along with Dean Lowry, T.J. Slaton, Reed and Wyatt.

The outside linebackers are set with rising star Rashan Gary opposite Preston Smith, while Campbell, Walker and Krys Barnes will work at inside linebacker.

The corner trio of Alexander, Eric Stokes and Douglas rank among the league’s best at that position. Safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are experienced, reliable and talented on the back end. Shawn Davis, a fifth-round pick by Indianapolis in 2021, is the third safety.

A year ago, the Packers’ special teams was nasty and not in a good way.

Rich Bisaccia intends to change all that, beginning with that most important of operations: the snap, the hold and the kick.

For his part, Bisaccia is excited to be working with Mason Crosby, who struggled in part because of the errant/inconsistent operation.

“He’s had a hell of a career,” Bisaccia said of Crosby. “The one good thing I know about Crosby is that he’s come back from a down year to play really well. I’m excited about being around him, learning from him, seeing what his strengths are and where we can go forward and keep improving.”

Pat O’Donnell, the veteran ex-Bears punter, was brought in to deliver in cold weather, and to be a reliable holder for Crosby.

Steven Wirtel is first up as the long snapper.

 

Brewers searching for slump-busting 2nd half

By Chris Havel

Special to THE FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers enter the All-Star break clinging to sole possession of first place in the NL Central by the thinnest of margins.

The Brewers (50-43) are a half-game up on St. Louis (50-44) atop the NL’s weakest division. That’s the circumstance due in part to the Cardinals-Reds game being postponed Sunday. Perhaps Mother Nature is a Brewers fan, and if that’s the case, she also feels their fans’ pain.

To say the All-Star break came at a good time is an understatement.

If this were the Daytona 500 the Brewers would’ve been black-flagged a couple hundred laps in for leaking oil. Instead, all they can do is play on and hope that their pitchers get healthy and their bats awake from a half-season slumber.

The Brewers rode their strong starting pitching, lights out relief and steady defense to an impressive 32-18 win-loss record through 50 games. But when Freddy Peralta (right shoulder), Brandon Woodruff (Reynaud syndrome) and Aaron Ashby (left forearm inflammation) were placed on the IL – Woodruff and Ashby have since returned – the Brewers have struggled mightily.

Milwaukee is 18-25 since May 31. They have won just three of 14 series – and none in July – despite playing the Cubs, Pirates and Reds.

The Brewers’ plus-25 in runs for/against ranks eighth in the National League, and they have lost eight of 11 going into the break.

They are 28-19 against the NL Central, but only 11-13 versus the NL East and 4-8 versus the NL West. They are 7-3 in interleague play.

The Brewers lack of offense has been the team’s greatest problem.

“If you look up and down our lineup, it’s a lot of players having the same offensive year,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I don’t think any of them are dramatically underperforming, but I don’t think anybody’s having a big offensive season.”

Corbin Burnes, the NL’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, still has faith.

“Once everyone gets it going, it’ll be awesome,” Burnes said on MLB.com. “We’ve seen what this offense can do when they’re clicking. Defensively, we’ve got a ton of Gold Glovers, so all the pieces are there, and it’s just a matter of putting it all together, and we know we can.”

The Brewers’ lack of punch has been exacerbated by their recent lack of reliable relief pitching. Milwaukee’s bullpen has given up 28 earned runs in 38 2/3 innings during the past 11 games (3-8), and the pen has been tagged with six of the losses.

Josh Hader, the Brewers’ All-Star closer, has been especially bad recently.

Hader didn’t allow a run until June 7 this season. Now, his earned-run average has ballooned to a whopping 4.50 after his recent struggles. He served up a grand slam in the Brewers’ 8-5 loss Friday night to the Giants.

Hader opted out of the All-Star Game to be with his family during the break. It has been a long and grueling stretch for Hader, whose wife, Maria, struggling with health issues during the couple’s first pregnancy. After several stints on the family leave list, Hader’s wife delivered a healthy baby boy.

Perhaps the mental grind of balancing work and home took a toll.

Fortunately for Hader, and the Brewers, he will be able to recharge this week.

The best bit of news recently is Devin Williams’ addition to the NL All-Star team. Williams has been one of the league’s top relievers during the past two months. In Thursday’s series opener at San Francisco, Williams extended his scoreless-innings streak to 24 2/3 innings, the longest streak in the NL.

Brad Boxberger has been good, but others such as Brent Suter, Trevor Gott and Jandel Gustave have been less reliable.

“We’ve just played so many close games, so (Williams’) innings have obviously been really valuable,” Counsell told reporters. “Your bullpen is going to be in very high-pressure situations every time they take the ball.”

The stress is even higher because of the volume of close games.

The Brewers are 17-13 in one-run games. The 30 one-run games is tied for the second-most in the NL, trailing only Miami’s 36 one-run games. With the offense being so erratic, the pitchers have to be nearly perfect to win games.

Offensively, one bright spot is the team’s 15-15 win-loss record against left-handed starting pitchers. They are 35-28 against right-handers.

One reason for the success against lefties is the presence of Hunter Renfroe. The Brewers need Renfroe to be a reliable force in the heart of the order. He hits left-handers especially well, and forms a difficult one-two punch with Andrew McCutchen, who has been a strong addition this season.

The Brewers rank second in the NL in home runs with 124 and are led by Willy Adames with 19 and Rowdy Tellez with 18. They also rank fifth in slugging percentage at .407.

However, they are eighth in runs scored and 13th in batting average, so even when they’re hitting well with runners in scoring position, there aren’t enough times they have runners to drive in.

The Brewers will have to play better to stay ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central, starting with being more consistent offensively.

The pitching is too good to struggle for long, especially in the bullpen, so Milwaukee’s greatest strength (Burnes, Woodruff, Williams and Hader) remains the horse it is going to have to ride to win the division.

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