Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aaron Rodgers Says: "We've Got To Run The Ball Better"

His comments shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has watched the Green Bay Packers over the past three games, but QB Aaron Rodgers says the running game isn't good enough:
“Quantity is important – we want to have a certain amount of runs every game to keep them honest,” Rodgers said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I have to say the quality of them has not been anywhere where we’d like them. . . . We’ve got to run the ball better.”
Mike McCarthy says RB Alex Green will remain the starter, but his backup plan is either a still recovering (toe injury) RB James Starks or a wide receiver (Randall Cobb). Those aren't great options. While McCarthy is talking positive in public, that doesn't mean he's saying the same thing in private. Back in 2010, he spoke well of RB Brandon Jackson shortly after RB Ryan Grant was lost for the season, but he didn't stick with Jackson as the season went on.

While Green and his 2.9 yards per carry have not been the solution, it wasn't like the running game was dominant behind RB Cedric Benson (3.5 ypc). While both backs could be doing more, the blocking up front has to be looked at too.

After eight weeks, Football Outsiders offensive line stats have them ranked against the run at No. 28 overall. At first glance, the problem seems to lie with the running backs. The Packers "stuffed rank" of No. 24 overall indicates that the line isn't terrible at letting defenders make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but still it's a poor ranking. Where the Packers come in near, or at, the bottom is against the second level and for open field yards. That's a sign that the backs aren't doing enough even when the line is blocking well.

Looking at the Packers rankings by directional yards, the only good news is when the Packers run up the middle (4.13 adjusted line yards per carry; No. 16 overall). They're at their worst when they run to the right tackle (2.54 ALY per carry; No. 32 overall). I noticed against the Rams that the Packers seemed to run mostly to the left, which was probably the right thing to do if RT Bryan Bulaga is getting so little push to that side. Football Outsiders says that the Packers run off right tackle only 12% of the time (15% off left tackle) and 50% of the time straight up the middle. At least the coaches realize where they have their most success.

One example that comes to mind regarding Bulaga's struggles: against the Jaguars, the Packers had a 3rd and 1 at the Jags 14 yard line with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter. They ran Green to the right and Bulaga was pushed back at the line of scrimmage after the snap. When he took a step back with his right foot to re-plant himself, he tripped Green and the conversion attempt failed.

There's no easy fix here. Maybe one of the current backs on the roster will emerge, but they'll probably need to look for an upgrade in the offseason. There are some trade options available, but the current options at running back aren't the entire problem. Maybe moving Bulaga to left tackle, which was rumored this summer after Chad Clifton was released, is the way to go. Maybe LT Marshall Newhouse can provide a stronger push at right tackle, or they could find a right tackle more in the mold of RG Josh Sitton to open up room on the right side. Derek Sherrod won't help in 2012, but he was very good at blocking against the second level in college, so he might be part of the solution in 2013.

In the short term, the best they can do is keep handing the ball to Green and see what happens when Benson and FB John Kuhn (though I've never been overly impressed with Kuhn's work as a lead blocker) return from injury. With the passing game playing great, they can probably get away with this patchwork situation. But they'll need to make a serious effort to improve the running game at some point in the future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Pro Football Focus Mid-Season All-Pro Team

Even among stat-heads, there can be some varying opinions on players. With that in mind, here's the Mid-Season All-Pro team according to Pro Football Focus. Only one player was named an All-Pro (LB Clay Matthews) but two other players received honorable mention (including one surprise).

Matthews is no surprise, while QB Aaron Rodgers (currently ranked No. 3 by Football Outsiders and in the Top 4 by Pro Football Focus) was only honorable mention. He's probably ranked behind Brady, Manning, the other Manning, and Ryan because of all the sacks he's taken, which is a fair enough complaint.

But the surprise mention is rookie CB Casey Hayward, who earned honorable mention at cornerback. He's played as well as I could have expected, and he's no doubt mentioned because he's currently ranked third in the NFL with 4 INTs. He's come a long way quickly.

