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.