Friday, October 30, 2009

Irony, Redemption Color Sunday's Game

For many years, I made it a goal of mine to be at Brett Favre's last game at Lambeau Field. This isn't an easy thing when you are a) not a season ticket holder, and b) cheap. But, while I refuse to pay more than face value for tickets, I did have several sources to work with to try and score some seats at the end of each season.

The reason why? I was lucky enough to be at Brett Favre's first game as a Packer. Yep, Cincinnati Bengals, Kittrick Taylor, Desmond Howard, the whole nine yards. And, it captured my imagination in a way the Packers never had before. I became a Packer fan in the late 70's and early 80's, and had never beheld the Packers as a magical team. And, like most Generation X'ers, I tired of listening to the older crowd drone on about "The Glory Years" and how much better those players were than "my" Packers.

So, when Brett threw that game-winning pass, the crowd danced in the aisles, literally, to "Celebrate". When he took of his helmet and pumped it up and down, he sold himself to 56,000 fans in attendance that day. Myself included.

I was there for his first game. I made it a goal, then, to do as much as I could to be at his last game at Lambeau Field. To be there to bookend his career in Green Bay. The Alpha and the Omega. Favre was going to be "my" glory years.

I made it to the Atlanta Falcons playoff loss in 2002.

I was there for an initially depressing Bronco game in 2003, only to find out by game's end that the Packers had won the division. I was then there to see Al Harris pick off Matt Hasselback in the playoffs.

I managed to get to the Viking playoff game in 2004, got to see Randy Moss wipe his butt on the goalpost, and thought that was it for Favre.

I again made it to the Seahawk game to close out the depressing 2005 season with a win, and thought after 28 interceptions that I had seen the last of Brett Favre.

After that time, I had problems. I only made it to the second-to-last Lions game in 2006, as the home finale was against the Vikings and I couldn't score any tickets.

And, of course, in 2007, I had no hope of getting playoff tickets against the Giants without taking out a second mortgage. I felt somewhat saddened by this...a goal of mine went to the wayside, a by-product of the Packers' success coupled with supply and demand.

So, this summer, with Favre apparently retired and preseason starting, I called my uncle that handled the dispensation of the family tickets among a very large group. I hadn't asked for those tickets since 2003, so I figured my turn was up. Looking at the schedule, I didn't see a whole lot of great home games this year (Baltimore, 49ers, Lions...) so I asked for the Viking tickets.

He had taken the Viking tickets for himself last year, but with Favre apparently retired this summer, he agreed to let me have them. Two days later, Brad Childress was the limo driver for Favre and Deanna as he came out of retirement and reported to Eden Prairie.

My uncle, true to his word, let me keep the tickets at face value.

As I prepare to go to FavreBowl II, the sense of irony is not lost upon me. No, my Favre Fervor isn't what it was 2-3 years ago. Obviously, as the situation changes, you have to alter your beliefs. But I am still a fan of Favre, as well as being a die-hard Packers fan--born in the era when die-hard fans are the only kind of fans they had.

But, you pencil it in on your bucket list: I want to be at Favre's last game at Lambeau Field, and have to realize that I may well have my wish granted, in perhaps the most ironic of ways. He will playing in a white and purple jersey, a man not much younger than myself, against the team that I love and adore.

It's kind of weird out there in Packerland: it seems like you are supposed to be in one of two camps. Either you are a Favre Fanatic who is rooting for the Packers to lose in order to prove Ted Thompson a clown, or you are a Favre Hater who wants to see his Achilles tendon shredded in two.

So, are you going to cheer, or are you going to boo? That's the question.

A foolish question, to be sure. The thought that 70,000 fans are going to agree on one approach is rather naive, especially when you consider how polarized the fan base is on the issue. It is especially tough for a fan like me, who sits in the middle, both still admiring the man branded as a traitor, but also still a Packer fan for life.

I don't have the hate that many apparently have. Nor do I have the angry, defensive passion for Favre that others have. In a way, it's kind of ironic again, isn't it? The Frankenstein's monster that Favre eventually turned into was, at least in part, because of the obsessive nature of everyone around him. Including the fans.

Even those who spent years trying to denounce him, before any of the events of two summers ago occured, still obsessed about him. Whether that obsession is positive or negative, their world still revolved around Favre, Favre, Favre. Favre will never win a Super Bowl at his age. His turnovers cost us games. He is a self-absorbed prig.

It's just like any attention: there's no such thing as negative publicity.

Combine that with coaching staffs that catered to him, and even Ted Thompson who repeatedly gave Favre as much time as he wanted to decide whether or not he wanted to return each year, and its not hard to figure out why Favre thought the world revolved around him. It's because it did. And it is our fault as much as his.

And here we are again, with a guy who hasn't taken a snap in green and gold for almost two years, and what are we doing? Obsessing. Again. Shall we boo or cheer for one guy on the field? Is anyone talking about cheering for our own team louder? Is anyone talking about booing our own team if they end up with 13 penalties again? Nope. As always, its All About Favre.

For me, the emotion that I will have in the stands is more bittersweet than angry. I am there to witness Favre's last stand in Lambeau, but nothing like I imagined it. Will I boo him? No, but I won't begrudge the people that choose to. Will I cheer him? No, but if people wish to do that as Packer fans to show their support for him and their frustration with Packer management, that is their right, too.

The bad blood and war of words over the past year and a half has been petulant, childish, and more suitable for "The View" than the world of a man's game of professional football. Who wants to listen to Favre whine about how he felt he was lied to? Who wants to listen to Mike and Ted talk about how hard this situation is for them to deal with? Who wants to listen to "he said, she said" ad nauseum for this long?

So, here we are, and the new Brett and the Favres go against the Team That Ted Built in a smash-mouth, mano-y-mano, no-more-excuses battle against each other. The Vikings already won round one, and this is redemption time for the Packers. But it is the way God intended it to be settled on the field like men, not handled in the media like a bunch of junior-high girls.

I will cheer for my Packers and boo the Vikings, like I always do. But the emotions of this game do end up going far beyond that. It's a critical game for the Packers on many levels, not just in terms of the division race, but in showing they are capable of beating good teams at home. And, of course, proving that the decision to let Favre go isn't one that should be regretted.

I do think that those who are looking at the game as being all about Favre the Traitor or Thompson the Scoundrel are missing the greater point of what is going to unfold on Sunday. This isn't about revenge, either for Favre or the Packers.

This is a story about redemption. Enjoy. I'll be there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Packers Will Beat The Vikings....IF...

Oh, I'm sure we're all ready to break down this game. Will Favre melt down? Will our offensive line hold up against Jared Allen? Will the Vikings be able to compensate for the absence of Antoine Winfield? Will AP get his yards?

I'm here to tell you that a Packer victory will all come down to one thing:

The Packers must force multiple turnovers that leads directly to points, preferably right inside the ten-yard line, and even more preferably, in the end zone. I'm here to tell you that if the Packers' defense doesn't contribute with a score (or a shoo-in play for the offense) or two, the Packers are going to have a tough time winning.

In FavreBowl I, everyone predicted that a revved-up Packer defense would feast on Favre miscues, and certainly, our secondary's ability to turn interceptions into points the last year and a half or so is well-documented and a legitimate threat. But, it didn't happen.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Clay Matthews made a great strip of Adrian Peterson and returned it for six. But, that in and of itself wasn't enough. The Packers need to force multiple turnovers and translate it either into points or field position. That strip was the only turnover the Packers had that game, and the Packers are still averaging 2.5 turnovers a game otherwise. That's almost three a game if you don't count the Vikings game.

It's the one intangible that we really have the most wiggle room with. I am going to assume the following about Sunday's game:

* Aaron Rodgers will have a very good game through the air (when he gets time), and will have no significant turnovers.

* Ryan Grant will struggle to find the success he had against the Browns, and will be less of an impact that many of us are hoping. Ahman Green will not be ready to be a boost-up over Grant at this point.

* Our offensive line is going to either be bookended by beat-up old veterans or young, raw greenhorns. Either way, the pass protection will be exposed and Rodgers will be under heat much of the game.

* Our defense is going to allow A.P his yards and a score, but he's not going to have a 150+ game. In other words, he's not going to dominate the Packers single-handedly.

* Favre will play well as long as he plays within his comfort zone...and plays with a lead, which the Vikings are going to make a point to try and get early.

* Special teams, in one way or another, will dictate some of the game, and unfortunately, Mason Crosby may be a minus, while Percy Harvin may be a plus.

