Green Bay Packers

Packers

NFL Team Column
By Eric R. Blumhardt
Interview with Mike Mayock

9 March 2011

Marching Towards the Draft

Today we’ll discuss seven players at three key positions of need for the Packers. The positions most widely thought of as areas of weakness for Green Bay are defensive end, outside linebacker, and interior offensive linemen.

Interior Offensive Linemen-
The Packers drafted offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga last season from Iowa to protect the edge however they still have a serious need inside the tackles. The two interior linemen worthy of being picked with the last selection of the first round are Mike Pouncey (6’5, 309) from Florida and Danny Watkins (6’3, 312) from Baylor.

While there remains a good possibility that Pouncey is off the board by the time Green Bay selects, it’s worth noting that he is nowhere near the player his brother is, so he may slip come draft day. While Maurkice was a strong, nasty player, Mike is more of a finesse player that does not possess the strength of brother Maurkice and will take a season or two to gain the strength necessary to be a pro bowl starting caliber player. Pouncey, like his brother, can play either guard positions and center. The other player in this category is twenty seven year old Danny Watkins from Baylor. Watkins played left tackle with the Bears, but is best suited to play inside at the next level. Some teams will be turned off by the age of Watkins, but Green Bay is in “win now” mode and a mature, plug and play player like Watkins is exactly what the Packers need.

Outside Linebacker-
Clay Matthews is a top three pass rushing talent in the National Football League, however teams will continue to work towards double teaming him until Green Bay finds a suitable edge rusher opposite of him. While the drafts top edge rushers like Von Miller, Robert Quinn, and Aldon Smith will likely be long gone by the time Green Bay selects, there are still two first round caliber talents that may be available. Akeem Ayers (6’3, 249) out of UCLA and Justin Houston (6’3, 254) from Georgia. Of the two, Ayers is the better pass rusher, but Houston may be the better all around football player. Neither player looked exceptionally fluid in coverage at the combine, but it should just be a matter of getting comfortable with the drops and reads.

Defensive End-
Defensive End is a position of need for Green Bay with Cullen Jenkins moving on. There are three defensive ends that fit ideally into the Caper’s 3-4 defense that may be around at pick 32. DE Adrian Clayborn  (6’3, 281)out of Iowa, Muhammad Wilkerson (6’4, 315) from Temple, and Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward (6’5, 294). All three have the strength and athleticism to set the edge and with the expected run of offensive tackles in the late teens and early twenty’s, should allow one or two of these players to drop. Of the three, I believe that Wilkerson will be the best pro, but expect him to get some solid looks by teams like the hometown Eagles, New England, and the Jets.

End Result-
When looking at the three biggest needs for the Packers, I have to believe that finding another source of pass rush in the priority. Akeem Ayers would be the perfect piece to put across from Matthews and let the havoc reign.

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25 February 2011

How Building Through the Draft Led Green Bay to Super Bowl

In the world of professional football, the number one rule in building a championship team with staying power is to build through the draft. Some teams like Washington and Dallas have attempted to challenge that rule and have failed miserably however the Green Bay Packers are the most recent example of benefitting from following the golden rule. Today we’ll go through the past three draft classes for Green Bay and see just how each draft class provided the Packers with the depth needed to win in the National Football League.

TE Jermichael Finley and WR Jordy Nelson are the headliners of the 2008 season. Both were expected to be major contributors this season; however Finley ended up on Injured Reserve in week five after posting 21 catches for 301 yards in the first four weeks. Nelson finished the season with 45 catches for 582 yards and two touchdowns, however his major impact came on the biggest stage in football, catching 9 balls for 140 yards and one touchdown.
The 2009 draft brought aboard the two most important and significant players on Green Bay’s defense.

Nose tackle BJ Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews were drafted because of the hiring of defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his planned installation of the 3-4 defense.

Both players proved to be a perfect match for the hybrid defense and were incredible during the 2010 run towards the Super Bowl. Matthews came in second in voting for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, just two votes behind Pittsburgh Steeler safety Troy Polamalu. BJ Raji came into his own in 2010 and has instilled himself as a top five defensive tackle in professional football and a vital cog as the centerpiece in Green Bay’s defense.

While 2010’s top draft picks- offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga from Iowa and free safety Morgan Burnett were the headline grabbers heading into the offseason, it would be the sixth round running back from Buffalo, James Starks and a pair of undrafted rookies- cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Frank Zombo that would prove to be crucial once January came around.

With RB Ryan Grant on Injured Reserve and Brandon Jackson unable to bring any electricity to the position, James Starks ran for over three hundred yards in the playoffs giving the Packers some much needed balance. Zombo contributed with 38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles for the season and Shields had two interceptions in a win over the Chicago Bears in the Conference Championship.

While some teams in the National Football League prefer to draft flashy players with high priced egos, the Packers, much like the city in which they hale, draft players with a lunch pail work ethics and team first attitudes. These players’ unselfish attitudes and tireless energy proved to be the winning formula in bringing back the Lombardi trophy to where it belongs…….Title town, U.S.A.

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18 August 2010

Exhibition Opener: Sloppy, But on Track

Throughout the entire offseason, football fans and analysts alike begin to formulate their theories about the upcoming year. Training camp begins to test those theories and now, preseason puts it all on display. There were three generally accepted areas of concern for this Green Bay team at the end of last season, and from the looks of this week’s exhibition opener against the Browns, progress is certainly being made.

The pass protection unit looked strong against a heavy blitzing Cleveland Brown defense Saturday night, keeping Aaron Rodgers on his feet with zero sacks. First round draft pick Bryan Bulaga looked impressive at both left tackle and at his new position, left guard (watch out Daryn Colledge). With solid protection under pressure, Aaron Rodgers finished 12 for 13, throwing for 159 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers’ decision-making looked sharp and this unit finally seems to be finding its groove.

The secondary, on the other hand, seems to be clouted by chaos. Safety Atari Bigby and Cornerback Al Harris are both still recovering from surgeries and did not play. With the health of these two key players in question, much remains uncertain. Third round draft pick, Safety Morgan Burnett, was the Packers’ answer to their lack of depth in the secondary, and has been competing with an absent Bigby for the starting role. Safety Derrick Martin intercepted a pass on Saturday from Cleveland Brown’s Colt McCoy in the third quarter, but was otherwise quiet, as was Burnett. As for the nickelbacks, there remains Brandon Underwood, who managed 6 tackles and a 35-yard interception on Saturday, but did give up some key plays, and Pat Lee, who still has yet to impress. There are a lot of players fighting for a place in this secondary with still a lot left up in the air.

The Packers’ defensive line has a new look from last year and that might not be such a bad thing. Cullen Jenkins remains on the right side as defensive end, but B.J. Raji has moved to nose tackle, and highly unexpected second round draft pick, Mike Neal, may be getting an immediate shot at left defensive end now that Johnny Jolly is gone. In this first exhibition game, Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga played outside linebackers, as Clay Matthews was still recovering from a hamstring injury. Matthews, who typically plays on the right side, has been taking reps on the left side in camp to counter Cullen Jenkins. This pass rush unit managed just one sack on Saturday, but should see improvement once Matthews is back in action.

Overall, there was some sloppiness out on the field this weekend, a touch of confusion and a ton of substitutions, which is exactly what Preseason is all about. This is the time to work it out and get into a rhythm and it looks as though Green Bay is right on track to get to where they need to be.

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26 May 2010

Interview with Mike Mayock

I had the pleasure of sitting down with NFL Draft Analyst, Mike Mayock, to discuss his thoughts on the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 draft selections. Here’s what he had to say.

NFL Draft Dog: Let’s start with Green Bay’s first pick, 23rd overall, offensive tackle, Bryan Bulaga. At this point in the draft, the tackles that had already been taken off the board were Russell Okung (Seahawks), Trent Williams (Redskins) and Anthony Davis (49ers). Was Bulaga the right choice for the Packers? What is he going to bring to this offensive line?

Mayock: He was the right choice. Most people had him pegged as the fourth offensive tackle to go off the board, so I think the Packers were really hoping that either he or Anthony Davis would be available at 23. It was expected that San Francisco would use one of their two picks to try and get Anthony Davis, and they did. At that point, Green Bay was probably a little bit relieved because Bulaga was still available and San Francisco had the last big tackle need. I think the Packers got the guy they wanted, and the nice thing for them is that he can play either side. They have two tackles that have been in the league for about 10 years, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, both of whom have seen better days. At some point Bulaga can take over for Clifton on the left side, but he could also just as easily take over for Tauscher on the right side, depending on who’s healthier and what their longevity is. He gives a little versatility.

Draft Dog: Will Bulaga compete for a starting role?

Mayock: I think when you draft a guy in the first round, you expect him to come in and compete.  They have to make a decision on which side they want him to come in on. It’s comparable to Michael Oher last year, who Baltimore traded up to 23 to acquire. Baltimore started him on the right side and when they had some injuries, he was switched to the left side. So Oher ended up playing both sides his rookie year. I think what they’d really like with Bulaga is to bring him in, compete on the right side and upgrade Tauscher there – possibly even start Bulaga and let Tauscher be a swing guy. They might start him on the left side, but I think ideally, you start him on the right.

Draft Dog: The Packers added further depth to their line with offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, selected in the fifth round. Tell me a little bit about him and how he fits on this team.

Mayock: He had a very athletic combine, with one of the better 3-cone drills of any of the offensive linemen. He’s not very physical. Even though he had a good combine, at this point I’m not sure that he’s athletic enough to play left tackle. They might look at him inside at guard. I don’t know what their plans are for him. He’s a fifth round tackle, he’s not as physical as you’d like and I think he was better at the combine than he actually played at TCU. So it’ll be interesting to see where they put him.

Draft Dog: Last year, the Packers’ secondary struggled when facing the spread offense from big-name quarterbacks like Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger. The Packers failed to pick up a cornerback at this year’s draft and instead went with a safety, Morgan Burnett. With an aging Al Harris and Charles Woodson, and some questionable depth at cornerback, would Green Bay have been better off selecting a corner?

Mayock: That’s a good question. I thought they were going to take a corner with one of their first two picks. Depending on how the board turned out, I expected that their first pick would be either a corner or a tackle. And then you would hope to get a corner with your second pick. The way the board worked out, I think the guys they were interested in in the second round were probably called on by the time they got there. They ended up taking the defensive tackle, Mike Neal, and then came back and got the safety, Morgan Burnett, in the third round. My guess is that Burnett was ranked higher than any of the corners on the board when they picked him at 71. You can’t reach for somebody just because you have a need at that position. However, they do have some significant issues when you figure Al Harris is 35 and coming off a knee injury. Charles Woodson is coming off a great season, but he’s 33. I think they like Tramon Williams, so he gives them a little bit of cushion. I’m guessing that Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee are probably the reasons why they’re saying, “Yes, we could use a corner, but we’re not going to reach. We feel good enough about our backups.” I would guess that Morgan Burnett will compete with Atari Bigby for the strong safety job.

Draft Dog: You mentioned defensive end/tackle, Michael Neal. He was a puzzling second round pick for many, as most analysts had him projected in the much later rounds.

