1. How have Vikings fans taken the first loss of the season? Brett Favre seemed to lose his “can do no wrong” title for the first time all year. Are there any nervous fans on Favre’s play?
There has been some mixed reaction, but little of it negative toward the Vikings and Favre. A section of the fan base blame the referees for the “phantom tripping call,” as it has become known. And most of the fans feel that the Vikings played well and even outplayed the defending champions on their home field.
They were in a position to win and just did not finish the deal. As to Favre, the Favre haters are laying those two defensive scores at his feet, and while he might have held the ball a little long in one threw too quickly in the other, many see the plays for what they are–good plays by the defense and a not-so-lucky bounce of the ball.
Fans here recognize the upgrade they have at the quarterback position and certainly know that interceptions are part of the package, but his three picks this year are far outweighed by how well he has performed. No one here who was on the Favre-wagon is jumping off at this point.
2. The weather conditions in Lambeau Field will be similar to the conditions last week in Pittsburgh. How were the Vikings exposed with this and will it factor against the Packers?
Actually, it was a great day for football last weekend in Pittsburgh, and save for a recently re-sodded (and perhaps a little soggy) field, the conditions really weren’t a huge factor. Right now it looks about the same for Green Bay on Sunday, so I don’t expect it to be a problem for the Vikings. Favre knows how to play outside, and while playing on grass may slow the Minnesota defensive line and Adrian Peterson a bit, having played outside last week certainly should help.
3. Adrian Peterson failed to get things going against the Packers’ 3-4 defense and had just 69 rushing yards against Pitt’s 3-4 defense. He ran all over Cleveland’s 3-4 but who doesn’t? Is the 3-4 a problem for AD?
Looking at the statistics so far this season, the 3-4 defense does seem to present a problem for the Vikings rushing attack. Opponents have loaded the box against Peterson and stuffed the run early. In some cases, he has worn down the defense and started to pickup yards late, so the Vikings have to stick with the run and be patient with it (as they were not last week in Pittsburgh).
I believe Peterson is ready to bust out this week, but if the Packers have more success, the Vikings will need to get him involved with the short passing game more often. If you recall AP’s crushing run against the Steelers’ William Gay last week, you can see that he can do some damage no matter how he gets the ball.
4. How will the Vikings utilize Percy Harvin as compared to in week 4? He seems much more relaxed this time around and is making plays all over the field.
Percy Harvin is a bit of a question mark this week, as he has missed practice time due to illness–which many speculate are a reoccurrence of his migraine headaches. Harvin figures to be ready by game time, but wideout Bernard Berrian may not be with an injured hamstring, so that will mean an increased role for Harvin.
The rookie from Florida has performed well catching passes in traffic across the middle and you can expect to see more of that this weekend. But, as you said, Favre has found Harvin all over the field this season and the Vikings will try to get him loose. I believe Percy’s relaxed demeanor is directly attributable to the time and effort Favre has spent working with him–they have developed some pretty good chemistry.
5. How much does the loss of Antoine Winfield really hurt the Vikings? Will Aaron Rodgers have more success through the air with him out?
Anytime you are missing a player of Antoine’s caliber it creates a huge void that needs filling. Both in run support and pass coverage, there are few like him in the game. After a disastrous attempt to replace him in the Baltimore game, the Vikings defense did by committee (with Karl Paymah, Benny Sapp and Asher Allen) against Pittsburgh and had great success (holding the league-leading receiver, Hines Ward, to one catch for yards).
That said, Rodgers threw for a career high 384 yards against the Vikings last time out, and actually victimized Winfield for the two long touchdowns. A closer look revealed that Rodgers had his greatest success against the Vikings secondary when the defense blitzed, and the Vikings had its greatest success against Rodgers (eight sacks) when they didn’t. Expect the Vikings to do more pass rushing of the front four alone and less blitzing to keep more defenders in the pass defense mode–that should help them in the passing game, where Green Bay is down to only three healthy wide receivers.
6. What is your prediction for the game? It’s hard to beat a team twice,and the Packers have been swept by the Vikings just once since 1998. What’s your take?
Well, then I would say the Vikings are due for a sweep. The Packers are still fiddling with their offensive line and have changed personnel on defense as well (Clay Matthews is starting at linebacker and Atari Bigby returns to safety), so they are a little unsettled. Like last game, emotion will play a big part of it, and Favre used that to his advantage. Once it’s time for kickoff, it is all football, and I think the Vikings will squeak out a close one- perhaps on the toe of Ryan Longwell.
In what could be the most watched regular season Sunday-day game of all-time, the Packers will host Brett Favre for the first time in his career. In week four, Favre torched his old team in a 30-23 victory that seemed more like 30-3. But four weeks later, some things have changed for each team. Here’s five reasons why the outcome will be different this time around.
Last time around, Brett Favre and the Vikings has the leisure of not only playing at home in the Metrodome, but also the weather was not a factor for Mr. Favre and his stellar passing game. Fast forward three weeks and the weather conditions call for temperatures in the mid 40′s and a 30 percent chance of precipitation.
Lambeau Field calls for a 100 percent chance of a hostile environment that is sure to shake the “ol’ gunslinger” into making errant passes. Naturally, the nerves have to be getting to Favre as he prepares to face his old team in his old stadium for the first time ever. In week four, the jerseys on defense were green and gold, but the stadium wasn’t.
It’s easy to forget with all the Favre hype, but this game means a ton in terms of determining who stands on top of the NFC North in a few weeks. The Packers are one and a half games behind the Vikes, and with Tampa Bay following the next week, a win against Minnesota would mean first place for the Packers.
Combine that with the temperature change that has hurt Favre over the last three seasons and you have a recipe that, at the very least, is much different than it was in Minnesota. It’s never easy to win on the road in the NFL and next week will be no exception for the Vikings.
2. Packers’ Offense
In week four, the box score would have told you that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers played an outstanding game on offense and had their way with the Vikings’ secondary. However, the truth was that most of Rodgers’ stats came in garbage time while the Vikings played prevent defense.
