Thursday, October 26, 2006

Football Outsiders DVOA ratings have a few weeks in their database and are now a pretty good indication of how the teams are playing. The Packers come in at an anemic #22, right ahead of Buffalo and right behind Tampa Bay. The offense is ranked 21st, which sounds reasonable since the Packers had two games (Chicago and Philadelphia) with little offense and the Packers have had an awful number of fumbles between QB Brett Favre and all the running backs (7 lost on offense and at least one on a kickoff return). The defense is ranked at 24th and that makes sense because the run defense has had some very good games while the pass defense has been awful all season long. Plus the defense has been very good forcing turnovers (in some games) and have returned two interceptions for touchdowns in both wins this season. The big surprise has been the awful special teams. With the improvement of K Dave Rayner over K Ryan Longwell v.2005 and K Jon Ryan's booming punts over P B.J. Sander's weak leg, it seemed that special teams was much better in 2006. Looking at a breakdown of the special teams stats, the two problem areas are the Packers kick returns and punt coverage. The Packers are 27th in the NFL averaging a low 20.7 yards per kick return, while having last season's Pro Bowl kick returner (WR Koren Robinson) returning most of the kickoffs. The Packers special teams haven't appeared to open up any running lanes in the middle of the field all season, and it seems like the kick returner is always tackled near the sidelines. Ryan had some booming kicks (with a healthy 46.7 yards/punt) but there have been a number of line drive kicks that have led to big returns. Ryan has to improve his consistancy and the punt coverage has to do a better job. By memory, the player I have seen with the most special teams tackles this season has been long snapper and 37 year old Rob Davis. Davis has been a great special team player for the Packers in his Packer career, but isn't the long snapper the least likely player to make a special teams tackle after the kicker? Another problem is that teams are not calling a lot of fair catches against the Packers, which probably goes back to all the line drive kicks from Ryan. Ryan and Rayner have strong legs and can be part of a good special teams unit, but the Packers coaches have to improve the play of their kick blocking and coverage units and Ryan has to show some more consistency.
TE David Martin caught his first TD reception of the season against Miami, and it was the first TD pass thrown to a tight end in 2006. This AP article discusses how the Packers planed on using the tight end more due to injuries at wide receiver and how the Packers hadn't actually used the tight end much in 2006. Now with WR Greg Jennings's ankle injury likely to slow to him down, and maybe even force him to miss a game, the tight end would appear to take a more prominent role with four tight ends on the roster, including former Pro Bowl TE Bubba Franks. Martin and TE Donald Lee had plays called for them down the middle of the field against Miami, but Franks's role appears to be only as a dump off option. Franks has dropped multiple passes this season and appears to be struggling with even that role. Mike McCarthy's offense doesn't appear to involve the tight end as anything more than a second or third option with an occasional pass thrown down the middle. The wide receivers are the passing offense now. If WR Ruvell Martin struggles to get open, then teams might have even more incentive to double team WR Donald Driver and maybe the entire Packers offense begins to stall.
QB Brett Favre must be having a lot of trouble remembering the names of all his wide receivers at this point. WR Chris Francies made his NFL debut last week against Miami and caught one pass. Looking at Francies bio, he appears to be a promissing receiver to take a look at. Mike McCarthy prefers tall receivers and Francies is a 6'1" (not too tall, but a giant compared to the other receivers on the roster), and he caught 5 TDs in his senior season with 12 TDs for his career (pretty good numbers for a college WR). His numbers at the draft combine were not too impressive, which is why he went undrafted. But he caught everything thrown his direction at the combine, and he caught every pass, one, thrown his way so far. WR Carlton Brewster made his way back to the team, currently he is on the practice squad, despite fumbling and dropping the ball too much during the preseason. It seems unlikely that Brewster will make it on to the active roster this season. Finally, WR Shaun Bodiford was claimed off waivers from Detroit. Bodiford doesn't have a very impressive bio after playing in junior college (including one season with QB Aaron Rodgers) and Division I-AA. But, Bodiford was used mostly as a returner by Detroit, and with WR Robert Ferguson's season ending foot injury and WR Koren Robinson's season ending suspension, the Packers could really use a return man. Bodiford seems likely to play special teams and nothing else.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Packers 34, Miami 24. 30 points on offense is the magic number; 2-0 when scoring more than 30 points. At least the defense consistently allows between 23 and 34 points. The offense is playing very well, especially the offensive line. Daryn Colledge had his first NFL start at left tackle for the injured LT Chad Clifton and DE Jason Taylor abused him early (Dear Mike, Please give the rookie tackle some help blocking the former defensive NFL MVP, at least early in the game! Love, Packer Fans) but Taylor wasn't a factor in the game after the third possession. Also, the Packers ran for 155 yards against a defense that was allowing under 100 yards/game and QB Brett Favre wasn't sacked after the third possession. Unfortunately the defense struggled against one of the worst offenses in the NFL. QB Joey Harrington's 414 yards passing look bad, but it could have been a lot worse because Miami's receivers (especially TE Randy McMichael and WR Derek Hagen) dropped a lot of passes.

