Friday, December 22, 2006

Packers 9, Minnesota 7. QB Brett Favre just wins games! Favre has been awful over the last two games with zero TD passes and 5 INTs. His receivers have not been helping him, TE Bubba Franks and WR Greg Jennings both were embarrasing against Minnesota, but Favre has thrown some bad passes. His second INT appeared to be Jennings fault, but then Favre made a comment on the sidelines saying Jennings "just stopped" as if he had no idea where Jennings was going. He did the same thing last season, it was like he got bored with the remaining schedule and started throwing it up for grabs. Despite Favre's struggles, Mike McCarthy's reluctance to call running plays the last two games, and the poor special teams play, the defense has dominated and won the games. The defense still showed some holes against Detroit, but they dominated Minnesota in every way and no one made a bad play. Still, ignore any "the defense has turned the corner" stories you may read over the next week. Their two wins were against two of the worst offenses in the NFL. Only Tampa Bay and beyond awful Oakland are worse than Detroit, while Minnesota's offense came into the game in free fall and giving a rookie QB his first NFL start.

The Packers still have a chance to make the playoffs. The teams the Packers have beaten this season have a combined winning percentage of .320. No team has a strength of victory percentage. They would have to beat Chicago next week to actually make the playoffs, so that percentage would increase slightly. If Chicago benches most of their starters, then the Packers have a chance at the win.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

WR Donald Driver and DE Aaron Kampman were selected for the Pro Bowl. Neither player is a surprise because Driver leads the NFC in receiving while Kampman leads the NFC in sacks. CB Al Harris made it as an alternate and he is right that CB Charles Woodson is having a Pro Bowl season. Both Harris and Woodson are hurt because the Packers pass defense is so awful overall due to the poor coverage from the linebackers and safeties. However the defenses for Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Philadelphia are all struggling too but that didn't stop CBs Ronde Barber, DeAngelo Hall, or Lito Sheppard from making it to Hawaii. Barber was a shoo-in after he returned two INTs for TDs against Philadelphia. It was ironic that Hall and Sheppard beat Harris the week after Hall was beaten for a TD by WR Terrell Owens and Sheppard by WR Plexico Burress, while Harris shut down WR Roy Williams.
RT Mark Tauscher is healthy again and will play against Minnesota. Rookie RT Tony Moll has played well, but Tauscher is their best offensive lineman. However this doesn't mean that the Packers will be able to run the ball because NT Pat Williams has killed the Packers run offense in their last three games against Minnesota. The Packers should play a lot of three receiver sets and attack Minnesota's weak pass coverage.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Packers 17, Detroit 9. Must flee TV. What an ugly game. Neither quarterback played well at all, lots of turnovers, and lots of penalties. As bad as the Packers have played at home this season, any win helps, but this win did not inspire confidence against the Vikings at home next week.

First Quarter: Football Outsiders says that Detroit's offensive line is 25th on running plays and 28th on passing plays, but after watching this game I could have been convinced they are the worst in the NFL. They gave their backs nowhere to run and QB Jon Kitna had no time to throw. DT Cullen Jenkins doubled his season sack total (from 3.5 to 6.5 for the season) in the first half! Kitna didn't help himself when he had time, and threw an awful interception to CB Al Harris. Harris made a great juggling catch, but Kitna threw an awful pass where only Harris could catch it and gave WR Roy Williams no chance. Unfortunately QB Brett Favre isn't playing much better and although TE David Martin dropped a TD reception and one other pass on the same drive. Favre sets the NFL record for completions on a nice slant route to WR Carlyle Holiday. The Packers seem opposed to running the ball (5 1st quarter rushes vs. 10 1st quarter passes) and each team only manages a field goal in the quarter.

