Monday, June 22, 2009

Collins Says "We'll See" to Holdout

From the GBPG:

Collins’ desire for the Packers to extend his contract, which will expire after he is paid $3.045 million for the 2009 season, is no secret, even though he danced around the issue during a 10-minute session with reporters at his locker. Just how far he will go to get it remains uncertain.

Several times, he was asked whether he’s willing to stage a training camp holdout, and Collins’ answer was the same each time.

“We’ll see,” Collins said.

On his way out of the locker room, he said: “I’m here now, and that’s all you need to know.”

Okay, so he skipped essentially all of the OTAs, showing up once and barely participating, then showed up for the mandatory minicamp. Now, he's not-so-subtly hinting at a holdout?

For the record, do I think he will hold out? No, I don't, unless Jennings is locked in and loaded and the Packers actually can move on to options B and C on their free agent priority lists. He knows he's not #1 right now, no matter how much he wants to be. But he wants to make sure everyone knows how unhappy he is and no matter how you slice it, this is the reason he chose not to attend the optional team activites.

But, for anyone that has defended Collins the past few weeks really needs to take a good look at this article and his quotes. I've talked repeatedly about how much he is personally losing in such a major scheme switch and hurting his teammates by not being on the same page despite being unhappy with his situation. Heck, Aaron Kampman's not happy, but he showed up and did his duty as a team player.

I can understand the "business side" of the game, and that "a man has to do what he has to do to feed his family". But, it doesn't mean I have to respect it.

Ever Notice Dreams Make Sense IN The Dream?

Plop down for a quick power nap today, and boy, did Packer reality change in that hour.

In my dream, Alfred Malone was traded away (this was reported on ESPN) to the Washington Redskins. And who did we get in return?

Randy Moss. And in my dream, it made total sense he was playing for the Redskins.

Now, the report then stated that he wasn't on the active roster, but in some sort of advisory position/reserve list, the implication being that we needed him to be convinced to play out another season.

And who else was in Green Bay, but not on the active roster? Brett Favre, holding court while throwing to high school kids, talking about how "interesting" it was that the Packers brought in Moss (while throwing what appeared to be a 60 yard bomb during the interview).

And it made total sense to me, in the dream. I remarked to my wife, "You know why they brought him in, don't you? They just brought him in to convince Favre to come out of retirement and play another year."

Gasp. It was a package deal. We would be convincing both to play for us by enticing them with the other.

And then, I was panicking, because I hadn't posted anything on the blog about this, and I knew that the Cheesehead Nation guys were going to be talking about it on the blogcast and I didn't have all the facts yet.

And then, I woke up. And I went on believing this dream for a couple of minutes until I realized soccer was on ESPN, Moss didn't play for the Redskins, they'd never give him up for Alfred Malone anyway, and Moss would now make 18 wide receivers on the roster (Oh wait, that would only 12...must have been that dream again).

Back to reality. Thank God. Other guys have Taco Bell and get to dream about the Bikini Girls, and these are the lousy dreams I get?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rodgers Wins the Battle, But War Still In Question...

BigSnakeMan over at PocketDoppler opined an article comparing the new gunslinging quarterbacks in the division to the far more disciplined ("safe"?) Aaron Rodgers here in Green Bay. As far as Snake is concerned, the Packers are a step ahead of our division rivals, as Rodgers is not only takes care of the ball, but will be a year deep in the offense and, as Matt Loede at PackerGab reports via the MJS, will have more of a command of it, too.

From Doppler:

Favre contends that his familiarity with the Vikings system will make him more effective than he was in New York but, like Cutler in Chicago, he will be throwing to receivers who remain largely unproven.

Meanwhile, back in Green Bay, reports coming out of minicamp are saying that head coach Mike McCarthy will open up more of the playbook now that his starting quarterback has a year of experience under his belt. So, while rivals Favre and Cutler under the best of conditions will still be facing transitional seasons, Rodgers should get better in his second year under center. That can only work to the Packers advantage.

And, adding to that, from the MSJ via Loede:

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had limitations on his audibles last season, but it appears he is going to have more options at his disposal this season. Rodgers believes he is going to be given more responsibility at the line of scrimmage this season because the coaching staff trusts him more. There were times he played like a system quarterback last year, but his teammates told him to let loose a bit.

I have several thoughts on this:

1) I tried to make the case a couple times that Rodgers was playing within the system last year, but usually got pooh-poohed from some of his staunch supporters in the face of all the Favre hubbub. And, I understand that: Rodgers sure didn't any more pressure or criticism last year, particularly from Packer fans.

But now that he has endured his trial by fire, it is time to allow Rodgers to grow and develop, for us to cheer his accomplishments and point out his flaws, just as we would with any other player.

2) Assuming that Rodgers was playing within the system, that usually does tend to build up some very efficient statistics. However, one of the biggest criticisms that arose from last season was the seeming inability of Rodgers to pick up the team lead them on a game-winning drive at the end of the game. Whether you agree with that or not, you have to agree that playing from behind in the fourth quarter has to entail a larger degree of risk-taking on the quarterback's part. While Rodgers appeared willing and ready to take the team on his shoulders at the end of a game, the results were less than shining.