If we assume most of these are true, the pressure is going to fall on the matchup we're all watching anyway: will Favre have a crash to end the game like he did last week against the Steelers? Or, could our secondary simply outmatch him in crunch time?

On paper, this game edged out slightly to the Vikings, as evidenced by their -1.5 line out of Vegas. Face it...the Vikings get the nod likely in both rushing offense and defense. They probably also get the nod on special teams.

Where do the Packers make up the difference? In the passing game.

Can Aaron Rodgers get enough time to have another brilliant day? Can he use his deep threats as well as his backfield targets to keep the defenders guessing?

Can he outplay Favre? I say yes, he can.

The question is, which pass defense will be doing the most damage? Without Winfield, the Vikings find themselves perhaps in the quandary the Packers in last time, when we were still guessing who to put in at safety.

But, you have to give the nod to Charles Woodson, Al Harris, and Nick Collins over anyone playing in the Vikings' defensive backfield. And, in my opinion, the Packers are going to need them. Our Pack hasn't exactly impressed with consistent long drives against quality defenses this season, and that's where those turnovers come into play.

You give the Packers a long field and a the Vikings a small lead, and its going to get tough. But, a couple of well-timed know, the ones we expected to have the first time around...will turn that field position battle around.

Naturally, how to you get that to happen? A little bit of luck, a dash of execution, and making sure that the Vikings running game isn't enough to beat us by itself.

My prediction: Packers tie up the game late on a Charles Woodson interception, setting up the Packers for a short drive, and sending the game into overtime. The Packers win the game, 30-24, on a Nick Collins pick for a touchdown.

Let's hope.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Got 'em!!!!

I got home today, and guess what was waiting for me in the mail?

The countdown begins....GO PACK!!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Browns Aftermath: Did We Gain Enough?

The Packers should be feeling like world beaters right now. After all, not only are they 4-2 and a mere half-game out of first place in the division, they've thumped their last two opponents by a combined 57-3. The running game has been more of a factor, with Ryan Grant gaining 238 yards in those games. Aaron Rodgers has been flawless, the defense has made big plays, and even Mason Crosby has only missed one 55-yard field goal.

Yes, the momentum should be sweeping into Lambeau next week. Right, Charles Woodson?

"There is no momentum in this one," says Woodson.

Smart man.

Let's be honest. The Packers have won three games against bad teams. Actually, not just bad teams, but teams that rank among the worst in NFL history. Teams that we literally could have sat most of our starters against and still won the game.

What do you get out of games like these? Well, you get a win, for sure. I chuckled to myself as I left Lambeau last week, somewhat amazed that the win against the Lions counted the same as a win against, say, the Steelers or Patriots.

It's interesting, if you think about it. The age of free agency and salary caps brought upon the NFL a new era of parity. Teams regularly went from the outhouse to the penthouse, and vice versa. There were no powerhouse dynasties anymore...the Cowboys of the early 1990's might be the last true dynasty there was.

But now, we're seeing teams that are truly lacking in any competitiveness. The Lions, Browns, Rams...these are teams that are so bad that it makes you wonder if they are operating under the same rules as everyone else? Don't they get revenue sharing? Can't they spend as much as any other team? Don't they have the same access to free agency and better draft picks?

But, I digress. My point is, quite simply, that out of our last four games, three have been easy wins. That fourth game, however, was a demoralizing loss on the road against a division rival, and now, we get the rematch at home in a week. But, how much have we improved?

The one place to look, quite sadly, is penalties. No, penalties don't necessarily spell the difference in the win/loss column, but they are an indicator of team discipline. The fact that the Packers have continued to have difficulties with foolish penalties, pre-snap penalties, and unnecessary, non-combat penalties means that there is still sloppy play despite the wins.

The Packers were tagged eight times for 70 yards today, which combined with last week's 13/130 almost equals Ryan Grant's impressive rushing totals.

The thing that concerned me was a quote given second-hand by the television announcers today, early on. While talking about the Packers' penalty problems, they said the coach Mike McCarthy told them that he has tried to address it over and over, and it gets to a point where there's not much more he can do about it... and it falls to the players to handle it.

That might have been a mangled quote from the same gentlemen who gave us, "The fastest spot to a line is a straight point." But, if the intent was there, it is not what we will call a good harbinger.

The Packers can't expect to play sloppy and undisciplined ball and still be able to win games. Perhaps unfortunately, the Packers have been able to win games the past few weeks that way, and that can give them a rather skewed self-image when they go against teams that aren't playing scared like the Lions and the Browns.

How do you work with Rodgers on getting rid of the ball quickly when he had five seconds to throw every down? How do you work on getting pressure on the quarterback when Derek Anderson looked like he was throwing the ball blindfolded? How do you work with your young new left tackle when the guy he had to block looked like Deacon Jones? I mean, Deacon Jones today.

Not only are Rodgers and TJ Lang going to be handling a far different pass rush next week against the Williams brothers from Minnesota, but against teams with top ten defensive lines like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Arizona, San Francisco, and Baltimore.

In a way, these can be trap games. Easy wins that get you to sit on your laurels instead of putting the pressure on you to improve those sloppy mistakes.

I may be completely wrong, and these momentum from these two games will be a great contrast to the huge let-down the Vikings had against the Steelers today. Maybe the Packers will cruise into Lambeau next week and continue piling up the stats (and the score) like the have the last two weeks.

But if what the announcers said was true, and Mike McCarthy has "done all he can do" to fix the penalty situation, I'm worried.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why Exactly Does White Get the Free Pass?

A Fan Mail letter to the Green Bay Press-Gazette Packers Preview section on October 24 caught my eye today (sorry, no link apparently available):

Fitzgerald, Ga. - The Packer management is undecided as to how and when to retire Brett Favre's number. To pit No. 4 along with Nos. 5, 15, 66, and 92 would be a total disgrace to the these. No way should an out-and-out traitor have No. 4 placed along with these greats who were proud to be and remain Packers. Also, remove all things in town and Brown County that refer to the traitor. --Gene Larson

Now, I am fully aware that this season has brought on some intense emotions wrought by the Favre divorce and eventual marriage to the Vikings. It is also pretty clear that the Packers have struggled and the Vikings have found success thus far this season, and this hasn't helped the frustration.

Pretty much any letter to the editor, forum thread, article comments, or blog posts nowadays seems to either damn Brett Favre or Ted Thompson...without a whole lot of middle ground.

But, the glaring error in the post made me ponder for a second...why exactly is Brett Favre the bad guy while Reggie White gets a free pass?

The writer claims that all the gentlemen who have their numbers retired "were proud to be and remain Packers". Yet, in Reggie White's case, that's really not how it ended.


In 1998, Reggie White retired from football. However, God told him he needed to play again, so he returned to the Packers shortly thereafter.

In 1999, Reggie White retired, and did not play in the 1999 season.

In 2000, Reggie White petitioned Ron Wolf to reinstate and release him, so that he could sign with the Carolina Panthers. Ron Wolf agreed to this without searching for compensation.

In 2000, Reggie White's Panthers played against the Green Bay Packers and defeated them.

Now, following this timeline, it certainly shows that Mr. Larson is wrong in that all of those men remained Packers. It also shows two very divergent stories with very similar milestones along the way.

Both Favre and White had retirement "changes of heart". Both eventually did retire and then requested a release from their contract at a later time in order to play for a team on the Packers' schedule the following season.

Yet the reaction of the team and the public was far different for both players. While Ron Wolf quickly agreed to the release, Ted Thompson held out for several months expecting value for the commodity.

The public reacted to White's willing desire to play elsewhere with a sad "ho-hum", while Favre's desire riled nearly every fan to its core, one way or another. And, as we know, while White had a street named posthumously after him in Green Bay, Packer fans today are trying to find a way to change the street sign already named for Favre to something belittling.

Why the difference? Why does White get the pass? Is it really something as simple as Favre wanting to play for the Vikings making all the difference? Is it really just Packer fans really being totally "sick" of Favre's retirement saga year after year?

In many ways, both seem like rather lame excuses for what is a tremendous difference in reaction from not only the media and fans, but also the organization.

I have no concrete answer for you. I wish I did, but how do you explain so many different emotional reactions in a rational manner? What makes the situation more confusing is the way White left the team.

White had gotten himself involved in a couple of politically controversial issues at the end of his Packer career. In March of 1998, he made a speech that was interpreted as being racially stereotyping and earned him a lot of criticism. Later than year, he used the television show 20/20 to comment on his opposition to homosexuality, then appeared in anti-gay ads in newspapers with his Packer uniform, without the consent of the team or the NFL.

