Little Mistakes Add Up to Big Loss for Packers

Rodgers vs. ColtsThere’s nothing worse than missing a game where the Green Bay Packers lose. Yes, it saves some heartache and keeps the remote control from flying across the room, but it’s disheartening to know that, when I go back and watch it, I’m only going to be disappointed. The one silver lining, however, is that the emotion has taken its course, and I can look at things a little more objectively.

With this in mind, I already knew what to look for when the Green Bay Packers dropped an 18-point halftime lead over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. I had to figure out what changed between the two halves of play and why things started going south. A lot of blame was passed around in the 24 hours following the loss, but I wanted to draw my own conclusions with the tape to back up my claims.

And what did I find? While I agree with “Jersey” Al that the offense deserves a lot of the heat, I don’t think I can point my finger directly at the play calling. And though Adam Czech is correct in pointing out the missed scoring opportunity at the end of the first half, I think there’s more to it than that. In fact, what I discovered was a lot of little things that added up to big problems. There was no one consistent failure, but multiple mistakes and drive-killers that allowed the Colts to make an historic comeback.

Dropped Passes by the Usual Suspects

It didn’t take long for people to start asking why the Packers didn’t put the Colts away in the first half. They were sitting on an 18-point lead and had over a minute to put a scoring drive together going into halftime. While it is a good question, the answer didn’t have anything to do with a lack of trying.

The Packers made a nice 6-yard gain on a short outside pass to Kuhn, who also managed to run out of bounds and stop the clock. Good play calling to start the drive, if you ask me. In fact, I didn’t have any issues with the next two play calls – it was the execution that mattered. Jordy Nelson made a big drop over the middle on 2nd-and-4, and then Jermichael Finley followed it up with a drop on third down to end the drive. So after less than 20 seconds coming off the play clock, the Packers punted it back to the Colts.



3 Players Raising Eyebrows at Packers Training Camp

Packers Tight End DJ Williams

Packers Tight End DJ Williams

The Packers have been practicing since Thursday of last week, and while it’s far too early to start shaping the final roster, a handful of players have people raising their eyebrows.

Can these three guys keep it going? Or will they wash out like so many other players who were superstars in late July, but duds in September?

D.J. Williams, TE

Instead of just lifting weights and doing cardio, Clay Matthews stepped outside of the box to get bigger and better after his rookie season. Matthews took up mixed martial arts training and went on to have a breakout second season. Apparently, Williams stepped outside the box this offseason, too…and into the cow pasture. The second-year TE says he’s gotten stronger thanks to an offseason cow-wrestling regimen back in his home state of Arkansas. Williams seems serious about it too, describing his technique in detail and talking about how he just tries to “not get hurt or die” when showing these cows who is the superior grappler. Well, Williams has always been known more as a receiver than a blocker. If suplexing ‘Ol Bessie rounds out his game a little, cool. Just keep him away from Aaron Rodgers. I don’t want No. 12 getting any goofy ideas about how he should spend his next offseason.

Casey Hayward, CB
Hayward has played so well, Bob McGinn already dedicated an entire column to the second-round pick from Vanderbilt. It sounds like Hayward uses his brains as much as his brawn, deciphering routes and showing no hesitation to swoop in and make plays. The Packers have a logjam at corner behind Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson (who might be spending a lot of his time at safety). If Hayward can rise above the rest, it can only mean good things for a Packers defense coming off a historically awful season.

Dezman Moses, LB
The hype started for Moses back at OTAs and by all accounts, he’s played well in camp. Before you get too excited, though, the Packers have had at least one LB catch fire in the offseason ever since they switched to a 3-4. None of these training camp phenoms have ever amounted to much besides role players once actual games start, but hey, it’s better to have unknown guys playing well in camp instead of unknown guys playing like, well, unknown guys. If Moses keeps it going and sticks with the team, he should get plenty of chances to make an impact on special teams. Anything else would be a nice bonus.



