Friday, November 30, 2012

Preview: Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Injuries are a major concern as the Green Bay Packers prepare to host the Vikings this Sunday at Lambeau.
That's three starters on defense and one on offense. Plus Shields, who'd be expected to play around 40 snaps if he was healthy. Except for White and Wilson, who both suffered concussions against the Giants, this isn't the first week any of these players have missed. But there's no doubt the season, and the team's performance, would have looked sharper if all of them had been healthy.

The injury report for the Vikings includes nine starters, but all of them except WR Percy Harvin should play. It was big news when Harvin actually practiced on Wednesday, but it was only the second time he's been able to do so all month. There's still a chance he could play, but there's no chance he'll be 100%. So the Vikings' 23rd ranked pass offense is closer to the bottom in efficiency without their No. 1 WR. The young Packers' secondary should hold up well, but the question will be whether anyone other than LB Dezman Moses can provide a pass rush.

Curiously, the Vikings rush offense is only ranked 10th overall despite the fact that RB Adrian Peterson is Football Outsiders' No. 1 ranked running back. This poor ranking seems to be entirely the fault of RB Toby Gerhart, who's played as bad as any running back in the league this season despite only 32 rushing attempts. Just as the Vikings pass offense should be taken down a notch without Harvin, the Vikings rushing offense should be carried up a few spots because the Vikings have apparently acknowledged Gerhart's problems and only given him one rushing attempt in November. He's unlikely to be given any opportunity to fumble the ball against the Packers. While the Packers' run defense has been decent this season, they're coming off their worst game against the Giants so they seem to be slumping right at the wrong time.

The Vikings' run defense isn't what it was a couple years ago, but the Packers' running game has been swirling the bowl since the injuries to RB Cedric Benson and RT Bryan Bulaga. Not that either player made their rushing attack great, but they're better than their replacements. Though they should de-emphasis the running game, their lousy pass protection is going to force them to try and make something of it. I'm expecting a lot of two yard carries by RB James Starks.

The Packers' pass offense doesn't seem quite as good as it's No. 3 ranking because of the poor pass protection. On the other hand, the Vikings' pass defense (No. 24 overall) isn't playing well either and QB Jay Cutler was only sacked once last week by the Vikings despite the fact that the Bears' offensive line is a disaster. The pass offense is going to have to produce and they should have success no matter how much they might be limiting the playbook now to compensate for their poor pass protection.

The Packers might surprise me, but I expect the Vikings will hang around in this game because the Packers don't seem able to blow out any team right now. The Packers might not score more than 24 points, which is what how much they managed in Detroit two weeks ago, and the Vikings might not be able to surpass the 20 points they scored in Seattle earlier this month.

Packers 24, Vikings 20.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What The Loss Of Cedric Benson Means To The Packers

It's not a big surprise because just last week RB Cedric Benson said he was talking to more doctors about his injured foot, but now we know that it will keep him out the rest of the year.
Just looking at their win-loss record, his absence shouldn't make much of a difference. Since he was injured during their loss to the Colts, the Packers have gone 5-1, while losing 3 of 5 with him as their starter. Of course, that isn't the entire picture.

While Football Outsiders gives him a negative DVOA percentage, his percentage is still higher than either RB James Starks or RB Alex Green, and Green in particular has struggled. The only back with a positive grade is FB John Kuhn, who's excelled during his few carries (12). Really, Kuhn's not that good and his actual value is closer to break even based on his play in 2010. Kuhn might be better than Starks, but it's not by a wide margin. If Starks is the main ball carrier going forward, I'd expect he'll end the season closer to his 2011 performance and only slightly worse than Kuhn or Benson.

There's only one game remaining on the regular season schedule when they might really miss Benson; the December 16th game against the Bears. Here's the teams left on the schedule (two games against the Vikings) and each team's defensive rankings according to Football Outsiders:

Team Pass Ranking Rush Ranking
Vikings 24 8
Lions 20 18
Bears 1 3
Titans 29 26

He could provide a boost against the Vikings and Lions, but both teams are struggling to defend against the pass, so that's probably where the offense should attack anyway. Against the Titans, who can't seem to stop any team's rushing attack, it probably doesn't matter who's carrying the ball.

The Bears have the best defense in the NFL, so it'll be a tough game no matter. But Benson had a strong game in their previous meeting (20 carries for 81 yards). If he'll be missed in any game this season, that would seem like the one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Packer Injuries: Matthews, Sherrod, and the D-Line

The bad news is that LB Clay Matthews may still not be available next Sunday, but the bigger concern might be on the defensive line.
They've survived so far without CB Charles Woodson and CB Sam Shields. WR Donald Driver hasn't played much this season. DE C.J. Wilson is not a surprise, neither is backup RB Johnny White, since they both were hurt during the loss to the Giants. I'm not sure why DT Ryan Pickett has been held out because the injury report hasn't been released yet, but Mike McCarthy said Pickett will return to practice no later than Friday.