While the offense was able to move the ball and scored 17 points on offense, the Packers allowed eight sacks and Rodgers was pressured on just about every play, leading to errant passes and a forced fumble on Rodgers’ part.
The offensive line remains the same for the next week’s game, Daryn Colledge will not see any time at left tackle like he did in week four. Also, rookie T.J. Lang has had extra reps at left tackle if Chad Clifton can not go due to an ankle injury. Expect Jared Allen to get his fair share of pressure, but the Packers have changed up their offense and have implemented many short passes that should help.
Rodgers has the second best passer rating in the league and has averaged the most yards per attempt, all while being sacked more than any other quarterback. If the Packers can get those short passes to work, it will take pressure off Rodgers in a mental and physical sense.
In week four, the Packers missed Atari Bigby and it showed as Favre and the Vikings’ pass attack had their way with the Packers’ secondary. This time around, Bigby will suit up and hopefully change the outcome in the passing game. Vikings Coach Brad Childress admitted that the Packers are a “different team” with Bigby and the difference between him and Derrick Martin will be night and day.
For the Vikings, standout cornerback Antoine Winfield is expected to miss the contest and Bernard Berrian has yet to practice this week. Both players were huge contributors in the Vikings week four victory as Winfield compiled ten tackles and an interception, while Berrian caught six passes for 75 yards and a third quarter, eventual game-winning touchdown from Favre.
Jermichael Finley, who led the Packers in receiving against the Vikings with 128 yards and a touchdown, will miss Sunday’s game along with wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Brett Swain was also lost for the season with a torn ACL against Cleveland, so Rodgers’ targets will be limited to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Donald Lee, and the backs.
There are injuries for both teams, but clearly the Vikings’ injuries hurt more than the Packers right now, the opposite of week four.
Aside from the fact that the Packers are coming off a bye week and two wins while the Vikings are coming off a loss, the Packers seem to be hitting their stride while the Vikings are fighting for their lives. The Packers have had three easy weeks to prepare for their big division rivalry game in playing the Lions and Browns off a bye week.
On the other hand, the Vikings just barely held on to defeat the Ravens in a shootout and went wire-to-wire with the Steelers in a loss. At the very least, the Vikings are more tired than the Packers are at this point. Losing the game in the last six minutes had to be disheartening for the Vikings and while they will not be resting on that fact, it’s different than coming out of Heinz Field with a victory.
No one needs to tell either team to get up for this game, but you can bet the Packers do not want to see Favre leave Lambeau Field with a victory. The tension was not as high in week four as it will be at 3:15 in Green Bay and the Packers will thrive off that.
The Packers finally feel confident in their offensive schemes and their defense has limited teams to three points in the last two weeks combined. Rookies Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji are getting much more involved and Rodgers has settled in, throwing eight touchdowns in the last three weeks. All signs point to the momentum being in Green Bay’s favor when the initial whistle is blown.
5. Twelve is greater than four
You knew it was coming, people. I stayed away from it in week four because thinking about Favre playing against the Vikings in Minnesota didn’t hit me as weird. But seeing Favre walk out onto the Frozen Tundra will be heartbreaking and as much as I love the man, Aaron Rodgers is my team’s quarterback.
Say what you will about the success Favre has had this season, but in four years when Aaron Rodgers is in his prime and Favre is (God, hopefully) on a tractor somewhere in his Wrangler Jeans, you’ll understand why Ted Thompson made the right call. Rodgers has been a top five quarterback this season and has four wins to prove it. Cheer Favre for everything he did for the Packers, but once 3:15 hits look to the other side of the field and watch the future of Green Bay Packers football, #12.
Marquette has six newcomers this season and is looking to turn over a new era as they move on with life after the Big Three. One of those newcomers that will have to come in and step up right away is junior Dwight Buycks.
While the difference in the victories against the Detroit Lions (26-0) in week six and the Cleveland Browns (31-3) Sunday was just two points, the blowouts were about as different as they could be and showed what exactly the Packers have in store for the rest of the season.
Say what you will about the Browns easily being one of the worst teams in the league and that it is hard to gauge just how good the Packers really are based on two straight victories against teams with a combined record of 2-11, but Sunday’s contest wasn’t even close. After Phil Dawson connected on a field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead, the Packers reeled off 31 straight points to coast for the win.
Don’t let anyone fool you: the Browns are bad. They are very bad. But it wasn’t as if the Packers struggled to find rhythm on offense and were making mistakes on defense like they did against the Lions. They found a bad team at the wrong time and absolutely destroyed them in all aspects of the game, something great teams do.
Defensively, the Packers did what they had to do, forcing two turnovers and holding the Browns to just 139 yards on offense. What helps is that they did most of their damage out of normal sets, making sure not give much away for next week’s matchup against Minnesota.
Call it a tune-up, but the Packers have used the last two weeks to become more comfortable within their defense and players like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett are finally starting to get things down. Aaron Kampman has been able to rush the passer more and has three sacks in the last four weeks, and Charles Woodson reminded the NFL why no one should throw his way as he picked off a pass and forced a Josh Cribbs fumble.
The Lions rank 22nd in total offense and the Browns 31st, but the Packers did what they were supposed to do and then some. While some may say their stats are inflated from the last two weeks, the fact of the matter is their defense ranks 3rd in total defense and is giving up just 16 points per game, good for fifth in all of football.
The big play threats are still there and are coming at the expense of trying to force turnovers, but that is something the Packers are hoping will cancel out by season’s end. Their 13 takeaways rank third in the league and their turnover difference of +8 is second in the league.
Leading the way in that department has been the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has feasted on lesser opponents and seen his quarterback rating soar. Rodgers has eight touchdowns in his last three games and has had a passer rating over 110 in each of his last four contests. For the season, only Peyton Manning has a higher passer rating (114.5) than Rodgers (110.8).
His two interceptions have kept Packers’ drives alive and are a big part of the reason why the Packers rank fifth in the league in total offense and points per game.
