Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Preseason Packers 17, Cincinnati 48. It reminded me of the game last season on Monday Night Football at Baltimore, where the secondary gave up and made it look like QB Kyle Boller was headed for the Pro Bowl.

The first half started out bad with two QB Brett Favre turnovers, first a fumble than an interception. The turnovers weren't so much a sign that Favre is going to have trouble this season, but that the blocking isn't very good yet. On the fumble, S Dexter Jackson came through unblocked on the screen pass to RB Ahman Green, FB Vonta Leach was late to pick him up Jackson, which forced Favre to try and hold back the ball, but it slipped out of his hand. Then on the interception, Favre was hit immediately after he threw it. It appeared the defensive end beat T Chad Clifton. Clifton looked good during the first two preseason games, but he struggled and had at least one penalty called against him in this game. Everyone, from the rookie linemen to the veteran linemen, to the backs are having trouble blocking right now.

The first string run defense looked good, holding RB Rudi Johnson to under 3 yards per carry. The nose tackle rotation of Ryan Pickett and Kendrick Allen appears to be an improvement over Grady Jackson. The pass defense failed the team. CB Charles Woodson looked good earlier in the preseason, but WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh abused him. Houshmandzadeh caught two first down catches and a TD pass on their first scoring drive of the 2nd quarter. S Marquand Manuel looked even worse. It was Manuel's first preseason game, after missing most of the preseason and training camp with an injury, but he was involved in the coverage on the all three of QB Carson Palmer's first half TD passes. Manuel played way off TE Reggie Kelly for an easy TD pass. Then he took a bad angle and completely missed Housemandzadeh on his TD reception. Then he missed covering WR Tad Perry in the end zone. He was either overmatched or still recovering from his injury. If the season started today, S Tyrone Culver would have to be considered that starter over Manuel.

The Packers overhauled four areas of the team this offseason. The linebackers are looking better with LB A.J. Hawk always around the ball. K Dave Rayner and P Jon Ryan look good so far, with Rayner hitting at least one touchback (an unheard of event in the K Ryan Longwell era) and Ryan nailing a 60 yard punt and pinning one punt at the 10 yard line. The new blocking scheme appears to still be a work in progress, despite the starting lineup already being named, and the secondary does not look any better than last season.

The Packers made a few moves after the game, but none of the players cut were likely to make the team. It was surprising Ted Thompson signed a kicker after Rayner had a good game, but it does give the Packers a back up plan if Rayner falls apart in the last preseason game. One last preseason game to put it all together, before a big test week 1 vs. Chicago.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Preseason Packers 38, Atlanta 10. What a difference a week makes. The big difference was a much improved offensive line and lots of forced turnovers. It was only one week, so it is hard to tell how much it helped to have rookie G Tony Moll playing instead of G Daryn Colledge. The offensive line might have been helped by simply having another week of practice or by playing against Atlanta's average pass rush instead of San Diego's top 5 pass rush. It didn't matter to Mike McCarthy; Moll will be the starting guard week 1. Neither Cincinnati nor Tennessee have above average defenses, so it is likely that Moll won't do anything to lose his spot over the next two preseason games. Other than Moll, there are a few other players who deserve attention:

WR Greg Jennings. He played well at San Diego by catching four passes when the rest of the offense struggled. He really showed off against Atlanta. He is clearly the number three wide receiver. WR Robert Ferguson should be watching carefully to make sure he doesn't lose his starting job to Jennings.

WRs Marc Boehringer and Rod Gardner. They are right behind Jennings on the depth chart, but neither caught a pass against Atlanta. Boehringer's poor performance apparently led to his release. The Packers traded for WR Carlton Brewster to see what he can do. The Packers gave up CB Therrian Fontenot for Brewster, but Fontenot had not done much on the field to show he was a likely candidate for a final roster spot.

SS Tyrone Culver. With the season ending injury to S Marviel Underwood and S Marquand Manuel still hurt, Culver had a lot of playing time. He apparently played the entire game in San Diego; he didn't make any big plays, but he didn't give up any either and made some big hits. During the second quarter against Atlanta, he missed a coverage assignment. Two plays later, he intercepted QB Michael Vick's pass. In the first two preseason games, he has looked better than last season's SS Mark Roman looked in any game that Roman started.

FB Vonta Leach. With FB William Henderson out for the rest of the preseason, Leach is the man. The AP article mentioned Leach dropped a touchdown pass, but he also dropped another pass earlier in the game. He dropped 2 of QB Aaron Rodgers 3 incompletions. During 2005, Leach looked great at times, and at other times he missed his assignments. Leach will be counted on much more in 2006 and needs to show improvement.

G Siitupe Peko. He missed at least two blocking assignments in the 4th quarter; one of which led to Rodgers's fumble. I hadn't seen Peko in a game yet this preseason, but if Moll doesn't work out at right guard, then Peko doesn't look like he is Plan B. He has a good resume, but it was surprising he wasn't cut after his poor performance on Saturday.