While shutting down the Vikings' passing attack is probably the key to the game, I still expect the Packers to frequently line up with three defensive lineman when they face RB Adrian Peterson. That could be hard to do if two starters (Pickett and Wilson) are out. However, DE Jerel Worthy has returned from his concussion, so he'll provide depth alongside DE Mike Neal and DE Mike Daniels. But that would with only be five healthy lineman, and any setback by Pickett could leave them with a very tight four man rotation.

I doubt it's a surprise to anyone reading this but it's finally official: OL Derek Sherrod is not playing this season. His leg injury was severe, and it happened late last season, so it's not surprising he needs more time to recover. I'm not sure how much could have helped anyway, but the offensive line's problems aren't going away so he can become part of the solution in 2013.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Jason Babin and Looking Ahead To The Vikings

The Green Bay Packers have to take a hard look at themselves this week because they didn't show up against the Giants, but things were almost as bad for the Vikings in Chicago. While the Packers need to focus on their pass protection and pass rush, the Vikings have now lost 3 of their last 4 and were blown out early by the Bears.

First on the Packers' pass rush: could the recently released Eagles DE Jason Babin provide any help? While Football Outsiders acknowledges he's not a scheme fit for the Packers (because he can't drop back into coverage or play the run like they would need him to do at outside LB) he would be a great fit for the Bears and/or Vikings. He could become a problem for the Packers as soon as next week if the Vikings acquired him to terrorize their tackles. I think the Saints should take a chance on Babin because their window to win is now, they're still in the playoff picture, and they really need a pass rush.

The Vikings' passing game was a wreck. The combination of facing a dominant Bears' defense, the absence of WR Percy Harvin, and the loss of TE Kyle Rudolph mid-game due to a concussion led to a 22 for 43, 159 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT performance from QB Christian Ponder. I don't think Ponder will develop into anything more than a decent backup QB, but he'll do better next week against the Packers if Harvin (he hasn't yet practiced since spraining his ankle on Nov. 4) and Rudolph (he still has to clear the league's concussion protocol) can return. However, both Harvin and Rudolph played in their game last season at Lambeau and Ponder had an awful QB rating of 52.3 against a much weaker 2011 Packers' secondary.

The Packers' run defense was in shambles against the Giants and RB Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league. Last season's meeting between the two teams at Lambeau was a lopsided 45-7 victory by the Packers, and they did a good job of holding RB Adrian Peterson to 51 yards on 14 carries. But stopping Peterson isn't necessarily the key to the game. He's had some monster games against the Packers in recent years (175 yards in 2011, 131 yards in 2010) but the Vikings didn't win either one. In 2009, the Packers held Peterson to 55 yards and 97 yards in two games but the Packers still lost them both. Arguably, it's more important to shut down the Vikings' passing game, so I expect to see the Packers primarily in their nickel package next Sunday.

Both teams are looking to bounce back after getting blown out last week. Hopefully the Giants game was just an aberration and a return to Lambeau will get the Packers back on track.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some Strange Snap Counts Against The Giants

Luckily for everyone involved, I'm not going to say much about DJ World Peace other than to point out that players often rehab away from their team's facility. LB Ray Lewis is another example of a player who isn't rehabbing at his team's facility, though I've seen him on the sidelines during Ravens' games. While it's a P.R. headache to see the team's second leading rusher booking shows at gentlemen's clubs, it probably has no impact on his recovery.

As for some actual Packer news, Wes Hodkiewicz has some interesting snap counts from their game against the Giants:
It's no surprise to see that Moses played every snap since he was about the only defensive player who stood out in a positive way. But Walden had a good game against the Lions so I'm surprised that Zombo's snaps came entirely at Walden's expense. However, both Walden and Zombo were unable to get to the quarterback or shed blocks against the run, so it didn't matter which one of them was on the field against the Giants.
Unless the coaches are concerned that Hayward is hitting the rookie wall, I don't see why they limited his snaps. Having an extra safety at Hayward's expense wasn't any help. It's even worse than that for Jones: he wasn't targeted on a single pass attempt. I'm surprised they didn't make any effort to get him involved in the offense.

