Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mid-Season Power Rankings

Right now I am still having a tough time trying to figure out this league.  The Giants got a pretty fortunate win on Sunday with Dez putting his hand down out of bounds on the game winning touchdown.  The Bears kicked a last second field goal in order to beat the Panthers.  San Fransisco has looked good at times, and downright horrible at times.  Houston seems to be pretty consistent, but the Packers destroyed them in back in week 6.  So this is just my opinion of how I would rank the teams, because it is not an exact science of a clear cut favorite this season.

1.  Atlanta Falcons--They have beaten everyone that they have played.  Their early victory against the Denver Broncos keeps getting more and more impressive each week.  They are very stacked on offense and on defense.  Roddy White & Julio Jones may be the best 1 & 2 WR in the league for any team.

2.  New York Giants--They keep finding ways to win.  They have their strong defensive line, Victor Cruz and Eli Manning.  Right now they are the team that nobody would want to play, simply because they find a way to win and seem very scrappy.

3.  New England Patriots--They have the best offense in the league.  Despite his injury, no one has been able to stop Gronk.  Tom Brady seems like he just wants to quiet all of the critics.  They still have one of the best coaches in the league.

4.  Chicago Bears--It may not be their offense that is simply amazing, but their defense has been non-stop awesome this year.  They probably should have lost to Carolina, but their defense kept them in the game and got another defensive touchdown.

5.  Houston Texans--Great running game and a great passing game.  Owen Daniels is underrated and so is Matt Schaub.  JJ Watt has simply changed the face of the defense and that is why they could let Mario Williams leave last season.

6.  Green Bay Packers--The reason that I don't have them higher is because of the fact that they seem to scare me.  We should have beaten the Jaguars a little bit better, we seemed to have the Rams put away but they kept trying to come back.  Our defense is much better, but our offensive injuries worry me.

7.  San Fransisco 49ers--They beat the teams they are supposed to, except for the Vikings.  The seem like a team that can dominate, and then they have those horrible struggles against the Giants and Seahawks offensively.

8.  Denver Broncos--Same good defense, Peyton Manning is doing well.  John Fox left Carolina at just the right time.  John Elway knows how to put together a team.  Things could be good for quite some time in Mile High Country.

9.  Pittsburgh Steelers--They seem to be getting things put back together, and quite handily beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday.  Those jerseys do not ever need to be worn again.

10.  Minnesota Vikings--Did anyone expect Adrian Peterson to be so good so soon after coming back from his ACL surgery last December?  He is leading the league in rushing.

11.  Baltimore Ravens--Too many defensive injuries.  Were blown out by the Texans, lost to the Eagles.  Should have lost to New England and Dallas.  Now they have to play without Webb.  Things are just going to go downhill from here, but they do have Ray Rice.

12.  Indianapolis Colts--I don't think anyone expected them to be playing this well so early in the year.  They beat the Packers for their big upset.  And I think everyone is praying for Chuck Pagano.  Bruce Arians may be a head coach somewhere else rather quickly.

13.  Miami Dolphins--So, it's time to give Joe Philbin some love.  Right now these Dolphins are projected to go to the playoffs, and I was pretty certain they were the worst team in the division.  I am almost certain I picked the Bills to go to the playoffs instead.

14.  Seattle Seahawks--They have played pretty good at home and bad on the road.  They have some impressive wins against the Packers (let's not get into that) and the Patriots.  They also have lost to the Cardinals and the Rams.  They have a good defense but I'm hoping that Sherman (Optimus Prime) will not keep trash talking.

15.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers--They looked really good on a short week against the Vikings.  Their new coach Greg Schiano has them playing disciplined football.  I'm pretty sure Ronde Barber is still one of the best corners in football.

16.  Cincinnati Bengals--This is where I think there is a complete dropoff in talent and I'm just going to list some teams.

