Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Packers 45, St. Louis 17. QB Brett Favre and RB Najeh Davenport. I haven't talking enough about the great season Favre is having, and I've just been taking his great play for granted. His completion percentage is over 65% again this season, while on pace for 30 TDs again this season. Further, Favre is keeping better care of the ball (only 11 INTs so far this season), while on pace for the fewest sacks in a season. In 2003, Favre had a couple of games (losses) when he seemed he could do no right (week 1 vs. Minnesota, at Arizona, and Turkey Day at Detroit) but he has had none of those games in 2004. This might be the most consistent season of his career. During his MVP seasons, Mike Holmgren would defer if the Packers won the coin toss because he knew Favre was too juiced early in the game and he was better off with the extra possession in the second half after Favre calmed down. Mike Sherman doesn't have to coach that same player anymore. Davenport has been battling injuries all season long, and because of them we had to wait until week 12 for Davenport to really show off this season. Davenport showed off his great speed to accelerate past the line of scrimmage, the Packers offensive line owned St. Louis's defensive line in this game, and he has the strength to shove smaller defensive players (paging S Rich Coady) out of his way in the open field. The third unsung star of the game was the football itself; the Packers had multiple fumbles bounce out of bounds and any one of them could have turned the whole game around. St. Louis defense isn't good at all this season, but the Packers offense still played a nearly perfect game.

The defense was a problem again, although forcing 3 turnovers was a big improvement. Over 400 yards of passing by QB Marc Bulger in the game. Only 47 yards of rushing, but RB Steven Jackson looked good (40 yards on 8 carries) when he had the opportunity. Bob Slovik didn't call a great game; St. Louis caught the Packers with 4 defensive backs on 4 wide receivers a couple of times in the game, the Packers blitzes didn't force much pressure on Bulger, and the coverage was very soft. The defense benefited from zero turnovers by the Packers offense; St. Louis always had to drive the length of the field and the Packers defense gave up no big yardage plays once St. Louis drove into Packer territory. The Packers appeared to turn up their intensity after the Mike Martz last minute time out cost the Packers a fumble recovery. Rookies CB Ahmad Carroll and CB Joey Thomas each had their best games so far; Thomas forced the early fumble which led to Carroll's TD run and Carroll had an interception in the end zone. With FS Darren Sharper's return to the starting lineup, the secondary could turn into the defense's strength in the last 5 games. The only downside was SS Mark Roman probably had his poorest game of the season with a couple of missed tackles (including RB Marshall Faulk's TD reception) but he has been a solid tackler all season (and preseason) long.

The Packers play at Philadelphia next week. Philadelphia should clobber the Packers, but these are the two hottest teams in the NFC at this point. If the Packers seriously believe they can make it to the Super Bowl this season, then they have to find a way to beat Philadelphia this season. If the Packers can avoid committing turnovers and force turnovers like they did against St. Louis, then they can win at Philadelphia. Its common knowledge you can run against Philadelphia's run defense, but actually their pass defense is worse than their run defense this season according to footballoutsiders.com. Unfortunately the Packers defense has been one of the worst in the NFL (thanks again Aaron). For all the Packers might have tried to fix the problems of 4th and 26 from last season's playoff loss, the Packers defense is still suspectible to allowing conversions on 3rd and long this season and is basically playing the same cast of characters in the secondary and at linebacker.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Starting Packers RB James Jackson!!! If Jackson starts on Monday night, the Packers will have some problems. It sounds like RB Tony Fisher and RB Ahman Green could be available on Monday night, but its too early to tell. Green's injury (ribs) probably will sideline him for a week. Fisher is good enough to carry the load, but his neck stinger is the type of injury that should he let heal for a couple of weeks. The problem with Jackson is not so much is awful career rushing average (barely 3 yards/carry), because the Packers offensive line should help him run like a competant running back (they even made RB Walter Williams look good against Houston), but that he doesn't understand the offense at all and might miss a blocking assignment that leads to a hit on QB Brett Favre. Luckily, St. Louis's defense has looked awful this season, and this is a good time to hide a bushel of injuries at running back until Green and Fisher are fully healthy in another week. The Packers signed RB Chris Robertson to the practice squad as well, but if it comes down to Robertson it could get scary.
Packers 16, Houston 13. The Packers had a lot of first half opportunities, but the offense stalled in Houston territory. In the second half, Houston had plenty of opportunities to put the game away, but their offense couldn't put anything together and gave the Packers one too many opportunities. A five game winning streak is good news, but the Packers are still one of the premier pretenders in the NFL this season. If it weren't for awful awful St. Louis somehow managing a 5-5 record (thanks Seattle!) the Packers would be the number one over achiever in the NFL this season. The Packers defense has to start creating more turnovers for any long term success.