Having said all that, none of these trends may continue into their next game. The Packers seem to change their player rotations every week. It wouldn't have made a difference in the results, but limiting the impact Hayward and Jones couldn't have helped.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Packers Were Embarrassed By The Giants, 38-10

The Green Bay Packers got their ass kicked by the Giants. The Packers didn't outplay the Giants in any aspect on Sunday night. It's hard to fault one area like the pass rush, or the pass protection, because everything wasn't working.
Even the playoff loss to the Giants last January wasn't this lopsided. I was going to look it up, but Kevin Seifert beat me to it: the Packers hadn't lost a regular season game by double digits in three years. There's only two things to point out:

First, one game isn't a trend. A trend is a five game winning streak before Sunday night. They'll go back to Green Bay, watch the film tomorrow, learn from their mistakes next week, and move on. They're not going to play that bad again next week. In that way, the Packers can learn from the Giants, who were whipped by the Bengals on the road in similar fashion two weeks ago. Obviously, the Giants bounced back.

Second, this game didn't end their season or even change the playoff picture. They're not leading the NFC North at the moment, but they can re-take the lead by beating the Bears again in three weeks. They still hold a wild card spot. After watching home field advantage mean nothing over the last two postseasons, I don't really care what happens other than that they make the playoffs.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cedric Benson Is Talking To Another Doctor

Bob McGinn reported that Green Bay Packers' RB Cedric Benson may need foot surgery, and he's still not ready to practice, though he's eligible to return.

While I'm not his biggest fan, he's not a big play threat and he fumbles too much, there's no denying his success this season.
He's got a low bar to clear, neither RB Alex Green or RB James Starks has done much this season, but his hard running style is probably the best fit for the Packers' offense because their offensive line isn't good at opening rushing lanes. They need a back who can muscle his way for a couple yards even when there's nowhere to go.

Starks did a solid impersonation of Benson's style last week against the Lions, so I'm not surprised he's regained the starting job. While he won't give them a dynamic rushing attack, he'll be dangerous enough to make defenses bite on play action, and that'll be good enough.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How The Packers Defense Might Fare Against The Giants

The play of the Green Bay Packers defense, especially the standout performance by their previously underperforming defensive line, led them in their victory over the Lions. While LB Erik Walden and LB Dezman Moses recorded the big plays, the interior lineman collapsed the pocket, which had to have effected QB Matthew Stafford's accuracy and forced him to run around more than he should. When he did manage to throw the ball, the secondary, led by CB Casey Hayward, was waiting to make a play.

When I read how the Giants lost their last game, a 31-13 beating in Cincinnati, the Giants' problems with the Bengals defense was almost the same. The Giants' offensive line got abused in pass protection, QB Eli Manning made a couple of horrible decisions, and Bengals' CB Adam Jones had a huge game.

Rinse and repeat. Bring the pressure and force Manning into some bad decisions. If the Packers offense is still playing it conservative with their re-worked offensive line, then they might have to ride the defense until Mike McCarthy feels like he can open up the play book again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's A Three Team NFC North Race

I'm reluctant to write off any team after 10 games, a lot came happen over the last couple weeks, but the Lions are in a really deep hole. Their 4-6 record isn't so bad, but that 0-4 record in the division is awful because they'll lose the tiebreaker. Even winning out might not be good enough for them and that might not even be possible. The last time the Lions won at Lambeau, WR Randall Cobb was one year old.

I've been mocking QB Christian Ponder and his 58 and 63 yard passing games, but no defense has slowed RB Adrian Peterson down (even with his recently reconstructed knee) and the defense has been good enough. At 6-4, they seemed poised to remain in the discussion, but their future is in their own hands. With four games remaining against the Bears and Packers, they decide for themselves whether they'll win the NFC North or finish in 3rd place.

The Bears have to feel dejected after getting flattened by the 49ers on Monday Night Football. While technically behind the Packers in the NFC North, they have one more game remaining against them to re-take the lead. The Bears should still be considered no worse than the 4th best team in the NFC and they have three winnable games remaining on their schedule (hosting the Seahawks, who are terrible on the road, at Arizona and at Detroit), in addition to three divisional games against the Vikings and Packers. I'd still make them favorites in all those games, except I'd never pick them over the Packers.

Despite the replacement ref debacle in Seattle and the poor 1-2 start, the Packers find themselves a top the NFC North and in control of the division. A potentially tough game awaits them next week, depending on whether the Giants used the bye week to solve QB Eli Manning's dead arm problems, followed by four divisional games (and a visit from the Titans). I'll pick them to win all those games because I believe in them and I'm a Packers Homer. None of the games are gimmes but they have to be happy with their situation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jermichael Finley Emerges From Hibernation

The one point I forgot to mention from the Green Bay Packers' win over the Lions was the big game by TE Jermichael Finley.

Earlier this season, I had still been reading the conventional wisdom that Finley's actual stats don't matter because he draws the focus of the defense. I'm not sure that's ever been the case this season. Now we've seen defenses do the opposite and almost ignore him entirely, which is what the Lions did last Sunday. At least Finley proved that he can't be ignored.

