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
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
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:
Five members of the Green Bay Packers have been selected for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson, and safety Nick Collins were selected as starters for the NFC, while wide receiver Greg Jennings and left tackle Chad Clifton will come off the bench as reserves.
The Packers also had five alternates selected, including first alternates Aaron Rodgers and cornerback Tramon Williams. Wide receiver Donald Driver, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, right guard Josh Sitton, and defensive tackle B.J. Raji will also serve as alternates.
Here’s a breakdown of each player and how they earned their spot on the NFC roster.
Clay Matthews (starter): Early in the season Matthews looked like the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year with 11.5 sacks in his first nine games. While that pace has slowed, he still has 12.5 sacks on the season and has played a huge role in the Packers’ late playoff push. He is constantly garnering double teams on passing downs, freeing up lanes for other blitzers and has played well against the run as of late, showing he has more than one dimension in his game. He has forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass for a touchdown on the season as well, making him an easy selection for voters.
Charles Woodson (starter): For those who claim Woodson was voted solely on name recognition, take a closer look. Tramon Williams may be having a better season but Woodson is no slouch. He has recorded 86 tackles, forced five fumbles, intercepted two passes, and returned one for a touchdown on the year and is the emotional leader of a Packers defense that ranks second in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. His value on the field goes far past numbers, making Woodson’s seventh Pro Bowl bid a worthy one.
Nick Collins (starter):
I’m almost out of sugar.
That’s about all I can think of to describe the first six weeks of the Packers’ 2010 campaign, which I have admittedly sugar-coated and near-“homered” when addressing the team. But after a 3-3 performance, including another uninspiring loss, this time at the hands of the Dolphins, it’s becoming more and more difficult to come up with excuses for why the Packers are not performing to the standards many thought they would.
There’s no question things could be worse, just ask Wade Phillips and the 1-4 Cowboys or Norv Turner and the 2-4 Chargers. And it’s true the Packers are just one game out of the NFC North lead and still have four division games left.
So while there’s certainly optimism the Packers can right the ship and still contend in the uninspiring NFC and even less impressive NFC North, there comes a time when expectations need to change, and that time is now: the 2010 Green Bay Packers are no longer Super Bowl contenders.
I have been as optimistic as anyone in finding positives to take from two-point wins over the Lions and three point losses in overtime and on the road, and even last week I told my readers to take a step back and assess the team in a positive light. But the weaknesses and injuries the team have sustained less than half way through the season have become too much to overcome, and what was once thought to be “the year” where all the pieces fell right into place has become a scattered jigsaw puzzle and no one to put them back in place.
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.
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
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
The Packers are in the playoffs.
Say it five, 10, or 15 more times. Trust me, it won’t get old.
In a season marred by handfuls of injuries, close losses, and uncertainty, Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers fought past it all to claim the NFC’s final playoff spot by taking down the Chicago Bears 10-3 at Lambeau Field.
The early games on Sunday did little to help the Packers, as the Falcons handled the Panthers to claim the No. 1 seed in the conference. Because of that, the Saints rested most of its starters late in the game and allowed the Buccaneers to secure a victory that moved them to 10-6.
That Buccaneers win took out the scenario that would have allowed the Packers to fall to the Bears and still make the playoffs, so for the second consecutive week the Packers needed a win.
For one half of play, it looked bleak in Green Bay. The offense, despite putting together solid drives, had stalled and failed to put any points on the board while the Bears seemed content to keep the pace slow and run out the clock on the Packers.
But the Packers’ defense and, surprisingly, special teams came up in a big way in the second half, allowing the offense to start with solid field position and put 10 points on the board. That was all the defense needed, shutting Jay Cutler and Bears down by forcing two turnovers to seal the victory and a playoff spot for the Packers.
Here are game balls for the Packers’ regular season finale.
Green Bay Packers 45, Dallas Cowboys 7: Mini-Game Balls
Clay Matthews: If he wasn’t already in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, Clay Matthews certainly moved his name to the top of the list Sunday night. He tallied a sack, four tackles (two for a loss), two quarterback hits, two passes defended, and a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown off an A.J. Hawk batted ball. He is proving to be the most important player on the Packers’ defense, and quite possibly the team.
James Jones: Filling in for the injured Donald Driver (quad), Jones went for 123 yards on eight receptions, including a 10-yard score on a screen pass from Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter. Jordy Nelson is probably the more consistent option going forward, but games like these show why Jones could certainly take over the starting role from Driver sooner than later. It should be noted he also fumbled and dropped a touchdown pass, but in all it was an excellent game for Jones.
Charles Woodson: Tramon Williams and Sam Shields deserve plenty of credit for the defense’s excellent performance, but Woodson finally put together the type of performance that helped him win Defensive Player of the Year honors a season ago. He sacked Jon Kitna once, provided plenty of quarterback hurries from the outside, and finished with five tackles. It was great to see Woodson flying around the field like his old self.
Chad Clifton: The mid-season MVP of the offense could very well be Clifton, who once again dominated in pass protection against one of the game’s elite in DeMarcus Ware. Rodgers was sacked just once Sunday night and the Packers now rank tied for 17th in sacks allowed (17), a huge improvement from last season. Clifton is the main reason for that improvement.
Honorable Mentions: Jarrett Bush, Josh Sitton, Sam Shields, Greg Jennings
Packers Release Cornerback Al Harris
Chances are most of you will read this sometime on Tuesday, but if you’re up early enough and look to the East at approximately 6:46 a.m., you’ll notice the sun has indeed risen in the state of Wisconsin. True, if the Packers were a centipede they would have shot themselves in every foot Monday night in a loss to the Bears, but don’t think for a second isn’t one of the premier teams in the NFL.
18 penalties, pitiful special teams play and costly mistakes down the stretch will get you eight wins and a comfy seat in your home for the playoffs, but the Packers are undoubtedly better than what they showed tonight, and the optimism for this team’s potential should be as high as it was when they took the field Monday night.
First things first, the Packers went on the road into a divisional game against their biggest rival, a surprisingly efficient 2-0 Chicago team, and were in serious position to put the game away in the final two minutes. Aaron Rodgers, who continues to prove why he one of the top four quarterbacks in the NFL, was surgical in the second half and had the look in his eye that he was going to lead the Packers into field goal range.
Well there goes the season. OK, only kidding. The Cleveland Browns defeated the Packers 27-24 Saturday night in Lambeau Field as the two teams kicked off their 2010 preseason. It was a laid back night for the most part, with starters playing the first quarter before reserves took over,and depsite the loss there was still plenty to be happy about on the Packers’ side of the ball.
First and foremost, Aaron Rodgers seems to already be in mid-season form. The third-year starter completed his first nine passes and finished the night 12-13 for 159 yards, including a 25-yard strike to Greg Jennings for a touchdown. Rodgers looked poised in the pocket as always and had solid protection (which we’ll get to later) and found six different receivers on the night.