2

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Chad Clifton

1) Introduction: A couple of games into the 2010 season, many of us were convinced Chad Clifton was finished. He looked old, slow, overmatched and hobbled. Replacing Clifton with rookie Bryan Bulaga seemed like a logical move to avoid getting Aaron Rodgers killed. But Mike McCarthy insisted that Clifton was banged up, and that once he got healthier (we probably will never be able to say Clifton is fully healthy), he would keep his job. That patience paid off.

2) Profile:

Jeffrey Chad Clifton

Position: T
Height: 6-5    Weight: 330 lbs.

Born: June 26, 1976 in Martin, TN
College: Tennessee (school history)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 2nd round (44th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Above average. Clifton signed a three-year, $20 million contract in the offseason. Normally those types of salary figures come with high expectations, but I’m not sure that was the case with Clifton. Everyone could see Clifton was aging and breaking down, and he was resigned because he was the only other logical option (unless you were comfortable with Bulaga the rookie). Not many expected a pro bowl season out of the grizzled veteran.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Clifton took on Peppers for most of the season finale and kept him away from Rodgers. He also handled Lamar Woodley and James Harrison during the Super Bowl. Lowlights included a bad first two games and giving up a costly sack late in the Redskins game.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Significant. It was a down year for left tackles in the NFC, but that shouldn’t diminish Clifton’s pro bowl selection too much. Clifton never blinked against the likes of Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. He wasn’t quite lights out in pass protection, but he was very good. Clifton struggled to run block, but he was probably just saving his energy whenever the Packers called a running play so he would be fresh to protect QB1.

6) Player’s contributions during the 6-win end-of-season run: Clifton was a big reason why Rodgers played his best football down the stretch. Clifton was left on an island against some solid pass rushers late in the season, and he delivered big time. You could sometimes see Rodgers get a little jumpy when he saw Bulaga engage his man near the line. That was never the case with Clifton.

12

February

NFL Concussion Conundrum is Enough to Make You Feel Woozy

One of the biggest headlines during the 2010 season was the issue of player safety, most notably concussions. After a congressional hearing criticized the NFL for not taking the matter more seriously, the NFL took to the issue with a renewed fervor. What resulted was mass confusion for everyone; players, coaches, referees, the media and the fans had no idea what constituted an illegal hit.

This was followed by frustration by many players, most notably Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who was fined upwards of $10,000 per infraction. Harrison lead the league in fines (with over $100,000) and criticism (with a meeting with commissioner Roger Godell in New York and a fiery jab during the Super Bowl media day) and even threatened to retire should these fines continue.

I believe that the NFL is heading in the right direction, concussions are a serious matter and the ramifications for players as they retire and grow older can be devastating, but the system with which officials determine what constitutes an illegal hit and the repercussions that the NFL enforces afterwards are a little baffling.

The first issue, of course, is what constitutes an illegal hit due to the threat of concussion. While some hits, such as the Julius Peppers’ hit on Aaron Rodgers during the NFC championship game are pretty obvious, others, most notably when defenders end up hitting quarterbacks on the head, are a little harder to explain (such as Trent Cole’s “hit” on Peyton Manning this season). Perhaps if Deacon Jones was still playing and axe chopping quarterbacks that might be an issue, but usually these penalties occur when defenders are trying to bat balls or throwing arms and their hand coincidentally ends up touching the quarterback’s helmet.

The second issue comes from how penalties are handed out. These hits are treated as personal fouls, with a 15 yard penalty, an automatic first down and a likely monetary fine somewhere down the road. A 15 yard penalty with an automatic first down is a good start, the percentage of success for an offense rise exponentially based on their position, so usually such a large penalty will result in points, but if a cornerback can be penalized 45+ yards for pass interference holding by a wide receiver’s arm, hitting a defenseless receiver or knocking out the quarterback should probably be a bigger penalty.

4

February

Packers Super Bowl Scenario – Big Games Needed by Brandon Jackson and Interior Offensive Line

Scott Wells needs to help contain the Steelers interior blitzes.

While everyone talks about how Aaron Rodgers and the Packers wide receivers match up against the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary, don’t forget about Brandon Jackson, Scott Wells, Daryn Colledge and Josh Sitton. If the Packers put up big passing numbers, chances are these four guys had good games.

I think rushing attempts by both teams will be few and far between, especially after the first quarter. Once both teams go to the air, Rodgers and the Packers wideouts have an advantage over the Steelers secondary, but that advantage can be negated by the Steelers pass rush.

That’s where Jackson and the interior offensive lineman can come to the rescue.

As the crew at Football Outsiders points out in its Super Bowl preview, the Steelers like to send crash blitzes up the middle, which allows outside linebackers to either come through the wreckage on a delayed blitz or jump back into pass coverage and mess up the quarterback’s hot reads. The theory is that by crashing the middle, you’re attacking a team’s worst pass blockers (center and guards) and forcing the running back into the middle of the chaos (which means he’s not a dumpoff option in the flat and he’s in the quarterback’s throwing lane). It also forces your tackles to win one-on-one battles on the outside.

If Wells, Colledge and Sitton hold up against these inside blitzes, I don’t see how the Packers offense is contained on Sunday. If they struggle, it’s up to Jackson to step up, make the correct read in blitz pickup, and buy Rodgers the extra time he needs to move around and make a play.

It sounds relatively simple, but if the Packers’ interior protection breaks down early, it’s going to be an uphill battle. I don’t want the Steelers collapsing the pocket early and forcing Rodgers to worry about pressure in his face while at the same time crossing his fingers that his rookie right tackle holds up against either Lamar Woodley or James Harrison.

Scott Wells has quietly put together another solid season, and I’m confident that he’ll be able to set the protection at the line of scrimmage before each play. Unfortunately, identifying who to block and then actually making the block are two different things.

1

February

Super Bowl XLV Preview Part One: Green Bay Packers Offense vs Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

It’s here at last. Super Bowl Week.

We are T-minus five days and counting from Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Five days away from a potential fourth Lombardi Trophy coming back to Titletown (I know the first two weren’t technically called the ‘Lombardi Trophy’ but bear with me).

Since the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event of the year, I decided to do a preview on a much grander scale spread over five days. Starting today through the weekend, I will be breaking down the matchup for each team on each side of the ball plus special teams and coaching and ending with keys to the game and a prediction.

Today will be the Packers offense versus the Steelers defense. Tomorrow will be the Steelers offense vs. the Packers defense. Thursday will be the special teams comparison, Friday the coaching and then Saturday the keys to the game and my pick to win Super Bowl XLV.

Here we go with part one.

Green Bay Packers offense

Ever since opening day running back Ryan Grant went down with a knee injury in the first game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers offensive attack has started and ended with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Without the support of a solid running game for the vast majority of the season, Rodgers carried this offense on his right arm and for the most part did so brilliantly. After tight end Jermichael Finley, arguably the Packers’ biggest offensive weapon went down for the season the Packers receiving corps had to step up.

Enter wide receiver Greg Jennings. Even though he was practically ignored early on, Jennings has come up huge since Finley went down. In 2010, Jennings earned his first Pro Bowl spot (even though he couldn’t play due to the Packers being in the Super Bow) and has finally earned discussion in being part of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. With deceptive speed, great hands and an even better ability to get yards after the catch, Jennings has arrived on the NFL’s biggest stage.

This isn’t to say Jennings’ supporting cast is weak either. Ageless wonder Donald Driver continued to defy Father Time and contributed as we all have come to expect him too. Jordy Nelson and James Jones played key roles in certain games as well, though Jones has shown an unfortunate knack for dropping the ball at the worst possible time.