So, 2009 is going to be a pretty strong test of the development and the maturing of Rodgers as a quarterback who can lead this team. It's a good sign he may be given more ability to expand the offense and have more control at the line. The more interesting development will be what he does with that control in the game.

3) The idea that Favre in Minnesota and Cutler in Chicago will be "behind" Rodgers is a bit misleading. First of all, I would far rather have Rodgers than the other two, regardless. I don't think Favre will be able to stand up to another full season of wear and tear, and I don't think Cutler's psyche will survive the Chicago scrutiny.

But to take that as some sort of great advantage for the Packers is looking in the wrong place. The Packers easily had the best quarterback in the division last year and finished well behind both the Bears and the Vikes.

In fact, the threat of a gunslinging quarterback may actually...believe it or in the favor of the Bears and Vikings against the Packers' defense. It's a bit of irony that Snake gives Rodgers such an advantage for being a year ahead of Cutler and Favre, when our defense is still being re-schemed with a lot of question marks.

The weaknesses of the 3-4 defense come in a couple of places:

A) Teams that have strong downhill run games with strong offensive linemen may find success against the front three of the 3-4, forcing the inside linebackers to have to not only make more tackles on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage, but to shed blockers to get there.

B) Teams that have a very fast passing game may also find success against the 3-4. Corners have to be physical at the line of scrimmage with receivers, and linebackers have to play their coverage responsbilities very tightly.

C) The front three of the 3-4 cannot not generate significant pressure on the quarterback on their own, and thus rely on the misdirection of the zone blitzes to create pressure in the backfield.

The problem for the Packers is that they have a lot of question marks in each of these areas.

In A, both the Bears and the Vikings are blessed with strong running backs (Forte and Peterson) and strong offensive linemen. Our front three is quite unproven, with Ryan Pickett's ability to play nose tackle yet to be seen, and BJ Raji is still just a rookie with a lot of room to grow. Our interior linebackers, Hawk and Barnett, are good tacklers but we have yet to see how well they do shedding linemen to get there.

Don't believe me? Check out this quote from Ray Lewis when the Ravens dropped the 3-4.

"We're in the 46 defense now, and finally, finally again, I get to play football," said Lewis. "My job is not to take on offensive linemen, but to make running backs not want to play against me"

In situation B, we still have some confusion as to how our corners are going to play against the receivers. By most accounts, the Packers are going away from their traditional press coverage and strict man-to-man to the 3-4 zone. If an opponent, such as the Vikings, are able to force the Packers defense to respect the run, a quick gunslinging passing game could really hurt them. The selection of Percy Harvin, a troubled but highly fast and explosive receiver, by the Vikings in the draft this offseason suddenly seems to have more of a method to the madness.

And certainly, you have to think Cutler could be much better for Devin Hester than what he's had.

Finally in C, while I am fully encouraged by the reports of how the Packers plan to generate a pass rush in the complicated schemery of Dom Capers, it still stands to reason that the Packers have been lacking in generating a pass rush with a four-man front the past several years (from 46 sacks in 2006, to 36 in 2007, to 27 sacks last year). Since the Packers rarely blitzed under the Bob Sanders scheme, it would stand to reason that the Packers will have to send at least one linebacker or corner into the backfield to generate a strong pass rush.

Which again, plays directly into the other weaknesses of the 3-4 defense. Overplay the pass rush and the running game, and the quick passing game can kill you.

So, while I am fully in agreement with Snake that the Packers are by far in the best position when it comes to who the quarterback is under center in the NFC North, those quarterbacks don't play against each other. It is going to be how those quarterbacks match up against the other teams' defenses.

I see Rodgers growing and maturing, and hopefully contributing towards and improvement of the Packers' splits against these two teams last year.

But to dismiss Favre or Cutler as gunslingers isn't taking into effect who is playing around them, who is going to be taking the handoffs behind them, and particularly, how effective the defenses they play against will be.

There's plenty of time and room for discussion and debate on these points, but let's finish off with one point that we should all agree with: everybody is going to have a lot to prove to each other in the NFC North in 2009. I can't wait to see it all unfold.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Pipe Dream: Season Tickets

It will probably never happen in my lifetime, and if it happens to my kids, it will be when they are likely old and grey. But then, at least they'll be able to pass them on to my grandkids.

The Press-Gazette published an article today regarding the long, long wait for season ticket holders...a wait so long now that it estimated to be in the hundreds of years from the time your name gets on the list to the day when it eventually reaches #1.

I sit presently somewhere around #31,384. My kids, who were placed on the list before they were even born, sit right behind me. I figure at the rate the season tickets turn over, I should get mine in about 120 years. Assuming modern medicine doesn't take a quantum leap as it deals with geriatrics, I won't be around to collect on them.

The article places the primary focus of blame on the Packers' inheritance policy, which allows ownership of the tickets to pass from generation to generation, leaving rabid fans on the list out in the cold.

I have little problem with passing the tickets on, however. They are an asset, a prized possession, an heirloom of sorts. There's a lot of pride to be able to say you are sitting in the same seat that your father sat in, and his father sat in. I have a lot of respect for that.

