Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Packers resigned long snapper Rob Davis. He only plays on special teams during punting and field goal opportunities, but I can't remember a blown long snap since Davis took over in 1996 and when the Packers kick coverage struggled during the middle of the season, it seemed like Davis was always the first guy down the field. Plus it is cool that he will turn 40 next season and is still playing well.
The Packers are drafting 16th overall in the upcoming April draft. Last April, Miami drafted CB Jason Allen who didn't start, but looking at his game log had a very good game when Miami upset Chicago. In 2005, Houston drafted DE Travis Johnson, who everyone might have forgotten about because he only has one sack in two seasons, and appears on his way to becoming a bust. However, in 2004 Philadelphia drafted a pretty good G Shawn Andrews who has started every game the last two seasons. It is even better in 2003 when Pittsburgh drafted Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu, but not in 2002 when Cleveland drafted RB William Green. Before that was WR Santana Moss by the NY Jets and LB Julian Peterson by San Francisco. Excluding Allen at this point, one thing that stands out is that teams that frequently make the playoffs (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, NY Jets, and San Francisco back in 2000) selected quality players at number 16, while perennially bad Houston and Cleveland picked poorly. It is a lot to hang on one draft selection, but if GM Ted Thompson selects a quality player in the first round, it might be a very telling sign whether he is going to build a perennial playoff team or doormat.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oops. I blew it and forgot to comment on the Packers 2007 schedule when it was posted at the beginning of January. The Packers eight wins in 2006 was due in large part to the weak schedule they played. Excluding the annual conference games, in 2006 they played all the NFC West, AFC East, plus New Orleans and Philadelphia. In 2007, they will play the tougher NFC East and AFC West, plus Carolina and St. Louis. At first glance that 2007 schedule looks harder than the 2006 one. However, they will still play the same NFC North schedule that provided 5 of their 8 wins in 2006. With both Detroit and Minnesota unlikely to show much improvement in 2007, it would seem likely that the Packers would be favored to win those 4 games again. Then the Packers would have to go 4-8 against their remaining schedule to match 2006's 8-8 record. However, all the 2007 opponents except Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego have major issues or a coaching transition to address next season (San Diego has a major issue, but it concerns how to win a playoff game with Marty Schottenheimer) and it wouldn't be surprising to expect the Packers to instead go 6-6 against those opponents. That would project a 2007 record of 10-6 and that usually is good enough to make the playoffs, as it was in 2006. Assuming the QB and RB positions have stability next season, or at least they do not become a problem, then there should be a lot of optimism looking forward to next season.
It was announced that former Packers WR Robert Brooks and S LeRoy Butler will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. The HOF inducts some players that might not strike you as HOF material, such as the 2005 induction of RB Edgar Bennett. Although Bennett might be a great guy, he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry for his career and only reached 4.0 yards per carry once in his career. As great as the mid-90s Packer teams were, they had some serious lack of depth at running back during Favre's MVP seasons. RB Dorsey Levens had his moments, but he really was only good during 1996 while outstanding in 1997. Brooks suffers from the same problem as Levens because he only had two good seasons, 1995 and 1998, plus one outstanding season in 1996, before injuries cut his career short. Actually Levens had the same problem when his 1998 injury basically ended the productive part of his career. Maybe Levens should have been inducted at the same time as Brooks. However, Butler is a slam dunk HOF inductee. He was probably the 2nd best player on the outstanding 1996 season defense after DE Reggie White. Butler's best seasons were outstanding plus he had a long and productive 11 season career. Maybe he should be inducted just for starting the Lambeau Leap.