I do suspect that the Packers weren't too upset about distancing themselves from White by the time he asked to come out of retirement. And, you had the feeling that even in his final years, there was still an estrangement between the Packers and White. Yet, upon his death, the Packers couldn't trip over themselves fast enough to honor White and retire his number.

Now, certainly Favre has done his part to alienate the Packers and their fans, too, but it seems his motivation is more personal with the general manager than with his former teammates or Packer fans.

But, no matter how you slice it, White went through many of the same questionable moves as Favre (retirement issues, requesting a release, playing with another team on the schedule) but didn't get the same treatment. Thompson didn't end the suspense quickly by honoring a release as Wolf did with White, instead forcing a trade to AFC Siberia with poison pills to boot. White got to go where he wanted, and ended up giving the Packers a loss in 2000 as the only compensation for the deal.

I have no idea how the #4 retirement saga will play out in the future. It may be delayed until Thompson is no longer with the team. It may be delayed until Favre's passing. It may never happen at all. I think it should happen eventually, but it should happen at a time when all parties involved are at peace with the decision.

But, I was uneasy with White's number retirement to begin with, not because of the controversy surrounding him, but the fact that he didn't even spend half of his career in Green Bay. If we're going to fling poo at Brett Favre for not being proud to remain a Packer, shouldn't we be revoking White's free pass, too?

Rodgers Has Great Potential: Will The Packers Mess That Up?

It's not often I agree with Mike Vandermause over at the GBPG, but today he went on a Rodgers GushFest, citing his statistical efforts thus far in his 21 starts as the potential of things to come.

His torrid start translates to 291 yards per game, which would surpass Lynn Dickey (279-yard average) in the team record book.

But Rodgers isn’t piling up eye-popping statistics because of an inordinate amount of attempts. He is on pace to throw 518 passes this season, or 33 per game, a relatively modest total. In 13 of the past 16 seasons, the Packers have thrown the ball more often than this year, which means Rodgers is getting a lot of bang for each throw.

His 8.88-yard average gain per pass is on pace for the third-best total in Packers history behind Dickey and Bart Starr.

Now, anyone who has ready my stuff over the years knows my general irritation with statistics used to prove a point you have already made in your head. Frankly, you can use statistics to mean anything you want, simply by choosing which ones to use, which ones to hide, and who to compare them to.

And, we know Vandermause's reasons for an editorial like this. Two summers ago, he went "all in" on FavreGate, quickly climbing on the train and crossing the Rubicon with Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and Aaron Rodgers. He lost his journalistic integrity by not staying unbiased, and now, despite some occasional criticisms of the regime he backed, needs to continue to press a pro-Thompson diatribe.

That stated, however, there's a lot to like about Aaron Rodgers, and I will stand in full agreement with Vandermause in that regard, though I won't resort to statistical projections in order to justify it.

Aaron Rodgers has demonstrated a level of maturity and PR savvy beyond his years, handling a firestorm of controversy that was placed on his shoulder pads rather unnecessarily by other people. His biggest asset isn't his mobility, which is impressive, but his accuracy when given time. We've seen him able to put the ball on a dime, on the correct shoulder of a receiver 20 yards downfield, and fit the ball in tight spaces without resulting in a turnover.

He has the intangibles and, yes, the statistics to have a long and promising career, and the Packers should feel blessed in a league devoid of more than three or four true franchise quarterbacks that he is under center.

That stated, however, the Packers are in the perfect position to completely mess it up.

Certainly, there have been numerous calls for the heads of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy early this season, and some of it deservedly so (despite whatever Vandermause might tell you). But after watching fellow 2005 first-round draft pick Alex Smith get thrown into the fire and have his career go all David Carr, Rodgers should be just as concerned about his future if the team has to go into another full rebuild.

In other words, don't pray for Thompson's firing just yet. Pray that he wises up and realizes that you have to use all the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle to finish the picture. The result of a quick hook of the 2007 GM of the Year would likely be yet another coaching purge, another scheme change or three, and a long waiting game to "Wait and See" if this will work.

And in the meantime, Rodgers is going to have to go through what Brett Favre had to go through his final three seasons as a Packer. Working behind an offensive line of NFL-E talent and stumblebums. Handing off to street free agents. Passing the ball 70% or more of the time.

And taking the blame for it all.

Now, Favre was a seasoned veteran during this time, but as Mike notes, Rodgers is still a young kid who is still looking for ten wins as a starter. If the walls come crashing down around him, it is still very possible to send him into the "Seven Deadly Habits of a Young Quarterback", the developmental delays that happen when you are the only piece in the puzzle waiting for the team to be built around you:

1) Failure to set your feet. Not having time in the backfield to throw means those feet are always ready to move. A good pocket passer is able to get those feet set, planted, and maximize his accuracy. "Happy Feet" don't win championships.

2) Hunching over. Expecting to get hit often takes your body out of that straight up-and-down position you want your quarterbacks to be throwing out of. Sure, Favre has an arm that could throw off balance, but for most quarterbacks, you lose it when you trust only your arm to make the throw.

3) Not trusting your receivers to get open. The less time you have to throw, the more you don't want to wait for them to show. This goes both ways...receivers start believing if they don't get the ball in three seconds, they aren't going to get it at all.

4) Rushing the delivery. We would all love for our quarterbacks to have the delivery time of Dan Marino, but most do not. Being off balance usually puts your pass high, rushing the delivery often puts the pass low. Either way, feeling like you have to get rid of the ball fast makes you skip over essential mechanics, and pretty soon, the bad delivery becomes your mechanics.

5) Not trusting your running game. There's usually a reason for this, and it is usually because it ain't that good. Most quarterbacks have the option to audible out of a run play, and indeed, most quarterbacks like to anyway. But a quarterback with a bad running game will audible out even more often.

6) Security Blanket in your progressions. When you are operating behind a bad line with no running game, your time is limited. The best quarterbacks use their progressions and look across the field. A lack of time usually means you have to rush that throw, and many quarterbacks tend to find that one reliable receiver and force it there instead of spreading it around. Indeed, Favre's Packer career began and ended with a security blanket...Sterling Sharpe at the beginning, Donald Driver at the end. QB's are at their best when they have eight different receivers with a catch in a game, instead of forcing the ball where it shouldn't be.

7) Believing it really is on you. Look at guys like David Carr, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Alex Smith. Can you name the running backs they had when they were getting those first starts? was all about them and their development, and pretty soon, these young tossers start believing it really is all up to them to win or lose every game, and they play like it, for better or worse...and these cases, usually for the worse.

Vandermause's statistics belie what is already happening: Aaron Rodgers finished with the 98th highest number of single-season attempts in NFL history last season. It doesn't sound that bad, but it's a pretty darn high number for a young kid in his first year as a starter. Sure, his numbers were great and he had a nice season, but being on pace for 525 (according to ESPN, not the 513 Vandermause cites) this year and making it relative to Favre's seasons is an example of using statistics selectively. In other words, Rodgers supposedly is being more "efficient" than the Favre years because he isn't passing as much.

The Packers have run 313 offensive plays this season. Aaron Rodgers has attempted 164 passes. He has also rushed 20 times, and been sacked 25 times. For those of your scoring at home, this means that Packer running backs have only attempted 104 rushes in 313 plays....less than a third of the offensive plays. Rodgers is passing nearly 70% of the time.

I remember a time when folks used to tear apart Favre for his gaudy passing numbers, saying that wasn't enough to win games. And certainly, since Rodgers has been starting, the Packers have gone 9-12. While you can't pin that squarely on Rodgers' nose, it certainly has to show that the team around him isn't keeping up with what he producing on the field. And, it is exactly that lack of a supporting cast that concerns me, whether it be the porous offensive line, the punchless running game, or the inconsistent defense.

Of all the stats that Vandermause pulls out for us to be impressed with, he misses the one that would set the all-time NFL single season record: Rodgers is on pace to be sacked 80 times this season, which would break the record of David Carr by four.

Yes, I will agree that Aaron Rodgers possesses tremendous potential, but I'm smart enough to see that on the field, not by poring over statistics and believing that they prove my point I already had before I looked at them.

But the Packers are teetering on being in a position just like Houston was with Carr, like the 49ers were with Smith, like the Browns were with Couch. They are in a position to stunt the development of a young quarterback by not having the running game as a legitimate threat and having the opposing pass rush as far too consistent of a threat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quinn Johnson Time: Why Not?

