Friday, December 30, 2005

With the additions of LB Robert Thomas and WR Robert Ferguson to injured reserve, you can scroll down and see the Packers have quite a list of players injured. As you can read from the list, the early and often injuries to the backs and receivers, not just to the starters but to the backups as well which has led to some starts by 5th and 6th stringers, as been the major story of the season. had a piece on the play of rookie FS Nick Collins this season. Although the coaches are somewhat reserved (Jim Bates says Collins's big play ability is "starting to show up") the article claims Collins's has a "mastery of the plays". Collins has played well for a rookie and has continued to improve as the season goes on, but how does he compare to other free safeties?

Collins has 83 tackles, 1 interception, and 8 pass defenses. Last season's FS Darren Sharper has 47 tackles, 9 interceptions (2 returned for TDs), and 16 pass defenses in 2 fewer games played for Minnesota in 2005 and he was elected to the Pro Bowl. Obviously Collins has been a step down in every way, except he has more tackles than Sharper which Mike Sherman claims "has eliminated the long run." That sounds really good, except the Packers are ranked 23rd against the run in 2005, the same ranking they held in 2004. However, the pass defense is improved from 2004 and Collins is the only new starter in the secondary. The pass defense would probably have been even better with Sharper starting in 2005 and Collins learning as the 3rd safety in Jim Bates new (to the Packers) defense, but that isn't a slam-dunk argument. There is no clear-cut answer.

FS Bob Sanders made the Pro Bowl for the AFC. His stats of 92 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 pass defenses don't compare as favorably to Collins. In case of Sanders and fellow AFC Pro Bowl FS John Lynch, they both have a reputation as big hitters. Their mere presence in the secondary has an impact that can't be measured by statistics, apparently.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Football Outsiders had an article on upcoming free agents this offseason. Two players on their list caught my attention. If the Packers want to make an immediate improvement and make up for the free agent losses in 2005 on the offensive line, then they should target C LeCharles Bentley and/or G Steve Hutchinson.

Hutchinson has already been to a Pro Bowl and probably will be looking for a signing bonus between $8 and $10 million this spring. I don't know what Seattle's salary cap is looking like this season, but after spending big on LT Walter Jones, QB Matt Hasselbeck, and probably breaking the bank for RB Shaun Alexander this spring, it might be difficult to resign Hutchinson too. The biggest problem might be competition from other teams. If a playoff team is interested in Hutchinson, then why would Hutchinson want to play for a rebuilding Packer team if the money is the same?

Bentley might be a unique free agent. New Orleans should have plenty of cap room to resign Bentley, but will any free agent want to resign/sign with New Orleans? New Orleans should be a team without a home again in 2006. Losing team + living in a suitcase = worst situation in the NFL. Bentley may not want to resign under any circumstances and he might slip under the radar of some teams. He probably will not cost as much as Hutchinson and he might be just as good.

Another consideration is that both players should be free-free agents. It seems unlikely that either team would place a franchise tag on them. As I learned when LG Mike Wahle was a free agent last offseason, if the team places a franchise tag on a guard, the team has to pay him like a top 5 offensive lineman, including the high priced left tackles. It doesn't make sense for a team to pay any guard like a top 5 left tackle and this explains why guards are rarely (if ever) tagged as franchise players. Either player should be available at no compensation if the Packers sign them next March.
Will QB Brett Favre play his last game on Sunday? It seemed like Favre wanted to retire after last season, but his wife and family encouraged him to continue playing. I remember seeing his mom interviewed on ESPN and she was positive he would return for 2005 because she couldn't imagine him doing anything else. If Favre does retire, he should retire because the game has mentally worn him out. His awful 2005 is not entirely his fault and he still has the physical ability and health to play in 2006.

Favre has thrown more interceptions than ever by forcing the ball downfield and trying to make something happen. He has made a number of bad decisions this season, but that is how he has played throughout his career and he rarely throws the ball away. He said "the problem is that we're not good enough to overcome those mistakes that I make, where in the past maybe we were able to." The running game has struggled, the defense has forced far too few turnovers, and the special teams has been MIA all season. Favre should try to cut back on the number of mistakes and his turnovers have single-handedly lost games, but the entire team is responsible for the bad season and has not allowed Favre any room for error.

Although Favre has said he trusts his teammates, he doesn't seem comfortable throwing to WR Antonio Chatman or WR Andrae Thurman. He has thrown a lot of passes to WR Robert Ferguson this season and bad things seem to happen. Thompson and Mike Sherman (if Sherman is allowed to return in 2006) need to improve the talent at receiver or improve Favre's comfort level with the receivers he has. Favre knew he wanted WR Donald Driver to start back in 2001 when the Packers still insisted starting washed up WRs Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder. If the Packers aren't listening to Favre's opinion regarding his current receivers, then they should start.

How bad has Favre been this season? His QB rating of 70.5 puts him down with the likes of QBs Aaron Brooks and Gus Frerotte. However Favre's QB rating climbed each of the previous three seasons (2002-2004), which indicates that this season is a fluke. Why has his QB rating fallen so far in 2005? His completion percentage is almost identical to his career percentage and his yards/game is above his career average. Obviously his career record interceptions are largely to blame. Another big problem is that Favre is having trouble throwing TD passes when the Packers are inside the 20 yard line. Missing TE Bubba Franks is a big part of the problem. However, the biggest and usually overlooked reason is the season ending injury to RB Ahman Green. Despite the struggles Green had while he was playing this season, Favre had 14 TDs and 8 INTs in during the 6 games Green played, and has thrown 5 TDs and 20 INTs in the 9 games without Green. Has any defense really been concerned about stopping RB Samkon Gato? Teams would be concerned with Green, but all the attention must have switched to stopping Favre since Green's season ended.

GM Ted Thompson said the team wants Favre back, but he probably has to say that. It was one thing for him to force FS Darren Sharper out last offseason, but it seems unlikely that the first year GM has the clout to release Favre if Favre wants to return in 2006.

Thompson struck out in his first attempt to replace LG Mike Wahle and RG Marco Rivera this season. If the Packers can fix the interior of the offensive line and RB Ahman Green comes back to full strength in 2006 (unlikely) or Thompson can add a new running back in the draft (such as Minnesota RB Laurence Maroney), then the offense has no excuses in 2006. The return of WR Javon Walker and TE Bubba Franks can only help. If the offense recovers from all the ineffective play and injuries that plagued them in 2006 and Favre struggles continue, then it will be time for him to retire. If Favre wants the opportunity, then he deserves another chance.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Packers 17, Chicago 24. It was good to see the team rebound from the Baltimore disaster and play hard against Chicago. It was bad to watch the team lose in their usual 2005 manner; death by turnovers and poor special teams. Although the poor special team play was confined to K Ryan Longwell in this game.

First Half: QB Brett Favre threw 4 INT and had a QB rating of 44.3, but played his best half in weeks. He led the team down the length of the field on the first three drives and the Packers controlled time of possession. Favre hadn't been hitting his wide receivers in recent weeks, but completed passes to 4 different WRs and 8 different receivers overall in the first half. WR Andrae Thurman had 3 catches to increase his season total to 7 catches. New WR Rod Gardner had 2 catches. Favre was spreading the ball and moving the team despite the nonexistant running game. Unfortunately, the first drive ended on downs, the second scored a TD, and the third was Longwell's first missed field goal. The pass defense started out the game as badly as it played in Baltimore. WR Mushin Mohammad had 3 catches early and WR Bernard Berrian had two big catches that led to touchdowns. The big problem on offense was the injury to C Mike Flanagan. Flanagan hasn't looked great this season, but he was playing well in the game before a groin injury knocked him out. The Packers brought in LG Adrian Klemm to replace Flanagan and the offense never looked the same. Starting RG William Whitticker has struggled this season and was deactivated for the game, but he has to be better than Klemm. Favre had an interception late in the first half, but it was a great play by CB Charles Tillman. Packers 7, Chicago 14.

Second Half: The defense wakes up after slumbering for the previous six quarters. Chicago punts 4 times in the half and turns the ball over on downs once. Chicago is able to run for almost 100 yards in the half, but QB Rex Grossman only throws for 37 yards. Chicago is trying to run the ball more, but they only manage to score 3 points on offense. Longwell misses another field goal. Favre really falls apart in this half and all the good things he had going in the first half disappear. Part of the problem is the play calling. It appeared that the Packers were too concerned in protecting Favre. There was some justification; with Klemm in the game, LG Scott Wells shifted to right guard and RG Grey Ruegamer switched to center. The offensive line had never played with this lineup all season and they were using it against the best defense in the NFL. The interception Favre threw that LB Lance Briggs returned for a TD was an awful decision; it didn't look like Favre could see anything on that side of the field with the pass rush in his face and just threw to were he knew FB William Henderson should be. The biggest surprise in the game was the punt return for a TD by WR Antonio Chatman. CB Ahmad Carroll has been a big surprise as a kick returner the last couple of weeks, but Chatman hadn't gotten any blocking on punt returns all season. It was the second big play by the special teams in two weeks and it kept the team in the game after the terrible Favre interception and all the missed field goals. Even new P Ryan Flinn looked better than P B.J. Sander had looked the last few weeks, although that is a back handed compliment. Favre's third interception was a play Favre has been attempting over the last few weeks; throw the ball downfield and hope for the best. He did look better on the last drive when Longwell actually made a short field goal. The last Favre interception wasn't his fault; he was trying to make something happen on 4th down after sacks on the previous two plays. Packers 17, Chicago 24.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Does this mean I have to stop bashing P B.J. Sander? Sander got creamed on a block by S Ed Reed on a long punt return. MNF replayed the block from the over field camera and it showed Sander get completely spun around in mid-air. Sander had another bad punting game, but punted through the pain.

TE Bubba Franks was placed on injured reserve and it was about time. He had two scary hits in the last few weeks after playing most of the season hurt. With the season lost, it was best to let him heal for next season.