His first big reception was his 20 yard touchdown pass, where the Packers faked a screen pass to a running back and the Lions left Finley uncovered in the middle of the field. His last reception was a 40 yard catch and run down the side line that set up the game winning touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb. On both plays, after Finley caught the ball and found himself with room to run, it seemed like he had no idea what to do. At first he was bracing for contact and when it didn't come,  he hit the gas. It was funny, in a sad way, how he seemed to forget what it was like to make a big play.

Both plays might have been designed specifically for Finley, though the Packers probably didn't diagram so many broken tackles on his 40 yard run. I saw him line up wide on a few plays which is something I haven't seen a lot this season. The Packers had been treating him like just another tight end over the past few games and Finley rewarded them with a couple big plays and no drops.

And now for something completely different: what the heck was Nick Fairley thinking? He certainly saved himself a big fine.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recap: Packers Win In Detroit, 24-20

With the absence of LB Clay Matthews (and the ongoing absence of CB Charles Woodson) I was pessimistic about the Green Bay Packers' chances of defeating the Lions. Sure, the Lions have a lot of injury problems of their own, but the Packers usually lose games when Matthews is hurt. I expected an offensive shootout, but instead the defense led the way for both teams. It might have been an ugly win, but I'll take a win on the road any week, anyway they can get it.

So the answer to the question of where the Packers would find a pass rush without Matthews: they'd find it everywhere. A lot more blitzing by defensive backs (CB Davon House and S Morgan Burnett each recorded a sack) but also pursuit from LB Erik Walden and LB Dezman Moses. While they recorded the sacks (and Moses forced a fumble), it was the interior push by the tackles that usually forced the action. Rookie DT Mike Daniels was a factor, but all the big guys deserve credit: QB Matthew Stafford rarely had a pocket to step up into. And when they did get a pass off, the young defensive backs made plays, led by a huge game from CB Casey Hayward (5 pass defenses, 1 INT) and the INT returned for a touchdown by S M.D. Jennings. RB Mikel Leshoure had some success on the ground, but the Packers were letting the chance by rarely playing with more than two defensive linemen. Even with some running room available, the Lions preferred to throw the ball, calling 46 pass plays to only 22 carries.

My biggest complaint with the offense was the featured role for RB James Starks. With a make-shift offensive line, I'm sure Mike McCarthy wanted to keep the pressure down on QB Aaron Rodgers with a conservative game plan, but the result was a stalled offense. Starks had 26 touches while WR Jordy Nelson, WR James Jones, and WR Randall Cobb combined for only 23 carries and targets. While the Lions defense didn't have a huge statistical day, DT Nick Fairley was huge with 2 sacks and 2 tackles for a loss, and he probably disrupted at least a couple other plays. The overall conservative strategy was sound and they might not have had anymore success with a pass heavy attack, but a few more pass plays might have gotten the offense going, and Nelson, Jones and Cobb should combine for more plays than Starks.

Poor K Mason Crosby. I've been on his case all season, and he came close to hitting bottom in this game with two recorded misses (plus the other one he missed while he was being iced by the Lions). The coaches probably have more confidence in Crosby than any street free agent they could bring in at this point, so releasing him seems like an extreme reaction. His job security might be better addressed in the offseason. Instead, they should focus on restoring his confidence in the interim. Kicking is a pretty inconsistent business, and Crosby's gone through more good streaks than bad. The odds are more likely that he'll kick himself out of his slump instead of falling down further.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo Will Replace Clay Matthews Against The Lions

The absence of LB Clay Matthews has been my biggest concern for the Green Bay Packers' defense over the past three seasons, and hopefully the game against the Lions on Sunday will be the only time we see it this season. There's no replacing him and the defense will take some lumps without him.

I'm not surprised to see LB Dezman Moses will start in Matthews' place, but I wasn't expecting LB Frank Zombo to return because he hasn't played at all this season. I don't expect Zombo to make a big impact, but Moses and LB Erik Walden seem to play better when they have to play fewer snaps. At least he can help them stay fresh.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Preview: Packers at Lions

The Green Bay Packers have only played one divisional game, a win over the Bears, and the Lions have played three and lost three in the NFC North. For the Lions, the final score looked close in each of those three losses, but it really wasn't, as they scored a late touchdown in each one to make it appear close.

