The 2011 NFL season kicks off tonight as the Green Bay Packers play host to the New Orleans Saints. The past two Super Bowl winners will get things going around 7:40 CT after Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock and Maroon 5 perform as part of the NFL Kickoff celebration, or something like that. But I digress, back to football. Here are five keys to the game that will decide which one of these two NFC contenders will start the year 1-0, and which will be looking for the first win in Week 2.
Battle of the blitz
No one was better in 2010 at passing against a blitz than Aaron Rodgers, and he will need to be just as good Thursday night. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has no problem blitzing from all directions and, with the way the Packers offensive line played in the preseason, this could be a major problem for the Packers. Rodgers will have to be on his toes and looking for his underneath routes, tight ends will need to block well in the backfield, and, simply put, the offensive line will need to step up.
On the other end, Dom Capers is sure to bring an assortment of blitz packages against the Saints’ high-powered passing attack. Drew Brees is just as good as Rodgers at getting the ball out of his hand, and a pair of pass-catching, check down running backs in rookie Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas means the Packers will need to get to Brees quickly.
Whoever gets more pressure on their opponent could walk away with a win.
The health of Mike Neal
Quarterback (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Cut: Graham Harrell
Breakdown: So Aaron Rodgers survives another year of Saturday cuts. But seriously, Rodgers and Flynn were locked into their positions and the only real question was whether the Packers A) believed Harrell warranted a spot on the roster or B) would pass through waivers and be added to the practice squad. General Manager Ted Thompson went with the latter, cutting Harrell and hoping no team takes a flyer on him. There’s a small chance a team will grab Harrell and put him on their 53-man roster, but he didn’t show much in the preseason and is more of a system quarterback (the Packers’ system) than anything at this point. With Flynn set to test the free agent market in 2012, Harrell could be the top candidate to backup Rodgers next year.
Running back (3): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Alex Green
Cut: Dimitri Nance, Brandon Saine
Breakdown: Nance and Saine were two of the last cuts to be publicly announced, so there was optimism that one of the two would stick. However, the Packers instead decided to keep 10 linebackers. The decision to cut Saine and Nance should also dispel any rumors that the Packers will try to trade Ryan Grant, who is in the final year of his contract. Starks and Green provide excellent depth and Kuhn is able to run the ball as well, so there was really no need to keep either of the two cut.
Fullback (1): John Kuhn
Cut: Quinn Johnson (trade), Jon Hoese
Breakdown: The question of whether or not there was a roster spot for Johnson was answered when it was revealed the Packers were keeping five tight ends. However, it was announced that the Packers received an undisclosed draft pick for Johnson in a trade with Tennessee. The move coincides with Titans’ fullback Ahmad Hall being suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Since there really was no room for Johnson, it’s good to see him stick with another team and the Packers to get something back for him. Kuhn will enter 2011 as the Packers’ only fullback.
Wide Receiver (5): Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb
Cut: Diondre Borel, Chastin West, Tori Gurley, Kerry Taylor, Shaky Smithson (I.R.)
Breakdown: No cuts were easy on the ultra-talented and deep Packers’ roster, but letting Gurley and West go rank as two of the toughest. It was known going into camp that the five who were ultimately kept were locks and, with the depth at tight end, it was going to be difficult for a sixth wide receiver to hang on to a roster spot. West’s production and Gurley’s size were obvious throughout training camp and the preseason, but the fact was that they were disposable with the depth already at the position. The Packers would love for West and Gurley to sneak through waivers, but it seems unlikely that both will and it’s more unlikely that both do.
Tight End (5): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor
Winner: Randall Cobb, WR: The second round draft pick from Kentucky was electric in his first game as a professional, hauling in three passes for 60 yards and returning two kickoffs for 29 yards apiece. Cobb is built in the mold of a young Donald Driver/Percy Harvin and adds a new dimension to the Packers’ offense.
Loser: Pat Lee, CB: The biggest loser of the night was Lee, who was burnt early and often. He looked slow covering both Josh Cribbs and rookie Greg Little, and the outstanding play of fellow cornerback Josh Gordy may have cost Lee a roster spot. He is most likely on the outside looking in after tonight’s performance.
Winner: Morgan Burnett, SS: After missing all but four games in 2010, Burnett returned in a big way. On back-to-back plays in the first quarter, Burnett blew up an inside run on second down and made an open-field tackle on tight end Evan Moore to force a fourth down. His time was limited, but he sure made the most of it.
