Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Annual Ron Wolf rumor alert. Miami is reportedly interested in talking to Ron Wolf about becoming Miami's General Manager or as a consultant. He is finishing up a 3 year consulting contract with the Packers, but I'm not sure what he did. With Mike Sherman, Mark Hatley, and Reggie McKenzie in the front office, I wouldn't imagine Wolf had much input on player personnel decisions over the last 3 years. I read interviews with Wolf over the last 3 years about how he dislikes all the travel a GM is required to do, because airports are more crowded and busier places with too many delays. I wouldn't expect Wolf to come back for another GM position, but maybe he sign on as a who-knows-what-he-is-doing consultant. He lives in Maryland, maybe Dan Snyder would ask him to rebuild Washington's team? I wouldn't mind seeing Ron Wolf back in the NFL as a GM, although I don't think Snyder deserves any favors.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Arizona 18, Minnesota 17. Yes, the Packers played Denver and won 31 to 3, but Arizona needed to win for the Packers to make it due to the NFL's bizarre rules if 3 teams tie for a playoff spot. If Minnesota would have won, then 1 of 4 teams (Dallas, Minnesota, Seattle or the Packers) would have been robbed of a playoff spot, and all three teams were deserving, until Minnesota blew it in Arizona. Ironically, Minnesota, Seattle and the Packers are all very similar teams (great offenses with weak defenses). In the end, defense decided the outcome of the playoff spots because Seattle's defense contained Jeff Garcia on Saturday after San Francisco's offense had looked unstoppable in the previous 2 games and Minnesota's defense couldn't stop Arizona's offense with the game on the line. The Packers defense didn't have much to do with this outcome because Denver played their last regular season game like it was a preseason game.

At this point, no team should be favored to win the NFC playoffs. St. Louis has a championship defense, but Marc Bulger is injured, he commits too many turnovers, and Marshall Faulk is not running the ball well right now. Philadelphia has a good run offense, but Donovan McNabb has not played the best football of his career in the playoffs of the past two seasons and their run defense is very weak. If Philadelphia ends up playing Dallas or St. Louis, they have a good chance, but they would be in trouble vs. Carolina, the Packers, or Seattle. Dallas's offense has really struggled as teams have shut down Terry Glenn and Troy Hambrick. Carolina really reminds me of Atlanta in 1998 (great run offense and solid but not great defense) but their pass offense isn't as good. Carolina's special teams and clock consuming run offense will have to carry them. Seattle looked very bad in Green Bay on October 5th and they were playing better football at that time, while the Packers were really struggling. The 2003 Packers didn't collapse at the end of the season like the 2002 Packers, so I wouldn't expect the same result as last year's playoff game vs. Atlanta. Seattle and the Packers are very similar teams, both well matched to exploit each other's weaknesses although both teams weaknesses, notably their pass defenses, have played much better in recent weaks. Seattle's formerly weak run defense did a great job at San Francisco vs. a quality run offense. This will be a very close game.

First Quarter: Perfect first drive: Brett Favre was 6 for 6 and completed passes to 6 different receivers, although Denver should have intercepted the ball in the end zone. Denver was able to run the ball a little early on, but Jarious Jackson was far too inconsistant. Jackson's early struggles reminded me of the mid-90s Favre who was usually inaccurate in the first quarter because he was so excited. Ed McCaffrey had a horrible first half for Denver as Darren Sharper and Al Harris got in two big hits on him. Packers 7, Denver 0.

Second Quarter: Typical game for the Packers defense: early in the game the defensive line is shoved around, but as the game goes on it gets stronger. This defies most convential thinking, usually the offensive line wears down a defensive line. It is probably due to the quality depth the Packers have at defensive line and a good rotation scheme by the Packers coaches. Extra bonus: Kenny Peterson returned for the first time in a few weeks, and this only improves the line. Jackson is getting better as he calms down, but his horrible pass intercepted by Al Harris on a busted play got him benched. Danny Kanell came in and he isn't horrible, but he doesn't make any big plays either. The only bad plays by Favre in recent weeks is his insistence to get Wesley Walls involved in the offense. Walls has made some big catches, but teams know Favre wants to throw deep to Walls. Favre's first pass after the Jackson interception was a long pass to Walls that was intercepted. After the great first drive, Favre only completed 6 more passes the entire game and the Packers found the rest of their success with the run offense. It was very surprising to see Ryan Longwell miss a field goal within 45 yards, but it happened today. Packers 10, Denver 0.

Third Quarter: Without Jake Plummer at quarterback, Denver's offense is just bad. Kanell didn't commit many turnovers, his only interception was an end of the half hail mary pass in the end zone, but they just can't keep any drive going. With Favre's post first drive struggles in this game, the offense only got going once Denver's defensive line got worn out. Denver gets on the board, but Ahman Green's big 47 yard run sets up an easy touchdown run as the Packers offensive line did a great job setting up a huge running lane over the left tackle. After the long kick return, Denver has a chance to answer right back but...Packers 17, Denver 3.

Fourth Quarter: Denver turns the ball over on downs when the Packers run defense made a great goal line stand, and Kanell couldn't throw it in either. Then Green's huge 98 yard run: the run blocking, especially by Kevin Barry who sealed off the right side for a huge hole was great, solid blocking by the receivers because the Denver pursuit by the secondary was slow to react, and speed by Green to run past the 2 Denver defensive backs who had a shot near the end zone. Adrian Madise had a great kickoff return for Denver in the 3rd quarter but botched catching the ball on the 4th quarter kickoff and the Packers got their first special teams touchdown of the year. The game was on fumes after that point as both teams backups (and backups of backups) entered the game. Packers 31, Denver 3.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Packers 41, Oakland 7. Did Oakland go to the Super Bowl last year? The Packers added an exclaimation point to an awful and disappointing season for Oakland by embarrasing them on national TV. When the Packers don't turnover the ball on offense and their receivers are able to get a step or two on their defenders in coverage, the Packers will destroy lesser teams like Oakland. Brett Favre statistically had the best game of his career, and good luck to him on what is sure to be a difficult week for him after the sudden death of his father Irvin on Sunday night.

The NFL has continued to make the tiebreaker formula a complete screwup. If Seattle wins, Dallas loses, and the Packers win, the Packers could miss the playoffs depending on the outcome of the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game. Huh? I read ESPN's website and the first tiebreaker is head to head and the Packers beat Seattle earlier in the season, so how can Seattle be tied with the Packers under any circumstances and make the playoffs while the Packers sit at home? I am not asking for an interpretation of the rules, but asking under whose twisted logic does that make any sense. How can Seattle overcome the #1 tiebreaker, head-to-head, by beating the Packers or Dallas on the #6 tiebreaker, strength of schedule? Why?

I'd expect the Packers are focused on winning next Sunday, and that job got a little easier with Denver clinching a wild card spot. Denver can't win the division and Clinton Portis is still hurting, so their should be no incentive to play him next weekend.

First Quarter: Oakland was amazingly consistent (bad) the entire game. Rick Mirer proved he can't throw the ball accuarately over 10 yards. Oakland passed on 4 of their first 5 plays, although their run offense is their strength, and after a Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila sack they punted. Favre started off the game by immediately abusing Oakland's secondary, who was the worst secondary I have seen this season. Oakland was blitzing, keeping their linebackers and strong safety close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and Favre picked their secondary apart. Oakland's secondary was only credited for 2 pass defenses the entire game. Favre completes a long pass to Robert Ferguson who just ran by Philip Buchanon who gave a five yard cushion to any receiver he faced all game. Buchanon is having a terrible season, and his confidence must be shot by this point. Wesley Walls made a great touchdown grab, but I have no idea how Oakland's strong safety Derrick Gibson missed intercepting or knocking the ball down. Oakland 3 and out; the Packers defensive line got a great push on the line of scrimmage all game long and Grady Jackson was great in the first quarter. Antonio Chapman had a nifty return, spinning out of a tackle and gaining some yardage. Chapman had a promising game, he even had a punt return for a touchdown although it was called back because of two illegal blocks that sprung him on the return. The Packers had a lot of penalties on offense in the first quarter, but none of them mattered including a holding penalty that set up a 3rd and 12. Tony Fisher and the offensive line ran a perfectly executed screen pass to convert on it, and the next play was Javon Walker's first touchdown pass as he ran by Buchanon (again) for the catch. Oakland answers with a touchdown drive by running on 5 of their next 6 plays including the long touchdown run by Charlie Garner. John Madden started talking in general about the poor tackling in the NFL after watching Garner's run, and Madden was right, the Packers tackling was awful on the play because Darren Sharper, Al Harris and Marques Anderson all missed tackles. It was one of the few bad plays by the defense all game. Packers 14, Oakland 7.

Second Quarter: The Packers move the ball easily over 50 yards on their next drive, but it stalls on a 3rd and 4 on a rare Favre incompletion and leads to an easy Ryan Longwell field goal. Oakland 3 and out. Mirer isn't accurate enough to sustain drives by passing, so without an effective running game or big plays on offense, Oakland can't go anywhere. Oakland had some success running the ball in previous games, with a league average 17th ranked run offense, but they were so far behind they had no opportunity after the 1st quarter to exploit it. Oakland doesn't have much speed at receiver, and except for all the passes Jerry Rice caught in garbage time in the 4th quarter, the Packers secondary did a great job keeping with Oakland's receivers. Ferguson makes a great catch on 3rd and 9 while he was falling out of bounds. Then the long underthrown bomb to Walker, where the two Oakland defenders (including Buchanon again) ran past the play while Walker had great ball awareness. Oakland 3 and out. Ho-hum, another long pass to Walker sets up David Martin's first touchdown catch since September. Oakland gets the home crowd excited by making their first 1st down of the quarter on a long pass to Rice, but Mirer is sacked twice in the next 4 plays for a turnover on downs. A hail mary to the end zone is actually defended by Oakland (probably one of their two pass defenses in the game) to deny Favre his 5th touchdown pass of the half. Packers 31, Oakland 7.

Half time: Shaq! Oh that ABC synergy!

Third Quarter: Any hope Oakland had for a better second half was immediately crushed on a long kickoff return by Najeh Davenport. Great burst of speed by Davenport, but a great job for the kick blocking with a huge hole for him to run through. Favre throws 3 of his 8 incompletions on the drive and Longwell kicks another easy field goal. After Rice's long catch and fumble, I missed most of this quarter, but Mirer's interception to Michael Hawthorne (who has been a fantastic early season pickup) ended his game as he was replaced by Rob Johnson. By this point, the Packers are handing the ball off a lot with an occasional Favre pass to keep Oakland honest. Packers 34, Oakland 7.

Fourth Quarter: I watched all their was to watch in this quarter, which was a lot of passes by Johnson, eventually replaced by Tee Martin, and a lot of Packers runs. Johnson looked awful, and it is appropriate that Johnson is sacked (he is the NFL all time leader in sacks/attempts) on the first successful cornerback blitz I can remember the Packers executing in weeks. Apparently the cornerback blitz is only successful against sack magnets like Johnson. Favre throws a 40 yard bomb to Donald Driver, who I can't imagine was the first option on a pass play in a blowout. Antonio Freeman gets a catch on 3rd down to convert, and on the next play Ahman Green has his easiest run of the game on an untouched touchdown run. Finally Oakland gets sick of watching Johnson after he throws one of the worst interceptions I have seen all year. Johnson is trying to throw to Jerry Rice on a quick slant, but he double clutches as he sees Hawthorne standing 5 yards deep right in the path of the pass, then Johnson throws it anyway right to Hawthorne! Johnson should not have been cut after the game, but immediately after he threw that pass. Martin has some success for Oakland at quarterback, like it matters, but Aaron Kampman gets a highlight reel moment when he sacks Martin, forces a fumble, and recovers it himself. Packers 41, Oakland 7.

Friday, December 19, 2003

I am not a big fan of the Pro Bowl. It is an afterthought to the NFL season and it seems even more irrelevant than the other professional sports league's All Star games if that is possible. I'm sure the league makes money off of it, but its sure to cost good teams money too when it comes time for a team's Pro Bowl players to negotiate their next contract. Nonetheless, its a good way for the league to give some congrads to the players who had excellent seasons, and to some deserving Packers.

Ahman Green was an easy selection. The top 3 NFC rushing leaders to this point were selected and Green is #2. Maybe Brett Favre was a surprise selection for some, but I think it was obvious. Favre is having a great season and he is playing as well as he ever has ever played. Marco Rivera might have gotten the nod because once an offensive lineman gets selected, it seems like he is selected ever year, but it also is a selection to respect a great offensive line.

The choice of Pro Bowl alternates was a little strange. Mike Flanagan was selected, but the NFL could have just as easily selected all the non-Rivera starting offensive lineman as alternates. Nick Barnett was a surprise, but he has played great and deserves it. Bubba Franks has been a forgotten man the last few weeks, and has not made an impact this season, but he was selected. William Henderson has been great and could have been named starter, although I don't have any objection to naming Fred Beasley as the starting fullback. Ryan Longwell has been automatic all year within 45 yards and deserves the selection. Mike McKenzie and Darren Sharper have been the two best players in the Packers secondary, but it is unusual to see two members of a secondary ranked #26 in the NFL be selected as alternates. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is a surprise since he hasn't been very good against the run, he was so much better last year at consistently speed rushing on passing plays, and he is tied for 8th among NFC defensive ends with 7 sacks.

I read on packersnews.com that Mike Wahle was upset that he didn't get select, even as an alternate. All starting five (Chad Clifton, Wahle, Flanagan, Rivera, and Mark Tauscher) offensive lineman have been excellent this year, all of them deserve recognition, but I do agree that Wahle has stood out among the starting five. Primarily on running plays where he pulls to lead block, because he always makes a great block and it is intimidating for a linebacker/cornerback/safety to see a giant 6'6" 307 lbs. lineman bearing down on you. If you wanted to single out a game for Wahle (although it was a group effort along with Flanagan and Rivera) it would be the Tampa Bay game, when he was dominated Tampa Bay's high paid defensive tackles (Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland) and opened huge running lanes.

Overall it was great to see so many Packers get recognition. Now I just want to see them win their last two games.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Packers 38, San Diego 21. This was the biggest win for the Packers all season, because it came the same day as a Seattle loss and a Minnesota loss. For the first time since early in the season the Packers control their own playoff chances because if they win out they have the wild card at least, and are tied for the NFC Central lead. Its a mixed blessing, because the Packers run offense is regressing and it hasn't looked dominant the last three weeks. The first 4 games after the bye week, the run offense looked like the best in the NFL, but defenses appear committed to stopping the run and they are hoping for a Brett Favre interception or two (or three...). The Packers offense seems to stall, and turn the ball over, anytime it calls too many pass plays in a row. San Diego is a bad team, they appear to have several players on their lines and their defensive secondary who shouldn't be starting in the NFL, but LaDainian Tomlinson is the most impressive and dangerous player I have seen in the NFL this season.

First Quarter: I missed the first touchdown drive, but Donald Driver caught 2 passes on the way to his best game of the season and Ahman Green had his 2nd longest run of the game (9 yards) on his way to the touchdown run. Green broke Jim Taylor's single season rushing record, but it took him many rushes to get the 40 or so yards he needed for it. San Diego had a great opening drive thanks mostly to Packers' penalties. This was the second game in three weeks, the Detroit game on Thanksgiving is the other one, where the refs made questionable calls for big yardage for the Packers opponents. The pass interference call against Mike McKenzie was especially weak because both players were going for the ball. But the defense held near the goal line and started the bend but don't break theme it played with most of the game. Penalties were a big part of the quarter, keeping the first San Diego drive alive and killing a subsequent Packer drive. Packers 7, San Diego 3.

Second Quarter: The penalties continued into the 2nd quarter as the refs were working on a quota or something. Someone named Antonio Gates started catching a bunch of passes. Gates caught passes in each quarter and probably had his first 100 yard receiving game of his career. The good news is that Gates and Tomlinson were the only productive offensive players in the game for San Diego. San Diego's big and expensive wide receiver, David Boston, had an unimpressive game and made his biggest contribution in the game on a fumble off his knee that Marques Anderson recovered. Anderson always seems around the ball. San Diego pins the Packers down at their 3 yard line, but Green runs them out of the tight spot and a San Diego penalty helps on a 3rd down play. Wesley Walls catches a pass on 3rd down that is just short of the 1st down marker and forces a punt. Walls has seemed to have a catch in each of the last couple of weeks that is just short of a 1st down. San Diego should have scored on their next drive, but Darren Sharper has a great leaping interception while on a blitz that stops it. With only 1:25 left in the quarter, Favre runs a great 2 minute drill and throws a perfect touchdown pass to Driver, diving towards the front end zone marker, and it is thrown to a place that only Driver could catch it. Packers 17, San Diego 3.

Third Quarter: The defense couldn't get off the field, and Favre didn't help matters by going 0 for 5 with 1 interception for the quarter. The run offense wasn't much better with 1 carry by Green for -2 yards. Although with all this time, San Diego only scores once in the quarter with a field goal. San Diego, however, has the ball for 3 drives in the 3rd quarter and 2 of the drives end by the Packers goal line (including a touchdown scored just after the start of the 4th quarter) and 1 drive ended when Chukie Nwokorie forces a fumble on a sack. Nwokorie did a great speed rush move around the left tackle and it was the only play that stopped San Diego in the quarter. The secret to San Diego's offense is to make sure Tomlinson has the ball a lot. Its a pretty good strategy. If Tomlinson got better blocking and wasn't hit so much at the line of scrimmage, he would be lethal with his speed and strength in the open field. Packers 17, San Diego 6.

Fourth Quarter: In the first 3 minutes of the 4th quarter, San Diego scores 2 touchdowns and takes the lead. Tomlinson scores both touchdowns. San Diego runs a great play with Tomlinson motioning out of the backfield, he moves into the slot, and forces some poor linebacker to try and keep up with him. On the 2nd touchdown of the quarter, Tomlinson is in the slot, gets about 3 yards of cushion (you can't give him any cushion but if you don't he'll blow by you so its a lose or lose situation), and runs right through and by the entire Packers secondary. The Packers are quick to respond with a great kickoff return by Najeh Davenport, running past and through a couple of players, and Favre throws a great deep pass down the field to Robert Ferguson. Unfortunately, by this point the Packers defense has spent most of the 2nd half on the field, but it doesn't hurt their play. I have been critical of blitzing by the Packers, but it worked perfectly on the next fumble by Drew Brees. LB Hannibal Navies blitzed, while NT Grady Jackson busted up the middle right by the offensive guard and forced the fumble. Then Navies, who was in the backfield because he blitzed, fell on the ball at the 1 yard line of San Diego. Green caught a pass in the flat for a touchdown on the next play. This was the best blitz play of the season, and the blitzer didn't even force the pressure (directly) or got a sack. San Diego scores 2 touchdowns in 3 minutes, and the Packers answer back with 2 touchdowns in 3 minutes. San Diego's next drive is killed by a holding penalty on 1st down. Then Green has his longest run of the game, 33 yards, and Favre finds Ferguson for his 2nd touchdown and Favre's 4th. San Diego drives down to the Packers goal line again, but they can't punch it in. For the game, San Diego was at the Packers 15 yard line or closer on 5 drives and only scored 13 points. Packers 38, San Diego 21.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

It is ironic that Brett Favre isn't getting any MVP press this year like he did last year, although I think he is having the best season of his career this year. He is tied for the lead in touchdown passes and has the best completion percentage of his career, although he is without a Pro Bowl caliber receiver and he has played much of the season with a broken thumb on his passing hand. He just broke Cecil Isbell's record set in 1942 with his 23rd consecutive game with a touchdown pass (thanks Jeff Sanford for pointing that out to me). He is running the offense as well as he has ever done, and is spreading the ball out to every eligible receiver, except backup tackle Kevin Barry, in the passing game.

This year is different from 2002 because the Packers aren't running away with their division and Favre has thrown a bunch of interceptions. Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Steve McNair are more deserving of the actual award, but Favre deserves to be part of the discussion. He isn't going to pile up the big touchdown number he had in his MVP seasons, but the Packers running game is so much better this year then it was in 1995-1997 that Mike Sherman isn't calling all those short touchdown passes to the tight ends this season like Mike Holmgren used to call, and Sherman is letting Ahman Green run the ball in. His total passing yards are down (for his standards) but that too is a consequence of the great run offense. Here is to hoping Favre hears a lot of praise in the off season for his outstanding performances in 2003.
Packers 34, Chicago 21. This was not a game I was ever worried about. The Packers record against Chicago over the last 10 years is heavily in the Packers favor. Even when Chicago went 13-3 in 2001, 2 of their 3 losses were against the Packers. The Packers offense never got on track, especially the running game, but the Packers defense forced multiple big turnovers that killed Chicago.

The bigger news was the resurrection of Minnesota, with an impressive victory over Seattle. Minnesota dominated Seattle, Minnesota had no turnovers while forcing 3 Seattle turnovers, and Minnesota looked like the team that started the year 6-0. Minnesota is a streaky team, and I wouldn't be surprised if they won out despite one of their remaining games is against Kansas City. With Seattle's loss, however, Seattle has proven they can't win on the road, 1-5 so far, with two away games at St. Louis and at San Francisco, that I can't imagine them winning. With a probable win at home against Arizona, Seattle would finish 9-7, and the Packers won their game against them this season. So I think the division title is out of reach, and the goal is taking the wild card from Seattle or slumping Dallas. Dallas failed to complete a single pass to any wide receiver the entire game last Sunday, which is unbelievable. Dallas's remaining schedule isn't a killer (at Washington, home against the Giants, and at New Orleans), but they have lost 3 of their last 4 and have lost ugly the last 2 weeks. With both projected NFC wild card teams slumping, the wild card should be the Packers goal.

First Quarter: Najeh Davenport has become my favorite kick returner. He is strong and can't be taken down by an arm tackle, but he has enough speed to break a long return if he can get past the initial wave of coverage. The first possessions of the game for both teams were anemic, with 5 rushes and 1 incomplete pass between them, no first downs, and 2 punts. The next Packer possession was a typical scoring drive for them this year; a couple of runs, Brett Favre completing passes to multiple receivers (4 different receivers on this drive alone), but Wesley Walls came up just short on a 3rd down pass. I was hoping Mike Sherman would go for it, because I was expecting a Josh Bidwell touchback punt and only a 25 yard net advantage, but Sherman elected for the touchback. This is the second game in a row where the offensive line didn't dominate and the Packers had trouble running the ball. I don't know if teams are doing a better job of scheming against the Packers run offense or this is a drop off in play, but this isn't the same team running the football. The pass completion to David Terrell on 3rd and 9 was disappointing, but its unusual for Chicago to throw passes downfield. The 61 yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker on the next play was very unusual. Mike McKenzie personally took responsiblity for the play, but he was in a really tight spot; he was trying to cover a receiver known for catching passes short and he had no deep help. Unfortunately, Favre answered Chicago's long touchdown by handing them another long touchdown on a pass interception returned for a touchdown. It looked like Favre was trying to throw the ball away out of bounds, but he should have known he was still between the tackles and it would have been grounding even if his pass had made it there. He was probably frustrated by the lack of success the offense had in the quarter. Speaking of Monday Morning Quarterbacks, Favre's commercial where he walks around and second guesses everyone on the street for Mastercard is hilarious. Packers 0, Chicago 14.

Second Quarter: The Packers do get on track during their next drive. Ahman Green finally has some success (5 carries for 22 yards on the drive) and Favre completes passes to 3 different receivers. The drive stalls at Chicago's 6 yard line, but the field goal is the start of 34 unanswered points by the Packers. After a 1st quarter where Chicago didn't play like Chicago (forcing turnovers, pushing the ball down the field with long passes), Chicago reverts to form with a fumble on the kick return. The Packers' drive stalls immediately but now its 14 to 6. Actually, Chicago doesn't stop throwing long passes, Booker catches a long pass and later in the quarter Justin Gage should have had two long receptions, but one was called back on a gift offensive pass interference call against Gage and Gage dropped one in the end zone. If Gage had caught a long touchdown pass at the end of the 1st half, who knows how this game might have turned out. After Booker's last long catch of the game, however, Chicago stalls on 3rd down as Cletidus Hunt gets a sack. Hunt has been great the last few games, providing the interior pass rush that the Packers had expected from him all year long. Right now, teams cannot single team Hunt on passing downs and expect to contain him. Robert Ferguson caught 7 passes in the game, but his first catch wasn't until the middle of the 2nd quarter. Ferguson caught a 20 yard pass on a 1st and 15 for the Packers on their 22 yard line, which must have been a soul crusher for Chicago's defense. Javon Walker got his first catch on the drive too, with a touchdown catch that was very similar to Booker's touchdown catch because Walker ran by the cornerback, Charles Tillman, down the side line and Tillman's deep help was late. It was great that this catch came against Tillman, because Moose Johnson had been doing the commentating and he had been talking about how soft the Packers were playing and how tough Chicago was hitting. He had been especially fond of Tillman up to this point, and I don't remember Moose mentioning Tillman's name the rest of the game. Darren Sharper says thanks to Chicago for a hail mary interception at the end of the half, and he returned it to the 50 yard line, and he was probably only one or two players away from breaking it for a touchdown. Packers 13, Chicago 14.

Third Quarter: Another bad kickoff coverage by the Packers. Jerry Azumah, although unable to make a tackle on defense and fumbled an earlier kickoff, returns it to the Chicago 43 yard line. After one 1st down conversion, Chicago is already in Packer territory. Its like the special teams is missing that one great special team tackler who seems to be in on every play. Ferguson and Torrence Marshall have had good individual games on special teams, but not consistently. Luckily, McKenzie gets his first interception of the game to end the drive. The Packers have had so much success on offense this season because they can move down the field consistently by running or passing the ball. In this game, and last week in Detroit, the Packers have been unable to move the ball by running. This next drive stalls because the running game doesn't provide anything (3 carries for 5 yards), but the Ryan Longwell field goal gives the Packers their first lead. Chicago does nothing on their next drive, and the Packers next drive does little but the stupid late hit by Michael Haynes on Favre is the big play and sets up a 45 yard Longwell field goal. Longwell has been very valuable this season, because any kick by him within 45 yards of the goal posts has been automatic. He is one of the most accurate kicker in the NFL, although his leg isn't very strong. Packers 19, Chicago 14.

Fourth Quarter: It really surprised me that Chicago never dedicated themselves to running the football. The Packers have had problems stopping the run early in games and have not been a great run defense in general. Chicago's only success vs. the Packers in Chicago earlier this season was when Anthony Thomas ran the ball, but he only got 9 carries in this game and Chicago threw twice as much they ran (40 to 20). Unless Thomas has a fumbling problem, Chicago is just asking for trouble because it is inevitable that Stewart will make a bad play throwing the ball and they should want to keep those mistakes down to a minimum. Although Chicago is only down by 5 points, their first drive of the 4th quarter is primarily passes by Stewart. Chicago has success on this drive passing, Stewart is 5 of 7 for 63 yards with a 3rd and 8 at the Packers 16 yard line, but on his 8th attempt McKenzie jumps the short route on the sideline and intercepts the ball for a 90 yard touchdown return. This effectively ends the game, and Favre throws a 2 point conversion to Bubba Franks for an exclaimation point to the turn of events. After this play, Chicago doesn't call another running play the rest of the game, although over 9 minutes remain. I don't know why, but Chicago drives into Packer territory on the next drive but decide to punt instead of going for it on 4th and long. Maybe they are hoping the Packers turn it back over quickly and fortunately for Chicago this happens after two runs and an incompletion followed by a weak punt by Bidwell. Desmond Clark had a couple of nice catches in this game for Chicago, however, his fumble on the second play of their next drive kills it. The Packers just continue to run the ball and the clock, Green hasn't fumbled the ball since his disaster a few weeks ago vs. Philadelphia, so this is a pretty safe strategy. Bidwell has a nice punt to pin Chicago down to their 10 yard line, which leads to a three incompletions by Stewart, and a 4th down attempt that ends in a Stewart sack on his 1 yard line for a turnover on downs. Grady Jackson got the sack, and he has been a great pick up for the Packers. He isn't dominanting, but he gets some pressure up the middle and has held the middle of the line well against the run. With all the defensive line injuries, if they didn't have Jackson for the defensive line rotation, the run defense might be a lot worse at this point. Green easily runs the ball in on his second attempt and the game is a blowout. Azumah has a little redemption for his earlier fumble and poor tackling in the game with a long kickoff return for a touchdown, to cap off a poor game for the Packers special teams, but its too little too late for Chicago. With under 2 minutes left, the Packers go for it on 4th down to try and run out the clock but fail to convert it. Two weeks ago, this would have been a gimme but it isn't today. Chicago's last drive is a turnover on downs again, as Stewart fails again to get anything going. Chicago should turn to Rex Grossman next week to see what he can do. Packers 34, Chicago 21.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Packers 14, Detroit 22. Ugh. 3rd down conversions and turnovers. In the first half, the Packers defense couldn't get off the filed and Detroit was 4 for 7 on third down. In the second half, especially in the 4th quarter when the Packers had 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions, the Packers offense couldn't stop turning the ball over. The only good news was that Minnesota got crushed in St. Louis and their remaining schedule is tough; home against playoff bound Seattle (although Seattle can't win on the road), at Chicago (winners of their last two games), home against 11-1 Kansas City, at Arizona (Arizona sucks, but they are 3-2 at home and almost beat St. Louis in Arizona). All of those games will be tough for Minnesota, so an 8-8 record for them to end the season is very possible. The Packers would have to win 3 of their last 4 to finish 9-7 and win the division, and considering they had won 3 of 4 prior to the Detroit loss, it is very possible too.

First Quarter: The first (and only) touchdown drive by Detroit was very discouraging, Detroit was able to run and complete several short passes to move down the field, but the Packers defense only got better as the game went on. Najeh Davenport has become my favorite kickoff returner; he has speed in the open field and he has size to run through arm tackles that smaller returners, like Antonio Chapman, might get stopped by. The Packers drive to the Detroit 40 yard line, but they are forced to punt. The next Detroit drive looks stalled until Mike McKenzie gets an personal foul for shoving the Detroit receiver after the play out of bounds. It was a weak call, but McKenzie did slightly shove the receiver in the back. The Packers had 3 personal fouls (one on Aaron Kampman was offset by one on the same play by Stockar McDougle, although Kampman did nothing to deserve it while McDougle did) and this one made a big difference. Detroit was able to end the quarter with a nice field goal drive. Packers 0, Detroit 10.

Second Quarter: The rushing stats for the Packers look feeble in this game (16 carries for 52 yards) but the Packers did have some success running the ball in the first half, before abandoning it in the second half. A nice Ahman Green run, along with a rare downfield pass to Wesley Walls, led to a great grab by a Bubba Franks for the touchdown. After Franks had a bad game vs. San Francisco, it was good to see him have a solid game against Detroit. Unfortunately, Detroit answers with a long 8 minute drive. Joey Harrington had a very good first half, completing 11 of 12 passes (many on this drive). The ball is not bouncing the Packers way this season, and it is a big reason the Packers are 6-6. All the teams with winning records this season can probably point to a couple plays this year when the ball bounced just right and won them a game here or there. In this game, the Packers had 2 huge 4th quarter fumbles that Detroit recovered, while Detroit had 3 fumbles (including 2 on this drive alone) that easily could have been recovered had a Packer been in the right place at the right time, but the ball just didn't bounce their way. This drive also had another stupid personal foul (plus the phantom foul on Kampman) and led to a field goal. This was the last drive of the game where Detroit looked competant on offense, and had it led to zero points and the Packers could have recovered either fumble and turned it into any points, the entire game would have been different. The Packers try to answer but the first drive with 2:30 left in the half leads to a rare Brett Favre sack when he looked confused and ran into a sack, and a second drive that just ran out of time. Packers 7, Detroit 13.

Third Quarter: My mistake, Detroit had another competant drive in the game, this one to start the 2nd half, but a holding penalty killed it in Packer territory, and Detroit punted. Now the Packers start to go pass happy. Detroit's defensive line was tough on the day, and the Packers offensive line probably had its worst game of the season, but after several great rushing games in a row, the Packers only ran 2 times for 5 yards in the quarter. Favre completes 4 out of 5 passes before Dre Bly intercepts the ball at Detroit's 32. This was the second week in a row where a defensive back just muscles a receiver out of his way for an interception. The receivers can't be this passive and have to fight for the ball. This was the 1st of 5 turnovers in the half, and 4 of the turnovers were in Detroit territory. The Packers had several opportunities but the constant turnovers killed them. Fortunately, Detroit's offense begins to struggle and on the next drive Favre connects with Javon Walker for Walker's second big touchdown catch in 2 weeks. The Packers are leading for the first and last time in the game. The next three drives are 3 and outs followed by punts, including another lucky fumble for Detroit when Harrington has the ball slapped out of his hand but Detroit recovers it. Packers 14, Detroit 13.

Fourth Quarter: If the Packers never turned the ball over in the 4th quarter, Detroit would have never scored again, as 3 turnovers led to 3 Detroit field goals, and the Packers would have won a field position battle. Also the running game went MIA as they only rushed 3 times for minus 3 yards in the quarter. The quarter starts with a Walker fumble and Detroit recovery, which leads to a long field goal after a Detroit 3 and out possession. After a Packer punt, McKenzie intercepts Harrington for Detroit's only turnover of the game, but on the very next play Favre fumbles the ball and Detroit recovers. Detroit gets a nice Shawn Bryson run to get in field goal range for another long made field goal. Davenport has another great kickoff return, but then for the 3rd time in 4 drives, the Packers turn the ball over when Bly makes a great jump on an out route. Bly went for the interception, he would have been burned badly on an out and up, but he gambled and won on the play. Detroit has some success on the next drive, enough to get into field goal range, but everything Harrington throws is short, there is no chance at a big play, and as soon as Harrington throws a couple of incompletions (which is inevitable) the drive is dead. Harrington slumped badly in the second half, and if he can't complete over 60% of his passes he will never be successful in Steve Marucci's offense. But the drive leads to another Detroit field goal. After all these turnovers, and 3 Detroit scores in the 4th quarter, the Packers are still only down by one score (touchdown and 2 point conversion). The Packers get another drive going and they are in Detroit territory with over a minute left in the game, but a defensive player rushes untouched to Favre on a blitz, Favre throws up a prayer, and Robert Ferguson misplays the jump ball and Detroit's Doug Evans turns around at the last second for a gift interception. Evans was beat but Ferguson completely missed the jump ball. There was no reason Ferguson shouldn't catch that ball. The Packers are able to get the ball back because they used all 3 of their timeouts on Detroit's last possession, but there just isn't enough time, although on the hail mary, the ball was slapped down in the end zone, and it almost bounced right into Tony Fisher's hands at Detroit's 5 yard line (he was just a step too late), where he could have walked in for an easy touchdown. But nothing bounced the Packers way in this game. Packers 14, Detroit 22.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Packers 20, San Francisco 10. THIS was the best game of the year for the defense, replacing the Tampa Bay game as the previous best game. They held San Francisco to 192 yards and 3 for 12 on 3rd downs. Brett Favre threw 3 interceptions to give San Francisco some hope, but those 3 turnovers only led to 7 points. The score looks like this was a close game, but it was not close.

First Quarter: After the great run defense (they only allowed 73 yards on 21 carries all game) keys a 3 and out, Favre connects to Javon Walker on the first side line bomb I can remember working all season. Favre throws at least one of these passes a game, but this one worked, in large part to the single coverage on Walker. The next San Francisco drive dies in Packer territory in large part to Cletdius Hunt. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila got the sack, but it was caused by Hunt. Hunt had several big plays in San Francisco's back field, generated a pass rush all game, and easily had his best game of the season. Unfortunately, Favre throws a pass too high for Bubba Franks and Zack Bronson is in the right place at the right time to intercept it. Although they start at the Packers 20 yard line, the drive stalls and Todd Peterson, San Francisco's third kicker of the year, misses a gimme 28 yard field goal. Franks ends the quarter with a holding penalty to call back a first yard run by Ahman Green. Packers 7, San Francisco 0.

Second Quarter: Franks did not have his best game, as another pass intended for him is intercepted. Although San Francisco has great field possession again, this time at the Packers 22 yard line, 2 penalties and 2 incompletions push them out of field goal range and they have to punt. At this point I am thinking the game is over if San Francisco has the ball twice on 1st down at the Packers 20 yard line and they come away with no points. The passing game keeps leading to interceptions, so the Packers run 7 times in a row. What was amazing was that San Francisco knew they were going to run, because backup tackle Kevin Barry and backup fullback Nick Luchey were in as extra blockers on multiple plays, but they just ran it right at them. On the 25 yard run by Najeh Davenport, he had a giant running lane. The two passes Favre attempted were both completions and Robert Ferguson had a fantastic catch on a pass throw behind him and then he spun around after he caught it to cross the plane of the end zone just before falling out of bounds. San Francisco responds with a nice looking 6 minute drive which leads to a gimme field goal that Todd Peterson actually makes. Last week in Tampa Bay, the Packers ran an awful 2 minute drill at the end of the first half, but this week they did everything right. They ran and pass the ball successfully, ran all the time off the clock, and Longwell kicked a short field goal. Packers 17, San Francisco 3.

Third Quarter: More running Packers. Why not when your top two rushers Green and Davenport are averaging over 5 yards per carry, and 3rd string running back Tony Fisher isn't too far behind at 4.2 yards per carry. Longwell has been accurate all season on field goals, but he can't get enough distance for a 45+ yard field goal and his 49 yard attempt falls short. San Francisco answers with a 3 and out series and Antuan Edwards stuffs Terrell Owens (he tackles him around the waist, lifts him up, and slams him to the ground). Edwards is solid in coverage, apart from a poor week 1 vs. Randy Moss, but he hasn't been too good in run support, which is very important for a strong safety. For example, Anthony Thomas ran over and around him a few weeks ago in Chicago. So to see Edwards come up in run support and make a big run stop on 3rd down is a very promising sight. Unfortunately, Darren Sharper got hurt during the series. San Francisco can't get anything going on offense until Favre throws his 3rd interception of the game, when Mike Rumph plays the quick slant perfectly and cuts off Antonio Freeman on the route. Favre should have seen Rumph sitting there, but he probably thought he could squeeze it in. This leads to San Francisco's touchdown drive, when on 4th and short, Marques Anderson, Sharper's replacement, takes a bad angle on deep coverage of Owens and Owens runs past Anderson at the 5 yard line to catch the ball in the end zone. Anderson is great in run support, but his problems in coverage have led to him falling behind Edwards on the depth chart. You could see Al Harris talking at Anderson after the play. The Packers run, literally, out the clock on the quarter. Packers 17, San Francisco 10.

Fourth Quarter: The Packers ran the ball 16 times in the quarter and passed only twice. They had the ball for literally 13 minutes compared to 2 minutes for San Francisco who only had 8 plays (with 4 incompletions and 1 interception). San Francisco couldn't stop them from running the clock out and Edwards (what a great game for him!) jumped a corner route by Tim Rattay to intercept the ball with almost 6 minutes to go. The Packers just ran out the clock for the last 6 minutes, went 3 for 3 on 3rd downs on that last drive, including a great 3rd down run by Favre (of all people) to end the game. Packers 20, San Francisco 10.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Packers 20, Tampa Bay 13. As Darren Sharper commented after the game, they have to figure out why they are winning in Tampa Bay and Minnesota this year, but keep losing close games in Green Bay. If the Packers had won their two close defeats at Green Bay this season to Philadelphia and Kansas City, then it is likely the Packers are being talked about as a favorite for the Super Bowl at 7-3. This doesn't say as much about the Packers as it does about the parity in the NFC this season. Brett Favre had his worst game of the season (although the first half of week 1 vs. Minnesota was his worst half game of the season) but the defense had its best game. With the exception of the two big Thomas Jones runs, the Packers defense dominated Tampa Bay's offense.

First Quarter: After Tampa Bay's first punt, Antonio Chapman had a great punt return to start the drive at the Packers 47. Special teams and defense needed to make more plays, and both units delivered this week, although Tampa Bay is one of the weakest special team units in the NFL. The Packers only had two good looking drives in the game, where they passed and ran the ball effectively, but both drives ended with touchdowns. On their second drive, which led to their first touchdown, Favre completed 4 passes on the drive (he only completed 13 in the entire game) and 3 of them were on 3rd down. Ahman Green is already getting good yards running the ball. The difference between Green this season and past seasons is his production in the first halves of games. Tampa Bay had three drives in the first quarter, didn't convert a single 3rd down, and had one of the more laughable drives of the NFL season when they had three penalties in a row that resulted in only 3 penalty yards because they were pinned back so far against their end zone. Packers 7, Tampa Bay 0.

Second Quarter: Najah Davenport comes in to spell Green a couple times, 3 rushes in the first half, and every time he came in even I knew it was a running play. He gained no yards on his 3 rushes. I thought the Packers were being too obvious with their personnel packages, but in the second half it turned out to be a setup as they start running pass plays with Davenport in the backfield. A turnover! After only 2 turnovers in the last 4 games, a fumble recovery is big news. The Packers forced 3 turnovers in this game alone. Unfortunately the great field position only leads to a field goal. Thomas Jones second run of the game is a 61 yard explosion. Jones ran to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's side and the linebacker on that side (Na'il Diggs?) is blocked out of the play. Its bad news, but remember its only one of three big plays for Tampa Bay on offense all game while the rest of the time Green Bay dominated them. And the Packers hold them to a field goal. Great kickoff return by Davenport, of all people, leads to a field goal. With about 7 minutes left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay converts its only 3rd down of the game, and the drive ends in a punt. After Nick Barnett (What the heck is he doing so far down the field in coverage? Well it worked) intercepts Brad Johnson, the Packers spend the rest of the half confused: Are they going to try for one more score? Are they going to run out the clock? The Packers call a time out while Tampa Bay is trying to run out the clock, Mike Sherman is shown on the sidelines shaking his head in disbelief, and after a couple of 3 and outs on offense, Tampa Bay gets great field position on a bad Josh Bidwell punt and two Keyshawn Johnson pass completions later, Tampa Bay gets a gift field goal. Packers 13, Tampa Bay 6.

Third Quarter: Tampa Bay starts the half out with a rerun of Jones's big run over Gbaja-Biamila and Diggs's side which leads to a Keenan McCardell touchdown against Mike McKenzie. It seemed like a good start to the half for Tampa Bay, but their offense didn't do much after that drive. McCardell ran a nice route and Johnson put the ball right where it was needed, and McKenzie couldn't do much about it. Gbaja-Biamila hasn't been an obvious problem against the run this season until these two big Jones runs, and I don't know if its a problem or just well executed plays by Tampa Bay. The rest of the quarter is filled with drive killing penalties and failed 3rd down conversions. Favre threw an interception on a deep pass to Donald Driver on the type of forced pass he hadn't tried to throw in weeks. Everyone was covered on the rollout, but instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to force it into double coverage. Favre does make a great 3rd down completion to Robert Ferguson at the end of the quarter from the end zone which sparks a dominant 98 yard touchdown drive, so all is forgiven. Packers 13, Tampa Bay 13.

Fourth Quarter: Touchdown! Nothing sucks the life out of an opponent like a 98 yard almost 10 minute touchdown drive. Almost all of the plays were runs, and Tampa Bay just couldn't stop the Packers. Favre only threw 4 passes on the drive, all completions, and 3 of them were on 3rd down. This is the best run offense in the entire NFL right now. Favre only attempts 2 more passes on the next 2 drives. Tampa Bay has 3 more chances to get some offense going, but they can only manage 42 yards on the 3 drives and the last drive ends with a Sharper interception on a hail mary pass. Packers 20, Tampa Bay 13.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Packers 14, Philadelphia 17. Ugh. This was a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory type of defeat. The Packers had more yards on offense (307 to 282) and had the ball longer on offense (31:15 to 28:45), but they were killed on return yards (46 to 159) and turnovers (3 to 0). The Packers defense has only generated two turnovers in the last four weeks, and the special teams have been outperformed on kick returns (253 to 424) over the last three weeks. The Packers offense continues to make big plays, but unless the defense and special teams contribute big plays, the Packers will continue to lose close games. Although a 7-9 record might win this division (if Minnesota can't beat San Diego, who can they beat?) and the Packers get a Chris Berman inspired Bay of Pigs matchup next week with equally desperate Tampa Bay.

First Quarter: Fumbles. Its hard to blame Brett Favre with his broken thumb, but he just couldn't grip the ball in the rain with his cast on. Favre shouldn't have been benched, but I found myself considering the possiblity. On a team with no margin for error, Favre's fumbles were as deciding a factor as any in this game. The Packers start the game by running successfully. After watching Ahman Green struggle in the first half of games over the previous 3 years, and now to watch him succeed all game long is exciting. They started with a two fullback set, but the Packers were successful running without that alignment too. Unfortunately Favre's fumble on the first drive effectively kills the it, and Green's fumble on the second drive kills an even more promising drive. Philadelphia can't run or pass the ball, and Donovan McNabb got really lucky when he got hit on a pass and his dying quail wasn't intercepted. These two turnovers lead to punts, but Philadelphia is lucky not to be down by 6 to 14 points at this point. The Packers also got their lone sack when New Orleans castoff Grady Jackson and Jacksonville castoff Larry Smith generate more pass rush than any other high paid defensive lineman for the Packers. John Madden just seemed to ramble at times (e.g. "Philadelphia drafted TE L.J. Smith because they thought he could fill the TE/WR type of receiving position..." duh!), but Madden noticed the slick black elbow pads Green was wearing during Green's two fumbles, and Green didn't fumble the rest of the game once he removed them. Packers 0, Philadelphia 0.

Second Quarter: The Packers had as many critical penalties in the first half as they had all year up to this point. TE David Martin had a rare offensive pass interference call in the first half to call back a first down, and WR Robert Ferguson (I believe) had a holding penalty that called back another one. Favre's second fumble kills the first drive of the quarter. Philadelphia's offense is still comatose. Madden calls it again when Madden says that Nate Wayne, who was in statement game mode to prove the Packers made a mistake with him, has forced a turnover every time he has played on MNF. The second drive of the half in Philadelphia territory ends with a turnover, when Wayne makes the best one handed catch of the night for either team. Al Michaels is explaining how this is a Gold package game for former Milwaukee season ticket holders tonight and I am wondering if the Packers are trying to get their Milwaukee season ticket holders to turn in their tickets. Its hard enough to go to a Monday night game and then to work the next morning, but by the time the Milwaukee area residents fight traffic and get home its probably Tuesday afternoon. Why do the Packers schedule Gold games for Monday night? Luckily the Wayne interception only leads to a missed field goal. Philadelphia gets a chance to run the clock out for the half and let their inept offense regroup, but they can't even do that. The Packers offense finally puts together a drive without a turnover, Favre completes a couple of passes, and Green runs loose on a screen pass for the touchdown. Packers 7, Philadelphia 0.

Third Quarter: Philadelphia gets the ball first and changes the tone of the game. They still can't run (yet) but McNabb completes a few passes for the easy field goal. The Packers have a nice answering drive, but they run it one too many times, and a big negative loss on a 3rd down carry puts it out of Ryan Longwell's range, and he misses his first field goal of the season. This quarter is consumed by the first two long drives. MNF decides to show some great sauercraut footage and lets Madden do commentary about the sauercraut production workers techniques. Plus the ever exciting Turducken reference. I might have missed the thrills, but I didn't see any shots of the horsetrailer tonight. Packers 7, Philadelphia 3.

Fourth Quarter: The Packers first drive this quarter was really wasted. Three passes for 1 yard and punt. The passing game hasn't been working and the running game has been so why three passes? I don't know. Great tackle by Antuan Edwards (I think) stops Todd Pinkston from a first down on the next drive. The Packers respond with a run-run-pass-punt drive and then Philadelphia gets really lucky. McNabb uncorks another dying quail "long" pass but Mike McKenzie isn't playing the ball, he runs past James Thrash and slips, but Thrash is paying attention and goes back to the ball for the big play. If Favre had thrown that pass this season, it would have been intercepted. It is just one of those years. McNabb runs in for the short yardage touchdown. But Green makes up for his two fumbles and rips off his second big play of the game on a 4th down 45 yard touchdown run. The defense comes up big after a big kickoff return by Thrash, but then the Packers do the same thing Philadelphia couldn't do at the end of the first half; get first downs and run out the clock. McNabb dusts off the forgotten Duce Staley and Chad Lewis on four plays that take it down to the Packers 12 yard line. Edwards had Staley wrapped up on the screen pass, but he missed the tackle, and I am left wondering if Marques Anderson was playing safety whether he makes the tackle and changes the outcome of the game. Then Madden has another lucid moment and notices that Bhawon Jue is playing at cornerback for an apparently injured Al Harris. Jue has given up game winning touchdown passes before this season (Kansas City) and he is burned by Pinkston for Pinkston's first touchdown catch of the year and only the second touchdown caught by a wide receiver this season for Philadelphia. Nice. Additionally, Jue was one of the problems in the Arizona loss this season, and I don't think the Packers can afford to rely on him anymore. The Packers almost get back into field goal range again, but the football slips out of Favre's hand on the last chance pass and the game is over. Packers 14, Philadelphia 17.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Mid season review. Although the Packers' record, 4-4, indicates that they are an average team, only the special teams can be considered NFL average.

The offense has been outstanding: 3rd in the NFL with 365.8 yards/game and 3rd in the NFL with 28.8 points/game. The balance between the running game (154.3 yards/game) and the passing game (211.5 yards/game) is outstanding. Stopping Ahman Green from running should be the focus of every opposing defense, but only St. Louis has really shut down the running game all season. I think this is Brett Favre's best season. He doesn't have numbers comparable to his MVP seasons, but ever since the first half disaster in week 1 vs. Minnesota, he has made few mistakes and he has been very consistent. Favre often struggled at certain places in the past; Minnesota, Dallas and Tampa, but this season it hasn't mattered where he has played, and he has spread the ball around and moved the offense down the field.

The defense had a disappointing first half season: 30th in the NFL with 357.9 yards/game and 24th in the NFL with 24.1 points/game. They have had problems in pass coverage, generating a pass rush, creating turnovers, and getting off the field (teams are 46% on 3rd down against the Packers). The pass coverage was good against a great pass offense in Minnesota last week and might have turned a corner with the return of Antuan Edwards from injury and the promotion of Michael Hawthorne to the nickel cornerback. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Cletdius Hunt have not played up to their big offseason contracts, but neither of them are hurt and it wouldn't be surprising to see both of them have a big second half season. Nick Barnett has had an outstanding rookie season at middle linebacker, but he appeared hurt at the end of the Minnesota game. The Packers have to find a way to generate a consistant pass rush with a four man rush. The nose tackle position is a concern with Gilbert Brown playing through an injury and backup Rod Walker having problems with a bad knee, but the Packers picked up Grady Jackson this week to provide some depth. Unfortunately Minnesota was 6 for 12 on 3rd down last week and the Packers forced no turnovers.

Special teams had one bright spot, Ryan Longwell, who has not missed a field goal or extra point all season long. The punt return and kickoff return blocking seems to be getting worse as Antonio Chapman has seem less effective on returns in recent weeks. Still they are playing better than last year, but they can't let the special team unit regress.

The next two games are favorable for the Packers. They play Philadelphia at Lambeau and although Philadelphia has won three in a row they are not a dominant team, and the injuries are starting to pile up for them. Then the Packers travel to Tampa, where Favre has often struggled but I don't expect him to struggle in Tampa this year. Tampa has followed each win with a loss every game this season. Last week Tampa lost, this week at Carolina they should win, then they should have the corresponding loss to the Packers in Tampa in the following week. Added bonus: Tampa is 1-3 at home this year.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Packers 30, Minnesota 27. Are there two more evenly matched teams in the NFL this season? They have played twice, each team has won once, while the Packers have scored 55 points to Minnesota's 57. The Packers have the #3 offense and the #30 defense. Minnesota has the #3 offense (both the Packers and Minnesota have so far averaged exactly 365.8 yards/game on offense) and the #29 defense. The biggest difference is in the record; Packers 4-4 and Minnesota 6-2. The Packers score a point more per game but allow almost 4 more points per game, and Minnesota has forced more turnovers and has 18 interceptions to the Packers 9. Both teams offenses seem to be improving each week and both defense seem to be getting worse. This was a very close game.

First Quarter: The first Packers drive was excellent and it was a sign of things to come. Ahman Green ran for 45 yards on the opening drive on the Packers way to running for 261 yards for the game. I thought it was a bad sign that such a great looking drive stalled in the red zone, and the Packers had to settle for a field goal. Minnesota responded with a great drive of their own. The Packers defensive line was stood up and blocked out from making any plays, especially on the touchdown pass to Randy Moss when Daunte Culpepper had enough time in the pocket to wait for the play to develop and to finish reading a novel. The Packers defensive line got better as the game went on. It reminded me of their game vs. Seattle when the Packers defensive line was shoved around in the first half but got better as the game went on. In this game, the Packers pass rush just got better each quarter. The long touchdown catch was the only big play Moss made in the game. Donald Driver got a big play on a reverse and I can't remember the last time the Packers got a big play on a reverse. Driver also caught a touchdown pass on the drive, but Robert Ferguson was flagged for an illegal shift (while in motion he was weaving around like a drunk walking a white line) which negated the touchdown and the Packers settled for a field goal. The rest of the quarter is good defense by both teams, which was quite unusual for this game, and three punts. Packers 6, Minnesota 7.

Second Quarter: Minnesota's run defense continues to break down and Green and Najeh Davenport run for 33 yards on 2 carries. Brett Favre spread the ball to three different receivers on the drive and Green catches the touchdown pass on a quick pass coming out of the backfield and Green beats the defender to the corner of the end zone. Minnesota punts again, and by this point the Packers pass defense is playing very well. After the 43 yard touchdown pass to Moss, Minnesota only has 4 passes for over 10 yards the rest of the game and the longest was a 24 yard pass to Nate Burleson. Minnesota has killed the Packers with big plays in the past so this was an essential part of the win on Sunday, but the Packers defense couldn't stop the run and they couldn't stop Minnesota on 3rd down (Minnesota was 6 for 12 on 3rd downs). The Packers have another great drive but it is stopped by a Favre interception. Minnesota outcoached the Packers on this play; Minnesota blitzed to force Favre into a hot read and Corey Chavous was playing right in the throwing lane. Favre didn't see Chavous, he should have seen Chavous, but Minnesota blitzed to give Favre no time to read the field. Turnovers have killed the Packers this season, but this was the only turnover and it was meaningless. There was 6 minutes left in the half and Minnesota was guaranteed to get the ball back anyway. The Packers have had turnovers on offense kill them on offense, but the offense was almost perfect in this game and the lack of turnovers caused by the defense didn't cost them this game, but this is still a problem for the defense. Minnesota scored the touchdown on the drive, but the way they were successful running the ball, they might have scored on the next possession anyway. Minnesota had a nifty touchdown pass to Jim Kleinsasser when Kleinsasser did a great job of fake blocking and then turn to catch the short pass. Fortunately the Packers had enough time to retake the lead for good before half time with a two big plays by Green and Tony Fisher (all the Packers running backs, Green, Fisher and Davenport, had a great game) and a touchdown pass to Javon Walker wherein Walker made a great move on his namesake, Denard Walker, to run in for the touchdown. Packers 20, Minnesota 14.

Third Quarter: The bend but don't break defense quarter. Even when the Packers had a great defense with Reggie White in the mid-90s, the defense was successful because it didn't allow touchdowns and it forced turnovers, but they had trouble preventing teams from running up and down the field. In this quarter, Minnesota had the ball for about 12 minutes, but only came up with two field goals. The Packers often allowed a good gain on first down, and had trouble stopping Minnesota on 3rd down. Culpepper was 3 for 5 on third down in the quarter, but those two stops were huge. I was worried that these long drives would leave the defense exhausted in the 4th quarter. Packers 20, Minnesota 20.

Fourth Quarter: This touchdown drive started in the third quarter, but was played mostly in the 4th quarter. The Packers converted both of their 3rd downs on the drive, including a rocket pass and great catch by Walker in the end zone for his 2nd TD catch. The first 3rd down conversion was short yardage, but a 1st quarter drive was stopped when Green tried to rush on 3rd and short, so the Packers went to using William Henderson out of the backfield on a pass. The Packers had a key 3rd and short on their next drive too and threw a quick slant to Walker for the first down. On the best day the Packers have had running the ball in almost 20 years, it was interesting that they converted two crucial 3rd and shorts by passing the football. This quarter was the opposite of the 3rd quarter because the Packers had possession for most of it. With over 10 minutes left in the game and Minnesota down by 7 points, Minnesota's first drive in the 4th quarter died when they passed on three consecutive downs and had to punt. The Packers defensive line must have been worn out by this point on run defense, so this play calling might have cost Minnesota the game. The Packers pass rush, keyed by some great effort by backups Larry Smith and Chukie Nwokorie, started generating pressure on Culpepper. The Packers also had to start blitzing and although it forced Culpepper to hurry, it did not force any sacks or turnovers. The Packers last drive of the game used up almost 7 minutes and was 10 rushes to 1 pass, but the Packers run offense was so effective, including one 3rd and short converted on a Green run, that it set up the field goal that put the game out of reach. Ryan Longwell made 3 field goals and he made it look easy. The Packers special teams did not have a great game today, few quality returns and Minnesota had almost double the Packers return yards, but Longwell's 3 for 3 on field goals was a difference in the game. Minnesota scored a late touchdown but the resulting onside kick failed and that was it. On Minnesota's last touchdown drive, Nick Barnett hurt his ankle at a point earlier in the 4th quarter but he was still limping around on this drive. He probably should have been pulled. At one point, both Mike McKenzie and Al Harris blitzed from the corner, but Culpepper stepped up to avoid them and McKenzie and Harris collided with each other. Culpepper almost fumbled Minnesota's week 1 victory away to the Packers, but in this game he had no turnovers. Both quarterbacks had great games and Culpepper avoided his usual turnovers and Favre his usual Metrodome jinx. Packers 30, Minnesota 27.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Hmm...Minnesota lost its first game of the season on Sunday. I didn't watch it but two numbers jumped out at me. 2 - Daunte Culpepper threw his first two interceptions of the year vs. New York and New York was +1 on the turnover margin. It was the first time all year Minnesota had more turnovers than their opponent. 17 - Minnesota was held to 17 points in the game by New York. It was the first time all year Minnesota's offense was held under 20 points. Minnesota's defense has only held three teams under 20 points this season; toothless Chicago, toothless Detroit, and San Francisco. Chicago has the worst offense in the NFL, and Detroit has the third worst offense. San Francisco is the exception (10th best offense in the NFL), but Jeff Garcia did have an awful game. If Minnesota's defense isn't creating turnovers, then they aren't stopping anybody, and their games turn into shootouts.

Minnesota's loss is promising. Coming into this week, Minnesota was 6-0 and the Packers were 3-4. If, big if, the Packers win in Minnesota next week, then their records stand at 6-2 and 4-4, which looks like a legitimate race. The pressure will be on the Packers offense to not turn the ball over and to score a lot of points.

Monday, October 20, 2003

The bye week. I can't imagine the Packers hoped to be 3-4 at the bye week and four games behind Minnesota for the division lead. However, the playoffs are well within sight because the NFC is filled with mediocrity this season. Seattle, Carolina, Dallas, and Minnesota all lead their respective divisions with 5 or 6 wins, but only St. Louis has 4 wins and six teams, including the Packers, are hanging around with 3 wins. The Packers are a long shot to win the division from Minnesota, but their wild card hopes are in their own hands. It reminds me of 2000, when the Packers started out 3-6 but then had a nationally televised game vs. Minnesota that they won in overtime and sparked a 5-1 finish. The first game after the bye is Minnesota in Minneapolis. The Packers obviously won't be favored in that game, but its all up to them whether they win it. The three games after that are against three of their wild card competitors (Philadelphia, San Fransisco, and Tampa Bay), and if they come out of that stretch with 3 out of 4 wins, that knocks down a couple of their wild card competitors and leaves them with a 6-5 record. I love the Packers offense this year; Brett Favre is passing great and Ahman Green is running great (although he is fumbling too much) and I think it can play with anyone. No matter how they get into the playoffs, I would like the Packers chances in it with their offense.
Packers 24, St. Louis 34. The broken thumb edition. This was the first game of the year where the ball literally didn't bounce the Packers way. Each team had three fumbles, and while St. Louis recovered every Packer fumble, the Packers didn't recover a single St. Louis fumble.

First quarter: St. Louis's first drive leads to the one lucky bounce the Packers got all day; the deflected pass into Marques Anderson's arms. I thought it was very omnious that the Packers couldn't convert the turnover into a touchdown and settled for a field goal, but I have to cut Brett Favre some slack since he broke his thumb on the drive. The break is just at the tip of his right thumb, and supposedly not serious. I would think anything broken is serious, but it apparently didn't effect Favre's performance, as Favre had one of his best games in a dome that I can ever recall. Ironically, the first drive which failed to produce a touchdown was the only time all day that Ahman Green was effective running the football. Another great stop by the defense leads to Al Harris touching the ball while punt blocking. Its hard to blame Harris, because he was only 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage and locked up with a St. Louis player to prevent him from reacting to the ball. Antonio Chapman made an effort to alert Harris, but I don't think Harris heard him. That was a bad punt that just landed at the right spot for St. Louis. To make matters worse for Harris, St. Louis got him in single coverage on the hottest receiver in the NFL, Torry Holt, and Holt spun Harris around to get open for a big touchdown catch. It would have been great to have answered back with a touchdown, but it was the first in a series of poor kickoff returns, Marco Rivera had a holding penalty on 1st down, and the Packers couldn't convert. Then Josh Bidwell had a poor punt. This was the worst game of the year for Packers special teams, and it was as much a reason for the defeat as anything. St. Louis scores another quick touchdown, when the secondary looked like it got its coverage crossed up on two straight passes. The next drive is going very well, especially a great 3rd down pass to Wesley Walls while the Packers offensive line picked up an all out St. Louis blitz, but the quarter ends with a Najah Davenport fumble when the ball was ripped out of his hands while he was stood up. Packers 3, St. Louis 14.

Second quarter: Harris makes a great diving interception catch to make up for the Davenport fumble two plays earlier and the Packers only lose 10 yards on the swapping turnovers. The Packers have a quick touchdown drive; Javon Walker muscles a 26 yard completion right in front of the small St. Louis cornerback, and a beautiful screen play to Green for a touchdown. The next St. Louis drive is stopped by the Packers again the Packers record one of their two sacks of the game. I've been putting most of the blame on the Packers poor pass defense on the secondary, and not the pass rush. St. Louis's pass protection was awful in week 1 when Kurt Warner was sacked 6 times, but Marc Bulger has only been sacked 8 times in 5 games. In the previous 3 weeks, only Arizona got a sack of Bulger, and Atlanta and Seattle didn't get a sack. St. Louis always kept a blocker back in this game for any blitz and Bulger has a quick release. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila looked like a 10 year old kid trying to get around or through the giant Orlando Pace, but he still put more pressure on the quarterback then I have seen him create in recent weeks. The pass rush isn't creating many big sacks this year or getting enough hits on the quarterback, but I think it still has all the components for a good pass rush and it played a quality pass blocking team in St. Louis. The next Packer drive is the second drive of the game stopped by a fumble. Green was almost down, but the ball came loose and a St. Louis player was in the right place at the right time again. I hadn't talked more about Green's lack of success running the ball, but St. Louis's defensive line was constantly in the backfield, and I hadn't seen Green tripped up at the line so many times in one game as he tripped up by St. Louis. Hopefully it was just a one game fluke and not a long term problem. Green's fumbles are a problem that he knows he has to address. Still he is far too valuable to bench just because of his fumble problems. This fumble is not turned back over by St. Louis and Bulger hooks up three times with Issac Bruce who has always killed the Packers (I am thinking of a game in 95 or 96 where St. Louis came to Green Bay and St. Louis upset the Packers on a kick blocked by Bruce). Mike McKenzie was playing soft on Bruce, which led to a number of completions, but he didn't give up any long pass plays either. That is just the game you have to play against St. Louis; play soft and risk the short passes or play tight and risk the long pass plays. The touchdown to Holt was a simple 10 yard slant and unfortunately the Packers ran the wrong defense. Ed Donatell blitzed Anderson from the secondary, Anderson was picked up on the blitz, and Holt caught the pass right in the area vacated by Anderson. This is Exhibit A why I don't want the Packers to blitz all the time just to create pass pressure; although they have extra pass pressure, if the blitzer is picked up, there is a hole in the pass defense. Donatell doesn't blitz too much, and when the Packers do blitz they are often successful with it, but this wasn't one of those times. The Packers try to answer back with just a minute left in the half, but they have one of their worst 2 minute drills in recent memory including a false start penalty and a juggled snap that caused Favre and Davenport to run into each other. Packers 10, St. Louis 21.

Third Quarter: Mike Holmgren used to defer a lot of kickoffs to the second half because Favre's first drive of the game was rarely productive during the Super Bowl years. Favre was too excited and needed a couple of drives to calm down and get into the flow of the game. Favre doesn't play like that anymore, but I still prefer it when the Packers get the ball to start the 2nd half. This game is a little flashback as the first drive of the 2nd half is productive, although not with the running game, as Favre spreads the ball out to 4 different receivers and William Henderson catches a touchdown. The Packers are only down by 4 again. The Packers and St. Louis each exchange a punt before St. Louis gets rolling again. Arlen Harris fumbles the ball with 3 or 4 Packers around him, but the ball bounces right back into his hands; its just one of those games. A catch by Bruce, again, and a dancing touchdown catch and run by Dane Looker leads to a St. Louis touchdown. Anderson and one other Packer both missed Looker on the sidelines, so Looker danced around both of them for the touchdown. At this point, the Packers are down by 11 with 20 minutes remaining in the game, and although Favre has had a great game up to this point, he only throws for 44 yards in the last 20 minutes. It was very surprising how little success the Packers had at this point against an entirely backup secondary for St. Louis. The Packers next drive stalls, but a gift 1st down on an offsides on the punt by St. Louis fails to breathe life into the drive. Packers 17, St. Louis 28.

Fourth Quarter: The next St. Louis drive has two fumbles, another one by Harris and one by receiver Shaun McDonald, that bounce right back to Harris and that bounces out of bounds. A quick turnover for the Packers here might have changed everything, although St. Louis failed to score, they burned 4 minutes off the clock. The next Packer drive fails because the Packers can't run on first down and Favre can't find any receivers open down field. St. Louis has another drive that doesn't do much, but consumes another 4 minutes and leads to a field goal. Gilbert Brown didn't play in the game today, but I think the Packers run defense really suffers without Brown. Brown takes up space and keeps blockers off the Packer linebackers better then anyone else on the roster. The yards allowed rushing per game isn't much different without Brown, but the leading tackler is usually from the secondary instead of a linebacker. I think the Packers keep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and sacrifice some pass coverage for more run support when Brown is out. In the 6 games Brown started this year, a linebacker has led the team in tackles 5 times. Brown didn't play vs. St. Louis and Darren Sharper led the team in tackles. I am hoping Brown can come back sooner rather than later. The Packers need to score on the next drive, but instead its a back breaker when Favre has his one interception of the game on a botched screen pass intercepted by Leonard Little. In some ways this is the Packers season in a nutshell. The Packers have played all its games tough this season, but there has been few big plays on either side of the ball or on special teams, so the Packers can't afford any mistakes. On this screen, Favre had to make a perfect throw, which he didn't, and only if Mark Tauscher had kept his hands engaged on Leonard Little for a second longer, Little probably couldn't have reacted quick enough to intercept it. Favre and Tauscher both had great games, but this one not quite so perfect play by both of them ended any chance for the Packers to come back in this game. However, St. Louis's offense isn't clicking either and they have to settle for a field goal. The next Packer drive was ironic, because although the Packers couldn't run the ball all game, Davenport rips a 76 yard touchdown run to give the Packers some hope and to make their rushing numbers look respectible. When the onside kick fails, although it was close to being caught by a Packer, the game is essentially over. Packers 24, St. Louis 34.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Antaun Edwards will play and start at strong safety on Sunday vs. St. Louis, and I am assuming Marques Anderson will be coming in as the sixth defensive back. Edwards is better in coverage, which is needed against St. Louis, but I think Anderson has played better this season. Both of them are good players who have had bad moments this season, so I hope starting Edwards over Anderson is the better decision.

Rod Walker is probably going to start at defensive end, which is an odd decision. Walker has played well this season, and is the most deserving lineman to get the first chance to replace Joe Johnson. But Walker is truly a nose tackle, so the Packers are playing a true nose tackle at defensive end, which should make for one of the biggest defensive lines in the NFL. The defensive line played well against the run vs. Kansas City, when Walker played much of the game at end. The defensive line didn't get much pass rush, however, Kansas City has a strong offensive line so it might have just been a one game struggle and not a long term problem. It will be interesting to watch how the unit performs this Sunday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I have been reading web articles on jsonline.com and packersnews.com and I'm really worried about Sunday's game vs. St. Louis. The big news this week is that Joe Johnson is done for the season, although he hadn't made an impact this season so at this point it is only a loss of depth on a thin defensive line. Both web sites had very similar articles on how Bhawon Jue is going to be a-ok although he was torched on Sunday by Kansas City's receivers. Darren Sharper even went over to Jue's house on Sunday to see how he was doing. All the right words are being said; Brett Favre and Sharper gave words of support for Jue, no one player loses a game, Jue says he has put it all behind him, but a cornerback known for giving up big plays is a marked man in the NFL. Jue's confidence could be shattered if St. Louis abuses him just like Kansas City did, and the poor state of the Packers pass rush is not likely to give Jue much assistance. I don't know if Sharper is still feeling the effects of the injuries he has suffered since and during the last regular season game of 2002, and if Marques Anderson is playing, who is not as good in coverage as Antaun Edwards, Sharper might not be able to help Jue in coverage. This is a big game for Jue, and he has the talent to rebound from last week and have a solid game against St. Louis's great pass offense. The Packers defense has to improve their pass rush, pass defense, and create turnovers better than they did against Kansas City. The offense is likely to struggle against St. Louis because Favre struggles when he plays on turf and in a dome, and the last game he played in St. Louis during the 2001 playoffs was a disaster. If the defense doesn't step up on Sunday, this could be a blowout by a hot St. Louis team.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Kansas City 40, Packers 34. Wow, what a collapse. I can't remember the Packers under Brett Favre ever losing such a big lead so late in the game. When the Packers allow a lot of points, it usually means the Packers have had a lot of turnovers, for example allowing 30 points to Minnesota in week 1. The Packers only had two turnovers, but each turnover was huge and both led to a Kansas City touchdown. Usually one or two plays doesn't make the game against the Packers, but both teams were evenly matched (lots of offense, little defense) and those two plays were the difference. And Kansas City never led until the final play.

First Quarter: Two kickoffs by Ryan Longwell lead to two penalties. Dierdorf thought it was the Packers fear of Dante Hall which lead to both kicks, but Longwell has historically not been good on kickoffs and appearently isn't too good when trying to directionally kick. But both drives were stopped by a temporarily stout defense. In between the Packers had a great drive. Favre spread the ball to a number of receivers, and threw and easy touchdown pass to Bubba Franks. The Packers second drive led to another touchdown, and the Packers were able to run and pass successfully against Kansas City. Then the Packers stout defense abandons them as Kansas City finds out that Al Harris can't keep up with Johnnie Morton, and Marcus Anderson can't cover receivers as Tony Gonzalez blows by him for a touchdown. Ironically, I saw Keyshawn Johnson blow by former Packer safety Matt Bowen on a similar touchdown pass on Sunday, so the Packers didn't make a mistake by letting Bowen go, because he has trouble covering receivers too. Anderson seems superior to Antaun Edwards in run support, but Edwards is better in coverage (although Edwards got torched by Randy Moss in week 1, but who hasn't been torched by Moss this season). Packers 14, Kansas City 7.

Second Quarter: Dierdorf got all excited when ratings-magnet Hall almost broke a punt return for a touchdown, but a nice play by Josh Bidwell broke it up. Unfortunately, Kansas City had a nice drive anyway with Morton abusing Harris and Hall abusing Bhawon Jue (I think). The Packers respond with another excellent drive, but the memories of it get mixed in with a few of the excellent drives the Packers had this game. However, this one prevents Kansas City from retaking the lead in the first half and Ahman Green has a nifty touchdown on a screen pass. Screen passes haven't worked well this year for the Packers, nor in the entire NFL. The league seems to have caught on to them, except for Kansas City. Kansas City's defense did not look too good and Dierdorf correctly comments that Green Bay's offensive line pretty much handled Kansas City's defensive line all game. This would be a problem for most teams, but it hasn't hurt Kansas City yet. Dierdorf and Enberg compare this Kansas City team to the 1999 St. Louis team, but it isn't that good. St. Louis' offense in 1999 was one of the best ever, and while Kansas City's offense is very good, it isn't that good. Packers 21, Kansas City 14.

