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Packers defeat Cardinals in preseason home opener: Five storylines

The Green Bay Packers picked up their first win of the preseason Friday night, defeating the Arizona Cardinals 28-20 at Lambeau Field. There were plenty of individual winners and losers from the game, but here are five storylines to take from the Packers’ home preseason opener.

Chastin West: Worthy of a roster spot?

Entering the season, it was almost a guarantee that the Packers would keep five wide receivers. Chastin West is making the Packers’ brass think twice.

West hauled in five catches for 134 yards Friday night, including a 97-yard touchdown grab from Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter. It was just another chapter in what has been an impressive preseason showing from the first year receiver out of Fresno State, who now stands a chance at making the 53-man roster.

There is realistically no way West would stick on the Packers’ practice squad, as another team would give him a look on their roster, so the team will have a decision to make.

Should West stick, a player such as Quinn Johnson or one of Tom Crabtree/Ryan Taylor would have a much tougher time making the roster. While the Packers will be fine at wide receiver without West, he is turning into quite a talent the Packers could use down the road as emergency insurance (Donald Driver’s age, Jordy Nelson 2012 FA).

Defensive Line Wearing Thin; Raji moves outside

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August 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s in, who’s out: Packers projected 53-man roster, version 2.0

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

Why:

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August 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s in and who’s out: Packers projected 53-man roster, version 1.0

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

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Packers staying busy leading up to the ESPY’s

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.

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July 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

NFL Top 100 Players Review: Packers on the list

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:

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July 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best of the best: Green Bay Packers edition

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:

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July 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

2011 Packers Draft: Depth at Defensive Line needed

After selecting offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga in the first round, Ted Thompson went away from “expert rankings” by selecting Purdue defensive end Mike Neal in the second round. Known more as a workout freak rather than an on-the-field talent, skeptics had a field day with Thompson’s selection of Neal.

Despite missing a good chunk of the season with a torn rotator cuff, Neal provided depth when the Packers lost Johnny Jolly in the offseason and Justin Harrell in Week 1. In 2011, the Packers will again need to look on the defensive line early in the draft.

Two main reasons justify this need. First, Cullen Jenkins was not given the franchise tag, which would have awarded him around $12 million, and is likely to find a much larger payday elsewhere than the Packers are willing to give him. The Packers’ best lineman from a year ago had a career-high seven sacks, despite playing much of the season with a wrapped broken hand.

Second, Johnny Jolly is again in serious legal trouble after again being arrested on drug charges. His days in a Packers uniform are over, and there’s a good chance he doesn’t play in the NFL again.

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April 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers Hold Off Bears 21-14; Advance to Super Bowl XLV

What a game.

It probably wasn’t the contest either team pictured going in, but the Packers knocked off the Bears 21-14 Sunday at Soldier Field to advance to Super Bowl XLV. The game featured three Bears’ quarterbacks, two Aaron Rodgers interceptions, an interception returned for a touchdown from a 340-pound nose tackle, and two interceptions from an undrafted free agent rookie.

The Packers will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also hung on to beat the New York Jets 24-19, Feb. 6 in Dallas, Texas. Here are game balls to hand out for the Packers’ NFC Title.

Sam Shields: For all the deserved talk cornerback Tramon Williams received over the last two weeks, it was another undrafted cornerback who came up huge for the Packers Sunday. Shields, a wide receiver-turned-cornerback from Miami, intercepted two passes and also recorded a sack, becoming the first rookie to ever do so in a playoff game. His first interception came late in the first half on the heels of an Aaron Rodgers interception in Chicago territory. Down 14-0, the Bears were looking to gain some momentum and were closing in on field goal range. Quarterback Jay Cutler lofted a pass down the left sideline intended for Johnny Knox, but Shields stayed stride-for-stride with Knox and made a leaping grab for the takeaway.

