Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recap: Packers Comeback To WIn, 28-27

Despite the departure of the replacement refs, two bad calls almost cost them the game (no offensive pass interference called on WR Marques Colston's touchdown reception, and no fumble called on RB Darren Sproles during his kick off return). There's nothing more to do about it except hope that penalty karma eventually pays them back.

With the first four games in the book, and arguably the toughest part of their schedule complete, the Packers are in decent shape sitting at 2-2. I had expected them to lose one of their first four games anyway, and they've come away with two recorded wins (plus one taken away by a replacement ref). They've managed this despite struggles on offense and few turnovers created by the defense (yes, the replacement refs were part of the problem) but it's left them with a -3 turnover margin, which is very uncharacteristic for one of Mike McCarthy's teams.

The main problem has, surprisingly, been the offense. They didn't look right during the preseason, but I expected the veteran group to put it together by the start of the season. It hasn't happened yet. QB Aaron Rodgers hasn't been as accurate and the offensive line has had trouble in pass protection. They looked a lot better against the Saints thanks to improved pass blocking (0 sacks, 1 QB hit) but the Saints don't have a pass rush either and rank at or near the bottom in total defense. If the offensive line can build on their success on Sunday, they'll keep getting better all season long. It sure didn't hurt to see TE Tom Crabtree, one of their best blockers, return after missing the eight sack disaster in Seattle.

It wasn't a great game for the defense as they had trouble covering Colston and TE Jimmy Graham on 3rd down. The pass rush wasn't much of a factor, but the Saints protect well (9 sacks allowed in 4 games this season). CB Sam Shields had a bad game and allowed WR Joseph Morgan to run downfield uncovered (then failed to wrap up on the tackle) but he had these type of problems during the preseason so it should come as no surprise. He might only be keeping the seat warm until CB Davon House returns from his shoulder injury. I really wish DE Jerel Worthy would stop jumping offsides. They'd look a lot better if they could start forcing some turnovers, which has been a staple of their defense for the past few seasons. It feels like that's only a matter of time.

Looking ahead over the next five games, the schedule features two games versus currently unbeaten teams. Next Sunday is the Colts at Lambeau and it should be another big game for the offense. Then they travel to Houston to face the Texans (that's probably a loss), at the Rams (who's offense is still bad), Jaguars at Lambeau (QB Blaine Gabbert looks awful), and finally the undefeated Cardinals at Lambeau (a matchup I still like for the Packers).  If they could come away with a record of 6-3 entering the bye week, while not as good as their 9-0 start in 2011, it would be the same record they had on their way to the Super Bowl in 2010.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nick Collins "Likely Will Be Forced To Retire"

So says the article from Dan Hanzus at When the Packers released S Nick Collins back in April, it was clear that the Packer organization didn't want him to ever play football again but Collins himself was working on a comeback. A recent visit with his surgeon apparently has made him change his mind:
The specialist who performed Collins' neck surgery advised the ex-Packer to to end his pursuit of an NFL comeback following a recent examination. Collins had been training regularly at IMG Academy in Florida, though that training ceased after the latest examination.
I'm not glad his career is over, but I don't want to see him playing again if he's risking so much.

He had a great career as his three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl (2008-2010) would attest. The Packers are still trying retool (Jerron McMillian seems like the answer for the moment) their secondary which collapsed last season, in part, due to Collins's absence. He made a lot of big plays (17 INTs from 2008 through 2010) but he also cleaned up when mistakes were made in the secondary.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maybe The Owners Do Watch Monday Night Football

I didn't think the owners had any shame left, and that they were content to let the replacement refs screw things up until the owners broke the union. However, after everyone, except for this guy, watched a game winning INT become a game winning TD, Twitter exploded as T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton became stars of the internet, and everyone turned on Sportscenter to see WTF just happened, the NFL owners finally agreed to a reasonable offer that they could have made months ago.

I'm sure the referees were asking for too much at times, and both sides had a lot of pride involved, but the owners were the ones who needed to make a deal now so I would guess that most of the final concessions came from them.

Unfortunately, this won't bring a win back to Green Bay and the Packers are stuck on 1-2 instead of 2-1. But at least we'll always have this video.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mike McCarthy Shows How To Fix The Packers Offense

The replacement refs still suck but there's only so much that can be said about them. It's time to move onto the Packers next pressing problem: Where has all the offense gone?