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One coach left the NFC North when Pittsburgh hired Minnesota's defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as their new head coach. The first thing mentioned on ESPN during the Tomlin story was that Minnesota had the number 1 ranked run defense in the NFL last season. If that is why Tomlin got the job, he owes DT Pat Williams. Williams destroyed C Scott Wells in both meetings and destroyed the Packers run offense. This is not to trash Wells, who played very well in the other 14 games when he didn't have to face Williams. How DT Kevin Williams made it to the Pro Bowl over Pat Williams is a complete mystery. I wasn't too impressed that Tomlin couldn't figure out a way to cover WR Donald Driver with someone other than a linebacker when Driver killed them in the slot at Minnesota. Hopefully Tomlin will offer the defensive coordinator's job in Pittsburgh to Pat Williams so the Packers will have a chance to run against Minnesota in 2007.
The Packers were one of the youngest NFL teams last season. They ended up leading the league in games played by rookies with 66. LB A.J. Hawk and OL Daryn Colledge got deserved NFL all-rookie team honors, but WR Greg Jennings didn't deserve it. Jennings was one of the worst receivers in the NFL last season, ending with his last game vs. Minnesota when he only caught 1 of 13 passes thrown his way. His first few games, prior to his injury, were very good, but he never played well after his return. It would have been very surprising if Jennings was a strong player in his rookie season, but he really has a lot of room for improvement in 2007.
The Packers front office might get a little thinner if Reggie McKenzie is hired as Tennessee's new GM. McKenzie has been a hold over since the days of GM Ron Wolf. Apparently McKenzie got along with Ted Thompson during Thompson's days in Green Bay in the 1990s because and McKenzie has remained and is the highly ranked Director of Pro Personnel. It isn't obvious that McKenzie's departure would hurt the Packers. Tennessee decided to let long time GM Floyd Reese resign earlier this month. It would seem like a challenging GM position since Jeff Fisher just received a contract extension and he would be saddled with the decision to bet the franchise on the talents of QB Vince Young for the near future. Young made some spectacular plays in 2006, but overall he did not play that well.
This news is a bit stale by now, but the Packers new offensive coordinator is Joe Philbin. Since Mike McCarthy is calling the plays, Philbin's hiring shouldn't have much effect on the offense in 2007. It is interesting that Philbin is left over from the Mike Sherman era. Another interesting bit of news is that Winston Moss was named assistant head coach, usually a label slapped on a coach to prevent him from leaving to a coordinator's position with another team. For example, Andy Reid was given the assistant head coach title in the 1990s. Reid only left because he was offered Philadelphia's head coaching position. I wasn't too excited about Moss's hiring last spring since he was leaving New Orleans which had one of the worst groups of linebackers in the NFL. Although LB A.J. Hawk had a solid rookie season, it would have been a major disappointment if he didn't. LB Nick Barnett had another solid season, but also developed more of a tendency to overpursue. LB Brady Poppinga got better as the season went on after playing very poorly in pass coverage early in the season. Rookie LB Abdul Hodge never showed enough to beat out Poppinga, although he returned an INT for a TD during his only start at Seattle while Barnett was out with a broken hand. Those four linebackers combined for 24 pass defenses in 2006 which was a major improvement on the pathetic 9 pass defenses recorded by the top 2005 LBs Barnett, Na'il Diggs, Robert Thomas, and Paris Lenon. Barnett alone went from 2 to 8, while Poppinga went from zero to 5. Maybe the Packers knew teams were interested in Moss as defensive coordinator after a solid season for a group of mostly inexperienced linebackers.