The only notable omissions could be the Packers' trio of wide receivers who are currently ranked in the Top 10 by Football Outsiders (Nelson at No. 2, Cobb at No. 3, and Jones at No. 7). Maybe it was too hard for Pro Football Focus to pick one Packer receiver over another, and maybe they gave extra credit to other guys (Percy Harvin, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall) because their teams have no other receiver on them that would be the focus of a defense.

Watching The Next Opponent: 49ers Over The Cardinals

I didn't watch the entire game but I didn't see many good things from the Cardinals on Monday night. I've watched parts of their last two games, against the 49ers and the Vikings, and if anything, QB John Skelton looked better against the 49ers. His raw stats looked decent in both games (32 for 52, 290 yards, 1 INT against the 49ers; 25 for 36, 262 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT against the Vikings) but he looked lost against the Vikings.

In Skelton's defense, his offensive line is terrible. The Cards' offensive tackles can't block, and the possible return of RG Adam Snyder isn't going to solve that problem. You can see it in their league leading 39 sacks allowed (the Packers are a distant second at 28), but also in their 31st ranked run offense (79 per game). Most of Skelton's 290 yards passing came in second half, when the game was well out of hand. It's a brutal offense.

Their defense was terrible against the 49ers (Alex Smith set a completion percentage record by completing 18 of 19 pas attempts) but it's been better than that this season. They completely owned QB Christian Ponder the week before (which might not be a big deal) and their defense was ranked No. 5 overall by Football Outsiders coming into the 49ers game. WR Jordy Nelson is close to returning, and despite what you saw against the 49ers, they'll need him to keep ahead of the Cardinals.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Packers Hold On, Defeat Jaguars, 24-15

It wasn't pretty and the Green Bay Packers didn't cover the 15 point spread over the Jaguars, but with 2:54 left in the first period, QB Aaron Rodgers threw a 5 yard TD pass to WR Randall Cobb, and the Packers led for the rest of the game. There were a couple points to take from this game.

The Packers offense is underwhelming without WR Greg Jennings and WR Jordy Nelson. They had survived Jennings's absence while Nelson still played, but obviously something was missing without both of them. With TE Jermichael Finley not playing nearly as well this season (due to injury or some other reason) it leaves Rodgers fewer options. WR James Jones and WR Randall Cobb are still good, but it's not the same offense. Still, Rodgers had a solid game (2 TD passes, 95.7 QB rating) despite his late second quarter fumble that led to the Jaguars only touchdown. However, a lot of problems would be solved if Nelson can return next week.

The pass defense misses CB Charles Woodson. I pointed out last week that Woodson isn't having a statistically strong 2012 season, but the downgrade from him to more of CB Davon House and CB Jarrett Bush appeared to hurt. WR Justin Blackmon and WR Cecil Shorts made some plays, but they also made some bad decisions too (that blown route by Blackmon on 4th down with 3 minutes left is one example). QB Blaine Gabbert is playing better this season (4 starts this season with a QB rating over 80) so it shouldn't be a surprise that he was somewhat effective against the Packers's defense minus Woodson.

It's a discouraging win (if that's possible) but the loss of Jennings, Nelson and Woodson is significant and they'll all return over the next few weeks. With their third win in a row in the books, they can focus on getting healthy and preparing to face the Cardinals (who could be on a four game losing streak if they can't upset the 49ers on Monday night).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jennings Has Surgery, But I'm Writing About The Offensive Line

In previous years, losing WR Greg Jennings for an undisclosed amount of time due to surgery for a groin injury would be a big deal, but the Green Bay Packers have basically been without their top wide receiver already this season. He hasn't played at all in October, and over their last three games, QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 1 INT. They'll be fine without him, which might be something to consider when Jennings becomes a free agent at the end of the year.

However the one area that has been a concern this season is the offensive line. While Rodgers had a great game against the Rams, the offensive line struggled to protect the QB and open running lanes for RB Alex Green. It seems like their problems every week can be traced to one player on the line, and against the Rams it was LG T.J. Lang.