17.  Detroit Lions
18.  New York Jets
19.  Dallas Cowboys
20.  Philadelphia Eagles
21.  Arizona Cardinals
22.  Buffalo Bills
23.  San Diego Chargers
24.  Oakland Raiders
25.  Washington Redskins
26.  St. Louis Rams
27.  Tennessee Titans
28.  New Orleans Saints
29.  Cleveland Browns
30.  Carolina Panthers
31.  Jacksonville Jaguars
32.  Kansas City Chiefs

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Woodson Only A Minor Loss

By: Matt Bove

Two years ago an injury to Charles Woodson would have been devastating to the Packers Super Bowl chances. Now, with Woodson projected to be out for about four to six weeks, the Packers should be able to get by without him.

It would seem irrational to say this, since Woodson should be a future Hall of Fame player, and he has been an incredible player for the Packers since they signed him as a free agent in 2006. However, Woodson has just not been the same player this season.

Woodson is known as one of the toughest players in the NFL, so the Packers are hoping he can be back sooner rather than later. Aaron Rodgers, speaking on his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com, expects that to be the case.

"I was just hoping it wasn't what they told us, I would still bet on the low end of the range," Rodgers said. "If they're saying four to eight weeks, I would bet closer to four with Charles. It's tough. He and I are obviously close, and I've always appreciated his support, his leadership and friendship. Not to mention the way he plays on the field, he's an incredible player. But this gives guys like (Jerron) McMillian, M.D. Jennings an opportunity - a Casey Heyward and (Davon) House as well - to get some playing time now and expectations are going to be high."

Woodson's Packers career has been on one of the most decorated careers in the Packers history to this point. He has 38 career interceptions for the Packers and 55 for his entire career. He has 11 career interceptions returns for touchdowns, which is second all-time behind Rod Woodson. Also, his eight defensive touchdowns for the Packers are a team record. Woodson won NFL Defensive MVP in 2009 with with 74 tackles, two sacks, nine interceptions and three touchdowns.

Dom Capers' defense used to be build around Woodson and his playmaking ability. His ability to read quarterbacks, create turnovers, to be put anywhere in the defense and to blitz off the edge was paramount for the Packers defense. This season, Woodson has been almost invisible compared to what he used to be.

Woodson only has one interception this season in seven games. He has lost a step in coverage, so he has resorted to using his hands more, and he has four defensive penalties this season. Also, when Woodson has been sent on blitzes this season, he has been mostly getting blocked.

It is probably a stretch to say that Woodson will not be missed at all, but it is a possibility. They will miss his physicality in run defense and in defending the screen game. What they will miss most is his veteran presence and leadership. It was Woodson who gave the major motivational speeches before the NFC Championship game and at halftime during the Super Bowl, after he broke his collarbone during the second quarter. Woodson should still be able to lead in the meeting rooms and from the sidelines.

The Packers are much deeper in the secondary this season than they have been in recent years. Rookie Casey Heyward has been one of the best rookies in the NFL this season.  Head coach Mike McCarthy raved about Heyward this week to reporters.

" I just think he's a heck of a football player," McCarthy said. "For a rookie to come in here and play as many positions and to pick it up the way he has, he just needs to play, so I'm very happy with the progress he's making."

Heyward is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (four) and is second on the team in pass breakups (eight) despite playing only playing in the dime for mot of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward also leads the NFL in quarterback rating into his coverage (23.7).

Heyward only became a full-time player last week when Sam Shields missed the game due to a shin injury and will remain one at least as long as Woodson is out. Heyward's coverage in the slot should be a step up from Woodson. When Shields comes back from his short-term injury, him and Tramon Williams form a very good tandem on the outside. The other young defensive backs who will see an increase in playing time are Davon House, Jerron McMillian and MD Jennings.

House is the Packers biggest ( 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds) and most physical corner, and he was well on his way to beating out Shields for the starting cornerback spot before injuring his shoulder in the preseason opener. He made his season debut last week vs. St. Louis and was solid. He blanketed his man in coverage most of the time, and broke up a pass to Chris Givens on a critical fourth-and-2 quick slant early in the second quarter. House did allow a 3-yard touchdown to Austin Pettis with the game already decided, which was his only error.