The Packers went the unknown route and signed P Ryan Flinn to replace Sander. Flinn had an awful 34.3 yards/punt for Dallas during the 2004 preseason, but obviously impressed in a workout this week. GM Ted Thompson seems to have left no stone unturned this season when injuries have struck.

Speaking of punters, ex-Packer P Josh Bidwell made the Pro Bowl. Quite an accomplishment for him considering the awful cancer scare that started his career. The Packers didn't make much of an effort to resign him two seasons ago, but he didn't sign for much in Tampa Bay either. Scanning the list of Pro Bowl players uncovers ex-Packers LG Mike Wahle and FS Darren Sharper too. In hindsight, it seemed that the Packers had the cap room and ability to keep all three players, but made poor personnel decisions. On the other hand, the Packers would probably still have a losing record with all three on the Packers 2005 roster and are probably better off in 2006 with the saved cap room instead of three aging players. looks ahead to the Packers potential free agents. There isn't anyone on the list that would be essential for the Packers to retain. DE Aaron Kampman would be the most important free agent. The market shouldn't be too aggressive for Kampman, who plays hard but isn't the most talented defensive end in the NFL. He would probably sign for a contract similar to Seattle's DE Bryce Fisher, who seems like a comparable player, and signed for 4 years and $10 million last March. K Ryan Longwell has been a very accurate kicker, but he was awful during the first half of 2005. Longwell has been automatic over the last few weeks, but he shouldn't be considered a must signing anymore. RB Ahman Green is coming off a major knee injury and will be 29 years old before the start of the 2006 season. The list of running backs over 30 years old who have run for over 1000 yards in a season is a short list. It seems unlikely that any of the other free agents would generate much interest this offseason.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Packers claimed WR Rod Gardner off waivers from Carolina. He probably is an improvement over WR Andrae Thurman for the number 3 wide receiver, but that isn't saying much. If Gardner was playing well at all, then Carolina would have probably kept him. Carolina has been desperate for a receiver to play alongside WR Steve Smith all season, and apparently Gardner hasn't done anything to prove himself in Carolina. It is hard to imagine Gardner having any impact for the Packers.
Packers 3, Baltimore 48. The game to balance the 52-3 blowout win against New Orleans earlier this season. It also ended any doubt that the Packers aren't awful this season and properly placed the Packers as one of the 5 worst teams in the NFL. As Aaron Schatz said "a good pass defense just up and quit on national television." CB Al Harris had been shutting down number 1 wide receivers all season, but WR Derrick Mason had 5 catches for 97 yards. TE Todd Heap continued the long line of tight ends this season who have abused the Packers. FS Nick Collins and SS Mark Roman both allowed Heap TD receptions.

The defensive line also contributed to the collapse of the pass defense. The Packers recorded zero sacks in the game. DE KGB and DE Aaron Kampman generated little pass rush and all the players rotated in at defensive tackle failed to generate any substantial push. The defensive line failed to stop Baltimore's mediocre running game and helped RB Jamal Lewis look like the 2000 yard rusher he was a couple of seasons ago. Baltimore's offensive line held the Packers defensive line in check for the entire game.

It didn't help that QB Kyle Boller looked great. His passes to Mason were sharp and his touchdown passes to Heap and WR Randy Hymes were perfectly thrown. If Boller played every game against the Packers, then he would have a long NFL career.

The only improvement for the Packers in this game was that CB Ahmad Carroll had an excellent kick return in the first half. It led the Packers lone field goal and it was probably the only special teams play this season that has set up a score.

It doesn't help that QB Brett Favre is getting worse as the season goes on. It isn't that his skills are slipping, but that his decision making is getting even worse. Some teams need to throw the ball deep more often to keep the safeties back, but the Packers are the opposite. Safeties seem to play deep waiting for Favre to force a meatball pass downfield. Every pass over 20 yards was thrown into double coverage. The Packers were able to run the ball, which is another indication that the safeties aren't helping out much in run support. Favre is not working with a great collection of receivers at this point, but he does need to try and take what the defense is giving instead of forcing the ball downfield.

Why were the Packers all smiles, except Mike Sherman, while getting their butt kicked on national TV?

Plus the Packers lost another running back to injury. The good news is that RB Samkon Gado should fully recover from this injury in a couple of months, but he won't be able to help out anymore this season.

Was anyone excited to see QB Aaron Rodgers play in the 4th quarter??? Rodgers played like a rookie. He had two fumbles and a lousy interception in one quarter of play. It didn't help him that the Packers gave awful LG Adrian Klemm another opportunity to play. Klemm can't pull on running plays (an essential technique needed for a guard) and he contributed to the missed block that led to the sack, fumble, and TD return. Klemm started to move outside to block LB Adalius Thomas but then stopped and LT Chad Clifton didn't know who to block. I still think Rodgers can be a good NFL quarterback; he made some good passes and moved the team down the field against Baltimore's starting defense.

There was no silver lining on this game.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Packers wounded group of linebackers took another loss when LB Brady Poppinga tore his ACL. The game vs. Detroit was Poppinga's first start of the season. The Packers said he could return in eight months, which would put it right at the beginning of next season's training camp. Poppinga has played well in his rookie season and his best ability is his solid tackling. He doesn't seem to have great speed, but he could be a potential full-time starter at strongside or maybe middle linebacker in the future. It would be surprising if the Packers consider him as anything other than a backup going into 2006, until he is fully recovered. The window may have just shut on his chance at starting full-time in the NFL.
Packers 16, Detroit 13. Detroit fell apart on Thanksgiving versus Atlanta and it cost Steve Marrucci his job. They shouldn't be expected to win a game the rest of the season. The problem was that I thought the same thing of Philadelphia, once they were forced to start QB Mike McMahon for the rest of the season, but the Packers still found a way to lose at Philadelphia. It was an ugly win and a lucky intentional grounding call saved the game, but it was the first bit of luck for the Packers all season.

First Quarter: It was an awful start to the game. The Packers forced a 3rd and 14, but S Mark Roman and LB Nick Barnett got confused in coverage and left WR Scottie Vines open for a 22 yard gain. RB Kevin Jones wouldn't have had a 40 yard run if FS Nick Collins had been a step quicker at the line of scrimmage, but he made up for it by running Jones down. Then a great goal line stand, especially from NT Grady Jackson, who has played a lot better since the Philadelphia game. QB Brett Favre almost immediately fumbles the ball and this game looks like many other Packer losses this season, but it is the only turnover during the game. Again the goal line stand is outstanding and Detroit settles for another field goal. The Packers respond with a scoring drive and WR Robert Ferguson catches one of his two receptions. I don't know how many times Favre attempted a pass towards Ferguson, but it seemed like most of Favre's incompletions were on passes at Ferguson. Few good plays happen when passes are thrown at Ferguson. The awful Packers special teams immediately follows up with awful kick coverage and CB R.W. McQuarters almost returns it for a TD. WR Roy Williams does make a great TD catch and it might have been the first TD reception allowed by CB Al Harris all season. With the touchdown, Detroit is done scoring for the game. They had three drives inside the Packers 10 yard line and only come away with 13 points. Packers 3, Detroit 13.

Second Quarter: Another good drive for the Packers ends with another special teams meltdown as K Ryan Longwell has his field goal attempt blocked. Detroit has a three-and-out and QB Jeff Garcia begins to melt down. Does he think his career is over with his bad play in Detroit this season? Any chance he ever had at starting full-time is probably over. He was yelling in frustration after almost every failed play in this game. RB Samkon Gado has a great TD run down the sidelines and he ran by at least two Detroit players. Gado is fast enough to be a great starting running back in the NFL. Another star on the play was FB Vonta Leach. Leach has been inconsistant this season, sometimes dropping passes and sometimes missing blocks. On Gado's TD run, Leach took out two Detroit defenders and single handingly opened the hole that Gado ran threw. Special teams let the Packers get pinned three times inside their 5 yard line during this game and P B.J. Sander was awful, averaging only 34.4 yards per kick. It was cold on Sunday night, but P Nick Harris was over 40 yards per kick and was outstanding at punting inside the Packers 20 yard line. Detroit's special teams outplayed the Packers special teams all night long. Fortunately, the defense stepped up and Detroit ran out of time with the last drive that started in Packers territory. Packers 10, Detroit 13.

Third Quarter: Both teams struggled on offense and there were four punts in the quarter. The Packers last drive led to an early 4th quarter, game-tying field goal. The big difference this week? Favre took a sack on 3rd down and settled for a field goal instead of throwing up the game-changing interception in Chicago. Packers 10, Detroit 13.

Fourth Quarter: Detroit has a great drive down to the goal line again, but this time they go for it and fail. If they kick the field goal, they probably win the game. They kicked two field goals in similar situations in the first quarter, but who knows what they were thinking. Gado's forward pass out of the end zone. John Madden mentioned on Monday Night Football how it was a loop hole in the rules that let Gado get away with his "pass". It looked like he was stretching out to get the ball out of the end zone, realized he wasn't going to make it, and flipped it out. He was outside the tackle box and he did get the ball past the line of scrimmage. It will be interesting to see this offseason how the competition committee tries to close this loop hole next season. The really lucky part of the play was that RT Mark Tauscher clearly held in the end zone but the officials thought he was out of it. Maybe the Packers luck has already changed. Another comment on the play; Leach made a great block on the long Gado TD run, but he completely missed his block and that was why he was standing at the 1 yard line by himself for Gado's "pass". If Leach hadn't missed the block, Gado would have ran out to at least the 1 yard line on the play. RG William Whitticker struggled in the game with a couple of penalties, and Favre chewed him out after one on 3rd down. It is rare to see Favre get in the face of a teammate. Packers 13, Detroit 13.