I will admit, I am no Einstein when it comes to the minute intricacies of football. When ESPN puts on a slick 3D graphic illustrating gap control along a defensive front, I am still happily learning along with most others watching it.

But, in the larger picture, I do know one thing: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if it is broke, git 'r done.

Which is why I propose one change that I believe could solve many of our problems on offense: start Quinn Johnson at fullback.

Now, is one rookie player capable of creating a sea change along a veteran unit? Probably not, but it can go a long way in getting the dominoes moving in the right direction. And unfortunately, dominoes are exactly what our offensive line and running backs look like unless we're protecting a huge lead in the fourth quarter.

Let me explain my thought process. When a machine is broken, there are a couple ways to remedy the situation: replace the defective parts, or change how the machine works.

In the Packers' case, our replacement parts are pretty limited.

Along the offensive line, the depth is dreadfully thin. While I'm as excited as anyone about the potential of T.J. Lang, and am not excited about seeing his development in the hands of James Campen. Furthermore, he will be facing off against the Vikings' defensive front in two weeks, not the Lions, and that will be a whole new ball of wax for the youngster.

And, let's face it. This has been a line built through the draft for the zone blocking system. Most of the personnel are interchangeable, but not necessarily any better at any other position along the line. When you vow to "develop with within", and it doesn't happen, your options are pretty shaky.

So, you have to figure what we have is all we have to work with, and re-signing creaky old Mark Tauscher is not going to improve that situation, regardless of how much we want it to.

Looking back at the running back situation, we are very much in the same boat. It's pretty clear that Ryan Grant has lost something from his 2007 season: he has little explosiveness or outside run capability. Combining that with the shaky run blocking, and you can understand why Grant's only yards of note come when the game is far out of reach.

Playing behind him is nicked-up Brandon Jackson and the pedestrian DeShawn Wynn. While many are anxious for Jackson to get some playing time, you have to believe the coaching staff knows more than we do, otherwise they would not have gone out to pick up Ahman Green this week.

And, like Tauscher, expecting Green to make any significant improvement at his age and injury history is very optimistic, indeed.

So, when it comes to replacement parts availble to us, we're hurting at both OL and RB. But, with the absence of Korey Hall last week, Quinn Johnson got his chance to show what he could do in a game. He didn't disappoint.

Watching from the stands and keying in on him, I noticed twice that he completely leveled a linebacker. Now, linebackers are known for giving pain and dishing out punishment, not usually the other way around. But, I saw one get knocked backwards nearly three yards on one block from Johnson. And Johnson opened the door for Grant on his 22-yard scamper...and if you didn't notice, Johnson was still sprinting up the field, right on Grant's heels until he was finally tackled.

QJ has the potential...the potential, mind add a new dimension to this offensive attack. Think about the problems we presently have: zone blocking offensive line can't open holes for running game, defenses easily stymie running game, and then are able to put more and more pressure on the pass blocking.

By adding a fullback that can seriously flatten a linebacker, the Packers gain that much of an edge in their rushing attack, as well as making those linebackers think twice about overrunning into him. If Grant is able to rush for three yards on each carry instead of getting hit at the line of scrimmage, it makes a huge difference in how defenses will have to play the run and the pass.

Furthermore, McCarthy, who was once known for making adjustments to accommodate the weaknesses of his offensive line, could start working to the strength of his talent. Josh Sitton and TJ Lang were drafted with the tag "nasty streak", not "ideal for the ZBS". Same for Breno Guacamole. How about you let them start doing some straight-ahead blocking and see what a power lead rusher can do for you?

Incidentally, I've never been a fan of the ZBS, and frankly, I think it is a bit of a coward's scheme. After watching Erik Williams cut-block John Jurkovic out of a playoff game, I don't have a lot of respect for a scheme that utilizes that kind of cheap block on every run play.

Hey, I realize that Quinn Johnson is a rookie. I also realize, right now, he's a one-dimensional player. He's not going to be likely to fill the role of a threat out of the backfield, in contrast to the voices of many of us in the Blogosphere clamoring for more screens and short passes.

And, it puts the Packers at a bit of a disadvantage, having Johnson in on run plays and Kuhn in on passing plays. Certainly, I've always been an advocate for keeping the opposition guessing by having as many options as possible, both offensively and defensively.

But, while all that flea-flicking, misdirection stuff is great, when you are locked in battle in a playoff game in mid-January, protecting a narrow lead in the fourth quarter in sub-zero temperatures, the game of football comes down to mano-y-mano, not finesse. You are running directly at them and daring them to stop you. Playing against the best of the best in the playoffs isn't the time to run a flea-flicker. It's time to preserve the win by keeping the ball on the ground and grinding out yards, killing the clock.

Bringing in Quinn Johnson might be the key that saves the season: not only might it be one of our only actual upgrades, his style of play may change the whole approach to the running game.

It's worth a shot. With Aaron Rodgers on pace for 80 sacks and the running game continuing to be a non-threat, it's time to do something before we are starting Matt Flynn at quarterback. If that happens, it'll be too late.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"A Win is a Win is a Win" Cheesehead Nation Blogcast!

Packers Revisit Past with Signing of Old Running Back, Offensive Line

In a surprising move today, the Green Bay Packers essentially admitted the shortcomings in the backfield and signed former Packer Ahman Green to the roster.

In a related story, the Packers also made several signing along the offensive line. In addition to Green, the Packers signed 2003 Mike Flanagan, 2003 Mike Wahle, and 2003 Marco Rivera. They then pulled off a major coup at the trade deadline by trading the 2009 versions of Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton for their 2003 counterparts.

2009 Mark Tauscher seemed a little miffed by the move.

"Yeah, they sign me last week to a vets' minimum, stash me on the inactive roster, and then just use me as trade bait for myself," Tauscher said while boarding the plane out of Green Bay. "I mean, I know they are a little desperate along the line right now. It just seems a little out of the norm."

Out of the norm is certainly a good way to describe it. But, the locker room was full of mirth as several old teammates reunited.

"It's great to be back," said 2003 Mike Flanagan, "I can't wait to go against the Vikings in two weeks and just push around those Williams boys."

General manager seemed slightly defensive at today's press conference, stating clearly that this did not have any bearing on the future of his plan. "This is not a return to the Mike Sherman era," he said.

True to his word, he nearly swung several more eleventh-hour deals, including trades for 1996 LeRoy Butler, 1978 Ezra Johnson, and 1966 Ray Nitschke.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is There A Sense of Urgency for Lions Game?

As the bye week comes to a close, the Packers are looking into a non-stop stretch of twelve straight games that will endeavor to define who they are: the exhilarating team from the preseason that had even the national media thinking deep post-season, or the uninspired team that stumbled to a 2-2 start.

There's probably no better recipe for renewal if you are the Packers: the Lions come to town on Sunday, and most Packer fans would have already added this one to the win column just two weeks ago. And while the game should still be considered a given, there's an increased sense of urgency among the Packers and their fans.

Let's face it. This is a must-win. Not in the traditional, "this is imperative for our playoff run" sense, but in the "we have to establish that we are a team that is not going to beat ourselves". Because, you see, the Lions will not beat us this weekend. The Packers really should be in in control of this game.

When the 2009 NFL schedule was announced, the Packers celebrated in that we had one of easiest schedules in the league. In all actuality, the Vikings and Bears claimed the two easiest schedules in the league, with the Packers in fourth place. Any why was that? Because all three teams got to play the Lions twice this year.

That's an automatic two wins for each team, just like last year. The Lions are an assumed victory.

And that is the danger of this upcoming weekend. It's important that the Packers maintain their focus on each game, one at a time. The Lions pose a threat, however small, to really rock the Packers' boat. The Packers are reeling from a pasting by the Favre-led Minnesota Vikings, and will be looking for redemption in just two weeks when the boys in Purple return to Lambeau Field.

Sandwiched in the middle are two of the worst teams in the league: the Lions and the Browns, both 1-4 and by any stretch of the imagination, inferior to the Packers...especially if you are still believing that the Packers are just a blitz scheme or an offensive tackle away from being the team they were in the preseason.

But, come on...this isn't Division I college taking on Division III. The Lions operate under the same rules and have the same opportunities as any other team in the league. They pick from the same talent pool and on any given Sunday, can win a game. No game is 100%, and the way the Packers have struggled along both of their lines as late, there's a nervous energy at 1265. Positive energy, to be sure. But with just a dash of urgency.