McMillian, a rookie selected in the fourth-round, will split time with Jennings at safety and play Heyward's former position as slot cornerback in the dime. McMillian has had his ups and downs this season, but he has shown that he is capable of making plays and being physical.

With Woodson's declining ability and the Packers' great depth in the defensive backfield, the Packers are more adept to handle Woodson's injury than ever before. This could even turn into a good thing for Woodson, as his body should be fresh down the stretch for the Packers.

The Packers will gladly welcome Woodson back when the time comes, but for now the Packers should be able to survive without him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blind Resumes

So, another week has gone by and the Packers have looked quite impressive once again.  On Monday Night Football, the Bears continued to lead the division and are now at 5-1.  I think that for a moment we need to look outside the records and see exactly what each team has done in specific games by looking at some things without the name of the team present.  There are 11 teams with winning records and right now we will look at those teams accomplishments to date this season.

1.  Team A (5-2)

Best win:  44-13 over Cincinnati
Worst Loss:  13-43 against Houston
Wins by more than 7:  1
Road Record: 1-2
Home Record: 4-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 1
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team A is the Baltimore Ravens.

2.  Team B (4-3)

Best win: 24-23 over New England
Worst Loss: 13-19 against St Louis
Wins by more than 7:  1
Road Record: 1-3
Home Record: 3-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 2
Currently in the playoffs: No

Team B is the Seattle Seahawks

3.  Team C (5-2)

Best win: 24-13 over San Fransisco
Worst Loss: 28-36 against Washington
Wins by more than 7:  2
Road Record: 1-2
Home Record: 4-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 2
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team C is the Minnesota Vikings

4.  Team D (6-0)

Best win: 27-3 over San Diego
Worst Loss: None
Wins by more than 7:  2
Road Record: 3-0
Home Record: 3-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 0
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team D is the Atlanta Falcons

5.  Team E (4-3)

Best win: 31-21 over Denver
Worst Loss: 18-20 against Arizona
Wins by more than 7:  3
Road Record: 2-2
Home Record: 2-1
Wins over teams with a winning record: 0
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team E is the New England Patriots

6.  Team F (5-1)

Best win: 41-21 over Indianapolis
Worst Loss: 10-23 against Green Bay
Wins by more than 7:  4
Road Record: 2-1
Home Record: 3-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 0
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team F is the Chicago Bears

7.  Team G (4-3)

Best win: 20-18 over New England
Worst Loss: 16-19 against Buffalo
Wins by more than 7:  1
Road Record: 1-2
Home Record: 3-1
Wins over teams with a winning record: 2
Currently in the playoffs: No

Team G is the Arizona Cardinals

8.  Team H (5-2)

Best win: 30-22 against Green Bay
Worst Loss: 3-26 against New York Giants
Wins by more than 7:  4
Road Record: 1-2
Home Record: 3-0
Wins over teams with a winning record: 2
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team H is the San Fransisco 49ers

9.  Team I (6-1)

Best win: 43-13 over Baltimore
Worst Loss: 24-42 against Green Bay
Wins by more than 7:  3
Road Record: 3-0
Home Record: 3-1
Wins over teams with a winning record: 1
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team I is the Houston Texans

10.  Team J (4-3)

Best win: 42-24 over Houston
Worst Loss: 22-30 against San Fransisco
Wins by more than 7:  3
Road Record: 2-2
Home Record: 2-1
Wins over teams with a winning record: 2
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team J is the Green Bay Packers

11.  Team K (5-2)

Best win: 26-3 over San Fransisco
Worst Loss: 17-24 against Dallas
Wins by more than 7:  3
Road Record: 2-1
Home Record: 3-1
Wins over teams with a winning record: 1
Currently in the playoffs: Yes

Team K is the New York Giants

If there is anything to be learned by this exercise this morning, it's that there really is no dominant team in the NFL this season.  I feel like the media keep trying to put up different teams and say they are the most complete or best team.  We still do only have 1 undefeated team in the Falcons, but their best opponents have been Denver and San Diego.  The Bears and Texans both have one loss, but the Bears haven't beaten any good teams and the Texans just beat a Ravens roster decimated by injuries.  Right now I am very confident in the roster that the Packers have and think that we will continue to improve.  We have the Jaguars and Cardinals at home the next 2 weeks in games that we need to win so that we can try to win the division.  I just think it's important to be clear that the Patriots aren't as bad as people are saying, but the Bears, Texans, and Falcons are not that great either.  There is still a lot of season to play.  Go Pack Go!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Packers in Transitition?