His main problem was DT Michael Brockers, who despite having a quiet rookie season was great against the Packers. He had a sack in the first half when he shoved Lang into the backfield, and recorded two tackles for a loss on running plays (though one came when C Jeff Saturday couldn't block him). Overall, Lang appeared to allow two first half sacks, and missed on at least two blocks on second half running plays. Allowing that many plays in the backfield isn't good.

One strange thing was that they seemed to call for more runs to the left side although arguably their best lineman (RG Josh Sitton and RT Bryan Bulaga) play on the right. It was even more strange considering Lang's struggles, and some early game difficulties LT Marshall Newhouse, who had keeping up with DE Robert Quinn. At least Newhouse seemed to improve after the first quarter.

As long as I'm bringing up the bad, I should point out the good. The Rams's star DE Chris Long (13 sacks in 2011, 4 in 2012) was a non-factor and only recorded one tackle against the Packers. Mike McCarthy rarely gives his tackles any help in pass protection and Bulaga was great against the Rams' playmaker.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Watching Charles Woodson Against The Rams

One thing I looked for when I re-watched the Green Bay Packers win over the Rams was for the point at which CB Charles Woodson injured his collarbone. I'm not sure it happened on this particular play, but with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter, the Rams went for it 4th down, QB Sam Bradford threw an incomplete pass to his right and Woodson defended the pass. He didn't exactly knock it down, but he got in the way and it led to an incompletion. Afterwards, it looked like his left arm was hanging down and he looked reluctant to move it.

I didn't see him in on the Rams's next series, when they drove the length of the field and scored a late touchdown. Hopefully it was not a sign of things to come if CB Davon House is Woodson's replacement; Bradford threw that final touchdown pass to WR Austin Pettis as he was being covered by House.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

He's A Great Kicker When He's Not Missing Field Goals

I hadn't been thinking much about K Mason Crosby this season, except that some other teams are getting better results from rookie kickers (Vikings K Blair Walsh and Ravens K Justin Tucker) for a fraction of the price. Maybe the $1.6 million they're paying him in 2012 could be better spent elsewhere. So I was surprised to see this article:
Not really. Football Outsiders gives the Packers a negative ranking on field goals and extra points in 2012, which isn't good under any circumstances. I'm not expecting a high success rate on field goal attempts of longer than 50 yards, but his long misses against the Colts from 51 yards, and his 58 yard miss against the Rams, weren't even in the same zip code. Those two misses were arguably the worst attempts of his NFL career.

I don't want to see the Packers find a new kicker mid-season because the replacement isn't likely to be a good player and Crosby's not that bad, but that doesn't mean I'm making a strong defense for him either.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Woodson Out For A Month With A Broken Collerbone

I'm not sure how someone has a stealthy collarbone injury, but Green Bay Packers' CB Charles Woodson has managed it.
Mike McCarthy said that this break isn't as serious as the one Woodson suffered during the Super Bowl. So, fortunately, the time table for his recovery isn't as long as it could have been.

While I'm not a fan of CB Jarrett Bush, his best role on defense is when he takes Woodson's place as the slot cornerback. He doesn't play as tight or take as many chances, but maybe that's not such a bad thing since he's not as good.

I expect M.D. Jennings will take over as the starting safety (maybe Jerron McMillian will officially be named the starter but it means more playing time for both of them), and Bush will take over when Woodson would have moved into the slot at cornerback.

Overall, it's a net loss for the Packers, but maybe not quite as big as it would have been in previous seasons. The stats show that Woodson isn't making as much of an impact (through 7 games in 2012, 1 INT and 5 pass defenses; compared to 2011 with 7 INTs and 17 pass defenses in 16 games). He isn't a cure-all to the Packers tackling problems either because in 2011 he was among the Bottom Three with 15 missed tackles.

However, their young secondary (Jennings, McMillian, Casey Heyward) might really miss the leadership that he brings to the field. One silver lining is that his injury comes at an opportune time. Their next two opponents before the bye week are among the worst offenses in the NFL (Jacksonville and Arizona). Unfortunately, his absence might really be noticed during road games at Detroit and the NY Giants.