The Packers will be bringing some familiar faces back to the lineup. Atari Bigby returns at strong safety, and everyone from Mike McCarthy to Ryan Pickett has been vocal in their excitement in having his physical presence back. Pickett went as far to compare Bigby to Bob Sanders, and I'm guessing he meant the Colts' safety, not our former defensive coordinator. That is certainly a stretch, since Bigby hasn't looked like the playmaker he was in 2007 since the first game of 2008, but it sure can't hurt to have him next to Nick Collins instead of Aaron Rouse/Derrick Martin/Jarrett Bush.

Chad Clifton returns to his left tackle position, which should improve the blocking for Aaron Rodgers as it allows Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz to return to their normal positions. I'm sorry to say this, but the injury to one player causing two other linemen to have to play out of position is inexcusable. Here's hoping Clifton returns for good.

The line should be able to open some more holes for Ryan Grant, too, and may be helped by the addition of rookie Quinn Johnson, who will likely be active for the game in place of injured Korey Hall. I'm looking forward to sitting in the stands this weekend and hearing the snaps of shoulder pads when he goes in to block.

Mark Tauscher, sadly, will be out this week as he continues to get himself back into playing shape, which means that Allen Barbre will still be on an island on the right side with few options available if he struggles. I'm hoping Tausch can return to form, but I'm not going to bet on it at this point. Tough injury to bounce back from, and you sure wish he had been rehabbing with the Packers training staff all this time.

Actually, on the other hand, he might be better off without them.

Meanwhile, the Lions may be going without two of the only bullets in their pistol: both Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are listed as questionable, leaving the Lions further behind the eight ball.

So, by every measure, a rested, reloaded, rejuvenated Packer teams already with the advantage in the talent column will be going against a beat-up and discouraged Lions team at Lambeau Field. Everything seems to favor the Pack. So, why the worries?

The Packer Blogosphere has noted some cracks in the armor that belie the confidence this team should have right now. Nagler over at CheeseheadTV noted Mike McCarthy's defensive rambling when asked about Greg Jennings' comments to the media about not getting the ball more. Carriveau over at Railbird Central chimes on on McCarthy's talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Donald's Designated Driver over at all kinds of time has already declared 2009 as a rebuilding year, a far cry from the Super Bowl predictions being made in August. And while Charles Woodson has been universally chastised for criticizing his coaches and gameplan (going so far as to make a somewhat-forced mea culpa with the media), Tom Pelissero makes every single one of Woodson's points the same day in his article questioning the pass rush.

In McCarthy's own words, someone needs to clean up this house. As more veteran players grumble in the locker room, the more pressure this team is under to play to its potential.

I wrote a couple articles over the bye week, both critical (but not damning) of Ted Thompson and McCarthy. As I took some lumps from some of the defenders of the present administration, one of the points brought up several times was that this is a 2-2 team, and there is a lot of football to be played before we can make any final assessments.

Of course, I disagree...if we were 4-0, I think there would be a lot of people willing to make final assessments, but that is neither here nor there. The point is, if this team is going to exceed an 8-8 record this season, they have to win the games they are supposed to. The Packers have only looked remotely like the dominating team from the preseason against the lowly Rams, and the other win this season was a poorly played game throughout, won on a broken long pass play in the fourth quarter.

But, even if the Packers are no more than a middle-of-the-road team, you have to beat the Rams. You have to beat the Lions. You have to beat the Browns. You have to beat the Bucs. You have to beat Seattle. You have to beat the Lions again. This puts you at seven wins, and now you are looking at the rest of the schedule against teams that are all .500 or better.

The Lions are hungry, too. While the Packers are looking to move from 6-10 back into a playoff hunt, Detroit is looking for respectability, to break a string of humiliating losses, and they've played well in every game. They don't have the talent right now to win, but they're playing with a lot more heart than they did when the Packers danced over them in the season finale last year.

And in the Lions' four losses, they came against teams that are a combined 15-3. The team they beat, the Washington Redskins, are 2-3. Could they play the Packers close enough to have us end up 2-3, too? Let's not forget this is the team we routed in the finale last year, making them the first 0-16 in NFL history. Redemption is a powerful intangible.

My guess is no, they won't. The Packers should win this game, and win it handily.

But, I coined the phrase "antergy" in my last article, a term used to describe a level of teamwork and play that actually results in a team playing worse than the sum of its parts, dragging down the most talented players with it. As we look at our most talented players--Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Aaron Kampman, Charles Woodson--it's pretty clear that they've had their performances affected by the level of play around them more than they've raised it.

That "antergy", the opposite of synergy, is what has Packers fans cheering cautiously, hopefully, passionately...and with urgency. Just like the team they are cheering for.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

McCarthy's Lack of Accountability Resurfaces Old Concerns

I’ve tried. Really, I have. At the beginning, I didn’t want to, but I vowed to give Mike McCarthy every benefit of the doubt. I figured, hey…just because I didn’t like how Ted Thompson was handling things didn’t mean I had to immediately downgrade any of his hires, too.

Revisiting the situation, I remember that was a time that I was very emotional about how things were handled with the personnel. 2005 was nothing for anyone involved with the Packers to be proud of, and Mike Sherman certainly took the brunt of it. I had some issues with how Thompson had handled Sherman. While I wasn’t in any sort of camp that believed Sherman was a great coach or GM, he deserved as fair of a shot as anyone to prove it or not.

Without dredging all the icky details of the Sherman firing, let’s just suffice it to say that I thought the situation could have been handled a lot better, without anyone having to play the scapegoat. Thus began some of my criticisms of Thompson’s leadership style, but as the search for a new head coach went on, I vowed to not be hypocritical and to give whomever Thompson hired a fair shot.

Anyone, that is, except Mike McCarthy.

Yep, I would have been happy with nearly anyone. No, I wasn’t excited about Childress, but there were a lot of names that intrigued me. Tim Lewis, Russ Grimm, Al Saunders, Ron Rivera…no real stand-out names but a lot of potential. But, I had already crossed McCarthy off my list. Why?

One word: accountability. I knew really very little about McCarthy, but I did know that he was the Packers’ quarterbacks coach under Ray Rhodes in 1999. That year, Favre had suffered through one of his most undisciplined seasons in a Packer uniform: 23 interceptions, a career-low completion percentage, and a non-winning season. As a huge Favre fan at the time, I had a grave concern that McCarthy would not bring the discipline and accountability that Favre needed at that point. In 2005, Favre threw 29 interceptions and a career-low 70.9 passing efficiency rating. I wanted accountability…and if McCarthy couldn’t hold the team leader accountable, how would he hold the rest of the team accountable?

And accountability was critical, not just for Favre, but for the atmosphere of the team as a whole. One of the biggest (and more valid) criticisms leveled at Mike Sherman was that he was overly loyal to certain players and assistant coaches. I often perceived Sherman standing with his arms at his side, waiting for Favre to win or lose the game. But, you also saw certain players remain on the roster, getting second and third chances when others did not.

When McCarthy was hired, I went through a couple of stages of grieving, no doubt. It’s the wrong fit, I thought, but after a week or so of wailing and gnashing teeth, I decided to give McCarthy a chance. Perhaps in retrospect, he was a far better choice than some of the other assistant coaches out there that have yet to be offered a HC job.

As time wore on, I was glad I chose to give him that chance. As Thompson rebuilt the team, I saw a level of flexibility and problem-solving that we didn’t see under Sherman. Where Sherman tended to stick stubbornly to his gameplan, McCarthy was willing to tinker with the system, introducing larger protection packages and five-wide formations to counter a struggling offensive line. Even as Favre broke his personal attempts mark in 2006 with 613, breaking his previous high the year before (609), you had a feeling he was playing to the strengths of the talent he was given to work with.

When the Packers nearly made the Super Bowl in McCarthy’s second season, I felt justified in having given McCarthy that benefit of the doubt. It sure seemed like he was able to pull it together in a rapid fashion. Accountability? No problem.

But since that season, we’ve either seen a different Mike McCarthy or the real Mike McCarthy. He’s always fielded a team that ranked high in penalties, yet as the team has matured, foolish penalties have continued to plague them. But, as the head coach has come under fire for those penalties (often resulting in more negative yardage that positive rushing yards from our halfbacks), a myriad of excuses have been offered, repeated, and gone unfixed.

More and more, expressions like “pad level”, “fundamentals”, and “gap control” are cited as the reasons for gaffes on offense, defense, and special teams. But as McCarthy leads a team in his fourth season as head coach (following a 13-3 season only two seasons ago), the excuses have run out of steam.