I write this realizing that with any organization or team, you have to constantly be changing to keep up with progress, and you cannot play every game the same.  It just seems like the Packers have come up with a game plan that could feature several different players than what we have been accustomed to seeing over the last few years.

1.  Randall Cobb/Greg Jennings

Cobb is a smaller version of what Jennings has been for us for so many years.  The guy who will catch the 10 yard pass and then turn upfield and make a few guys miss.  I know Jennings is in a contract year and has been hurt much of this season.  I'm not necessarily saying that he's replaceable, but the Packers have been known to let some big money free agents go and sign elsewhere.  If Jennings demands too much, I wouldn't be surprised to see him sign somewhere else, although it would be difficult because Driver is still on the team and we have had so much receiver loyalty since the Javon Walker holdout from 2004-5.

2.  Tom Crabtree/Jermichael Finley

First off, I don't care how talented you are, you don't come out and blast comments about the NFL MVP from last season.  Aaron Rodgers has won over the hearts of Green Bay fans after the Brett Favre saga that we had to deal with from 2007-2009.  Rodgers showed a lot of character and poise becoming the starter of our team, and if you don't have chemistry with him, then my blame would go to you.  Also, Crabtree has 2 receiving touchdowns this year.  The one off of the fake field goal with the Bears, and then the one Sunday Night against the Texans where they just didn't guard him.  Of course this cannot be discussed without mentioning that lastly, Finley drops so many passes.  I don't know what it is about Finley or Dez Bryant, largely considered two of the top talents in the league, but they drop passes.  I don't know if it is mental, if they just take if for granted because of how talented they are, if they think they are bracing for a hit that doesn't always come, but you have to catch the football when it hits you in the hands.

3.  Casey Hayward/Sam Shields

I'm sure everyone noticed Sam Shields down at the end of the game on Sunday night.  I was a little frustrated and I don't even know how bad the injury was.  But clearly Matt Schaub had his mind set on I'm going to show this rookie cornerback how it's done.  Casey Hayward is now leading our team in INT's, and he was injured to start the season.  He had a beautiful deflection to defend a touchdown and then a interception on back to back plays.  I don't really know what else it is but we need to start seeing Hayward on the field more.

When I was writing our season preview earlier this year, I knew this was going to be the toughest part of our schedule to start the season.  3-3 is not a bad spot for us to be in.  Yes, we could have played better, but I think that by the end of November we need to be at least 7-4 if not 8-3 because of our opposition coming up during that time.  Here are those next 5 games: @Rams, Jaguars, Cardinals, BYE, @Lions, @Giants.  I'm not really sure why we have road games back to back between the Lions and Giants again, but our schedule certainly went down a notch when those teams right now have a combined record of 14-14, and our previous opponents have a record of 20-13, it certainly does look a lot brighter ahead of us.  No matter what happens, I just hope the Packers can keep winning, and I'll sleep better if it is big wins like Sunday night.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Packers vs. Texans Offensive Preview

The Green Bay Packers are at a crossroads in their season. If they beat the Houston Texans, the best team in the NFL in my opinion, they can ride that momentum to propel them the rest of the season. If they loose, they can be three games back of first place and their playoff chances would be hanging on by a thread. It will be a tall order to go into Houston and win. Their offense will need to play at an elite level in order to do it.

The Packers' offense has been nowhere near as good as the all-time level it played at last season. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 21 times, which outs him on a pace near the incredible 51 times he was sacked in 2009.

Part of it has been the play of the offensive line, part of it has been that the receivers are not getting open and part of it has been that Rodgers has simply held onto the ball for to long.