Mayock: Everybody had different ratings on him. I had him projected as being taken in the early 4th round. The thing that confuses me about Mike Neal is that, on face value, I didn’t think he was a scheme fit for the Packers. The Packers are a 3-4 team, and I think he’s really suited for a 4-man front to play the 3-technique. So they’re either going to play him as the nose, where he’s a little bit undersized, or they’re going to play him at the 5-technique, which is the defensive end in a 3-4 front, where he’s not quite as long. You like those 6’4”, 6’5” guys better for that. He was a little bit of a curiosity for me. It doesn’t mean he can’t play for them in the 5-technique, but it’s my opinion that what he does best would be taken better advantage of by the 4-man-front teams.

Draft Dog: By selecting Neal and C.J. Wilson, another defensive end, it seems as though the Packers are satisfied with their pass rushing linebackers  and are instead looking for some pass rushing lineman to provide an inside push. Fans and analysts alike projected a pick at outside linebacker at some point, but that pick never came. Your thoughts on that?

Mayock: Yea, they fortified their defensive line. And you have to remember that they franchised Ryan Pickett at nose, and they have Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins in their 5-techniques. B.J. Raji was a first round pick a year ago that I thought was going to play nose, but they’re using him in the 5-technique, as well. So they’ve drafted a bunch of defensive linemen. They got B.J. Raji last year as a first round pick, Mike Neal this year as a second round pick, and now seventh round pick, C.J. Wilson, and he fits what they do. But again,if you’re on the board and you don’t like the rush linebackers – you don’t have anybody that you think fits what you do – then you can’t push it. However, like a lot of people, I still think they’re going to need to fill the position that Aaron Kampman left. And they might move Brady Poppinga so that he and Clay Matthews are on opposite sides. It’ll be interesting to see what they do.

Draft Dog: Tight end Andrew Quarless was perhaps a surprising selection, as Green Bay has a handful of tight ends on the roster. What’s the reason for this pick?

Mayock: I think in the fifth round, a lot of teams like to take a little bit of a flier on the guy with great athletic ability. Quarless is a really talented athlete who had some problems at Penn State. He was always in Joe Paterno’s dog house. He didn’t have much production catching the ball until his senior year. Talent-wise, he’s probably a second or third round tight end. He slipped to the fifth round because of the off-the-field issues, so they’re looking at a way to bring another athletic, big tight end in there to compliment Jermichael Finley.

Draft Dog: 6’2”, 220-pound running back James Starks is nearly Ryan Grant’s body double. Will he be solid insurance at running back?

Mayock: You know, you’re talking about a guy they took in the sixth round, whose height and weight are similar, but he doesn’t have a similar running style to Ryan Grant. It’s kind of curious because his issue in college has been durability. He had shoulder surgery prior to the season, so he missed his entire senior year. He’s a big, good-looking athlete with an upright running style who got beaten up during his college career at Buffalo. He has to show people he can stay healthy and take a pelting, which he hasn’t been able to do on a cohesive level. I think they’re hopeful that they got a really good athlete. He slid all the way to the sixth round because he didn’t play his whole senior year. I’m sure they’re hoping he’s a better running back than that, based on his sophomore and junior take. My only concern is that he’s had a lot of durability issues. So while he might not be a starter, he’s going to get a certain number of touches a game if he’s good enough.

Draft Dog: Online poll results showed that following Day 1 and Day 2 of the draft, Packers fans were among the top 5 “most excited” fans about their team’s picks. By the end of Day 3, that excitement dropped down to a feeling of “indifference”. If you’re a Green Bay fan, are you happy with the guys they’ve picked up?

Mayock: Right. See, I think most Packer fans are saying, “We expected a corner and a rush linebacker and we didn’t get one. We started off great because we got that tackle we really wanted, and we’ll hang in there with the defensive tackle. Maybe he’s pretty good.” But then after that, they started saying, “Wait a minute. Where’s our corner and where’s our rush linebacker?” And they didn’t really want to hear a whole lot about another tackle or a running back. So I can understand where they’re going. And to be honest with you, again, I didn’t understand Mike Neal at that point, and I thought they should have gotten a corner. But they’ve drafted pretty well historically and Ted Thompson’s one of the brighter guys in the business. So, if you’re a Green Bay fan, you probably need to trust your leader.

Draft Dog: Your predication for Green Bay this year?

Mayock: Well, it’s too early to tell. But they have the first thing you need to be good, which is one of the better quarterbacks in the league. I think it was really important that they got that tackle, they have one of the better receiving groups in the league, and opportunistically on defense, the reason they won a lot of games last year is because they were number one on the turnover margin. When you’re plus 24 on the margin, you’re going to win a lot of games. The problem with that is that it’s hard to replicate every year. They’re probably not quite as talented as Minnesota, assuming the Vikings get Favre back. If you’re a Packers fan, the biggest question is, “Have we gained on Minnesota?” And I’m not sure. To me, I don’t think they have. But they’re a good football team and should be a playoff football team.

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22 April 2010

Inside the Packers’ Picks

Seven rounds, seven picks. Who are these guys and what will they bring to the team?

Rd 1 Pick #23: OT Bryan Bulaga, 6’5”, 314 lbs, Iowa:
It was a nice surprise for Bryan Bulaga to still be available at this point in the draft, and the Packers did not hesitate to cash in on this gem. With an excellent attitude on and off the field, this talented tackle is one of the few linemen who could make an immediate impact as a rookie.  He is well-suited to play left or right tackle behind Chad Clifton or Mark Tauscher, and may even compete for a starting job at tackle in the near future. As General Manager Ted Thompson was quoted saying, “He’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s got great size. He’s the real deal.”

Rd 2 Pick #56: DE Mike Neal, 6’3”, 294 lbs, Purdue:
Neal was an unexpected pick and one that is still being disputed. Many fans were hoping for an outside linebacker here, but the Packers instead went with defensive end/tackle Mike Neal, a good player with great size and character who can help bring the inside pass rush. Starting DEs Johnny Jolly and Justin Harrell have struggled, with Jolly facing suspension for drug possession charges, and Harrell playing only 13 games in 3 years due to his chronic back issues. Whether Green Bay could use more support at this position is not what’s questionable – what is questionable, however, is the priority of the need at this position over others (such as outside linebacker), and whether more valuable DEs were available at this point in the draft (Neal had a 5th round projection).

Rd 3 Pick #71: SS Morgan Burnett, 6’1”, 209 lbs, Georgia Tech:
The Packers’ depth at secondary was ardently tested against spread offenses last year. Strong safety Morgan Burnett will be a good fit for this 3-4 defense behind Atari Bigby, and could even be an asset as a nickel or dimeback. The Packers acquired this 71st pick from the Browns via the Eagles, and also gave up their 4th round pick to select Burnett. A somewhat hefty price to pay, but Burnett is a talented player of decent size whose reason for not being a higher-round prospect is due to some inconsistencies on the field. A cornerback would have been an alternative pick and some are still questioning why this wasn’t addressed instead.

Rd 5 Pick #154: TE Andrew Quarless, 6’4”, 254 lbs, Penn State:
An unexpected pick for Green Bay at a position that they have plenty of depth in. Andrew Quarless is a high-talent player whose value dropped due to off-field issues, and it looks like the Packers are willing to take a chance on him. Current starting tight end Jermichael Finley is not a strong blocker. Similarly, Quarless’ blocking skills are unimpressive, but at 6’4”, 254 pounds and a 4.69 second 40-yard dash, he could be used in tandem with Finley to force defenses to cover both. A curious pick by the Packers, it should be interesting to see how they incorporate him into their offense.

Rd 5 Pick #169: OT Marshall Newhouse, 6’4”, 319 lbs, TCU:
After drafting offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga with their first overall pick, Green Bay went for further insurance on the o-line with OT Marshall Newhouse. Suited to play tackle or guard, Newhouse could be a possible replacement for Daryn Colledge who has been a big disappointment at left guard, and who has been awfully vocal about salary issues for a player who hasn’t performed. Newhouse is big and athletic, but needs some coaching to improve on his technique. With aging tackles and limited talent at guard, it certainly couldn’t hurt to add some more depth.

Rd 6 Pick #193: RB James Starks, 6’2”, 218 lbs, Buffalo:
James Starks is a solid talent at running back whose third round stock dropped when he missed his senior season due to a knee injury. He’s a great value pick in the sixth round and can make an immediate, much-needed impact on special teams. Similar in height and weight to Ryan Grant, Starks will most likely play backup to Grant, although it’s possible they’ll see some shared playing time this year. It’s not uncommon to see late-round running back picks emerge into very productive players, so keep an eye out for Starks.

Rd 7 Pick #230: DE C.J. Wilson, 6’3”, 290 lbs, East Carolina:
Along with Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson is a player drafted to help with the inside push on the defensive line. A bit of a surprise, since none of the Packers’ picks went to help with outside pass rush, but long and strong, Wilson is a great seventh round steal. A Conference USA product, Wilson will have to polish his skills before making an impact in the NFL.

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22 April 2010

Rounding Out the Top 3 Concerns

PROBLEM #3: Pass Rush

Less of a real problem, and more of an area that could use some improvement. In this 3-4 defense, right outside linebacker Clay Matthews was a standout on this defense and real threat to quarterbacks, recording 10 sacks last season. The Packers will need a strong linebacker on the left side to compliment Matthews and split their opponents’ attention. Rookie OLB Brad Jones recorded 4 sacks in 4 games after replacing an injured Aaron Kampman, who has since been released. Jones will be the front-runner for the left side this year, but only time will tell if he is the long-term answer. Defensive Ends Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins are productive starters with solid numbers in tackles and passes deflected, but should ideally up their sack count. At the start of the season, the Packers will be in decent shape here, but should injuries occur, depth will become a problem.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB, Texas (6’3”, 250 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  36.5”
Bench Press:  25 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.71 seconds

Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB, TCU (6’2”, 255 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  34.5”
Bench Press:  26 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.69 seconds

Ricky Sapp, DE/OLB, Clemson (6’4”, 252 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  34”
Bench Press:  23 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.70 seconds

Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida (6’6”, 277 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  31.5”
Bench Press:  21 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.71 seconds

Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan (6’1”, 268 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  31.5”
Bench Press:  31 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.72 seconds

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida (6’5”, 270 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  31.5”
Bench Press:  19 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.67 seconds

Green Bay certainly has their work cut out for them, with a handful of concerns, a heap of talented prospects, and just a few hours separating them from the 2010 NFL Draft.

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14 April 2010

More on Green Bay’s First Pick Options

PROBLEM #2: Secondary

Although the Packers’ defense as a whole was a bright spot last season, the team struggled at times when defending the pass, especially against big-name quarterbacks running spread offenses. The stats don’t immediately reveal a problem, with the Packers finishing 5th in the league for passing yards allowed per game (201.1); however, when facing the spread from Big Ben, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, the Packers allowed an average of nearly twice that yardage (375.3), and landed them a big first-round playoff loss.

CAUSE: Injuries, lack of (talented) depth, inexperienced players, schematic problems.

