Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Packers 31, Detroit 24. It seemed likely that the Packers offense would struggle against Detroit's defense since Detroit held Seattle to under 10 points at home in week 1. Instead QB Brett Favre continued to pick apart Detroit's secondary, just as QB Rex Grossman did last week in Chicago. Unfortunately it was another bad week for the defense, which hasn't been able to stop anybody so far this season.

First Quarter: WR Greg Jennings has made a big play early two weeks in a row. Both plays were just as much bad plays by the defense as a great play by Jennings. The defense struggled badly in the quarter by allowing more than 200 yards in the quarter. DE Aaron Kampman had a quiet day against a rookie right tackle, but he won't dominate like he did against New Orleans every week. The pass to RB Shawn Bryson was really ugly, as Bryson ran past both safeties for the TD. On the pass to WR Roy Williams, it was cover 2 and FS Nick Collins got turned around by Williams as he sped toward the corner of the end zone for the TD reception. The Packers shut down number 1 WRs last season and CB Al Harris usually lined up against him, but this season Harris is kept to his side of the field. I don't know if that is making a difference, because CB Charles Woodson is playing as well as Harris, but something isn't working this season. S Marquand Manuel helped make up for all his troubles in coverage by being in the right place at the right time for a pass deflection and a run into the end zone. It was a good pass by QB Jon Kitna, but this score ended up making the difference in the game.

Second Quarter: The defense got a big assist from two long offensive drives that kept Detroit off the field. That was very good because even the run defense, which had played great in the first two games, struggled. RB Kevin Jones had two of the worst games of his career in week 1 and 2 this season, but averaged almost 5 yards a carry in this game. The big difference appeared to be the safety and linebacker pursuit; for whatever reason they were not as good as filling the holes as they had been against Chicago and New Orleans. Hopefully it was just a one game problem. The offensive line continues to play better. Detroit's defensive line, led by DT Shawn Rogers, is the strength of their team, but they had no sacks in the game. The Packers still didn't run the ball very well, but overall the offensive line seems to be improving. One thing that was not missed this week was dropped passes, I only counted one early drop by RB Ahman Green. Unfortunately fumbles were a problem, with RB Noah Herron's fumble costing at least a field goal.

Third Quarter: Another improvement on defense was 3rd down convertions; Detroit only completed 3 for 12. The Packers gave up the big play, but Detroit had trouble sustaining drives. Still, Detroit scored zero offensive TDs in their first two games and scored 3 in this game. After WR Donald Driver's TD reception, the Packers offense completed their 3rd 10+ play drive which helped the defense recover from a bad 1st quarter and built a 10 point lead, which was too much for Detroit to come back from. It is interesting that although Driver had a TD reception, Football Outsiders said Driver was least valuable receiver in week 3. Driver only caught 3 of 10 passes intended for him, which was a problem, but just as Aaron said, Detroit seemed determined to stop Driver at the expense of opening the field up for the rest of the receivers.

Fourth Quarter: The Packers final TD was set up by winning the field position battle. Last season, the Packers rarely won this battle due to poor special teams. This season, P Jon Ryan is punting outstanding and pinned Detroit down at the 2 yard line. Detroit could not make a first down and the Packers got the ball in Detroit territory for a short TD drive. The kick coverage is improving, and the kick returning is as good as ever now that Woodson is returning punts and WR Koren Robinson is the kick returner. K Dave Rayner also had a touchback; unheard of during the K Ryan Longwell era. The Packers pass defense could use an interior pass rush badly and DT Corey Williams stepped up to provide 2 sacks, including what would have been the game ending sack if Green hadn't fumbled a couple plays later to give Detroit one last chance. Hopefully some combination of Williams and DT Cullen Jenkins step up each game to give the Packers some inside pass rush this season.
The Packers added another fullback to the active roster. FB Brandon Miree is unlikely to make a large impact, but FB William Henderson can't play every down anymore. For all the talk of playing TEs David Martin or Donald Lee at fullback, neither played a down at the position as far as I noticed. The roster spot came at the expense of LB Tracy White. White didn't stand out during the preseason on defense and it seemed remote that he would have playing time ahead of LB Brady Poppinga at this point. Hopefully Miree is just as good on special teams as White.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I read through Mike McCarthy's press conference to see if there was anything interesting to report. LB Brady Poppinga and S Marquand Manuel have struggled in pass coverage, but they are both still the starters and McCarthy broke into coach-speak with "we'll continue to work" and "continue to get better". Apparently he is taking the cross-his-fingers approach to both positions, although S Tyrone Culver looked good in the preseason and LB Ben Taylor started for most of the preseason at strong side linebacker until Poppinga was healthy enough to play.