Packers Defeat Rams For Their Second In A Row, 30-20

It wasn't a dominant win, but I wasn't expecting one against an improved Rams team (who had previously been unbeaten at home and has more talent on defense this season). It was very good to see QB Aaron Rodgers have his second dominant game. Whatever rust he seemed to have at the start of the season is now gone.

Another week, another failure by the offensive line. It's hard to place blame because a new problem seems to develop every week. I want to re-watch the game on the coaches film before I really assign blame. LG T.J. Lang looked like an obvious suspect, but I'm a suspicious of C Jeff Saturday.

The defense gave me 2011 flashbacks as they struggled to tackle and were killed in the middle of the field (that huge catch-and-run on a crossing route sticks out). I'd like to see improvement in both areas next week, but it might not be a big test when they face the Jaguars.

I watched the second-half of the Jaguars game against the Raiders, after QB Blaine Gabbert was injured and QB Chad Henne replaced him, and that is one bad Jaguars offense with Henne. It wasn't all Henne's fault because he didn't practice with the first team offense all week, his offensive line completely vanished from time-to-time, and their most productive receiver (Cecil Shorts) fumbled away the game in OT. They also lost RB Maurice Jones-Drew early in this game and he was standing around on crutches in the second half. It was a bad offense before with Gabbert and MJD, and they might be limping into Lambeau next week in even worse shape.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Watching The Kids Play: Alex Green and Casey Hayward

The recent injuries to RB Cedric Benson and CB Sam Shields have opened up more playing time for others.

RB Alex Green. His line for 22 carries and 65 yards last Sunday against the Texans wasn't outstanding, but I'm still thinking back on his 41 yard carry against the Colts. It was the big run that set-up their final touchdown. If there's been one thing missing from the Packers offense over the past three seasons (since RB Ryan Grant circa 2009), it was the potential for a big play from the running game. Benson is stronger in between the tackles, but he's not a threat to go for 40+ yards (his long on the season is 11). Green's only had one great play so far, but he showed the potential in the past. Their other option, RB James Starks, ran one for 40 yards last season but I've never viewed him as a breakaway threat like Green. Is Green a legitimate starter or should the offense turn to Starks (assuming he's back from his turf toe injury)? Or should Benson return to the starting job as soon as he can?

CB Casey Hayward. Maybe the Texans game was a fluke, but 2 interceptions and 3 pass defenses in one game is pretty outstanding. It brings his total for the season to 3 interceptions and 6 pass defenses. For the sake of a rookie comparison, Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne (6th overall) has zero interceptions and 1 pass defense. Has Hayward moved ahead of Shields and should he play ahead of Shields even if he's healthy?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lawrence Guy Signs With The Colts: Ross and Vanderlin On The Practice Squad

The Green Bay Packers added a couple players to the practice squad after DE Lawrence Guy signed with the Colts and after they promoted OL Greg Van Roten to the 53-man roster last week.
Guy was a 7th round draft choice in 2011 who never made a big impression. He had the size to be a good 3-4 DE for the Packers and it seemed like he came from Arizona State as a bit of an underachiever. He certainly didn't overachieve for the Packers. He's been a good fit for the practice squad, someone with the size to play inside or outside for the scout team, but I didn't expect him to have a future with the Packers.

DE Drew Vanderlin's name was familiar since the Packers gave him a tryout in May. I'm not sure this move was motivated as much by Vanderlin's ability as his availability. With Guy's departure before practice starts this week, they probably needed someone right now for the scout team. It's probably a sign that NT B.J. Raji isn't ready to return to practice, so they were down two lineman before signing Vanderlin.

I'm sure QB Aaron Rodgers is excited to see another Cal alum on the roster, but it looks like WR Jeremy Ross was signed just to fill out the practice squad. He was undrafted in 2011 and he's been released by the Patriots and the Colts since then. He's got 4.4 speed but he doesn't appear to have been much of a receiver at Cal; he was at his best in college as a punt returner. Unfortunately for Ross, there's usually a bunch of guys with his skill set looking for NFL jobs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Out For The Year: Replacing Brandon Saine and D.J. Smith

While the Green Bay Packers looked very impressive in their win on Sunday over the previously undefeated Texans, the victory came with a cost: backup RB Brandon Saine and starting LB D.J. Smith were lost for the season due to knee injuries. Word on CB Sam Shields and LB Nick Perry is pending until later this week.