With cornerbacks Al Harris, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon all out with knee injuries last season, it left the Packers especially thin at cornerback when opponents forced them to use their nickel and dime coverage. Rookie Brandon Underwood made his debut as a decent dime, but will need to show great improvement if he’s going to play anything more than that. Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson is a star, but with Woodson turning 34 this year and Harris pushing 36, the age and durability of these key players are of growing concern. Jarrett Bush’s production has been disappointing for years and shouldn’t be in Green Bay for much longer. At safety, there’s only Nick Collins, a solid player, and the less reliable Atari Bigby and Derrick Martin. There’s a weakness here in the backfield and towards the end of last season, teams discovered and exploited it. If Green Bay doesn’t make some changes, we’ll see this come back to haunt them this year right from the start.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Depending on who’s left on the board, the Packers could consider one of these safeties or corners:

Earl Thomas, S, Texas (5’10”, 202 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  32”
Bench Press:  21 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.41 seconds

Earl Thomas is a versatile player that exhibits both speed and strength.  His instincts and awareness allow him to read plays quickly and move his feet and hips to get to where he needs to go. He’s competitive and not afraid to get hit and tackle hard. At 5’10, 202 lbs, however, he is rather small for a safety at this level and may struggle in a battle of height or muscle. In addition, joining the Pros as a sophomore out of college, Thomas does not have the experience one would hope for; but based on his production thus far, there’s no reason to doubt his potential to be a solid player.

Taylor Mays, S, USC, (6’3”, 230 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  41” (Top S)
Bench Press:  24 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.43 seconds
At 6’3”, 230 lbs, and posting excellent combine numbers, Taylor Mays not only has ideal measurables, but he is a true athlete in top-notch shape. He shows great speed in space and has the bulk and strength to make opponents fear him. During the tackle, he can be over-aggressive at times, trying to make a big hit rather than focusing on covering the ball. His fluidity could use some work when backpedaling or changing direction, as demonstrated in his subpar DB combine drills. Mays has good fundamentals and the versatility to play in different schemes, but he’ll need some work on his technique to get there.

Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (5’10”, 194 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  38”
Bench Press:  25 reps (Top CB)
40-Yard Dash:  4.43 seconds

A four year starter in college, Kyle Wilson has experience and durability, never having missed a game due to injury. Psychically small, Wilson is not a strong tackler, especially when battling bigger receivers. His tackles in the running game are too few and inconsistent, and he’ll need to improve his physicality and aggressiveness when taking on an opponent and bringing him down. On the upside, he is quick and instinctual and very impressive in pass coverage. Wilson is productive in both man and zone coverage, with his true strength lying with man-to-man. He has strong vision and good hands and should be able to help out in the kick return as well.

Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers (5’11”, 193 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  36”
Bench Press:  16 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.48 seconds

McCourty is a tough competitor who could likely make an immediate impact as a nickel. He has four years of experience as a corner and additional experience on special teams. He has the agility and hip movement to make quick turns to follow receivers. His precise timing allows him to get in the air and get his hands on the ball, but he needs some work on his hands to bring the ball back down with him. McCourty is of average size and build and can therefore be overpowered at times, having to yank and drag his opponent down rather than hitting him hard straight on. He’ll need to work on his block protection to improve his overall consistency as a player.

BOTTOM LINE: The need in the defensive backfield is probably not as strong as the need for support on the offensive line, especially with some offseason schematic shifts and practice defending the spread. But the additional help certainly couldn’t hurt. As both GM Ted Thompson and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers have expressed, you can never have enough cover people. This year’s DB draft class is not overly impressive, making it more attractive for the Packers to pick up a corner or a safety in the later rounds.

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8 April 2010

An In-Depth Look at the 23rd Pick

Over the next 3 weeks leading up to the draft, let’s break down the biggest issues the 2010 Packers face and explore their options for first round (23rd overall) draft pick.

PROBLEM #1: Offensive Line / Protecting the Quarterback

With 51 offensive sacks allowed (32nd in the league), 93 quarterback hits (26th in the league) and 31 offensive negative plays (11th in the league), it’s no secret that this line struggled last year. Although some changes and replacements made half way through the season improved production some, this is undoubtedly a group that could use some help.

CAUSE: Hurt players, young players, old players, poorly-performing players and too much player rotation.

LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher are both entering their 11th NFL season. Although strong players that add great value to the line, age and durability are of growing concern, each having perhaps a year left to play. Should they get hurt this year, the Packers are left with the same depth problem from 2009. Second-year T.J. Lang could be promising as a right or left tackle, but will more likely be needed as a guard to replace a struggling Daryn Colledge. With 3 to 4 lineman fighting to start as guard, it leaves the tackle positions very shallow.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Depending on who’s available at this point in the draft, here is a closer look at some options for the Packers:

Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers (6’6”, 325 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  33”
Bench Press:  21 reps
40-Yard Dash:  5.38 seconds

Davis has great size, strength and athleticism to be a left tackle. His arm length and movement helps him grab onto defenders, control them and steer them away. His footwork and body control allows him to slide and react to counter moves when pass protecting. Also skilled in run blocking, Davis is an aggressive player who can get to the second level and handle powerful linebackers. Along with a lack of quickness off the ball and a tendency to play too high, Davis raises questions about his dedication and self-discipline.  He missed his Pro Day (citing the flu), performed very poorly at the combine, has displayed weak work ethic and has trouble controlling his weight.

Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma, (6' 5", 315 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  34.5” (top OL)
Bench Press:  23 reps
40-Yard Dash:  4.88 seconds

Averaging 114 knockdown blocks in each of his last 2 college years, Williams has quick burst off the snap and knows how to get to his opponent and drive them into the ground. He has the balance and footwork to keep up with quick defensive ends and the power to sustain a block for the most part, but could use more strength to defend against bigger, power rushers. His pass protection is questionable. He works well enough to the outside, but counter moves to the inside seem to give him trouble. He may make an immediate impact at right tackle, however, where he started 25 games for Oklahoma.

Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa (6’6”, 312 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  27.5”
Bench Press:  26 reps
40-Yard Dash:  5.26 seconds

Bulaga is competitive player with great understanding of his position. He is quick for his size and shows solid technique while protecting both the run and the pass. He’s disciplined and a natural leader, determined to adjust to his opponent and finish his blocks. His strength is decent, but not elite. Not a natural knee bender, Bulaga shows some weakness with his leverage and lower body strength which will at times cause him to lose in a battle of power. His footwork is inconsistent and for right now makes him a better fit for right tackle, but with some experience could have the potential to move to the left side.

Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland (6’7”, 314 lbs)
Vertical Jump: 32”
Bench Press: 34 reps
40-Yard Dash: 4.85 seconds (top OL)

Campbell is built like a tank, with virtually zero body fat and superior athletic ability. He’s a productive run blocker and an even better pass protector, ideal for protecting the blind side. He uses his speed, foot agility and inherent hand placement to drop back, slide and sustain his blocks on a rusher on the inside or off the edge. Along with some development needed in form and technique, Campbell has a laundry list of injury concerns and a lack in the kind of experience one would expect, making him still rather raw for a potential first round draft pick.

Charles Brown, OT, USC (6’6”, 303 lbs)
Vertical Jump:  31.5”
Bench Press:  21 reps
40-Yard Dash:  Did not participate

Brown is an athletic lineman who saw play at both right and left tackle as a Trojan.  A strong pass rusher, he’s fast, light-on-his-feet and shows good lateral movement to mirror his opponent. His quickness downfield in the running game allows him to reach the second level with ease. This large player is surprisingly more about speed and agility than about punch. His big, unfilled frame could stand for some more bulk and strength to prevent bigger, stronger ball rushers from jolting and pushing him back to get after the ball carrier.

BOTTOM LINE: With Clifton and Tauscher returning next year, enough decent lineman in this year’s draft to last into the later rounds, and a number of quality players in other positions available early on, we may not find the Packers selecting an OL in round one. Afterall, Packers’ GM Ted Thompson hasn’t selected an offensive lineman in the first round in 10 years. But considering their growing need for a starting tackle in the next year or two, it may be time for him to reconsider.

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11 February 2010

Packers 2010 Draft Preview

Since my last article the combine has come and went, and some big free agents have been signed, most notably DE Julius Peppers to the Bears and DE/LB Aaron Kampman away from the Packers. The Packers need to address the pass rush on both sides of the ball, and that can easily be done through the draft.

  1. Offensive Tackle
    Pass Blocking was absolutely atrocious with OT Allen Barbre and OT Chad Clifton. OT TJ Lang emerged as a solid right tackle candidate for OT Mark Tauscher, and with Clifton resigning with the Packers (3 years, 20 million), the Packers really need to find a good left tackle prospect to develop behind Clifton. I would honestly be comfortable starting Lang at right tackle for next year. I initially wanted Bryan Bulaga from Iowa in the draft, but with his good combine showing, it’s doubtful that he’ll last that long. Candidates for the first round pick are Charles Brown from USC, Anthony Davis from Rutgers, or Trent Williams from Oklahoma. Of those choices I think it would be best for the Packers to go with Brown, a mobile and athletic tackle who fits the Packers well. Peppers rushes from the right side (from the offensive point of view) so, assuming Lang starts, the rookie will not have to face the monster of Julius Peppers
  2. Cornerback
    The Packers were lit up for far too many yards in the playoffs. One reason can be attributed to rookies LB Brad Jones and LB Clay Matthews disappearing on the pass rush, but another is just plain depth. The Packers were able to cover up their weaknesses well, but after CB Al Harris went down to injury, their depth was exposed. Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson could keep them in games, but at times it was just too much. CB Tramon Williams is decent, but behind those three cornerbacks it’s just plain terrible, not to mention Woodson and Harris are really old too. There really isn’t any good cornerback that the Packers could pick in the first round, aside from Joe Haden but he’ll definitely be gone, so looking in the second round there’s Brandon Ghee from Wake Forest, Kareem Jackson from Alabama, and Chris Cook from Virginia.  Ghee would be my preference here with decent size (6’0” 192 lbs) and excellent speed (4.37 forty). He’s not a polished corner, but with time behind Woodson and Harris, I believe he can improve tremendously. His athleticism coupled with great talent, I think he could be a starter with Tramon Williams in due time.
  3. 3-4 Rush Linebacker
    I had faith in Jones, but after his disappearance down the stretch of the season I think we should be looking for a contingency plan. Matthews is obviously a star and I’m not worried about him, but Jones is inconsistent. With Kampman leaving for the Jaguars, there is no third option behind these two rising sophomores. This is not that much of a need, and can be addressed in the 3rd or fourth rounds, where players such as Jason Worilds from Virginia Tech, Eric Norwood from South Carolina, or George Selvie from South Florida may be. Selvie has had his struggles the past two seasons, so I would lean towards Norwood here. He’s explosive off the line and I think he would serve as a good backup.
  4. Safety
    Nick Collins signed his tender, and it looks like he’s on his way to an overdue long-term contract. Bigby was tendered but again, depth remains an issue. This remains interesting, because Taylor Mays from USC may be available in the first round for the Packers. He might be the best athlete in this draft with his 6’3” frame coupled with an elite forty time, but he is extremely raw. If Mays falls to the Packers, I think the draft room will have to take a good hard look at him. Hopefully, the Packers will look the other way and choose a good offensive tackle, but if all those options are gone, who knows? Another interesting choice is Myron Rolle from Florida State. He left football for a year, and performed poorly at the combine, however he was a surefire first rounder last year. I have faith that he can return to that form with good coaching, and in the later rounds, I think the Packers should take a look at Rolle.
  5. Special Teams

This would rank higher if the value was actually legitimate. This remains one of the Packers greatest needs, but obviously they aren’t going to spend a high pick on a pure-special teams player. The Packers need a punter, a good returner (if CB Will Blackmon doesn’t rehab well), and better coverage. In general, the Packers special teams just plain sucks. There needs to be improvement all around. A lot has been made from K Mason Crosby’s struggles, but I think he’s still a good kicker. His excellent rookie season still shines out for me and I think he can break out of the slump he was in last year.