Where I lose respect, however, is when those people are not sitting on those seats, but instead scalping them off to brokers, eBay, or on the street to those rabid fans. The tickets are no longer prized possessions or heirlooms, but investments: buy low, sell high, make a profit off other people's passions.

Of course, that opens up a whole new can of worms. In today's economic depression and concerns over socialistic reforms to laissez-faire, is placing a "scalper tax" on tickets prohibiting a red-blooded American from making an honest dollar through investments?

Naturally, both in the macrocosm of the economy and the microcosm of season ticket holders, your perspective changes if you are a "have" or a "have-not". It's long been known that the Packers don't make an extra dime off those scalped tickets. Only once have I purchased tickets at above face value, and that was for the 49er playoff game in 1996. I'm lucky enough to have relatives who allow us to purchase tickets from them once or twice a season, so I am better off than many others on that waiting list.

And a good family friend of mine (and true Packer fan) sells off all her tickets each season except for one that she wishes to attend. Why? Simple: she can't afford them. She doesn't want to lose her tickets, but the cost of seven pairs of tickets (not to mention the prices inside the stadium) aren't always feasible when you're working for minimum wage.

So, in some ways, scalping tickets allows the tickets to stay in the hands of the common man, not the well-to-do or brokers who will simply sell them off for their own personal gain.

So, as I sit at #31,384, I realize that there isn't an easy solution for me to move up any faster. I don't think the inheritance policy should be changed (if I have to wait until my deathbed to get the tickets, I'd sure like to be able to at least give them to my kids). And, a blanket "scalper tax" is not only in opposition to what happens with every other ticket for every other sporting event across the nation, it would punish folks like my friend as well as the greedy folks who have more interest in making money than sitting in a cold stadium with 71,294 of their fellow fans to cheer on the Packers.

But, last year's 6-10 record and the economic downturn helped contribute to 192 tickets coming off the list this year...unfortunately, the quickest way for the list to drain itself is going to be to overprice admission for a losing team. And who wants to see that?

Suggestion: I heard not too long ago that you can move up the list in very swift fashion (at the time, I had heard three years) if you request only a single ticket instead of a pair or group of three. The larger the group (and wanting them together) the harder it is to get lucky that someone will drop exactly that many. But, it is far more common for a ticket holder who has a large number of tickets to drop one off in order to save a little money. Good luck.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Collins Playing a Dangerous Game

There was certainly a lot of hubbub yesterday with the return of safety Nick Collins to the OTAs, as the contract holdout has eschewed participating in the voluntary workouts until this week. Of course, some of us felt somewhat relieved, and some of us felt a little more concerned when he was led off the field to work with the rehab group instead of fully watching the install of the 3-4.

For me, perhaps the most interesting quote of the day came from Mike McCarthy, who answered a couple questions about Collins tritely, then finished with this:

(He obviously has a lot to learn with the new defense. Has he been doing a lot on his own?)
I think these questions are more suited for Nick, exactly what he has been doing.

Now, I'm the first to call Mike McCarthy "gruff and ornery", but he typically goes to bat for his players, especially when the media appears to be going after them. This response was short, to the point, and ended any further questions from the gallery in regards to #36.

McCarthy has offered several times over the last few weeks that he understands that the OTAs are voluntary, and that whatever reasons that players have for missing them are up are accepted. His response to being asked about how much Collins is working towards learning the schemata of the new defense sends a message that someone is out of the loop.

I'm glad that the dual position of GM/HC that Mike Sherman held is no longer the structure in Green Bay. I could imagine Sherman up there in this situation, both responsible for the play on the field, and also responsible for negotiating salaries. I'm sure that the media would have gone into Sherman a little more than the guy who is only the head coach.

But McCarthy holding just the head coaching role means that he is only concerned about the play on the field. It's not his job to worry about whether Collins is happy with his contract or if he is deserving of an extension. It is his job to worry about getting all his players on the same page with the new defense. And Collins should be a key piece.

Having your starting free safety missing the install of a new defense is akin to having your quarterback miss the install of a new offense (not that McCarthy would have ever experienced that before, right?). The free safety has to play from behind the front nine and call out the adjustments that need to be made.

Which means, of course, the free safety has to know what it going on, perhaps more than any other defensive player on the field. Given Collins' slow development since his rookie year and McCarthy's own statements that this scheme has massive permutations and relies heavily on communication, it puts into perspective his reply to the question about Collins' efforts to learn the defense.

Clearly, McCarthy's response could mean one of two things:

A) There has been no communication between the coach and Collins, thus he is unaware of what efforts Collins has made on his own towards learning the new scheme; or

B) What communication there has been between the coach and Collins has not been palatable enough for McCarthy to go to bat for him in front of the media.

Given that McCarthy did go to bat for him earlier in the offseason by stated he was excused for a "family situation" (which ended up being his father dying of cancer), it makes option A seem unlikely.

Which would lead me to believe that there is reason to doubt that McCarthy is fully tolerant of not only Collins' lack of participation, but how much he is doing on his own to prepare. This does not bode well for Collins or the defense.