George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It seems that McCarthy is falling into the same trap that Mike Sherman once fell into: being overly loyal to players who continue to disappoint and make mistakes. Players like Brandon Jackson, Justin Harrell, Brady Poppinga, Jarrett Bush, and AJ Hawk continue to get chance after chance, only falling to the wayside when injury removes them from the roster. James Campen, the offensive line coach, somehow avoided the massive coaching slaughter at the end of last season and continues to be unable to make chicken salad from the drafted talent he has to work with.

As MM’s defensiveness and annoyance continues, he digs in deeper to the same dysfunction that plagued Sherman at the end of his tenure: you made your bed, and now you choose to sleep in it instead of fixing the problems that need to be fixed.

In some ways, my initial fears are becoming more and more realized…fears that, quite honestly, had gone forgotten for some time. McCarthy had made a believer out of me, but now it seems like he can’t fix the problems that are evidently in front of him.

Now, granted, some of the problems come from a lack of talent. Thompson’s misses along both lines and both backfields have given McCarthy depth players having to become starters, and NFL-E talent and stumblebums to provide depth. But a good coach has to find a way to make that work. And an excellent way to get that done is to accomplish what he keeps repeating: these players have to have excellent fundamentals.

But, if they don’t have decent fundamentals after four years in the system, when do we expect that to happen? When are players going to be sat down when they mess up, giving them the impetus to feel that their job is on the line? Again, it would be helpful if Thompson would be willing to bring in more than an old tackle at the veteran’s minimum to challenge the current roster, but the product on the field still is the responsibility of the coach: a coach who is going to face a chopping block far sooner than a general manager. When the same coaching errors continue to happen, week after week, that day is coming sooner rather than later.

One preseason, he runs easy practices to reduce the strain on the team and try to keep them healthy. The next year, he runs the hardest training camp in the memory of most long-time fans. Yet, the results appear to be the same when the hitting actually starts.

The truest test of a coach’s ability is to look at what he is doing with the talent he has been given, and while he is working with a dearth of talent in a couple of spots (safety, offensive tackle), most scouts will tell you that Thompson has given the Packers a pretty good pile of talented players to work with. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Ryan Grant, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Ryan Pickett…do the Lions or the Browns have any player on their team that can compare to these guys? Yet, despite the talent, week in and week out the Packers can’t seem to even reach the sum of their parts, much less exceed them.

That is the definition of synergy: the ability for a team to surpass the sum of their parts.

Certainly, the 2007 Packers were the very definition of a synergistic team. Today, they are the opposite, in which the amazing talents of Kampman, Jennings, and Rodgers are diminished because of the efforts of the team around them.

Incidentally, the opposite of synergy is antergy.

Let’s be honest: the Packers are expected to win the next two games. There is no excuse for not being able to beat the Lions or the Browns, who will come in with a combined record of 2-8 and are clearly nowhere near the caliber of talent the Packers possess. The true measuring stick will likely come down to the next game against the Vikings, at home, on November 1st: a redemption game in so many ways for the Packers.

A loss there will cast a lot of doubt on McCarthy and his ability to truly hold a team accountable. Another loss before that will seal it up.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thompson Realizing There's No One Else To Blame Anymore

Rob Demovsky expressed some shock that Ted Thompson came out of his shell on Friday to offer some criticism of his team roster, something that has ever rarely happened in the past. It's so out of character, I momentarily wanted to check the Old Farmer's Almanac to see if this meant an extra six weeks of winter.

But, the way he started the article was what stood out to me:

Ted Thompson never has been one to ride the emotional roller coaster of an NFL season. He didn’t do so during the 4-12 debacle of his first year as the Green Bay Packers’ general manger or in the 13-3 season of 2007.

Typically, he reserves judgment until after the season.

That’s why when Thompson made a statement like he did on Friday, just four games into the season, it was evident that his team’s 2-2 start isn’t sitting too well with him.
I'll be honest. What I'm about to say isn't going to make everyone smile, and it isn't going to sit well with some folks who have staunchly supported Ted Thompson since the early days.

But the answer to Demovsky's riddle is simple: there's no one else to blame anymore. This is Ted Thompson's team, and Ted Thompson's team alone, and just as Mike McCarthy is running out of excuses, so is Thompson.

Ted Thompson has received a level of passionate defense over the years that rivals the levels of a certain ex-quarterback. Folks have risen to champion Thompson's accomplishments, long before he actually had any of note. And, like that certain ex-quarterback, there was always somebody else to take the fall.

2005: As Demovsky mentions, Thompson worst year was his first, but any vitriol was directed at the GM that Thompson took over for, Mike Sherman. Certainly, Sherman was in over his head in a dual role, and his 2004 "BJ Sander draft" had the Packer fan base frustrated and no longer believing in his ability to do both positions.

But, as the season rolled on, the Packers saw the loss of veteran players left and right, including Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera, and Darren Sharper, with few quality players brought in to replace them. While some Packer fans expressed concern that Thompson was initiating a rebuilding year, those defending Thompson celebrated Thompson's willingness to "shake things up" and, in particular, to start setting a new standard of accountability. Mike Sherman had often been accused of being overly loyal to certain players and assistant coaches, and Thompson started whittling them off one by one.

As the Packers limped to a 4-12 record, Mike Sherman took the heat, both for his coaching and previous actions as a GM. At the end of the season, he was axed by Ted Thompson, who was viewed as the victim by his defenders for walking into the mess created by Sherman. However, when asked if he was rebuilding the team, Thompson replied at the time, "No, we are here to win today." But as Brett Favre lined up behind Wil Whittaker and Adrien Klemm, handed off to Samkon Gado, and threw to Antonio Chatman and Taco Wallace, you have questioned whether 2005 was little more than a cap-clearing year, allowing Thompson space to begin setting up his future plans.

2006: As the Packers started out 4-8, some of the negativity began to circulate again, but little of it was directed towards Ted Thompson, who again was still in "Wait and See" mode, still struggling against the alleged horrific mismanagement of the Sherman regime. Any criticism of Thompson almost automatically defaulted to the extremely short measuring stick of Mike Sherman in comparison. In fact, it almost seemed as if Thompson was being lauded for simply firing Mike Sherman.

The focus of criticism in 2006 didn't fall onto Thompson or his rookie head coach, Mike McCarthy, but continued backward to Sherman and onto the quarterback, Brett Favre. A perceived strong draft that year, garnering promising players like AJ Hawk, Greg Jennings, Abdul Hodge and a trio of offensive lineman kept Thompson's shield up. Meanwhile, Favre's 29 interceptions from 2005 and his 18/18 TD/INT ratio (along with a 56% completion percentage) in 2006 kept him in the crosshairs.

The Packers finished 4-0 in their final four games, which brought hope to the team, and a measure of proof positive that MM and TT were moving things in the right direction.

2007: In the miracle season, everything seemed to come together. As Demovsky notices, Thompson did not make any early-season statement criticizing his team...and why would you when you are winning? Oh, certainly, there was trouble with the running game early on, but the Packers rode on the heavy passing of Brett Favre until defenses pulled back and Ryan Grant had larger holes to run through.

In this season, a 13-3 surprise that had fans excited for a Super Bowl, Ted Thompson was awarded the NFL's GM of the Year award based on his two-year turnaround from those horrific Sherman years. But, as the season ended at home with a late-game interception, the blame for not making the Super Bowl landed on one set of shoulder pads, and they weren't Ted Thompson's.

2008: In the offseason of 2008, Thompson was indeed presented with a set of circumstances that no GM in history has ever had to face: the idea of moving on without a Hall of Fame quarterback who wanted to return following a retirement. Thompson made a smart move in going with Aaron Rodgers at that late date, but exposed himself to a lot of criticism by not resolving the problem quickly. The airing out of dirty laundry by both sides hurt not only Favre's reputation, but put a crack in Thompson teflon exterior.

When Thompson finally traded Favre away, there was again a kind of reverse-support offered up for the brave man who stood up to Brett and didn't blink. Despite the criticisms in how the situation was handled, Thompson was again praised by those who faithfully defended him, going so far to say that anyone who didn't agree with Thompson was "not a Packer fan". After all, he is the GM, and if you are "against" him, you are against the Packers.

Funny how that never came up when Mike Sherman was the GM, eh?