His second pick came in the final minutes and sealed the game for the Packers. Facing a 4th and 5 from the Packers’ 29-yard line, third string quarterback Caleb Hanie once again looked for Knox, but it was Shields who again jumped in front of his receiver to pick it off. He also added a sack and finished with four tackles. The addition of Shields has allowed the Packers to move Charles Woodson around without giving up too much on the outside, and the Packers’ defense has reaped the benefits. This was a mini-break out party for Shields, who was the Packers’ MVP today.

Greg Jennings: Aaron Rodgers was far from perfect today, missing some easy passes and throwing into traffic when he didn’t need to. However, the passes he did complete, or at least eight of them, were made far easier by the outstanding route-running and hands of Greg Jennings. He finished the game with eight catches for 130 yards and was targeted a team-high 11 times. In a game where field conditions were poor and neither offense was clicking, having a reliable set of hands on crucial plays was a main key to the game.

Jennings got things going early, catching passes on the first two plays of the game for 50 yards to put the Packers’ in great field position. Jennings was also on the receiving end of a few crucial second and third downs late in the game, keeping the Packers in great position to come out with the win. It’s not a stretch to say Jennings has become one of, if not, the best recievers in the league. He can beat teams from anywhere on the field on any kind of route, something that will be key in two weeks against the feared Steelers’ defense.

B.J. Raji:

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January 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers lose to Falcons by three: Defensive grades

A 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with nine seconds left pushed the Atlanta Falcons past the Packers 20-17 in a matchup of two of the NFC’s best Sunday. The Packers offense failed to convert key plays, the defense missed tackles, and the special teams reverted back to its old ways in the loss, leaving the team empty-handed in what could have been a season-defining game.

With the loss, the Packers (7-4) move a game behind the Chicago Bears for the NFC North lead and are currently on the outside looking in the playoff race. That being said, the Packers still control its destiny in the North and will have plenty of opportunities to make a jump in the standings over the next five weeks.

To see grades for the offense, click here.

As for Sunday, here are a few grades for key players on defense.

B.J. Raji: If Raji gets the credit when the defensive line does well against the run, he has to take the heat when they perform poorly. Michael Turner rushed for a seemingly easy 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, in part thanks to a Packers’ defensive line that never created push and allowed holes for him to run through. Raji was credited with just one tackle and really struggled the entire afternoon. GRADE: C

Cullen Jenkins: The Packers weren’t able to create too much of a pass rush as Matt Ryan checked down or threw short on most of his 28 passes, but Jenkins was in his face whenever he didn’t. He recorded his first sack since Week 4 and was actually stout against the run when plays came to his side. He has been a beast since his hand cast came off and is proving why he deserves a big paycheck from Ted Thompson.

Desmond Bishop:

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January 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers Hold Off Eagles 21-16, Advance To Second Round

The Packers seemed in control of Sunday night’s playoff game in Philadelphia for about 58 minutes before the Eagles made a late surge. Michael Vick was 41 yards away from advancing to a second round matchup with the Bears before Tramon Williams intercepted a pass in the endzone, sealing the 21-16 victory for the Packers.

Here are game balls to hand out for Green Bay’s 21-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Much had been made about Rodgers’ inability to win in the playoffs, despite losing just once in his only opportunity while throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns in that game. However, the mini-monkey is now off his back after Sunday night’s win. Rodgers had himself an excellent day that may have been overshadowed by the Packers’ run game, finishing 18-for-27 for 180 yards and three passing touchdowns. He put up those numbers despite four drops by receivers, including what would have been a 63-yard touchdown pass to James Jones at the end of the first half. Rodgers was great when he needed to be and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over. He could add another chapter to his ever-growing legacy with a win in Atlanta next week, but for now he can celebrate his first of, hopefully, many playoff victories.

Running back James Starks

If it weren’t for Rodgers picking up that first playoff victory that eluded him a season ago, rookie James Starks would have had first honors for game balls. Seemingly out of nowhere, the sixth round draft pick rushed 23 times for 123 yards in the win, bulldozing between the tackles for positive runs to keep Packers’ drives alive. Many expected Rodgers and the Packers to go with a pass-happy attack on offense, but instead they rode the hot hand in Starks to pick up the win. He didn’t find the endzone on any of his carries, but Starks also caught two passes out of the backfield for nine yards and played himself into a bigger role in next week’s game in Atlanta.