P B.J. Sander. He was awful in San Diego, but looked better on Saturday. He showed improvement, but he was cut anyway. Sander has been such a disappointment that this isn't a big surprise. However, he wasn't released because rookie P Jon Ryan was playing outstanding. Ryan looked good in San Diego, but he dropped the snap in the end zone and barely got his only punt attempt away.

DE Mike Montgomery. He looked good last preseason, and he is looking good this preseason too with 2 sacks in the 4th quarter against Atlanta. He didn't play much in 2005, but hopefully he brings his preseason performance into the regular season during 2006.

Friday, August 18, 2006

K Billy Cundiff was cut, leaving 2nd year K Dave Rayner as the only kicker in camp. Neither kicker had much of an opportunity in the first preseason game, so it is hard to tell whether this was a good decision, but it does add to the list of puzzling decisions made by the Packers. Tom Silverstein reported that Cundiff "missed fewer field goals than Rayner and in the most recent kickoff drill in practice averaged 66.8 yards to Rayner's 60.1." So lately, Cundiff had outkicked Rayner, but Cundiff was cut? Mike McCarthy explains all when he said "[Rayner] has a strong leg. I think he has a winner's substance to him. I like his personality, I like his approach." McCarthy likes Rayner's "winner's substance" and that apparently trumped Cundiff's superior performance in practice. Brilliant.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

QB Brett Favre's possible retirement always seems to hinge on whether he is still having fun. It doesn't sound like he is having a lot of fun this training camp. QB Aaron Rodgers, age 22, said "his daughter (Brittany) is almost 18, so I'm closer to her age than to his age. But we still can have a good time and joke around." Aaron means he is joking around with Brett not Brittany, right? I'm sure he does.

OG Daryn Colledge was given no slack for his poor performance in San Diego. He is 2nd team, G Jason Spitz (who didn't play well either) is the new left guard, and rookie OL Tony Moll is the new right guard. At this point, it would seem likely that OLs Will Whitticker or Junius Coston would be a better option than Moll. If not, then WR Javon Walker was traded for the rights to Colledge, so it would seem reasonable to give Colledge at least one more chance before demoting him. Promoting Moll just seems desperate. Rookies are unlikely to play well no matter the position, which is why Whitticker or Coston would be more likley to succeed than Moll. But Whitticker's career with the Packers seems over, Coston's future appears to be at tackle, and Plan B if Moll doesn't work out appears to be "Mookie". Injuries and poor play has turned the project of revamping the offensive line into a disaster, so far.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Packers didn't play well in their first preseason game, but they had only one fumble (recovered), one interception, and four penalties. This really stood out from last season, when the Packers made a lot of mistakes in the preseason. The Packers should have lost their preseason game last season versus San Diego, but managed to win despite nine penalties and six(!) fumbles (3 lost). San Diego outplayed the Packers, but San Diego committed twelve penalties and a few of them were true gifts to the Packers from the refs.

The Packers only played mistake-free football last preseason at Buffalo (except that they were soundly beaten), and they committed a lot of penalties and turnovers against Tennessee and New England. Somehow they managed to go 2-2 last preseason, despite being outplayed during most of those games and making a lot of mistakes via turnovers and penalties. The Packers played better during the 2005 regular season than the preseason, but the turnovers persisted. The Packers managed to improve their penalties and finished near the middle in penalties.

Despite the beating the Packers took at San Diego on Saturday, the quality of play is very likely to improve if 2005 is an indication. What to look for during this preseason is that QB Brett Favre keeps his interceptions low (zero so far), the rookies are improving with each game, and who will win the final roster spots.

Luckily for the Packers, S Marquand Manuel is back in practice. The Packers released S Mark Roman because S Marviel Underwood was playing so well, but with Underwood out for the season, depth at safety has become a concern. S Tyrone Culver played well against San Diego, but he has become all the depth the Packers have at the position. Hopefully DT Kendrick Allen can come back soon. The Packers defensive line didn't look much improved at San Diego, but NT Ryan Pickett and Allen weren't playing either.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Preseason Packers 3, San Diego 17. It looked really bad. The offense couldn't get anything going, until QB Aaron Rodgers came on to lead the team in rushing and abuse San Diego's 3rd string secondary. The defense allowed big plays early and then the 2nd string defense couldn't stop San Diego on 3rd down (63% converted for the game). There are some positives, but they were overshadowed by how badly the Packers were beaten.

Yes, the offensive line was horrible. C Scott Wells said we can't blame the system, but it is new to everybody at this point and it probably was a big part of the problem. G Daryn Colledge blew an early pass blocking assignment and QB Brett Favre got leveled. G Jason Spitz blew at least two early run blocking assignments. However, the rookies were not the only problem. T Mark Tauscher got fooled on a linebacker stunt and Favre got leveled again. RB Najeh Davenport got the start but he didn't run well and he missed two blitz pickups who went on to hit Favre both times. The blockers couldn't open any rushing lanes or protect Favre. The second unit struggled too. G Junius Coston is now the back up left tackle and allowed at least one sack on Rodgers. Coston deserves some slack since he has been playing left tackle in the NFL for only the last week. Everybody has a lot to learn and everybody played horrible. It will only get better.