If Saine played at all on offense, I must have blinked and missed it, but he was a key player on special teams.   Mike McCarthy was complimenting rookie LB Terrell Manning as a special teams player on Monday, so Manning might be playing a larger role in the future. Though Saine didn't play on offense, his loss, in addition to the temporary absence of RB Cedric Benson and the ongoing limited playing time for RB James Starks (turf toe), has made depth a problem at running back. So the waiver claim of RB Johnny White seemed necessary.

White was a 5th round pick in 2011 and probably deep behind Bills' RB Fred Jackson and RB C.J. Spiller on the depth chart, which could have made him expendable in Buffalo. He hasn't done much as a pro, but he was a jack-of-all-trades in college at North Carolina, playing cornerback and wide receiver in addition to running back, so he could fit the role as backup, scout team player, special teams performer quite nicely. The Packers usually have three running backs active each week, so White might get thrown into the mix at special teams right away until Benson returns.

There's been no roster move to replace Smith yet, but as soon as the Packers want to add someone to the 53-man roster, Smith's certain to go onto I.R. They don't need to make a move immediately because Manning was not active against the Texans, so he'll take a backup role and probably play on special teams against the Rams.

Veteran LB Brad Jones spent the offseason preparing to play inside linebacker, which seemed unnecessary a few months ago and now looks like a wise move. Smith got off to a slow start with a poor game against the 49ers, but he'd been looking a lot better over the past few weeks. If Jones was a better player then he would have already been ahead of Smith, but I'm not expecting much of a drop off. I'm also expecting to see a lot more of LB A.J. Hawk; Smith had been playing ahead of Hawk on some of the Packers nickel and dime packages this season.

If Jones struggles, then I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to give either LB Robert Francois, LB Jamari Lattimore, or Manning a chance (though McCarthy admitted Manning's "farther ahead on special teams than he is on defense.") Losing two inside linebackers (LB Desmond Bishop during the preseason) is a bad thing, but the Packers have a lot of depth to make up for it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Recap: Packers Upset The Texans in Houston, 42-24

I didn't see that win coming. The Green Bay Packers win over the Texans was a return to form for the 2010 championship team. QB Aaron Rodgers had his most accurate game of the season and his receivers were making some difficult catches (though there were still a few dropped passes). The big trouble spot I've been harping on all season is the offensive line, and they arguably had their best performance of the season. DE J.J. Watt added to his spectacular season with 2 sacks and 3 QB pressures, but his teammates provided little support. When other Texan defenders, such as LB Brooks Reed or LB Connor Barwin, did apply some pressure, Rodgers showed off his ability to escape or throw under pressure (such as the long TD pass to TE Tom Crabtree).

The defense did an amazing job of shutting down the Texans running game (ranked No. 7 by Football Outsiders coming into the game) and the only impact made by RB Arian Foster was on two short-yardage touchdown runs. But the bigger story was shutdown performance on QB Matt Schaub, who was ranked as the No. 5 QB (ahead of Rodgers) by Football Outsiders. Sure he would have been helped if the running game had been better, but that's not the entire story of why the Packers him shut down (and intercepted him twice). With the exception of a blown coverage on TE Owen Daniels for a 27 yard gain, the defensive backs played well and the Packers put good pressure on Schaub. While LB Clay Matthews failed to record a sack (and Watt moved ahead of him to lead the league in that category), he was still a menace, recording 3 QB hits and single-handedly disrupting the Texans' offense in the first quarter.

This game reminded me a lot of the Packers playoff win against the Falcons in early 2011. The Packers were on the road, underdogs, against the highest seeded team in the conference, and they whipped them on both sides of the ball.

A blemish on an impressive win was the high cost of injuries. Defensive starters LB Nick Perry, LB D.J. Smith and CB Sam Shields were all hurt, along with special teamer RB Brandon Saine, and they made early trips to the locker room. All of the injuries looked serious, but we'll have to wait a of couple days to find out. The good news is that the Packers do have depth to overcome it (more playing time for rookie LB Dezman Moses; CB Davon House and LB Terrell Manning might both get a chance after being left inactive against the Texans) but it's not something we want to see.