The first answer was in the title of this post: Mike McCarthy has already fixed it. Against the Seahawks, it was a tale of two halves. The first half was an endless loop of sacks, eight in total, and the offense went nowhere as the Seahawks skunked them. Then McCarthy made some adjustments at halftime which included more short, quick passes, and a lot more running by RB Cedric Benson. The offense went on three scoring drives in the second half (two field goals and one touchdown) which over the course of an entire game (26 points) would have been less than the dynamic 2011 offense (35 points per game) but similar to their 2010 season (24.2 points per game). That's probably not going to win QB Aaron Rodgers another MVP award, but it was good enough to win the Super Bowl. Of course, they can still do better.

The first place to look is the offensive line. I don't know who kidnapped RT Bryan Bulaga and replaced him with ex-Packer Allen Barbre, but some adjustments need to be made. I don't expect them to bench Bulaga for undrafted rookie RT Don Barclay, but they need to have a Plan B ready in case Bulaga doesn't turn it around. Right now, the Packers lead the league with 16 sacks allowed, and it reminds me of their 2009 season, when the Packers once again led the league in that category (51). Using ESPN's QBR, which includes sacks in the quarterback's rating, here's a comparison of 2009 to 2012.
2009 Opponent 2009 QBR 2012 Opponent 2012 QBR
Bears 53.6 49ers 55.1
Bengals 58.3 Bears 29.3
Rams 81.4 Seahawks 54.3
Vikings 33.9 Saints
Lions 86.1 Colts
Browns 95 Texans
Vikings 49.1 Rams
I stopped after Week 7 because, in 2009, that's when RT Mark Tauscher returned to the starting line-up, and nearly all the early season sack problems went away. Part of it was Rodgers; he was holding the ball too long, and that same problem was the cause of at least one sack against the Seahawks. But it's not the main concern. In 2009, the offensive tackles, and injuries to Tauscher and LT Chad Clifton, were the primary causes. The only early season bright spots were wins against the Rams, Lions, and Browns because those three teams sucked, and only a four game winning streak to end the Browns' 2009 season improved their combined, three team record to 8-40. That Week 4 Vikings game, with Daryn Colledge starting at LT and Barbre at RT, left Rodgers virtually unprotected.

Unfortunately, the entire offensive line is having some problems this season, though Bulaga's disaster in the Seattle stands out as the worst of them. They can play better, and hopefully the veteran group turns it around ASAP.

After Clifton and Tauscher returned in 2009, Rodgers went onto finish with a season QBR of 70.2, the second best ranking of his career. He's not going to repeat his 2011 season, but a return to 2009 is likely.

Then there are the Packer wide receivers. Are they not getting open? Here are the rankings from Football Outsiders for Rodgers's top three wide receivers:
FO Rank
Jones 25
Nelson 37
Jennings 63
I'm leaving out TE Jermichael Finley, who's been targeted more times than any other Packer this season, because it's only been three games and he was wildly inconsistent last season. He's probably playing about as well as he did in 2011, except he hasn't had a multiple TD reception game to boost his overall stats.

All three wide receivers are down from last season, but Greg Jennings has fallen off a mountain. Of the receivers who have been targeted more than 15 times this season, only two other receivers are worse than Jennings. Nothing good is happening when he is thrown the ball. A groin injury has played it's part, but they need to focus at getting him back on track and seeing how that effects the rest of the offense.

But the thing that might help the most is that the Saints are coming to town. Currently, Football Outsiders has their defense ranked as the 6th worst overall and 3rd worst against the pass.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recap: Refs Defeat Packers in Seattle: 14 to 12

There are plenty of tweets out there about it, but this one sums it up.
SB Nation has the play from three different angles if you have the stomach for it.

The game was a disaster for the refs with calls, no-calls, phantom calls against both teams, but none of them were matched the Top 3 that went against the Packers. First, the game winning touchdown, with no better summation of the replacement refs debacle than two refs, standing a few feet apart, making different calls (one INT, another TD). Bonus screw-up: Jon Gruden was all over the non-call on pass interference against CB Sam Shields, as WR Golden Tate shoves him to the ground. Second, the pass interference call on Shields, as WR Sidney Rice was draped all over his back, that bailed the Seahawks out of 1st and 35. Third was the overturned interception by rookie S Jerron McMillian after a phantom roughing the passer call against LB Erik Walden (QB Russell Wilson must have had the red jersey on for that play).