First Half: RB Walter Williams; who knew he was on the roster? The bad news of course is RB Ahman Green's rib injury and he might have to miss a week (similar to the week Philadelphia RB Brian Westbrook missed earlier this season with his rib injury). Williams actually ran the ball pretty well in the first half, due to the fact that the Packers offensive line has been kicking ass the last three weeks. If it weren't for two killer holding penalties on LG Mike Wahle during the game, the offensive line (no sacks for the game and 4.3 yards/carry with Williams carrying the load) would have been the unit of the game. Bob Trumpe (he's still around doing the radio commentary) was critical of the Packers run defense, but the yards per carry stats were very skewed by the long scrambles by QB David Carr. The Packers continued the league trend of stopping RB Dominick Davis for a short yards per carry average during this game. LB Hannibal Navies was victimized again this game on the TD pass by Carr to Davis. The play wasn't Navies fault, he was stuck in no man's land (cover Carr or cover Davis), but Navies has been abused in the passing game the past few weeks. CB Al Harris had his second great game in a row. It doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but he neutralized WR Andre Johnson. Johnson had over 100 yards for the game, but Johnson was clearly the most dangerous wide receiver the Packers have seen this season. He should be a constant Pro Bowl invitee with his size and speed, and was clearly the most dangerous player on the field. Additional kudos to rookie CB Ahmad Carroll, because only three Houston players caught passes during the game and his primary assignments of WR Javar Gaffney and WR Corey Bradford caught a combined zero passes in this game. Houston's defense had a great first half; they stopped the Packers offense three times in Houston territory and it only resulted in 3 Packer points and shut down QB Brett Favre on the last drive of the first half, which led to an end of half field goal. Packers 3, Houston 13.

Second Half: The Packers defense takes over. Houston only drove into Packer territory twice in the second half, and both times they were sacked back into Houston territory. Davis couldn't run the ball, Carr didn't scramble for big yards, and receivers were rarely open. If the Packers had forced a turnover or two, it would have been a perfect 10 defensive half. The secondary looks better every week with Carroll in at starting cornerback, and this was rookie CB Joey Thomas's best game (not great, but his best game so far). NT Grady Jackson had another solid game, and DT Cullen Jenkins has worked himself into as many snaps as DT Cletidus Hunt (the Packers primary six man defensive line rotation is DEs R-Kal Truluck, KGB, and Aaron Kampman and DT Jackson, Jenkins, and Hunt). Unfortunately, neither Truluck or Kampman have made many plays, but overall the group is playing as well as they have all season. There have been few plays as sweet in the NFL this season as the TD pass where WR Donald Driver quickly grabs the ball out of the air for the TD pass. RB Tony Fisher can often be confused with Green (similar number and their styles of running are very similar) but the Packers rarely used Fisher in the second half (probably due to his neck stinger). Ho-hum. Another game winning Favre drive, to set up the field goal by K Ryan Longwell. For the second week in a row, Favre made it look easy. Packers 16, Houston 13.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Packers 34, Minnesota 31. Probably the two most evenly matched teams in the NFL this season,

although when WR Randy Moss was healthy and playing alongside QB Daunte Culpepper (playing at MVP

level this season), Minnesota was the better team. Until Minnesota rallied for two 4th quarter

touchdowns, the Packers defense clearly outplayed Minnesota's defense. What happened in the 4th

quarter? Announcer Moose Johnson was absolutely correct that when Culpepper attacked the middle of

the field, Minnesota's offense made big plays. Minnesota had success all game long with TE Jermaine

Wiggins but it really opened up once WRs Marcus Robinson and especially Nate Burleson started working

the middle of the field. CB Al Harris had his best game of the season and CB Ahmad Carroll was ok

for the first three quarters until Burleson started abusing him in the 4th quarter, but FS Bhawoh Jue

(sub for still injured FS Darren Sharper) and the linebackers (all of them, but especially LB

Hannibal Navies) had a lot of trouble in coverage.

