28

December

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 16 vs. Tennessee Titans

My, where should we go for Hobbjective analysis this week?  I mean the entire game was essentially a highlight reel for the Packers, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how accurate much of the second half is in terms of execution because it’s pretty obvious that the Titans have stopped trying at some point and just want to go home.

One play that I think hasn’t gotten as much attention as perhaps is warranted is Ryan Grant’s first TD in the 4th quarter.  The reason why I say this is because it’s one occasion where the Titans should be 90% sure that it’s going to be a run but they still manage to get blocked out of the play.

The Situation: The blowout is almost over at 41 to 0 and the Packers just need to burn 12 minutes as the Titans stopped trying back in the 2nd quarter.  To make matters worse, WR Jeremy Ross (he of the “punt, pass and puke” play from last week) rips off a 58 yard return subbing in for an injured Randall Cobb.  The Packers start the play off at the 7 yard line.

The Formation: The Packers are in a “jumbo” 1-2-2 formation (1WR-2TE-2RB) where OG Greg Van Roten (64) is eligible and has lined up as a tight end inline with the right tackle.  Offset to the right of OB Van Roten is TE DJ Williams (84), one of their better run blocking tight ends.  RB Ryan Grant (25) is lined up 7 yards behind QB Graham Harrell (6) with FB John Kuhn (30) lined up directly behind the right tackle.  WR James Jones (89) is the lone receiver split out wide left and isn’t in the screen cap, and for all intents and purposes for this play is irrelevant.  On the offensive line, a further permutation has emerged with LT Marshall Newhouse (74), LG TJ Lang (70), Evan Dietrich-Smith (62), RG Josh Sitton (71) and RT Don Barclay (67) going from left to right.

2

July

Packers Starters Most Likely to Lose Their Spots

Most of the offseason chatter about Packers starters getting benched has centered on A.J. Hawk being replaced by D.J. Smith. That very well might happen, but what about other starters that could find themselves on the bench once the season starts?

Erik Walden
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Walden totaled just three sacks, 14 QB hits and 22 QB hurries in 15 starts. From week 12 through the playoff loss, Walden had zero sacks, four hits and six hurries (he also got arrested). His (-20.5) overall rating by PFF was the worst among 3-4 OLBs by almost 10 points.

Packers fans don’t need fancy stats and analytics to know that Walden was bad. If he was simply average, and provided at least a little pressure on the QB down the stretch, who knows how last season might have ended? Rookie Nick Perry likely will take over here.

Jarius Wynn/C.J. Wilson
These two combined to start six games, so it’s a stretch to call them starters. Howard Green also started five times, so we’ll consider Wynn/Wilson/Green a sort of three-headed monster that started most games somewhere on the defensive line. With Green gone, there’s only two heads of the monster left, and I’m not sure that either head will start this season.

Wilson seems like a good athlete, which gives me some hope that he could eventually turn into a serviceable player. A permanent starter? The jury is out.

The Packers need more defensive lineman that cause chaos. It’s a common misconception that the only role of a 3-4 defensive lineman is to “occupy blockers.” That’s true to a point, but the lineman needs to do something that actually occupies the blocker. Simply being a large body with a pulse that walks upright isn’t enough.

Jerel Worthy caused chaos at Michigan St. He occupied blockers, and he also beat the hell out of the blockers he occupied. If he can do that in the NFL, he’ll be starting over Wilson and Wynn in no time.

Marshall Newhouse
Thanks to Chad Clifton’s injury, Newhouse started 13 games at left tackle. He’s got the inside track to begin as the starter this season unless Derek Sherrod recovers from his leg injury and plays out of his mind in training camp. I don’t see Newhouse losing his spot.

25

May

Green Bay Packers Taking Shotgun Approach to Improving the Defensive Line

Phillip Merling

Veteran free agent DE Phillip Merling became the twelfth defensive lineman on the Packers' offseason roster.

Call it the “shotgun approach.” Ted Thompson added his twelfth defensive lineman to the roster on Wednesday with his signing of DE Phillip Merling, who spent the last four years with the Miami Dolphins. Of the four (non-Packer) veteran free agent signings by Thompson this offseason, three have been defensive lineman: Daniel Muir, Tony Hargrove, and now Merling.

There’s obviously been some emphasis by the Packers on bolstering the talent and depth across the unit. The drafting of Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels take the total number of new linemen up to five, meaning almost half of the group will be new faces in training camp.