The game was hard to watch. I've always taken the opinion that bad calls even out over the long run, but this game was extreme. Seattle had a couple of bad calls go against them (LT Russell Okung was called for holding when his hand brushed against LB Clay Matthews, and a non-call pass interference on CB Charles Woodson late in the game, are two examples), but none of those bad calls had the impact of the ones that went against the Packers.

This would have been an ugly game even without the refs. Seattle had no offense except for two long touchdowns to Tate. RT Bryan Bulaga completely fell apart in the first half which started the cascade of 8 sacks in the first half (zero allowed in the second half, but Rodgers rarely tried to throw down field). The Packer offense needs to connect on big plays and they can't if their o-line can't protect for more than 2 seconds. On the bright side, it was a second consecutive great game for the defense.

But it's impossible to have an honest review of their performance when the game is punctuated with so many penalties and so many bad calls by the refs. It's not just this game, it's been a bad season for the replacement refs who are just overwhelmed with responsibilities that are beyond them. All any team can do it play hard, press the boundaries (and work the refs) on every play, and hope for the best. Right now, the NFL is out of control.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Looking Ahead To Packers At Seahawks

On Sunday I watched the 49ers and Eagles go completely flat on the road against two opponents, who I would guess, they didn't expect to be a serious threat (Vikings and Cardinals). That's the danger in tonight's game in Seattle, and I hope the Packers are prepared for it. There seems to be little separating a lot of teams in the NFL this season.

It's been a quiet week for the Packers, so while I had some questions about the role and status of WR Greg Jennings and RB James Starks last week, they don't seem to have resolved themselves before the start of the game.

The Packers injury report isn't huge, but it has a lot of uncertainty on it. Backup LB Jamari Lattimore is clearly out, and it doesn't look good for TE Tom Crabtree either. CB Davon House doesn't appear to be fully recovered from his preseason shoulder injury.

I'd be surprised if RG Josh Sitton can't play, but he was limited in practice all week. If he can't go then OL Evan Dietrich-Smith would start in his place. The uncertainty surrounds Jennings, Starks, and DE C.J. Wilson, who all look like game-time decisions to me. But I don't expect it'll be a problem for the coaching staff, who've had all week to prepare for the absence of all three players.

The Seahawks appear to be in good health, with only WR Doug Baldwin apparently out for the game. WR Sidney Rice was curiously listed on the injury report with "Rest" instead of an actual injury. It's common for a team to sit out a veteran who has a long-term injury, but the Packers would list an actual injury (i.e. LT Chad Clifton was usually limited each week in practice due to his chronic leg injuries).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Will The Packers Miss Greg Jennings?

WR Greg Jennings sat out practice on Thursday because he's not over the groin injury he suffered late in the game against the 49ers. The Packers expected to get him back this week. However, I wouldn't rule him out for next Monday night if he can get back to practice by the end of the week.

QB Aaron Rodgers's stats were down last week against the Bears without Jennings, but he also threw 12 fewer passes (44 to 32). Maybe the biggest concern is that WR James Jones, who should receive most of the snaps in his place, occasionally runs poor routes and it led to an interception last Sunday. I don't expect to see either WR Randall Cobb or WR Donald Driver replace Jones because they seem intended to play different roles in the offense. Jones isn't as good as Jennings, so while the offense will be fine without him, they'll only get better once he returns.

As for the Seahawks, I don't expect they'll play differently if Jennings is available or not. The 49ers and Bears played similar styles against the Packers by playing both safeties deep to take away the sideline threats. Until TE Jermichael Finley or Cobb start gashing big gains down the middle of the field, or RB Cedric Benson runs wild against a seven-man front, I expect most defenses will scheme the Packers that way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Role Will James Starks Play On Sunday?

Instead of discussing the dumb question whether QB Aaron Rodgers is a great leader (of course he is), it's better to write about a real football question.
Of course, they'll be happy to have Jennings back and he'll slide right back into his starting role. Wilson should still be their run stopper at defensive end and he might play a bigger role if they focus on stopping RB Marshawn Lynch.

But what role will Starks play on Sunday? Will he play at all? I don't have an answer and I don't expect Mike McCarthy will reveal his plans in a press conference either. Here are the players he could replace on the 45-man active roster this Sunday.