Overtime: They win the coin flip (once the refs find a coin to flip), DT Shaun Rogers helps out with a stupid 15 yard penalty, Ferguson makes a big reception, and the Packers kick their first game winning field goal of the season. The Packers made enough mistakes to lose the game, but luckily Detroit made more mistakes and the Packers get the win. Packers 16, Detroit 13.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Have the Packers been unlucky this season? Apparently the Packers have the worst luck of any team since the AFL-NFL merger. Scroll down until you read "Inside this week's rankings". Usually a team's ratio of points scored versus points allowed is a good indication of the team's win-loss record, but not with the 2005 Packers. Aaron Schatz removed the biggest blowout win for the historically unlucky teams, including the Packers 52-3 demolition of New Orleans, and found out that the Packers are still historically unlucky. The good news Aaron says is "well, teams with terrible "luck factors" are often much better the following year, as luck evens out." Better luck next season.

There has been another change on the offensive line and RG William Whitticker is back as the starting right guard. The Packers need to improve the run offense this offseason. They should be looking long at a running back, maybe even RB Reggie Bush if the losses continue to pile up, or maybe RB Laurence Maroney. But first they really have to improve the offensive line.

Football Outsiders says they are the 28th "best" at run blocking. As much as the loss of LG Mike Wahle and RG Marco Rivera has hurt, the poor play of C Mike Flanagan has been just as bad. The above linked JS Online article says that Flanagan is looking at retirement. It also mentions two rookies; G Junius Coston and C Chris White. Line coach Larry Beightol thinks both could start next season. Coston rarely played in the preseason, while White only had significant playing time in the last preseason game. Coston and White might battle OL Scott Wells for the starting spots at center and left guard next season. If the Packers want to add someone to the draft, they might think of spending a 2nd or 3rd round pick on C Greg Eslinger, who was named the best interior lineman and center in college football. The criticism of Eslinger, White and Wells is that they are all short and/or undersized for the NFL. The response is that undersized hasn't hurt the Denver offensive line (2nd best run blocking in the NFL) which has 4 starting offensive lineman under 300 lbs. They are so good that they can make RB Ron Dayne look like RB Reggie Bush. It would be great to add Bush or Maroney in the 1st round, but the Packers won't go anywhere until the O-Line is improved.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Packers have had three big problems this season; way too many turnovers, poor run offense, and awful special teams.

Fumbles and interceptions have both major problems. The two severe fumble offenders are QB Brett Favre and RB Samkon Gado. Gado might never have good hands while running, but that is something he can work on. Favre's problem is due in large part by his pass protection. Favre had a sack and fumble against Pittsburgh that was returned for a touchdown and it was the difference in the game. Pittsburgh blitzed their safety and cornerback from the left side and neither player was blocked. Against Chicago, Favre was sacked when the linebacker came off the left end unblocked because TE Donald Lee blew his blocking assignment. Favre always throws a lot of interceptions because he forces the ball into places that he shouldn't. But as the losses mount, Favre appears to be forcing the ball more and throwing it up for grabs more. Favre needs to stop the turnovers and stop beating himself.

C Mike Flanagan. I have been meaning to mention Flanagan's play the last few weeks, but I've skipped it since the arrival of Gado in the starting lineup. But Flanagan is the unsung problem on the offensive line this season. Most of the run offense problem drifts away from Flanagan and focuses on the loss of OG Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle in the offseason, plus all the injuries at running back. Football Outsiders says the Packers o-line is the 29th "best" in the NFL, right behind the metaphores of New England. The stats are broken down from left to right. For the most part, the Packers are just above or below average, except right up the middle, where the Packers rank dead last. Flanagan was injured for all of 2004 and I wondered back then if Flanagan should ever return to football. He was still struggling with the injury he suffered as a rookie back in the 1990s, which contributed to his lost 2004 season. At least once a game, Flanagan is shoved back 2 to 3 yards into the backfield immediately after the snap; the time it happened at Chicago it led to the quick handoff and fumble by Gado. LG Scott Wells and RG William Whitticker aren't headed to the Pro Bowl, but both appear to have a future and hopefully improve with experience. Whitticker was benched for the Chicago game, but did play at right guard later in the game. The Packers need to add two offensive linemen next offseason; one to replace Flanagan, the replacement can be a guard and Wells can move to center, and another in case Wells or Whitticker don't show improvement next training camp.

Special teams. Football Outsiders says it is the worst unit in the NFL. Ironically, 12-0 Indianapolis is next to worst in the NFL while awful Houston has the best special teams in the NFL. K Ryan Longwell has struggled with field goals and extra points, but has been solid the last few weeks, making his early season struggles to look like a fluke. Another irony, two the worst kickers are Minnesota's K Paul Edinger and Chicago's K Robbie Gould, who have been fantastic when kicking against the Packers. P B.J. Sander has been average to above average all season. The big problem is the kick and punt returns. Kick return is second to last in the NFL and punt return is one of the top 10 bad units. The blocking on these units can be awful at times and the many fumbles by the return men is another problem. This isn't a one player problem. Either GM Ted Thompson has to do a better job of building a roster with players who are good special teams performers too, or a new special teams coach needs to be hired. With Mike Sherman probably gone after this season, this unit will probably see a new coach in 2006.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Packers 7, Chicago 19. The Packers gain 358 to Chicago's 188 yards. Chicago is 0 for 10 on 3rd down. The Packers have the ball 35 minutes; Chicago only has the ball 25 minutes. Chicago commits 2 turnovers, but the Packers commit 4 turnovers. If QB Brett Favre takes a sack on both of his 2 interceptions, then the score is immediately turned around by 13 points and the Packers have the upset win. 3 turnovers happen in the 4th quarter and there could have been more. You could see Favre forcing passes and trying to make something happen. In some games this season, Favre had to force passes because the defense, special teams, and run offense were all struggling. But at Chicago, Favre could have done less and the Packers would have won. Turnovers have been the difference in almost every loss this season and Favre should try and show more patience; let the other team beat themselves.

It didn't help that the special teams were awful, as usual. P B.J. Sander's 14 yard punt, the late 1st quarter punt return to the Packers 35 yard line, and CB Jerron Wishom's inability to fall on fumbled punt return were the low points of the day.

A comment was made that the Packers haven't given up on the season and Mike Sherman hasn't given up on them. That was evident on the field as many Packers played hard. Rookie DE Mike Montgomery has stepped up lately and made some plays while filling in for DE Aaron Kampman or DE KGB. NT Grady Jackson had a poor game last week at Philadelphia, but was solid at Chicago. WR Donald Driver took some big hits but showed no fear and always held onto the ball. The Packers offensive line had one of their better games this season run blocking as RB Samkon Gado had some good holes and cutback lanes against one of the best run defenses in the NFL. FS Nick Collins continued his improvement as the season progresses and CB Al Harris gave QB Kyle Orton no chance at finding WR Mushin Muhammad open.

In the end, poor special teams creating poor field position for the Packers and good field position for Chicago plus the two huge interceptions were too much for the Packers.

First Quarter: TE Bubba Franks takes almost the exact same hit on a pass play that knocked him out last week in Philadelphia. Both hits happened as Franks was falling down and both hits snapped his head back with whiplash. Last week, it injured his neck/spine. This week it was an arm stinger. Franks has been playing hurt all season and the best thing might be to deactive him and let him get ready for next season. Chicago had great field position all quarter, but an interception and solid defense prevent them from scoring. The offense stalls because Favre is off with his passes, Tony Siragusa comments that Favre isn't setting his feet. Packers 0, Chicago 0.

Second Quarter: Both teams show some offense. The Packers move the ball well and Gado has another rushing TD. Orton completes one of his two good looking passes on the day to WR Bertram Berrian to set up a field goal. The Packers drive again, but on what appeared to be a busted play (busted shovel pass? busted pass blocking?) Favre throws an awful pass up for grabs, it is intercepted, RB Tony Fisher hustles down the field to stop the return for a touchdown, but there is just enough time to kick a field goal. The Packers had a sure field goal, but it was turned around. Should be Packers 10, Chicago 6, but Packers 7, Chicago 9.

Third Quarter: LB Paris Lenon is injured on a play. Although LB Robert Thomas returned for this game, LB Na'il Diggs couldn't play. With both Lenon and Diggs out, rookies LB Roy Manning and LB Brady Poppinga have more playing time, but Orton can't throw so this doesn't hurt the Packers in pass coverage. Neither team has much offense, Chicago doesn't pass midfield the entire quarter, and the Packers don't either until 2 minutes remain in the quarter. Packers 7, Chicago 9.

Fourth Quarter: Mike Sherman went for it on 4th and 1 in the 1st quarter from Chicago's 34 yard line, but he doesn't do it again on 4th and 5 in this quarter from Chicago's 38. The punt is a touchback (thanks Sander!) and Chicago drives for another field goal after the punt. The punt only netted 18 yards so why not go for it? The Packers run the ball once for 1 yard in the quarter and Chicago starts rushing hard against Favre. The pressure creates 2 fumbles and probably made Favre rush the pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. They couldn't run the ball because Chicago managed to hold the ball for over 6 minutes on their field goal drive and time was running out, but it could have helped reduce the pressure on Favre. The Packers are able to move the ball against Chicago's great defense, but the game killing turnovers decide the outcome. Packers 7, Chicago 19.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It is a little surprising to see OG Grey Ruegamer will start in place of RG William Whitticker. Ruegamer has come into play a few series in each of the last two games, but it hadn't been reported whether that was due to injury or performance. Obviously it was due to performance. It is odd that the Packers took Whitticker out against Philadelphia because of his play, but then let him come back later in the game. What surprises me about the benching is that Whitticker has struggled at various times all season long, but the Packers seem most concerned about his play over the last couple of weeks. Apparently they expected him to improve as the season went on, but that hasn't happened.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Packers 14, Philadelphia 19. 5 Packer turnovers, including 2 kickoff return fumbles and 2 interceptions in the end zone, decided the game. For the second week in a row, the Packers offense was awful in the 2nd half, only 109 yards on offense in the second half vs. Philadelphia after less than 100 yards on offense last week vs. Minnesota.