Second Quarter: The defense played an outstanding game. Detroit couldn't run the ball, Kitna had no time, and the Packers recovered turnovers. Detroit's offense had less than 100 yards of offense in the first half. Unfortunately, Favre's dump off pass to RB Ahman Green is too high and leads to an interception by ex-Badger CB Jamal Fletcher after a good drive to start the quarter. After another Kitna sack and Detroit punt, the Packers manage a good drive, TE Donald Lee saves the drive with a great catch-and-run on 3rd and 10, and a pass happy drive (7 passes, 2 runs) leads to RB Vernand Morency's first TD run. The biggest difference in the game is that the Packers can run the ball and Detroit can't. Favre threw passes to three tight ends in the half, and all were dropped except the completion to Lee. The Packers are playing their tight ends too much. With the exception of a brief streak by David Martin before his injury, throwing to the tight ends has not been a good offensive strategy. The passing offense only works with Favre throwing to the wide receivers and usually with three wide receivers in the game.

Third Quarter: Mike Martz may be an offensive genius, but it took him until the second half to realize the Packers' linebackers can't cover. Kitna passes to TE Casey FitzSimmons and RB Arlen Harris on a crossing route lead to another Detroit field goal. It could have been a touchdown but Kitna forced a 3rd down pass into the end zone instead of throwing it to a wide open Arlen Harris on another crossing route. The offense has three drives die in the quarter; the first two were killed by penalities and the last one by an awful interception in the end zone by Favre. What was he thinking? FOX reports that CB Charles Woodson has recovered 7 turnovers (INTs and fumbles) this season and he leads the NFL. I thought Woodson would be an awful free agent and be out for the season by week 4, but he has played through injuries and has been one of the best free agent signings by any team this season. WR Mike Williams comes to life and eventually leads the team in receptions (3) for the day because Martz lines him up in the slot and he beats the linebackers covering him.

Fourth Quarter: Favre has another interception, but Green really should have caught that pass. Detroit only has 12 yards to go but decided to run it three times although they are averaging less then 3 yards per carry. They settle for another field goal. Finally, with Favre struggling and only 9:29 left in the game, the Packers decide to run the ball a lot. It leads to a clock killing drive ending with Morency's 2nd TD run of the game. Detroit has one more chance, but it only leads to two more Kitna sacks.
Good news for offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski because he was hired as Boston College's next head coach. It was an odd decision to rehire Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator last spring, because he was fired as the tight ends coach in 2004 after the infamous playoff loss in Philadelphia. His name hasn't been mentioned too much this season because Mike McCarthy was doing all the play calling. But Jagodzinski brought a zone blocking scheme from Atlanta that he learned from legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Now all three offensive linemen drafted in 2006 are currently in the starting lineup, and the Packers offensive line is much improved from 2005.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Packers 30, San Francisco 19. After watching the Packers blown out vs. New England and NY Jets, plus QB Matt Hasselbeck tear apart the pass defense during the second half at Seattle, it was great that the Packers prove they can still win in the NFL. Despite RB Frank Gore's fantastic season, QB Alex Smith is still a work in progress and their offense isn't very good. Both defenses were similar; average run defenses with awful pass defenses. Neither team was able to cover kick returns. K Dave Rayner is one of the Packers leading special teams tacklers over the last few games.

First Quarter: Gore opens the game with a big run right at DE KGB. There was some talk of him getting benched because DT Corey Williams was practicing at end this week, but that was only because DE Mike Montgomery didn't practice last week. KGB fought off the block, but then missed the tackle. Tackling hasn't been the biggest problem for the Packers defense this season, but this was probably their worst tackling game of the season. The offense managed to fight right back and San Francisco proved that not only the Packers can leave wide receivers wide open in the end zone and it was good for WR Ruvell Martin's first career TD. Turnovers killed San Francisco in this game; Gore had a great game but he fumbled at San Francisco's 5 yard line and set up an easy field goal.

Second Quarter: The offense continues to hum along. Maybe it helps that QB Brett Favre's elbow injury is better. Maybe it helps that Martin and TE Donald Lee (who was essentially playing wide receiver) played more in this game to open up holes in the zone for WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings down the field. In Mike McCarthy's offense, the wide receivers are the receivers that have to produce in the passing game, while the tight end and backs are dump off options. San Francisco can't sustain drives because Smith is 2-for-6 passing on 3rd or 4th down; 3 drives during the half ended in Packer territory, but only led to 6 points. CB Charles Woodson played a great game, especially considering he is playing with sore ribs that forced him to leave for the locker room early. He returned in the second half and had a great 40 yard punt return in the 4th quarter.

