4

June

Colin Kaepernick: Revisiting the Packers’ defensive debacle

Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.

Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.

Football is the ultimate team sport, so crediting just one player for a win in the NFL is foolish.

But in the divisional round of last year’s NFC Playoffs, the Green Bay Packers fell victim to a dominant performance by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In his first career playoff sart, the second-year quarterback put up video game-like numbers.

Kaepernick was sharp as a passer and electric as a runner, racking up 181 yards on the ground — a new NFL record for a quarterback.

Kaepernick may have been the NFL’s biggest breakout star throughout the entirety of the 2012 season. To start the year, Kaepernick carried the ball just once for 17 yards against the Packers in Week 1 at Lambeau Field. Four months later in the playoffs, Kaepernick accounted for 444 total yards and four scores.

After flexing his biceps in the end zone and drawing a 15-yard first-quarter penalty for taunting, it’s almost as if Kaepernick is now to Packers fans what Lord Voldemort is to Harry Potter.

He’s the archenemy. Don’t even speak his name in Packers country.

The Packers, again, will open up the season against the 49ers, so they’ll get an early look at the quarterback who dominated their playoff matchup. The effects from Kaepernick’s performance against the Packers, specifically, have been evident throughout the offseason in Green Bay.

For the second consecutive year, the Packers have focused on the defense early in the NFL Draft.

After being selected with the 26th overall pick in April’s draft, Datone Jones weighed in on Kaepernick’s playoff performance. “I thought he was pretty good,” Jones told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “But I don’t think they’re going to be able to run him like that. He takes one good hit, there goes their season.”

But while plenty of Kaepernick’s production against the Packers came on designed run plays out of the read-option, the fleet-footed quarterback continually escaped the pocket and caught the Packers out of position on designed pass plays.

Facing a third down early in the first quarter, Kaepernick eluded the pressure and found running back Frank Gore, who got behind Charles Woodson, gaining 45 yards down the left sideline. With the exception of a first-quarter pick-six by Sam Shields, Kaepernick torched the Packers through the air.

21

May

Casey Hayward: What’s in store for his encore?

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was the 62nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he was among most impactful defensive backs in football last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of 31.1 when throwing at Hayward. And among cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Hayward came in at No. 3 in the league, sandwiched between Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield.

The rookie went from being buried on the depth chart early in the season–Hayward played just three snaps in the season opener against the 49ers—to being, perhaps, the most irreplaceable part of the secondary.

When veteran Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone in Week 7, Hayward’s presence became increasingly important. From Week 7 to Week 14, Hayward played 88.5 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps.

Coming into the season, Woodson was expected to play safety in the base and bump up to slot cornerback in the nickel. But when Hayward emerged as the team’s most reliable turnover creator, playing primarily in the slot, Woodson’s role was drastically reduced by the time he returned for the playoffs.

This offseason, the Packers decided to cut ties with Woodson, who was set to count nearly $10 million against the salary cap. Woodson, 36, remained a fan favorite at the time of his release, but the presence of a promising young talent in Hayward made the move easier to swallow.

As a team, the Packers accounted for 18 interceptions in 2012, which was tied for eighth-most in the NFL. Hayward led all rookies and tied for fifth in the league with six picks.

 

1. Week 5 @ Indianapolis (4th Quarter, 13:09)

QB: Andrew Luck / WR: Reggie Wayne / Position: Slot

Hayward’s first career interception came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. Matched up against Colts receiver Reggie Wayne in the slot, Hayward matched him stride-for-stride and made the play on the ball.

Wayne dominated the Packers throughout the game, catching 13 passes for 212 yards and a score. But according to PFF, Hayward allowed just one reception on three targets on the afternoon. Luck’s passer rating when throwing at Hayward was an abysmal 6.9.

2. Week 6 @ Houston (4th Quarter, 7:11)

5

February

Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?

DuJuan Harris - Packers Running Back

DuJuan Harris – Packers Running Back

I dig into every article I can find about the Packers and the draft, including here at Al’s site.  There is a wide range of opinions on the subject of Packers running backs.  Lets look at my views on running backs,  those with the team, and in the draft.