Is this a case of desperation in response to the horrible performances of last season? No, that’s taking it a bit far. Ted Thompson is not spending beaucoup money on these free agent players, which one would tend to do when desperate.

But he is stockpiling the talent pool in a variety of ways, and hoping a good number of them stick.

The three free agent signings are not superstars. Tony Hargrove is the most well known of the group, but he’s probably not going to be a game-changer. His career has been up and down, playing with four different teams over eight years and racking up just 19.5 sacks and 16 run stuffs in the process. Hargrove hasn’t started a game in two seasons, and he only has 25 starts to his name across his entire career. Those numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone – they’re certainly not the whole story – but they’re not indicators of a guy who’s going to “tilt the field.”

Then there’s Daniel Muir, whose career contrasts with Hargrove’s. Both are 28 years old, but Muir has 3 years less experience in the league and a slightly less impressive resume. Unlike the travelling Hargrove, he spent most of his years with the Indianapolis Colts after his rookie stint with the Packers. Muir’s numbers aren’t as flashy (just a half a sack in his career), but he is also an inside tackle player rather than a defensive end, so his role is considerably different.

7

May

Green Bay Packers 2012 NFL Draft: The Reasons Behind the Picks Part I

NFL Draft Logo Image

2012 NFL Draft

So now that the NFL draft is officially over, tons of fans will converge on Packers web sites to air their grievances about not drafting a particular player or reaching for another.  They will hand out grades to teams and players alike; argue with other fans about what should have happened, and how the analysts have no idea what they are talking about.

I frankly am uninterested in such things; you’re typically not going to find out how good a draft class or a player is for 3-5 years and a player’s success has a lot to do with the team and the environment they get drafted in.

Nevertheless, every team drafts a player with a role in mind, and in this article I hope to analyze what role I think each player was drafted for; I am not concerning myself with what I think will likely happen, I have not placed a grade or an analysis of each player’s potential for a reason.  I’ve also included who I think the rookies will be replacing, keep in mind I don’t necessarily think that a rookie will take a veteran’s spot (for instance I have Casey Hayward replacing Charles Woodson) only what type of role that rookie is like to take.

Nick Perry – Projected Outside Linebacker – Round 1, Pick 28 (#28 overall) – Replaces Erik Walden

Rationale: With no pass rushers taken until #15 (Bruce Irvin to Seattle), Ted Thompson probably just sat on his hands and waited for players to drop to him.  From a schematic standpoint I think Perry offers a good foil for fellow Trojan Clay Matthews III; Perry showed impressive strength (which is supposed to translate to explosion) at the combine with 38.5 inch vertical (tied for 2nd among defensive linemen and linebackers) and 35 bench reps (tied for 6th among defensive linemen and linebackers, though really he’s tied for 1st when you exclude defensive tackles) and while that didn’t translate to much of a power game on the field (though it could be argued when you are as fast around the edge as Perry is you’d probably neglect the power game as well), rookies typically get much “functionally” stronger with NFL weight rooms and trainers so Perry could be very good at setting the edge in the future.

4

May

Brass Balls and the Packers Defense

Frank Zombo

Frank Zombo is one Packers defender that could be on the chopping block.

If using almost all of his draft picks on defensive players wasn’t enough of a warning, Ted Thompson could re-enact Alec Baldwin’s brass balls speech from Glengarry Glen Ross on the first day of training camp if he feels the Packers defense hasn’t gotten the message.

Replace Cadillac with a spot on the roster. Replace steak knives with a spot on the end of the bench. Replace getting fired with getting cut.

Message received.

Of course, this message doesn’t need to be delivered to everyone on defense. Clay Matthews is probably the Alec Baldwin of the Packers D. He can point to his $975,000 watch and automatically command respect. Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson can point to their own watches, which aren’t quite as big as Matthews’, but are impressive nonetheless.

Because of their ineptitude last season and infusion of new blood for the upcoming season, the following defenders who received regular playing time in 2011 could be on the chopping block. They’ll have to prove during training camp that they have the “brass balls” to play in the NFL.

Jarius Wynn
After a strong start, Wynn disappeared and became just another guy (who couldn’t get to the quarterback) on the defensive line.

C.J. Wilson
Did Wilson make any memorable plays last season? He’s another guy you can add to the just-another-guy list.

Charlie Peprah
When Peprah was paired with pro-bowler Nick Collins, he did what needed to be done at safety. Without Collins, Peprah couldn’t keep up in coverage and looked a step behind on most plays.