RB Cedric Benson. I haven't seen anything to indicate that the Packers aren't happy with him or he'll be removed as the starter. It's possible they'll simply re-insert Starks into the starting role and deactivate Benson on Sunday, but that seems unlikely. Especially since Mike McCarthy said Starks will have some "transition time."

RB Brandon Saine. Surprisingly, this seems like the least likely move. Saine has been covering punts and kicks over the first two games and I can't recall ever seeing Starks on special teams. He certainly hasn't been a leading special teams tackler, an honor that was shared last season by LBs D.J. Smith and Brad Jones.

RB Alex Green. On the other hand, I haven't seen Green on special teams this season and that could be intentional as they easy his surgically reconstructed knee back into action. If Starks takes anyone's place on Sunday, it probably would be Green's.

Bottom line, unless Starks slides back into the starting role and pushes Benson aside, which seems unlikely, I'm not sure what he'll be doing against the Seahawks. He might take Green's role of carrying the ball a couple times or he might spend a lot of time standing on the sidelines. Even if he doesn't play much (if at all) on Sunday, you never know when they'll need him to take over a prominent role again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Watching The NFC North: Vikings and Lions Played On Sunday

I'm guessing that the Packer players and coaches were doing the same thing as many of us on Sunday: watching the other games around the NFL.

The game I probably should have watched closely was the Cowboys at Seahawks, since the Packers will be traveling to Seattle next week Monday. From what I saw, it looked like the Cowboys never had their heads in the game. RB Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, and then the Cowboys had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. They were down 10-0 five minutes into it and their offense never seemed to get on track. The Seahawks usually play better at home, and the last time the Packers played at Seattle, the Seahawks had the misfortune of starting QB Charlie Frye, which they won't have to do ever again. The Packers are going to have to play four quality quarters of football to avoid losing their first road game.

The Vikings were on the road at Indianapolis, and they tied the game late with a last minute touchdown, but QB Andrew Luck moved the Colts into position for the game winning field goal before the clock ran out. After two games, the Vikings are 1-1 and QB Christian Ponder has a QB rating over 100 for the season. But they've also done it against the dregs of the AFC South (Colts and Jaguars) and their defense looks porous. They host the 49ers next week, followed by a trip to Detroit, so we'll probably know a lot more about their team after those games.

I doubt the Lions are panicking, but it's been a pretty blah showing over their first two weeks. They barely survived their home opener against the Rams; thanks to a last second, game winning touchdown. Then they trailed the entire game against the 49ers on Sunday night. It was a bit like the Packers' loss to the 49ers; they were behind all game, the 49ers made few mistakes, and only a late rally made the score look respectable.

The only major concern for the Lions should be QB Matthew Stafford, who's had QB ratings of 69.4 and 78.9 in his first two games, after finishing the 2011 season with six straight games of ratings over 97. A similar concern could be raised about the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers, but his QB rating over the first two games is actually better than it was during their playoff loss to the Giants. There doesn't appear to be anything obviously wrong, so maybe it's just a matter of getting into a rhythm.

In the NFC North, after two weeks, all four teams are tied with a record of 1-1 and no clear leader has emerged in the division. There's still a long way to go.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Packers Win Recap: Packers Defeat Bears, 23-10

A win against the Bears is always good because, you know, rivalry, but a win against a divisional opponent can matter in playoff seeding. It also helped the Packers bounce back from a disappointing home opener, and gives them something positive entering into their mini-bye week (10 days off). It also gave the running game and the defense some signs of life after a bad game against the 49ers.

Looking back at the game film from last week, it was apparent the Packers needed to run the ball more (Benson only had 18 yards rushing against the 49ers) and involve more receivers (only 5 players caught passes against the 49ers). This would help them beat the two-deep safeties who are taking away the Packers' deep threat. They did both, using a combination of Benson and Cobb to rush for over 100 yards and completing passes to 7 different receivers (though Rodgers only completed passes to 6).

That offensive strategy didn't help Rodgers's stats (219 yards, 6.8 ypa) but 5 sacks certainly disrupted what he wanted to do. Also, he's just not quite on the same page with his receivers as Nelson and Jones missed out on long receptions. You know he's going to start completing those passes at some point.