The regression of Bryan Bulaga has been scary. Hopefully, it is because his knee is injured worse than the Packers are letting on. According to Pro Football Focus, Bulaga has allowed 21 hurries, three sacks and three hits through the first five games. Bulaga will somehow have to block J.J. Watt on Sunday and that could be trouble.

The Packers' wide receiver core is known as one of the best in the NFL, but they have played nowhere near that level so far this season. Part of it is scheme and part of it is that they are not beating man coverage and not making enough plays.

Mike McCarthy has not yet adjusted to the two deep safeties and man under look that teams have been throwing at the Packers. Greg Jennings being injured has been huge as well. He is by far the best wide receiver on the team at beating man coverage. Only James Jones has been effective at it this season. Also, the receivers have had way too many drops and too many plays that were made last year that have not been made this year.

Rodgers is the third part of this issue. He has developed happy feet in the pocket, something I have not seen from him since 2009. The added pressure has made him go through his reads to fast and he is missing people open that he hasn't before.

Another problem with Rodgers is the he has not gotten out of the pocket nearly enough. Last year when a play broke down, he would get out of the pocket with ease and either make a play or throw the ball away. This year he has spent to much time in the pocket. Also, he has felt phantom pressure at times and has ran into sacks way too much.

Rodgers might need to start taking more chances down the field, like dare I say Brett Favre. Rodgers is the opposite of Favre, as he hates throwing interceptions. However right now, it may be working against him with all the sacks he is taking. He has been afraid to challenge the two deep safety look. He doesn't need to be reckless like Favre, but just take a few more chances. He has the arm talent to make some throws that he is not attempting.

If the Packers don't fix the sack issue it will be a long game against Houston. 3rd and longs are death against Houston. The Packers will need a balanced attack to keep the down and distances manageable. McCarthy will need to show trust in Alex Green like he was in Cedric Benson. Once they lost Benson, McCarthy got away from the run after being balanced with Benson. Josh Sitton send McCarthy a message after the game that he didn't like it. 

"We have to make sure we can run the ball, Sitton said. We have to have that variety. We're not the same team as last year, obviously. We can't sit back there and throw the ball 20 times in a row to be successful."

"We have to run the ball and have the confidence in the play caller to call the run and we need to run the ball."

Houston's defense is one of the best in the NFL. The Texans rank third in yards (275.6), fourth in points (14.6) and tied for fifth in takeaways (11).

It all starts up front with J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. If the season ended today Watt would be the NFL's defensive MVP and is absolute beast. He has 8.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 11 tackles for loss and eight passes batted down so far this season.

The Packers need to scheme to somehow contain him and the rest of Houston's pass rush. Wade Phillips may blitz than other defensive coordinators have against the Packers. If they can pick them up it should help the Packers.The key to containing the rush is using heavy formations and running the ball. With the no- huddle offense this year, the Packers have stayed in the same formation too many times and have not used enough multiple formations.

Alex Green does his best running with screens and draws. Those should be perfect to slow down this rush. McCarthy must call more screens, as the Packers screen game seemed to leave them when Mike Sherman did. Green also must prove that he can run inside and read the holes and the lanes like Benson did. Vision has been his weakness thus far.

The weakness in the Texans defense is in the middle of the field. That is where McCarthy and Rodgers must attack it in the passing game. Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are solid on the outside, but Danieal Manning and Glover Quin are weaker at safety and Brian Cushing's injury is a huge blow to their inside linebackers. Cushing was their dime linebacker, so the Texans may have trouble covering the middle without him.

It really hurts the Packers that Jermichael Finley and D.J. Williams may not be able to play in this game. If Finley could hold onto the ball he could make a lot of big plays in this matchup. Also, the less tight ends McCarthy has the less he can go to heavy formations. If those tight ends cannot play, and even if they can, McCarthy must go back to getting slants in the game plan, as they also left with Sherman and Favre. They finally ran a successful slant in the second half in Indy, so hopefully it is a sign of things to come.

The Packers will need to execute, run the ball, protect the passer, attack the middle of the field and avoid turnovers in order to beat Houston. It is a tall task, but it is not impossible if they can execute. They have the talent, they just need a solid game plan and they need to execute it in order to turn their season around in Houston.

