Right. Through. His hands.
Chances are if you are a Packers fan and were watching Super Bowl XLV this past February, you uttered those exact words (or something like it) when wide receiver James Jones dropped what would have been a 75-yard touchdown to put Green Bay up 28-10 early in the third quarter.
That phrase may have been a repeat (potentially with added expletives) of what you said when Jones, now a free agent, dropped another would-be touchdown in the Wildcard game against the Eagles. Or his fumble against the Bears in Week 3 that cost the Packers a chance at completing a fourth quarter comeback.
It’s true. Jones has provided more than his fair share of, “What?!” moments in his four seasons with Green Bay, and many would have no problem to see him join another franchise. But are we selling No. 89 short? Will the Packers miss him more than fans think if ultimately he decides to leave Green Bay?
Aaron Rodgers thinks so.
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:
When Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers came out of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions late in the second quarter, everyone knew the offense would take a hit.
But that big of a hit?
In one of the more boring games of 2010 to date, infected by stagnant offenses run by back-up quarterbacks, the Packers failed to recover from the absence of Rodgers, who left with a concussion, and fell to the Lions 9-3, moving them that much further back in the playoff race.
Quarterback Matt Flynn, who had not thrown a meaningful pass since he took over for Rodgers in Week 4 of his rookie season two years ago, failed to move the ball on offense and finished with a disguising 258 yards of offense. Turnovers and, once again, lack of a ground game killed the offense and limited them to just three points, a far cry from the 25.3 points per game they were averaging coming in.
Flynn actually performed well considering he had no preparation for the game in terms of timing with the first team offense and he actually threw a couple nice balls to convert a couple of third downs, but his inexperience was evident with his lack of pocket presence, miscommunication on a crucial third down, and a terrible interception in the Lions’ endzone that took sure points off the board.
He finished with 177 yards on 15-of-26 pass attempts and also ran for 10 yards, but no one could have expected him to take the Packers on his back and lead them to victory.
Because the rest of the Packers’ offense decided to take the day off.
Even before Rodgers went out with his concussion, the offense was downright awful. Andrew Quarless fumbled inside Lions’ territory on a basic tackle, and Greg Jennings dropped a sure-fire touchdown pass which ended up being an interception for Detroit. Luckily the Lions failed to convert either turnovers into points, thanks to a fantastic performance from the defense, but the play from the Packers’ receivers early was sloppy, at best.
The Green Bay Packers are World Champs! 11 days later and it still sounds as amazing as it did when Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with under a minute to go. With the season over, it’s time to give out grades to the 53-man roster. Injured players will get their own section later, but for now it’s about the 53 players who suited up in Dallas (OK, only 45 suited up but you know what I mean). Here’s the Packers’ offense year in review.
QB- Aaron Rodgers: Many expected an MVP-type season out of Rodgers, but Packers’ fans will have no problem living with a Super Bowl-type season. The numbers weren’t always there for Rodgers, who missed a game and a half, but he was near impeccable in the playoffs and was named the Super Bowl MVP, a fitting end to a “belt” of a season. GRADE: A
QB- Matt Flynn: Many laughed when an unnamed NFC scout said Flynn was the back-up in football, and Flynn’s pre-season did little to help that case. But an incredible showing against New England on Monday night, 24-of-37, 251 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, made everyone believers. If the Packers don’t trade him, they have a more than serviceable back-up should Rodgers miss any time in 2011. GRADE: B+
QB- Graham Harrell: Thankfully for Packers’ fans everywhere, we didn’t get to see what Harrell could do this season. He didn’t see any action this season. GRADE: INC
RB- James Starks:
In every sense of the word, the Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV was a microcosm of how the season had played out up until that point.
When Packers’ fans saw wide receiver Donald Driver and cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Sam Shields exit the game in the second quarter, it was as if they didn’t blink an eye.
OK, maybe one blink.
But the truth was fans had been there and done that with injuries. Over the course of the regular season head coach Mike McCarthy had lost 15 players to Injured Reserve, including starters Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, and rookie Morgan Burnett.
Packers’ starters lost 83 games to injuries, and that doesn’t even include players like Brandon Chillar and Justin Harrell, who weren’t starters but important nonetheless. That number also doesn’t include Al Harris and Atari Bigby, who began the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
The Packers struggled to begin the season, going 3-3 and not knowing who would fill roles left by the injury bug. But just like they did Sunday, lesser-known players stepped up in huge roles and it culminated with the Lombardi Trophy coming home.