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10 February 2010

Packers Offseason Preview

With the Super Bowl over, the Packers (and myself) can now look to the offseason and player moves. Obviously the first concern for any team is free agents, and because the Packers were not part of the final 8 playoff teams, they are free to do what they wish to for free agents. In terms of what they might lose, it’s not much compared to some teams. If no new CBA deal is struck (and if there is one it’ll be much to the surprise of everyone), the Packers will only have 5 unrestricted free agents and 8 restricted free agents.

The unrestricted free agents are DT Ryan Pickett, LT Chad Clifton, RT Mark Tauscher, LB Aaron Kampman, and RB Ahman Green. Obviously Green is of the lowest priority here, but I honestly think that Tauscher can be let go. OT TJ Lang played briefly at both tackle spots, and while he struggled on the left side, I feel that he has shown a lot of promise on the right side. Clifton I guess can be resigned for a short 2-3 year deal, but he’s already 33 and the Packers should really move on to finding a new left tackle, preferably through the draft. Pickett is a good player, but we drafted DT BJ Raji for a reason. Raji succeeded as a 3-4 end, but there’s no question he’s more suited for the nose tackle position.

Kampman is tricky since he rarely talks to the press. I’m pretty sure, as are most others, that Kampman would probably not want to return to the 3-4 system in Green Bay, but he’s definitely an incredible player. I think that the best method is to franchise Kampman, and attempt to trade him away. There’s no question that Kampman is a better player than current LB Brad Jones, but Kampman may not way to stick around for the long term with the Pack.

FB John Kuhn, OG Daryn College, C Jason Spitz, DE Johnny Jolly, CB Will Blackmon, S Atari Bigby, S Nick Collins, and S Derrick Martin round out the restricted free agents. This is incredible news because Collins has spoken out about his unresolved contract, but since he’s a restricted free agent, it gives the Packers much more leverage. Should some team try to wrestle Collins away, the Packers will receive draft picks. Spitz is in my opinion the second most important player, as the entire offensive line was in shambles, and some of that was due to Spitz hitting the injured reserve early in the year. Jolly or Blackmon probably follow, and Jolly’s importance is huge especially if Pickett is not resigned because he’ll probably take Raji’s spot as an end.

The special teams, both return and coverage, were pitiful this year, and that is why Blackmon is important. He was our main return man, but like Spitz, hit the injured reserve early in the season. College is important because the Packers simply don’t have depth on the offensive line. While he can be improved, he’s at least passable. Kuhn is nice, but with already two good fullbacks, Kuhn doesn’t need to be resigned. Bigby is also our starting strong safety, so he’s up there in importance.

Next article I’ll talk more about the draft, probably after the combine. Stay tuned.

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10 January 2010

Rodgers’ Rally Falls Short

Down 31-10, the Packers came out of halftime with spirits extremely low. Suddenly QB Aaron Rodgers finally settles down after two early turnovers, and leads the Pack on a two possession swing that included a recovered onside kick. QB Kurt Warner and Rodgers dueled the rest of the way, until K Neil Rackers missed a 34 yarder at the end of the 4th quarter. Heading into overtime CB Charles Woodson, doing everything he could possibly do so far, made the right call as the Packers were to receive at the beginning of overtime. After a holding penalty on LG Daryn Colledge, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers were faced with a long 2nd and 20. After a 15 yard catch by WR James Jones, the Cards dialed up the pressure and forced a Rodgers fumble, and LB Karlos Dansby snatched the ball in the air and trotted into the endzone to cap an epic 51-45 win.

It is ironic that a game with so much offense ended on a defensive note. It seemed inevitable that whichever team that got the ball first in overtime would have won, considering how hot the two offenses were. 8 touchdowns were scored in the final half, 5 by the Pack to tie the game late. RB Ryan Grant was essentially a non-factor, despite playing well, because of the early turnovers by Rodgers and WR Donald Driver. TE Jermichael Finley stepped up when the Packers were down, to end with 6 receptions for 159 yards. WR Greg Jennings also had a huge role with 8 receptions, 130 yards, and an amazing 1-handed catch in the endzone on 3rd down.

I mentioned in a previous column how poorly the Packers defense played against elite quarterbacks. Yet again the Packers defense failed to stop another elite quarterback, as QB Kurt Warner completed over 85% of his passes for 379 yards and an amazing 5 touchdowns. The thing most surprising, is how willingly the Cards ran the ball on the top ranked run defense, as RB Beanie Wells led the Cards with 91 yards on 14 carries. My worries were proved to be true regarding the pass defense, as 2nd and 3rd receivers WR Steve Breaston and WR Early Doucet stepped up big combining for 13 receptions, 202 yards and 3 touchdowns. WR Larry Fitzgerald continues his superb postseason play with 2 more touchdowns.

Though it was extremely close, the Packers could have won the game were it not for a lack of execution and some blown calls. On the second of Fitzgerald’s catches, he essentially ran over Woodson. If this wasn’t enough, a holding call turned out to actually be a DE Cullen Jenkins roughing the passer penalty, despite the fact that he was essentially blocked into Warner. In overtime, Rodgers had a wide open Jennings, but overthrew him by 2-3 yards, on what would easily be the game winning touchdown. Even at the beginning of the game, Rodgers made an extremely errant pass across his body as he was scrambling to his right, only for it to get picked off.

However no matter how much I complain, the result will stay the same, as the Cards travel to New Orleans and the Pack back home to Green Bay. I thought that regardless of who won between the Cards and the Pack, they would move on and be able to defeat the top-seeded Saints. I hoped that it would be the Packers, unfortunately it was not. The only positive that I can take from this is now Rodgers has late game playoff experience, on the road too. Though he did all he could to bring it into overtime, it wasn’t enough. Another year will pass, and another year is added to the aging players of LT Chad Clifton, who left the game for injury, RT Mark Tauscher, CB Al Harris and possible DPOY Charles Woodson. Now we will wait for Wednesday, when the announcement for DPOY is made, to cap off an otherwise pretty successful Packers season.

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3 January 2010

Packers Dominate Arizona

QB Aaron Rodgers shredded the Arizona defense, albeit mostly reserves, for 3 quarters before getting benched. Though the Arizona starters played for only two drives in one quarter, the Packers dominated the Cards for that small period of time. RB Beanie Wells was held to 3 yards on two carries, while QB Kurt Warner completed 4 of his 6 passes for 31 yards. Meanwhile QB Aaron Rodgers completed over 80 percent of his passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for another touchdown. RB Ryan Grant had 51 yards on 11 carries, and K Mason Crosby added a field goal along with a CB Charles Woodson interception to help the Packers end in a 33-7 win.

Though the Packers did do extremely well against the Cardinals, one has to remember that the Cards probably did not play their entire gameplan, and the Packers starters played 3 quarters vs. the Cards’ 1. I just hope that the Cards don’t come out with a fire that the Packers can’t match next week, and jump out to an early lead.

CB Charles Woodson returned an interception for a touchdown, adding to his DPOY candidacy. Of cornerbacks, the most obvious opponent is CB Darelle Revis, whose stats pale in comparison to Woodson, however has shut down numerous elite wide receivers this season.

Rodgers fell short of obtaining the franchise record for passing yards in a season, however after seeing him in action for this year and last, I believe it’s only a matter of time before he eclipses that mark. Grant carried the ball only 11 times, hopefully meaning he will be fresh for the Cardinal playoff game.

The playoff game will be next weekend, and will be at Arizona. This is potentially bad news, not only because it is an away game, but because it is played in warm weather. Arizona has a more potent passing offense, in my opinion, due to the trio of Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston. The Packers defense has struggled with nickel and dime packages after CB Al Harris was injured, but hopefully OLB Clay Matthews and CB Brad Jones can provide enough pressure on QB Kurt Warner to force him to get the ball out quicker.

The good news is the Cardinal run defense has been mediocre, and their pass defense ranks even worse. As seen this week, the Packers should be able to have their way with the Cardinal defense; however, I would expect the same out of the Cardinal offense, especially out of third receiver Breaston. I believe that the Packers can enter with enough momentum and be able to shut down the Cardinal offense, to a certain extent, and win 28-20.

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28 December 2009

Running Rules the Day

After achieving only 60 rushing yards on 12 carries, 3 of which were from QB Aaron Rodgers, the Packers wanted to run the ball and run it hard. That is exactly what happened against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field. The Packers officially had 32 rushing attempts, but really had 30 because of a couple of kneel downs, for 153 yards. RB Ryan Grant had an amazing day with 16 carries for 97 yards and an impressive 56 yard touchdown run. He had another touchdown earlier. After Grant was pulled, RB Ahman Green and RB Brandon Jackson did well with a combined 13 carries for 49 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Against the top-ranked rushing defense, the Seahawks managed 115 yards on 29 carries. RB Julius Jones was shut down for 39 yards on 14 carries, but RB Justin Forsett found a couple of holes with 70 yards on 14 carries. Considering how QB Matt Hasselbeck passed for just over 50% of his passes and threw 4 interceptions, I was surprised how the Seahawks were even able to put up 10 points.

The Packers were firing well on all cylinders, aside from rush defense, but I expect that to return after one bad week. This team reminds me of a NFC version of the San Diego Chargers. Led by an elite young quarterback, their running games have been successful as of late. The difference? Defense. The Packers defense is one of the best in the league, and is putting them in situations to win even when the offense is struggling, which is rare. However what may be the Packers’ boon? Special teams. K Mason Crosby made two field goals, including a long 52 yarder on a cold day, but he still has missed 9 on the season and I wouldn’t necessarily trust him with the game on the line. Also punt and kick coverages were again horrendous, as Forsett returned the only punt for 20 yards.

The Packers will travel to Arizona to play next week, which is extremely interesting. No one knows how the teams will play as both have clinched a playoff spot already. If the season were to end today, the Packers would actually play Arizona. The Cards would only move up to the third seed if they win and Philadelphia loses. The Eagles will actually travel to play Dallas, so a loss could be possible. It’s almost impossible to predict this game, especially considering the coaches don’t want the other to know their game plan. So I’ll come back next week with an actual prediction entering the playoffs.

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21 December 2009

Packers Lose on Mirror Image of Super Bowl Play

It seems like only yesterday when WR Santonio Holmes caught the football on his fingertips and toe-tapped his way to a Super Bowl win on the right side of the endzone. Today, WR Mike Wallace had a very similar catch on the left side of the endzone to win the game 36-37.

Entering the game as the 2nd ranked defense, the Packers were shredded for over 500 passing yards by QB Ben Roethlisberger. Something that I noticed when I looked over the Packers schedule was the following. Quarterbacks the Packers defense has allowed over 25 points to: Carson Palmer, Brett Favre, Josh Freeman, and Ben Roethlisberger. Freeman doesn’t necessarily count because the defense performed well, it was rather the special teams that allowed the Bucs to work on short field (and when I say short field, I mean 20 or so yards). The Packers have not been able to find an answer to elite quarterbacks.

Delving deeper into this problem, there is one common theme: pressure. The games against Favre, the Packers refused to commit many players to rushing the passer. Favre was allowed time to carve up the Packers defense. At times, the Packers blitzed, but for the majority of the game they rushed 3-4 players and sat back in coverage. Any good quarterback can overcome this, and the results have shown.