Third Quarter: The Packers secondary played their best game of the season, except CB Al Harris. Harris didn't play awful, but he gave up a big pass play to WR Antonio Bryant and gave up the most yards he had allowed in several games. Smith finally found TE Vernon Davis in the second half and exploited the Packers weak coverage against tight ends and backs. Smith completed 4 passes to Davis and three different running backs that led to their first TD. The offense had two 3-and-out drives and San Francisco had some momentum until Smith's first INT killed it. Great diving play by FS Nick Collins. Almost immediately Favre hits Driver on a slant route, Driver breaks a tackle, and runs for a TD. On the play, Lee went in motion and played outside, allowing Driver to work out of the slot, where he has been killing teams this season.

Fourth Quarter: After Smith's first INT, San Francisco's offense slumped. Two 3-and-outs, the second drive scuttled by a holding call that brought back a big gain to Davis, while the Packers pad their lead with two field goals. A big return and another big catch by Davis start a good San Francisco drive, before it is killed by an awful interception by Smith in the end zone to LB A.J. Hawk. San Francisco had three turnovers that killed them; they all either led to Packer points or stopped drives in Packer territory. Smith quickly recovers and throws a big TD pass to Davis. If his one reception hadn't been called back on a penalty, Davis would have had over 100 yards receiving in the 2nd half against the Packers. But that was the last from Smith and Davis, because the Packers execute a perfect 5 minute drive to end the game.
Former GM Ron Wolf to replace Matt Millen in Detroit? Adam Schefter appears to be speculating rather then reporting something that has been discussed. It would be a shock if Wolf ever comes back to the NFL as a GM. Although I thought Joe Gibbs would never return to the NFL either.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

So maybe DT Corey Williams will play some at DE KGB's spot. With the pass defense in complete collapse, the Packers are trying to fix the second biggest problem on the Packers defense; team's ability to run right over DE KGB. It is a far distant second, but it is a big problem. It is also a problem that DTs Williams, Colin Cole, and Cullen Jenkins don't provide KGB much support on that side either. It couldn't hurt playing Williams at end, while big DT Johnny Jolly gets some playing time at tackle, to add some size to the defensive line on running downs. Mike McCarthy said "it's really the coordination between himself, the tackle, and the line to bring a support element to that side" to help explain why it is a team effort that KGB is being eaten alive by opposing left tackles this season.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Packers 10, NY Jets 38. The first half was some of the worst football I have ever watched. Phil Simms started comparing it to a college football blow out. At least the Jets took pity/forgot how they were killing the Packers in the second half.

First half: The offense struggled, but never turned the ball over in Packer territory. The blown protection was probably because RT Tony Moll is starting only his third game at right tackle and still has some learning to do. RT Mark Tauscher is the Packers best offensive lineman, and they haven't been as good over the last three games without him. Moll didn't appear to make any mistakes after the first quarter and played well. QB Chad Pennington isn't good at throwing deep passes, but is pretty accurate within 15 yards. The Packers seem snakebit on the long wide open TD passes they were giving up earlier in the year and now they can't cover anything short. CB Al Harris shut down their top receiver Coles, while CBs Charles Woodson and Patrick Dendy played well in the game. But Cotchery and Baker torched the Packers' linebackers and safeties. It is really hard to watch and see how the linebackers and safeties are only getting worse in coverage as the year goes on. FS Nick Collins looked bad on Cotchery's TD reception but was it because he is bad, the scheme is bad, or his hamstring is still bothering him. S Marquand Manuel didn't give up a TD reception, but he tried on the Jets first drive except Pennington overthrew the receiver and the Jets settled for a FG. LB Nick Barnett overpursued on every play during the game and was fooled badly on Baker's TD reception. Although the Jets threw everything short and the Packers dropped their linebackers into coverage on almost every play, LB Brady Poppinga had no pass defenses while LB A.J. Hawk only had one. The Packers even tried some zone blitzes that didn't fool Pennington at all and DE Aaron Kampman is not good in coverage. The pass rush didn't step up either, and the Packers were awful on 3rd down. There are some players who probably shouldn't be starting in the NFL on defense, Poppinga, Manuel, and possibly Collins, but the defensive coaches are outmatched by their peers and should all be replaced.