First Quarter: Two three-and-out on offense and two poor punts combined with poor punt coverage started Philadelphia's first two possessions inside the Packers 40 yard line. DE Aaron Kampman forced a fumble on the first Philadelphia possession and Philadelphia only gained 13 yards on the second possession, leading to only a 3-0 deficit. Then RB ReShard Lee fumbles the kickoff return. If that was the only kickoff return fumbled by Lee this season, then Lee has caught, ran, or returned (total touches) 27 times and has 3 fumbles. Last week CB Jason Horton blew coverage against Minnesota in the final minute of the game and found himself on I.R. and out for the season, now Lee finds himself on I.R. with injured ribs after his latest (and last) fumble. Maybe the injury was causing all the fumbles?

The next drive really showed the worst part of the game; the complete collapse of the run defense. Minnesota had a lot of success running right at DE KGB and DT Cullen Jenkins, but also they were able to push NT Grady Jackson way off the line of scrimmage. DT Colin Cole got the start instead of Jenkins, but the results were the same. On RB Brian Westbrook's TD run, he ran to the left side, but then cut back across the middle because it was wide open after Jackson was pushed out of the play. It has been surprising that Jackson has held up this late into the season, considering that he opened training camp by flunking his physical and there is no backup nose tackle on the roster. NT Donnell Washington is on the team, but he has been inactive every game this season. Jackson either needs to be benched or given more time off. The Packers probably need to play DT Kenny Peterson at nose tackle and just hope for the best.

Then RB Samkon Gado shows off why he is NFL offensive rookie of the month by breaking 2 runs for 51 yards and a touchdown. Either constant fumbling is not a factor in being named offensive rookie of the month or it has been a quiet month for rookies. A big reason for Gado's big month is that G Scott Wells has started the last three weeks in place of benched LG Adrian Klemm. Over the last three weeks, the run blocking was great against Atlanta (one of the worst run defenses in the NFL), awful against Minnesota (average run defense this season), and great in the first half against Philadelphia (one of the best run defenses in the NFL). If Gado struggled against Philadelphia, the Atlanta game would look like a fluke. Maybe Gado and Wells have improved the run offense into at least an average unit, but the next few games will have to determine it.

Second Quarter: TE Bubba Franks is injured after taking a shot to the head. QB Brett Favre threw the ball to the wrong side of Franks, but it wasn't an obviously dangerous pass. Unfortunately FS Brian Dawkins timed his hit just as the ball got to Franks, but Franks was at an odd angle reaching back for the ball. Dawkins wasn't to blame, but it was an unfortunate situation and far too similar to the hit that ended WR Terrence Murphy's season a few weeks ago. The good news is that Franks will recover from it. Favre throws the first of his two interceptions in the end zone. SS Michael Lewis hadn't caught an interception all season until Favre threw the pass up for grabs. The Packers need to stretch the field, the offense isn't good enough to slowly work down the field throughout an entire game, but the interception was awful. It looked like the cold weather kept the ball from going to the back of the end zone as Favre intended. But this interception, and the game ending interception in the fourth quarter on a pass attempt to WR Robert Ferguson in the end zone, were either held up by cold weather or an ill advised attempt to throw the ball up for grabs and see what happens. Maybe Philadelphia brings out the worst in Favre's instincts. In the 2003 playoff game at Philadelphia, Favre threw up a pass for grabs in overtime that was intercepted and led to the game losing Philadelphia field goal. Favre did make up for it later in this quarter with a brilliant TD pass to TE David Martin. Despite the poor decision by Favre, the poor special teams play, and the collapse of the run defense; Packers 14, Philadelphia 10.

Third Quarter: The Packers offense has the ball for almost 9 minutes in the quarter and manages a whopping 59 yards. The big drive, a 33 yard drive, ends with another Gado fumble. Fortunately, Andy Reid forgets the Packers run defense is in shambles and actually has useless QB Mike McMahon throw 10 passes in the quarter and only runs the ball 5 times. Unfortunately, Reid lets Westbrook run on 4th and 1 at the 50 yard line, Westbrook runs right at DE KGB (again) for a 22 yard gain, and sets up the only score of the quarter. With the release, excuse me injury, to Horton last week, CB Mike Hawkins receives his first substantial playing time this season as the third CB. The Packers one great strength this season is that they have shut down opposing wide receivers this season. CB Al Harris is probably having the best season of his career and should be heading to the Pro Bowl. Philadelphia only completed 5 passes for 31 yards to their wide receivers in this game to continue the trend. Unfortunately, all the wide receivers with catches started the season competing for the number 3 wide receiver spot and they were thrown by Philadelphia's number 3 QB, so this is not a clear sign the trend will continue. Packers 14, Philadelphia 13.

Fourth Quarter: Neither team decides to run a pro-style offense in the 4th quarter. The Packers gain a whopping 22 yards in the quarter, although they didn't have too many opportunities. Philadelphia has a six minute, 60 yard scoring drive that kept the offense on the sidelines. Philadephia ran it some, McMahon dumped off a couple passes, and he scrambled on a couple other plays. Just enough offense to score a field goal. Then WR Andrae Thurman had the Packers 2nd special teams fumble of the game, which led to a time killing field goal drive. How Thurman didn't end up on the I.R. this week with a rib injury is a complete mystery. A personal foul by the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Week, DE Trent Cole, negated an interception and gave the Packers another chance, but the Favre threw the interception into double coverage discussed during the second quarter that ended the game. Packers 14, Philadelphia 19.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Maybe CB Jason Horton blew the coverage that led to the game winning field goal Monday night because he was injured? Horton injured his shoulder on October 23rd, was given more playing time after CB Joey Thomas was released on November 2nd, and played the entire game (as far as I could tell) whenever the Packers went into nickel coverage, including in the final minutes of the game on Monday. But today his month old shoulder injury is so bad that he is placed on injured reserve and he can't play for the rest of the season? If this was punishment for his bad play on Monday, then why not just release him? Do the Packers want Horton out of their sights for the rest of the season, but want to keep their exclusive free agent rights for 2006 just in case? In any event, Horton's season is done and the Packers signed CB Jerron Wishorn from the practice squad to take his place. It would seem CB Mike Hawkins is the nickel cornerback, but I can't remember seeing Hawkins actually play in a game in several weeks. The Packers have usually brought S Marviel Underwood into the game when they play with a sixth defensive back.

Despite the revolving door of nickel cornerbacks, the Packers defense has improved to an average NFL defense, according to Football Outsiders. This is quite an accomplishment, considering the Packers do not create a lot of turnovers and has made the transition to a new scheme while using almost the same personnel from last season's 29th best defense. Last offseason I thought that if the Packers defense could improve to an average unit, then the Packers will have a great 2005. Unfortunately, I didn't expect K Ryan Longwell to be the first half season Loser League MVP and the Packers great run offense to completely collapse.

The Packers made two other moves this week; releasing WR Chad Lucas and S Earl Little. Lucas was signed for depth a couple of weeks ago, but with the return of WR Robert Ferguson, Lucas wasn't needed anymore. Little was signed as a free agent last offseason to compete for the starting free safety spot. FS Nick Collins emerged early as the starter in training camp and Little was moved to a backup roll almost immediately. A hamstring injury ended Little's season on October 29th and his release ended his career as a Packer.
Packers 17, Minnesota 20. The season gets longer and longer. It is payback for the two 3 point victories last season that won the Packers the NFC North division title. Unfortunately, the home field advantage it created did not lead to a win in the opening round of the playoffs. The same can be said this season; Minnesota wins two close games against the Packers, but it doesn't help in the offseason when both teams need to retool the rosters and the Packers are selecting a few spots ahead of Minnesota in every round.

The biggest disappointment is that this probably ended any chance that Mike Sherman had at returning as coach next season. Sherman isn't a perfect coach, but he knows how to coordinate a successful offense and he built the team that won the division three seasons in a row. His biggest sin is that he isn't GM Ted Thompson's chosen coach, but the Packers inability to win at home the last two seasons and two home playoff losses in three seasons is probably unforgiveable. Losing to division rival Minnesota in a cold, non-dome situation is probably the worst possible home loss.

First Half: The Packers came out with a lot of energy and Minnesota looked flat. Minnesota didn't have any success running or throwing the football. The Packers offense had some life, but the lift that RB Samkon Gado brought to the running game vs. Atlanta vanished. The defense abused QB Brad Johnson badly in the quarter, especially DE Aaron Kampman. Kampman dominated the two right tackles that played against him. The player that really shined in the half was rookie FS Nick Collins. Collins had his first career interception and was much more involved in the game. The Packers are starting to see the rewards for letting Collins learn how to play in the NFL on the field in his rookie season. QB Brett Favre's two great TD passes to WR Donald Driver in the half were great, but his interception returned for a touchdown by a player forced into the lineup due to the injury to starting CB Fred Smoot was awful. In the Packers last two losses, Favre committed a turnover that was returned for a touchdown and it was the difference in each game. Packers 14, Minnesota 7.

Second Half: Minnesota came out of the locker room with a spark and now the Packers looked flat, as the two teams repeated the same game played in Minnesota last month. The Packers offense plays worse the longer the game goes on. In the first half, the opposing team gives some respect to the Packers running game, just in case someone like Gado comes off the bench and has a great game. In the second half, the opponent has first hand knowledge that the run offense is no threat and it gets much harder to throw the ball. It doesn't help Favre that his #2 WR could not get open as he is probably playing with an injury (Robert Ferguson), his #3 WR is short (Antonio Chatman), and his #4 WR is bad (Andrae Thurman). The offense had a spark in the 4th quarter when TE Donald Lee lined up as the slot receiver and Favre threw four completions to him.