After a poor defensive effort against the 49ers, the Packers defense staged a dramatic turnaround. It certainly helped that the Bears' offensive line has some problems (Go Clay Matthews, Go!), but the Packers made three changes in personnel.
The soft coverage of CB Jarrett Bush was replaced by a lot tighter coverage by CB Sam Shields and rookie CB Casey Hayward. The pass rush alone might have made the difference, but this change certainly helped.
Maybe this was done because Walden is known for big games against the Bears, and he did finish with a half-sack and 2 QB hits. Maybe rookie LB Nick Perry is better with fewer snaps and maybe rookie LB Dezman Moses deserves some too. But Perry was part of the problem in pass coverage against the 49ers and maybe the coaches were trying to address that problem too. Unfortunately, the Bears had their only success when throwing to whoever was covered by LB D.J. Smith, so that's something that still needs to be addressed.

Also, rookie S Jerron McMillian had a big game with one INT (it looked like he held onto it) and one dropped INT. That's probably not quite reminding anyone of former S Nick Collins yet, but he's already made more big plays than I've ever seen from S M.D. Jennings.

It's not the way I would hope to start the season, but 1-1 after the first 2 games isn't a disaster either. They don't play again until Monday, September 24th (at Seattle) after which they hopefully have WR Greg Jennings and RB James Starks back from injury. If they can start connecting on those deep passes once in a while, they'll start looking a lot like the Packers we've watched over the past couple seasons.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Watching The Coaches Film From Last Weekend

The NFL has made available, through it's Game Rewind package (free trial through next Monday), the coaches film, otherwise known as All-22 (you can see all 22 players on the field for each play). It's no substitute for watching the game in HD on a regular broadcast (it's a small screen online and the players are small on it), but it's really interesting and skips through all the dead time between plays.

Re-watching the Packers loss to the 49ers, what stood out was how well the 49ers played. Some players had bad days, LT Joe Staley was eaten up by LB Clay Matthews, but he was the only player who obviously struggled. Unfortunately, we can't really discuss the penalty situation for either team because the replacement refs were so bad. QB Alex Smith threw no interceptions with only 6 incomplete passes, and his only real problem with accuracy occurred during their last drive of the first half, when Smith couldn't complete a single pass but K David Akers nailed 63 yard field goal anyway. Even the Packers usually need their opponent to make a turnover or two, and the 49ers didn't turn it over once.

I didn't watch the entire Bears game, only the first quarter, but even then the Bears made more mistakes then the 49ers made through four quarters. The Bears first offensive drive went for minus 11 yards and their second drive was even worse; a pick-six by QB Jay Cutler. The Bears offense showed up thereafter, but even their first touchdown drive was bailed out by a dumb pass interference penalty on Colts CB Justin King. The Bears are going to have to avoid those mistakes, if they can, to beat the Packers.

What can the Packers do to fix the problems last week on offense? The 49ers played their safeties deep and let their front seven take care of the run. Some teams can make you pay for it, but obviously, running the ball isn't the strength of the Packers offense (RB Cedric Benson had 9 carries for 18 yards). If the Bears try to run the same defense, the Packers are going to have to run the ball better.

With the safeties playing deep, it meant that WR Greg Jennings and WR Jordy Nelson were effectively double-covered the entire game. It also explains why the leading receivers were WR James Jones (who was left in single coverage) and WR Randall Cobb (who often was covered by a linebacker). Those are mismatches the offense did exploit, and it could have gone better if Jones could have hauled in (without committing pass interference) one of those long, sideline bombs. TE Jermichael Finley did record three drops, but only one led to a punt. As much as it will help to have a running game, and force the safeties to cheat a little closer to the line of scrimmage, other receivers are going to have to make defenses pay for leaving them in single coverage.

How about the run defense? Though he ended the game with 9 tackles, I was underwhelmed by the performance of LB D.J. Smith. He didn't make a single big play (tackle for a loss, forced fumble, pass defense) and maybe recorded a missed tackle or two. Hopefully he improves with more playing time, but right now, I'm wondering about LB Robert Francois. But Smith doesn't play on the strong side, where LB Nick Perry and DE Ryan Pickett usually line up, and when Pickett wasn't on the field, the 49ers had success running to that side.

As for the pass defense, there seemed to be three main problems. One was that they sometimes left a linebacker cover a wide receiver within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That usually didn't work, but maybe that's something Dom Capers is willing to concede. The second was the botched coverage of WR Randy Moss on his touchdown reception, which appears to have been addressed. And finally; CB Jarrett Bush. It's already been reported that Bush was a liability, but he played very soft coverage and paid for it. Hopefully, he's already fallen behind CB Sam Shields (who gave up a touchdown of his own, but is still an improvement) and I don't have any other good suggestion until CB Davon House is healthy.