First Quarter: Taylor exposes Colledge early, creating two fumbles and sacks, the first leading to one play, eight yard, TD pass to WR Marty Booker. Booker was covered by CB Charles Woodson on the line of scrimmage, but then FS Nick Collins covered the middle and both backs seemed confused who should cover Booker. LB Brady Poppinga with an interception! Good play by Poppinga, but Harrington threw the ball right at Poppinga with no receiver near him; a completely botched play by Miami.

Second Quarter: Unfortunately Poppinga's interception and then LB Nick Barnett's interception only lead to field goals. Both offenses are stalled in the quarter. The Packers run 6 times for 16 yards and Favre throws a number of incompletions. Harrington does have a 40 yard pass to Booker and the announcers talk again about all the big plays the Packers give up. I don't care. What I care about is that the Packers have allowed at least 2 passing TDs per game this season except they held Chicago QB Rex Grossman to only 1 TD pass in week 1. Since Grossman just had the worst performance in the last 10 years by a QB who's team won a game, no game balls should be handed out for "holding" Grossman to only 1 TD pass. DE Mike Montgomery's inadvertant facemask wiped out K Dave Rayner's field goal to end the half.

Third Quarter: Thanks Joey! Woodson made a great play to intercept the pass and keep his balance to run for the TD. Between the turnover, kickoffs, review of WR Donald Driver's TD catch, the first few minutes of this quarter crawl by. A lot of offense in this quarter.

Fourth Quarter: Although the Packers keep scoring, Miami does not go away, despite all their dropped passes. S Marquand Manuel allows another TD reception when he whiffs on the tackle allowing Hagen's TD. Miami has three long drives in the quarter and could have easily come back in the game.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Barring a major turnaround, WR Robert Ferguson is done for the season. Nothing good seems to happen when QB Brett Favre throws to Ferguson; he usually is running a deep route, always seems to be in double coverage, and never seems to come down with the ball. Ferguson seems like ex-RB Najeh Davenport; an offensive talent that never put it together and sufferred through constant injuries. Ferguson even makes a joke about his constant life of rehab since he was drafted by Green Bay. Although Ferguson didn't contribute much on offense, even when healthy, his injury combined with WR Koren Robinson's inevitable suspension finally was handed down (although his agent said Robinson was surprised?), the Packers have reached the annual point in the season when the lack of depth at wide receiver becomes a problem. This was a bigger deal a couple of seasons ago when Favre could be seen showing ex-WR Scottie Thurman how to run routes during the playoff game. Now it is just one of several problems of a 1-4 team.

For an added bonus, WR Donald Driver has bruised ribs. At least WR Greg Jennings is healthy. The only other WR on the roster is Ruvell Martin, who made the team during the preseason by showing the coaches that he doesn't drop the ball every time he touches it. WR Carlton Brewster and especially 4th round pick WR Cory Rodgers should have beaten out Martin, but both players struggled badly with fumbles. Rodgers is a free agent right now, and if the Packers want to pick up somebody he might be the best option for some extra depth.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Packers 20, St. Louis 23. You can't lose a game any closer than this one. The teams had almost the identical number of first downs and yards on offense. If the Packers make any one of the three makeable plays; K Dave Rayner makes his 2nd quarter field goal attempt from 45 yards, CB Al Harris doesn't drop a ball thrown right at him while he was standing still, or RT Mark Tauscher blocks DE Leonard Little (or QB Brett Favre holds onto the ball) on the final play, it is an overtime game or win. In Tauscher's defense, Little has been one of the best defensive end in the NFL this season and Tauscher held him in check for most of the game.

First Quarter: RB Vernard Morency looks really good every time he touches the ball, except for a case of bad bad hands. He has fumbled or dropped four balls in two games. He has to stop it immediately if he wants any career in the NFL. Morency's fumble set up a short field and an easy TD drive. With all the contact rules, it seems impossible for any cornerback to keep up with any WR anymore. WR Torry Holt got off the line clean, Harris ran with him but QB Marc Bulger threw a perfect pass and Harris couldn't react quick enough. The real good news in this quarter was that the Packers ran the ball pretty well. LG Daryn Colledge opened up some big holes and RB Noah Herron was able to run the ball.