The offensive line is still learning the new blocking techniques and G Jason Spitz's knee still doesn't look good enough for him to return. TE/FB David Martin is hurt (again) with a bad knee and TEs Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey are both learning how to play fullback too. Rookie CB Will Blackmon is hurt (again) so there is virtually no cornerback depth after the top 3. McCarthy said "the explosive gains are really kind of balanced out through the secondary" which means that everyone has been burned in coverage, except that's not quite true. CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson have struggled shutting down the other team's number 1 receivers (WRs Joe Horn and Muhsin Muhammad) while neither had a big gain for a reception against Harris or Woodson (Horn's big catch was against Poppinga). The Packers have been burned for big plays and been giving up all kinds of shorter catches too. However, no one asked why the pass rush has been almost non-existance outside of DE Aaron Kampman.

McCarthy didn't drop any bombshells, but did confirm that the players who are struggling on defense will continue to get opportunities to play their ways through their struggles. Lucky for all Packer fans. Detroit's offense has managed only 13 points so far this season, but their pass offense has been average while their run offense non-existant. If QB Jon Kitna manages to post a QB rating over 90 (just as QBs Drew Brees and Rex Grossman), then will McCarthy and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders do something then to improve the coverage and pass rush?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Packers 27, New Orleans 34. I'm at a loss to say about this game. All the indicators either favor the Packers (fewer turnovers, more total yards, better % on 3rd downs) or are even (both teams struggled to run the ball, similar time of possession). New Orleans had more plays over 20 yards and as a result had one more scoring drive. Two home losses to start the season, this time against an inferior team.

First Quarter: The Packers pass rush took over the game and WR Greg Jennings made the first big play of his career. DE Aaron Kampman dominated on the first two possessions, taking an active part in both QB Drew Brees fumbles. Pressure from DE KGB and DT Cullen Jenkins created both fumbles. After CB Al Harris made a great circus catch for the third New Orleans turnover, the Packers had a 13-0 lead. LB A.J. Hawk continues to look better; on one running play he fought off a block from the right tackle and the tight end to stop a running play for no gain. However two things happened the rest of the game; New Orleans had no more turnovers and the Packers pass rush vanished.

Second Quarter: Four punts on offense and the defense couldn't stop New Orleans on 3rd down. New Orleans had about 10 1st down conversions during the quarter and drove down for two TD scores. CB Ahmad Carroll gave up the 2nd TD pass; it was his first play back after coming off the field injured, but he was caught looking into the backfield and Brees burned him.

Third Quarter: A great first drive was ruined when QB Brett Favre threw his only interception in the end zone. It wasn't a bad decision by Favre, he just got hit while he was throwing. Almost immediately, WR Joe Horn had a big 50+ yard reception when he beat LB Brady Poppinga (Bob Sanders really screwed up the coverage by having Poppinga cover their no. 1 receiver in the slot) that led to a field goal and swung all momentum back to New Orleans. After a disasterous first quarter for New Orleans, 6 of their next 9 possessions led to scores. Dropped passes are a huge problem for the Packers. The Packers have gotten little out of their receivers not named WR Donald Driver so far this season, but TEs Bubba Franks and David Martin had some good receptions in the second half and both WRs Jennings and Robert Ferguson caught TD passes in this game. It is starting to look better.

Fourth Quarter: FS Nick Collins got burned in coverage as WR Marques Colston ran by him into the end zone. Collins reminds me of FS Darren Sharper, who struggled in his first two seasons as he transitioned from small William and Mary college to the NFL. It looks like it will be at least two seasons of inconsistent play from Collins until he is playing at a high level. Then RB Ahman Green fumbled leading to a 25 yard TD run by RB Deuce McAlister. G Daryn Colledge got his first NFL start ahead of G Jason Spitz in this game, and he didn't look great. Both rookies, Colledge and RG Tony Moll, struggled at times. Overall, it is a lot to be asking of these guys to start immediately as rookies. G Mike Wahle looked like a bust in his first couple of NFL seasons and G Marco Rivera didn't start in his first NFL season. They might be good players but it won't be known for at least a couple of seasons. Green looked good in his first game back against Chicago, but really struggled in this games. He ran for only 2.6 yards/carry, he had this fumble, and he dropped at least two passes in the 2nd half. McAlister's big TD run was really surprising at this point, because it was the only run over 10 yards for New Orleans during the entire game. The Packers run defense has shut down the running game of two good run offenses so far this season. Unfortunately, everyone will throw the ball against the Packers because they aren't good in coverage and they have almost zero pass rush in the middle.