The biggest story in this game might be injuries. The Lions have problems on offense with WR Calvin Johnson still unable to practice (everyone seems to expect he'll play on Sunday) and WR Nate Burleson lost for the season, but without LB Clay Matthews and CB Charles Woodson, the Packers defense is looking rather toothless. The question is whether the Packers will find a pass rush without Matthews and I'm not overly optimistic that they will. At least the return of CB Tramon Williams to health in 2012 gives the Packers a legitimate top corner to harass Johnson. QB Matthew Stafford may not match 5000 yards or 41 touchdowns again this season, but the NFL's No. 1 pass offense (ranked No. 4 overall by Football Outsiders) should had success against a wounded Packer defense. I would be surprised if the Packers can hold them under 28 points.

However, the injury situation might be even worse for the Lions defense. It's been a rough season for the Lions' defense from the start and their 2011 sack leader DE Cliff Avril has already missed practice time this week, along with nearly every member of the Lions' secondary. They've been forced to claim former Packer CB Pat Lee off waivers after he was abruptly released by the Raiders (never a good sign). Still, he might be one of their top two cornerbacks at the moment.

While Rodgers hasn't been a force over the past two weeks (218 yards against the Cardinals, 186 yards against the Jaguars) the absence of WR Jordy Nelson has seemed to have been the problem. With his expected return from a hamstring injury, the offense, which has vanished over the past two games during the third quarter, should get a much needed boost from the return of their top wide receiver.

The only concern might be the switch of T.J. Lang to right tackle, to replace injured RT Bryan Bulaga. Lions' DE Kyle Vanden Bosch still remains effective with 5 sacks and 10 QB hits so far this season. This will be a match-up to watch.

Another area that could help the Packers is special teams, where the Packers rank No. 12 overall by Football Outsiders (held down only by K Mason Crosby's poor season) while the Lions rank near the bottom at No. 29. The Lions could end up with more total yards of offense, but if they keep losing the field position battle, it might not be enough to win the game.

This match-up, between two high powered offenses and two injured defenses, looks like it will be a shoot out. Maybe something like Packers 31, Lions 28.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Looking At The Packers' Snap Counts

Football Outsiders is good enough to provide snap counts in a sortable table, so I thought I'd take a look and see if there was anything interesting to discover in the Green Bay Packers' tendencies.

Three lineman (Lang, Sitton, and Newhouse) have played on 629 offensive snaps through the first nine games, so that's probably the total offensive snaps. Since it's not instructive to learn that the Packers always play with five offensive lineman and one quarterback, I'll focus on the other five positions.

RBs Alex Green, Cedric Benson, and James Starks have combined for 456 snaps, which is probably the most unexpected aspect of the 2012 Packers offense: the sometimes use of WR Randall Cobb as a running back. In total, Cobb only has 350 snaps and it's seemed like he's lined up more often as a receiver than a running back, so the Packers have gone with an empty backfield at least a couple dozen times. Cobb would be a receiving threat even if he was always lined up in a standard formation, but lining him up anywhere and everywhere on the field has certainly caused some additional confusion for opposing defenses.

TE Jermichael Finley has lined up for 392 snaps this season, which at first sounded low, but he's only behind WR James Jones (553) and WR Jordy Nelson (440) among skill players. Behind the expanded role of Randall Cobb, the biggest surprise has been the diminishing role of Finley. The dropped passes and a shoulder injury have been part of the problem, but the Packers seems to be using Finley more as a blocking tight end. They haven't lined up Finley out wide as often this season and they seem content using him as a blocker as often as a receiver. This might be the right decision, maybe he's likely to drop a pass or fail to exploit a mismatch, but it's taken away the dangerous element he's brought in the past.

On defense, S Morgan Burnett appears to be the player who never leaves the field with 630 snaps played. Adding up all the snaps played by defensive backs (3191) and divided by Burnett's 630 equals 5.07 DBs lined up on average. There have been 2334 snaps by linebackers, when divided by 630 equals 3.7. And 1404 snaps by lineman which gives us 2.23. So the average formation for the Packers is two down lineman, four linebackers, and five defensive backs. Overall, it seems similar to what the defense lined up with on a majority of their 2011 snaps, though the healthy return of CB Tramon Williams, and the quality play by rookie CB Casey Hayward, has made it more effective this season.

The only thing I'd point out about this 2-4-5 defense is that it's susceptible to getting pushed off the line of scrimmage on running plays. However, the run defense is ranked No. 13 overall by Football Outsiders, which is pretty good all things considering. Opposing running backs almost always get a couple yards, but they rarely get past the linebackers and safeties.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Official: Packers RT Bryan Bulaga To I.R.

I've been disappointed with the Green Bay Packers' offensive line this season and I've been hoping they could improve as a unit over the next few weeks. That goal seems a bit less likely now.
Instead of signing an offensive lineman to fill his empty roster spot, the Packers opted to re-sign LB Vic So'oto. With LB Clay Matthews not at practice and expected to miss next week's game, they were down one player at linebacker in practice and they're obviously familiar with So'oto. I'd be surprised if he's active next Sunday so his return might only help fill out the scout team in practice.