Bottom line; I was a lot more optimistic after re-watching the loss to the 49ers. There are fixes the Packers can make. They can run the ball better and take advantage of Cobb or Jones deep (if teams are going to double Jennings and Nelson). The defense can play tighter in coverage, and they are going to force a turnover or two each week. It's time to show the Bears the adjustments they've made.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Greg Jennings Will Probably Miss The Bears Game

The fact that WR Greg Jennings was unable to practice on the eve of their game against the Bears is probably a sign that he's not going to play. Mike McCarthy didn't rule him out, he's technically listed as doubtful, but usually players don't play if they miss the final practice of the week.

It's been a rough season so far for Jennings. He missed time during the preseason with a concussion, and now he's suffered a groin injury. In wondering whether the Packers will miss Jennings on Thursday night, I came across something odd from the season opener.

Jennings was targeted on 9 passes against the 49ers, which is about average for him, but Aaron Rodgers only attempted passes to five different receivers (Jennings, Jones, Nelson, Finley, and Cobb). That's really strange. Usually the other tight ends and running backs have a few passes thrown their way, but there were zero passes thrown to running or full backs against the 49ers (unless you consider Cobb a running back because he lined up in the backfield on several plays).

Just as an example, here's the box score from their playoff loss to the Giants, and Rodgers attempted passes to 11 different receivers. It's an advantage to have so many different receivers involved in the passing game, and attempting passes to only 5 different players doesn't seem the way to go. The Packers won't have more than 5 eligible receivers on the field at any given time, but mixing up the personnel and the look of the formation (some plays with multiple tight ends and fewer wide receivers) gives opposing defenses more to prepare for.

So if the Packers are reluctant (for some reason) to have more players involved as receivers, it puts more pressure on the other four receivers to get open because Jennings was targeted on over 20% of Rodgers's passes last Sunday. It's almost guaranteed that WR Donald Driver will have more than three snaps against the Bears, but with this apparently new strategy of involving fewer receivers, I would think Jennings's loss would hurt more than I expected.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If You Allow A Touchdown To Randy Moss, You Find A Seat On The Bench

At first, it was hard to tell which defensive player was supposed to be covering a wide open Randy Moss when he caught a touchdown last Sunday. S Morgan Burnett was the closest player, but he was jumping up-and-down angry and he seemed to be mad at someone else. LB D.J. Smith didn't drop back in coverage, but that might not have been his responsibility. Finally, S M.D. Jennings came into the screen right after the catch, and I did notice that rookie S Jerron McMillian played during the second half. Jennings has now confirmed it:
I've never been very impressed with M.D. Jennings, but he had never before seemed like an obvious liability. A blown coverage is the type of play that keeps a young defender glued to the bench. Back in 2009, the Packers released one safety, and benched another, after Aaron Rouse (Bengals in week 2) and Derrick Martin (Vikings in week 8) botched assignments in the secondary.

I don't think McMillian is ready, and neither do the coaches if he was a reserve to start the season, but I do like his potential. Maybe the solution is to let Charles Woodson spend more time at safety, but it's not like the situation at cornerback is really solid either. Bears QB Jay Cutler has noticed the Packers' problem.

On a somewhat related note, the Packers have one less player in the defensive backfield with the release of CB Brandian Ross because they needed a roster spot for LB Erik Walden. Ross was a surprising addition to the 53-man roster, and with 11 defensive backs on the roster, I thought one of them would have to go to make room for Walden, once he was reinstated.

I expect the Packers will use Walden on special teams, and maybe even a few plays on defense. He will be good in that role; he's just not an every down starter. I wouldn't be surprised to see M.D. Jennings left inactive so that Walden can play on Thursday night.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Will The Packers Bench Jarrett Bush?

I don't know what's going to happen on Thursday night, or if the coaches are just waiting for CB Davon House to get healthy, but here's one change we might see. I'm not placing all the blame at the feet of CB Jarrett Bush, but he wasn't part of the solution against the 49ers.
Rookie CB Casey Hayward isn't ready and he'd get burned at least once against the Bears, but QB Jay Cutler is known for making some questionable pass attempts and Hayward came out of college known for his ball skills. If Hayward managed one interception, replacing him for Bush would probably be worth it.