The Vince Lombardi trophy is coming home.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers fulfilled its season-long goals Sunday night by taking down the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and led by as many as 18 in the first half, and managed to hang on in the second half despite injuries to key players to nab the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl and 13th World Championship.
Certainly more to come, but here are five quick game balls to hand out in the Packers’ monumental victory in Super Bowl XLV.
Aaron Rodgers: The Packers’ signal caller capped off one of the best post-seasons ever by dissecting the Steelers’ secondary all night long. Rodgers passed for 304 yards and three touchdowns and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over. He took sacks when he needed to instead of forcing anything and also converted key third downs late in the game. Rodgers’ numbers would have been even more impressive had it not been for four or five drops by Green Bay receivers. The Super Bowl MVP seems to have finally ended any negative comparisons to Brett Favre and is a bonafide star in the NFL. He will enter 2011 as arguably the game’s best quarterback.
Jordy Nelson: If anyone was wondering whether or not Nelson could get the job done if Donald Driver were to retire or James Jones left via free agency, those people are now silent. Nelson finished with nine catches for 140 yards, breaking the Packers’ team record for receiving yards, previously set by Max McGee’s 138 yards set in Super Bowl I. He scored the first touchdown of the game and made big catch after big catch, and he also picked up two MVP votes in the process. Nelson should enter 2011 as the Packers’ No. 2 receiver, regardless of what happens with Driver or Jones.
With just six days remaining until Super Bowl XLV, it’s time to start comparing both teams to see where advantage lie on the rosters. The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the Super Bowl after taking down the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets as the AFC’s No. 2 seed. They used a balanced attack on offense and a swarming defense to get where they are, as they look for their third Super Bowl title in the last six seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Answering for the NFC are the Green Bay Packers, who enter the Super Bowl as the hotter of the two teams. Road wins over the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears as the No. 6 seed has proved they can play with anyone. That’s exactly what Mike McCarthy and the Packers will have to do when they face Pittsburgh. Just two players have Super Bowl experience, Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, while John Kuhn holds the lone S.B. ring, when he was a practice squad member with the Steelers back in 2005.
Here’s a comparison breakdown of each offensive position and which team will hold the edge come Super Bowl Sunday. Teams will either have a neutral edge, a slight edge, or a substantial edge.
Wide Receiver: Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antwaan Randle El vs. Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson
While the Steelers may hold a slight advantage at quarterback Sunday, the guys catching the ball will have a substantial advantage when Green Bay has the ball on offense. As much of a storied career as Hines Ward has had, Greg Jennings comes into Sunday’s game as the best receiver on either team, and maybe the league. After catching just one ball for eight yards against the Eagles, Jennings has gone for 101 and 130 yards through the air the last two games. While he hasn’t found the endzone in the playoffs this year, his big play capability is undeniable.
Answering in the big play department will be Mike Wallace, who has exploded onto the scene for the Steelers. Wallace averaged a ridiculous 21 yards per catch in 2010 and had 26 catches of 20+ yards. To put that in perspective, that’s five more than Jennings had, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch.
Ward has been on the big stage before, picking up MVP honors in Super Bowl XL. Emmanuel Sanders has become a deep threat as well and Antwaan Randle El is versatile, but the quality and depth the Packers’ receivers have gives them a huge advantage. While Donald Driver has slowed some, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are both No. 2 receivers from a skill standpoint, meaning Aaron Rodgers will have plenty of open targets to throw at. Pittsburgh’s receivers aren’t bad in any sense, but the Packers’ receivers are tops in the league and playing very well right now.
Tight End: Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller vs. Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless
As a team, the Green Bay Packers will be looking to reverse their fortunes from last year as the 2009 season approaches. With a brand new defensive scheme in place and another year of experience under the offense’s belt, the Packers will look to improve on their 2008 campaign that saw them win just six games.
Looking to help that cause are five players who are ready to break out of the shadows and become impact players for the Packers this year.
1. Jermichael Finley, Tight End
When he was drafted out of the University of Texas, the one knock on Finley was that inexperience would plague him. After playing just two seasons for the Longhorns, Finley was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft (91st overall) as the seventh tight end.
In his rookie season, Finley was used sparingly on offense and ended the year with just six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. In a November game against the Tennessee Titans, he was critical of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a failed fourth down pass, saying Rodgers “didn’t throw it good at all”.