Now, I may be reading far too much into one comment, I admit. But I've commented before on how critical Collins may be to the success of the 3-4 implementation this year. McCarthy knows that his starting free safety needs to know this scheme backwards and forwards.

It is one thing for Collins to withhold his presence in order to finagle more money out of his employer. It is another thing completely for him to shirk his responsibilities and somehow think that he is gaining leverage by not working to learn the defense. Does he think that by not learning the defense that it will make the Packers rush to sign him he'll start learning it?

I've been critical of Collins' intelligence before. If he is not working on his own to be the best player he can be in such a critical time for the defense, it pretty much seals for me how dense he really is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Communication The Key For the 3-4 in 2009

I go back and forth on how excited I am about the 3-4 defense. Some days, after reading a rousing article about Dom Capers, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and think the Packers are on to better days. At other times, like when I read about Aaron Kampman's silence or Nick Collins holding out, I wonder if this is a long-term project that won't yield any benefits for a couple of years.

But, Mike McCarthy gave us a nugget last week during OTA's that may prove to be the lynch pin as to the success of the 3-4 this year, one that may prove to be the "why" it works, not simply "whether" it works.

In discussing the various scheming and personnel of the 3-4 (and particularly, the 2-4-5 scheming of the nickel defense), McCarthy noted that the defense will have multiple options in who drops into coverage and who rushes. Defensive backs might be rushing, while the linebackers drop, or vice versa, all from the same look.

“What it gives you is more flexibility,” McCarthy said. “When you identify that, (it becomes) ‘Is the guy rushing or is he dropping.’ So it’s the uncertainty of that position as far as the alignment. It gives that particular individual – the defensive end if it’s a four-man line, or the outside linebacker the opportunity to play with more vision as far as what the offense is giving you with formations and motions and things like that.

“So it basically plays into the base concept of the defense – you’re not really sure who the fourth rusher is.”

So, after watching last year's debacle of a defense, the question might be asked, who isn't going to be sure who the fourth rusher is...opposing offenses, or the Packers' defense?

That critical component of "why" the 3-4 will fly or flounder in 2009? Right here.

“With that being said, missed assignments are really the responsibility of the coach and the player. The coach has to get the players on the same page. We don’t take the attitude that if a player makes an error out there on the field, then, ‘Heck, I showed him that two times. He should have that.’ It doesn’t work that way.

“Good coaches make sure that their players know exactly what they need to do, and that’s the phase we’re in right now.”

In other words, it’s still very much a work in progress.

“It’s a scheme that is definitely challenging our defensive players because it’s more volume schematically,” McCarthy said. “There’s more communication involved.” link

The communication on the field is critical, and something that the Packers were lacking much of the year in 2008. The question becomes, then, was the lack of communication a symptom of the players on the roster, or a symptom of the old defensive coaching regime?

The very things that McCarthy mentions--players not being in the right places, missed assignments, and not fixing repeated mistakes---were hallmarks of what went wrong last year with the Packers.

So, it begs the question: is installing a defense that is even more convoluted and dependent on clear communication a good idea? Or is it like forcing a dyslexic person to cure themselves by reading Anna Karenina?

Now, in defense of the players, it was pretty clear that there were some issues among the defensive coaches last year, and that seemed to spill out onto the field. Returning coaches and players have made comments to the effect that the Bob Sanders defensive coaching squad was not on the same page last year, and that can have clear repercussions during a game.

I am as excited as anyone about bringing in a veteran coach like Dom Capers, who should be able to take his head coaching experience and translate that into some instant credibility and direction on the field. This isn't a young guy getting his first chance to try and be a defensive coordinator. Capers knows not only how to implement a scheme, he knows how to coach and how to put players in the best position to succeed.

So, if the communication problems were entirely on the shoulders of the coaching last year, it would stand to prove that the road to a successful implementation of the 3-4 will be that much easier.

However, I noted a few months ago that some of the communication and discipline issues weren't limited to just Sanders' crew.

Our offensive line was the most penalized in the NFL this year. McCarthy had to repeatedly discuss simplistic execution errors like "pad level" and "gap control". Missed tackles along our defensive front (and particularly our linebackers) were glaring. And our secondary seemed to allow a huge (and critical) pass play each week when they needed a stop most.

This teamwide lack of discipline is obviously going to spill down to the special teams. If your starters can't play with discipline, why would you expect your special teams to play with discipline? If the special teams was the only squad on the team to play undisciplined ball, there'd be a problem. But, if you are going to fire Stock, shouldn't James Campen be let go for the repeated holding penalties along the offensive line? Shouldn't Winston Moss be let go for the substandard play of his linebackers in gap control?

So, another consideration is that the lack of communication wasn't just a Sanders issue, but a team issue, and that may be a larger problem than what Capers can fix single-handedly.

But specific to defense, there are some other considerations that will impact the effectiveness of communication this year:

Players learning new positions: If you really think about it, almost every player on the defensive side of the ball is learning a "new position". Our cornerbacks, who have lived and died by bump-and-run coverage, are now playing predominantly zone coverage. The linebacking roles have switched, with the OLBs taking a more rushing role, and the ILBs taking on more of a run support role. And, of course, the defensive line moves to only three positions, in which all three tend to play more like interior linemen in a 4-3.