Frank Zombo
It seems like the Packers want to give Zombo a chance, but he can’t stay healthy. Of course, when he’s been healthy, he hasn’t exactly set the world afire.

Erik Walden
Walden was adequate last season before dropping off after being arrested. The Packers resigned him this offseason, which makes me think he’s got the inside edge in making the squad. Of course, I’m sure it’s a minimal deal and the Packers wouldn’t be hurt much if they cut him, but why go through the through the trouble of resigning a replacement-level player with legal issues if you don’t think he has a shot at getting better?

27

February

2012 Packers Position Group Analysis: Defensive Line

Packers Defensive Line

Packers Defensive Line

Packers Defensive Line: This is the first in a series of examinations I’m going to do on each Packers position group as it currently exists. Kind of a State of the Union address – where we are, where we want to go and what we need to do to get there.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects;

BJ Raji (1st round)
Ryan Pickett (1st round)
Mike Neal (2nd round)
C.J. Wilson (7th round)
Jarius Wynn (6th round)
Howard Green (6th round)
Lawrence Guy (7th round, injured reserve)
Johnny Jones (undrafted, 77th ranked DT by nfldraftscout.com, cut by Miami in preseason)

Notice a pattern here? This is classic Ted Thompson building depth with late round picks, but thanks to Neal missing so much time, the emergency fill-ins ended up playing a lot more that you would want. For the year, both Jarius Wynn and CJ Wilson were both within a hundred snaps of Ryan Pickett. Frankly, that’s way too much. Pickett’s value against the run can not be argued against – one just has to look at the two games Pickett missed – the Packers gave up 344 rushing yards in those two games.

But at age 31, Pickett is just not a full-time player anymore. He’s certainly no BJ Raji, who played 80% of the defensive snaps last season. While Raji and his coaches say it’s not a problem, that he didn’t wear down, one has to wonder. Raji’s production was down in every category this year, and some observers outside of the Packers organization have hinted that he wasn’t playing hard every play.

Certainly fatigue will do that to you. Looking at the game-by-game rankings over at ProFootballFocus.com are certainly telling. Raji’s only “Plus” performances were early in the season while the last six games were all on the minus side, especially against the run. In my mind, there is no doubt Raji wore down and did not show much of the explosion he’s capable of. Instead, he was playing way too upright (another sign of fatigue), which makes the offensive lineman’s job that much easier.

17

February

Could Packers Trade Up in 2012 NFL Draft to Pick a Pass Rusher?

Ted Thompson Packers

Packers GM Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to take Clay Matthews in 2009.

The day was April 25, the Saturday of the 2009 NFL draft, and Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a franchise-altering decision staring him in the face.

As he sat in the Packers’ war room, having already acquired nose tackle B.J. Raji from Boston College with the ninth overall pick, there was a name he couldn’t shake and a need he knew he needed to fill.

The name was Clay Matthews, and the need was 3-4 outside linebacker.

Matthews, a wavy-haired overachiever with Hall of Fame bloodlines, remained available as the first round came to a close. A walk-on at USC who didn’t play full-time until his senior year, Matthews was an ideal pass rushing outside linebacker for his new defense. And Thompson knew that if there were two positions most important to making the Packers’ new 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers work, it was nose tackle and outside linebacker. Raji was the answer inside, Matthews could be the same on the edge.

In his hand was a weapon he rarely held, and uncharacteristically, Thompson pulled the trigger.

A man notorious for trading back in the draft to stockpile picks, Thompson sent a second and two third-round picks to the New England Patriots for the No. 26 pick in the first round and a later fifth rounder.

Shortly after, Roger Goodell announced Matthews as the Packers’ pick, and the rest, as they say, was history. Matthews turned into a superstar, registering back-to-back 10-sack seasons while helping lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers just less than 22 months later. Along with sticking with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Thompson’s decision to move up and get Matthews remains a defining moment in his building of a championship puzzle.

Fastforward to this April, and you could argue Thompson is in a similar state of need that he found himself in 2009.

Just a year after reaching the NFL’s peak, Thompson’s defense shattered in 2011. Better yet, it collapsed after under the weight of Thompson’s failure to find a starting-quality outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and his decision not to re-sign highly productive but aging defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles but was entirely open to returning to the Packers. Green Bay won 15 games during the regular season despite giving up more passing yards than any other team in NFL history, then threw away their opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions with an undisciplined effort on both sides of the football.