Feeling Sick Recap: Packers Lose Home Opener To 49ers, 30-22

The best thing I can think to say about the Green Bay Packers opening game loss to the 49ers is that it's over. It reminded me a little of their playoff loss to the Giants; in a matchup of two quality teams, only one was ready to play.

Penalties. In the first week with replacement refs, maybe the Packers did what only Eagles WR Jason Avant admitted publicly; "Guys are going to kind of cheat." There seemed to be a lot of penalties around the league in week 1, and maybe every team was pushing it to the limit. The Packers had 10 penalties for the game, and at least 8 in the first half, so maybe there was an adjustment on that front at halftime. Still, two penalties in particular (hold/pass interference calls on Jarrett Bush and Charles Woodson) helped extend 49er drives, and gave the offense fewer chances in the first half.

Offense. I was a little concerned about the offensive inefficiency during the preseason, Aaron Rodgers probably had his least productive preseason since he's been named the starter, and it seemed to have spilled over into the regular season. His interception was really bad, but otherwise his accuracy was good and the offense seemed more efficient in the second half. They weren't ready for the start of the season, and it showed against a great defense. I expect they'll play better in the coming weeks.

Defense. What a wreck, though it was nice to see that Clay Matthews is off to a great start (2.5 sacks).

The run defense isn't going to be great, but it was better than it looked (32 carries and 186 yards against). The two big running plays were a designed quarterback run by backup QB Colin Kaepernick for 17 yards (it set up a field goal) and I don't know what Dom Capers was thinking at the time. When Kaepernick came in, the Packers stayed in their nickel package (maybe it was their dime) when it was well known that Kaepernick was going to be used as a runner, and he gashed a spread-out defense. The other big run was Frank Gore's 23 yard touchdown, which came against a deflated defense after Rodgers's ugly INT. The defensive players still have to make those plays, but it doesn't look like a sign that the defense has some fundamental flaw. Otherwise, it took 30 carries to earn 146 yards (4.8 ypc), which is not good, but isn't a crisis either considering that the Packers seemed to be in their nickel package (only two defensive lineman) for a majority of the game.

The pass defense is the bigger concern, as Alex Smith gashed them for two touchdowns and a 125.6 QB rating (8th best QBR for week 1 as four sacks dragged down his rating). The penalties I mentioned above were part of the problem, and CB Sam Shields looked a little passive on the touchdown pass to WR Michael Crabtree. The big problem seems to be their middle of the field zone, where the inexperience at safety (Morgan Burnett and the combination of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian) and inside linebacker (4th career start for D.J. Smith). Also, rookie LB Nick Perry lining up against any receiver in the slot is asking for trouble. There's no solution at this point, except to let those young players grow with more experience.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Packers Have Got It Easy In 2012

I was recently talking with Steve Bortstein on his AM radio show, and one question he brought up was the Green Bay Packers' tough schedule. Their first four games (49ers, Bears, Seahawks, and Saints) are a challenge, but offset by the fact that three of them are at Lambeau (on the road at Seattle).

But, as John Clayton points out, overall the Packers benefit from an easy 2012 schedule because of games against the NFC West (Rams, Cardinals) and AFC West (Colts, Jaguars, Titans). If you add the Vikings to that list, the Packers have a total of four games against the three teams that had the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 selections in the April 2012 draft. There are no gimme wins in the NFL, but that schedule doesn't hurt.

Still, the best advantage the Packers have over the rest of their opponents is an offense that was unmatched last season. The defense remains a concern, and only the coaches know who's starting in the secondary, but the defense will certainly improve. Using their first six draft picks on defensive players gives their unit a boost, but also remember that defenses are inconsistent from year-to-year. No team proved that better than the 2011 Packers, who fell from No. 2 (2010) overall in defense to No. 25 (2011) according to Football Outsiders.

It's going to be a great season, and I'm looking forward to partying like it's February 2011.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Initial Practice Squad Includes One New (To The Packers) Player

The Green Bay Packers put together their practice squad over the weekend, and it looks as I expected, but I'm a little surprised they brought back Diondre Borel over Tori Gurley (who signed on the Vikings practice squad). Gurley held onto his pass attempts this preseason while Borel dropped a couple, but Borel did a good job as a return man and the ability to play special teams can sometimes make all the difference.