As if that weren't enough adjustment for an entire squad, several players are moving completely out of position, most notably Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson, who move out of their DL positions to OLB positions. Other adjustments along the line, with Jenkins playing primarily end instead of inside and Pickett taking on the responsibilities of a nose tackle means there is still a big learning curve before we get to everyone truly understanding this defense and their assignments.

This year's OTA's was a crash course in the 3-4. No, the OTA's are not physical, smash-mouth football, but a lot of cerebral walk-throughs and playbook digesting. Which, of course, brings us to...

Nick Collins Unwise Holdout: I have never been on the Collins Bandwagon, but his holdout not only hurts his own cause, but hurts this defense. Collins, the free safety, has been the one responsible for making the calls and adjustments from the back of the defense. In some ways, he is the "quarterback of the defense". But with an entirely new set of plays and a cornucopia of assignments to keep track of, Collins is putting himself (and the team he is supposed to be guiding) into a hole.

Personally, I would be concerned about Collins even if he was here. He doesn't rank particularly high on the intelligence chart. Do football players have to be rocket scientists to play this game? No, football doesn't involve quantum physics or aerodynamic theory. It's a game of crunching and running and throwing and blocking.

But Collins (like Javon Walker and LeShon Johnson before him) possesses a rather low Wonderlic score approaching single-digits. Can a player be dense and still succeed? Absolutely, but as we've seen with all three of these guys, the learning curve takes a little longer. LeShon Johnson never got it quite together until he was in his late 20's and playing with the Jets and Cardinals. Walker took until his third season before he began "catching on". And of course, Collins didn't stand out as anything more than an serviceable starter until last year, when the light finally went on in his fourth season.

Collins is going to struggle with a complicated defensive scheme, and I fear that his learning curve is going to take a while to get it down. The fact the he has missed all of the OTAs, not even showing up to take in the mental part of the game means that he's going to be that much further behind.

Tom Pelissero penned an article over the weekend claming that Anthony Smith may find a role in our new defense. Wishful thinking, as this is a guy of the caliber that is fighting for a backup slot. Which is better as the quarterback of the defense: the lesser athlete who understands the scheme, or the better athlete who is going to be struggling with it?

That's the position that the Packers may be in, and Collins isn't doing team communication any favors.

Question Marks and Interchangeable Players: There a lot of questions heading into this year, especially as it deals with how players can handle the responsibilities of the new scheme.

Justin Harrell: Can he contribute at all at DE?
AJ Hawk and Nick Barnett: Do they have the build for handling offensive linemen in the middle LB spots?
Aaron Kampman: Can he contribute as an OLB?
Al Harris: Does he still have the speed and ability to play zone?
Ryan Pickett: Does he actually have the bulk to play a Gilbert Brown nose tackle?
Atari Bigby and Cullen Jenkins: Can they come back from injury and play at their old levels of play?

The one thing that Mike McCarthy loves is also his double-edged sword. He loves having versatile players, and he now has that on the defense just as he does on the offensive line. Now, when injuries hit, versatility is a great thing. But having interchangeable parts also tempts you to keep moving them around, to keep trying new combination until you get it "right". We know how that has worked for the OL the past few seasons, and McCarthy himself admitted that it is time to get the OL into his set starting five...if he can figure out which guys to put there.

If Pickett doesn't pan out at NT, you can bet the BJ Raji will be substituted in there, and Pickett will be forced to rotate in or play a DE spot. If Hawk can't handle the inside, they will likely substitute Chillar or Poppinga and try to move him outside. And we can only guess at the substitutions that will be going on with the safeties as Bigby returns from injury and Collins eventually shows up.

Look, I love having players that are interchangeable. I think that it is great to know someone can slide over in the event of an injury. But the offensive line was pretty darn good when we had, in order, Chad Clifton, Mike Wahle, Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera, and Mark Tauscher playing in their set spots, week after week (incidentally, I remembered that order without even looking it up).

But interchangeable players can be a negative, too....sometimes, those players don't get to develop at one position well enough to master it. In a new, complicated scheme, is it better to have them all over the field, or to know their position?

My hope is that Dom Capers is able to figure out quickly what players need to go where and allow them to master their position and their roles. Sometimes, the idea is that if you make players play all the positions, they understand the scheme better. But, if you're talking about players who have come off a season of missed assignments and miscommunications, that plan could backfire in a hurry.


I realize this may come off being a bit negative or pessimistic, and that is normally frowned on at this time of year, when we like to believe every player is bound for the Pro Bowl.

Take it as a dose of objective reality, and for what it's worth: as we debate whether or not the 3-4 will work or not, communication is going to be one of the reasons "why".

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wildcat Formation: Prisco is Right. And Wrong.

Pete Prisco over at CBSSportsline goes off on a rant about the Wildcat formation, why it is getting so prevalent in the league, and generally, how much he hates it.

The reality is it is nothing more than a gimmick. I hate gimmicks.


My official definition of the Wildcat offense goes like this: Team that doesn't have a quarterback.

If you did, why would you take the ball out of his hands?