After the comments, Finley went back to a much smaller role in the offense for the rest of the season and caught some heat for the words.
One could describe those comments as a microcosm of Finley’s rookie season: immaturity. Just 21 years old, Finley was a raw talent (4.82 forty-yard dash and 35 inch vertical) who was more of an athlete than a football player.
A year later, Finley is back as a complete player who is consistently making plays during practices and is pushing to be the starting tight end this year. He has improved his blocking skills ten fold and head coach Mike McCarthy says he feels comfortable using him in just about any set.
If Finley is able to overtake current starter Donald Lee in the offense, he will add a much more athletic and bigger option for Aaron Rodgers that can stretch the field.
2. Deshawn Wynn, Running Back
Since he was drafted in 2007, Deshawn Wynn has had problems staying on the football field. In his rookie season, he was pegged as the starter but a shoulder injury caused him to miss the team’s last nine games. Last season, Wynn was waived and later assigned to the practice squad for the Packers.
He was brought back to the 53 man roster in week six, but a calf injury caused him to miss six games once he was back. In the limited action he saw towards the end of last year, he rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in the season finale against the Lions.
This season, Wynn is fully healthy and ready to contribute regularly to the running game. The ex-Gator will battle Brandon Jackson for the third down running back spot, but position coach Edgar Bennett has been singing Wynn’s praises all through camp.
Wynn has all the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level, but staying healthy will be the one obstacle he must overcome. If he is able to do so, look for him to make a large impact on the run game and screen game.
3. Jeremey Thompson, Outside Linebacker
When it was announced that the Green Bay Packers would be moving to a 3-4 defense followed by the hiring of Dom Capers, the first player that came to mind as someone who will love this change was Thompson.
Drafted out of Wake Forest as a defensive end, Thompson started just three games late in the season for the Packers and only appeared in nine games as whole, but showed a ton of speed and quickness that made him the perfect specimen for a switch to a 3-4 linebacker.
At 6′4″, 270 lbs., Thompson is the perfect fit for an outside linebacker in Capers’ scheme and will fight for a starting spot with rookie Clay Matthews III. While Matthews is now seeing reps with the first team, Thompson still figures to see a ton of playing time this season.
He will need to play more physical at the point of the attack, something Matthews does very well, but his speed and quickness combine with his frame to make a freak of an athlete that the Packers will somehow use this season.
4. Allen Barbre, Right Tackle
After Mark Tauscher went down with a torn ACL last year, it was apparent that his time in Green Bay was running low. Still a few months away from being 100 percent, the Packers have not re-signed the former Wisconsin Badger and have decided to move on.
Battling for the right tackle position this year will be Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini. Barbre, the third year tackle out of Missouri Southern State, has not seen much action in his first couple years with the Packers but is now the front runner to win the RT spot.
He played tackle all throughout college but was immediately moved to tackle when the Packers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 Draft. Now, he is being asked to move back to tackle and early returns say he is succeeding there.
Dominant in the run game, Barbre will need to be more consistent (just as the whole O-line will need to be) if he wants to keep his position on the field. He is smaller than Giacomini by three inches and seven pounds but moves a little quicker. This is important in the zone blocking scheme the Packers run and is one of the reasons he is in line to win the job.
If he wins the job this year, Barbre will be the right tackle of the future for the Green and Gold.
5. Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver
One of the story lines coming into training camp this year was the battle the Packers had going on for the third wide receiver position. Second-year receiver Jordy Nelson and James Jones were to battle for the spot and thus far the two have both performed well in camp.
While both have different skill sets, Nelson’s rough demeanor and soft hands make him a candidate for the last break out player.
Last season, Nelson caught 33 balls for 366 yards and scored on two occasions. His blocking was outstanding and he dropped the fewest passes on the team. This season, he will see more playing time and hopefully have created even more chemistry with Aaron Rodgers.
As a part of one of the deepest receiving corps in the league, Nelson will join Donald Driver and Greg Jennings on the outside, which should free up some room for Nelson to run free. At 6′3″, Nelson has the body of a tight end with track speed that makes him a rare talent.
This spot on the list easily could have gone to James Jones, but Nelson has the potential to become better than Jones if he continues to work on his skills. Time will tell, but Nelson looks to be the replacement for Driver, and a good one at that.
Heading into the 2008 season, many wondered how Aaron Rodgers would fare in his first season as the man in charge of running the Green Bay Packers’ offense. After the off-season fiasco that was Brett Favre, Rodgers knew that if he did not produce quickly the Packers faithful would have very little patience.