I guess it's good news that Bulaga won't be needing surgery, but hip injuries always concern me. It doesn't sound like a long-term problem if he's able to work out and he doesn't require crutches. However, it all depends on how his hip responds to treatment over the next few months.

One positive note is that Derek Sherrod has been able to return to practice. He's still not in playing condition, but at least he's a step closer to returning by being able to practice. Mike McCarthy seems happy with backups Greg Van Roten and Don Barclay.

As for how the starting offensive line is looking now, see the post below.

Friday, November 09, 2012

How Will The Packers Get By Without Bulaga?

In Pete Dougherty's recent article, he doesn't appear to have any inside information on injured RT Bryan Bulaga, but he can read between the lines and thinks the Packers' silence about Bulaga over the past week is a sign that the injury is serious. If you re-watch the injury on NFL Game Rewind, he might have not even been in contact with another defender when it happened, though sometimes the lack of severity has nothing to do with it's actual extent. Assuming that Dougherty is correct and it's a serious injury that keeps Bulaga out for several weeks, who are their options on the offensive line?

Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard and T.J. Lang at right tackle. While I've seen the same problems with Dietrich-Smith that the Packers have seen over the past couple years (he's somewhat undersized and can miss his blocking assignments) he played well when he replaced RG Josh Sitton last season. And he looked good against the Cardinals last Sunday too, who have a couple of quality inside pass rushers (Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell). Lang struggled at right tackle when he played it in 2009, but he's certainly improved since his rookie season, though he did allow at least one hit on QB Aaron Rodgers. It's not an ideal situation, and it might be asking a lot of Lang, who's taken a step back at left guard after a strong 2011 season, but it should work.

Undrafted rookies Greg Van Roten and Don Barclay. While both players come from humble origins, they impressed the coaches this summer. If the Packers really believed they could improve on either of them, they could have brought in some other offensive linemen for a workout. Van Roten seemed to have made a big impression on the coaches in practice, while I was less impressed with him during the actual preseason games. Barclay played well throughout the preseason at guard and tackle (Van Roten only played guard). Neither player is a project either. According to, Van Roten started 30 games in college and Barclay played in an impressive 52 games at West Virginia and stated at left tackle for three seasons. While Van Roten was probably undrafted because he played at a small school (Penn), Barclay is undersized for an NFL left tackle and probably not the most athletic player at his position. However, they both seem able to play, if needed.

Seventh round rookie OL Andrew Datko. This preseason, he didn't seem to be over the shoulder problems that plagued him in college and he finds himself on the practice squad instead of the active roster. If he wasn't healthy enough to practice then I don't expect the Packers would be stashing him on the practice squad. During the preseason, he didn't look like an asset in the running game but he did seem to hold up as a pass blocker. He might find himself back on the active roster soon depending on what happens with Bulaga.

Former first round pick Derek Sherrod. The Packers made room for him on the roster this week, but Sherrod still hasn't practiced in forever. It's possible he could return, but it's more likely he'll find himself on season ending I.R. in a couple weeks. They don't need another offensive lineman immediately (with Van Roten and Barclay active on game day, they'll give the Packers their usual seven active offensive lineman) so they can afford to wait a couple weeks on Sherrod.

While that isn't an impressive stockpile of depth, it's decent enough. At least they wouldn't have to rely on someone who's no good, such as former lineman Herb Taylor who was released during the preseason.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Nick Perry Is Probably Lost For The Season

The Green Bay Packers have been getting a lot of bad injury news lately, and some more was dropped on election night.
On one hand this isn't such a big deal since Perry has only recorded two sacks and two QB hits. On the other hand, it'll turn 2012 into a lost season for their 1st round pick who might have given the team it's best chance of weathering the storm while LB Clay Matthews is out with a hamstring injury.

Supposedly Matthews's hamstring injury isn't as bad as it was in 2010 and the Packers probably have a good idea on how to manage the injury since it's been a problem in the past. But when he does return to the field, he might not be the same player. Back in 2010, he played through the month of November with an injured hamstring and, unsurprisingly, he wasn't himself. One game that comes to mind was the win over the 49ers, when he lined up against then struggling rookie RT Anthony Davis and only recorded one QB hit (no sacks). Before his 2010 hamstring injury, Matthews was dismantling poor offensive tackles like Davis. Once he returns this season, he might not be much of a factor if he's not completely healthy.