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews

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January 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet The Eagles’ Offense And How To (Attempt To) Stop Them

Being ranked as the top offense in the NFC is no easy task, especially with teams like the Packers, Saints, and Giants involved. But that’s exactly what Michael Vick and the rest of the Eagles’ high-powered offense have done this season, amassing 6,320 yards of offense in 2010. They ranked fifth in total offense through the air and led the NFC on the ground, and with Michael Vick in the lineup a serious argument could be made for them as the top offense in the conference.

The Packers’ defense, which has performed admirably despite handfuls of injuries to key players, will have its hands full trying to shut down Vick and the rest of the offense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have had a full week plus 17 weeks on game film to plan for Vick, something he didn’t have when Vick entered the Week 1 matchup against the Packers.

Here’s a look at the Eagles’ skill position players and how the Packers will have to go about shutting them down.

Quarterback Michael Vick

Anyone who has seen Vick play this season, and by now that should be just about everyone, knows how dynamic and game-changing he can be. One play he will bullet a pass down the field for a 50-yard gain and the next he’ll scramble for 20 more. Just when defenders think they have him in their grasp, he uses his sneaky strength and unparralled agility to escape pressure.

A three or four-man rush will not get the job done against Vick because it allows too much time for his receivers (and defenders) to get downfield, allowing him to find an open man or scramble for big yards. Luckily for the Packers, blitzing has been one of its strong suits in 2010. They led the NFC in sacks and, behind linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and cornerback Charles Woodson, can and will bring pressure from everywhere on the field.

Another added bonus for the Packers is the expected return of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has missed the last four games with a nagging calf injury. He has tallied seven sacks on the season and will be a key pass rusher on the outside in both pressuring and containing Vick. Keeping Vick inside the hashmarks on passing downs with outside pressure and blitzes will be more effective than rushing up the middle, allowing Vick to move outside the pocket.

Through the air, Vick likes to take chances. His 8.11 yards per attempt ranks second in the NFC, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, so pressuring Vick and not allowing his receivers a chance to get downfield will keep him in check. He struggles with short passes because of his throwing motion and inaccuracy. Expect blitzes early and often to throw Vick’s timing.

Running Back LeSeasn McCoy

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January 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Packers Minicamp Headlines and Thoughts

The Green Bay Packers started their 2010 minicamps Tuesday and there are already headlines being made. It is important to remember that it is only May and things like depth charts mean little because not everyone participates in the OTA’s.

Still, trends can form early in the year and position changes do mean a lot. Here are the early headlines making news for the Packers early in the preseason:

Justin Harrell Returns for the Start of OTA’s

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May 20, 2010 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Clay Matthews Is the Defensive Rookie of the Year

If he was not a front-runner before Monday night’s game against the Ravens, Clay Matthews seems to have officially thrown his hat into the ring for defensive rookie of the year.  He finished the game with a career-high six tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defended as the Packers defense held the Ravens to just 185 total yards.

Many questioned Ted Thompson when he traded three Day One draft picks in order to get back in the first round to select Matthews, but he has been well worth the cost of the draft picks.  Thompson passed on the likes of running back Beanie Wells and outside linebackers Everette Brown and Clint Sintim to arrive at Matthews.

The selection seemed like a head-scratcher at the time due to the higher-ranked players on the board at the time, but even Thompson admitted that had B.J. Raji not been available when the Packers picked ninth, Matthews was a possibility.

As is the case with most Ted Thompson moves, we have gone from scratching our heads to clapping our hands and screaming our lungs out as we watch Matthews fly all over the football field.

A hamstring injury in training camp  that seemed to last forever put Matthews behind the eight ball in terms of learning the new 3-4 defensive scheme under Dom Capers.  He appeared in just one preseason game and took some time to get his conditioning back, registering just four tackles in his first three games (with a sack).