The Packers currently have six running backs and one full back listed on their roster.  Those include running backs Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine, Dujuan Harris, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn at full back.  Grant filled a spot caused by injuries, showed he can still do a little, but like last year, just say thank you and good luck.   The question on Benson would be is he even worth bringing back?  He did ok at best. He is a talented back with mileage and age, he just turned 30 and is coming back from a foot injury that required surgery.   I don’t see any compelling reason to bring him back other then competition.

Harris looks like a very good 3rd down back that can fill in nicely when needed to start, but not a “featured back”.  He does it all pretty well.  Has a decent jump cut, might need to be a bit more patient looking for cut back lanes.  He needs to be brought back and coached up over the off season.  Starks has shown he can be productive as a runner, is a good receiver out of the back field, but needs to work on blitz pickup.  How much time do you put into a talented 6th round RB that can’t stay healthy?  I think he should be brought back, but with any additional injuries he would get a quick hook from me.

Saine, another UDFA like Harris, has good straight line speed, is a decent receiver out of the back field and quite good in blitz pickup.  His ability in Pass Protection might have been his best asset. Not a great fit for the Packers running game.  He lacks lateral agility, but has quickness and speed.

25

January

Packers News: Jeff Saturday will retire

 

Former Packers C Jeff Saturday will retire

Former Packers C Jeff Saturday will retire

ProFootballTalk is reporting that Jeff Saturday, a 14-year veteran, will reportedly retire after the Pro Bowl.

“We’ll finish it with sunsets in Hawaii and call it a much better career than I would have anticipated,” Saturday said on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis.

Prior to coming to Green Bay in 2012, Saturday spent the previous 13 seasons in Indianapolis. Saturday was selected to this year’s Pro Bowl, which marks the sixth time in his career that he’s held that honor.

Before the Packers’ week 16 game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday was benched in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith. Saturday handled the move like a true professional, calling his benching a “passing of the torch.”

Saturday was signed to replace Scott Wells as the team’s starting center before the season.Wells signed with the St. Louis Rams as an unrestricted free agent.

Saturday started the first 14 games before being benched. He’s one of two Packers that will play in this Sunday’s Pro Bowl–guard Josh Sitton being the other. The Green Bay Packers coaching staff will coach the NFC in Sunday’s game.

This announcement is hardly a surprise. The 37-year-old Saturday wasn’t playing at a high level in 2012, and the Packers appear ready to roll with Dietrich-Smith at center.

It was a great career for an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina. Enjoy retirement, Mr. Saturday.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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19

January

What Route Will Packers Take at Running Back?

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris

For the third consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers failed to have a 1,000-yard running back.

To start the season, the Packers surprised many by signing veteran Cedric Benson and making him the starter. Benson was supposed to be “the guy” in the backfield. And while he added another dimension to the offense, he suffered a Lisfranc injury Oct. 7 against Indianapolis and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

In all likelihood, Benson will not return next season.

Second-year running back Alex Green stepped in and filled Benson’s shoes as the starter. Green showed flashes but failed to make the most of his opportunity.

So when James Starks was ready to return, the team gave him a shot as the primary ball carrier. Starks was more effective than Green, but a late-season knee injury threatened his season. Facing the possibility of putting Starks on injured reserve, the team needed a backup plan.

In comes Ryan Grant–the guy the Packers showed no interest in re-signing when he was an unrestricted free agent last summer. But desperate times called for desperate measures. Grant carried the ball 20 times for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans, perhaps the best game by a Packers running back all season.

But ultimately, the Packers went with second-year player DuJuan Harris, whom they called up from the practice squad Dec. 1. Harris was likely the team’s most consistent option in the backfield but may be best-suited for a change-of-pace role within the offense.

This begs the question–Who will be the Packers’ starting running back next season?

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests that the Packers are “seeking (a) leading man at running back.” There are several veteran runners scheduled to become free agents.

Among the unrestricted free agents the Packers could go after are St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, Miami’s Reggie Bush, Dallas’ Felix Jones and the New York Jets’ Shonn Greene. Jackson would be ideal, but the Packers would probably only be interested in him in the secondary market given he will be 30 in July.