The big story in this half was that Minnesota ran up and down the field against the Packers' defense. Minnesota's offense had been slumbering for at least the last game and a half, but they turned it around. They started exploiting that the Packers are awful at covering tight ends. TE Jermaine Wiggins had two big catches on Minnesota's first touchdown drive. S Mark Roman had a illegal use of hands penalty that kept the drive alive and was as much of a difference in the game as any other play. Then Minnesota discovered the benefits of rushing right at DE KGB. Gbaja-Biamela wasn't at fault for getting blocked on the run plays right at him, only once was he blocked cleanly out of the play. But the defensive tackle to that side was usually blocked by the center, the left guard was able to move downfield to block the linebacker, if one was actually present on that side, and RB Mewelde Moore was able to run untouched for at least seven yards. It didn't help either that the defensive line all appeared to tire as they spent the entire second half on the field and Minnesota started to get a solid push from their entire offensive line on running plays. The run defense that looked solid in the first half was tired and shoved around in the fourth quarter.

The big play that sealed the game was the long pass to a wide open WR Koren Robinson. After CB Joey Thomas was released after the Cincinnati game because he committed a big penalty late in the 4th quarter that sealed the loss. Enter new 3rd cornerback CB Jason Horton. With a minute left in the game, the Packers blitz, Horton thinks he is playing a cover 2 short zone, lets Robinson run right by him, but only Collins is deep in coverage for the entire field. Horton was obviously playing the wrong defense. A typical play in a season filled with big mistakes and few big plays. Packers 17, Minnesota 20.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's never too early to look at the 2006 NFL Draft. Especially since the Packers' bad season is positioning the team for their first top 10 draft pick since the DE Jamal Reynolds experience. Reynolds had a knee injury in his rookie season that effectively ended his NFL career, but it should be talked about as one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history; the 1st round pick that became Reynolds for QB Matt Hasselbeck and the 1st round pick that became OG Steve Hutchinson. The last time the Packers played bad enough to earn the right to draft in the top 10, former GM Ron Wolf made the mistake of drafting the immortal CB Terrell Buckley with the 5th pick and passing on ex-Wisconsin and future Pro Bowl CB Troy Vincent who was drafted with the 7th pick. Sometimes it pays to be a homer.

Scott Wright projects the Packers with the 8th pick and selecting Minnesota RB Laurence Maroney. I agree with Scott's analysis. The 2005 injuries have created the need at running back and RB Ahman Green might never be the same after his knee injury. Both Green and RB Najeh Davenport are free agents too. Scott's analysis also has 6 linebackers and 5 defensive tackles drafted in the first round. If the Packers win more games and fall closer to the 15th pick than the 5th pick and after Maroney and RB Reggie Bush are long gone, then the Packers might go that direction too. If the win against Atlanta was not a sign of more wins to come and just a sign that Atlanta has a bad case of the fumbles, then a top 5 pick could net Bush or LB A.J. Hawk.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The NFC North has had its share of weird stories over the last 12 months. From Mike Tice selling tickets, to Ahman Green's court dates, to Charles Rogers suspension. It didn't seem possible that the Minnesota Vikings "Love Boat" cruise would be topped, but an FBI investigation of the Chicago Bears might do it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Packers 33, Atlanta 25. The Packers put it all together in Atlanta. RB Samkon Gado ran the ball, the defense forced multiple turnovers, QB Brett Favre limited his turnovers to one interception, and K Ryan Longwell made all his attempted kicks. P B.J. Sander botched another snap and took one field goal attempt away from Longwell, but that was as bad as it got.

In some ways, it was just another game for the Packers. Although the running game came alive after a season of slumber, it was against the 29th best run defense. Although the kick return unit had their longest return of the season, it was only returned out to the 35 yard line. The kick coverage was good, but Atlanta struggles returning kicks almost mimic the Packers' struggles.

The biggest differences between this game versus the seven losses is that the Packers won the turnover battle and Longwell made all his kicks.

First Quarter: Although Gado held onto the ball against Pittsburgh, he had his first of two fumbles. Both fumbles were recovered, but it was just lucky that the ball bounced the Packers way. RB ReShard Lee lost his chance to start due to fumbles too, so apparently the Packers have more faith in Gado than Lee at this point. Gado has good accelleration through the holes opened by the offensive line and his speed made his 10 and 20 yard gains possible. The offensive line had their best game of the season too and made Gado's big game possible. The Packers run defense struggled in the first half. RB Warrick Dunn had some good runs and there were a couple of missed tackles. Although Atlanta ran the ball, QB Michael Vick didn't make any big plays and couldn't push the ball downfield to his wide receivers. The Packers use of the blitz on defense was the best it had been all season; the blitzers, such as CB Al Harris, were able to put pressure on Vick while not allowing him the chance to exploit single coverage downfield. Use of the blitz has killed the Packers at various times this season because they can't get to the quarterback before he can exploit the single coverage it creates. Packers 14, Atlanta 0.

Second Quarter: The Packers gave up two touchdowns pretty quick. The Favre interception and the pass interference by CB Ahmad Carroll brought back memories of various Packer losses this season. A big play that may have turned the game back around was the sack of Vick by DE Aaron Kampman. Atlanta was at the Packers 35 yard line on second down, driving for a go-ahead score when Vick dropped back to pass, felt pressure from his left, rolled to his right towards Kampman, who pushed his blocker into Vick, and made the sack. It led to a punt and Atlanta never got closer to a lead in the game. It was good to see LB Na'il Diggs back after a seven week injury absence. He rotated in and out with LBs Paris Lenon and Brady Poppinga but was probably on the field more than either player. Diggs played well, but seemed a step behind on each play, understandable considering he was returning from a serious knee injury. Packers 17, Atlanta 14.

Third Quarter: The offense played well, but this was the defense's quarter. Atlanta couldn't run the ball and ran no play for more than 10 yards. DT Kenny Peterson forced a fumble, LB Nick Barnett blitzed Vick, and the Packers scored points off the turnovers. Peterson has played very well the last couple of weeks, alongwith DT Colin Cole, both creating an inside pass rush. On the fumble, Peterson was actually a substitution for DE KGB at defensive end, so his versatility has been an asset too. Packers 23, Atlanta 14.

Fourth Quarter: The punt coverage fails and lets Atlanta start at the Packer 26 yard line, but the defense holds Atlanta to a field goal. The offense can't push it into the end zone, settling for field goals, until WR Rodney White helps with a fumble that is returned to the 2 yard line. Gado's TD run effectively ended the game. The Packers prevent defense helped Atlanta get close with a touchdown drive and 2 point converstion, but failed on side kick ends the game. Packers 33, Atlanta 25.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I've been asleep at the wheel. The Packers released 2004 3rd round pick CB Joey Thomas last week after he made a big mistake in the loss at Cincinnati and then failed to admit it. Obviously 2005 has been a major disappointment for Thomas. In the 2005 mini-camps, Thomas had been the starting cornerback opposite CB Al Harris, but he had an injury and lost his job to CB Ahmad Carroll. When he was finally healthy, he didn't play very well. He was beaten badly by WR Braylon Edwards against Cleveland for a long touchdown a few weeks ago and then he committed an illegal use of hands penalty at Cincinnati to seal their victory. It wasn't absolutely necessary to release Thomas last week, the Packers used his roster spot to pick up DB Jeremy Thornburg who had just been cut by defense-challenged San Francisco, but it appeared the Packers, certainly Mike Sherman, had given up on Thomas and felt he had no future with the team.

The only active roster move this week was bringing WR Chad Lucas up from the practice squad. Lucas played some in the preseason and he didn't really stand out. If the injury to WR Antonio Chatman keeps him out in Atlanta, say hello to 3rd wideout Chad Lucas! Chatman is listed as probable and should play on Sunday. What is worse is that WR Andrae Thurman is the current 3rd wideout. Thurman played at the end of the 2004 season and he looked confused on pass routes during the playoff game versus Minnesota. He also committed at least one illegal shift penalty against Pittsburgh. Thurman hasn't caught a pass in 2005 and has a grand total of 2 catches for 12 yards in his NFL career. This might be the reason QB Brett Favre is feeling so lethargic this week.

Maybe OL Scott Wells will take over for OL Adrian Klemm this week at left guard. Klemm was the Packers big free agent signing this season, although it was not a big spending offseason. Klemm was not missed in New England, where he spent his first few seasons recovering from injuries and usually disappointing on the field. Klemm committed a big false start penalty against Pittsburgh which helped set up the sack of Favre, fumble, and return for the touchdown by Pittsburgh. The bigger sin Klemm might have committed is his inability to pull on running plays. After watching ex-Packer LG Mike Wahle pull and destroy whatever defender happened to get in his way over the last few seasons, I haven't seen anything like that from Klemm. It might be part of the reason the Packers running game has struggled this season. It was very noticeable against Pittsburgh, because the Packers could not run outside the tackles at all during the game. This seemingly small move might make a big improvement. handed their First Half Loser League MVP award to K Ryan Longwell. The article is about half way down the page. Go read the article or read my comments regarding Longwell I've made this season. I was surprised to read that no one in the NFL was less valuable than Longwell, but I can't disagree with it either.

Another bit of knowledge from com (via Fox Sports) is that the Packers are the worst team in the NFL by far in late and close offense. I don't have an exact definition or late and close, but you probably get the idea. That statement is true, but not really the whole story.

It is true that the Packers often have a chance late in games to tie or win and fail to pull victory from the claws of defeat. However, the Packers have shown the ability to rally and come from behind, but they are usually so far behind they can't make it all up. The Cincinnati game is a great example. The Packers were down 21-7 early in the 4th quarter and the Packers spent the next 10 minutes of the game clock driving for a touchdown to close it to 21-14. The Packers have had few big plays on offense this season and the scoring drives are usually long. It took so long to get close, that when they got the ball back, there just wasn't any time left to march down the field again. It isn't so much that when the game is on the line the Packers choke, but that to come back in the first place took so much time that the situation is almost impossible when they catch up within one score.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Packers 10, Pittsburgh 20. The Packers have found different ways to lose this season. Sometimes the offense is MIA (Detroit), sometimes the defense is MIA (Cleveland), and once neither the offense or defense came back out of the locker room after halftime (Minnesota). But usually the Packers lose because the running offense is bad, they lose the turnover battle, and the special teams are bad. Against Pittsburgh, the Packers' leading rusher averaged 2.5 yards per carry, they had 3 turnovers (all of them led to points) and forced 1 turnover (led to no points), and missed a short field goal attempt. Just a typical 2005 Packers' loss.