Perhaps another problem as the Packers prepare for a playoff run is special teams. K Mason Crosby missed an easy 34 yard field goal, and punt and kick coverage was abysmal as always. I thought that the Packers would be able to overcome this with the opportunistic defense, however the Packers defense forced 0 turnovers, a first in 15 regular season games.

QB Aaron Rodgers tried his best, passing for 383 yards and 3 touchdowns, however there were way too many dropped balls at the beginning of the game. Rodgers started out 2 for 10, with receivers dropping balls at almost every opportunity. This problem quickly fixed itself, however Rodgers came up just short.

CB Charles Woodson was relatively quiet, with “only” 6 tackles. I saw him blitz once, but I wasn’t tracking him on every play. On the last drive, Woodson was moved to safety with hope that he could force a turnover and end the game. However it was to this decision that the Packers lost, with recently signed CB Josh Bell covering Wallace at the end of the game.

The Packers will host Seattle next week, in a game where the Packers should clinch a playoff berth. I look for the Packers to come out aggressive in their defense and running game, seeing as both were nonexistent against the Steelers. Because this game will put the Packers in the playoffs, I think the Packers will turn it up and win over the Seahawks, 27-14.

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13 December 2009

Packers Run Away Against the Bears

The Packers first play from scrimmage was a RB Ryan Grant 62 yard touchdown run. It turns out that this was a precursor to the rest of the game, which was essentially, run the ball. The Packers finished with 146 rushing yards, and a ridiculous 4.7 average. QB Aaron Rodgers just had to manage the game, and he did that to an excellent level. Rodgers finished 16 for 24, with 180 yards. He had no touchdowns or interceptions.

The Packers won 21-14, and played well in most aspects of the game. WR Greg Jennings has struggled catching the ball, and again he dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the 1st quarter. I do hope it’s just a fluke year and Jennings will bounce back next year. Though QB Jay Cutler passed for over 200 yards and had two touchdowns, he was sacked three times and intercepted twice. RB Matt Forte has continued his struggles running for only 51 yards. Though to be fair he only had 12 carries.

CB Charles Woodson added another interception to his resume, though he only finished with two tackles. LB Clay Matthews is increasing his bid for defensive rookie of the year with another sack. CB Tramon Williams has been struggling, as he got burned multiple times this game and was flagged for 3 pass interferences last week. Hopefully he can turn it around with CB Al Harris gone for the season.

The Packers looked strong on a cold and windy day in Chicago, and hopefully this can carry over to the Steelers game next week. The Steelers have been victims of 5 straight losses, but that’s not to say they have an outside shot at making the playoffs. The Packers should be ready for anything; however, I predict that the Packers can win, 24-13.

Looking at the wildcard, there isn’t much to say as the three main contenders for the wildcard are playing (Dallas) or have yet to play (New York – Philadelphia). However, the Falcons did fall to the Saints, as the Falcons are now 6-7 and the Packers rise to 9-4. The Falcons will now always finish below the Packers, regardless of what scenarios occur.

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8 December 2009

Packers Win on Monday Night

The Packers, on a frigid Monday night in Lambeau Field, were able to pull out a win despite the persistent Ravens and the numerous penalties. The Ravens and Packers, who came into the game as the two most penalized teams, did not upset, as the two were whistled for 23 penalties combining for 310 yards, which is tied for 2nd most in NFL history.

However, penalties aside, the Packers played well in all facets of the game. QB Aaron Rodgers had a rare two interceptions, but one bounced off WR Donald Driver’s knee. You can’t expect him to remain turnover free for the entire season so the other could be considered okay. Despite the cold temperatures, Rodgers still played well completing 65% of his passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The protection is definitely improving, as Rodgers was only sacked once against a relentless, albeit injury battered, Ravens defense.

CB Charles Woodson did not have the game of his life on the stat sheet, with only 4 tackles and nothing more, but he did hold WR Derrick Mason to 2 receptions for 13 yards. Rather it was LB Clay Matthews, with two sacks and a forced fumble, which dominated the flashy plays. CB Tramon Williams was whistled for a pair of long pass interference penalties, but made up for it by intercepting QB Joe Flacco in the end zone. FS Nick Collins and LB AJ Hawk also had an interception each.

RB Ryan Grant struggled with 18 carries for 41 yards, as his inconsistent season continues. TE Jermichael Finley really produced, dominating the middle of the field for 7 receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He’s too fast for linebackers, too big for safeties, and even safeties can’t cover him. He’s just a matchup nightmare when it comes to receiving.

The Packers will travel to Chicago to play the Bears next week, in what looks to be a good game. Lovie Smith and the Bears have recently been successful against the Packers, and the Packers will look to reverse that trend. However with QB Jay Cutler’s tendency to turn it over, and the Packers knack for the ball on defense, I think that the Packers should dominate this matchup. I predict the Packers to win, 27-14.

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27 November 2009

Packers Feast on Thanksgiving

Packers traveled to Detroit on a short week and were able to overcome the Lions, winning 34-12. After fumbling the opening kickoff, the Packers’ defense held the Lions in check, until the offense was allowed to get into a rhythm and blow the door open. QB Aaron Rodgers had a huge game completing over 70% of his passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns. His main target was WR Donald Driver who had 7 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown. That included a beautiful 68 yard reception where Rodgers had to throw the ball 70+ yards. It was allowed to occur because of the protection the offensive line provided Rodgers, a rarity this season.

On the defensive side, the Packers did really well against the Lions. Dominating the ToP battle, the Packers held the ball for 33 minutes, mainly due to the defense’s ability to force the Lions off the field. QB Matt Stafford was picked off four times, and RB Kevin Smith was held to a mere 2.4 yards per carry. WR Calvin Johnson, though injured, was covered by CB Charles Woodson for the majority of the game. Johnson was held to two receptions for 10 yards, though one was a touchdown reception.

CB Charles Woodson has now forced his way into forefront of the defensive player of the year discussion alongside DE Jared Allen, LB Patrick Willis, and S Darren Sharper just to name a few. Woodson had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. However he didn’t stop there, Woodson filled the entire stat sheet with 7 tackles, including one for a loss, 4 passes defended, a sack, a forced fumble, and the recovery off that fumble.

Though the score was 34-12, the Packers did struggle at times. After punching in a touchdown in their first red zone trip, the Packers had to resort to three field goals on their next three drives, two of which reached the red zone. RB Ryan Grant also struggled with 61 yards on 20 carries, and he was also tackled for a safety. The Packers really need more balance, as they the game with a commitment to run, but at one point reeled off 13 consecutive passing plays, to end the game with a 39-27 pass-rush play call. Though that is roughly a 60/40 split, this includes the 5 rushes that were called to end the game.

The Packers will have an extra long recovery time, as they prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. CB Tramon Williams and LB Brad Jones had good games filling in for CB Al Harris and LB Aaron Kampman who were lost to injury last week. With even more time to prepare, the dropoff will be minimized as Williams and Jones continue to improve. The Packers now enter, what I think to be, the most important part of their schedule. 3 of their final 4 games are on the road, so this home game will be ever so important. If the Packers can win two of their next three games, I think the Packers will be set for the playoffs.

If two more wins can be salvaged off of Baltimore, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, the Packers will be sitting at a 9-5 record, with two games against Seattle and Arizona. Those look to be extremely winnable, as Seattle has struggled and Arizona will likely be resting their starters in Week 17. However going back to the Baltimore game, the Packers need to rediscover their running game, as the Baltimore defense is one of the league’s best (4th in points allowed). With S Ed Reed in the secondary, I doubt Rodgers can drop back and have his way as he has the entire season. I think the Packers should be able to pull out a win, 24-23.

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22 November 2009

Packers Stave Off Late 49er Rally

An interesting matchup in the two premier quarterbacks of the 2005, QB Aaron Rodgers got the better of this one. The Packers played well all around, up until the fourth quarter, where the Packers almost squandered a 30-10 lead. In the end, the Packers were able to finish well with the final score being 30-24.

The Packers dominated the 49ers defense, having both their passing and rushing offense in sync. RB Ryan Grant had 129 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. WR Greg Jennings found his groove again with 5 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown that included a couple of nice moves to avoid tackles.

QB Aaron Rodgers is continuing his excellent season with 344 yards, two touchdowns, and a rating of 108. The Packers averaged 7.6 yards per pass and 4.9 yards per rush and controlled the clock for over 40 minutes, which shows the effectiveness of the Packers offense.

On the other side, the Packers defense played exceptionally well until late in the game. Limiting the offense to just 10 points in three quarters, QB Alex Smith rolled together two nice drives focusing on WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis. It is interesting as the Packers come off a game where they most recently shut down star TE Jason Witten, yet Davis dominated the middle of the field with six receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown.

The Packers protected a lot better, only allowing two sacks. The offensive line looked good in run blocking too. As mentioned earlier, the defensive was impressive early. LB Aaron Kampman, DT BJ Raji, and DE Cullen Jenkins each had a sack on Smith. No defensive player had more than three tackles because of the effectiveness of the defense. The 49ers offense managed only 46 plays on offense. To put that in perspective, the Packers attempted 45 passes alone.
This is an extremely good win, boosting the hopes of a Packers playoff berth.

The Packers will travel to Detroit on a short week to play in the annual Thanksgiving game. The Packers are getting healthier at the right time, with Kampman, Tauscher, and Poppinga all returning after missing the Dallas game. This is crucial as the Packers will enter the crux of their schedule that may determine whether they are in the playoffs or on the outside looking in. After Detroit, the Packers play Baltimore, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. If the Packers can win two of those three games, assuming they beat Detroit, the Packers will be sitting at 9 wins. With a game against Seattle and a game against Arizona in Week 17, where they might be resting their stars, the Packers have a strong possibility of finishing with 11 wins.

The Packers travel to Detroit, who is fresh off a thrilling comeback victory against the Cleveland Browns. The Packers shut out Detroit last time, 26-0, but this Lions team is different. QB Matt Stafford has returned and has led the Lions to a comeback win, albeit it was the Browns. I expect this game to be closer than people think, but in the end I have faith in the Packers to pull out a win, 21-10.

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15 November 2009

Packers Defense Prevails Over Cowboys

In a game of mostly defense, the Packers defense won out, prevailing over the Cowboys 17-7. The Dallas offense managed only 273 yards, whereas the Packers didn’t do much better with 283. To put that within context, the Cowboys averaged 404 yards and the Packers 377 yards coming into this game. A lot of the yards Dallas gained were on the final drive anyway, where the Packers allowed a ton of short passes in order to prevent the deep ball.

QB Aaron Rodgers was under his normal amount of pressure, and still ended up with a decent game. Completing 25 of 36 passes, Rodgers managed 189 yards and a touchdown. It was nothing eye-popping, but it was efficient and he didn’t turn the ball over unlike QB Tony Romo, who was intercepted and fumbled a snap. RB Ryan Grant had a mediocre game with 20 rushes for 78 yards. He was consistent though, as he had no long gains, but very few rushes for losses.

A huge shoutout is necessary for the entire defense. The defensive line dominated the offensive line all day long, the linebackers blitzed intricately to provide constant pressure on Romo, and the secondary held up all day long. CB Charles Woodson continued his MVP-like numbers with 7 total tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, and a key goal line interception. FS Nick Collins almost added another two interceptions, but both were extremely tough catches and Collins couldn’t come up with either.

