7

December

Cory’s Corner: Thompson must lock up Jolly from 14

There's been a spring in Johnny Jolly's step after missing three years due to a codeine addiction.

There’s been a spring in Johnny Jolly’s step after missing three years due to a codeine addiction.

As if Ted Thompson hasn’t been stressing enough about this season.

Fourteen Packers’ contracts expire in the offseason and Thompson has to make some important decisions.

This season has been one of the worst of recent memory. I’m not saying that purely based on Green Bay’s record but also based on competitiveness of the entire team. There have clearly been moments when players mailed it in and took plays off this season.

The first expiring contract that comes to mind is James Jones. He’s been stricken with alligator arms ever since he became a Packer in 2007. Despite Aaron Rodgers’ insistence that Green Bay sign Jones in 2011, Rodgers still has been known to verbally dress down Jones for running the route or not hauling in a catchable pass.

Now I realize that ever since Jones was a Packer he has had to battle for catches. When he first got here out of San Jose State it was Donald Driver and now it’s Jordy Nelson. But he’s a 6-foot-1, 208-pound wideout and I’ve always said that he has to be more assertive in the offense instead of just letting the defense or the situation dictate how he plays.

Another guy that caught my attention was Andrew Quarless. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jermichael Finley will not be a Packer in 2014 after suffering a devastating head injury that bruised his spinal cord. Most people thought that would leave the door open for Quarless to grab the tight end reins. But he has started six games this season and in those games he has caught just 12 passes. Very underwhelming numbers for a guy that had so much promise coming out of college as the career record holder for receptions by a tight end at Penn State.

When Finley was healthy, he proved how much this offense can thrive with a solid pass-catching tight end. The Packers do not have a dynamic tight end currently on the roster, which means Thompson is going to have to address that.

The final guy that Thompson needs to think about this offseason is Johnny Jolly. Now I didn’t think Jolly was going to produce after being out of the game for three years thanks to his codeine addiction. But he has been a big part of the defensive line and has exceeded expectations by starting six games.

25

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 26, Vikings 26

Matt Flynn led a fiery comeback for the Packers. And in some ways, the tie is a win.

Matt Flynn led a fiery comeback for the Packers. And in some ways, the tie is a win.

Despite playing to a 26-26 tie, the Green Bay Packers gained ground on the division-leading Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. And as far as the NFC North title is concerned, that’s a win for the Pack.

Without quarterback Matt Flynn’s late-game heroics, it’s hard to imagine the Packers pushing the game to overtime. But Flynn, down by 16 in the fourth quarter, led his team back and tied the game at 23.

And the game was played on my 23rd birthday, so of course, yours truly had something to do with the comeback. Duh.

Some players just fit in a certain system. And there’s no way around it–Matt Flynn’s ceiling is as a backup with the Packers.

Some–myself included–overestimated Flynn’s value when he hit the free agent market after the 2011 season. Sure, he’s been traded from the Seattle Seahawks and cut by the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills since leaving Green Bay, but at this point it’s pretty clear that the Packers’ system is good for Flynn and Flynn is good for the Packers.

“We were looking for a spark,” head coach Mike McCarthy said of Flynn after the game. “We had a history with Matt. He went out there and played football.”

Sounds simple. And it is. Flynn went out there and played football. He made the throws he had to make and took what the leaky Vikings defense was giving him.

At the very least, Flynn gives the locker room a shot of confidence as they head into a season-altering game Thursday against the Detroit Lions. The last time Flynn played in Detroit was when he entered the game in relief after Aaron Rodgers left the game with a concussion. The offense sputtered, and the Packers lost that game 7-3.

Now, the Packers head into their Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions needing a win, which would put them in first place in the division. The only question is: Will they have Aaron Rodgers?

Game Balls

Eddie Lacy

Teams know they’ll be getting a heavy dose of Lacy when they play the Green Bay Packers, but it doesn’t matter. Stacking the box can only do so much against a bruising back who routinely breaks through arm tackles. Lacy finished the game with 110 yards on 24 carries and proved his worth in the passing game, totaling 48 yards on six catches. The guy is really, really good.

28

October

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 44, Vikings 31

Jordy Nelson caught two touchdowns, giving Myles White and the rest of the team reason to celebrate.

Jordy Nelson caught two touchdowns, giving Myles White and the rest of the team reason to celebrate.

The opening kickoff made it look like the Minnesota Vikings would have a shot to upset the Green Bay Packers in teams’ final meeting at the Metrodome, as Cordarrelle Patterson raced 109 yards for a touchdown.