The defense played very well in this game and have gotten better each week this season, but the lack of turnovers created by the defense has been one of the factors that has killed the team this season. When the Packers force more than one turnover in a game this season, they are 1-0. When they force zero or one turnover in a game, they are 0-7. It is not the sole reason for the Packers struggles this season, but it is a hard stat to ignore.

First half: After a half of football, the Packers dominated on both offense and defense and were down 13 to 3. QB Brett Favre was almost perfect on 3rd down in the 2nd quarter, RB Samkon Gado stepped off the practice squad and had a very good first half, and Pittsburgh offense did nothing after a big 43 yard reverse on their first drive of the game. But RB ReShard Lee's fumble and Favre's fumble led to Pittsburgh scores.

When Chicago played at Lambeau in 2004, RB Ahman Green was about to run in for a touchdown but LB Brian Urlacher stripped the ball and it was ran back for a touchdown. The Packers lost by the swing in the score on that single play. The same thing happened in this game. Pittsburgh overloaded the left side of the line with two blitzers while the Packers played with an empty backfield. Favre couldn't avoid them both, fumbled on the sack, and it was ran back for a touchdown. It was at least a tying 10 point swing and possibly a winning 14 point swing. The whole game was decided, in the end, by this one play.

This half also had a lot of penalties; most of them were false starts and illegal shifts. Most of them were probably due to so many new players playing together, but they were all unacceptable mental mistakes. K Ryan Longwell missed another field goal he would have made in any of the past few seasons, as the special teams continued their decent to the worst in the NFL. The one bright spot remains P B.J. Sander (when he is punting, but not when he is holding). The kick return unit has been anemic for the last few seasons, and it hasn't even been good since ex-Packer CB Allen Rossum was still on the roster. The kick coverage has been hampered by Longwell's short kickoffs for a few seasons.

Second half: The offense struggled as the running game disappeared and the passing game vanished in the 4th quarter. The defense was outstanding for most of the game, until RB Duce Staley came in and some success running the ball. The defense continues to get better, as CBs Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll, SS Mark Roman, FS Nick Collins, LB Nick Barnett, DE KGB, and DE Aaron Kampman remain in on almost every play, while rotating linebackers and defensive tackles during the entire game. LB Robert Thomas had a first half interception, while DT Kenny Peterson had an impressive second half as parts of their respective rotations. Unfortunately in the end, the defense couldn't stop Staley and the offense turned the ball over twice on downs to end the fourth quarter.

The Packers are not likely to fix the running offense this season, but they could still improve their special teams, which is ranked 28th according to, although the Packers have been needing to improve the special teams for at least the last three seasons and still haven't done it. With Chicago on a winning streak, four games ahead of the Packers, the Packers should start looking towards next season, but that is probably not going to happen. With Mike Sherman playing for his job and Favre playing in maybe his last season, they probably won't give up until week 17 is over. Plus the Packers aren't out of the division race yet; they still have the easiest of their division games (home against all of them and at Chicago) still to play and every one of the other teams in the division has major shortcomings, but it will be hard to keep up the intensity while trying to fix the running game and special teams for the rest of the season.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Packers 14, Cincinnati 21. Another week, another close loss. I missed the game this week, but the Packers didn't win (again) because they can't run the football and their turnover margin is awful. Only Arizona and Baltimore are worse at running the football than the Packers. Remember, the problem isn't only that QB Brett Favre threw 5 interceptions, but the defense has forced more than one turnover in a game only once this season, and the Packers won that game. Special teams has been costly in the Tampa Bay and Minnesota games this season, but one more turnover and better run offense in either game would have won it too.

The only good news is that the NFC North is still winable. Chicago has a three game lead, but the Packers still play Chicago twice. Two wins versus Chicago this season makes it a one game lead with over half the season to go. The Packers haven't played any division opponent at home this season. The Packers win all four of those games, and the playoffs are still a possibility. That is amazing considering the Packers are tied with Houston for the league's worst record.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Read this article. As if RB Ahman Green's injury isn't bad enough, Will Carroll thinks it is effectively career ending because Green will be a shadow of his former self when he does return. He also compares him to RB Terrell Davis. The next paragraph discusses WR Robert Ferguson and Carroll thinks Ferguson will provide no value for the rest of the season once he returns.

Did Mike Sherman lose his job as GM last offseason because he did such a poor job during the 2004 draft. Just take a look at how the top 4 draft choices from 2004 are playing this season. Read this about CB Joey Thomas. Thomas has been very disappointing this season because I was expecting him to really play well this season. I have never had high hopes for CB Ahmad Carroll, so his play this season is all I really expected from him. DT Donnell Washington has made very little impact and will have to show something to stay on the roster in 2006. P B.J. Sander has done very well when punting, but if he is the cause of K Ryan Longwell's bad 2005 season, then he is a big problem.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Packers 20, Minnesota 23. Just an awful loss. The Packers had 5 sacks and Minnesota had zero. The Packers forced one turnover and Minnesota forced no turnovers; only the second time all season that the Packers had won the turnover battle. Those two stats should have been enough to indicate a win, but it didn't happen. The final insult of the day; all three NFC North teams won on Sunday, putting the Packers in sole possession of last place and 2 games behind Detroit and Chicago.

K Ryan Longwell missed two field goals. Longwell has been automatic for so long that it has been hard to watch him this season. Missed kicks against Tampa Bay and Minnesota would have been the difference in both of those games. It is too hard to tell if it is Longwell's fault, the holding of P B.J. Sander, or something else. There is no reason this can't be improved this season.

Minnesota had allowed the most rushing yards per game (161.4 yards/game) in the NFL this season, but the Packers couldn't run the football and couldn't put the game away. RB Ahman Green came into the game hurt and left the game early. RB Najeh Davenport is done for the season. After this weekend, it looks like only Philadelphia runs for fewer yards per game than the Packers. If they can't start running the football, then they can't win games.

The good news is that they have still outscored their opponents this season, the NFC North is still struggling overall, and the defense is improving. The bad news is that the reliable kicking game is gone and the rushing offense is gone too. The loss of G Mike Wahle and G Marco Rivera to free agency could be blamed in part for the lack of run offense, but even bigger are the injuries to TE Bubba Franks and Green. It is unlikely that the run offense can be fixed this season, but it needs to be improved if the Packers want to win some games this season.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wow. It didn't really interested me that the Packers are looking at ex-Cleveland WR Andre Davis or thinking about resigning RB Walter Williams. Neither player would bring anything to the Packers that RB ReShard Lee or a wide receiver on the practice squad couldn't do. What really caught my attention was that last week, RT Mark Tauscher was called for the first holding penalty in his entire 6 year NFL career. It is unbelievable that Tauscher is such a solid technical player that he has never committed an obvious holding penalty. It is the NFL and offensive lineman hold all the time, but Tauscher has never held enough to commit a penalty.

The ironic thing is that Tauscher is right; the referee called the penalty on the wrong player. On the replay, Tauscher didn't do anything that looked like a holding penalty, but RG Will Whitticker put a WWF move on the player he was blocking. The holding penalty clearly should have been called on Whitticker. The official record shows Tauscher has committed one holding penalty, but the unofficial record still notes that Tauscher has never been called for holding in his NFL career.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Packers 52, New Orleans 3. On the first series of the game, the Packers ran three plays and gained no yards. The New Orleans took over at their 45 yard line. On 3rd and 14, the Packers blitzed and New Orleans ran a screen pass that gained enough for the first down. A few plays later, New Orleans settled for a field goal and led 3-0. After that slow start, the Packers spent the rest of the game dominating New Orleans in every way. The Packers pass defense was solid and CB Al Harris was outstanding. The run defense never let RB Deuce "Mr. October" McAlister have any running room. The run offense had its best game of the season until RB Najeh Davenport broke his ankle. That is the end of the season for Davenport and might be the end of his career with the Packers. He has shown a world of potential, but his tendency for injuries has continually stalled his career. QB Brett Favre spread the ball out to several receivers and had his best game of the season. Everyone who stepped on the field for the Packers yesterday played very good or excellent and no player deserved any obvious criticism.

The defense created three turnovers and the offense had no turnovers. It was the first time this season that the Packers won the turnover battle. They head into the bye week at a good time because the Packers need a few players to heal from their injuries. With Davenport out for the season, it becomes very important that RB Ahman Green returns healthy from the bye week.

One oddity: the ratio that a team outscores their opponents usually indicates how many games over .500 that team's record is. The Packers have outscored their opponents by 29 points this season but their record stands at 1-4. The good news is that they are only one game out of first place in the win column.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The week of bad injury news continues. Now LB Na'il Diggs is out and rookie LB Roy Manning will start in his place. LB Paris Lenon has struggled badly at times, but he has been the Packers best linebacker in coverage. That is something the Packers could really use on defense. Manning is a bigger linebacker. He will play over the tight end and LB Robert Thomas will play in coverage. Thomas hasn't looked good in coverage at all this season. Diggs hasn't played well the last two seasons because of injuries, but before his injuries Diggs was solid in pass coverage and run defense. Diggs has been missed over the last two seasons and neither Thomas, Manning, or Lenon has shown the ability to replace him.

It might have been big news that RB Ahman Green is out with a knee injury and RB Najeh Davenport will start, but Green hasn't been very effective this season. Part of the blame falls on the coaches, part of it on a new offensive line, but it might be that 2003 was just a career year and this is really all that can be expected from Green. Davenport hasn't shown much this season, his botched kickoff return last week led directly to the season ending spinal injury of WR Terrence Murphy, but he should be able to replace what Green has provided so far this season.