Friday, January 12, 2007

While you can look at it for free, you have to look at the Football Outsiders Premium Stat Database. Aaron Schatz had been discussing these stats all season long on his weekly Fox Sports DVOA analysis column.

Football Outsiders ranked the Packers offense at 20th overall - below average and with a negative ranking. The only offense worse on 1st down than the Packers was Oakland, but unlike Oakland which was negative at every conceivable down and distance, the Packers were positive (above average) at every other conceivable down and distance other than 2nd and short. It seems likely that the Packers would revert to the mean on 1st down next season and there offense should improve. If WR Greg Jennings can improve and TE Bubba Franks can be replaced, then the offense can easily improve in 2007. However, if neither QB Brett Favre and RB Ahman Green, then it is time to start over on offense. QB Aaron Rodgers would at best play inconsistent although RB Vernand Morency might play just as well as Green, although Morency hasn't shown that he is much of a receiver yet.

The Packers defense was ranked 6th overall, and they were negative (above average) at every conceivable down and distance except 1st and 10. At first it seemed the late season improvement by the defense was due to the very weak competition they faced during the last four games, but DVOA takes strength of schedule into account. One major improvement over the last four games that cannot receive enough recognition is the great interior pass rush provided by DTs Cullen Jenkins and Corey Williams during that stretch. Where were they during the first twelve games? Jenkins missed some games with injury, but Williams was active for all 16 games. Despite the duos great play, the Packers should still try and improve the depth at defensive line in the draft and maybe Michigan's DT Alan Branch will fall into the middle of the first round.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The biggest challenge GM Ted Thompson faces this offseason is whether he can admit he made a mistake last offseason with S Marquand Manuel. The Packers defense played very well during the last four games of the season, as Tom Silverstein points out, the Packers didn't play any good offenses during that stretch except Chicago, and QB Rex Grossman admitted that he phoned that game in (better luck with your next NFL team Rex). Silverstein brings back the memories of the twenty-three explosive plays surrendered in the first twelve games. The pass defense ranged between solid with occasional lapses (see Buffalo game) to complete confusion and collapse (see Philadelphia). I was very wrong regarding the release of CB Ahmad Carroll and his subtraction was a major addition to the secondary. It seemed obvious that the main cause of the problem this season was the play of the safeties. FS Nick Collins deserves another chance after playing only his second season above Division I-AA (now called the subdivision), recovering from a preseason injury, and finishing the season with an outstanding game at Chicago. However, Manuel was torched from the beginning, his only preseason game against Cincinnati was a three TD disaster, until the end when he let WR Mark Bradley run by him for Chicago's only TD in week 17. The only player on the roster who has a chance to start ahead of Manuel is S Marviel Underwood, but in a seperate article, Tom Silverstein does not sound too optimistic about him coming back strong after major knee surgery. Thompson should address the position in free agency in March, but will he admit he made a mistake with Manuel or instead give him a second chance?

Assuming QB Brett Favre returns in 2007, the other and equally important task for Thompson is to give Favre more weapons. For all the talk about Favre being old and done, there has been no talk about how WR Greg Jennings was one of the worst WRs in the league and TE Bubba Franks was the worst TE. Jennings caught only one of the thirteen passes thrown his way in week 16 and was mercifully shown the bench in week 17. Franks was a pass dropping machine in 2006, when he wasn't fumbling at the goal line. Jennings struggles began after his mid-season injury and there are many reasons to expect him to bounce back. Expecting Franks to bounce back is a fantasy; he just finished his seventh season and he has never shown very good hands during his career. Excluding the WR Koren Robinson saga, the next depth behind Jennings are two little used wide receivers and the injury prone WR Robert Ferguson. Behind Franks is the ever injured TE David Martin. None of these players should be ignored, but none of them can be counted on either. It is shaping up to be a weak free agent class and better receivers might only be found in the draft.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How will the Packers play in 2007? Mostly it depends on QB Brett Favre's return. He didn't have a very good season, but it really hurt that he played with a new head coach, mostly rookie offensive line all learning a new blocking scheme, and the Packers started one of the 5 worst WRs and the worst receiving TE. TE Bubba Franks's days as a receiving TE are over, but WR Greg Jennings was a rookie, played through an injury, and appeared to hit the rookie wall. Jennings shouldn't have played that well in his first NFL season after coming from a small school. Hopefully he bounces back in 2007. Favre appears to have confidence in WRs Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holliday, and he threw the ball a lot better when they were in the game. TE David Martin played well, when he was healthy, but as it has gone during his entire career, Martin was again often injured. Peter King wrote last Monday that the Packers could really use TE Tony Gonzalez. That won't happen because Kansas City will use their franchise tag on him, but they need to find a quality free agent WR or pass receiving TE to help Favre. It seems that Favre needs receivers he can trust, he defintely didn't trust Jennings during the last Minnesota game. He could have really used WR Javon Walker this season; how much better would Favre had been if he had Walker and Driver? The Packers used Denver's draft choice to select LG Daryn Colledge, who had an excellent rookie season, but they would be better off with Walker.

If Favre leaves, then we will see if QB Aaron Rodgers is as awful as awful has he has looked during his limited appearances. Rodgers hasn't played under the best circumstances and he has never played an entire game are legitimate defenses for Rodgers, but he still hasn't shown anything yet.

The defense played very well during the four game winning streak to end the season, but they played against a number of bad offenses. Chicago was the first quality offense they played during the winning streak, and while Chicago could run the ball, their pass offense was awful. CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson are a solid foundation, and FS Nick Collins struggled at times, but ended the season very well with a monster game at Chicago. 20, 17, 14, 3. The number of pass defenses during 2006 for Harris, Woodson, Collins, and finally S Marquand Manuel. Manuel is obviously the weakest link in the secondary and he has to be replaced. The Packers were very high on S Marviel Underwood until he blew out his knee in the preseason, so that is one in-house candidate to replace Manuel. S Tyrone Culver is on the roster, but the Packers showed no sign of replacing Manuel with him. This is another area the Packers have to improve in free agency this offseason.