No defensive lineman has made much of an impact this season, though DE Mike Neal did beat LG Daryn Colledge last week for a sack, so it'll fall on the linebackers to make a difference in the pass rush. That might come from inside if defensive coordinator Dom Capers dials up more inside blitzes from LB A.J. Hawk and LB Brad Jones, but primarily it's got to come from the outside.

They only offered him a minimal one year deal in free agency, and drafted Perry to replace him, but LB Erik Walden has remained and their No. 2 pass rusher with 11 QB hits on the season. Walden is as inconsistent as ever, he had a great game against the Cardinals but did nothing against the Jaguars the week before, and he'll certainly struggle if Matthews isn't around to occupy additional blockers. He'll be asked to do more, and I'm not sure he's up to the challenge, if Matthews is out.

LB Dezman Moses has gotten rave reviews all year, but he hasn't made a big impact on defense this season. In 115 defensive snaps so far this season, he's recorded 1 sack and 2 QB hits. There's an argument to be made that he just needs more of an opportunity, and it looks like he'll be getting a chance to prove it.

LB Frank Zombo has just returned from the PUP list and he was inactive last week against the Cardinals, so I'm not expecting anything from him until he proves he can step back onto the field. Even then, since he's played so little over the last two seasons, it's hard to believe he'll be an effective player immediately.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Looking At Rodgers's Struggles Against The Cardinals

I think QB Aaron Rodgers is being pretty hard on himself for saying "I've got to play better" while he's throwing four touchdown passes. His criticism was directed at his low throw to WR Jordy Nelson which forced Nelson to slide (and led to his ankle injury) and their inability to put the Cardinals away in the second half.

Overall, he completed only 14 of 30 passes, but he wasn't helped by his receivers, who might have dropped as many as four passes in the first half. The offense also struggled to start the second half, as they went three-and-out on their first three possessions and Rodgers went 0 for 6. Since that seems to be his least effective stretch, here's a closer look at the six incompletions.

(14:22) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete deep middle to 88-J.Finley. While Rodgers might be hard on himself at this point, the Cardinals coverage was excellent in the third quarter (that is, until they forgot to cover TE Tom Crabtree on a 72 yard touchdown). On this particular play, no one was open and Rodgers rolled right. He then saw TE Jermichael Finley running back to the middle of the field, deep, and Rodgers made a pretty dangerous pass across his body. While it was ill-advised, it was a very low percentage play and it would have been impressive if he had completed it.

(14:14) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short right to 89-Ja.Jones (21-P.Peterson). On 3rd down, Rodgers threw a quick slant to WR James Jones. The ball was right where it needed to be, in front of the receiver and low so only Jones could catch it, but CB Patrick Peterson was right there and reached into knock it away. This was a great play by Peterson.

(13:25) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short right to 20-A.Green. Once again, Rodgers had time to throw but no one was open. His check down receiver was RB Alex Green out of the backfield, but even that play had one Cardinal defender in tight coverage. Rodgers threw the ball high and out of bounds, but if he had thrown it right on target, it would have been intercepted and a potential pick-six. There was no way he could have completed it, and he was probably throwing it away.

(13:20) (Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short left to 89-Ja.Jones. Rodgers was probably not happy with where he threw this pass because he threw it out of bounds and Jones had no chance to catch it. He was trying to hit Jones in the back of the end zone, but once again, he had a very small window to throw into due to tight coverage.

(11:43) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short right to 18-R.Cobb. I'm a broken record here, but once again, Rodgers had time to throw and no one was open. Finally, he decided to throw to WR Randall Cobb as he ran towards the right sidelines, but there was a defender right on top of him. Rodgers threw the ball out of bounds in front of Cobb, but if he had left the throw over the field then the defender could have probably made a play on it.

(11:36) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-A.Rodgers pass incomplete short middle [54-Q.Groves]. Rodgers was hit as he threw this pass and it wasn't anywhere near a receiver. I'm just glad it wasn't ruled a fumble.

During these three drives, Rodgers wasn't as accurate as he could have been but he looked about as good as ever. His biggest problem was that the Cardinals were playing great coverage. It also didn't help that he didn't have Nelson available, who might have had more success at beating the coverage. It's frustrating, but he didn't force a pass into an ill-advised interception and these stretches probably happen to every team.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Packers Win Fourth In A Row, Improve To 6-3 Before The Bye Week

The Green Bay Packers didn't blow out the Cardinals, who have now lost their last five games, but they did score first on a beautiful screen pass to WR Randall Cobb and they never trailed. The big story, and concern, are the new injuries, especially the hamstring injury to LB Clay Matthews. Immediately after the game, there was no word on how the injured players were doing.