Yes, the defense wasn't good either. LB A.J. Hawk got beaten badly on a slant route, but it was by the best tight end in the NFL, TE Antonio Gates. Tight ends feasted on the defense; catching 11 passes for the game, but that has been a problem for this defense for the last couple of seasons. Hawk was much better after the first quarter. The defensive line wasn't great, but QB Phillip Rivers was throwing a lot of quick passes to avoid sacks and San Diego didn't run the ball very well (outside of one 13 yard TD run at the end of a long drive). Overall, the defensive line played well considering new NT Ryan Pickett didn't play. Rivers abused the entire Packer secondary except CB Charles Woodson. CB Al Harris struggled and CB Ahmad Carroll had a bad game too. Carroll could have been called for interference a couple of times, but wasn't. Also, he allowed the TD pass in the 1st quarter, but it was a perfect pass from Rivers and probably couldn't have been defended by anyone in the NFL. The biggest problems were 63% of 3rd downs were converted against them and they forced no turnovers.

There wasn't a lot of place kicking, but K Dave Rayner kicked at least one kickoff in the end zone and K Billy Cundiff made his short field goal attempt. If there was a punting battle on Saturday, then P B.J. Sander lost it bad. Sander's punt all seemed short and low, while P Jon Ryan had all his kicks travel farther than Sander's longest punt and his 55 yard punt sent the punt returner back several yards. Ryan would have to fall apart during the rest of the preseason to lose the job to Sander.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Packers must know there aren't many experienced free agent offensive lineman looking for work now. Signing G "Mookie" Moore doesn't hurt, but he apparently can't stay healthy and hasn't played tackle, where the Packers have little depth. It is unlikely he will start the season with the team. If T Todd Wade passed a physical, then he would have been a better signing. There is no need to panic, because the players two lost players (T Adrian Klemm and T Kevin Barry) weren't that good anyway. It is likely that rookie T Tony Moll would play just as well as Klemm or Barry. Besides, there are very few NFL teams that have three quality offensive tackles and some don't even have two like the Packers, so it isn't as if the Packers are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the NFL. If Ts Chad Clifton or Mark Tauscher are hurt this season, then the Packers are in trouble no matter what rookie or street free agent they play in their place.

The most important starting battle this preseason is at kicker and punter. P B.J. Sander wasn't teaching a clinic on holding last season, but his biggest sin was that he didn't punt very well. K Ryan Longwell's replacement has to be better at kickoffs than him. What ended Longwell's career in Green Bay was his inability to automatically make field goals from within 40 yards; he had been lousy on kickoffs for many seasons. It is unlikely the new kicker will be automatic from within 40 yards like Longwell once was, but at least the new kicker can kickoff better. There is no way to tell how good/bad these guys will be until the preseason games start.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I'm missed the Packers first scrimmage on TV this season. Last season, it showed off the talents of TE Ben Steele (didn't make the team out of camp) and CB Jason Horton (rarely played in 2005). It is not really a showcase for what the Packers can do. The pass coverage was awful, but it wasn't the starting secondary playing either. Unfortunately CB Ahmad Carroll didn't play well either, and it seems unlikely he will ever figure it out. Another bad sign was that LB A.J. Hawk came out on 3rd down in favor of LB Abdul Hodge. Hodge was a highly regarded player who slipped into the third round, but Hawk should be playing instead of Hodge, expect Hodge is outplaying him. Apparently Hawk isn't very good in pass coverage. It is early, but that is not a good start for Hawk.

It was a great day to read about Reggie White's induction into the Hall of Fame. His signing transformed the Packers and I have never seen another defensive lineman who could play like him. He literally threw 300 lb. lineman out of his way.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Training camp started last week and the best news is that LB A.J. Hawk and G Daryn Colledge signed on time. They need as much practice time with the first team units as they can get. There was some trouble signing LB Abdul Hodge, the Packers 3rd round pick, but he made it too. Hodge wasn't as essential as Hawk because Hodge should be a backup in 2006. Is Hodge the weak side linebacker of the future? He is probably more talented than likely starter LB Ben Taylor.

The Packers also released S Mark Roman right before camp started. Roman wasn't good in his two seasons with the Packers, but why did they make him wait all offseason? This article said Thompson waited to see how 6th round pick S Tyrone Culver played. Maybe. Roman demanded a trade or release back when the Packers signed S Marquand Manuel. It seemed like a cheap move by Thompson to wait so long to release Roman when he could have done it after the first minicamp in April.

The Packers lost another offensive lineman when T Adrian Klemm was injured. Apparently he would be the top backup for T Chad Clifton. With the loss of Klemm and previously T Kevin Barry, the Packers look thin at offensive tackle. It would be a problem, but a bigger problem would have been if Barry and Klemm ever had to start. Neither player has shown that he deserves playing time. Luckily, Clifton and T Mark Tauscher have been healthy the last couple seasons and started almost every game. Hopefully that streak continues in 2006. If not, it looks like OL William Whitticker or rookie OL Tony Moll would have an opportunity according to the current roster.