Friday, October 07, 2005

WR Terrence Murphy was lost for the season with the neck injury he sustained at Carolina. Murphy hadn't shown much yet this season, but he had shown some promise and the potential to replace some of the production lost by WR Javon Walker's injury. With the loss of three receivers (Murphy, Walker, and TE Bubba Franks) that the Packers expected to contribute or substantially contribute this season, depth is now a major problem. Favre knows how to spread the ball around to multiple receivers, which he will have to do now more than ever with all these injuries.

C Mike Flanagan will miss some time too after having hernia surgery this week. Flanagan has played fine this season, his first playing time since 2003, but he isn't the same. No one might notice Flanagan's absence because C Scott Wells has been very solid this season. The bigger concern is that LT Chad Clifton might not return immediately. Clifton is the best offensive lineman on the team. The line played well against Carolina when Adrian Klemm moved from left guard to left tackle, but it is unlikely Klemm will play well all season at left tackle. Klemm had a couple of opportunites to start at left tackle in New England and he never established himself as an effective starter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Packers 29, Carolina 32. Over the last three games, the Packers are 0-3 and have lost all three games by a combined 6 points. The Packers have also committed more turnovers than their opponent in every game this season. If the Packers had committed fewer turnovers in any of the last three games, the Packers would have won any of them. Both Packer turnovers led to a Carolina touchdown in this game. The Packers are so close to turning this season around. In any other division in football, the Packers season would be a lost season or a long shot. But not in the NFC North, where division leading Chicago is 1-2 and still hasn't played the Packers this season.

First quarter: TE David Martin stays back on a pass play to block, ignores DE Mike Rucker and gets in LT Chad Clifton's way as he tries to block Rucker's speed rush. Rucker gets around Martin easily and forces a fumble on QB Brett Favre. QB Jake Delhomme hooks up with TE Kris Magnum for an easy touchdown after LB Robert Thomas struggles again in pass coverage. One minute into the game and the Packers spots Carolina 7 points. At least the Packers offense gets away from the predictability that plagued it in the Tampa Bay game. Backup RT Kevin Barry is rarely in the game tonight and the Packers commit to running the ball with RB Ahman Green all game long (until Green is hurt in one of several Packers injuries in the game). Green didn't have much success in the game, but the Packers need to keep giving Green the opportunity. You never know when Green will break a long run. Martin makes up for the poor blocking and makes an excellent catch for a touchdown. Take away the poor blocking that led to the sack on the first series, and Martin has an excellent game.

Second quarter: WR Robert Ferguson continues to have a bad season. He has the ball taken from him after he catches it for an interception. Ferguson has made some plays this season, but bad things often happen when the ball is thrown to Ferguson. Just an awful quarter for the defensive secondary. CB Ahmad Carroll committed an obvious pass interference call that led to a Carolina touchdown. Then S Earl Little was dragged by RB Deshaun Foster for 25 yards on a pass play that led to another TD. Little looked bad, but rookie FS Nick Collins deserves blame for the big play. Collins took an awful angle to Foster and whiffed on the tackle. Collins isn't getting too much press for it, but he is having an awful rookie season. If anyone deserves slack for the bad start, it is Collins. He is starting as a rookie and he is making the leap from Division I-AA college football to the NFL. The Packers are asking too much from him to start in his first season. Collins has almost made numerous plays, but the bottom line is that he hasn't created any turnovers and has helped turned 10 yard gains into 80 yard touchdown passes.

Third quarter: Unfortunately, Ferguson will continue to receive more playing time, because WR Terrence Murphy was hurt on a botched kickoff return. The Packers were down to three wide receivers after Murphy left and the unit looked winded by the end of the 4th quarter. This is a good time to mention the outstanding job of the run defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates is rotating eight defensive lineman throughout the first four games and all of them are playing well. NT Grady Jackson comes in for obvious run downs and DE KGB is always in on passing downs, but there is no consistent pattern to the rotation. KGB, DE Aaron Kampman, and DT Cullen Jenkins are receiving the most playing time, but DT Colin Cole, DT Corey Williams, and DT Kenny Peterson are receiving substantial time too. Rookie DE Mike Montgomery comes in for at least one series to spell KGB or Kampman. Unfortunately, this unit isn't generating a consistent pass rush and the Packers efforts at blitzing usually don't work out and open the door for big offensive plays.

Fourth quarter: Carolina has their last score in large part on a weak pass interference call on SS Mark Roman. Roman probably bumped DE Julius Peppers (who was playing on offense in the slot), but Roman had clearly turned to play the ball and it was probably thrown too high for Peppers to catch. By this point, the Packers offensive line has lost two starters (Clifton and C Mike Flanagan) and is playing Adrian Klemm at left tackle, Grey Ruegamer at left guard, and Mike Wells at center. It wasn't a world beating unit, but Carolina knew the Packers had to pass nearly 100% of the time, and the unit gave Favre good protection. The revamped offensive line played well and deserves a lot of credit for helping the Packers get back in the game. Of course, nothing helps like turnovers. KGB forced a fumble which Favre turned into a quick TD pass. It was exactly like the play the Rucker made at the start of the game that led to the very early 7-0 Carolina lead. Favre hit backup TE Donald Lee. Lee was signed right after the preseason ended and he looked like a big blocking tight end, something the Packers didn't have on the roster, but he showed great hands on the TD pass. If the Packers hadn't started in such a big hole and then win the turnover battle, then they could win these close games.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Packers 16, Tampa 17. K Ryan Longwell has been automatic under 45 yards for the past few seasons, and his two misses, including the missed extra point were the difference. Is Longwell struggling with P B.J. Sander holding? It might be time to bring QB Doug Pederson out of retirement just to hold kicks, then send Sander to NFL Europe to work on his holds (just kidding). This has to be fixed immediately.

10 to 1. The ratio of Packer turnovers against versus recovered. If you don't feel like blaming Longwell or Sander, then the turnovers are to blame. If this ratio were 1 to 1 (or 2 to 2, etc.), then the Packers would beat Cleveland and Tampa. Plus they would have had a shot against Detroit, but the offense was really struggling anyway at Detroit. If Favre stops all the turnovers, this team is on its way to a division championship. But can they do it?

Favre's interceptions and the running game could be improved immediately if the Packers would just stop being so incredibly predictible on offense. When backup RT Kevin Barry comes in as tackle eligible; its a run play. When Barry is off the field; its a pass play. I haven't tracked Barry coming in and out of the game on every play, but Barry's presense in the huddle is a very reliable sign. Barry isn't apparently helping the running game either, because RB Ahman Green hasn't rushed over 20 times in any one game or rushed for over 100 yards.

Favre's first interception was a deflection that lucky bounced at CB Brian Kelly. Tampa did miss at least two interceptions, once when WR Robert Ferguson cut a route short and another when Favre didn't see the middle linebacker playing center field. But the other two big interceptions by S Will Allen happened because the Packers offense is too predictable. Both happened when Barry wasn't in the game (attention defense: a pass playing is coming!) and S Will Allen was playing deep. Allen came over from the middle of the field in both plays to make the interception.

The defense has struggled with pass coverage, pass rush, and creating turnovers. The run defense has played well through three weeks, and RB Cadillac Williams only ended with big numbers because he had so many opportunities and finally had a few big rushes when the defense was wearing down at the end of the 4th quarter. DE Aaron Kampman had been quiet the first two weeks, but he abused RT Kenyatta Walker and put a lot of pressure on QB Brian Griese. DE KGB didn't make a lot of plays, but LT Anthony Davis was called for several penalties trying to stop him. The defense is not losing games for the Packers.

The bottom line is that the offense is too predictable. The predictability is crippling the run offense and forcing Favre to throw into too much coverage. The Packers offense can be much better and Mike Sherman should know how to fix it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