The Packers started the same linebackers for all 16 games, except when LB Abdul Hodge started in place of injured LB Nick Barnett. LB Brady Poppinga struggled early but seemed to improve along with LB A.J. Hawk as the season goes on. It seems likely that all three starters will return next season, and that is not bad despite their struggles, because this is the best group of linebackers in the last few seasons.

The Packers need to address the defensive line in the 2007 draft. If the Packers could draft high enough to take RB Adrian Peterson, that would be a different story. The Packers could draft a WR too, but at the middle of the 1st round, defensive line seems like the safe pick. They could draft an end to replace DE KGB on 1st and 2nd down, who then could slide over to DT on passing downs. DTs Corey Williams and Cullen Jenkins have been solid over the last four games, but drafting a starting DT would essentially replace DT Colin Cole, who has made no impact during the four game winning streak, in the rotation at tackle and end. Ryan Pickett is a solid nose tackle, so a pass rushing DT, like ex-Packer DT Santana Dotson, would seem to make the most sense. Maybe someone like Michigan's DT Alan Branch.

The special teams were one of the worst in the NFL this season and need to be upgraded. Hopefully with a different coaching staff and another a full season of experience for many first year players will make a big difference on the kick coverage and returns.

This will be a quiet playoff season for the Packers. No playoff games, no new coaches, and probably no decision from Favre. They have a lot of planning to do for the draft and in free agency, maybe as much as $30 million available under the salary cap this offseason. GM Ted Thompson has proven that he can draft good players, made one good move in free agency signing Pickett and one great move signing Woodson when everyone thought he couldn't play cornerback anymore. Unfortunately he signed the awful Manuel and blew it by trading away Walker when they had plenty of cap room to make him happy. Hopefully he avoids the awful decisions this offseason.
Packers 26, Chicago 7. Maybe QB Brett Favre was crying because he was playing his last game. On Monday, Peter King wrote that Favre said the same thing at the end of last season too. No one knows, probably not even Favre. Anyway they played a game too. It wasn't surprising that the Packers won, but it was surprising that they won despite Chicago playing their first team offense and defense for the entire game. The Packers missed the playoffs, but at least they beat one team this season that had a winning record.

First Quarter: TD pass on a slant to WR Donald Driver where he has been killing pass defenses all season long; between the hash marks. QB Rex Grossman looked awful in this game because the Packers put pressure on him. DTs Corey Williams and Cullen Jenkins have been excellent inside pass rushers over the four game winning streak, while DE KGB consistently beat LT John Tait and DE Aaron Kampman had a typical, excellent game. Grossman looked awful back in week 1 when he was pressured too. FS Nick Collins struggled this season, but was a monster in this game, jumping on the pass intended for TE Desmond Clark.

Second Quarter: RB Cedric Benson was the only part of their offense that was working. He ran through an arm tackle by LB Brady Poppinga, who was partial blocked on the play, for a big gain, but then Grossman fumbled the ball a couple plays later. K Dave Rayner had his worst game of the season with a missed PT and missed 32 yard FG. CB Al Harris had another great game, shutting down Muhammad who had his only catch in this quarter. CB Charles Woodson had another interception and another good punt return. The Packers move the ball best with three WRs in the game and Favre seems to be comfortable throwing to WRs Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holliday. CB Patrick Dendy had an INT and a return for a TD? Dendy has been a pleasant surprise this season, but Grossman is bad.

Third Quarter: It is time to run the ball and kill the clock, but the Packers throw the ball for most of the quarter. This game is dragging along at a snail's pace. A fake punt completely fools the special teams and P Brad Maynard proves he is the best passer on Chicago's roster. Luckily QB Brian Griese is allowed to come back in and throws an awful interception to ruin the fake punt. Nice play by LB A.J. Hawk to go up and snag the INT. Griese makes up for it with a great TD pass to WR Mark Bradley. He blew by Dendy on the coverage, but SS Marquand Manuel let him run right by him. What coverage scheme calls for the safety to let a receiver run right by him down the middle of the field? That had to be Manuel's fault.

Fourth Quarter: At first the Packers are still throwing the ball and Benson is still running right over the Packers. Then Griese throws another INT (great game Collins!) and the Packers finally start running the ball. They run on the first 9 of 12 plays on the over 8 minute drive and end the game.