The offensive line finally put together a rock solid outing, regardless of who it was against, in not allowing a sack and rushing for over 200 yards against the Browns. T.J. Lang made his first start at left tackle and was solid all day in his potential warm-up for Jared Allen next week. The right side of the line created holes all day and helped Ryan Grant to his best outing of 2009.
All in all, the last three weeks have been exactly what the Packers needed. Defensive adjustments were clearly made during the bye week as the Packers not only beat up bad offenses, but completely shut them down. Regardless of how bad the Lions and Browns may be, the Packers’ defense could not have played any better.
Offensively, the Packers continue to get better every week, improving their total yards in each of the team’s first six games. They have also gone over the 400-yard mark on offense in each of the past four games. Question marks arose in the first two weeks about Rodgers’ consistency, the dropped passes, and the offensive line, but that has not been the problem as of late. If Rodgers’ can get time, the Packers’ offense is a top ten unit.
With just 16 games on the schedule, no team ever looks past games, but the Packers’ might have peeked at their matchup next weekend against the Vikings. The past two weeks have allowed the Packers to try out new things during blowouts and also disguise others. Coming off a bye week and two blowouts is surely different than the Vikings, who have yet to play their bye and have battled to the extremes against two AFC powerhouses in the Ravens and Steelers the last two weeks.
The Vikings might not be tired but they will not be as well rested as the Packers. While it’s too hard to judge whether or not the Packers’ wins over the Lions and Browns just met expectations or were a start of something new, it’s no secret the Packers have momentum coming into next week. Not only are they playing great football, but the NFC North is on the line and the winner of the game will have that title all to themselves.
1. The Packers have the worst offensive line in the NFL.
Coming into the season, the Packers’ offensive line was hardly thought to be a liability but was still not a strong point on the team. Six weeks in, the unit is as big a liability as one will find in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has put up outstanding stats considering he has been sacked a league-high 25 times. The current NFL record for times sacked in a season is David Carr, with 72. Rodgers is on pace to be sacked 80 times, which would set a new record.
Injuries to Chad Clifton, Jason Spitz, and Daryn Colledge combined with Rodgers holding on to the ball too long sometimes might be excuses, but the Packers also rank 25th in rushing. Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson are not going to make anyone forget about Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, but every rushing attack starts with the offensive line.
2. Clay Matthews is a future pro bowler at outside linebacker
A risky prediction? You bet. But one that I will stick to until I see him in the actual game. Five games into his short NFL career, Matthews has already taken over a starting role, racked up 12 tackles, been credited with three sacks, had three more tackles for loss, stripped Adrian Peterson and run it back for a touchdown, and defended three passes. Dom Capers and Kevin Greene have a long history with the 3-4 defense and must have seen something in Matthews to make Ted Thompson trade up for him.
It sounds cliche, but he’s just a genuine football player out on the field. His strength combined with his fluidity is perfect for the 3-4 defense and he is making the most of his time on the field. Now with the starting job in hand, he should be on the field a whole lot more and continue to improve on his skill set. It seems as though the sky’s the limit for the USC grad.
3. Donald Driver can play into his 40′s if he chooses to
Take Donald Driver’s name and number off his jersey and then show film to someone and ask them what they think of that certain player. Assuming Driver didn’t do a first down shimmy after a big catch to give his identity away, that certain someone would probably guess the player was a young and energetic rookie.
At 34, Driver seems to have more energy than he ever has and is showing no signs of slowing down. He is in excellent physical condition, is loving the game, and has a quarterback suited perfectly to his skill set. This season, he leads the Packers in receptions, yards, and touchdown catches. He also set the Packers’ record for receptions last week in Detroit. With Greg Jennings constantly seeing double coverage, Driver has made the most of his opportunity to beat his man one-one-one.
4. Al Harris has lost a step and it might be time to give Tramon Williams a look
Maybe the second part of my thought is more of the reason I think Williams should get more looks a starter, but Harris does not look like the same cornerback. For starters, his reaction time has decreased and it seems as though receivers are getting a clean break on routes a step or two before Harris realizes it. One has to wonder whether the penalties on Harris for illegal use of the hands has tamed him a bit.
His 23 tackles, which rank fifth on the team, is a tad bit misleading because none of those are for losses, meaning Harris more times than not gave up a reception to make that tackle. It’s not an easy task when Charles Woodson is on the other side of the defense and your safety help has been banged up all year, but Harris just has not looked the same. Even his interception against the Lions was off blown coverage but the ball was tipped by the Detroit receiver.
5. Even with Matthews’ great play thus far, Brandon Chillar is the Packers’ best linebacker
The interior of the Packers’ linebacking corps has struggled this season in comparison to their defensive line or outside linebackers, but Brandon Chillar has been a breath of fresh air and a versatile part of the defense. He has seen time at inside linebacker but also has played strong safety in the Packers’ “Big Okie”, five linebacker-defense and has done a nice job.
His sack on Jay Cutler was arguably the play of the year for the Packers thus far and he currently ranks second on the team in tackles. With A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett struggling, Chillar’s play has been a nice surprise and he seems to be fitting in very nicely in the 3-4 defense. Most of his tackles are within three or four yards of the line of scrimmage while other inside LB’s are making tackles down field.
6. If the Packers can not cut down on penalties, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye
The Packers are not a good enough team right now to be able to make up for their penalties. Their offensive line is shaky meaning deep passes are at a minimum, their defense is playing good but not great, and overall they’re having trouble making up for their mistakes.
Last season, the Packers ranked second in penalties and first in yards. Six weeks in, the Packers are fifth in penalties and fourth in yards. It’s extremely frusterating as a fan to see yellow flags out on the field on seemingly every drive. Mike McCarthy claims it’s just part of the game, but penalties say a lot about a team’s structure and discipline.
It’s not McCarthy’s fault because he isn’t the one jumping the snap on false starts or holding on defense, but maybe it’s time for him to get on his players a little more because, in a division or wildcard spot that could come down to the wire, penalties can change the complexion of a game.
The next few weeks will be telling because, against lesser competition, they should not have to be committing silly penalties.