But I would like to see the Packers put together a couple strong games in a row before saying they've turned a corner. This win against a previously unbeaten team was a huge step forward, however, next week looks like a trap game in St. Louis against the 3-3 Rams (who are 3-0 at home). The Packers have to come right back and win another tough road game, otherwise their win against the Texans is just another peak in what's turned out to be an up-and-down season.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Lack Of Posts Will Be Ending In The Near Future

I wasn't really inspired to write about the Green Bay Packers after they let the Colts earn a come from behind win last Sunday. Then I found myself in the middle of a brutal week my job, working days and nights, so I haven't been posting over the past few days. While the week's not over yet, my schedule will be back to normal starting next week.

I liked the above shot of Dan Lauria dressed as Vince Lombardi because of the bit about redemption. As bad as it seemed last Sunday, the 2012 season reminds me a lot of the 2009 season (early season problems on the offensive line led to a slow start). The Packers put it all together by the end of the season and made the playoffs. Redemption.

On the other hand, if the Packers o-line can't block Cory Redding of the Colts (2 sacks last Sunday), how many sacks with J.J. Watt have next Sunday night? (shudder)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Could Mike Neal Help The Packers?

After he was a complete zero last season, and then suspensed four games to open 2012, I was on the fence whether the Packers would release DE Mike Neal. He hadn't been able to stay healthy in either of his first two seasons and he hadn't done anything memorable on the field. His only hope was that his status as a former 2nd round pick would give him another chance and then he'd have to stay healthy for an entire season.

The last defensive lineman in this situation was former first round pick DE Justin Harrell, and the Packers gave him four seasons to turn it around. So it seemed unlikely they would give up on Neal after only two. But the selection of DE Jerel Worthy and DE Mike Daniels, and the free agent signings of DE Anthony Hargrove, Merling, and NT Daniel Muir, gave Neal a lot of competition. However, Neal showed just enough during the preseason to stick ahead of Hargrove and Muir. He's now been kept ahead of Merling too.

Something that's really helped him is that none of the other players the Packers have added this year have made much of an impact. Worthy is often on the field, but he's more notable for jumping offsides. Daniels has shown hustle, but he's played little and only recorded 1 sack and 1 tackle on the season. Merling only recorded 2 tackles in his first four games. So if Neal is improved a year after knee surgery, and he can rush better than Worthy or Daniels (neither of them have shown much so far), then he could be a welcomed addition. I expect he'll still be behind Worthy on the depth chart, but Neal should get a chance or two against the Colts to prove that he can do more. We'll have to wait and see whether he can take advantage of it.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Time To Bench Greg Jennings This Week For Your Fantasy Team

Two other Packers were listed on the injury report, S M.D. Jennings and DE Ryan Pickett, who were both hurt during the Saints game, but it would be a surprise if either of them were out against the Colts. Unlike the Seahawks game, when the Packers left Jennings as a game time decision, they've decided he needs time to rest. His groin injury is lingering and Mike McCarthy is frustrated, so letting him rest is probably the best decision.

So what does it mean for the Packers? Here are the wide receiver rankings for their top four wide receivers according to Football Outsiders:

Player DYAR Rank Passes Yards TD
Jones 77 12 23191 3
Cobb 49 26 21162 0
Nelson 42 33 31260 1
Jennings -19 75 2278 1

Jennings had his ranking slip since last week, but there are now more receivers with over 15 pass attempts. He's now further away from the bottom of the list after recording a touchdown reception against the Saints. Still, he only has 78 yards for the season, with a poor 55% catch rate, so it's understandable. He's unlikely to improve those numbers if he tries to play when he's hurt.

Donald Driver isn't ranked by Football Outsiders because he's only had 2 receptions, although one of them was for a touchdown. He should have more opportunities against the Colts' 26th ranked pass defense, and all of the receivers could be breakout candidates. You'd have to put Jordy Nelson at the top of the list because he's been targeted the most this season (31 times).