Matthews’ first glimpse of greatness came on Monday Night Football against the Vikings in which Matthews, a reserve at the time, pursued towards running back Adrian Peterson, stripped him of the ball, and returned it 42 yards for a score.  It was that kind of play-making ability that has set Matthews off over the last ten weeks.

While his seven sacks are a great measure to show his ability to get to the quarterback, those numbers almost don’t do him justice.  Coming off the right end, Matthews has a non-stop moter off the edge and uses his pure athleticism to wreak havoc in the pocket.

Listed at 250 pounds, the slightly undersized Matthews has made up for his lack of size in other areas.  His pass coverage has been excellent for the majority of the year and he has registered six pass break-ups, which ranks him second behind Johnny Jolly for a non-defensive back.

Clay Matthews has been the NFL's best defensive rookie this season. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Even past the stats, Matthews has meant so much for a defense that had a big question mark next to them entering the season.  With a new defense being implemented and veterans switching positions and roles, many wondered if a team that had been set up for a 4-3 defense could make the switch to a 3-4 in the matter of one off-season.

A big reason why they were able to has been the presence of Matthews.  Had it not been for the USC standout, the Packers would probably be starting Brady Poppinga at outside linebacker, a thought that would make most Packers fans sick.

When Aaron Kampman and Al Harris both went down with season-ending knee injuries in the span of two quarters, many wrote off the Packers.  Two veterans both playing at a high level for a defense with questionable depth was basically a death sentence.  The post-injury assignments included Matthews taking over Kampman’s role at getting to the quarterback.  In the two games since Kampman has been gone, Matthews has racked up three sacks and provided constant pressure every time he rushes.

Matthews’ former teammate Brian Cushing has put together a fantastic year for the Texans and is also a leading candidate for the DROY award.  However, the Texans rank 16th in total defense and 22nd against the run, and Cushing also has the pleasure of playing behind Mario Williams and alongside Demeco Ryans.

There is much more freedom in the 4-3 defense that Houston runs for Cushing to make plays, while Matthews’ best plays for the Packers are when Nick Collins intercepts a pass because a certain outside linebacker was breathing down the quarterback’s neck.  Other than the middle linebackers, stats are more spread out in the team-oriented 3-4 defense, something Matthews should not be penalized for.  Even so, stats are not everything and one can not look over the importance Matthews has played in the Packers defense this season.

Matthews has been one of the most productive players on the first-ranked defense in the league.  He is a Pro Bowler in the making and, as long as he is in the 3-4, should have a very productive career.  While his ticket to Hawaii might be punched one day, he will have to settle for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2009.

December 9, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Packers’ Matthews Showing Early Signs of Promise

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.

Four games in, Clay Matthews III looks like the real deal.  (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)

Four games in, Clay Matthews III (middle) looks like the real deal. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)

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.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | 2 Comments

Preseason Expectations of the Packers Are Blinding Some

Ask just about any media outlet who the breakout team of 2009 would be before the season started, and odds were you were going to hear the Green Bay Packers.  After all, they had absolutely dominated all four preseason games and looked pinpoint accurate on offense.  Their defense had stayed pretty much vanilla on the playcalling yet still forced turnovers left and right.

Everyone was ready to crown the Packers kings of the NFC before the season had even started and one got the feeling that there was no way this team could be stopped.  Their defense was now healthy, the offense had too many weapons then it knew what to do with, and the special teams was starting to rise up to an average standard.

After Week one, fans cited a tough, grind-it-out game against a solid Bears defense as the reason the Packers did not put up 30 points.  However, they still won the game and did so by making good on the one thing they failed to do last season: win the close game.

A week later, the Packers had just been defeated by a suddenly resurgent Bengals team that should be 2-0 (see Stokley, Brandon) and all of a sudden the majority of Packers fans were seen heading for the nearest bridge to jump off or seeking shelter due to the sky falling.  As is typical with most sports fans early in the season, good outcomes are overvalued and bad outcomes are undervalued (Jay Cutler, anyone?).

The fact of the matter is the Packers are a better team than what they trotted out last Sunday afternoon against the Bengals, but aren’t as good as what they showed in the preseason.