As if the rivalry between the Marquette Golden Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers wasn’t big enough, it added a new chapter Sunday afternoon when Madison Memorial point guard Vander Blue gave a verbal commitment to play for Marquette next fall. The 6’3″ Blue was choosing between Marquette and Wisconsin with Florida, Arizona, UCLA, and Connecticut listed as well.
Visiting Marquette on his official visit this past weekend, Blue attended Marquette Madness at the Al McGuire Center and sat next to now-fellow teammate and 2010 commit Jamail Jones, a 6’6″ guard/forward from Georgia. He was able to spend time with the current team, including former high school teammate and best friend Jeronne Maymon.
Blue admitted there were many reasons why he chose Marquette over Wisconsin, including the up-tempo style of play that suits his skill set, his relationship with coach Buzz Williams, and the overall culture of Marquette.
His decision did not come without criticism as many of the Wisconsin faithful feel betrayed and as if there is more to the story than what has been printed. Blue gave an oral commitment to Wisconsin after his sophomore year of high school but wanted to look over his options again after a breakout junior year.
When the majority of 15-year-olds are deciding on whether or not to laminate their driving permits, Blue was deciding where to play division one basketball. It’s easy to see that he was young and excited, yet premature on his college decision. He never took Wisconsin out of his potential teams and it seemed as though his decision was 50-50 most of the way.
Despite those upset at Blue for opening up his recruitment and then deciding to go to a rival in-state school, Blue says he could not be happier with his decision and is excited to be playing for the Golden Eagles in the Big East.
Just as happier, if not happier, is Coach Buzz Williams who, in Blue, secured his second recruit for the 2010 season. Both recruits, Blue and Jones, rank in the top 70 on most recruiting websites and will play a major role when they join the team next season.
In an interview with JS Online Marquette blogger Todd Rosiak, Blue said that Williams was crying and screaming when he heard the news of Blue joining the Marquette squad. It seemed like a fitting end for the emotional Williams, who spoke to Blue about life and becoming a man over the weekend. He knows that being a Marquette Golden Eagle is about much more than wins, losses, and tournament bids.
After Tom Crean ditched his seniors for Indiana prior to the start of last season, Williams was left to pick up the pieces that included two de-commits and not a lot of time to make up for it. His first recruiting class consisted of junior college sophomores Joe Fulce and Jimmy Butler and freshman Chris Otule. Williams’ Texas ties surely helped him out as all three players played in the Lone Star State. Butler came in right away and was an excellent role player for the Golden Eagles while Fulce and Otule fought injuries for the majority of the season.
While Williams was given a free pass on his 2008 recruiting class given the circumstances, his 2009 class was going to define him as the class who came in after the Big Three of Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dominic James graduated.
Williams did not miss a beat, recruiting three four-star players in Junior Cadougan, Jeronne Maymon, and Erik Williams to go along with three-star recruits Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom and Youssoupha Mbao. Not only did the class balance out the roster with four freshman, a sophomore, and a junior, but it also ranked in the top fifteen on most websites.
The class is yet to play a game, but the talent and chemistry seems to be there for the Golden Eagles to succeed in the future. Inexperience will play a factor and the newcomers are sure to have low points in the season and may hit a wall during the tough Big East season, but the learning process will be key for the future.
Add last year’s class to the commitments of Blue and Jones for next season and you have a roster made up completely of Buzz Williams recruits, a five-star, blue chip prospect, seniors Jimmy Butler, Joe Fulce, and Dwight Buycks, four four-star recruits and a boatload of potential.
The best part is that Buzz Williams is not done recruiting for 2010 with two more potential scholarships to hand out for next season. Look for Williams to solidify the frontcourt for next season as the backcourt is all but set up with Cadougan, Blue, Johnson-Odom, Buycks, Jones, Butler, and Fulce.
Names for the 2010 class to keep an eye on include power forwards Tarik Black, Gary Mitchell, Jayvaughn Pinkson, and Freddy Aspirilla. If the Golden Eagles are to compete for a Big East title in the next two or three years, a big man who can consistently get looks at the basket in the low post will be key. Otule and Mbao are both centers who seem to have their game focused defensively right now so an offensive presence will be key.
Whichever way you slice it, the Vander Blue commitment officially put Marquette back in the conference title talks for next season. After all, he is the best recruit Marquette has landed since Kerry Trotter in 1981 and Doc Rivers in 1979. It’s big enough that the Golden Eagles have swiped up the state of Wisconsin’s best recruit the last two seasons,but if Williams can hit on another recruit or two for next season, Marquette can become a consistent top ten recruiting destination.
Blue’s decision to Marquette was that big. Now if only Tennessee-bound shooting guard Trae Golden had committed as well. Talk about a Marquette backcourt…
Sorry I have been out of the loop on posting as of late. Midterms at school have had my head in the books and not as much on the blog. I have been following everything as usual and will have a lot to post on this week including the Packers’ shutout of the Lions, Vander Blue verbally committing to Marquette, and potentially some MLB playoffs as we prepare for the World Series.
Here’s an article I did last week on sophomore big Chris Otule. To read it, click on the link below that will bring you to MarquetteHoops.com, where most of my Marquette Basketball content will go from now on.
The spread might be two touchdowns and they might be playing at home, coming off a bye week against a team that has not won in Green Bay in almost two decades, but the Packers’ matchup on Sunday against the Detroit Lions will tell Packer Nation and the rest of the league just what to expect the rest of the season.
On one hand, the Packers could come out with a chip on their shoulder after their embarrassing loss to the Vikings on national television by taking it to the lowly 1-4 Lions. On the other hand, they could struggle once again to look solid in all aspects of the game and leave more question marks than answers.
It would be short of a miracle if the Lions pulled out a victory on Sunday, but that can not be the focus for the Packers this week. While a team never wants to guarantee a victory or come into a game thinking they have the game already won, Week Six means a lot more than one game in the standings for the Packers.
