Wednesday, September 24, 2003

In hindsight I was too critical of the play of the Packers' secondary on Sunday vs. Arizona because I failed to critique the Packers weak pass rush. It wasn't great on Sunday, no sacks were recorded, and its inefficiency did not help the secondary. I still think the secondary was more at fault because they gave too much cushion, were not able to cover the crossing routes, and had trouble defending at the first down marker. Arizona has a big offensive line and seemed to me in maximum protection (running back and tight end pass blocking on the play) on passing downs, which is hard to pass rush against. The running backs and tight ends were not thrown at, except for the last touchdown drive when Arizona realized the Packers were not picking up Arizona's fullback James Hodgins and called two pass plays for him, because Arizona's wide receivers were getting open, which allowed Arizona to play a max protection. The moral of this story was that no one on the Packers defense had a great game, and it allowed Arizona's offense to succeed and to protect Jeff Blake.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Packers 13, Arizona 20. The Packers and Arizona were two evenly matched teams on Sunday and it was decided on the last play of the game. It would be a hard fought battle on an opponent's field, if Arizona wasn't the worst team in the NFL. This doesn't make the Packers the worst team in the NFL when there are a number of other disappointing teams (Eagles, Jets, 49ers, Browns) struggling to return to the playoffs this year, but losing to the worst (alright, maybe Cincinnati is the worst, but Arizona is second worst) begs the question. Brett Favre threw the game deciding interception in the end zone, but he was not one of the three reasons the Packers lost the game.

First reason: Ahman Green's fumbling woes. Mike Holmgren did a big "I told you so" watching Green cough up the ball on consecutive first quarter possessions. The second fumble was recovered by Arizona and led to their first touchdown. Usually the Packers offense has enough chances to come back from a turnover like this, but not today due to the second and third reasons.

Second reason: Time of possession. The Packers had the ball almost 27 minutes to Arizona's 33 minutes, which isn't too bad except the way in which Arizona had the ball. Arizona had two drives of over seven minutes (7:29 and 7:09) in the second half, leading to 10 points, and led to Arizona controlling the half. Add in the record Arizona heat (its saying something when Arizona has a record heat day) and the defense could not get off the field. Reason three is the reason why Arizona was able to control the second half.

Third reason: Awful secondary. I thought Arizona was having success running, but the Packers held Arizona to under 100 yards rushing even with 20 carries by Emmitt Smith. Al Harris had a costly phantom pass interference call when the referee saw a mirage in the desert, but that wasn't the problem. Arizona's ROOKIE wide receivers were running successful crossing routes, even on 3rd down, as if the Packers secondary had never seen a crossing route before. Bhawon Jue is the nickel corner responsible for covering the slot receiver but he couldn't keep up with them. Darren Sharper had a poor second half, he had no passes defensed credited to him, and he seemed out of position in coverage. Arizona did a great job of picking on a soft middle in the Packers secondary and was very successful throwing on 3rd down to keep their long drives alive. The Packers must have been playing a lot of man-to-man because the linebackers rarely dropped back in the passing lanes and were not a factor in the second half pass defense. Jue and Sharper are both coming back from injuries and playing on a very very hot field, so I don't know if this is a long term problem or just a one game mirage. Either way, the Packers pass defense looked outcoached by Arizona's pass offense. Jeff Blake had a solid game for Arizona which was a major advantage for them because he is a very streaky quarterback and he had to have a turnover free day for them to win. But Blake's passes were flying to open receivers and given that Arizona has the worst receiver group in the NFL bar none, that shouldn't be happening.

Although it is terrible to lose to an awful Arizona team, it is far from the end of the season. Minnesota has a great start to the season, winning its first three games against its division, although they should have some concern with Daunte Culpepper's injury. Recent Minnesota teams have been streaky so hopefully this is the end of their winning streak and they struggle once they play teams outside of the NFC North. The Packers and San Francisco are the only two teams with losing records that have outscored their opponents, so the Packers aren't getting blown out. Hopefully these close loses can start becoming close wins.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Packers 31, Lions 6. Due to Direct TV technically difficulties, I missed almost all of the game on Sunday (I did get to see Ahman Green's great 1st quarter touchdown run). I also got to see Joe Johnson tackle Olandis Gary behind the line on Detroit's first run play which showed that Johnson might contribute for the Packers in 2003 and Detroit can't run the ball.

I did manage to watch some of the Minnesota vs. Chicago game on ESPN Sunday night. I was critical last week of Daunte Culpepper focusing too much on Randy Moss vs. the Packers, but after watching this game it is apparent that Minnesota doesn't have another receiver capable of starting in the NFL besides Moss. Kelly Campbell can contribute one or two big plays a game (ala Corey Bradford), but D'Wayne Bates isn't more than a number four WR. Jimmy Kleinsasser caught a couple of touchdowns but he isn't a runner after the catch, and Minnesota put the franchise tag on him only because he such a great blocker. Byron Chamberlain is coming back in week 5, but he wasn't much of a factor last year anyway. Minnesota' offensive line is BIG and should have no trouble creating running room for any of their running backs, although their left tackle, Bryant McKinnie, is suspectible to speed rushers and allowed KGB in week 1 and Alex Brown in week 2 to put pressure on Culpepper and force fumbles.