Packers vs Texans: How To beat Them Defensively

The packers draw the Texans this weekend, a tough task to handle defensively  Let's look at our defensive keys to the game.

1. Control the run game. If you can't stop the run game it's over before it starts
2. Take away the big play WR threat.
3. Make Schaub get happy feet.... force him to win it.

I would  like to see Green bay use base on 1st down and go nickle after that. Roll coverage to Andre Johnson and make sure a Safety like Woodson takes the TE.

If you allow Schaub to get comfortable or the run game to crank it's a long night.

On a ST note Keshawn Martin a rookie from Michigan state will return punts and KO.  This could be  something Green Bay exploits.

We can NOT have coverage gaffs this weekend as they will end up as 6 points. Pursue the football....Tackle and play assignment sure.

Let's go to Houston and get the W !   Go Pack Go !!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Special Teams Have Been Special

Since he began as the Packers' special teams coach in 2009, Shawn Slocum has come under a ton of fire and vitriol. Fans were screaming for his head as the Packers had no special returner and to many times had gotten burned by allowing big returns. However, last season Slocum's special teams started to turn it around  and have really taken it to another level to start this season.

Part of the reason Slocum's special teams struggled was coaching, but a lot of it was personnel as well. One of the biggest mistake's during Ted Thompson's tenure so far has been cutting Jon Ryan in 2008. Two awful punters followed him in Derrick Frost and Jeremy Kapinos, before they finally found a suitable replacement in Tim Masthay.

The Packers had been searching for an actual threat as a returner for years until Thompson finally addressed the issue and drafted Randall Cobb in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft.  Cobb broke the record for the longest kick return in NFL history in his NFL debut by returning a kick 108 yards.

The Packers have also greatly improved their personnel on their coverage teams. The Packers have really started to take special teams into account when deciding their roster spots. If you are a player on the roster bubble you better be able to contribute on special teams.  An NFL players' dream obviously is not to be a gunner on special teams, but you have to get them committed. Mike McCarthy and Slocum have done a great job of driving that message home.

In a close game special teams can a lot of times be the difference in the game. Field position is always a key in a game and a punt or kick return for a touchdown is always a huge momentum shift. Also, getting a turnover on special teams is always huge, as teams who have forced a special teams turnover are 8-1 this season (it's really 9-1 but the refs didn't count the one the Packers got last Sunday).

The Packers' two wins on the season are in large part due to key special teams plays. In Week 2 vs. Chicago, the Packers offense was struggling and the team needed a spark. On fourth-and-26 on the Chicago 27-yard line, Tom Crabtree scored a touchdown that gave the Packers a 10-0 and they rolled from their. It was beautifully designed and executed, as Crabtree ran across the formation and took a toss from from holder Tim Masthay and ran for a touchdown through a hole that was the size of Lake Michigan.

There was another huge fake on special teams that was a key to Sunday's victory over the Saints as well. The Packers led 14-7 midway through the second quarter and lined up to punt on fourth-and-17. The Saints double teamed the gunners, looking for a big return from Darren Sproles, which led to them having only six defenders in the box. It was to easy for John Kuhn as he took a direct snap and went up the middle for an easy five yard gain and a first down. The Packers coasted to another touchdown following that play when Aaron Rodgers threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to James Jones to put the Packers up 21-7.

The Packers have held two of the most dangerous returners in the NFL in Devin Hester and Darren Sproles to no big returns. Mason Crosby is perfect on field goals this season and Masthay is tied for the league lead with 11 punts downed inside the 20. Also, Cobb is 6th in the league in punt return average (15.4). Combine that with the two fakes, the fumble they really forced and that they have allowed no back crushing returns, this unit has been spectacular.

The Packers' season has been riddled with inconstancy. Their offense has struggled to put up points for the most part and their defense has been good against the average offenses but bad against the good offenses they have faced. Their only consistent unit has been the special teams. It will take the rest of the units to play at the level that the special teams is now to get the Packers to New Orleans.