Third Quarter: The Packers start off the quarter with their last touchdown drive. Favre continues to spread out the ball and Green and Najah Davenport run right through Kansas City's run defense, with Davenport getting the touchdown run. Kansas City's defense continues to look more and more tired as the game goes on, but they don't allow anymore touchdowns. Kansas City's offense stalls in this quarter, because they had some big drops by Eddie Kennison, Gonzalez and Morton. Morton's drop was even challenged. Just as the Packers had worn down the Kansas City defense, however, Kansas City has worn down the Packers defense and it doesn't hold up as well. However, Nick Barnett had an awesome game. Dierdorf compared him to Brian Urlacher, and the comparison isn't far off. On one play, Priest Holmes broke through the right side on a run, but Barnett flew in from the middle of the field to trip him up and stop a big play. As the season goes on, the Packers defense will get better as Barnett improves. The Packers drive but settle for a field goal when Favre is incomplete on a rare, up to this point of the game, 3rd down incompletion. The rest of the quarter is just competing punts. Packers 31, Kansas City 14.

Fourth quarter: Hall has a successful punt return into Packers territory almost immediately, and Kansas City's offense stops dropping passes. Kansas City scores on a quick touchdown drive. Kansas City's defense looks spent as Davenport runs at will against the middle of their defense. Unfortunately, Favre makes his one mistake that cost the Packers and the pass to Donald Driver is tipped to Jerome Woods for a touchdown the other way. Favre threw the pass too high, into too much coverage, and bad things happened. Trent Green had thrown a couple passes like that this game, notably one to a receiver in the red zone that Marcus Anderson jumped in front of, but Anderson missed the interception and Green ended the game with no interceptions. Maybe Green just got lucky and Favre didn't, but there was no room for error in this game. Then the Packers offense stalls and I believe it was Jue again who gets burned on a long pass to Gonzalez, but the defense holds Kansas City to just a field goal. The Packers continue to hand the ball off and it works for most of the drive, until down at Kansas City's 23 yard line, where Kansas City stuffs Davenport and Favre throws two incompletions. Longwell kicks and still hasn't missed a kick this season. But there is too much time left (almost 3 minutes) and Kansas City has their third good drive in a row, which leads to a game tying field goal. Packers 34, Kansas City 34.

Overtime: Kansas City's offense owns the Packers defense at this point and they get the ball to start the period. Holmes has his first string of quality runs in a row, but Kansas City doesn't mix in any passes. Finally, the Packers stop Holmes, and force an incompletion which leads to a missed field goal. Darren Sharper jumped another Green pass to the sideline and if Sharper had intercepted it instead of deflecting it, it would have been returned for a touchdown. Where Favre got intercepted, Green got lucky. The Packers offense has looked good, and so does Green on his first run until he fumbles it. If the Packers got one turnover this game...anyway. Then Jue gets beat AGAIN for a long touchdown pass to Kennison. Michael Hawthorne was the fourth corner in this game and he looked good in it. I would be shocked if Jue keeps his nickel position after this game. In a game the Packers should have won...Packers 34, Kansas City 40.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Packers 35, Seattle 13. I was thinking this game would be the game that tells me if the Packers are going to compete this year in the NFC, or if it was time to start looking forward to next year. The Packers had some holes, but by the end of the game they were clearly the better team on the field.

First Quarter: The Packers first drive might have had Brett Favre's worst play of the game where he tried to force something downfield on 3rd down that wasn't there. If that is Favre's worst, I will take it every Sunday. Shawn Alexander comes out running and proves that he can run off left tackle anytime he wants. Alexander is one of the best backs in the NFL and LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson are two of the best linemen in the NFL too, so Seattle can run off left tackle against any team. The Packers defense can't stop quality running teams, unless they turn the ball over and the Packers are very good at forcing turnovers, and Alexander has his first fumble of the year. It leads to Donald Driver's first touchdown of the year. Seattle answers with its own touchdown drive and the Packers linemen are getting stood up and no one is shedding their blockers. On Maurice Morris's 18 yard run, the left side of the defensive line is blown wide open and Na'il Diggs gets knocked over by a Seattle wideout. Then Alexander runs untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. The only good news is that the Packers run defense improves over the course of the game, although their pass rush never gets on track without blitzing and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is being outplayed by some right tackle for Seattle named Matt Hill. On the Packers next drive, Seattle shows the Packers how to play run defense by fighting through their blocks and not allowing Ahman Green a run longer than 5 yards. Packers 7, Seattle 7.

Second Quarter: Fortunately, Seattle can't stop Favre from making completions (all the while Fox's announcers rattle on about a changing of the guard, how Green is the main man and Favre is complementary, right, uh-huh...). Favre's last completion on the drive sets up a 1 yard TD run by Green. Seattle tries to answer right back, but the Packers have figured out how to play run defense. In the first quarter, Seattle rushed for 70 yards, but Seattle will only run for another 58 yards all game. Matt Hasselback responds by connecting up with Koren Robenson and Bobby Ingram to drive to the Packers 10 yard line, but they have to settle for a field goal. By rediscovering their run defense, the Packers changed the tempo of the game from a shoot out to a blow out. On the next drive, the Packers finally start running against Seattle and Green rips off one run of 9 yards and another of 11 yards. Meanwhile, "complementary" Favre keeps completing passes, and now the offense can run and pass when it wants to. Touchdown. Seattle comes back with a mini-drive but they run out of time in the half. Packers defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell, finally gets fed up with the complete absense of a pass rush in the first half, rushes about 8 guys on second down, and DB Michael Hawthorne sacks Hasselbeck to take Seattle out of field goal range. But Seattle's kicker nails a 58 yard field goal anyway. Packers 21, Seattle 13.

Third Quarter: Seattle goes three and out to start the half on three Hasselbeck incompletions and Tom Rouen's lone punt of the game. Then the Packers come out with a balanced attack (run, pass, pass, run, pass, run, pass, run) where Favre completes three passes to three different receivers, and Tony Fisher makes a great touchdown run, jumps into the stands, and gets a beer dumped on him. The rout is on. Seattle responds with a nice drive, mixing up the pass and run and they are successful with both, but all the passes are short and Darren Sharper starts camping in the middle of the field, reading Hasselbeck's eyes, and jumps a short route for an interception. The next Packers' drive is where Seattle's defense gets frustrated. Ken Hamlin gets in Favre's face, Ken Lucas commits a pass interference penalty, and Seattle allows the fifth Packer touchdown on a pass to William Henderson. Packers 35, Seattle 13.

Fourth Quarter: Seattle gets another good drive going but again its all on short plays and takes almost 4 minutes. It would probably have led to another field goal, but Seattle went for it on fourth down at the Packers 9 yard line and Darrell Jackson dropped a touchdown pass (although a declined penalty would have called it back anyway). Then the announcers have to go and announce that Favre has only been sacked once this year, so on the next play he is sacked by his old buddy John Randle. On the final drive, the Packers have the ball for over 5 minutes, Seattle can't stop the run anymore, and Mike Holmgren doesn't use any timeouts and just gets this game over with for Seattle. Packers 35, Seattle 13.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

First Quarter review. How excited can you get about a 2-2 team? There is reason to be optimistic about the Packers because their offense has played better than a 2-2 team although their defense hasn't. The special teams got a blocked punt against Chicago, but otherwise hasn't been a difference maker.

Offense: The Packers are scoring 26.8 points/game (6th in the league) but on only 331.8 yards/game (12th). But points are more important than yards any day and Dallas with 388.7 yards/game (1st) would probably swap offensive stats with the Packers because they only score 21.7 points/game (14th). The five teams ahead of the Packers in points/game (Kansas City, Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, and Minnesota) are all unbeaten, so the Packers are keeping good company. Carolina is the only unbeaten team without a top offense, but don't give all the credit to their great defense, because their offense is rushing for 162 yards/game (3rd) and deserves credit too. The Packers are running the ball effectively for 128.8 yards/game (12th). Football Outsiders.com thinks the Packers offense is only the 11th best offense so far and Brett Favre's league leading 7 interceptions is probably the biggest negative in their ranking. Favre's interceptions have been very costly (game ending interception in the end zone vs. Arizona) but despite all the turnovers, the offense has remained very productive. The Packers came into this season with three linemen coming back from major injuries (Chad Clifton, Marco Rivera, and Mark Tauscher) and Rivera is the only player to miss any time this season. All the members of the offensive line have played great this season and have allowed a league low one sack this season. My first quarter MVP is the Packers' offensive line.

Defense: It has played like a 2-2 defense, allowing 19.8 points/game (15th) and 336.3 yards/game (24th). They have created some turnovers by catching 7 interceptions (tied for 6th) and forcing 3 fumbles (tied with many teams for 10th). Football Outsiders.com has this defense ranked at 18th. They are not very good against the run allowing 118 yards/game (23rd) and below average on passes allowing 218.3 yards/game (18th). This is better than the 124.9 yards/game allowed on the ground in 2002, but a drop off from the 186.7 yards/game allowed against the pass in 2002. I had expected the pass defense to improve this year with the addition of Al Harris, but this unit has regressed. The only consistant pressure generated by the pass rush was during the game with Chicago and that was done by constant blitzing. Cledius Hunt and Joe Johnson have pass rushing ability and past performance, but they need to improve in 2003. The defense is healthy, with the exception of Gilbert Brown playing through his torn muscle injury, and should improve as players such as Hannibal Navies, Nick Barnett and Antuan Edwards become more confident in their new positions. Ed Donatell's defense got better last year until injuries depleted it, so I would expect it to continue to improve as long as they remain healthy in 2003.

Special teams: Josh Bidwell has an unremarkable punting average of 40.6 (21st), but the Packers only allow 5.2 yards/return (6th). Ryan Longwell's kickoffs average a lowly 61.1 yards/kick (28th), but he hasn't missed a field goal or extra point all year (ask Tampa Bay how important it is to make all your field goals and extra points). Antoino Chapman is averaging 23.4 yards/kick off return (16th) and 9.4 yards/punt return (15th), but he has shown great speed and has seemed near to breaking threw on more than one occasion. The blocked punt against Chicago and Longwell's perfection make this unit a positive one that hasn't lost them any games, but hasn't won them any games either.