If the Packers can't beat New Orleans at home, then who can they beat? The next two games at Detroit and at Philadelphia look like losses and then a home game against St. Louis. They should beat St. Louis as their offense is really playing poorly so far this season. At best, it looks like a 1-4 record going into the bye week with a real possibility at 0-5.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It has been a wild week, with the Packers seemingly panicing after a poor start. These are moves that should have been made during training camp or the preseason. First WR Koren Robinson is picked up, hopefully to be used only as a kick returner, and FB Vonta Leach is released to make room for Robinson. It was surprising to see Leach even make it on the final roster because he didn't play great last season and didn't look good during this preseason, but he was kept because of the injury to FB William Henderson. Now Henderson is back for New Orleans, and since there are no other full backs on the roster, TE David Martin will make the switch to full back. Wasn't this contemplated at all during the preseason when Leach was playing his way off the roster?

The Packers apparently sold high and received a previously well regarded running back in return for RB Samkon Gado. Gado looked good last season, but didn't play well at all in the preseason. RB Vernand Morency was highly regarded before the 2005 NFL draft, but a 4.66 40-yard dash time dropped him into the 3rd round. Now Houston's new coach Gary Kubiak doesn't like his running style, and out the door he goes. It is hard to get excited about a running back who has below average speed and a bad running style, but it wouldn't have been surprising to have seen Gado released so at least the Packers received something in return. The big problem is that behind RB Ahman Green now is the unimpressive RB Noah Herron followed by a new running back (Morency) who probably has to learn a whole new offense.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Packers 0, Chicago 26. Well that was an ass-kicking. Looking at the stats, there was not any one area where the Packers lost. Watching the game, there was not one area where it was obvious that the Packers were overmatched. Chicago did not dominate, but they slightly outplayed and outcoached the Packers in every way, and it led to a really lopsided score.

It was a lot more similar to the loss in week 16 last season when Chicago won at Lambeau 24 to 17. If you look at the stats, QB Brett Favre had an awful game and the Packers couldn't run the ball. But they managed to string together one TD drive and a punt return for a TD by WR Antonio Chatman made the score a lot closer than the game actually was.

It was good to see RB Ahman Green return. He was able to run throughout the game, and not just during the second half when Chicago's defense was sitting back on the pass. Theoretically, the Packers were holding back showing off Mike McCarthy's real offensive playbook until this game, so this was the first time the offense played in a game situation with it. Unfortunately, they had to try it out against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Favre's passes looked high and it appeared that Favre and his receivers (excepting WR Donald Driver) were not on the same page.

This is apparently why the Packers paniced right after the game to sign the recently arrested WR Koren Robinson. It seems unlikely that Robinson will become a part of the passing game anytime soon, but can probably take over for Noah Herron immediately on kick returns. After the disasterous last preseason game when the special teams collapsed, they improved to awful with a missed field goal, a kick return fumble, and they allowed a kick return for a touchdown. CB Charles Woodson was finally used on punt returns and had one good return. The special teams directly cost the Packers 10 points in the loss and must improve.

The defense struggled to keep Chicago off the field in the first half and let Chicago build an early lead. S Marquand Manuel struggled again with a blown coverage that led to the long TD pass to WR Bertrand Berrion. CB Al Harris struggled against WR Muhsin Muhammad early and LB Brady Poppinga was completely overmatched in pass coverage by TE Desmond Clark. The Packers hadn't struggled against number 1 WR due to the great play of Harris, but getting burned by the tight end is something that has plagued the Packers for many seasons now. If a game ball is awarded, it would go to DE Aaron Kampman who had a great game. Honorable mention goes to the Packers run defense which held Chicago to only 3 yards per carry, which was a big improvement since RB Thomas Jones ran all over them last season.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What record should the Packers predict in 2006? Football Outsiders didn't predict the Packers record, but predicted that the Packers DVOA would be -13.4% and the 24th best in the league. That is behind Chicago and Detroit, but ahead of Minnesota. Looking back at FO's 2005 predictions, they calculated the Packers, Minnesota, and Detroit would compete for the division title, while Chicago would be in last place, so their 2006 projection is taken with a grain of salt. In 2006, FO calculated the Packers would have the 23rd offense, 22nd defense, and 26th special teams. The key column is the Packers schedule ranking; they play the 2nd easiest schedule.

The Packers offense might only be the 23rd best in 2006. The offensive line is still a work in progress, although better now than it was at the beginning of last season, but maybe worse than it was at the end of last season. If QB Brett Favre doesn't reduce the number of turnovers, then they could easily be that bad. The defense could be better than 22nd best, but the secondary has looked awful in the preseason. The special teams fell apart during the last preseason game, but most of the awful players (such as WR Cory Rodgers) have been released, while P Jon Ryan looks like a major upgrade over P B.J. Sander and K Dave Rayner will at least help the Packers improve their field position. With so many new starters (including at least 4 rookies), it is likely the team will be mediocre.