But from then on, it was all Packers.

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense moved the ball up and down the field with ease throughout the game. Despite having Myles White as his No. 3 receiver and Andrew Quarless as the starting tight end, Rodgers threw for 285 yards and a pair of scores to go along with just five incompletions.

His two touchdowns–both to Jordy Nelson–were perfect. There’s no other way to put it, really. Rodgers zipped the ball right past the defender’s earhole on each throw, leaving the defender with no chance at deflecting the pass.

After the first scoring connection from Rodgers to Nelson, I tweeted, “If I’m Aaron Rodgers, I’m putting an ongoing loop of that throw on a projection screen. Maybe in every room of my house.” And I meant it.

Then, after Nelson’s 76-yard score, I, again, wanted share my admiration. However, I just couldn’t seem to think of the words. It was simply another perfect throw by one of the best quarterbacks in football.

That touchdown, ironically, reminded me of Rodgers’ crucial third-down dart to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV. Jennings, now with quarterbacks Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Matt Cassell and the Minnesota Vikings, was targeted three times Sunday night and only caught one pass for nine yards.

It’s safe to say that, while wealthier, Jennings is not having a lot of fun wearing purple this season. And that’s nothing against the color.

Speaking of Jordy Nelson, I think it’s worth revisiting the unwritten rule that you can’t compare white wide receivers to anyone other than white wide receivers. Nelson isn’t Eric Decker or Ed McCaffrey. He’s not Wayne Chrebet or Wes Welker.

The guy is every bit of 6’3″ 217 pounds. He’s not the fastest receiver in the world, but he does everything you could possibly ask a wide receiver to do, and he does it well.

24

October

Charting Life After Finley

Much has been made rightly so about Jermichael Finley’s injury; I won’t go too much in depth because it’s been covered by several of my fellow writers but I will add that it’s great to hear that indications point to Finley avoiding a life-changing injury; ultimately the injury may cost him his career as a professional football player but at least he will be able to live a relatively normal life afterwards.  Going back to football, the question becomes “what do the Packer do now without Cobb, Jones AND now Finley?”  Obviously Finley was more a wide receiver than a traditional inline tight end and therefore could compensate somewhat for losing both Jones and Cobb but now that Finley is also out for the foreseeable future, what does the Packers wide receiver and tight end cores look like and how will they operate?  Keep in mind tight end is the joker of the Packers offense as tight ends often play inline, in the slot, as a fullback, as a move tight end and sometimes even on the outside; a lot of the Packers’ creativity, versatility and matchup problems come from moving tight ends around so seeing what they do with their tight ends is often a good indication of what their offense will operate.

I think the simplistic view is to look at body types and try to project players into Finley’s role.  Andrew Quarless is naturally the first option as he has the most experience and receiving production of the remaining tight ends.  Quarless is also a good blocker and thus likely would have seen time on offense even with Finley playing so playing him wouldn’t arouse as many suspicions as any other player.  The second option would be Brandon Bostick, a former wide receiver in a tight end body that has been with the Packers since 2012 who might be the most athletically gifted of the backup pass catchers.  The Packers obviously see something in him by keeping him this long and keeping him on the 53 man roster and his history as a wide receiver could help compensate for the more “wide receiver” like plays that Finley often made. However, just looking at body type and playing history is often misleading, Quarless has been in this situation before in 2010 when Finley was lost for the year with a torn ACL and did nothing with it and Bostick wasn’t even able to beat DJ Williams last year for a spot on the roster.

23

October

If Finley is out for the season, can Quarless do the job?

Andrew Quarless was visibly shaken by Jermichael Finley's injury. Should Packers fans worry about Quarless as the No. 1 tight end?

Andrew Quarless was visibly shaken by Jermichael Finley’s injury. Should Packers fans worry about Quarless as the No. 1 tight end?

Three years ago in 2010, the Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl with a rookie Andrew Quarless as their starting tight end.

That year, Jermichael Finley suffered a knee injury in week six against Washington and was forced to miss the remainder of the season; Quarless stepped in and the role of the Packers’ tight end shrunk within the offense. Prior to going down, Finley was on pace for 84 receptions and 1,204 receiving yards–an average of five catches and 75 yards per game.

After Finley was lost for the season, Quarless caught two or fewer passes in 14 of the team’s remaining 16 games, including playoffs.

Fast forward to October 2013, and Finley, again, faces an uncertain future after suffering a bruised spinal cord Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Finley is out of intensive care and walking on his own, but he’ll undergo more tests before a decision is made on his future for this season and beyond.