Chicago is just what I expected. Kordell Stewart shows signs of talent, but this offense needs more time to play together before it is effective. Chicago's offensive line has been completely reassembled, with former Badger Aaron Gibson playing at right tackle, and only center Olin Kruetz remains from their 13-3 offensive line of 2001. David Terrell had a great touchdown catch, but also dropped a key 3rd down pass that was Chicago's last offensive play for nearly 10 minutes as Minnesota ran off a game ending touchdown drive. Marty Booker has done nothing so far, and Stewart and Booker need to get comfortable with each other. Chicago's defense surprised me in how bad its linebackers played. Brian Urlacher was running around making tackles, but it seemed like he was the only linebacker in the game. Once a Minnesota running back got past the defensive line, he was tackled by Urlacher in pursuit or one of the defensive backs, giving the running back a two or three yard cushion to make a move. Warrick Holdman is coming back from a major injury and just needs some time, but second year man Bryant Knight didn't seem to be a factor. Chicago's defensive line is solid, but unspectacular. Chicago's offensive line alone makes them look better than last year's 4-12 team, but as they showed against San Francisco, if Stewart turns the ball over a couple times, they will get blown out.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Packers 25, Vikes 30. An absolutely awful game because the first half was so poorly played and the second half was a MASH unit.

First Quarter: The Vikings open the season with an excellent touchdown drive. Daunte Culpepper is spreading the field; Randy Moss catches a pass, Kelly Campbell reverses and catches a pass, a little Moe Williams running, and a touchdown pass to John Avery. The drive takes over five minutes. This is how offenses excel, when they involve their stars (well in this case only Moss) in the touches, but also get it to the guys with single coverage who can exploit it. It is a staple of the West Coast Offense and it was a reason why Minnesota looked so good on their first drive. And I mention it because Culpepper spends the rest of the game with his eyes glued on Moss, however the Packers can never exploit it in part due to the injury by Moss' shadow, Darren Sharper on the drive. It didn't hurt Minnesota today, but other defensive coordinators will exploit it. Brett Favre almost throws an interception (overturned on review). Punt. A short field only provides a field goal because Minnesota starts becoming a three man offense (Culpepper, Moss, Williams). They want the Packers to get back into the game, but...a Brett Favre interception on a lucky richochet and later an Ahman Green fumble. Packers 0, Vikings 10.

Second Quarter: Culpepper first of two fumbles, so I guess his fumblitis of 2002 is still lingering. Denard Walker's first big play as a Viking is a long pass interference call that leads to a field goal. Another Minnesota drive of Culpepper, Moss and Williams is successful due to a D'Wayne Bates sighting in the end zone, due in large part to a mixup in the Packers secondary wherein Mike McKenzie got stuck trying to cover Moss and Bates. Favre interception when tight end David Martin trips over the 15 yard line. David Martin has become the new Tyrone Davis at tight end; showed some early promise but hasn't shown anything since. Minnesota tries to run out the clock, but can't get a first down and the Packers drive down to the 10 yard line when Favre throws one of the worst interceptions I have ever seen him throw. It was the type of pass a confused and pressured rookie QB would throw. I don't know if Donald Driver ran the wrong pattern (he froze in his route right after he passed the goal line which indicates to me that he did) or Favre just saw a phantom Packer. The long return sets up a Minnesota field goal. Many Packers missed playing time, or just sat out games as a precaution, during the preseason, and it seemed like the Packers played with a lot of rust while Minnesota had just spent 5 preseason games tuning up. It was an ugly half for the Packers, especially Favre with 6 completions and 3 interceptions. Packers 3, Vikings 20.

Third Quarter: The Packers start the half with an unimpressive drive and punt. Then Minnesota has its last good drive, and they dare McKenzie to stop Moss. McKenzie is left in single coverage, or Antuan Edwards was far too late in coming over to help, and Moss scores easily. It is now time for the Packers offense to finally wake up and start getting first downs. They do it by getting the ball to Green. Green is an effective running back, but his best play on the drive was one of those short throws to Green five yards out in the middle of the field and letting him run. The Packers are starting to mix up the play calling too. In the first quarter each drive was all Favre passing or all Green running and the results were turnovers. It is a simple philosophy but the Packers are finally starting to do it. It ends with a Green touchdown run and a wide open 2 point conversion to Bubba Franks who still had to jump high to get it on a high throw. Packers 11, Vikings 27.