The one new (to the Packers) player signed to the practice squad was OL Chris Scott, who was released by the Steelers. He's a former 5th round pick who played very little in his rookie year and was on the practice squad in 2011. He entered training camp at the bottom of the Steelers' depth chart. He's able to play guard and tackle; playing multiple positions is a trait the Packers like in their backup lineman (see: Barclay, Don).

Scott's addition, plus the return of Greg Van Roten and Andrew Datko to the practice squad, gives the Packers 10 offensive lineman. Mike McCarthy explained that only 7 offensive lineman are active most games, so it doesn't matter how many lineman are on the 53-man roster; he just needs 10 for depth and the scout team. Also, Derek Sherrod will return from the PUP list in a few weeks.

As for the rest of the practice squad. I'm not sure why they need a 5th TE, but Brandon Bostick is back. QB B.J. Coleman has so much to learn that he doesn't belong anywhere but the practice squad, though his big throwing arm is for real. I don't think DE Lawrence Guy has much of a NFL future, but he's eligible for the practice squad while a better player (DT Daniel Muir) isn't. They needed another back (full back or running back) to bring the total to 6, Mike McCarthy usually keeps a combined total of 6 FBs and RBs on the roster, and RB Marc Tyler appeared to be the best of a thin group who didn't make the 53-man roster.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Packers 53-man Roster

The Green Bay Packers released 18 players, while placing LB Vic So'oto on I.R. (injured on Thursday night) and OL Derek Sherrod on PUP (he could return after week 6), as they trimmed their roster down to 53 players. Some of these released players are likely to return to the practice squad, and some have even been told to wait in town. I'm not really surprised by any of these moves, but there still may be a couple more coming.

The consensus release surprise is WR Tori Gurley, who had a big game against the Chiefs and made Pete Prisco's All-Cut Team. Gurley's a good, young receiver, but his speed his questionable and he only had one strong game this preseason. His biggest problem is that the Packers already have five other receivers who are clearly better than him. That was also a problem for WR Diondre Borel, though he also had a couple passes go through his hands which never wins bonus points with the coaches. I'm surprised WR Jarrett Boykin made the final roster, he looks smaller than his listed 6-2, 218 lbs., but he had a nearly flawless preseason.

Here's a little bit on the other 16 players released:

Offensive line: Shea Allard, Andrew Datko, Tommie Draheim, Sampson Genus, Greg Van Roten, and Reggie Wells. All of those players are eligible for the practice squad, except Wells, and I would expect at least two of them to return when it's announced. Datko probably would have made it on the 53-man roster if he hadn't gotten injured. It's a little surprising that they only kept 7 offensive lineman, but they only kept 8 at the start of last season. I'm not surprised to see that the one young player they did keep was Don Barclay, who's had a solid preseason.

Other offensive players: I hadn't noticed TE Brandon Bostick, though I'd read good things about him from practice. QB B.J. Coleman has got a big arm, but he needs to work on everything else and is no better than a practice squad player. WR Curenski Gilleylen never impressed me, while WR Dale Moss did, but the Packers didn't need a 7th wide receiver in either case. I felt bad for RB Marc Tyler, he usually ran behind an offensive line that had trouble run blocking, but he doesn't seem to be exceptionally skilled either. FB Nic Cooper is a big guy, but after years of keeping multiple full backs on the roster, this is the second consecutive year that only John Kuhn on the roster.

Defensive line: I don't really know what they ever saw in DE Lawrence Guy. The release of DT Daniel Muir was a surprise. He was better than expected this preseason, and the recent injuries to DE Ryan Pickett and DE B.J. Raji appeared to improve his chances. But he didn't bring anything to the field except size and he showed little as a pass rusher. I guess they liked the versatility DE Phillip Merling better, though his roster spot might be short lived once Mike Neal returns from his suspension.

Linebacker: I thought the Packers would have a tough time cutting down from this group, and to use a football term, they decided to punt and keep all 10. After Erik Walden returns from his one game suspension, we might see one of them released.

Secondary: I've been a fan of S Anthony Levine, he played a good centerfield, but he was the weakest of the safeties when it came time to fight off blocks and playing run support. CB Otis Merrill was fast and he could be a weapon on special teams, but he looked like a liability on defense. He's been rumored for the practice squad, so maybe the Packers want to coach him up for a year and see what happens.

While I liked some of the players they released, the reality is that it's unlikely that any of them would have become a starter in the future. Some of the players were a surprise, but the overall construction of the roster is what I expected from the Packers.