As the Packers struggled to a disappointing 6-10 record, with a 2-7 finish, criticism abounded for many associated with the team. Many pointed to Favre's late-season wilting with the Jets and congratulated Thompson for being right, but the Packers couldn't gloat too much with their own sluggish finish. Even more troublesome, the problems for the Packers seemed to focus on the defense and special teams, areas that Thompson had focused his drafts and few free agent signings on. Mike McCarthy started the season by saying that this team was built on the defense, and by season's end, that could no longer be blamed on former GM's, coaches, or quarterbacks.

So, who took the fall last year? Why, Bob Sander, the defensive coordinator did, in what was a near-comical series of firings that started with the special teams coach and ended with almost the entire defensive staff being canned (along with the strength and conditioning coach).

Sander, a holdover from the Sherman regime, was ousted, and it could now be safely stated that this team was now completely purged of all those Shermanesque influences.

And all those excuses.

So when it comes to 2009, we see an offensive line built entirely by Thompson continuing to struggle with a lack of ability, fundamentals, depth, and discipline. We see a quarterback that is changing his pocket habits due to the lack of protection, and a running back unable to create anything himself. But, we also see a defense under the control of Dom Capers, still unable to create a pass rush and giving up crucial yards and third downs every game.

And there is no one else to blame. Thus, Mr. Demovsky, the reason that Ted Thompson has, for the first time in history, come forward in his fifth year as general manager, is to address the criticism that is finally directed his way.

Now, mind you, I do not paint Ted Thompson as some sort of twisted, evil tyrant who willingly threw people under the bus to protect his own interests or his job. Quite honestly, I don't think he has that in him. But, it is also human nature during times of stress and finger-pointing to not throw yourself in the line of fire, either. Thompson could have stepped forward to defend Sherman, Favre, Sander, or anyone else who was getting the brunt of the criticism, but was content to quietly stay in the shadows until the end of the season.

Hey...Aaron Rodgers does it. He steps forward and takes accountability even when it isn't his fault. Give him credit for that.

But, in a nutshell, I think people are finally realizing that Ted Thompson isn't the genius that many had him out to be all along. I commented on this many times back in 2006, that building a team purely through the draft, especially by sacrificing quality for quantity in draft picks, was going to do little more than create a mediocre team. It's like building a jigsaw puzzle only using the blue pieces.

The "genius" label, in my opinion, still came from the perception that not only did he fire the reviled Mike Sherman, but he ran his boat in a completely 180 degree direction from the way his predecessor did. Sherman was reviled for his free agent moves and moving up in the draft. Thompson eschewed free agency and traded back. And since Mike Sherman was a Bad General Manager, Thompson must be a Good General Manager.

Now, just because Thompson isn't a "genius", in my opinion, doesn't mean that there has to be a similar 180-degree "stupid" label placed on him. I don't think he's a genius, but what I would call him is very conservative. He is deliberate. He has his plan and he sticks to it like glue. He would rather develop from inside the organization than take risks on proven (but expensive) talent from the outside. He works from what he knows best, which is scouting and evaluating college talent from the draft.

That approach guarantees you nothing, especially when you look at the Minnesota Vikings, who other than their premier running back, have invested money into free agents at nearly every other positional group on the team to build what they now have in a 5-0 team. Not that free-wheeling spending gets you anywhere, as the Vikings haven't won anything of consequence lately other than FavreBowl last week. But, it certainly sends the message that free agency doesn't guarantee you the basement either, as many began believing a few seasons ago.

The other tidbit we need to revisit is the fact that Thompson was often credited for building the Seattle team that went to the Super Bowl in 2005, a reason to believe in his mantra. However, since that Super Bowl, the Seahawks have gone 9-7, 10-6, 4-12, and now stand at 1-3 this season, with perhaps the worst offensive line in the league. If you were building a team through the draft that was intended to challenge every year, wouldn't you think they should have avoided the bottom dropping out from under them?

Is this what is in store for the Packers? After all, it was a great story when we were talking about what a great job Thompson was doing.

In conclusion, Ted Thompson is indeed exposed right now. Scheme changes are just a cover for the talent that lines up within it, and right now, our offensive line and defense is having some deep issues that haven't resolved since last season.

Is the problem the scheme? Doubtful. The scheme is just the recipe you use in the kitchen to make your meal. The coaching is the chef and the talent are your ingredients. But even if it is the scheme, Thompson is the guy who was standing guard over both scheme changes (zone blocking and the 3-4).

If the problem is the coaching, Thompson is the guy who hired Mike McCarthy and, according to both, they talk every day and back each other up. If Thompson hired the wrong guy, or cannot get his guy to take more accountability for the fundamentals and execution on the field, that mistake is on Thompson, too.

And if the problem lies with a lack of talent...well, there's nowhere else to look anymore, is there?

It's nice to see Thompson coming forward and talking. Now, it is time for some action.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tauscher Signing May Not Be The Solution

Look, I love Mark Tauscher. Great guy, a true Packers and a stalwart at tackle for umpteen years. Played on the "Offensive Line Glory Couple-a years" in the early 2000's.

But, if you're going to put money on re-signing Tauscher and having that be the answer to our offensive line problems, I think you are taking a risky bet. Nothing against Tauscher, who will be as professional as possible and will strive to do his best.

But, there's a funny feeling here. After the Viking game, I kept hearing, "We need to sign a veteran tackle" from every corner, included the Packers. But then, I look and think, "Is Tauscher the guy we really want? Essentially a street free agent coming off of ACL surgery, who's expected return date for active duty was just last week (Oct. 1)?"

In other words, is that what we wanted when we expected veteran help along the line? I have no reason to doubt Tauscher's heart, but I have no reason to trust his knee at this point, either.

That makes it a bit of a trap for the Packers, or smoke and mirrors, if that suits you. The Packers sign a familiar veteran, which settles down the critics for a while. Meanwhile, the Packers have a week off and do not return until Week 6 The following Tuesday, October 20th, is the trade deadline.

Look, I'll be honest. When I'm looking at upgrading this line, bringing in mid-season free agents wasn't what I had in mind. I had in mind trading a decent player at a position of depth (linebacker, wide receiver) or a decent draft pick and picking up a guy who is in condition and ready to play.

If Tauscher is "the remedy" for the Packers OL issues, we might find ourselves out of luck for another prescription. And then, it'll shrugging the shoulders and saying, "What would you have us do? Sign guys off the street?"

Obviously, we expect that Tauscher is going to fill in at right tackle in place of Allen Barbre, but that doesn't solve the problems we're having without Clifton and potentially Colledge on the left.

It's almost kind of funny, isn't it? No more than a couple of months ago, Packer fans were not only projecting not re-signing Tauscher, but trading away Scott Wells and planning for the replacement of Chad Clifton. Suddenly, these three Sherman holdovers are playing pivotal roles along an offensive line that, quite apparently, wasn't ready for them all to go quite yet.

It's a black mark both on the talent acquisition process by GM Ted Thompson, and another for Mike McCarthy and James Campen for not having what talent there was ready to go when the baton was ready to be passed.

But, there's a way to compound a mistake, and that is to keep making mistakes. Look at an aging Mark Tauscher, whose performance last year already brought any contract extension into question anyway. Add to that, he's coming off a serious ACL injury from which he would have only been cleared to be play last week. If you honestly think he's ready to come in and play like the Mark Tauscher of 2003, you've got another thing coming.

Oh, sure, he's could be an upgrade over Barbre's D+ performance thus far. But, if Tauscher is only playing at a C level, it's not going to be that much more help versus Adewale Ogunleye, Jared Allen, and James Harrison.

The Packers have to look at the offensive line as our weakest link in the Packer chain. The time has come for Ted Thompson to show he is willing to make the moves that need to happen to make this team ready to win now, not in the future.

Is signing Mark Tauscher that move? I wouldn't put money on it. Glad to see the big guy back, but I, for one, am a little tired of rolling the dice on Aaron Rodgers' health and safety.

Monday, October 5, 2009

TundraVision QuickHits: The Minnesota Aftermath

The Packers won many battles, but in the end, they lost the war.

The score belies the struggles the Packers had against the Vikings, losing by only a touchdown at 30-23. Penalties, defensive gaffes, and an embarrassing performance by both lines were somewhat muted by Aaron Rodgers ability with the hurry-up offense. In the end, however, a two-minute offense isn't going to beat team that outplayed you the other 58.

With that, here are this week's QuickHits:

* I mentioned this in my pre-game strategy, but it wasn't rocket science: you stop Adrian Peterson, and force Brett Favre to beat you through the air. By every rational measure of common sense, this would lead to a victory by the Packers.