D.J. Williams: 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Packers tight end D.J. Williams

D.J. Williams

1) Introduction: When the Packers selected D.J. Williams in the fifth round last April, most were quick to say that “the rich were getting richer,” with the assumption that Williams—the Mackey Award winner in 2010—would step right into a role in the Packers already deep and talented offense. That may still happen in time, but Williams didn’t add much to the Packers’ offensive pot during his rookie season.

2) Profile:

David Edward Williams, Jr. (D.J)

Position: TE
Height: 6-3
Weight: 254 lbs.
AGE: 24

Career Stats


3) Expectations coming into the season: In the shorts and helmet start to training camp, Williams looked like a player that was actually going to have an impact on the Packers offense. How could Mike McCarthy possibly keep a guy that looked this good off the field? Once the pads came on and the game sped up, however, Williams quickly reverted into the 5th round rookie he really was. He was then plagued by mental miscues during the preseason, and it was clear by the start of the season that Williams needed time before becoming a bigger factor in the Packers’ offensive plans.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Williams was active for 13 games but played just 104 snaps. His highest number of snaps came against Atlanta (16), St. Louis (20), Oakland (19) and Detroit (21).  Williams caught just three passes for 13 yards but was only used ask to run routes on 26 of 104 snaps. The rest of the 78 snaps were either in run or pass blocking. He allowed one sack (at Atlanta) on 11 pass blocking snaps, but never seemed overwhelmed in his blocking role.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Minimal. The 26 passing opportunities didn’t allow him to make much of an impact, and his blocking was rarely the reason for a positive run. Looking ahead, you’d assume the Packers will want to see big strides in the receiving aspect of Williams’ game next season. He’s of similar size and speed as New England’s Aaron Hernandez, and there’s no reason why he can’t be a more versatile weapon in the passing game. A full offseason in the Packers organization will be important in his development. In the end, Williams may be asked to take on a bigger role regardless after a career-changing injury puts Andrew Quarless’s short-term career in jeopardy.



Packers vs. Lions Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Packers QB Matt Flynn has a perfect stage in Week 17 for his looming free agent status.

The Green Bay Packers (14-1) and Detroit Lions (10-5) face off in Week 17 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 12:00 CST, Sunday, January 1, 2012.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick with the call, Laura Okmin on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive.

Series: Packers lead, 92-65-7 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Nov. 24, 2011 at Ford Field.)

Five things to watch

1. Money to be made

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that he wants all three quarterbacks to play on Sunday, but the middle man in the group has a golden opportunity to bump up his price tag this summer. Matt Flynn, the Packers backup quarterback and a free agent after the season, will likely see the majority of the snaps against the Lions. Another solid performance on the big stage may propel a quarterback-needy team to give Flynn the opportunity to start for their franchise—and the money that goes with it—next season.

2. Who needs receivers?

The Packers offense may be one of the most receiver-dependent outfits in the NFL, but they’ll be down two at that position on Sunday. Both Greg Jennings (knee) and Randall Cobb (groin) were ruled out this week by McCarthy. Their absence should mean an increase in snaps for the Packers’ four tight ends, and more specifically, rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.  Expect the two first-year players to log career highs in snaps and receptions on Sunday.

3. Clifton’s return

Packers left tackle Chad Clifton has played in some big games during his career, but Sunday’s tilt with the Lions might rank near the top. While the game alone has little overall meaning, how Clifton performs may influence whether or not he can play again in the NFL. The Packers get one chance to see him live before the playoffs begin, and if they don’t like what they see from him, McCarthy may have to go with with Marshall Newhouse as his starting left tackle in the postseason. It wouldn’t be overly surprising if Clifton wasn’t the same guy he was before the torn hamstring, as he’s 35 years old and in his 12th season in the NFL. A dud of a performance or set back with the injury could signal the end of Clifton’s NFL career.



McCarthy: As Expected, Packers Will Play it Safe vs. Lions on Sunday

McCarthy wants to see all three quarterbacks play on Sunday.

Despite giving a few signs earlier in the week that his team might go full throttle after 15-1, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy confirmed Friday that the Packers will play it safe with a good chunk of his starters, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, against the Detroit Lions.

Several key players dealing with lingering dings will be held out on Sunday.