According to sources via ESPN, there is “no specific timetable for Finley’s return to the field, but indications are that he likely will miss at least four to six weeks.” Ed Werder tweeted Tuesday that Finley’s injury was not believed to be career-threatening, although the Packers could consider placing him on the injured reserve sometime later this week.

Clearly, at this point, no decision has been made on Finley’s availability this season.

The most optimistic will point to 2010 and suggest that plugging Quarless into the lineup for Finley will be enough. But as things currently stand, the Packers’ group of wide receivers is certainly not as strong as it was in 2010.

Then, the Packers made up for losing Finley by featuring Greg Jennings as the No. 1 target, while Jordy Nelson was exceptional in the stretch run and into the playoffs. James Jones and Donald Driver held their own as the third and fourth options.

Right now, the Packers will likely head into their matchup in Minnesota with Nelson and Jarrett Boykin as their starting receivers. At tight end, it’ll be Quarless along with a combination of Brandon Bostick and others. Myles White will likely be the No. 3 receiver, like he was last week against Cleveland.

19

September

Quarless as the Packers Fullback? Intriguing…

Packers TE Andrew Quarless

Andrew Quarless could play fullback for the Packers on Sunday.

If John Kuhn is out on Sunday when the Packers play the Bengals, it sounds like tight end Andrew Quarless could spend some time in the Packers backfield as a fullback.

Quarless at fullback could very well be a disaster, but it intrigues me.

Back when D.J. Williams was on the team, I always thought he looked better when he lined up as a fullback than he did at tight end. I wonder if I might feel the same about Quarless after Sunday.

Quarless at fullback could give the Packers more options for pre-snap motion or other funky formations. Quarless also might operate better in space than Kuhn if Aaron Rodgers finds him on a dumpoff pass.

Of course, Quarless’s main responsibility will be pass blocking. Can Quarless be trusted to read defenses and identify blitzers like Kuhn can? If he can’t, the Quarless at fullback experiment will end quickly.

If he can pass block, Quarless would provide more versatility on third downs than Kuhn can as the backfield pass blocker. Then again, maybe Mike McCarthy won’t even put him in high-pressure pass-blocking situations.

Can Quarless clear a path for James Starks in the running game? He lined up at fullback after Kuhn got hurt against the Redskins and made a key block that sprung Starks for a 32-yard touchdown. He certainly looked capable on that play.

Sunday’s game probably won’t hinge on Quarless’s play at fullback, but when you’re trying to beat a tough opponent on the road, little things matter. One missed blitz pickup can alter the course of a game. One key block that seals the edge on a sweep can lead to a late-game first down that brings you one step closer to a win.

Quarless as a fullback will be interesting to watch.

 

——————

Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

——————

19

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #6 — Finley’s finale?

Jermichael Finley came on after the bye week last season. Will this be Finley's last season in Green Bay?

Jermichael Finley came on after the bye week last season. Will this be Finley’s last season in Green Bay?

In five years with the Packers, Jermichael Finley has gone from being the outspoken tight end to a focal point of the offense, and again, back to the outspoken tight end.

And in a circus-cautious locker room such as the one in Green Bay, Finley has been one of the most scrutinized players on the team since being drafted in 2008.

To most fans, for every positive from Finley, there’s two negatives. But to the Packers, for every negative, there’s a plethora positives. And for that reason, the team has committed to (at least) one more year from the 26-year-old tight end.

Finley enjoyed a breakout 2009 season, his second in the NFL. Finley caught 55 passes for 676 yards and five scores. His per-game averages of 4.2 catches and 52 yards are still the highest of his five-year career.

Fan perception of Finley throughout the past two seasons has been predominantly negative.

Due to dropped passes, the 2011 season was largely a disappointment. In total, Finley dropped 14 passes–the most by any tight end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. But Finley started the season well. Through the first nine games of the season, Finley dropped just three passes and caught 33. Over the final eight games, Finley’s number of drops ballooned to 11.

Still, his season numbers were nothing to scoff at. His 55 receptions tied a career high, and he set new personal bests with 767 yards and eight touchdowns.

This past season was, again, a tale of two halves for Finley.

He dropped nine passes through the Packers’ first 12 games. But after a Week 13 win over the Vikings, Finley didn’t drop another pass the rest of the season. Over that six-game stretch, Finley caught 25 balls on 33 targets.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy took note of the improvement by praising Finley after the season.

“I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on,” McCarthy said, per JSOnline.com. “I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year.”