Loser: Second string offensive line: For the most part the starters on the offensive line were stellar, giving Aaron Rodgers plenty of time to stand in the pocket. But for as good as they were, their backups were just as bad. Marshall Newhouse (see below) looked lost at right tackle and T.J. Lang was just as bad at left tackle. The second group will need work.
Winner: Derek Sherrod, OL:
The new kickoff rules certainly did not matter to rookie Randall Cobb, who returned two kicks in the opening quarter for 29 yards a piece. He showed no hesitation, hit the hole, and spun off a few tacklers to pick up extra yards. Fellow rookie Alex Green, who sat out tonight, is listed as the starting kick returner, but Cobb will give him a run for his money.
It was Frank Zombo, not Erik Walden, who started at right outside linebacker to begin the night.
Mike Neal showed great push and got down the line to make a shoestring tackle on running back Peyton Hillis on the Browns’ first offensive series. He looks small compared to Cullen Jenkins, but he makes his presence known.
Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush were both burnt badly on the Browns’ first possession. Lee failed to get his head around on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Colt McCoy to Josh Cribbs, while Bush bit on a playaction pass that allowed McCoy to pass for a first down.
Ryan Grant is listed as the starting running back in Green Bay, but James Starks looked excellent in his first quarter carries. He runs with North-South power but also has quick feet that allow him to make great cuts. He ran two times for 14 yards in the first quarter. Grant did not rush but caught one pass for five yards.
Training camp has come and gone for the Green Bay Packers, who will begin their preseason schedule tomorrow night in Cleveland against the Browns. Some players have shown up in a big way, others have floundered and others have suffered injuries that will hurt their chances of making the team.
On the eve of the the 2011 Packers season officially getting under way, here is one person’s take on who will make the 53-man roster when the team takes the field against the Saints on Sept. 8 in Lambeau Field.
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Why: Graham Harrell has performed well in training camp but there is no reason to keep three quarterbacks on the Packers roster.
RB (3): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Alex Green
Why: Dimitri Nance is ahead of Green on the unofficial depth chart right now, but Green should move to the No. 3 spot by the end of training camp. Green is expected to field kick returns, as well.
FB: John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson
Why: Quinn Johnson isn’t flashy but is an important aspect to the Packers’ offense as the only true “bruiser” in the backfield. The tight end situation could change things, however (see below).
WR: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb
Why: Tori Gurley, Brett Swain and Chastin West certainly are good enough to make the roster, but with so much talent at both wide receiver AND tight end mean the Packers are most likely to keep just five wide receivers.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor
After the NFL lockout delayed the meeting between President Barack Obama and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for months, the two parties met Thursday afternoon at the White House.
Obama, a known Chicago Bears fan, jokingly admitted that seeing the Packers enter his house to celebrate the championship was difficult.
Back in January, the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, 21-14, in the NFC Championship Game. Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, to win Super Bowl XLV.
In his speech, Obama also
“I guess I especially have to welcome Charles Woodson,” the President said. “Where’s Woodson? I admit Woodson’s a good ball player. And for those who don’t know, I gave Woodson a little bulletin board material apparently, last year.”
After the Packers defeated the Bears, Woodson addressed the team and declared, “If the President don’t wanna come watch us play, we’ll go see him!”
The All-Pro cornerback was referring to the invitation to the White House all major sports teams receive for winning their respective championships.
Later that week, Obama flew to Green Bay to visit a local company and was greeted by Governor Scott Walker and Green Bay Mayor James Schmidt, where he was given a jersey signed by Woodson that said, “See you at the White House.”
“And I have now learned something that every NFL quarterback knows all too well: Don’t mess with Charles Woodson,” the President joked.
Woodson then presented President Obama with a stock certificate making him an official owner of the publicly owned team. Obama then created some mild controversy when he exclaimed, “If I’m part owner, I think we should initiate a trade to send [Rodgers] down to the Bears,” potentially taking a shot at Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Green Bay Packers released their first unofficial depth chart of 2011 Tuesday, four days before their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
With four preseason games and just under a month before Week 1, take this depth chart with a large grain of salt. Plenty will happen between now and Sept. 4, meaning plenty of names will be moved around.