Lucky for Rodgers, his offense sported the best receiving corps in the NFL and only got better as the year went on. The 24-year-old from California would finish his pressure-filled season with 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns, just 13 interceptions, and a passer rating of 93.8, that ranked him sixth in all of football.
While his late-game production was disappointing to many, and the Packers’ 6-10 record did not impress, Rodgers got his first year as a starter under his belt and gained experience that will only make him better this upcoming fall. Along with the experience he has gained, the guys he will be throwing to also make things a little easier.
Leading the way for the Pack, fresh off his contract extension, is Greg Jennings. Entering his fourth year, the 25-year-old from Western Michigan, has already shot into the top ten discussion when it comes to receivers. Over the last two years, Jennings has racked up over 2200 yards and twenty one touchdowns to lead the Packers.
After signing a contract extension this summer, he went and trained in Minnesota at a camp hosted by Larry Fitzgerald. Chris Carter and Jerry Rice were two of the highlights of the camp and there is no doubt Jennings learned some valuable tidbits while attending.
Outside of his talent, Jennings is everything you could ask for in a star wide receiver. He doesn’t have his own show on VH1 and he has no plans, that I know of, to change his last name to a spanish number. When he scores a touchdown, he finds his teammates instead of a cell phone hidden in the goal post. When another receiver scores a touchdown, he is the first to congratulate him instead of asking for the ball more.
He does things the right way and the fact that the combo of Rodgers and Jennings is signed for the next four years means good things are about to happen for the Packers offense. A large part of why Jennings is the way he is can be attributed to his friend and teammate who lines up away from him every Sunday.
Donald Driver will be entering his eleventh season as a Green Bay Packer and has showed little signs of slowing down. Seemingly ageless, Driver was on the right side of his fifth straight 1,000 yard season despite handing over the reisngs of a number one receiver to Jennings.
After the Alcorn State grad was a surprising no show at the voluntary mini-camps, many wondered whether or not he was happy with his contracts. I wrote on why Driver was wrong if he thought he deserved a pay raise, and clearly so did Driver as he explained the matter was family, not contract, related.
With the depth at wide receiver the Packers have this year, it would not be a shock to see Driver’s numbers decrease from last year. Mike McCarthy has explained he would like to run the ball more and the aforementioned depth is a good problem to have. Don’t expect Driver to slack on effort or pout if he doesn’t see the ball enough. He is the epitome of a guy that straps on his helmet and goes out and plays the game.
While Jennings and Driver will be holding down the one and two spots on the depth chart, the third option is wide open and the Packers will have two very solid players fighting for the position.
In my eyes, the front-runner to win the job is last year’s second round selection Jordy Nelson. In his rookie campaign, the 24-year-old from Kansas State, racked up 366 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns in the limited time he saw on the field.
His blocking skills were also a very positive note from Nelson’s rookie season and it is a trait that should give him even more playing time this year. When I watch him play, I see a younger Brandon Marshall. He goes up and fights for balls with his huge frame at 6′3″, 217 lbs. and fights like a tight end to gain extra yards.
If Nelson does not win the job, James Jones will be the reason why.
After an outstanding rookie season that saw him haul in 47 passes for 676 yards and a couple of touchdowns, injuries slowed his second year to a screeching hault. Combined with rumors of him falling out of favor with the coaching staff, his season was limited to ten games that saw him catch just 20 passes and score once.
In week 15 against Jacksonville, Jones racked up 132 yards on five catches and began to show his old form from two seasons ago. Early returns have been all positive for him, and even if he does not beat out Nelson he will be a heck of a fourth wide receiver.
The front-runner to grab the fifth and probably last wideout spot this year is Ruvell Martin. Despite just thirty one catches over the last two years, Martin has been a clutch target for his quarterbacks and is an above average blocker.
Brett Swain and undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons both have shots at making the team and it would not be crazy to think the Packers would keep six receivers on their roster if someone warranted in a spot. As it goes for these five, they make up the deepest corps in the league.
They have great chemistry with each other and love whenever someone succeeds. No one in the group has an ego bigger than the team and they all strive for greatness. They work hard at their craft and are developing with Rodgers every day.
Training camp will tell a lot of the story on just how good this group can be along with running back Ryan Grant and tight ends Donald Lee and the rising Jermichael Finley, but all signs point to this group having another stellar year for the high-powered Packers offense.