TE Bubba Franks was signed to a long-term deal and might end up playing as few as two games over the life of the six year deal, because the injury he suffered versus Cleveland might end his career. You have to scroll down to the sixth injury. The concern is that Bubba might have injured his hip. We will just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Packers 24, Cleveland 26. There was a lot of good with the offense and a lot of bad with the defense. The best that can be said about an 0-2 start is that the rest of the NFC North doesn't look much better.
First quarter: QB Brett Favre proved it was just one bad game in Detroit and scored a TD on the first drive. Unfortunately after this scoring drive, the offense was shut down until the 4th quarter. The Packers run defense struggled a little early, but then was excellent the rest of the game. The Packers started undrafted rookie LB Roy Manning, presumably for some more strong side run support, but that left LB Robert Thomas in coverage. Thomas has excellent speed, but he doesn't look good in coverage. LB Paris Lenon has looked good in coverage, but struggled during this game. LB Nick Barnett looks good in coverage at times, but he often struggles, such as in the 2nd quarter when a big pass interference penalty kept a Cleveland drive alive. The Packers haven't gotten quality pass coverage from a linebacker since LB Na'il Diggs was healthy in 2003.
Second quarter: Packers penalties on defense helped keep Cleveland's offense on the field and helped them sustain drives all quarter. The Packers offense did nothing when the did get the ball. Just an awful quarter all around. The only good news was that Cleveland only scored two field goals.
Third quarter: For the second week in a row, a pass intended for WR Robert Ferguson was intercepted. Ferguson has made some plays on special teams this season, but not as a receiver. He should be playing behind WR Antonio Chatman at this point. Last week, CB Ahmad Carroll played well but committed four penalties. I said that he should be benched in favor of CB Joey Thomas and Thomas did start ahead of Carroll. Thomas proceeded to have an awful game. He struggled in the first half, and then was burned badly on WR Braylon Edwards 80 yard TD pass. Edwards got off the line quick, turned Thomas around, and ran right by him. Rookie S Nick Collins contributed to the bad defense by taking a bad angle on the tackle and running himself out of the play.
Fourth quarter: Hello offense! Favre threw two TD passes and almost threw a third when they settled for a field goal. The real success in the 4th quarter was that Favre did a great job of spreading the ball out and he got into a rhythm. FB William Henderson really had his first action in the passing game this season after being a Pro Bowl pass outlet last season. WR Robert Ferguson caught a TD pass. Even rookie WR Terrence Murphy had his first action ever as a Packer and caught 3 passes in the quarter. Unfortunately the defense just gave up. After eight quarters, the defense has still not created a single turnover. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates started blitzing to put some pressure on QB Trent Dilfer, but the blitzes backfired badly. They biltzed on a long 3rd down, the blitz was picked up and the 3rd down was converted. Then they blitzed again and Dilfer hooked up with TE Steve Heiden on a long TD pass to seal the defeat. With the combination of all the penalties, no turnovers, and poor pass defense, the defense is really struggling.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Yahoo (AP) reported that LB Na'il Diggs is back at practice. Diggs looked great early in the preseason, until a serious looking knee injury slowed him down. Diggs was slowed by injuries for all of 2004 and the return of a healthy Diggs in 2005 would be great news, although it read like Diggs is still slowed by the injury. The only good news is that his replacement, LB Paris Lenon, just finished a strong preseason.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Packers 3, Detroit 17. WR Javon Walker was lost during the game. There is a lot to talk about with this game, but Walker's injury overshadows all of it. No wide receiver as good as Walker has come back from an ACL injury in recent seasons. WR Joey Galloway come to mind but it was doubtful he was as good as Walker before his injuries. The best comparisons may be the running backs trio of RB Edgerrin James, RB Willis McGahee, and RB Jamal Lewis. All three players were in their 20s when they had their ACL injuries and all three returned to elite status. The general rule of thumb I have been told is one year to return to the field from injury and two years to return to your prior level of play. Probably WR Craig Bragg or WR Chad Lucas will be added from the practice squad to replace Walker. Hopefully 2nd round pick WR Terrence Murphy will finally play next week after missing all of his first preseason with a knee injury and offer some substitute for Walker.

First Quarter: This first two quarters was the avalanche of penalties in the secondary. CB Ahmad Carroll ended the day with at least four penalties, but 4th CB Jason Horton had the key illegal use of hands penalty that kept the touchdown drive alive. The Packers had trouble covering TE Marcus Pollard, but they had a lot of trouble covering tight ends in 2004 too. The penalties called on Carroll and Horton were very weak calls that all happened very close to the line of scrimmage, but Carroll has to learn how to avoid those penalties. He probably would have been the third cornerback if CB Joey Thomas hadn't missed much of the preseason injury. Thomas played well in this game and probably should start ahead of Carroll. LB Robert Thomas got the start a week after he was traded for. He didn't make many plays, but he has a lot of speed. On one run play, he came in from off-camera to fill the rushing lane in a split second.

Second Quarter: QB Brett Favre has a lot of short drops and is throwing a lot quick slant passes. It helps the offensive line because they don't have to maintain their blocks for long. The quick passes act like running plays because they are high percentage plays. Even if all that is true, RB Ahman Green can't have only 12 carries for the game. Everytime RB Najeh Davenport came in, it was an obvious run play and it went nowhere. It wasn't a well called game. Rookie OG William Whitticker still struggled with blitz and stunt pickup, but he wasn't the problem. The Packers and Detroit traded long first half drives which limited the number of scoring opportunities in the first half. Maybe P B.J. Sander will remember his botched field goal hold and never does it again for the rest of his NFL career.

Third Quarter: Turnovers become a problem. It seems like Favre has trouble with turnovers about every fourth game, and this was his game to have turnover problems. Another big turnover problem was that the Packers defense didn't create any. The run defense and pass defense both looked in the game, but the pass rush was often absent and no turnovers were created (both were often occurances during 2004).

Fourth Quarter: Turnovers by the Packers just killed any chance they had at turning this game around.

The new starting offensive guards, LG Adrian Klemm and RG William Whitticker, both played well in this game and should not be a problem going forward. The defensive line is using a deep rotation. It might be an eight man rotation; starting DEs KGB and Aaron Kampman, alongside DTs Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins, with DT Corey Williams and Colin Cole, along with DE Mike Montgomery and DE/DT Kenny Peterson receiving playing time early and often. P B.J. Sander looks great so far (when punting, not when holding for field goal kicks) with long kicks and great hang time. Although the secondary had a lot of penalties, they shut down Detroit's receivers for most of the game, until WR Mike Williams caught a game clinching TD pass at the end of the 4th quarter. The defense appears to be a bend-but-don't-break unit.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Packers 21, Tennessee 17. It was good to end on a win, but there were some down notes in this game. It was a really sloppy game with bad offensive and defensive line play, along with multiple personal fouls against the Packers. This post is a combination post on the last preseason game and the final roster cuts. Plus, the Packers made it exciting by throwing in some trades for good measure.

What an awful start. Missed blocking assignments early stalled the offense and led to an immediate turnover. FB William Henderson was ran over on one play, C Mike Flanagan was run over on another play, while LT Chad Clifton missed a block assignment which led to a sack and fumble. Tennessee ran the ball immediately right at the Packers defensive line and they looked awful in the first half. NT Grady Jackson and DT Cletidus Hunt both played in their first games of the preseason and neither player looked 100%. Both players were moved off the line which created huge cutback lanes and both played bad enough to get cut, but it was still a big surprise that the Packers actually did cut Hunt. I thought Hunt should have been cut at the end of his disappointing 2004 season, but the Packers apparently wanted to make sure that he wasn't worth the money anymore.

One player who has really improved the last two preseasons games is LB Paris Lenon. Lenon looked confused in limited playing time during 2004 and wasn't too sharp early in the preseason either, however, he looked good against New England and he was excellent in pass coverage against Tennessee. He allowed the Packers to release LB Hannibal Navies last week.

Although the preseason is over, the Packers starting offensive line is still not decided. RG William Whitticker appeared to be the starter after the first two preseason games, but he took a step back against New England, and didn't step forward against Tennessee. OL Grey Ruegamer will start if Whitticker doesn't. Although he had been a major disappointment since the Packers signed him from the CFL last season, T Steve Morley actually brought a draft choice back in trade. The rest of the line is set with LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher returning from 2004, C Mike Flanagan returning after missing 2004 with an injury, and veteran free agent LG Adrian Klemm.

WR Andrea Thurman and WR Craig Bragg were both cut, although WR Terrence Murphy hasn't played at all this preseason and WR Antonio Chatman is still trying to return from his neck injury. Both Thurman and Bragg struggled early in the preseason, but both looked much better against Tennessee. The Packers must expect Murphy and Chatman to play this season.

TE Sean McHugh was a surprising cut over TE David Martin. McHugh had a good amount of playing time this preseason since TE Bubba Franks was only signed in time for the Tennessee game and TE David Martin hasn't played much at all due to injury. Martin hasn't done much with the Packers since his rookie season, so it appeared McHugh would beat out Martin as the 3rd tight end (firmly behind backup TE Ben Steele who has been improving rapidly this preseason), however Martin makes the team and McHugh is unemployed.

One major factor in setting the Packers roster was the play of the second unit defense, the first and second season players who played in the 2nd half after all the projected starters. The second unit defense played outstanding, especially in the wins versus San Diego and Tennessee and played with a lot of energy while completely shuting down the opposing offenses in those two victories.

Two other significant cuts on the defensive line were NT James Lee and DE R-Kal Truluck. Truluck hasn't done much since the Packers traded for him last season, and Lee didn't play much with the Packers in his first two seasons, however at the start of the preseason I expected both players would make the team. 2003 6th round pick DT Corey Williams will now start alongside Jackson, DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and DE Aaron Kampman. Williams has played well and deserves a chance to start. NT Donnell Washington finally got to play the last couple of preseason games after spending his first season on injured reserve. The 2004 3rd round pick only got better as the preseason went on, he did outplay Lee during the Tennessee game, and is now the backup behind Jackson. 2005 6th round pick DE Michael Montgomery showed a lot of potential and was fantastic in pursuit on defense. Plus, Montgomery made some plays on special teams, which probably sealed his spot on the roster. DT Cullen Jenkins struggled at times as a tackle, but moved over to defensive end against Tennessee. DT Colin Cole and DT Kenny Peterson made the team by showing some pass rushing skills.

It is not surprising that free agent LB Ray Thompson was cut because he didn't make any plays this preseason. The play of LB Brady Poppinga and LB Roy Manning was surprising, but both rookies were part of the high energy second string defense and are now the top two backups. Poppinga had a great game against Tennessee. However, it was very surprising that the Packers traded CB Chris Johnson for LB Robert Thomas. Johnson had just gotten healthy two weeks ago after spending much of his career injured, he was burned on a couple of big plays against Tennessee, and Mike Sherman chewed Johnson out when he ran into Tennessee's punt returner during a 2nd half punt. So it was surprising when GM Ted Thompson praised Johnson after the game by saying that “The first one (Johnson) was off him and really didn’t have a play. The second one, he came pretty darn close. He covered pretty good. Pretty good throw and catch.” Except now he was just saying that because St. Louis was willing to trade their 2002 1st round pick for Johnson. St. Louis obviously has soured on Thomas, probably to the point they were about to cut him. However, St. Louis is desperately thin at cornerbacks, because they have already lost two starting cornerbacks this preseason, and one of their starters, CB Terry Fair, was a often injured journeyman to start with. Maybe St. Louis is desperate enough for any useful cornerback that they were willing to trade something of value. It will be interesting to see if Thomas can contribute this season.

CB Ahmad Carroll played very well against New England, but regressed back to his usual penalty filled ways against Tennessee. The improvement of CB Joey Thomas and the solid play of rookies FS Nick Collins and CB Mike Hawkins are where the Packers will improve this preseason. The secondary could be a major surprise this season.