Adjustments are sure to have been made during the bye week and now it is time to put them to the test. A simple win by two touchdowns might not be enough to convince the rest of the league, or the Packers themselves, that they are contenders this season.
Inconsistencies on the offensive line, another round of lackluster defensive packages, and rhythm issues between Aaron Rodgers and the receivers have led the Packers to an unimpressive 2-2 record through five weeks of the NFL season.
While the Packers are in no way, shape, or form out of the playoff race just a quarter of the way through their schedule, it hasn’t been what a lot of people expected. A big off-season included the future of the defense, B.J. Raji, drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, a new and enthusiastic defensive coordinator come in and revamp the defense, and expectations through the roof for Aaron Rodgers.
The pre-season gave even more hope to fans and Super Bowl predictions were being thrown around the TV and internet from NFL analysts alike. If the offense could continue their point binges, the already outstanding defense would just be an added bonus.
It’s natural for Packers fans to expect big things from our team. We’ve been spoiled with one of the most stable franchises in all of sports, the greatest stadium in professional sports, and a title within the last fifteen years. We saw the greatest quarterback of all-time call Green Bay home for 17 years and put us back on the map and, unlike many situations, the transition of Hall of Fame quarterback-to-replacement has been steady so far.
With a favorable schedule coming up that also includes a chance to take down the division leading Minnesota Vikings, it’s time for the Packers to go for it all. Changes on the offensive line have been made including the signing of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who will provide good depth, the offense is going back to the drawing board and looking to throw more short passes, and the defense will make adjustments so as to not continue giving up the big play.
Injuries that hurt the Packers will be fewer going forward as players at key positions had the chance to gain extra rest with the bye week. With all of these factors combined, there are no more excuses for the Packers. Ted Thompson, like him or not, built this team from within and expected big things when the pieces came together. It’s clear that this time is now and if results do not come soon, changes will be made.
There’s no reason that the Packers should not be one of the top teams in the NFC at the midpoint of the season in four weeks. It all starts against the Lions, who will more than likely be without their top two offensive players in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
The Packers will no doubt play to win and will not call off the dogs if a blowout ensues, but look for them to work out the kinks that they have struggled with all season. Expect a heavy dose of blitzes on Daunte Culpepper and on offense, look for Rodgers to complete passes early and often so he can find a good rhythm.
No matter how big the win is, no one will crown the Packers leaders of the NFC after this week. But what better way to start building momentum than at home against a division rival? The 2-2 record is not bad but at the same time is a reality check to the Packers that nothing will come easy this season.
The best part is that no one is calling out coaches or players in the media. It would be easy for Greg Jennings to demand the ball more (he did, but in half-joking form), or Aaron Rodgers to ask for competent pass blocking every once in a while. How easily could Charles Woodson ask for more blitz schemes so that he isn’t asked to cover his receiver for seven seconds?
Call it optimism, homerism, or false hope, but the Packers are destined for greatness this season. They will need to play better than .500 and need to make adjustments, but there is enough talent on this team that booking plane tickets to Miami is not out of the question. The question is whether or not they can harness it and turn it into consistency on the field. Time to see if they can.
When breaking down the schedule for NFL teams, many coaches and staffs like to break the season down into quarters, much like an actual game. In that sense, the Packers completed the first quarter of their season and stand at a reasonable 2-2. They have not set the world on fire like they did in the preseason but are still in good position as they begin quarter number two of the season.
The Packers have looked solid in some places (defensive line, cornerbacks) while they have struggled in others (offensive line, linebackers), but the fact of the matter is .500 football the rest of the way is not going to cut it in the NFC this season. Teams like the 49ers and Falcons look rejuvenated under their young head coaches, three teams are undefeated, and only six teams currently have losing records in the NFC.
There needs to be a stretch run where the Packers can distance themselves from the middle of the pack and take a shot at regaining the top spot in the NFC North. It will not be easy considering the Vikings are 5-0 and the Bears are 3-1, both ahead of the Packers, but if there was ever a “quarter” for the Packers to move up, the upcoming four games are it.
In week six, the Packers come home to visit the last-place Lions. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Packers have not lost to the Lions in Green Bay since 1991, the Packers are also coming off a bye week in which they have had an extra week to prepare for Jim Schwartz’s ballclub.
Making matters worse is the fact that Calvin Johnson suffered a knee injury and was not able to return in the Lions’ week five loss to the Steelers and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford sat as well. Regardless of whether the Lions’ two best offensive players suit up Sunday, the odds are with the Packers to take this game.
In the NFC North, the Vikings will take on the Baltimore Ravens at the Metrodome, in a battle of two top teams this season. The Ravens seem to have found their stride on offense while their defense has come alive once again through veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It will be a tough game for both teams, but it would not be a shock to see either team come out on top.
The Bears, coming off their bye week, meet up with the Falcons on Sunday Night Football in week six. The Falcons, fresh off their bye week, crushed the 49ers 45-10 last week and are on a roll as it stands. It will be a tough game for the Bears to win with the Falcons playing so well, so there’s a chance the Packers could pick up a game on both teams.
In week seven the Packers travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns and, while road games are never sure things, the Browns are just 1-4 with a win over Buffalo to their name. The Browns rank last in the league against the run and have already given up eight rushing touchdowns. Brandon Jackson should be back for the Packers and join with Ryan Grant to get the ground game going again.
While the Packers are taking on the Browns, the Bears and Vikings will be taking on a pair of AFC opponents. The Vikings draw the Steelers in Pittsburgh and Troy Polamalu is expected to be back for the Steelers. While they are surviving without him, the dominant safety will help in shutting down Adrian Peterson and helping out in pass protection.
The Bears will take on the resurgent Bengals on the road in what suddenly looks like a good game as Carson Palmer and the Bengals are atop the NFC North with a 4-1 record. Clearly the Packers have the easiest game on the week seven schedule and should gain ground on at least one of their NFC North mates.
If the Packers are able to defeat both opponents over the next two weeks, they would stand at 4-2 heading into a week eight matchup with the Vikings. Assuming the Vikings drop one of their previous two games, the top of the NFC North could once again be on the line when the two teams meet. As much pressure as everyone thought was on Brett Favre in week four, the butterflies will really be floating around his stomach when he walks onto Lambeau Field.
The Packers are sure to make adjustments and play well against the Vikings. In my schedule breakdown, I noted how much added incentive there would be for the Packers if the Vikings won in week four. After a 30-23 defeat in the Metrodome, the Packers are going to want this game bad.
The Bears will host the Browns in week eight in what will probably be an easy victory.
Rounding out the second quarter for the NFC North contenders, the Bears will stay at home and take on the Arizona Cardinals in what looks to be a shootout. The Cardinals have been very inconsistent this season and it will be interesting to see which team steps on the field for Ken Whisenhunt.
The Vikings have their bye so the Packers have the potential to pick up a half a game on them when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the struggling Buccaneers. The transition to Raheem Morris has not been smooth at all, and with quarterback problems as well as pass defense issues, the Packers should be favored on the road.
Two road games over the next four contests are never sure things, and with the way the offensive line has played, there is always the possibility of a slip-up against one of the three sub-.500 teams. The game against the Vikings will be huge because there’s a chance for Minnesota to run away with the division if they can enter their bye week at 7-1 or 8-0.
In the “second quarter”, the Packers will face teams with a combined record of 7-13, with five of those wins coming from the Vikings. The Bears’ opponents currently have a combined record of 10-8 while the Vikings will take on a combined record of 8-6. Clearly the opportunity to get their name back in the running for NFC North is there. Not to say their hat is not in the ring for the North, but they should go 3-1 at worst over these next four games, making them 5-3 and in prime spot to make a late run at the division.
No NFL team is easy or a cupcake, but working the kinks out on defense will be easier against the 18th, 29th, and 30th ranked offenses in the league. Just as the bye week came at the right time for the Packers, it seems the easy part of the schedule is as well.
Because it’s never too early to start looking toward the NFL Draft in April, here are the top five biggest draft needs for the Packers as well as potential picks that could help them in 2010 and beyond. It is only October and many things can and most likely will, but it’s good to get an early grasp on the potential future Packers.
It’s no secret that the Packers’ offensive line is struggling mightily this season. While the line is relatively young minus Chad Clifton, production is an issue for the struggling youngsters while age is a concern for the productive veterans. It’s not a good combination for a team trying to protect their franchise quarterback and trying to get their high-powered offense back on track.
Despite Mark Tauscher and Levi Jones working out for the Packers, it’s obvious that no one on the current roster or in the free agent pool is going to be the answer going forward. While the potential for improvement is there for the young players, if there is going to be a drastic improvement on the offensive line, it is going to need to come in the form of an early draft pick.
Last season, the Packers selected two offensive linemen in T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith. Both were selected on the second day of the draft (Lang in the fourth, Meredith in the fifth) and were not expected to make a huge impact in their first seasons. General manager Ted Thompson has been a huge fan of taking project linemen in the later rounds of the draft and letting them gain experience before putting them on the field.
In 2005, Thompson selected center/guard Junius Coston in the fifth round and guard Will Whitticker in the seventh round, neither of whom are still on the active roster. In 2006, he used his first of two second round selections to take current starter Daryn Colledge and also used the latter of his third round picks to take center Jason Spitz.
The next year in 2007, Thompson’s lone offensive lineman selection was in the fourth round in Allen Barbre, the team’s current but struggling right tackle. In 2008, Thompson used his fourth and fifth round picks to select Josh Sitton and Breno Giacomini. It would be quite deceiving to say that Thompson has done a good job selecting offensive linemen because four of his nine offensive line picks are current starters.
When he took over as GM in 2005, he declined to re-sign veteran guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and trying to replace them with free agent signings Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer was cut in training camp and Klemm lasted just a year with the Packers. The only other free agent signing Thompson has gone for on the offensive line was this past off-season in Duke Preston. However, he flopped as well and was cut before the season began.
Simply put, Thompson has put all his offensive line eggs in the draft basket and it clearly is not working, especially when he waits so long to select them. Granted it makes little sense to take a guard or center in the early rounds of the draft, but this season Thompson will surely be expected to address the tackle position on Day One. Luckily for him, there will be options available when the Packers go on the clock in April.
Scouts, Inc. has Russell Okung listed as their top left tackle in next year’s draft, and just by looking at him it’s easy to see why. The six foot-six inch senior from Oklahoma State is big in size and moves extremely well for his size. He has everything you look for in a franchise left tackle and could potentially learn for a year under Chad Clifton. The only issue with Okung is that he is almost a lock to be taken within the first half of the first round. So maybe Packers’ fans should hope they don’t have the opportunity to take him.
More realistic options include Trent Williams from Oklahoma, who has the versatility to play both tackle positions if he can improve on his pass blocking. His run blocking is superb which gives him the ability to play right tackle, the position he played up until this season. If his pass blocking improves, his name could be called in the top ten picks. For now, he looks like a viable option for the Packers come draft day.
Bryan Bulaga from Iowa is almost a sure-fire first round draft pick and someone who can help in the run game as well. Bruce Campbell from Maryland and Charles Brown from USC round out the borderline first round picks for 2010. While many things can and will change, but keep an eye on these five players leading up to the draft.
The Packers have relied on middle of the pack linemen for too long and need to go out and get a stud next season. Clifton and Colledge are both free agents after this season and it will be interesting to see what they do and who they keep. Either way, there’s a good chance a spot (or two) is opening up at the tackle position next season. It’s time that Ted Thompson moved away from the defensive front seven and focused on shoring up the offensive line.
It sounds cliche to say, but the Green Bay Packers’ bye week is coming at a perfect time. The Packers will have week five of the NFL season off and will use that extra week to pick up the pieces to a very shaky start to the season. While bye weeks never really come at a bad time for any team, the Packers need it now more than ever.