The Packers finished their 2008 campaign with a 6-10 record which slotted them in the ninth spot in the draft.  Say what you will about the close losses and how they were in just about every game they played in, you are what your record is and the Packers were plain bad last season.

In the offseason, they brought in Anthony Smith, a former back-up safety from the Steelers that was known more for his smack talk to Tom Brady than his on the field play.  The Packers also drafted a slough of defensive players that included first-rounders B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III.  Raji has yet to play in a game and Matthews III has seen limited time, but looked good.

The Packers also instilled a 3-4 defense with new coordinator Dom Capers that was expected to take time to work.  Running the scheme with players used to set up a 4-3 defense was not the most ideal of situations, and a learning period was going to need to occur.

After an outstanding preseason, optimistic Packers fans seemingly threw that learning curve out the window and expected results right away.  So when the defense struggled against the Bengals and everyone wondered why all of a sudden the 3-4 wasn’t working, it didn’t make any sense.

Not everyone on the Packers is as experienced as Donald Driver.

Not everyone on the Packers is as experienced as Donald Driver.

Any way one slices it, the Packers still have the exact same personnel that won them six games last season and have not made a huge improvement or change in a big part of the system that would expect immediate results.  Last season, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan came in and took over the helm at quarterback along with brand new coaches and saw results.

That’s not to say the Packers need to fire head coach Mike McCarthy and trade Aaron Rodgers, but what it means is the process is going to take time.  Everyone knows that Rodgers is going to be just fine this season with all the weapons he has, but the defense is still getting their feet underneath them.

Unlike the situations of the Ravens and Falcons last season, a whole new scheme is taking place on defense that is going to take more time than an NFL-ready quarterback does.

In a way, their performance against the Bears was like a pitcher making his first start in the major leagues.  He has made starts in Double-A, Triple-A, just as the individual players on the Packers’ D have played the 4-3 defense their whole careers.  Once that pitcher comes to the big leagues, there is a huge change in how you approach batters and how fast the game moves.

The one caveat is that when that starting pitcher makes his first start in the Bigs, no team has a good enough scouting report to figure out what is going to come.  The first time through the order he torches the offense who have never seen him before.  As the season progresses, teams will pick up scouting reports but that pitcher will also become better.

Much is the same for the Packers defense.  True, they have been with Capers since July and have been working on the defense, but there is no replacement for the real thing and the Packers are still figuring out the defense at game speed.

There are going to be growing pains with the Packers this season, but the hope is they figure it out at a fast pace so they can continue to win football games.  The offensive line is extremely young and inexperienced for the most part, and has struggled to date.  Experts who chose the Packers to win the NFC might have been pre-mature because they looked at it with Fantasy Football goggles on.  The Packers have the skill positions on offense and defense down pat.

But the little things like fluidity on defense and consistency on the offensive line are going to take time, so being confused as to why the Packers had a bump in the road against the Bengals is nonsense.  Dom Capers did not make the Packers the second coming of the Steelers in one night, and Aaron Rodgers is not Tom Brady just because he led one fourth quarter comeback.

All the pieces for the Packers to be successful are in place, but this isn’t Madden 2010.  Give the team some time and let them work out the kinks as the season moves along.  For what it’s worth, the Packers are again the youngest team in the NFL, and it has shown to some extent.

As long as they stay healthy and keep progressing under Capers, there’s good reason to believe the Packers will be in contention come December.  However, the preseason made the Packers out to be the 2007 Patriots before they had even taken one snap in the regular season, so the Bengals game came as a shock.

It’s how the Packers respond to them that becomes important.  Take Allen Barbre, for example.  He had a very rough game against the Bears, allowing two sacks and constant pressure from the right side.  Against the Bengals, he fared much better and was stellar in the running game again.

The Packers are a much better, more disciplined, and better coached team than they were last year so it’s not as if six wins should be expected again, but growing pains and inexperience are going to creep up during times this year, and Packers’ fans need to understand that they are there.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | Leave a comment