Second Quarter: Despite the success running with the ball in the first quarter, Mike McCarthy called a lot more passing plays in this quarter and the offense stalled. Herron ran for the last 30 yards on the first quarter TD drive, but the Packers had twice as many pass plays as run plays in the 2nd quarter. Herron had 7 carries in the first quarter and 13 the rest of the game. The Packers might have been able to control the game with Herron running the ball. St. Louis only had the ball 4 times in the first half, but put together two TD drives. On the TD pass to WR Kevin Curtis, S Marquand Manuel allowed his umpteenth TD reception of the season.

Third Quarter: The offense stalls...Mike McCarthy's offense comes out so flat in the second half. In the 3rd quarter: vs. St. Louis (25 yards of offense), Philadelphia (2 interceptions), Detroit (a TD drive!), New Orleans (a TD drive, but one INT), Chicago (3 punts). All of Favre's 5 INTs are in the second half. The Packers run defense struggled in the second half. RB Steven Jackson ran 10 times for 62 yards on St. Louis 3 drives that led to field goals. A couple of drives were set up by poor punts and poor punt coverage, but part of that was the fault of the wind in the 3rd quarter.

Fourth Quarter: WR Greg Jennings has another big TD reception. He is probably the team MVP. The rest of the quarter is what might have been; CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson have near interceptions, Favre's fumble and Colledge falls on it but it slips away. Any of those plays would have made it an overtime game at least.
The bye week is over. Back to posting, starting with some miscellaneous items.

Last month the Packers signed to the practice squad and then activated FB Brandon Miree. Miree was immediately inserted as the starting fullback and former Pro Bowl FB William Henderson would have been inactive the last two weeks if RB Ahman Green hadn't been injured. Although the fullback position only was an occasional part of the offense under Mike Sherman, the position has lost any importance it previously had in the passing game under Mike McCarthy. TE David Martin plays as the second tight end more than Miree is in the game at fullback. Martin often plays as an H-Back, coming in motion and stopping in the backfield as an extra blocker or potential dump off receiver, however Martin's long play for the season is 11 yards. What was once a potential threat with Henderson as a receiver has turned into a non-threat. QB Brett Favre is finding himself with fewer options in the passing game and it isn't helping him.

Before the St. Louis game, DT Kendrick Allen was placed on I.R. and is probably done for the season. The real downside to this move is that it means a lot more time for DT Colin Cole, who is constantly being blocked off the line of scrimmage. Allen wasn't a world beater, but he held up in the middle of the line better than Cole. As St. Louis found out, if NT Ryan Pickett isn't in the game, then it is easy to get at least 3 yards on any run play.

Not surprisingly it took CB Ahmad Carroll only one week to find a new home in Jacksonville. He will never be a good man-on-man corner (probably the main reason Ted Thompson cut him) but he could find a home in the NFL as a return man, gunner, and maybe even a starting cornerback in a cover-2 scheme. This reminds me of the Packers giving up on CB Terrell Buckley back in the 1990s; he was never going to be a great cornerback, but he managed to be a useful cornerback (mostly in Miami) over the next dozen NFL seasons.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WTF?!? CB Ahmad Carroll played awful at Philadelphia, but did he play his way off the team? There is no depth behind Carroll. The new nickel back is either rookie CB Jarrett Bush or CB Patrick Dendy. Bush is the likely candidate since he is on the active roster while Dendy will be promoted from the practice squad this week. Bush apparently looked good for Carolina during the preseason, but that was still preseason football and he is still a rookie. How awful did Carroll play on Monday night? The first thing Mike McCarthy said was "He played well" so apparently not too bad. Tom Silverstein said Carroll had three pass defenses (he led the team for the game) and a sack in the first half, but he got torched in the second half. Apparently one solid half followed by one awful half is enough to cut you.