Receiver/returner Randall Cobb (groin), running back James Starks (ankle) and receiver Greg Jennings (knee) were all ruled out for Sunday, and tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) is doubtful.

Both Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews are questionable. The duo are both healthy, but each could be a scratch on Sunday to save them from any additional wear-and-tear. McCarthy said that both will be evaluated tomorrow morning regarding their playing status for Sunday.

On the issue of how much quarterback Aaron Rodgers will play, however, McCarthy was mostly mute. He said the decision to start Rodgers was still under review as of today. However, McCarthy did proclaim a want to play all three quarterbacks on Sunday, which gives credence to the idea that Rodgers won’t see much of the field. Matt Flynn should see extensive action, and Graham Harrell could get some late snaps.

It appears as if the Packers will get a chance to take an extended look at left tackle Chad Clifton, as he is listed as probable after practicing the entire week without a set back. Clifton hasn’t played or practiced since Week 5 after tearing his hamstring against the Atlanta Falcons. McCarthy has said all week how important it was to see Clifton in live action, and they should get that opportunity on Sunday.

Tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) and Ryan Pickett (concussion) were also listed as probable.

As long as no flare-ups occur between now and Sunday, Finley will almost surely play. With both Cobb and Jennings out, expect to see a big dose of the Packers four tight ends on Sunday to cover the lack of depth that they have at the receiver position. Rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor should both see their highest snap totals of the season.

Also, the Packers have practiced with both Jordy Nelson and Tramon Williams at returner this week. Pat Lee might also see some work returning kicks.



Rating the Rookies: Cobb Leads Packers 2011 Class Through 7 Games

The rookies on the Green Bay Packers roster have yet to complete a half-season in 2011, but the bye week in Week 8 gave us an opportunity to gauge how the Packers’ first-year players look through seven games.

Snap-counts and statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus

T Derek Sherrod (R1)

The Packers wanted him to take hold of the left guard position coming into training camp, but that experiment died in a hurry when Sherrod couldn’t handle the switch. He’s a right or left tackle from this point on. The only major action Sherrod has seen this season came against the Falcons in Week 5. After Chad Clifton went down with a hamstring injury, Sherrod filled in at right tackle as Marshall Newhouse slid over to the left side. Of the 51 snaps he played, 36 came on passing plays, and Sherrod allowed just two quarterback pressures and no sacks or hits. That kind of snap distribution shows the confidence that the Packers have in their rookie at right tackle in pass protection. Sherrod also came in on seven snaps (five run, two pass) against the Broncos in Week 4.

WR/KR Randall Cobb (R2)

GM Ted Thompson drafted Cobb in the second round to be the Packers primary return man and a sub-package receiver that can make plays in space. So far, that’s exactly what Cobb has been. He has returned every punt and kick save one, which was a squib kick that Tom Crabtree got his hands on. Cobb has done his best work on kicks, where his 30.5-yard average (13 returns, 396 yards) ranks fifth in the NFL among players with eight or more returns. Of course, his 108-yard TD against the Saints on opening night is the highlight of the season. He also lost a fumble in Carolina that contributed to the Packers falling down by 13 points in the first quarter.

Cobb hasn’t had the same impact on punt returns, where his 12 returns have yielded just 97 yards (8.1 average). Cobb has 11 fair catches. His only muffed punt of the season in Minnesota gave the Vikings good field position to re-take the lead, 14-7.  In the same game, Cobb had a 42-yard punt return that set up a Packers touchdown.



Packers GM Ted Thompson Did Not Claim Anybody off Waivers

Packers GM Ted Thompson did not add any players off the waiver wire.

According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Green Bay Packers did not claim anybody off waivers after Saturday’s roster cuts.

This means the Packers will enter their final days of preparation before facing the New Orleans Saints with an abnormally high number of TEs (5) and LBs (10), and record lows on the OL (8) and RB (4).

I thought the Packers might put in a claim for an OL or a DL and part ways with TE D.J. Williams or LB Jamari Lattimore, but it didn’t happen. I’m guessing Williams and Lattimore will be inactive for the early-season games, but as with everything else on a team built by Ted Thompson, we shall see.



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.