The Packers have been tied to Jackson for some time, but he’s certainly declining athletically. Bush fell 14 yards short of his second-straight 1,000-yard season, and he’ll likely be too expensive for the Packers. Jones and Greene both have shown flashes, but neither player has lived up to their draft position.

11

January

Packers News: Cobb, Nelson, Starks probable, Justin Smith ready

Jordy Nelson is probable for Saturday against the 49ers.

Jordy Nelson is probable for Saturday against the 49ers.

The Green Bay Packers have been bitten by the injury bug perhaps more than any NFL team this season. But headed into their divisional round matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers are getting healthier.

Running back James Starks (knee) is set to return to the field for the Packers. Starks hasn’t played since Dec. 2 when he carried the ball 15 times for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

Prior to his injury, Starks had taken over as the team’s feature back. He had carried the ball at least 15 times in three of the team’s previous four games.

But since being forced to sit out, DuJuan Harris has taken over as the starting running back. In the past two weeks, Harris has carried the ball 31 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. He’s only caught seven passes for 70 yards.

Exactly what the Packers plan to do at running back is unknown, but one would expect Harris to get the bulk of the work against the 49ers.

Wide receivers Jordy Nelson (ankle) and Randall Cobb (flu) both practiced in full on Friday. Like Starks, both players are listed as probable and are scheduled to play in San Francisco, giving the Packers their full repertoire of core wide receivers for the second-consecutive week. Greg Jennings and James Jones are also healthy and ready to go.

Fellow wide receiver Jarrett Boykin will not play this week. Boykin suffered an ankle injury in week 17 against the Vikings.

The flu has been making its way around the Packers’ locker room recently. Tramon Williams was sent home with flu-like symptoms in the week leading up to last week’s game, and several players have caught the illness since, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“I know this sickness thing is going around. I think I didn’t get the real bad stuff, that some of the guys have that had to go home, not that I would have been able to go home anyway if I wasn’t feeling; if I was feeling horrendous. … I’m hoping with a couple of good nights of sleep I will be 100 percent.”

On his weekly radio show, Rodgers told Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee he’s not worried about the illness.

7

January

Packers-49ers: Williams vs. Crabtree a matchup to watch

Packers CB Tramon Williams faces a tough task against 49ers WR Michael Crabtree

Packers CB Tramon Williams faces a tough task against 49ers WR Michael Crabtree

When the 49ers turned to Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback, they added yet another dimension to an already dangerous team.

Kaepernick made the first start of his NFL career Nov. 19 against the Chicago Bears. He started the final seven games of the season, throwing 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. In four of his seven starts, Kaepernick posted a passer rating of over 100.

And the 49ers’ newfound success at quarterback has allowed wide receiver Michael Crabtree to emerge as a go-to receiver.

Over the past five weeks, Crabtree has been one of the hottest receivers in football. Since week 13, Crabtree is averaging seven catches and 107.6 yards per game. Tight end Vernon Davis, another dangerous weapon for Kaepernick, is averaging just 1.2 catches and 12.2 yards per game over that same five-game span.

The 49ers went 3-2 over the final five weeks of the regular season. Those numbers suggest that teams are focusing on taking Davis out of the game, which has allowed Crabtree to evolve into the true No. 1 receiver in San Francisco.

And on Saturday, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams will face is toughest opponent since Dec. 16 against Brandon Marshall. Williams has been up-and-down during the 2012-13 season. He turned in his worst performance of the season in week 17 at Minnesota, according to Pro Football Focus.

But his +3.6 PFF grade this week at Lambeau Field was his second-highest of the season. With the way Crabtree is playing for the 49ers, the Packers will need Williams to be at his best Saturday night.

ProFootballFocus.com rated Crabtree as the league’s seventh-best wide receiver in the regular season. Williams graded out as the 60th-best cornerback according to PFF.

Crabtree has caught at least seven passes in four of the 49ers’ last five games. Williams has allowed more than three receptions just once over the past five games. He allowed four receptions for 51 yards against Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions in week 14, according to PFF.

So something’s gotta give this weekend when the 49ers have the ball.

In the season opener at Lambeau Field, Crabtree caught seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 76 yards. PFF charged Williams with allowing four of those receptions for a total of 42 yards. But when the 49ers take the field on Jan. 12, their offense is very different than it was in week one.