Fourth Quarter: Minnesota has a nice drive running the football and killing time (time is the Packers enemy at this point) which leads to a field goal. The defense could have turned the game around 180 with a turnover, but you can't scheme turnovers on demand, but they needed to force a quicker change of possession at that point. Then the awful drive; Driver comes crashing down hard and Robert Ferguson twists his right leg around. The Driver injury reminded me of Robert Brooks; I love these guys but being a Packer wide receiver is very hard on your body. Favre leaves them hanging some times or leads receivers across the middle right into a safety. It is part of the job description and it happens. The good part is that Green runs for another touchdown, and Walker looked good. Walker looked much much better in this game then he did in the first preseason game, which he has to since he is the number one guy for a little while, although apparently an encore of the Antonio Freeman era might be in the works. The onside kick works on a beautifully designed and well executed play by the special teams. If this game was last year, it would have arguably had been the best special teams game of the season. Then the gunslinger reappears and Favre rifles a long interception. That one was inexcusable, not the first time Favre has done that in his career, and in hindsight ended the comeback. I would have hoped at the nearing the end of his career he has gotten that mentality out of his system on the field, but he hasn't. Minnesota tries to kill time but Culpepper fumbles again. The timeout before the fumble Mike Tice goes insane, comes onto the field, and screams at the refs. But they were coming out of a time out? Tice is the new Mike Ditka, screaming almost for the sake of screaming. Would Culpepper not have fumbled if he hadn't so much time to stand and watch his coach go insane? I don't know. Then the Packers execute a quick touchdown drive and exploit Minnesota secondary just like I expected them to do all game. The next onside kick doesn't work and the clock runs out. Packers 25, Vikings 30.

I didn't hear Nick Barnett's named called much this game, but I don't why Minnesota wasn't trying to run it more on a suspect Packers run defense either. Minnesota's newish linebackers, Greg Biekert and Chris Claiborne, didn't seem to make much of an impact either. Better luck next week against a first place(?) Detroit team.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I just read that the Packers cut Larry Smith in order to pick up Curtis Fuller. Smith is the defensive lineman the Packers picked up from Jacksonville after the former second round pick wore out his welcome with Jacksonville and probably didn't help his case by suffering from heat stroke in the first week of camp. But with his departure and Steve Martin's and Steve Warren's releases in the last week, the Packers are down to Gilbert Brown and Rod Walker at nose tackle. Normally I wouldn't have a problem with that, but I expect Brown to miss substantial time this year (he usually misses time and he already is playing with a torn muscle) so essentially there is no depth at the position. I understand the desire to pick up a backup safety in Fuller knowing that Darren Sharper hasn't played much this preseason and if Sharper can't go the next backup would be 3rd cornerback Bhawon Jue. As of today, I expect Sharper to play in many more games then Brown, so it seems to me that the depth is being sacrificed where it is needed in order to provide depth in a place that it is not. Although I have only read this once this preseason, Kenny Peterson might be used at nose tackle by the Packers and if he is that would solve that problem with depth. The one area where I feel depth should be its strongest is on the defensive line and it looks to me like that unit is being left short.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Packers at Titans. Brett Favre sat out. Ahman Green sat out. What is it with the Packers and lighting storms this preseason? Is this a good or bad omen? I missed the game but so did most of the Packers starters. The biggest weakness in the game was the two long touchdown passes allowed, but one of them was thrown by Neil O'Donnell and it so impressed the Titans management that they cut him this weekend.

The roster was worked down to where I expected it and there were not any surprising cuts. I wasn't expecting William Henderson to be cut. I always liked Tool Box, but Frank Winters time with the team was up. Bill Ferrario hasn't done much in his three years with the team, and his refusal to play last year in NFL Europe signaled his end with the team. I didn't expect Lamar Smith or Herbert Goodman to stick either. I am surprised the Packers gave up on Scott McGarrahan so fast, but his contract might be too big, and I wonder if he might be resigned later at the veteran minimum. I am glad to read the Packers are keeping Carl Ford on IR this year while he recovers from a not-too-serious MCL tear so the Donald Driver comparisons can continue with Ford for the next year or so.

The Packers signed LB Armegis Spearman to an offer sheet and Cincinnati matched it last spring, but now Cincinnati cut him? The Packers could get him for minimum wage now, so if Spearman can play special teams I wouldn't be surprised if he is signed. All the interest I have read about in MarTay Jenkins is disappointing in that it means the Packers haven't found an adequate return man. I am not happy about that, and I am not happy with comments by Atlanta regarding all the interest the Packers showed in trading for Allen Rossum who they let leave in free agency two years ago. The Packers have tried to filled the kick returner position on the cheap and its not working. Hopefully Antonio Chapman can perform better than last year's cast of kick return characters and this problem with solve itself.