The Packers are now looking good for a wildcard spot as Philadelphia and Atlanta both lost. The Eagles and Falcons fall to 5-4, the Packers improve to 5-4, and the Giants stay stagnant at 5-4. Philadelphia’s schedule is brutal from here on out, but essentially control their own destiny with games against Dallas, Atlanta, and New York remaining. The Falcons have both New York and Philadelphia left to play. The Packers have another game against the Bears, which they will need to win in order to stay on top of the Bears. Their schedule also includes two tough games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Overall there is no advantage, as every wildcard contending team has to fight for their spot. The Packers will host San Francisco next week who are coming off their own defensive struggle against the Bears, 10-6. The 49ers seem hesitant to use QB Alex Smith, and the Packers have prevailed against many running backs this season, so I think the Packers have a good chance at winning this game. I predict for them to win, 23-14.

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8 November 2009

Packers Choke in the 4th Quarter Against Bucs and lose 38-28

Although the score didn’t reflect it, the Packers were in complete control for three quarters. Although the score was only 21-17 at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Packers defense shut down the offense. One touchdown was scored off a blocked punt, another by starting on the Packers 8 yard line after an interception. The field goal was scored at the end of the 1st half. I admit the Bucs had a good drive at the end of the first half, as they converted long 2nd and 3rd downs and just kept rolling down the field.

However consider this, QB Josh Freeman had only 127 yards with a completion percentage below 50% in the first three quarters. He finishes with 205 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. QB Aaron Rodgers racked up yards, 266, but was held to a 48.6% completion percentage with more interceptions than touchdowns the first time this season. It should be noted that Rodgers also had trouble with the Bucs last season, as he finished 14-27 for 165 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

The Packers had a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter, until they saw it all unravel. First a special team hiccup occurred, as RB Clifton Smith returned a kickoff for 83 yards. Only 3 plays were required for the Bucs to score a touchdown. Then the Packers were forced to punt on the subsequent drive and Freeman drove the Bucs back down the field for another touchdown. The Packers gave up a sack and Rodgers was had to force a throw in an attempt to get the first down, but then the Bucs intercepted Rodgers for the 3rd time this game and returned it for a touchdown.

I actually think that the defense performed admirably, holding the Buccaneers to only 279 yards of total offense, 3.2 yards per carry. However it was Rodgers and the special teams that allowed the Buccaneers to win. Two touchdowns were scored off of an interception return and a blocked punt. Two were allowed to occur because the Bucs only had to drive 8 yards and 17 yards. The field goal at the end of the half was a good drive by the Bucs, and the last offensive touchdown was legit. The score should have been closer to 28-10 or something. RB Ryan Grant did run will, with 21 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown, but the Packers got away from the run and that’s how they fell in a hole.

The Packers will host Dallas in what looks to be a very tough matchup. Dallas has looked good with three consecutive wins, however Dallas faces a tough Philadelphia squad. I’m writing this column before that game, so we’ll have to watch that game to get a better idea of how the Cowboys play against a quality team. The Packers desperately need a win, despite the fact that the Bears also lost.

It seems as if Minnesota has the division locked up, as their schedule is much easier than the Packers. Other wildcard contenders include the Falcons and the rest of the NFC East except the Redskins. The Packers are a game behind Atlanta, so the Packers desperately need a win against Dallas, who is also seeking to fight for a wildcard spot. The Packers are in a slide, so I hope they can fix it, however with a team with so much firepower as Dallas has, I’m afraid that they’re going to lose. I’m predicting the Cowboys to win, 21-20.

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2 November 2009

Packers Pummeled at Home

The Packers struck first with K Mason Crosby, but the Vikings then scored 24 unanswered points. The Vikings built this lead by shutting down RB Ryan Grant. Grant managed 30 yards on 10 carries. At times it appeared that the Packers running game should merely be replaced by a short passing game. Considering the Packers averaged 5.4 yards per attempt, which is still not that great, and only 3.0 yards with Grant running, the Packers offense was really out of sync. However after the first half, the Packers came out storming with 17 points in the 3rd quarter. The Packers narrowed the gap to 30-26, but the Vikings were able to pull away with the win in the end.

QB Aaron Rodgers passed for 287 yards on 41 attempts, and was sacked 6 times. One thing that I mentioned earlier was when QB Brett Favre was traded to the Giants, how the lack of his quick release will do with the offensive line. Rodgers is still an excellent quarterback, but he takes way too many sacks. He holds onto the ball way too long, though sometimes he is able to get away with it. QB Brett Favre, while still under pressure, took zero sacks.

On a good note, WR Greg Jennings was able to break out of his funk with 8 receptions, 88 yards and a score. The big thing is that the defense was unable to get off the field. The Vikings converted 6 of 14 3rd down opportunities. For the packers to be successful, the first thing is they need to protect Rodgers. But they need to start getting better at defense. This defensive unit is so inconsistent.

One game they shut out the team (granted it was the Detroit Lions), the next they give up 38 points. One play they force a turnover, but the next they’ll give up a huge play. It’s okay if the defense is merely average, only if it’s consistently average.

The Packers will travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers, who are fresh off a bye. I think this will be a tougher game than most people will expect, as the Buccaneers are now the last team without a victory, and they’re off a bye. Now would be the time for the Bucs to turn it around. However I think the Packers will be able to win, 24-20.

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25 October 2009

Packers Continue Rolling

The Packers get their second consecutive win with another convincing victory of 31-3 over the Cleveland Browns. This was the first win where I feel that the Packers have truly performed well in all aspects of the game. The defense was performing well, RB Ryan Grant had a season high in both carries and yards (27 for 148 yards), and probably the most surprising, the Packers’ offensive line performed well. I thought that the Browns would be able to get pressure, as they have a couple of good pass rushers, but I was apparently proved incorrect. Rookie LT TJ Lang started, and performed really well. QB Aaron Rodgers ended with 3 touchdowns, 246 yards, and zero sacks.

The Packers were remarkably efficient, averaging 4.9 yards a rush and 11.7 yards per pass attempt. The Packers totaled an impressive 460 offensive yards while holding the Browns to 139 yards as they averaged 2.8 yards per rush and 2.6 yards per pass attempt. WR Donald Driver had a huge 71 yard reception as he adds to his very impressive season so far.

WR Greg Jennings managed 5 receptions for 52 yards. TE Spencer Havner was on the receiving end of a surprising touchdown, as he was only playing because of TE Jermichael Finley’s injury. Green Bay decided to start pounding the ball with the rush early, and continued that throughout the game as 41 rushes to 22 passes.

LB Aaron Kampman has started to play with his hand down, as he started his career. He appears to have more explosiveness as he got another sack today. QB Derek Anderson was held to a 41.4% completion percentage and was intercepted once by CB Charles Woodson. The Packers seemed to be making all the plays on both offense and defense in a very impressive win.

Next week the Packers will host the Minnesota Vikings in what appears to be a very anticipated matchup. QB Brett Favre returns to Lambeau… as a member of the visiting team. The Vikings are off a 27-17 loss to the Steelers, where Favre failed to throw a touchdown and RB Adrian Peterson was held to just 69 yards. Expect the Vikings to try to establish a rhythm early in the game.

Despite the Vikings’ success, I think that the Packers’ home advantage will prove useful; as the Packers’ stadium will probably be the loudest we have ever heard it when Favre steps on the field. I predict a very close game, but inevitably for the Packers to pull it out, 31-28.

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18 October 2009

Packers Shutout Lions

The Packers were able to start off strong and finish solidly for a 26-0 shutout. QB Aaron Rodgers started the game off with two touchdown passes in the first 10 minutes, before K Mason Crosby took over for four field goals. RB Ryan Grant started off weakly, but was able to finish for 90 yards on 24 carries, mainly due to a 22 yard run late in the game. If you were to take that out, he would have finished with a paltry 3.0 average. It should be noted that WR Donald Driver broke the Packers franchise record for receptions, passing Sterling Sharpe. He finished the day with 7 receptions for 107 yards.

The Packers defense obviously played well, limiting the Lions offense to 0 points. RB Kevin Smith was allowed to rush for 61 yards on 15 carries, but considering the fact that the Packers were playing pass defense most of the game, that’s pretty impressive. The Lions were held to a meager 2.84 yards per attempt, a 44 pass completion percentage, and were intercepted 3 times. LB Clay Matthews finished with two sacks, as LB Aaron Kampman and CB Al Harris added one each.

It occurred to me that I forgot to add in my prediction to this game two weeks ago, but I assure you I believed the Packers would win in a high scoring game 35-27. QB Aaron Rodgers had another two turnovers, but it’s still impressive if you consider the fact that he is the most hit quarterback in the league, and he still only has 3 turnovers through 5 games. CB Charles Woodson once said that Rodgers would be the best quarterback in the league if they were able to protect him. It turns out that Rodgers is one of the best in the league, and he still has no protection.

The Packers will travel to Cleveland to play the Browns next week. I thought the return of OT Chad Clifton would provide some help in terms of pressure on Rodgers, but it turns out I was wrong. Even against the Lions defense, the Packers were still unable to protect Rodgers. It’s actually quite pitiful. Nonetheless, I believe the Packers will find a way to win against the Browns, 20-13.

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6 October 2009

Packers Demolished by Favre and the Vikings

The final score was 30-23. The game was not as close as the score. The game was back and forth for the first half, and then the Vikings blew it open after halftime. QB Brett Favre passed for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns. While QB Aaron Rodgers passed for more yards, 384, he also threw an interception and lost a fumble. RB Ryan Grant was a non-factor with 11 carries for 51 yards. At first, the Packers were hesitant to run against the Williams Wall. Then after falling through a big hole, they were left no choice.

I’m going to give you guys two numbers. The first three games: 0. The first 20 minutes of this game: 2. That’s how many turnovers Rodgers had in the respective time slots. Rodgers was also sacked 8 times, adding to his league leading 20 sacks, 4 ahead of the next most-sacked quarterback. The defense also played decent run defense, at the expense of pass defense.

Holding Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson to 55 yards on 25 carries is no small feat, but letting the opposing quarterback complete over 77% of his passes is unforgivable. No pressure was able to be generated, as on one play Favre had literally 7 seconds to throw the ball. Had he not had an open receiver, he could have probably stood there for another good 5 seconds.

Although the game was much more lopsided than the score, the Packers could have still feasibly won. CB Charles Woodson intercepted Favre in the endzone on one play, only to be nullified by a botched pass interference called. Although if the pass interference was called correctly, there were still two Packer defenders lined up offsides. On another time, the Packers had 1st and Goal on the 1 yard, only to be stopped twice. On the fourth down conversion attempt, TE Donald Lee was open, and the pass was on target, only to be dropped. Had the Packers been able to not make these mental errors, the Packers would have won 30-23. However this is also assuming the rest of the game goes on exactly as it did, which is unlikely.

The Packers were able to finally stop the rush, but outside of that, nothing really was done well. Rodgers had a great game with 70% of his passes completed for 2 touchdowns and 384 yards, but also had two turnovers. Grant had little chance to do anything.

Obviously the offensive line was in shambles with Rodgers getting sacked 8 times, 4.5 from DE Jared Allen. It didn’t help when OT Daryn Colledge was injured in his left tackle position, with OT Chad Clifton already inactive. When rookie OT TJ Lang came into the game, the Packers ran it twice… to the right, in order to prevent Rodgers from being knocked down.