QB Aaron Rodgers was pretty critical of his own play, but I thought he was accurate and, obviously, four touchdown passes is pretty impressive. Drops were a problem, again, and a FOX graphic showed at least four by mid-game. He did miss a couple passes into tight spots, but his criticism of those incompletions is because of his high standards. It didn't help that he barely had WR Jordy Nelson again this week, as he came out early after an ankle injury. Few teams can survive losing their top two receivers, and it's no surprise that he struggled a little.

The running game showed some signs of life, but unfortunately, the Cardinals were begging the Packers to run. They were much more concerned with the passing game, and during the first half, the Cardinals often played with only two defensive lineman. They sometimes left a linebacker standing over the center while their two lineman lined up over the tackles, so Mike McCarthy went to the ground game. RB James Starks had room to run as the offensive line pushed around the Cardinals' linebackers, but then he had to ruin it with a fumble (fortunately, it was recovered by Rodgers). Once the Packers had a second half lead, and the Cardinals started expecting the run, they began to line up with NT Dan Williams and the rushing attack slowed down. Also, the Packers failed to convert three times in the second half on 3rd and 1, so their power running game in short yardage situations still needs work.

RT Bryan Bulaga was lost for the game with a hip injury, and LG T.J. Lang played well as his replacement at right tackle. The offense didn't seem to miss a step with OL Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, but Lang has struggled in the past at tackle so hopefully Bulaga returns soon.

Allowing 306 yards to QB John Skelton might be seen as bad, but he almost had over 300 yards the previous week against the 49ers. He accumulates yards, but then struggles translating it into points. The Cardinals did manage a second quarter touchdown after an interception, and I don't think it was a coincidence that they had their two 3rd quarter scoring drives right after Matthews injured his hamstring. LB Erik Walden had a great game (3 QB hits, 1 interception) after a poor game last week against the Jaguars, but he and LB Dezman Moses weren't nearly as effective as Matthews (obviously). Going forward, they'll need Matthews back ASAP, but he's been limited by bad hamstrings in previous seasons so they might not be able to expect much from him the rest of this month.

After reading a lot of praise for rookie CB Casey Hayward over the last week, he struggled against the Cardinals. I didn't count all the completions he allowed, but it was several and at least one big one that set-up the first touchdown. Having said that, he did break up the pass on 4th down with two minutes left in the game and that play was the Cardinals' last gasp.

All the injuries were bad, but they did win the game and now enter their bye week on a four game winning streak. The Bears keep rolling, but the Packers still control their playoff destiny. Now they have a week off to get healthy before playing two tough road games (at Detroit, at NY Giants) as they finish out the month of November.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Cardinals at Packers: Looks Like Another Ugly Game

Despite an impressive showing by QB Alex Smith against the Cardinals last Monday, the Cards' defense has been their strength this season. Even after Smith's great game, their defense is still ranked No. 6 (two spots ahead of the Packers) by Football Outsiders. Which means the Packers' offense is going to need to play better than it did last week against the Jaguars, and injuries might hold them back.

Mike McCarthy is still thinking happy thoughts about WR Jordy Nelson and said he's a game time decision, but he didn't practice at all this week. It's hard to learn the game plan if you can't practice, and I can't think of another player in recent years who's missed an entire week of practice but still played in that week's game.

Against the Jaguars, the absence of Nelson, in addition to WR Greg Jennings's continued absence, showed how ineffective the offense can be when QB Aaron Rodgers lacks good receivers. WR James Jones and WR Randall Cobb are an effective one-two punch, but he really needs a third option. Which is probably why Mike McCarthy had a one-on-one meeting with TE Jermichael Finley to help re-discover "Finley...The Beast."

On the other hand, all the Packers need is three scoring drives for the win. The Cardinals offense appears to be broken and they haven't scored more than 16 points in any of their previous four games (all losses). Having the 49ers hold you to 3 points is one thing, but they've also been stopped or shut down by three other teams who aren't known for their defense (Rams, Bills, and Vikings).

However, the Cardinals offense (ranked No. 30 by Football Outsiders) is actually one spot better than the Jaguars, who did manage to score 15 points (and keep it close) last week against the Packers. They have to learn some lessons from last week and play better. One obvious spot of improvement is at outside linebacker, where the absence of LB Nick Perry has provided more playing time for LB Erik Walden, who did nothing last week against a poor offensive tackle. The Cardinals don't have quality offensive tackles either, and if Walden turns one of them into a competent player, it could provide the Cards with a much needed boost. At the very least, giving LB Dezman Moses more snaps couldn't hurt.

Still, the Packers haven't been held under 22 points at home this season, and the Cardinals haven't scored more than 20 points on the road. This game is going to be closer than it would have been if Jennings or Nelson was healthy, but there's no reason the Packers can't manage another ugly 24 to 15 type win.