First Quarter: The Packers run defense has been much better since NT Grady Jackson returned from

injury (both espn.com and footballoutsiders.com had articles this week spotlighting his play) but the

improved run defense started the week before his return against Detroit (although Detroit's run

offense is not good). The Packers outstanding run blocking offense line from 2003 returned again

this week, keeping defensive players out of the back field. Minnesota P Darren Bennett was great in

San Diego in the 1990s but he is awful now and helped the Packers with every punt he kicked. Packers

7, Minnesota 7.

Second Quarter: After the Packers scored a touchdown, Minnesota almost answered back with a

touchdown, but as Michael David Smith from footballoutsiders.com noted, Jackson busted the 3rd and 2

rush on the Packers 4 yard line, and Minnesota settled for a field goal. The next Packer touchdown

was one of those drives where it all looked too easy; two big runs for RB Ahman Green with giant

rushing lanes, and a play action TD pass to TE Bubba Franks. QB Brett Favre had 4 TDs and 0 INTs for

the game; it was just one of those games when he looked unstoppable. Packers 24, Minnesota 10.

Third Quarter: The Packers defense needs to force and recover more turnovers. This was another game with no recovered turnovers, and it made the game much closer than it really was. The Packer defense held Minnesota twice on their first two possessions and a long Packer drive ended on a failed 4th down conversion (it was a bad spot on the run by FB Nick Luchey, but the Packers had success rushing off tackle all game and it wasn't clear why they didn't call a run off "TE" Kevin Barry's side one more time). WR Donald Driver's fumble on a successful run after a fake handoff to Green led to a quick Minnesota touchdown that brought Minnesota back to life. The Packers offense can't be expected to have zero turnovers every game, and the defense has to force a turnover or two each game to improve the margin for error. Packers 24, Minnesota 17.

Fourth Quarter: The Packers responded, after a big WR Robert Ferguson kickoff return in the 3rd quarter, with a TD drive to add some cushion. But Minnesota finally figured out how to attack the middle of the field with their wide receivers, jsonline.com had an article this week about how rookie CB Joey Thomas was abused badly in this quarter. Jue broke a route and almost had a big interception, but dropped it, early on Minnesota's 16 play TD drive. If the Packers had this one turnover, the turnover battle is evened for the game and the Packers have clobbered Minnesota. Instead it gave Minnesota another opportunity, and eventually led to a tied score. Both Carroll and Thomas are playing like rookies, but you can see the talent each player possesses. It is a lot to ask of a rookie to step in and play at a high level at any position in the NFL, so both players are playing as well as should be expected of them, however, both players should show improvement as this season progresses. Although Jue has played ok this season, his awful 2003 season still hasn't been forgotten and he still hasn't proven that he is a long term answer for the Packers' secondary. Minnesota's defense looked really frustrated on the Packers last TD drive, and they have to be very frustrated that they couldn't stop the Packers on the last drive that led to the game winning field goal. Sometimes in the same situation, Favre is off his game and forces the game losing interception, but Sunday he was on his game and he found the open receivers. Packers 34, Minnesota 31.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

I've been offline for a couple of weeks due to a crashed hard drive. I didn't expect it would take me 3 weeks to fix the problem, but I left it to an unmotivated friend to fix it for me. Lucky for me, it was a bye week and therefore a good time to suffer technical difficulties. FS Darren Sharper was able to heal, and the defense comes back with all its starters for the first time since week 1. There are probably no two teams in the NFL more similar then the Packers and Minnesota (great offense and little defense) but Minnesota's offense slips a lot without WR Randy Moss. Not much has happened for the Packers (other than everyone getting a little healthier) expect the release of S Corey Fuller for about the 15th time in the last two seasons and promising CB Chris Johnson who has missed the last two seasons due to injury.

Packers 28, Washington 14. The Packers controlled the first half, but let it slip away from them in the second half. If Washington avoided the stupid illegal shift that cost them a long TD catch by RB Clinton Portis, then the score was Packers 20, Washington 21 and the game is easily lost. That is life in the NFL; you can outplay your opponent all game, but a big play late in the game can cost you the game.