Why shouldn't you cut Carroll? Because he is only 23 years old and the fastest player on the team. Of course he is immature; he is athletically talented 23 year old football player. It seemed unlikely Carroll would ever become a quality starting cornerback since he hasn't played like one by his third NFL season. But at this point what was there to lose in keeping him around as insurance and on special teams as a gunner. Maybe try him as a return man since WR Robert Ferguson is injured? His rookie contract can't cost the team too much. If the Packers wanted to do something to improve the secondary, releasing Carroll was not the number 1 item on the to-do list. Number 1 - give S Tyrone Culver a chance to play ahead of S Marquand Manuel. Number 2 - fire Kurt Schottenheimer and let Lionel Washington take over. Releasing Carroll was a distant 3rd, because now a rookie will have significant playing time in a pass coverage that is apparently so confusing everyone in the backfield has resorted to wearing wrist bands with all the coverages on them. This change did not improve the Packers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Packers 9, Philadelphia 31. There were a lot of questionable hires this offseason. Mike McCarthy was hired, although Ron Wolf did not have enough faith in McCarthy to renew his contract after the 1999 season. Jeff Jagodzinski was hired as offensive coordinator, although Mike Sherman fired him after the 2004 season. Mike Stock was hired as special teams coach, although he was out of football last season and hadn't coached any good special teams units in recent seasons. But the worst rehiring was Kurt Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was hired by Sherman in 2004 to coach the secondary (his hiring was part of the whole meltdown with CB Mike McKenzie too) and he led them to the 29th best unit (all rankings from in 2004. Schottenheimer was fired after the 2004 season, and the same players (minus FS Darren Sharper plus rookie FS Nick Collins) improved to 22nd in 2005. In 2005, Schottenheimer coached St. Louis' secondary which stank at 28th overall. When he was defensive coordinator in Detroit during 2002 and 2003, the secondary stank at 32nd and 31st overall, respectively. He hasn't coordinated a secondary that finished above 28th since 2001 when he was still working under brother Marty.

Now the Packers secondary is back in the toilet. The only competition that the Packers have for worst secondary is Houston. S Marquand Manuel has looked slow in coverage and missed tackles on QB Donovan McNabb's first TD run and on WR Greg Lewis' second TD catch on Monday. CB Ahmad Carroll is struggling as usual, but this season he is being left in man coverage or Collins is too late in helping him out. Collins has been no savior either because he has been spun around and beaten for two long TD catches in the previous two games. Lewis' 2nd TD catch was almost identical to a play ran in Philadelphia in 2004 when WR Terrell Owens was left all alone in the middle of a wide open field for a big gain on a similar crossing route. The MNF announcers talked for a while about how confused the Packers secondary has been this season and has resorted to wearing wristbands with all the plays on it. The Packers have shown some improvement this season, but as soon as the opponent starts attacking the secondary deep (for some reason it took Philadelphia an entire half to start when Detroit figured it out in the 1st quarter last week) then the game is over. The rest of the team is not good enough to compensate for the secondary. Although it isn't the most talented secondary in the NFL, the players are good enough to be at least an average secondary, but the coaches have let them down.

RB Ahman Green might never be healthy again. It was a possiblity coming off last season's horrible knee injury, but injuries to both hamstrings makes it seem unlikely that he will contribute much this season.

However it happened, G Tony Moll was out of the lineup and G Jason Spitz returned to it, but at right guard. With rookie LG Daryn Colledge starting too, this is the offensive line the Packers intended to start the season with, but got cold feet after Colledge struggled in the first preseason game at San Diego. This was the best game of the season for the offensive line, which gave QB Brett Favre time all game (no sacks) and opened up holes for RB Vernand Morency. There were a lot of good cutback lanes that Morency used. Initially I did not have high hopes for Morency, but he impressed on Monday. He is quick to the holes, keeps low to the ground, and has good instincts for slashing or cutting back to openings. Unfortunately he made two plays later (the fumble at the 5 yard line that led to McNabb's first rushing TD and the pass deflected off his hands that was intercepted and led to a field goal) that killed all the good he showed in the game. Favre had a good game despite mediocre stats due again in part to dropped passes. He had one bad interception when he threw it up for grabs and S Michael Lewis snagged it, but the game was out of reach at that point.

LB A.J. Hawk started out good, improved versus New Orleans, and has been M.I.A. the last two games. He showed up for a late sack that stopped a late and meaningless scoring chance for Philly. LBs Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett were rarely mentioned in the game, but Barnett did help force the second fumble recovery (which unfortunately was immediately fumbled back by Morency). The Packers were able to put pressure on McNabb, but he always had some time to pass. It didn't help that Philly's Pro Bowl LT Tre Thomas owned DEs KGB and Mike Montgomery for most of the game. It also seemed like the Packers were always in the wrong defense. If they only rushed three, it gave McNabb far too much time to pass. If they blitzed, it was picked up and a wide receiver was wide open (or in single coverage against Carroll, which is the same as being wide open).

It will be nice to see some improvement over the last 12 games of the season, but with this bad secondary, it is going to be hard to see that improvement in the score.