Second Half: When the offense doesn't get wide receivers involved in the offense, the offense struggles. It is too easy to stop the Packers when TE Bubba Franks and whoever at fullback, because they are not receiving threats. RB Ahman Green could be used as an effective receiver, but he is never asked to do anything except block first and then go out for a dump off pass. TE David Martin can open up the passing game, but he is still out with an injury. Once the Packers had WRs Ruvell Martin and Chris Francies in the game, things opened up for WR Donald Driver. The pass offense seems to be much better with Driver in the slot and Martin and Jennings outside. The Packers have to start spreading it out on every down. The defense had two interceptions that finally stopped the Jets, including a great play by Woodson. The run defense allowed a few big plays but that was not something that has happened much this season, and it probably was caused because the pass defense was in collapse. The 32 yard run on a reverse probably wouldn't have happened if the Packers weren't overpursing on every play. RB Cedric Houston had a 31 yard run because Barnett overpursued and effectively blocked Woodson out of the play. The pass defense was a lot better because the Jets ran so often and they stopped attacking the linebackers and safeties in coverage.

If the Packers play like they did against the Jets, then they won't beat anybody the rest of the season. This looked like a winnable game a couple of weeks ago, but without Martin and Tauscher the offense is struggling and the pass defense has completely collapsed since then. Will the Packers finally let LB Abdul Hodge and S Tyrone Culver play to see if they can start. Let play DT Johnny Jolly and CB Will Blackmon too. Right now the defense needs all new coaches, a defensive tackle to play alongside NT Ryan Pickett, a defensive end to replaced DE KGB on running downs, and two safeties who can play pass defense. Maybe Culver and Blackmon can be the starting safeties in 2007? No one will know until they have a chance to play.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why would the Packers seriously consider playing injured LB Nick Barnett or FS Nick Collins? To help with the playoff push? LB Abdul Hodge is healthy now, has spent a few months learning how to play in the NFL, and should get some playing time to see if he can start in 2007. Gary D'Amato thought it was Hodge's fault that RB Shaun Alexander ran for 200 yards. The problem has been the same all season long. Teams are running almost exclusively to the weak side and DEs KGB and Mike Montgomery have been killed all season long. Plus the Packers have been playing their small tackles (DTs Corey Williams, Colin Cole, and Cullen Jenkins) on the weak side. Seattle's LT Walter Jones and LG Pork Chop Womack are their two best lineman and they dominated that side. Until the Packers fix the weak side run defense, Hodge is going to have no room to work, and no opportunity to prove that he can effectively play. Collins has been getting better as the season has gone on, but he is no better than he was last season. Let him rest his hammy and see if S Tyrone Culver is good enough to start. He is at least better than S Marquand Manuel. Put them in coach!
Packers 24, Seattle 34. This was the most depressing game of the season, which says a lot for a 4-7 team. The losses against Chicago and New England were more lopsided, but the Packers were never in either game at any point. The only comparable game was the loss at Philadelphia. With QB Matt Hasselbeck's 4 turnovers in the first half and bad weather conditions, the Packers seemed likely to upset Seattle. QB Brett Favre was playing well despite his elbow injury and threw a long TD pass to WR Donald Driver to start the second half. It seemed like it was the Packers game to lose. Then they lost it. They fell apart in every way imaginable. The defense couldn't get off the field and RB Shaun Alexander ended up with 40(!) carries in the game. CB Patrick Dendy had played well so far as the nickel cornerback over the last few games, but he was torched in the 3rd quarter. The offensive line hasn't been the same over the last two games since RT Mark Tauscher, who is their best offensive lineman, has been out with an injury. The defensive line was shoved around. Favre reverted back to evil Favre and threw the ball up for grabs with three really bad interceptions.

Although it was because of LB Nick Barnett's injury, it was exciting to see LB Abdul Hodge's first NFL start. He was in the right place at the right time when he returned Hasselbeck's fumble for a TD and looked good in pass coverage. Hopefully he will start in the middle in 2007 with Barnett moved outside.