The Packers will travel back home and have a bye week. The bye week could have not been better timed. Off a cross-town rival defeat, the Packers need to get organized and get their heads back together. Nursing injuries among the offensive line doesn’t hurt either.

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27 September 2009

Rodgers Leads Packers Past Rams

The Packers protected QB Aaron Rodgers well, and thus he was able to lead the Packers to 36 points. Allowing only two sacks (which seems like a huge improvement from the previous two games), Rodgers was able to throw two touchdowns and run for another. Although he completed only 56.5% of his passes, Rodgers was going downfield a lot, as evidenced by his monstrous 11.7 YPA. WR Greg Jennings was able to bounce back from last week’s poor outing with two receptions of 50 and 53 yards.

WR Donald Driver also seems to be having a comeback season, with 4 receptions totaling 95 yards with a touchdown. He has 14 receptions, 233 yards, and 2 touchdowns so far this season. If he keeps going at this pace, he’ll end up with 75 receptions, 1242 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Although I expect him to cool down, it’s nice to see Driver excel at his old age. K Mason Crosby also had a strong game with three field goals including a 48 yarder. However he did miss an extra point, the first in his young career. RB Ryan Grant struggled early, but ended with 99 yards on 26 carries.

The defense played as expected, giving up its fair share of yards and big plays, only to force turnovers in the end. The Packers forced 3 turnovers, two fumbles and one interception. CB Charles Woodson adds another interception to his stat total. OLB Aaron Kampman sacked QB Marc Bulger early and forced a fumble. Bulger then suffered an injury and had to leave the game. ILB AJ Hawk performed well, hounding RB Steven Jackson. Hawk finished with 10 total tackles.

The Packers did well all around. Although the rush defense was suspect, it’s nothing I didn’t expect from the Packers. The Packers will travel to Minnesota next week on Monday night. It will be interesting to see QB Brett Favre on the opposite sideline. Favre led the Vikings to another one of his infamous comeback wins, as the Vikings improve to 3-0. The Lions upset the Redskins to finally win a game as their record is now 1-2. At the time of me writing this article, Chicago is leading the Seahawks 17-13. Should they win, they will improve to 2-1.

Chicago will play host to Detroit in Week 4, so Week 4 will be a huge week for the NFC North as it is all divisional games. Although the Packers have been playing well, I don’t think the rush defense will be able to hold RB Adrian Peterson. Since the Vikings are at home, I have to give them the edge (sadly). I predict the game to go down to the wire, but for the Vikings to win, 27-24.

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20 September 2009

Packers Unable to Pull Off Another Comeback Win

QB Aaron Rodgers was faced with another situation where he could pull off a last minute victory, but was unable to do so. After recovering an onside kick, Rodgers led the Packers to the 5 yard line, before a false start penalty on the Packers caused the time to run out and the Bengals win.

The Packers and Bengals were nearly even in the first half, trading touchdowns to end the first half with a tied score of 21-21. Afterwards, Rodgers was under constant pressure, even more than he was in the first half, and the Packers only mustered 3 points. Rodgers was sacked 6 more times, 5 coming from Bengals DE Antwan Odom. Rodgers only managed a meager 53.8% completion percentage, as the Packers led another unbalanced offensive game with 39 passing attempts compared to 18 rushes. RB Ryan Grant started the first half well, but was unable to continue his success into the second half after the Packers fell into a hole.

The Packers defense, while intercepting QB Carson Palmer twice in the first half, was largely unable to stop the Bengals offense. Palmer was allowed to complete over 65% of his passes, and RB Cedric Benson ran free for 141 yards with a 4.9 ypc average. WR Greg Jennings was held catchless, although WR Donald Driver picked up some of the slack with 6 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The Packers travel to St. Louis next week. The Rams held the Washington to without a touchdown, though they still lost 9-7. After a defensive struggle against Chicago and an offensive shootout against Cincinnati, I have no idea what to predict for this game. However I do believe the Packers will win. RB Steven Jackson bounced back from a bad first game, so he will definitely be the key in order to stop the Rams. I think the Packers will win a relatively low scoring game, 17-10.

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14 September 2009

Packers Win in a Primetime Nail-Biter

The Packers walked into Lambeau field with high expectations. After a 13-3 season, they suffered their first season without Brett Favre and shrunk to 6-10. However signs were looking up. With a dominant preseason and a new defensive scheme, the Packers were looking for a playoff spot this coming season. Well things are looking good.

The Packers were able to win 21-15 against their rival, the Chicago Bears. Pressuring QB Jay Cutler on what seemed like every play (with the exception of the 3rd Quarter), Cutler threw up 4 interceptions. Although the Packers only managed 2 sacks, it seemed like a lot more with the pressure that Cutler was under. While the Packer defense was dominant in Quarters 1, 2, and 4, the 3rd Quarter was dominated by the Bears. With two long scoring drives, the Bears were able to take the lead at 12-10. The Packers then answered with a field goal of their own, only to be presented with another Bears field goal. With 2:35, the Packers needed 3 points to win.

The Packers lost numerous close games last year, and QB Aaron Rodgers was ridiculed with his lack of late-game control, but here he was, Rodgers had to build a game-winning drive in order to win. On a play-action 3rd and 1, Rodgers lofted a deep ball to WR Greg Jennings and made the touchdown. The Packers converted their 2-point try, and the Packers were then leading 21-15. On the ensuing drive, Cutler threw an interception, his fourth, to CB Al Harris. It looked as if Harris could have returned it for a touchdown, but being a team player, he went out of bounds and allowed the Packers to kneel the ball.

Although the Packers won, there were many things the Packers could have improved on. The Packers offense, for example, had many failed drives in the first quarter and only 3 points up until 4:36 in the 2nd. Rodgers was under pressure throughout the first half, getting sacked a total of four times (one for a safety), two which were directly RT Allen Barbre’s (who is a new starter this year) fault. The main lessons to take away are pass protection and scoring early. Many times the Packers started with good field position due to their special teams or their defense, but they were unable to take advantage of it.

On the defensive side, the Packers did really well… with the exception of the 3rd quarter. There were a couple of blown zone coverage schemes, but that’s natural with a new defensive scheme. These were covered up by the immense pass rush the Packers produced. Mainly, the Packers just need to focus throughout the entire game.

The Packers will host the Bengals tomorrow, who lost to the Broncos 12-7 on a last second miracle. The Bengals defense looked good, and RB Cedric Benson did well. However against the Broncos defense, this isn’t surprising. The GB offense vs. the Bengals D looks to be a good matchup. However I’m predicting a Packers win, 24-13.

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9 August 2009

Packers Training Camp is Underway

With the Brett Favre saga over, the Packers can focus on what their main goal is: bounce back after a terrible 6-10 season. Only the second losing season in over 15 years, the Packers have to return to that model of consistency that they had in the 90s and early 2000s. To do this, the Packers have locked up QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Greg Jennings to long term deals, ensuring that the two can grow their chemistry for a long time. Also, the Packers have switched to a 3-4 defense under the defensive mastermind of Dom Capers.

While I believe that a 3-4 defense is superior to a 4-3 defense when implemented correctly, I believe the Packers would be better off staying with their previous defensive scheme. Also, the Packers have signed a 5 year, roughly $13 million deal with OLB Clay Mathews with over 7 million guaranteed. DT BJ Raji has yet to sign a deal.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy has declared the starting center spot to be open for competition. Previous starter Scott Wells and Jason Spitz have alternated snaps with the first team offense. Assuming Spitz does win the starting center job, OG Josh Sitton will probably be the starting right guard (Spitz started at guard last year).

As for right tackle, OT Allen Barbre seems to be the front runner there after OT Mark Tauscher went down to injury. His competition includes OT Breno Giacomini and rookie TJ Lang, although the latter seems like a long shot at this point. The Packers need to find out the makeup of their offensive line if they want to improve the running game which was extremely inconsistent last year.

S Nick Collins did report to camp, despite threats that he would hold out if he was not granted an extension. In a relatively slow signing of first round picks, BJ Raji has been left out in the cold and did not show up for the first weekend of training camp. LB Nick Barnett has been placed on the PUP, physically unable to perform, list after failing his physical. Barnett is still recovering from an ACL tear last year but he expects to be ready by the start of the season.

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6 July 2009

Packers Offseason Report

The Packers offseason has been a quiet one so far, with no major moves being made. However there are a couple of things that you should know.

WR Greg Jennings, in his final year of his rookie contract, signed a 3 year extension for 27 million (16 mil guaranteed). This makes him the 2nd highest paid receiver in the NFL. Although he’s young, he’s an incredible receiver; I don’t think it’s good enough to warrant him one of the highest salaries in the NFL. This also could cause some unrest among veteran players looking for contract extensions as well. This list includes, but not limited to, FS Nick Collins, OLB Aaron Kampman, OT Chad Clifton, OT Tony Moll, and CB Tramon Williams.

Collins has threatened that he might hold out if he doesn’t receive a contract extension. Collins is one of 17 players whose contract will expire after the 2010 season. The Packers have however signed a couple of draft picks. 5th round pick, OT Jamon Meredith, was signed to a 4 year contract. 6th round pick, DE Jarius Wynn, was also signed to a 4 year contract. 6th round CB Brandon Underwood was signed to a 4 year contract as well. 7th round pick OLB Brad Jones was also signed to a 4 year contract. Terms were not disclosed.

In terms of lineup changes to watch, there are some to note. DT BJ Raji has been practicing at defensive end and DT Ryan Pickett at the nose tackle position. Both players have a similar build, but the Packers are trying to utilize Raji’s pass-rushing ability. OT Allen Barbre is the frontrunner for the vacant right tackle position due to the injured Mark Tauscher. Jason Spitz has been seeing some time at center as well.

Things to look forward to as we head into training camp are Collins’ contract situation, and the starting offensive and defensive line. All three situations look murky and each would have a huge impact on the Packers upcoming season.

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1 June 2009

Biggest Offseason Stories

  1. 3-4 Defense
    Anytime you undergo a change in coaches, it is a major thing to look for. When you change schemes as drastic from the 4-3 to the 3-4, it is monumental. Although I believe the Packers’ defensive woes were more a product of injuries than actual scheme, the Packer management chose to revamp it anyway. DE Aaron Kampman is removed from a position where he is one of the best at in the NFL (from defensive end to outside linebacker). Two positions will likely be held by rookies (BJ Raji at nose tackle and Clay Matthews at outside linebacker). The physical cornerback duo of Al Harris and Charles Woodson will be no more as the bump-and-run coverage doesn’t suit the 3-4. This is definitely something major to watch for in the offseason as to who gets what positions, and in the early goings of the season.

  2. Defensive Positions
    With the scheme change, positions and players are being questioned. There are a couple things for sure. Aaron Kampman will play outside linebacker, along with LB AJ Hawk and LB Nick Barnett manning the middle two positions of inside linebacker. There has been talk of Al Harris being traded to make room for CB Tramon Williams in the lineup alongside Charles Woodson. I don’t really buy that because the Packers have little depth behind Harris/Woodson/Williams. Two positions that will need to be watched are nose tackle and defensive end. BJ Raji is the likely choice for nose tackle, but don’t be surprised if Ryan Pickett steps up in as the starter.

  3. Wide Receiver
    Weird seeing this on this list right? Well WR Donald Driver has expressed contract concerns… again… (he had his contract reworked in 2006 and 2007). WR Greg Jennings is in the final year of his rookie contract after a breakthrough year. If he’s not signed to an extension, he’ll be getting paid $535k after a 80 catch, 1,291 yard, 9 TD season. While I’m confident the Packers management can fix the problems, it’s still something to watch as we get into training camp.