Peterson, the best back in football, carried the ball 25 times for a measly 55 yards and a mere 2.1 yards per carry, numbers we've unfortunately expected more and more from Ryan Grant lately. Even the 2.1 ypc doesn't show the number of times that AP was stopped for negative or no yardage. The Packer bottled Peterson up as much as any team in his career, and for a defense that has been much-maligned for its inability to stop the run, you have to give them props for filling those gaps.

But, the Packers had no answer in their pass defense, in which Favre went virtually untouched the entire game. Yes, the Vikings have a stout offensive line, but there is no excuse for not even getting in there to disrupt the thought process of a 39-year old quarterback. Favre had time and made critical play after play.

* Jermichael Finley had a career day, recording 6 receptions for 128 yards and some great tough yards after the catch. Many of us predicted that he would have a good day against the Vikings' suspect safeties, and he did. Unfortunately, he went completely invisible for the two middle quarters, only resurfacing when the Packers were playing in that two-minute offense.

Finley was the only consistent receiving threat other than Donald Driver, and it was a pity not to keep him involved. Could have made a big difference.

* Good news: Ryan Grant averaged almost five yards a carry. Bad news: Ryan Grant only carried the ball eleven times. Yes, the Packers were playing from behind much of the game, but you can't keep abandoning the running game, especially when it is working. Incidentally, Grant added 50 yards on four receptions, as the screen pass finally found its way back into the Packers' playbook.

Unfortunately, my little weekly tally did not work out in the Packers' favor again: Penalty yards, 57, Primary Rusher's yards, 51. More on the penalties later.

* The announcers made the Jared Allen forced fumble to be all on Daryn Colledge, but it really had to be placed on Allen Barbre's head. His failure to block Jimmy Kennedy on the right side forced Rodgers to the left and into Allen. Obviously, like most right-handed quarterbacks, Rodgers prefers to scramble to his right. It made Allen look like it was all him, but had Barbre held his block or pushed Kennedy inside, Rodgers would have had time to evade Allen in his more comfortable direction.

* Rodgers has to take some heat for the failed touchdown pass to Donald Lee on fourth down. Yes, he wanted to go to Finley on the right side, but when JF fell down, he looked to the left at Lee. Lee dropped the ball, but that was in part because he was off-balance and falling backwards, and Rodgers threw the ball low. It's almost impossible to reach down when your momentum is taking you backwards, and Lee actually made a valiant effort to reach out as far as he could to meet the ball.

Sure, Rodgers was under pressure, but when we think of the gifts he brings to the game, his pinpoint accuracy and placing the ball where only the receiver can catch it is the one that comes to mind. Matt Flynn can come in and throw the ball at receiver's feet. Rodgers needs to put that ball where Lee can catch it.

* Aaron Rodgers has now been sacked 20 times in four games. I want you to really think about that. Twenty times. "Running for his life" are the words the announcers used, while scrambling behind the Ted Thompson-built offensive line. I remember a day back in 2005, when I commented that Favre was "running for his life" behind a line of Wil Whittaker and Adrien Klemm, but because he chose to throw the ball instead of taking repeated sacks, others told me the onus was on Favre, not the line.

Well, Rodgers is now on pace to be sacked 80 times this season. David Carr holds the NFL record for being sacked the most times in one season with 76. Do I think Rodgers will reach it? Nope. He'll be injured long before that.

What confuses me is that Rodgers seemed to be very adept at throwing the ball away, both last season and in the preseason. I don't understand his penchant for hanging on to the ball.

And, sorry to say, there is an awfully large onus on Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy right now for the acquisition and development of the talent we have on this line. Thompson has drafted no less than ten offensive linemen in his five years, and McCarthy and James Campen have had four years to develop them. Either the talent stinks, or the coaching stinks. Either way, eight sacks is inexcusable.

* Credit the offense for finding a way to get Rodgers some time, though. The Packers got the Vikings off guard in the beginning of the game with the three-step drops and quick passes. However, as the game went on, the Vikings were able to adjust to it and held it a bit more in check until the end of the game when Rodgers went into a two-minute offense and the Vikings went into a safer defense.

I really thought the answer was going to be max protect, but the Packers and Rodgers chose to keep passing quickly with and quick slants. However, in the end, while Rodgers passed for tons of yardage, the pressure got to him too often, resulting in an interception, a forced fumble, and a safety, as well as all those sacks.

* 7.3 That's how many seconds Favre had on one play to literally stand in the pocket. On the play, both Aaron Kampman and Johnny Jolly dropped into coverage and the Packers appeared to be rushing three men....rather ineffectively.

Embarrassing. All the cries of doing bodily harm to Brett this week, and we couldn't even get in to hit him after he threw it. I love Dom Capers, but Jon Gruden had a point in between his blubbering about how much he loved Brett: Aaron Kampman is awkward and nullified in pass coverage. He needs to put a hand down and do what he does best...rush the quarterback.

* The Vikings defensive stand in the red zone was incredible. Against any other defense, I think the Packers would have gotten in on any of those plays, whether it be the Grant run, the pass to Finley, or even the pass to Lee. You can't fault play selection on that drive...the Vikings simply hit us hard every time we got close.

* I am never one to whine about penalties. I will be the first to admit, however, that there were some iffy calls in that game, the holding call on Woodson being the most egregious. However, since they called Desmond Bishop offsides on the same play, you really can't complain too hard about it (especially because Poppinga decided to go offsides on the very next play).

The penalties evened out in the second half, but I will say this: I don't like to whine about penalties, especially in a game against the Vikings. I've heard far too many Vikings fans in the past wail and gnash their teeth, blaming the refs for any loss they've suffered to the Packers. It's a loser's complaint, and we have plenty of areas we can look at is to why our team was responsible for our loss today.

I'm not going to blame a penalty when we are allowing an opposing quarterback 7 seconds to dance around in the pocket, while our quarterback is getting nailed eight times for sacks.

* Hey, maybe that draft-day trade was worth it after all. Clay Matthews made the play of the game with that strip of the best back in football and running it in for a score. Heads-up and great instincts on his part. The fact that five of Matthews' closest friends were all there standing Adrian Peterson up sure helps, too. Nice job again on the run defense, allowing CM3 to make that play.

* The lack of depth at offensive tackle and in the secondary will be tested even further if the injuries to Daryn Colledge and Wil Blackmon prove to be lengthy. I suppose that Breno Guacomole will finally have to be activated for one of these games, eh?

Cullen Jenkins going down twice worried me a bit, too. We aren't exactly loaded (or completely healthy) along the defensive line. It's really not a good sign when your team is in dire need of the bye week to get healthy, and it is only Week 5.

*Anyone else notice Derrick Martin missed his over-the-top coverage on Bernard Berrian's touchdown catch over Al Harris?

Anyone else notice Jarrett Bush playing safety after that?

Sorry..I'm finding it a little bit amusing that we're holding the safeties accountable for bad play, (after Aaron Rouse was cut a couple weeks ago) but we're not benching players at other positions.

* All in all, I'm glad that the game turned out the way it did, if we had to lose. It may not sound like I'm a good Packer fan in saying it, but I'm not a "moral victory" kind of guy, and the Packers are not in the position to be feeling good about how they played today (and in fact, how they've played much of this and last season).

I happen to be going to the Viking game on November 1, and the storyline for this game should be about redemption. The Packers were exposed and beat, regardless of what the final score showed. When I go to this game, I expect that this bye week is going to be spent not on correcting pad levels or gap control, but righting the ship that may not have been sinking, but is simply unable to unfurl its sails and play up to its potential.

That is what needs to be corrected, and something I will address in a later article this week: has Ted Thompson acquired the talent needed for a quality team in his fifth season as GM? And if so, has Mike McCarthy coached it to reach its potential?

This kind of game, with this kind of result, can do one of two things: send you into a spiral for the rest of the season, or shake things up and motivate you to better yourself in ways you never thought of before (yes, even more creative than Rodgers pretending to walk to the sideines and running a direct snap to DeShawn Wynn).


All in all, what can you say? This was the situation Thompson and McCarthy didn't want to have to face, and in the end, it is now understandable why they didn't want to face their former quarterback. We now have a bye week to stew in our juices and figure things out.

Once again, we get to face one of perhaps the worst teams in NFL history (the Lions, not unlike the Rams) when we come back in Week 6, something that can help us feel better about our team, but one that can also be a poor measure of our success and execution. We'll follow that up with a game against the 0-4 Browns before facing off again with the Vikes at home. Yes, good chance we'll be 4-2 at that point, but the Packers need to do more than lower the quality of the opposition to make it through this season.