Can you imagine the look on Peyton Manning's face if the Colts told him on install day that the Wildcat was coming?

How about Tom Brady?

Brees, thanks to a coach wise enough to realize his value, need not worry about it.

Prisco spends much of the remaining article continuing to emphasize the same points.

A) The Wildcat is a formation used when you don't have a good quarterback.

B) The Wildcat is a bush league gimmick that has no place in the NFL.

I get it. He hates it. He likely looks at the Wildcat and sees it as some Arena league level of play. Kind of like why you no longer see the wishbone offense or ten guys on the defensive line of scrimmage. We've supposedly evolved beyond these types of strategies when you get to the NFL.

And, I agree with him in that you utilize the Wildcat when you don't have a decent quarterback, and more likely, when you have a particularly gifted running back or wide receiver who can pose a threat from the backfield in a direct snap situation. As he says, why would you take the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands?

The answer is, you don't. Duh. He's the strength of your team, and you play to your strengths. Having Manning sitting on the sideline while a running back attempts to juke his way out of a direct snap is idiotic.

But, it's not idiotic for the Dolphins, who have _____ as their quarterback. (Fill in the name of this season's quarterback once we find out who it is) And this is where I disagree with Prisco, as he just doesn't like it because he believes that it is a cheap gadget play for teams that don't have a quarterback.

Sorry, Pete, but last I checked there is only one player named Peyton Manning in the NFL. Only one Tom Brady, too. The Packers have been awfully fortunate since 1992 to have a solid quarterback behind center, including our current starter, Aaron Rodgers. When you have a solid starting quarterback, you don't mess with it.

But don't be hating on the Wildcat just because you think teams that don't have one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league should just continue to plug away at the offenses that you approve of. This is the way of the NFL nowadays.

* The West Coast Offense was devised in the early 1980's in response to the prevalence of 3-4 defenses and massive defensive linemen of the time. It allowed players that normally would have little chance of defeating those kinds of defenders to use short passes and misdirection to get around them. "Nickel and diming" is what it was derisively called in those days, and it took a couple of 49er Super Bowls before it gained any respect as anything but a gimmicky offense.

* The "Run and Gun" (or "Chuck and Duck") offenses of Detroit and Atlanta in the 90's also played to the personnel that was available. As teams looked more and more to get tall wide receivers who could go up over taller cornerbacks, the Run and Gun teams utilized pure speed to force defenses into zone coverages, allowing shorter wide receivers to be productive.

* The smaller defensive linemen of the Broncos back in the 90's heralded a new approach to how everyone "thought" defense should be played. Instead of lining up with the most beef, they brought speedy, agile players along the line who were able to counter the misdirections of the WCO.

* The Zone Blocking Scheme is nothing less than an offensive line version of the Wildcat. The Broncos, devoid of the traditional beefy talent expected of most NFL offensive linemen, used a simple angular technique (coupled with a questionable chop block) to try and open up one hole for a one-cut running back. If a team has the talent of, say, the Packers' offensive line in the early 2000's, why would they utilize a "gimmicky" scheme like the ZBS? But, when the Packers lost much of their interior linemen, they surmised that the ZBS would be a way to get the line productive without having to bring in Wahle/Rivera/Flanagan-caliber talent.

Am I fan of the Wildcat? No, not particularly, nor would I be that excited to see it brought to Green Bay (though with Mike McCarthy and his penchant for adopting new schemes, it wouldn't surprise me). But for the teams that use the formation, it is a way for them to try and bring themselves to an even keel with their opponents, using whatever talent they have.

It's nothing different than what most other innovative teams try to do...maximize the talent that they have by adjusting the schemes and formations around it. The teams that continue to try and play traditional football with less-than-stellar talent at the key positions will continually struggle. But if you have a crappy passing game and a great running back (like, say, the Vikings), why wouldn't you play to those strengths? Why wouldn't you choose to sit down Sage and Tarvaris and allow Peterson to command the backfield? It makes sense.

Yes, it's overhyped, but what isn't today in the NFL? The Wildcat will live and thrive until the day someone innovates a defensive scheme that will stop it. It's the eternal chess game that you see played out over decades in the NFL, and the Wildcat is far from the last move we'll see made for check.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Week 3 OTA Cheesehead Nation Blogcast - Wednesday Night!

Wednesday night, I will again be a panelist in the Live Blog of the Cheesehead Nation Event, alongside the boys from Packers Lounge, Railbird Central, and Cheesehead TV. It is always a great time, great discussion, and some cutting edge technology to bring together all Packer fans under one roof. Hope to see you there!

8:00 Wednesday here to join in!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Let's Stop Obsessing About OTA Attendance

Mike Sherman used to say it. Mike McCarthy does, too. And ne'er have words rung truer at OTA time.

"We can't worry about the guys that aren't here. We're going to worry about the guys that are here."

And yet, we've spent the last two weeks stressing about the hidden and furtive agendas of Donald Driver and Nick Collins, who chose to skip at least the first week of OTA's. And since both apparently have contract concerns, the media has speculated endlessly about what they are feeling, what message they are trying to send, and what this means for the future.