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27 April 2009

Packers Day 2 Draft Review

The draft has finally ended and the Packers will welcome 8 new rookie players (barring failed contract negotiations).

3rd Pick: Round 4, 109th Overall: TJ Lang OT, Eastern Michigan

The Packers go with an athletic tackle who is capable of playing multiple spots on the offensive line. I’m sure this was done because of the uncertainty of the entire offensive line. Clifton’s play has been on the decline, Moll is playing out of position to replaced the injured Mark Tauscher, and the two guards are young and inexperienced. Lang’s versatility will really become helpful. My only worry about Lang is that Jamon Meredith, the same type of athletic, versatile lineman that Lang is, would be a better selection, but Lang’s still a good pick. Grade: B-

4th Pick: Round 5, 145th Overall: Quinn Johnson FB, LSU

The Packers nabbed, in my opinion, the best fullback in the draft. However I don’t think that the Packers need a fullback at all. With Korey Hall and John Kuhn already on the roster, I question Thomson’s motives on this pick. While it’s true Hall and Kuhn are two receiving fullbacks, that’s not to say that they’re blocking isn’t bad. In fact their blocking is actually quite good. Johnson is more of a blocking fullback. The only reasoning I can see with this pick is when the Packers go with a jumbo backfield, with 3 running backs/full backs. Grade: C-

5th Pick: Round 5, 162nd Overall: Jamon Meredith OT, South Carolina

The Packers got the player I wanted in Round 4 an entire round later. This is a steal and fills a need. Although the Packers drafted an offensive lineman earlier, depth is sorely needed. Meredith has experience at right tackle, left tackle, and right guard, making him extremely versatile. He’s extremely athletic and reminds me a lot like Lang, so it’s ironic that the Packers pick two players who are extremely similar. The only criticism I have of this pick, is that the Packers have not selected a 3-4 DE this entire draft, but with the selection of BJ Raji, Picket may move to the DE spot. But who knows… Grade: A

6th Pick: Round 6, 182nd Overall: Jarious Wynn DE, Georgia

The Packers finally selected that 3-4 DE to finish all the positions that I think needed assistance through the draft. However, Wynn isn’t that great of a player, some didn’t even think he would get drafted. His pass-rushing ability is extremely poor, but playing as a DE in the 3-4 will solve those issues as his primary role will be to stop the run. I like what the Packers were trying to do, which is draft a defensive end, but I think Wynn was a reach and there were better options were available such as Vance Walker, Darryl Richard, and Myron Pryor. Grade: C-

7th Pick, Round 6, 187th Overall: Brandon Underwood CB, Cincinnati

Will he play safety or cornerback? That’s the question. He’s listed as a cornerback, but I don’t think he has the speed or skill set in order to succeed in that position in the NFL. It’s ironic that the Packers pick Underwood when Mickens, his teammate, is still on the board. Almost everyone, including myself, consider Mickens the better cornerback prospect. Unless the Packers are planning to move Underwood to safety, I don’t really like this pick. Grade: D+

8th Pick: Round 7, 218th Overall: Brad Jones OLB, Colorado

When I saw this pick, I had to do a double take. Brad who? After doing some research I found out that he is a 6’3” 235 pound linebacker. He’ll probably back up the coveted rush linebacker position that a 3-4 defense needs. However Jones has a slow first step and I question his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. I doubt that Jones will have any impact on the Packers, but it’s the 7th round so there’s not much to expect. Francois, Robinson, and Casillas would have been better picks. Heck, even a punter would have been a better selection considering Kapino’s inconsistencies. Grade: D-

Packers Day 1 Draft Review

Barring some huge trade, the Packers are now done with their first day picks. These included their original 1st rounder, and a trade up to New England’s late 1st rounder (26th overall).

1st Pick: Round 1, 9th Overall: BJ Raji DT, Boston College

This is a win-lose situation. I consider it a win because Raji is an extremely talented player, the best at his position in the draft, and satisifies a need. The loss? There was a greater need, OLB, and there were more talented players, Crabtree and Orakpo. While I can excuse the Packers for not drafting arguably he most talented player in Michael Crabtree because of the wealth of young receivers the Packers have, I cannot think of any reason why they would not draft Brian Orakpo from Texas. Not only does almost everybody have him ranked higher on their draft board, I also view his position as a greater need than Raji. We already know who the starting nose tackle is: Ryan Pickett, we do not know who the starting OLBs will be (Kampman is one, but nobody is on the other side). Yes there is no depth behind Pickett, but that can be addressed in later rounds, first the Packers need to get a starter for the position they need the greatest, and that could have been solved by picking Orakpo.

2nd Pick: Round 1, 26th Overall: Clay Matthews OLB, USC

Another win-lose situation. The Packers have redeemed themselves by drafting an OLB who is capable of rushing the passer. Matthews, while less talented than Orakpo, can still start for the Packers at the rush linebacker position. Now to get this pick, the Packers had to trade away their 2nd round pick, and both their 3rd rounders. That’s the lose in this situation.

Now disregarding the trade value chart, just by looking at the trade I can tell that it is completely unbalanced. Yes, I recognize that Matthews is a steal at 26, but it still does not excuse the fact that the Packers gave up way too much. Now going back to the trade value chart that I mentioned, the Packers’ picks sent to the Patriots total 890 and the Patriots’ picks that were sent to the Packers only total 726.6. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the large difference.

A much fairer trade would have been the Packers 2nd and 4th round picks, plus any of the two 3rd round picks. The total value would either be 791 or 741 depending on which 3rd round pick is sent. Both of those are much closer to the 726.6, while still giving the Patriots a sizable edge.

I will post Day 2 Observations… well… after Day 2. See you then.

24 April 2009

Packers Draft Preview

The draft is fast approaching and teams are clamoring to see players work out and make deals with other teams. As usual, the Packers have had a quiet offseason even after a 6-10 season. The Packers didn’t make the splash in the free agency that I felt they needed to, failing to sign Chris Canty (or even Igor Olshansky). This leaves yet another hole that the Packers will need to fill in the draft. So now I will review the Packers first three rounds and what they should do with each pick.

Pick 1: Round 1 – 9th Overall

a) Trade Down
I think the best-case scenario is that we trade this pick for Denver’s 18th pick and 48th pick. This allows the Broncos to leapfrog the 49ers so they can select Mark Sanchez (assuming they are not content with Kyle Orton). If a 1st and a 2nd rounder is too much, the Broncos 12th and 79th selections would be an okay option too. All of the elite options for the Packers’ needs will probably be gone by the 9th pick (by this I mean Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Brian Orakpo, BJ Raji) so it would be wise to trade down. With a 12th or 18th selection, the Packers should still be able to obtain either Everette Brown, Tyson Jackson, or Aaron Maybin which would all fill needs. Plus the Packers would probably pick Brown/Jackson/Maybe with the 9th selection anyway, so why not trade the pick to another team, select the same player, pay less money, and pick up another draft pick in the process.

b) Everette Brown /Aaron Maybin
The Packers need players that fit the 3-4, as I have said all along. Of these needs, a 3-4 outside linebacker is what I find to be the greatest need of all. I think Brown is a slightly better prospect than Maybin, because of his size and strength, although Maybin’s ceiling is much higher. I would prefer Brown in this case, but Maybin is still a strong possibility.

c) Tyson Jackson
Another player suited for the 3-4. Although this time it’s the defensive end rather than the outside linebacker. Jackson is a stout run stopper for a defensive end, and can really fill this need. The downside? A top 10 selection on a 3-4 defensive end is unheard of, and this would be a large reach should Jackson be selected 9th.

d) BJ Raji
I’m putting Raji at a lower priority simply because I doubt he’ll be available. Even if he is, I’m not sold on the hype that everyone’s giving him. He has the size and strength to hold his own against NFL linemen, but everything else I’m worried about. Although the nose tackle’s primary job is to stop the run, Raji lacks a pass-rush. He also is a poor tackler. Oh, did I mention he has character problems? Raji was suspended for academic reasons two years ago, and tested positive for marijuana at the combine.

Pick 2: Round 2 – 41st Overall

a) Connor Bartwin / Larry English
Assuming the Packers do not select Brown/Maybin (or even if they do), the Packers need a 3-4 OLB. Bartwin and English can be situational pass-rushers at best, and can help apply pressure from a side that doesn’t have Aaron Kampman on it.

b) James Meredith
I’m guessing the first round will be full of offensive tackles, leaving Meredith as the next best player. I’m not saying that’s bad, as Meredith is the athletic tackle that the Packers like. The Packers are relying on Tauscher to come back from his knee surgery, and are also relying on Chad Clifton to revert back to his 2007 form. 2008 was a bad year for Clifton, and if he continues his play, the Packers need to find another offensive tackle.

c) Alphonso Smith / DJ Moore
I think that the Packers need another young cornerback, but both these cornerbacks wouldn’t fit in the current Packers style of play seeing as they are both Cover-2 cornerbacks. The Packers say they’re going to change their bump-run style, so both Smith/Moore have a much higher possibility of going here than they would in previous years.

d) Robert Ayers / Paul Kruger
The 3-4 DE is still a need, but I find that the Packers will not find their answer in the 2nd round. Ayers would be a huge steal in the 2nd round, and Kruger I’m not sold that he’s worth this selection. Plus Kruger is more of a 4-3 DE, and is probably not strong enough to play the DE position in the 3-4 scheme.

Pick 3: Round 3 – 73rd Overall

a) Fili Moala / Alex Magee
If the Packers did not select a 3-4 DE, now would be the best time to do so. Moala is in that 2nd tier of 3-4 DEs, right behind Ayers and Jackson. It’s unlikely Moala will be drafted before this selection. Moala is talented, and is probably a better fit for the 3-4 DE than even Tyson Jackson, although Jackson is a more solid all-around player. Magee wouldn’t be too bad of a choice either, as his versatility can become quite useful.

b) Chris Baker
Assuming BJ Raji did not fall to the Packers in the 1st round, Baker would be an excellent pick here. He surprisingly jumped 35.5” vertical, and he’s a nose tackle. If Baker can put on 10 more pounds, he’d be an excellent backup to Ryan Pickett, who is currently the Packers’ only nose tackle on their entire roster.

c) Phil Loadholt / Troy Kropog / Fenuki Tupou
When Tauscher fell to injury, the right tackle position was unmanned. Seeing Tony Moll in the final games convinced me that we need another right tackle. Even if Tauscher does return from his knee injury strongly, he’ll only have a couple of years left. Loadholt was a potential 1st round pick last year, but decided not to declare. His stock fell due to his lack of athleticism, however he can run-block with the best of them. Kropog, on the other hand, is an athletic tackle who is experienced with the zone-blocking system, which is what the Packers use. Tupou is also a good run-blocker who might play guard in the NFL because of his run-blocking abilities.

Pick 4: Round 3 – 83rd Overall

a) Any of the above players who may still be available
It’s a stretch, but 10 picks later, maybe one of these players are still available.

b) Mike Mickens / Kevin Barnes
Both of these players are big cornerbacks that would fit the Packers’ mold well. If the Packers do follow the draft plan I laid out earlier, then I doubt that the Packers would have selected a cornerback by now. If not, they really need to, as Tramon Williams is the only young prospect that they have.

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