Here is a look at the depth chart, via Packers.com:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell
RB: Ryan Grant, James Starks, Dimitri Nance, Alex Green/Brandon Saine
FB: John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson, Jon Hoese
WR1: Greg Jennings, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Brett Swain/Diondre Borel, Kerry Taylor
WR2: Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Chastin West, Tori Gurley/Antonio Robinson, Shaky Smithson
TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams/Ryan Taylor/Spencer Havner
LT: Chad Clifton, Marshall Newhouse, Theo Sherman
LG: Derek Sherrod, T.J. Lang, Adrian Battles
C: Scott Wells, Nick McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Sampson Genus
RG: Josh Sitton, Nick McDonald, Caleb Schlauderaff
RT: Bryan Bulaga, Chris Campbell, Ray Dominguez
In case you haven’t heard, the quarterback spot in Green Bay is locked up for the foreseeable future.
While that is great news for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers receiving corps and the coaching staff, it has created a roadblock for backup Matt Flynn.
As the three-year veteran enters the 2011 season, the final year of his rookie contract, his audition for a potential move at the end of the year will come over the next four weeks as the Packers go through their preseason schedule.
A seventh round draft choice out of LSU, where he won the National Championship in 2008, Flynn entered the league without a rocket arm, without the measurables of a franchise quarterback, and without the pinpoint accuracy of a player like Matt Ryan, who was selected third overall by the Falcons in that same draft.
However, Flynn excelled early in preseason games and was awarded the backup job to Rodgers over second round draft choice Brian Brohm, currently with the Buffalo Bills. In his rookie season, Flynn finished the preseason 27-of-42 (64.3 percent) for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
A year later he threw just eight passes in preseason, completing six for 63 yards. In 2010, Flynn turned heads again by completing 50-of-85 passes for 583 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a 304-yard performance in the finale against Kansas City.
His most impressive performance came last year in his first and only start to date, when he filled in for an injured Aaron Rodgers in New England and passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns in an eventual 31-27 loss.
The secret is now out on Flynn as a potential starting quarterback, and one executive in personnel for an NFL team even touted him as “the best backup in the NFL.”
Unfortunately for Flynn, he will not get a chance to start, barring injury to Rodgers, until at least the 2012 season.
Two years ago, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers was being booed by Packers’ fans as he stepped on to the team’s practice facility in training camp. Yet he accomplished what many believed to be an impossible feat: stepping out of Brett Favre’s shadows establishing himself as a premier NFL quarterback, passing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.
And it was a mere six months ago that Rodgers shed the label of failing to win in the clutch, reeling off six straight win-or-go-home contests on his way to a Super Bowl XLV championship, a game in which he was awarded the MVP (and a shiny, new car).
So with the city of Green Bay backing his every move and a world championship under his belt (pun intended), Rodgers will now try attempt to accomplish the next feat in his already-stellar career: the title of league’s best quarterback.
Since New England’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998 and 2000, respectively, they have been at the head of their classes, combining for 660 touchdowns, four Super Bowl rings and two future busts in Canton whenever they decide to walk away from the game.
But with Manning dealing with a neck injury that could force him to miss time in 2011, and Brady having just celebrated his 34th birthday, the window of opportunity for Rodgers to surpass both just opened, and there’s an excellent chance for him to do it.
The NFL lockout still remains after the players opted not to vote on the owner’s proposed labor deal. However, that short window when it looked as though the 2011 season would be underway shortly has this author excited to begin breaking down the 53-man roster.
The Packers, who currently stand approximately $62,000 under the salary cap, are not expected to make any big splashes in free agency. However, the Packers kept three undrafted rookie free agents on their roster in 2010 (Sam Shields, Nick McDonald, Frank Zombo), so this projected 53-man surely could change once free agency gets underway.
Here is the first (of many) 53-man projections for the 2011 Packers:
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Why: Graham Harrell should be back in 2011 as an emergency quarterback, but the Packers have gone with two quarterbacks ever since Rodgers took over as the starter. Flynn is an above average backup who could have trade value next year.
RB (4): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Brandon Jackson, Alex Green
Why: Jump aboard the Brandon Jackson bandwagon. The Packers will have to take one less lineman (in this projection) to keep Jackson, but he’s worth it in the long run. Expect Grant to be the “starter” but to split carries with Starks.
FB (2): Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson
Why: John Kuhn was a great success story in 2010, but Hall’s ability on special teams and Johnson’s use in the run game helps them make the roster.
WR (5): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, Brett Swain
Why: Jermichael Finley is basically a wide receiver, but Swain has earned a spot on the roster and will fill a depth void left by the departure of James Jones. Randall Cobb will be used all over the field.
TE (4): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree
The Green Bay Packers will be well-represented when the 19th annual ESPY Awards ceremony airs on ESPN on Wednesday, July 13 at 8:00pm CT.