For starters, the injury bug has hit the Packers in two of their most shallow positions on the field, offensive line and safety and is becoming not only a weak spot on the field, but rather a liability. Entering the season, the Packers put rookie tackle Jamon Meredith on the practice squad, but he was picked up by the Bills in late September after Buffalo had injuries of their own on the offensive line when Brad Butler went down for the season.
The injury left the Packers with three roster players that were capable of playing left tackle in Chad Cliton, Daryn Colledge, and rookie T.J. Lang. When Clifton suffered a high ankle sprain in week two against the Bengals, Colledge had to move to left tackle from left guard, shifting the entire line around. Colledge then suffered a knee sprain against the Vikings, leaving the rookie Lang to play out of position, going up against All-Pro Jared Allen nonetheless.
With the bye week coming, Clifton expects to be healthy enough to suit up against the Lions in week six and Colledge will get extra rest on his knee. Had the bye not come this week, there’s a chance the Packer faithful would have been subjected to T.J. Lang round two, something no one wants to see.
The Packers’ offensive line is hardly tops in the league this season, but getting Clifton back and moving Colledge back to his natural left guard position will do wonders for the line. It will move Jason Spitz back to center and presumably bump Scott Wells out. The bye week also gives the Packers the opportunity to evaluate former tackle Mark Tauscher. Currently a free agent after ACL surgery last season, the Packers have worked him out and will now get an extra week to evaluate him and see if he can help the line out more than the inconsistent Allen Barbre.
With the bye week coming, safety Atari Bigby is expected to use that week to get ready for his return in week six. After a knee injury forced him out of the Packers’ home opener against the Bears, he is hoping to get back on the field after the bye week. His return can not come soon enough as recently-acquired Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush have, to put it nicely, done a less-than-stellar job manning his position the last three weeks.
The Packers have had to use five-linebacker sets, called the “Big Okie”, where Brandon Chillar plays in the box as a safety. With the return of Bigby, there should be an improvement in the pass defense, where the Packers currently rank 20th in the league.
Other players who have battled injury such as B.J. Raji will also get a full week of rest away from football activities to get their bodies back in healthy shape.
More so than the injuries that will be helped out by the bye week, the week off will help the Packers regroup after four weeks of football that saw them all over the place on many accounts. The offense has had many opportunities to succeed this season, and while pass protection can account for some of those issues, chemistry and timing has been off as a whole. Greg Jennings has failed to break out of his “ugly” slump, posting just five catches and no touchdowns the last three weeks.
Hopefully Dom Capers will go back to the drawing board and film room and realize that a weak pass rush has gotten the Packers defense nowhere. Something needs to change defensively so that the big plays are extinguished and the Packers can get a better pass rush on the quarterback to force errors, much like they did against the Bears in week one.
There is reason to believe the Packers will right the ship with a very favorable schedule coming up. There is a chance the Packers could win their next four games or, at the very worst, three of four. Dates with Detroit, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay are in the near future and it looks like now is the time for the Packers to bust out.
As a whole, the Packers are in good position to re-group as a whole, players and coaches alike, and get back to their winning ways with an offense that is clicking and a pressure-filled defense. They will be as healthy as they have been since week one heading into their matchup with Detroit, and hopefully a big win against the Lions will light a match underneath the Packers that propels them into November and December with some confidence.
When the Packers traded up in the 2009 NFL Draft, it marked just the second time in general manager Ted Thompson’s tenure that they had done so. The trade involved moving back into the first round in exchange for the Packers’ only second round pick (41st overall) and both third round picks (73 and 83). The Packers also received the Patriots’ fifth round pick (162). There was a buzz over who the Packers had traded up for, with some believing it to be Florida State outside linebacker Everette Brown or potentially Rey Maualuga.
It turned out that, in typical Ted Thompson fashion, the Packers went with the wild card pick by selecting Clay Matthews III, an outside linebacker from Southern California. Weighing 240 pounds and standing six feet-three inches tall, Matthews was the perfect fit for the Packers’ new 3-4 scheme under Dom Capers.
One rumor said that Thompson and Capers liked Matthews enough that they considered taking him with the ninth overall pick, instead opting to go with Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. When the Packers moved back into the first round, it was an easy decision for management in taking Matthews.
Matthews’ path to the NFL was anything but easy and even he would admit that four years ago, he wouldn’t have expected to hear his name called on draft day, let alone the first round. In high school, Matthews did not start on his high school team despite his own father being the defensive coordinator.
His father also happened to be Clay Matthews, former linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons wh started 278 straight games and was elected to four pro bowls. Bruce Matthews, considered one of the best offensive linemen of all time, is Matthews III’s uncle. Even Matthew III’s grandfather, Clay Matthews Sr., played four years for the San Francisco 49ers.
Instead of taking offers from community colleges or small division one schools, Matthews opted to walk on for the same team that his father and uncle played for: Southern California. Matthews dedicated himself for the next two years and was awarded a scholarship for his junior year in 2007. Despite seeing just limited time on defense and work on special teams his first three season, Matthews entered the starting lineup in 2008 and recorded 54 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble.
He won the Special Teams Player of the Year Award the last three seasons he was at Southern California, making him the only Trojan to ever win three times. His hard work, tenacity, and commitment to football made him the prime candidate to become a Packer in 2009. His 4.58 forty time and 35-inch vertical at the NFL Combine didn’t hurt, either.
Matthews reported to camp on time and new defensive coordinator Dom Capers fell in love with his athleticism and smarts. Despite coming from an NFL-style team in USC, Matthews was still considered a bit of a project entering the season. He began the year backing up Brady Poppinga at the right outside linebacker position, but as of late the reps have began to even out 50-50.
Four games into the regular season, Matthews has not racked up the stats to prove he is making improvements and is succeeding, but his presence on the field has been felt. Already, he is getting push on the line and is showing enough speed to rush on the outside. He recorded his first sack against the Bengals and stripped Adrian Peterson last Monday night and ran 40 yards for his first career touchdown.