We've seen fans post concerns about a veteran team leader like Driver, and even calls to trade Nick Collins before it is too late. And yet, in the end, Driver showed up for Week 2 OTA's, and Collins' absence was vindicated with the unfortunate death of his father in Florida due to cancer.

Now, I've been accused of having a Pleasantville view of how the "good ol' days" used to be, but I don't recall attendance at OTA's being as much of an issue years ago. It seemed like if someone didn't show up, even over a contract issue, the story was "the OTA's are optional" and "we will expect them at the start of training camp". And that was it.

And, I realize a lot of it has to do with the instant access many of us expect from today's mainstream and blogging media sites. We eat it up.

But, I also go back to what, to me, was a turning point in OTA attendance, and that was the yearly hullabaloo over Brett Favre's attendance at them. In the mid-2000's, there were some pretty critical voices of Favre, and one of the items tossed out there was whether or not he was a bad teammate because he didn't attend OTA's.

Now, there are many players that don't attend OTA's, often because they are older veterans who want more time with their family and know what they need to do to get into playing shape. Charles Woodson, one of our most veteran leaders on the team, still does not attend OTA's.

But Favre's situation was always overmagnified. In 2005, criticism abounded as Favre eschewed OTA's, and the fans and media relentlessly questioned it. In response, Favre announced he was working with a core trainer at his home to make sure everyone knew not only that he was working out, but how he was working out.

How many players are required to provide a detailed synopsis of their offseason regiment to the media and fans?

The following year, the media reported daily on whether or not Favre was in attendance at each day's OTA, mostly because new coach Mike McCarthy announced that he had expected Favre to attend 10 of 14 of the minicamp sessions. Yet amusingly enough, they were forced to also announce plenty of other veterans that were missing OTA's, too.

And yet, does McCarthy announce the number of OTA's he expects each player to attend prior to their start?

Do I say this in defense of Favre, especially as his storyline continues to develop today? No. I bring it up because it seemed to mark a new, unintended standard by those loudly making it an issue. At the time, I pointed out that those who were so vociferous in painting Favre as a Bad Teammate because he missed OTA's were setting a double standard for players in the future, who would eventually be judged by the same criteria.

And so here we are, instead of obsessing on whether or not Favre is in attendance, we are obsessing over Nick Collins and Donald Driver, only to find out later that their reasons for missing were valid. The OTA's are voluntary, and while it is certainly in the best interest for players to attend (especially a low-IQ guy like Collins who is supposed to be burning the midnight oil learning his new defensive scheme), they will suffer their own consequences, if any, for not being there.

And, in reality, the guy we probably should be most concerned about is the guy who is in attendance, Aaron Kampman. But, even though he appears clearly put out over the new defense and his new role, he has shown up for each practice. He's a pro. And like the Mikes say, we should be worrying about the guys who are here, not the ones who aren't.

Every Frankenstein's Monster has to be created, and when you look at Brett Favre today, it's not hard to see why he feels the world revolves around him. A great example is the day-to-day reports on whether or not Brett Favre was at OTA's. Did McCarthy excuse him? What is he doing to stay in shape? Does his attendance or lack thereof make him a bad teammate? How is he supposed to be helping his teammates learn the offense when he isn't even there? Will he be there tomorrow?

That kind of obsession, positive or negative, isn't good for anyone.

So, my advice is this: let's allow Collins and Driver (and Woodson and whomever else) to miss the OTA's without obsessing about it. When training camp rolls around, we'll find out how big of an issue they have (and how much they missed in not coming).

The last thing we would want to do is make Nick Collins start believing the world revolves whether or not he comes to OTA's or not. Been there already.

Packers Lounge Needs Help

Save The Lounge

Brandon and Dale have fallen on hard times and their Packer site is being foreclosed on. We're all Packer fans, and if you can spare a dime to help out, please do.

It's really been an amazing journey looking at the expanse of the Packer Blogosphere. So many Packer fans out there, and they've created so many different communities that appeal to groups of those fans. Not every site is the same, and many of them tend to cater to the folks that frequent them. But, its those differences that help us all find our own virtual "Packer Bar" to hang out at online.

Some may prefer the loud bar with chair flying overhead, while others prefer that quieter bar with folks telling their stories about the glory days. But on game day, we all stand united as Packer fans, bleeding green and gold.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Erratic Pack: Another Roller Coaster in 2009?

While serving as a panelist in the very awesome Cheesehead Nation Blogcast last week, I responded to a poll question that has since given me a lot of consternation. The question in and of itself is simple enough: how many wins do you expect the Packers to have in 2009?

In my eternal objectivity, I predicted an 8-8 record this upcoming year. I justified it on the belief that the Packers were not as bad as last year's 6-10 record would suggest, but also acknowledging that the 3-4 transition and continued flux along the offensive line would dampen any major improvements.

Fair enough. But, I then also looked at my very poor track record in predicting the Packers' win totals the past four seasons.

2005: Coming off a 10-6 season, but with a new GM and lost free agents, I predict 9 wins. The Packers go 4-12.

2006: Given the new regime of MM and a rebuilding effort, I predict 6 wins. The Packers go 8-8.