After defeating the top three NFC seeds in the playoffs and then taking down the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers were nominated as the NFL representative for “Best Team.” They will go up against the Dallas Mavericks, Auburn Tigers (football), Connecticut Huskies (men’s basketball), Boston Bruins, San Francisco Giants and Texas A&M Aggies (women’s basketball). NFL teams have taken home this award in three of the past five seasons.
Aaron Rodgers’ impressive jump to superstar earned him two nominations. The first, “Best NFL Player”, was a no-brainer. During the 2010 regular season, the Packers’ signal caller threw 28 touchdown passes, just 11 interceptions and 3,922 passing yards. He also completed 65.7 percent of his passes and ran for 356 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
NFL.com polled players to rank the top 100 athletes in the game, and last week the final list was revealed. A league-high six Packers were ranked, so here’s the breakdown of each player and where they were voted.
99. Chad Clifton, LT: Two years ago many wondered whether Clifton had run his course in the NFL and was on his way out, but back-to-back stellar seasons proved his importance as Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protector. He was the sixth best tackle on the list and should have a year or two left playing at a high level.
96. Nick Collins, FS: One of the Packers’ biggest playmakers on defense was rewarded with a spot on the Top 100, and for good reason. With 17 interceptions and four touchdowns over the past three years, Collins has become one of the best coverage safeties in the league. Like Clifton, Collins was also ranked as the sixth best at his position.
81. B.J. Raji, NT:
ESPN.com has continued to fill the void during the NFL lockout by ranking the best of the best of certain skills. Aaron Rodgers was ranked as the best quarterback arm, beating out the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. So here are the same rankings
1. Best QB Arm: Aaron Rodgers: OK, so this one was a no-brainer. Rodgers has the best arm in the NFL, so it goes without saying that he has the best arm in Wisconsin. It’s true that Rodgers doesn’t have the strongest arm in the league and isn’t the most accurate, but he is certainly in the upper echelon in each category and is also one of the best decision makers. Matt Flynn is an above-average signal caller with excellent accuracy, but Rodgers is above everyone.
2. Best Tackler: Charles Woodson: A year ago, Woodson ranked third on the team in tackles (92) behind A.J. Hawk (111) and Desmond Bishop (103), but there’s no denying that he is the surest tackler on the team. Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme has moved Woodson around on the field so that he can make plays, and make plays he does. He can attack the line of scrimmage on run plays, blitz off the edge and make open-field tackles on wide receivers. He can do it all.
3. Best Hands: Jordy Nelson:
A year ago, the Green Bay Packers were ranked by ESPN as the ninth best franchise in professional sports.
One year and a Super Bowl championship later, the franchise heads the list.
ESPN the Magazine released its ninth annual Ultimate Standings, which “measure[s] how much MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises give back to the fans in exchange for all the time, money and emotion the fans invest in them.”
With that criteria in hand, it came as no surprise that the Packers took the top spot. The rankings are based on eight different major categories, each weighted differently, and averaged out into one number. Here they are and analysis of how the Packers fared in each.
1. Bang for the Buck (24.3%) — Packers ranked 4th: The biggest category, which measures “wins during the past three years per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules,” was big for the Packers. Since a 6-10 2008 season, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have given fans a 25-12 record and, oh yeah, that Super Bowl championship in 2010.
2. Players (16.6%) — Packers ranked 5th: When Ted Thompson took over as general manager, he said he would only bring in players labeled as “Packer people.” Such has been the case, as players like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji have all stayed out of trouble while working hard on the field. Outside of Johnny Jolly, whose tenure in Green Bay is all but over, the Packers have had a squeaky clean track record, and their performance on the field speaks for itself.
3. Fan Relations (16.5%) — Packers ranked 10th:
The Green Bay Packers received their Super Bowl rings Thursday night during a private ceremony held at Lambeau Field. Despite the current lockout generally forbidding staff and players from having contact, the team was given special permission from the NFL to hold the event. While there are still uncertainties about the upcoming season, this night was all about reliving the memorable 2010 season, culminating in a world championship.
The Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 on Feb. 6 to win Super Bowl XLV, highlighted by 304 passing yards and two touchdowns from MVP Aaron Rodgers and a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown from safety Nick Collins. That next Tuesday the team held a “Return to Titletown” celebration in Lambeau Field, but that marked the last time the team and staff all had been together, prior to Thursday night.
Here are the details of the Super Bowl ring, per a press release from the Packers: