25

January

Sam Shields 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Packers CB Sam Shields

Packers CB Sam Shields

1) Introduction: Coming into the season, Shields was a restricted free agent and signed a one-year tender worth just north of $2 million. Shields opened the season as an every-down player and ended the season the same way — until he suffered a knee injury two snaps into the Packers’ playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Now, Shields is set to become and unrestricted free agent. He’s in line for a big pay day.

2) Profile: Sam Shields

  • Age: 26
  • Born: 12/8/1987 in Sarasota, FL
  • Height: 5’11″
  • Weight: 184
  • College: Miami FL
  • Rookie Year: 2010
  • NFL Experience: 4 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Shields was viewed as the team’s top cover man entering the 2013-14 season, and he did not disappoint. Questions surrounded Tramon Williams as he entered his age-30 season, so the Packers were banking on Shields to be their top corner with young guys Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Davon House providing depth at the position. With Hayward battling a hamstring issue throughout the preseason, Williams saw some time in slot, which allowed Shields to remain on the perimeter, often handling the opponent’s No. 1 receiver.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Shields seemed to be at his best against the best in 2013. His top three grades according to Pro Football Focus, came against the Cincinnati Bengals (A.J. Green), Cleveland Browns (Josh Gordon) and Dallas Cowboys (Dez Bryant). He had a momentum-shifting interception against the Bengals and game-clinching picks against the Cowboys and Chicago Bears to help the Packers win the NFC North. Prior to Gordon’s record-breaking four-game stretch in which he racked up 36 catches, 774 yards and five touchdowns, Shields helped limit the breakout star to what-would-be season lows in catches (two) and yards (21) in a 31-13 blowout win for the Packers in late October. To start the season, Shields got off to a rocky start, as PFF held him responsible for 264 receiving yards in the Packers’ first two games. On the bright side, those 264 yards accounted for 39.8 percent of his season total (664).

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: With all due respect to Mike Daniels, Shields was the team’s Defensive MVP this season despite missing two games. He was the Packers’ most consistent every-down player, and their average-at-best defense would have been far worse (and were for two games) without Shields on the field. There’s no questioning Shields’ impact on the Packers’ defense.

19

January

Packers, Capers really missed Casey Hayward in 2013

Casey Hayward wasn't the Packers' only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Casey Hayward wasn’t the Packers’ only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

As a rookie in 2012, Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was one of three finalists for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best cornerback–the second-round pick trailed only established veterans Antoine Winfield, Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman.

After Hayward intercepted a team-best six passes and holding opposing passers to an abysmal 31.1 passer rating, the Packers had high hopes for Hayward, as they cut ties with their veteran leader and turnover-creator Charles Woodson following the 2012 season.

But Hayward’s encore was disrupted by a recurring hamstring issue, limiting him to appearing in just three games. He played 88 snaps.

With Woodson playing in Oakland and Hayward on the sideline, the Packers were left searching for a solution in the slot early last season. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams had fine seasons, but both are better suited for the perimeter. Micah Hyde didn’t play like a rookie, as he took over as the primary punt returner while proving to be a reliable run defender and a versatile cover man.

All things considered, the Packers’ cornerbacks fared well, but they were seriously lacking in one area.

For as long as Dom Capers has served as defensive coordinator in Green Bay, the Packers defense has relied heavily on takeaways. Woodson intercepted 19 passes and forced 11 fumbles during Capers’ tenure, which began in 2009. When Capers served as defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992-1994, he had another Woodson (Rod), who intercepted 16 passes in three seasons with Capers.

But for the first time since taking over in Green Bay, Capers was without his X-Factor in 2013. He didn’t have a play-maker. He certainly didn’t have a Woodson.

For a defense that had grown accustomed to bending but not breaking, losing its turnover-creating wild card would be like throwing Capers in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean without a raft. Hayward’s 88 snaps were a makeshift life vest, but Capers and the defense remained stranded and searching for answers.

It would be foolish to assume Hayward’s career will unfold like Woodson’s, but you don’t let go of your high-school sweetheart without a winner on deck. The Packers had a plan for Life After Woodson, but that plan (Hayward) fell by the wayside thanks to the injury bug.

13

January

McCarthy Shouldn’t Ignore Stats

Mike McCarthy

McCarthy says some head-scratching things at times, like last week when he said “stats are for losers”.

This past week, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gave his season-ending press conference.  I detailed some of his responses here.  One comment that he made still resonates with me.  When asked if he was going to look at the team’s injury situation and look into why so many Packers players were lost due to injury, part of McCarthy’s answer was that ”stats are for losers.”  Now, in fairness, that wasn’t the entire response.

McCarthy went on to add that when one looks too far into stats, it can build false confidences and negatives.  He said they need to look beyond just the numbers to really determine what is going on.

That’s great and all and I know he doesn’t particularly enjoy talking to the media and especially when answering questions about some of the negative things that are going on.  I get the whole “Pittsburgh macho” thing that he’s going for the “we have it under control and you don’t know what’s really going on here” mantra.  But perhaps McCarthy forgets that we all own televisions or are sitting in the stands?  The fact of the matter is that the numbers DO matter.

If you ask any good CEO to evaluate a company’s health and describe what is going on, they’ll likely use stats.  Numbers are important.  They don’t tell the entire story but they are one of the primary illustrators of what is happening.  Many times I’ll ask someone what happened in a game and they’ll say “the box score doesn’t tell the whole story”.  Sure, it doesn’t measure things like energy level, enthusiasm or my personal favorite: toughness.  But more often than not, something can be drawn from the numerical recap.

I’m talking about more than just the Packers injury situation, although that is certainly something that the Packers need to look into.  15 players ended up on season-ending injured reserve this season and they did use the IR-Designated for return option on receiver Randall Cobb.  I get that football is a physical sport and that not all injuries are preventable.  Still and far too often, the Packers are seeing their players drop in bunches.  Is it amplified by the lack of depth behind the key players getting hurt or are there simply too many of them?  As I have said before, I am not sure but if you ask any consultant for their opinion on the matter, the first thing they’re going to look is. . the stats.

9

January

Is the Packers’ Glass Half Empty Or Half Full?

Beer

Packers and Beer.

Players, coaches, the media and most often the fans like to say “every season that didn’t include a Super Bowl Victory is a failure”.  I get the sentiment, as long as your team wins the Super Bowl, everything is forgiven; it doesn’t matter how many mistakes were made or how many games were lost, as long as your team takes the Lombardi trophy at home, everything else is forgiven.  However, this is really a shortsighted assessment of any team’s season; would anyone argue that the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans had equally failed seasons because neither will win the Super Bowl this year?  Of course not, the Chiefs saw a massive rebound from the worse record in 2012 to one of the best and saw jumps in all analytics to boot.  On the other hand, the Texans were predicted by many pundits to be a Super Bowl contender but lost 15 games in a row and saw their head coach fired mid-season.  Furthermore, fans of the New England Patriots can realistically expect to be in contention for a Super Bowl every year for the foreseeable future, but the same cannot be said for the Oakland Raiders, who are still in the middle of a massive rebuilding process; getting into the playoffs but not the Super Bowl might be considered a failure for the Patriots, but just getting into the playoffs should be considered a successful season for the Raiders.

All that basically points back to the 2013 Packers; should we consider this season a success or a failure?  Or more realistically, do you see the Packers season as a glass half empty or a glass half full?

The Packers were an average team (8-7-1)

Glass half empty: The Packers took a major nose dive this season after posting a 11-5 season in 2012, 15-1 season in 2011 and winning the Super Bowl in 2010.  Especially in the middle of the season it looked like the team was lost and without a goal as they were man handled by the Eagles, Giants and most notably the Lions.  The defense again fell apart and the Packers were forced to learn how to run the ball behind Eddie Lacy, which didn’t happen overnight.  Hell, they couldn’t even truly beat the Minnesota Vikings who threw Christian Ponder back in a quarterback.  Finally, the Packers again proved that they are incapable of beating the 49ers with the 3rd consecutive loss.

28

December

Alshon Jeffery, Bears offense present test for Packers

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league's top big targets in his second season.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league’s top big targets in his second season.

A year ago, Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was–if anything–a detriment to Chicago’s offense when the Bears and Green Bay Packers met at Soldier Field in December. As the Packers clinched the NFC North title, Jeffery was flagged for three offensive interference penalties and failed to catch a pass.

Jeffery totaled just 367 yards in 10 games last season. Four weeks ago at Minnesota, Jeffery racked up 249 yards and a pair of scores in one game alone, boosting his stat line to a near-1,000 yard spike in production up to this point of the season.

And with Jeffery on one side, Brandon Marshall on the other and Matt Forte reaping the benefits underneath, the Bears suddenly boast one of football’s more explosive offenses.

With backup Josh McCown at quarterback in the Nov. 4 meeting at Lambeau Field, Jeffery caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown–a marked improvement over last year’s seven total yards in two meetings. Head coach Marc Trestman and the Bears have remained consistent throughout their “quarterback controversy,” making it clear that Jay Cutler would be the starter as long as he’s healthy.

Cutler carries his 1-8 career record against the Packers into Sunday’s win-and-in scenario, while Aaron Rodgers makes his return for the Packers after a seven-game absence. And while Rodgers has tilted the game in the Packers’ favor in Vegas, Cutler and Chicago’s offense is gearing up to make Sunday’s game a shootout.

When the Packers have the ball, they’ll likely feature a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks against Chicago’s leaky run defense. Rodgers figures to take more downfield shots than Matt Flynn in recent weeks, but the Packers’ run-heavy offense will likely continue this week.

If the Packers are able to run the ball effectively and control the clock, then Chicago’s offense, which has scored 30 points six times this season, will be limited to a certain extent.

Coming into the season, cornerback appeared to be one of the Packers’ deepest positions. Last year’s leader in interceptions, Casey Hayward, figured to help mask the loss of turnover creator Charles Woodson, while Sam Shields stepped into the No. 1 cornerback role, veteran Tramon Williams was recharged and youngsters Davon House and rookie Micah Hyde looked to build on a strong preseason.

29

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Lions 40, Packers 10

Morgan Burnett had a pretty sweet celebration. And the Packers put on a pretty ugly show.

Morgan Burnett had a pretty sweet celebration. And the Packers put on a pretty ugly show.

Aaron Rodgers may have a shot to play next week. And the fact that the Packers may have just played their last game without their quarterback may be the only positive takeaway from the team’s Thanksgiving debacle.

It’s hard to remember, but at one point this season, the Packers were 5-2 with what looked like a favorable upcoming schedule. One fractured collarbone later, and the Packers are 5-6-1 coming off what T.J.Lang called, “Probably the worst (expletive) offensive game in the history of the (expletive) Packers.”

With Aaron Rodgers, the Packers would have had more than seven first downs. They would have possessed the ball for more than 19 minutes. But I’m not sure if Rodgers would have helped tackle, confuse or even provide resistance to the Lions offense.

Still, if No. 12 is back and able to play Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, they have a chance. It’s hard to believe, but the Lions and Bears are both capable of losing two more games, and the Rodgers-led Packers could win their last four. If that’s the case, the Packers win the division.

After an atrocious showing like Thursday’s, it’s hard to find positives. Without question, the Packers’ postseason hopes are waning and there really weren’t any positives to take away from the Packers’ produce in Detroit.

But if there’ ever been a reason to be optimistic about an improved offense since Rodgers went down, it’s now. Simply because he might be back.

Thursday was ugly. So this is going to be brief.

Game Balls

Morgan Burnett

The Packers’ lone game ball goes to Morgan Burnett, solely because of his Funky Chicken celebration. Burnett didn’t play particularly well, but he had a pair of fumble recoveries and a sick touchdown dance. Way to go, Morgan. Nicely done.

Lame Calls

Offense

The Packers had 126 total yards and scored three points. The writing was on the wall when Matt Flynn looked past a wide open Andrew Quarless and tried to force the ball to Jordy Nelson–needless to say, the pass was incomplete. Detroit continually stacked the box to shut down Eddie Lacy–and they did, to the tune of 16 yards on 10 carries–and Flynn was simply unable to take advantage of it. It was the worst offensive showing I’ve seen in a NFL game a long, long time. But things weren’t all bad for the Packers offense. At least they had seven first downs.

19

November

Packers Defense Does Not Measure Up to Its Talent

lombardi_quoteBefore school started this year, I ordered three motivational tin posters for my music classroom. One of these posters features Babe Ruth, while the other two feature none other than Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers coach. Each one is a black and white photo prominently displaying an inspirational quote, and I often reference them when my students need some guidance.

After the past few weeks, with the struggles of a Packers team sans Aaron Rodgers, I have been unable to get one of those quotations out of my mind:

“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” –Vince Lombardi

I selected this particular poster, because it suggests that measuring ourselves against others is a fool’s errand. As I have often said, there will always be people out there better than us at something, and there will always be people who are worse than us. We should be looking at success as a measure of what we’ve been able to accomplish from where we’ve started.

How does this apply to the Packers’ current situation? Like many other fans, in my frustration with this injury-riddled season, my contempt for the defense and its failures has grown. Every year since the abysmal 2011 season – and a defense that, on average, gave up over 400 yards per game – I’ve been praying that Dom Capers would turn it around.

“Just get some good players in the draft, and we’ll be set,” I told myself. “Then we can get back to the 2010 defense that allowed the second fewest points per game in the league.”

Of course, this year, I started the season with a different tune. “Just get some key players healthy, and this defense will be unmovable.” Names like Casey Hayward, Morgan Burnett, and eventually Clay Matthews and Nick Perry kept popping up in this conversation. Green Bay just needed to get over the injury bug. That’s all.

It hasn’t gotten better, though. And average quarterbacks are making the pass defense look downright silly.

Unlike some fans, I’m not going to point my finger at Ted Thompson. I believe that he is good at acquiring talent for this team. Guys like Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Eddie Lacey were unbelievable draft picks. Then consider players like David Bakhtiari, Morgan Burnett, and Josh Sitton, who have been some solid acquisitions in the middle rounds. And don’t forget the undrafted diamonds like Sam Shields and DuJuan Harris that Thompson has unearthed.