A lot of this will depend on how the Colts play because the Packers have different ways to beat them. If the Colts blitz, it could force TE Jermichael Finley to block more and would likely involve more short passes to Cobb and RB Cedric Benson. If the Colts play a deep zone to take the sidelines away from Jones and Nelson, it could open up the intermediate routes for Finley. If the Colts stay with a single deep safety, it could provide great one-on-one match-ups for Jones and Nelson.

Maybe all of them will get into the game as the Colts try different defensive alignments to shut down the offense. QB Aaron Rodgers has said he likes playing indoors, so maybe it will be a good day for whoever touches the ball.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What The Defense Could Have Done Better Against The Saints

While I was watching the coaches film from the Packers win over Saints, I was focusing on the defense and what they could have done better. One thing that stood out was the positioning of S Jerron McMillian, who played like an inside linebacker for most of the game, without much success. This resulted in a lot of time on the bench for the starting inside linebackers. Sometimes, it even meant that LB A.J. Hawk was on the bench while LB D.J. Smith was on the field. And after a slow start to the season, Smith is looking a lot better in pass coverage.

To QB Drew Brees's credit, he did a good job of picking apart the middle and throwing away from the help defender. Since WR Marques Colston and TE Jimmy Graham are bigger than every Packer defensive back, and a threat to go downfield, the Packers rarely pressed in coverage and gave the Saints' receivers some space to catch short passes.

I looked back at the game film from the one time the Saints had struggled this season; during the fourth quarter of their overtime loss to the Chiefs. Could the Packers had done something that the Chiefs did against the Saints? The number one thing they could have done was rush the quarterback better, but that's easier said than done. The Chiefs did a better job of taking the middle of the field away in pass coverage; LB Derrick Johnson's size made it harder to throw in between the hash marks to Graham. Also, Brees just wasn't as accurate as he missed on a couple sideline throws, which might have been caused by the Chiefs' pass rush. The Saints also seemed more determined to go deep against the Chiefs than the Packers, which led to a few deep incompletions, but that might have been a matter of taking what the defense was giving you and Brees missed on some deep sideline throws. Scheme wise, there wasn't something different the Packers could have obviously done. It was really up to their defenders to make a play.

The good news for the Packers defense is that they should only get better. They do need either LB Nick Perry or DE Jerel Worthy to step up as a reliable pass rusher alongside LB Clay Matthews. Rookie McMillian and CB Casey Hayward played a lot against the Saints, with mixed success, but they should only get better with experience. Hopefully we see more of it next Sunday against the Colts.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Please Don't Feed Cedric Benson The Ball

This isn't something that's going to have a major impact on the Packers' offense, over the first four games they've attempted 157 passes (not including sacks) and rushed the ball only 88 times, but it was discouraging to see offensive coordinator Tom Clements say this bit of conventional wisdom:
“He’s a workhorse and when he touches the ball, the more he touches it, the better he gets,” said Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements on Monday of Benson. “We’d like to work those other guys in there if the opportunity presents itself but you try to get (Benson) the ball to get him going.” 
This looks like a corollary of The Establishment Clause (a.k.a. establish the run). Teams don't run to win, they run when they are winning. He may look better as he approaches the 20th carry mark because it probably means his team is winning.

I view more touches as an opportunity for more fumbles, which was something that almost cost them against the Seahawks. RB Cedric Benson is a strong runner who is probably the best back on the roster at fighting through tackles. His 53% success rate is the 10th best according to Football Outsiders but they only rank him as the 17th best back overall. He's useful, but he's not going to make the offense that much better and the risk of fumbles is real.

Also, this would take RB Alex Green out of the mix and he has the potential to be an explosive player. He was eased back into action following his knee surgery, but he came close to breaking a couple runs during the preseason. He has upside that Benson doesn't have and he may even be a better running back right now, if he was given the opportunity. RB James Starks (when healthy) is a lot like Benson (strong runner) and neither back is a big play threat. Green could provide that element to the offense which has been lacking since RB Ryan Grant's 2009 season.