However, the saving grace is the Packers schedule. If the Packers at least beat the teams that project with an even lower DVOA than the Packers, then the Packers will finish 6-10 with home wins against New Orleans, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets, and Minnesota, plus road wins at Minnesota and San Francisco. If the Packers return to their traditional dominance with a win at Chicago (assuming they still lose at home and split the season series), their usual home win against Detroit, and another home win against Arizona, then their record would be 9-7. That seems reasonable with losses at Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, Buffalo, and Seattle, plus home losses against Chicago and New England.

Unfortunately, the easiest schedule in the NFL belongs to Chicago, who would finish 15-1 (only Seattle projects with a higher DVOA) if they beat all the teams they should beat. Assuming Chicago finishes in first place, then the Packers 9-7 record is probably not good enough for the wild card (usually 10 wins is required). Four teams had 9-7 records last season, and none of them made the playoffs. It doesn't matter if the Packers finish 6-10 or 9-7, the Packers are unlikely to make it back to the playoffs in 2006.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Packers made a couple of moves after other teams cut their rosters down to 53. First was releasing CB Jason Horton, who had returned an interception for a touchdown against Atlanta, but looked overmatched against Tennessee. If anyone was hoping for an CB Ahmad Carroll release, then they have a long wait ahead. With Horton's release and CB Mike Hawkins on the PUP list, the only corners on the roster behind Carroll are two rookies, CB Will Blackmon and the recently signed CB Jarrett Bush. Carroll would have to completely fall apart on the field to fall behind two rookies at this point.

The Packers picked up three players. Bush appeared to receive a lot of playing time with Carolina this preseason, and since Blackmon hasn't played since May due to a broken foot, Bush is the "experienced" 4th CB at this point. G Tony Palmer was picked up from St. Louis for depth at a shaky offensive guard position, but that was an odd move. The new zone blocking scheme is designed for smaller more athletic guards, but Palmer is a 326 lb. giant. S Charlie Peprah adds depth to a thin safety position with all the current safeties having suffered injuries recently, except S Tyrone Culver.

The Packers made up their practice squad too. CB Patrick Dendy and S Atari Bigby have some experience if any of the secondary's injuries persist. The best news was signing DE Dave Tollefson, who had a good preseason and deserves to stick with the team in some capacity.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Preseason Packers 21, Tennessee 35. It was an ugly game as Tennessee kept its starters in for most of the game, while the Packers starting defense played 3 snaps and the offense 2 snaps. WR Greg Jennings cemented his status as the star of the preseason with another huge reception and a starting job over WR Robert Ferguson.

No one looked very good after the starters left the field. Starting rookie OGs Jason Spitz and Tony Moll played most of the game, but Moll struggled early when a Tennessee tackle beat him inside and led to a QB Aaron Rodgers fumble. DT Kendrick Allen started ahead of DT Cullen Jenkins for the first time this preseason, but that doesn't seem to indicate much as the Packers plan on rotating at least five players (maybe six if DT Johnny Jolly is active each week) at the tackle position. S Tyrone Culver forced a fumble in the red zone, the only Tennessee turnover. Culver has looked good this preseason and should start over S Marquand Manuel who was awful in the only game he played in this preseason. However, Manuel is the big free agent while Culver is the rookie, so Manuel will start week 1.

The Packers could have cut anybody this week that was not expected to start and it wouldn't have been a surprise. The special teams were awful against Tennessee, with the exception of P Jon Ryan's giant punts. The kick coverage was bad and WR Cory Rodgers and Carlton Brewster couldn't hand on to the ball. The Packers said they were looking for big wide receivers when they signed and resigned WR Marc Boehringer and Rod Gardner, but neither made the roster and the star of the preseason was 5'11" WR Jennings. WR Ruvell Martin made a couple of nice catches and that was apparently enough to make the team as the number 4 WR with Boehringer and Gardner underperforming and Rodgers and Brewster showing bad hands.

The biggest news was the release of RB Najeh Davenport, but it shouldn't surprise anybody because he didn't play well. He didn't run well, but his pass blocking was awful. LB Roy Manning played as well as anybody in the 2nd half against Tennessee, but he couldn't beat out LBs Brady Poppinga or Tracy White. It wouldn't have been a surprise if any one of the three had been released. DE Dave Tollefson was a slightly surprising release, but he didn't show as much as much speed as DE Jason Hunter so potential beat out production. QB Ingle Martin got his first extended playing time and looked awful. The pass he threw that was intercepted was laughably bad. The Packers cannot go into a game this season with Martin as the number 2 QB and hope he improves as the season progresses. The Packers could have cut all of the backup cornerbacks and it wouldn't have been a surprise, but they have to keep somebody in reserve.