It is obvious the Packers drafted Matthews to become their future on the outside. When looking at the most successful 3-4 defenses in the league, players like James Harrison of the Steelers and Terrell Suggs of the Ravens are so important in applying pressure and also making plays in the secondary. While the inside linebackers rack up most of the tackles in the 3-4 defense, the reason for that is because containing the edge and forcing plays back inside is vital. That is the job of the outside linebackers, making Matthews that much more important.
In the Packers’ first overall selection B.J. Raji, as well as Matthews, the Packers believe they have the foundation to a young, up-and-coming defense. Up to this point in the season, Matthews has been the Packers best outside linebacker. The lack of speed shown by A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, and Aaron Kampman has been tough to watch, but the athleticism and tenacity Matthews has shown has been a breath of fresh air.
The best part about Matthews is that his career is four games deep right now. As much push as he has made against offensive lines, he has not learned good enough technique to be a double-digit sack player. Right now, his speed and coverage abilities are being used but as he progresses and gains more muscle weight, he will become more of a complete player and starter for a long time.
For the Packers’ week four game against the Minnesota Vikings, I did a Q+A with Examiner Joe Oberle. These are his responses to my questions on the Vikings. You can see my responses to his questions by clicking here.
Mark Strotman: What has the transition been like in going from hating Brett Favre for the last 17 years to embracing him as your team leader? Is it still as weird to see him in purple as it is for me?
Joe Oberle: The first time I saw him Brett Favre in a Vikings’ purple uniform during preseason, I laughed at the almost surreal nature of it. It really looked strange because he truly was the face of that team to all us Vikings fans. It has taken some getting used to, but is happening sooner than I expected, and I think it is because he is seems to be emerging as the team leader. It is his personality and love for the game that is coming through with his teammates and also with the fans. Personally, I never hated him. I didn’t like the Packers, but I always respected Favre for the way he played the game–all out and with a genuine love for it. I always wanted the Vikings to squelch his joy, but I thought he was great for the game and a great rival. He single-handedly took this rivalry to new heights, and this season, he is doing it again.
MS: When the Packers offense takes the field, it will really mark the first good passing team the Vikings have gone up against this season after facing Brady Quinn, Matt Stafford, and Shaun Hill. The run defense is outstanding, but has the loss of Darren Sharper hurt the pass defense a considerable amount?
JO: I don’t think so. As you have noted, the pass defense hasn’t been tested all that much because the Vikings’ first three opponents have attacked the Minnesota run defense to help keep the pressure off their quarterbacks. Sharper was great while he was here, but he seemed to have lost a step–and it really showed during last season’s playoff game. It was time for some new blood in the secondary; it may come at the loss of some experience, but I think they Vikings will gain in terms of speed and ability.
MS: For the first two weeks of the season you were able to run the ball with ease against both the 3-4 defense in Cleveland and a 4-3 scheme in Detroit. From what you could see, which seemed to be easier for AP to run against: the 3-4 with quicker athletes or the 4-3 with bigger bodies to clog up the line?
JO: That’s a good question, and it is one that I think will play out all season as Peterson and the offense will face a variety of those two types of defensive schemes. Speaking statistically, AP rushed for more yards against Cleveland’s 3-4, but I think that may be the better defense for him to run against–if they play it straight and don’t cram the box with eight or nine defenders. If he can get past the first line of defense, his speed and agility come more into play, not to mention his size and speed with some linebackers and defensive backs. If you clog the middle on him at the line and slow him down there, he has less change to break free into the open field to do what he does best.
MS: The Vikings now use a form of the Wildcat because of their specialty man Percy Harvin. I have never been a fan of the Wildcat, but how has it worked so far with two of the game’s fastest players in the backfield (Harvin and Peterson). Do you see it being a factor against the Packers or more of an “every now and then” play?
JO: We have only seen it on a limited basis for the Vikings, and head coach Brad Childress, who has long demonstrated a proclivity for the clandestine, may be either teasing opponents so they have one more thing to think about, or really sitting on it until he feels it’s ready to go. So far, at least in the Vikings version, I am not a fan either, mostly due to its lack of success. For a team with a rookie running it and a new quarterback learning the rest of the system, it seems like right now there is a greater chance of something going really wrong with the Wildcat than having it really surprising someone. I am for keeping under wraps until you really know it’s going to work or else make it a bigger part of your offense (a la Miami) and really dedicate yourself to it. I am not sure they would be interested in doing the latter if it is going to put their $12 million dollar man on the bench.
MS: Staying on topic with Harvin, has he overtaken Bernard Berrian as the Vikings’ number one receiver? In Green Bay, Favre favored Donald Driver over Greg Jennings because Driver was more of a possession guy than a home run threat as Favre favored the short pass. Both Harvin and Sydney Rice have more often been targets than Berrian this season.
JO: For the time being, Harvin has emerged as Favre’s favorite target, connecting on two (what we like to call) “Farvins”–a Favre to Harvin TD pass. The Vikings offense has been seemingly designed to go underneath quite a bit this season, as Favre continues to acclimate himself to the offense and his new receivers. It has worked well so far, as he is league leader in completion percentage. In addition, Berrian missed all of the preseason with a hamstring injury and is working his way back into the lineup. Once he is at full strength, I think you will see Favre take more shots downfield. To be honest, I am surprised Favre hasn’t connected more with Visanthe Shiancoe, as No. 4 made a career out of hitting his tight ends in Green Bay.
MS: The Packers huge weakness this season has been the offensive line, while the Vikings biggest strength on defense is their defensive line. Do you think the Vikings will be able to rush just four linemen effectively so they are able to drop seven back in coverage? Because of your secondary, will this be a key factor in stopping Green Bay’s passing game?
JO: If I were drawing it up, I would certainly try it. Aaron Rodgers is arguably Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s biggest concern, and if you can put pressure on the Rodgers with the four lineman augmented by a few blitzes, it would seem to attack the Packers at the weakness. But with this game, as with many in the past, I think you can throw records, expectations and plans out the window, as emotion will take over the game and it could be pretty wild. There will be so much hype coming into this game that any number of things could happen. That said, I believe the team that controls their emotions the best will come out on top–and I am not yet sure who that is going to be.