2007: Believing the Packers are improving, but that the four-game win streak that ended 2006 was against poor competition, I predict 7 wins. The Packers go 13-3.

2008: Thinking the Packers were good, but captured lightning in a bottle in 2007, I predict 10 wins. The Packers go 6-10.

This trip down memory lane led me to two conclusions: number one, don't trust my predictions.

But the second conclusion was more thought-provoking: the Packers have been highly erratic over the past five seasons. There certainly hasn't been much consistency from season to season, at least as far as the final record is concerned. I mean, from 10 wins down to 4, then back up to 13, then down again?

You might be just as accurate by throwing darts blindfolded as trying to scientifically predict how the Packers will do in an upcoming season. So, exactly, how erratic have the Packers been?

Well, if you take the seasons I mentioned, 2004-2008, and look at the difference in wins from season to season, The Packers end up with a total of 22 differential points (10 to 4 (6), 4 to 8 (4), 8 to 13 (5), and 13 to 6 (7)....6+4+5+7 = 22). This means that the Packers, on average, will see their record change by 5.5 wins per season over the last five years.

That's a lot of ups and downs, but how does it compared to other teams in the league? Is this just a symptom of leaguewide parity, in which every team experiences rags to riches followed by a "penthouse to outhouse" soon thereafter?

I did the same analysis with all the other teams in the league over the same time frame, and in the end, the Packers are indeed one of the most inconsistent teams in the league.

In fact, only three teams had more differential points: Baltimore (24), Miami (23), and, ironically, the Jets (23). This means that the Ravens, on average, see their record change by 6 wins each year.

Now, consistency isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. You can be consistently good (like the Colts, who had only 6 differential points) or consistently bad (like the Raiders, who also had only 6 differential points). The difference is that the Colts averaged a little over 12 wins per season, while the Raiders averaged only four. The Colts were consistently good, and the Raiders were consistently bad.

And like the Packers, the Jets, Ravens, and Dolphins have mixed in some exciting playoff seasons with some miserable losing seasons in a short span of time. As you might expect, all four teams seem to be riding a roller coaster the past few years. The Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 last year, accounting for 10 of their 23 differential points.

So, what does this mean? Statistically speaking, the average number of differential points over the past five seasons in the NFL is 13.5, or an average change of a little over three wins per year. The Packers' 22 differential points places them outside the first standard deviation (+5.08, or 18.5 differential points) and nearly outside the second (23.5 dp). If you are a numbers guy, the Packers are well outside "the norm" in terms of lack of consistency.

But, is it a big deal that the Packers are particularly erratic the past few years? Can the big highs and lows be explained off easily enough? Or, are we really in a club with the Jets and Dolphins?

Obviously, the progressive regime change from 2004-2006 didn't do the Packers any favors, and it is also noted that the Packers have undergone a tremendous overhaul of the Mike Sherman roster in 2004, mostly through the draft. The ups and down can easily be attributed to an organization that is trying to muster up some major changes and shakeups over that time period (note: we're going on our fourth DC since 2004).

But that brings us to the ups and downs on the McCarthy era, from 8 wins to 13 to 6, and begs the question as to what we should expect in 2009: if the Packers tend to move 5 wins in one direction or another each season, is it logical to expect an 11-5 season, based on the data?

Certainly, it makes my prediction of an 8-8 season seem to be (again) very conservative. And there are a lot of positive factors that would contribute towards why the Packers could indeed have a division-winning season, from the addition of Dom Capers to the revitalization of the defense, to another year of growth from A-Rodge and getting a lot of key players off the injury list and back on the field.

But, as I postulated a while back, perhaps one of these seasons was an aberration. Perhaps this is a team on the rise (8 wins to 13 wins), marred with a lot of offseason distractions, injuries, and defensive disarray that makes 2008 the exception. Or, perhaps this is a very average team (8 wins and 6 wins) that happened to get extremely lucky and injury-free in 2007.

The unusual wins differential per season is present even under McCarthy's regime (12 differential points since 2006, bested only by Baltimore, Detroit, and Miami). What will be interesting to see is if the Packers even out over the next few seasons and play more consistently each year. Again, consistency in and of itself can be good or will depend if the Packers end up being consistently around .500 each year, or consistently between 10-13 wins each year.

Or, perhaps, the Packers will continue to be one of the most erratic teams in the league, which isn't all bad, either. I'm sure that fans of the 49ers, Lions, and Raiders would welcome at least one winning season every three years or so.

Differential Points by team (sum of changes in record year-to-year from 2004-2008)

Baltimore 24
Miami 23
NY Jets 23
Green Bay 22
Detroit 18
Tampa Bay 18
Chicago 16
Cleveland 16
Jacksonville 16
Kansas City 16
New Orleans 16
Seattle 15
New England 15
Washington 14
San Diego 14
Philadelphia 14
Atlanta 14
Carolina 13
NY Giants 12
Dallas 11
Houston 11
Pittsburgh 11
Tennessee 10
St. Louis 10
Denver 10
Cincinnati 10
San Francisco 9
Minnesota 8
Buffalo 6
Indianapolis 6
Oakland 6
Arizona 5