18

March

All Eyes on Jermichael Finley in 2013

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Jermichael Finley carries himself with a swagger; he’s been the “big man on campus” ever since high school.

Before committing to the University of Texas to play tight end, Finley was offered a dual scholarship by the University of Arizona, which would have allowed him to play both basketball and football at the D1 level. But as a freshman at Texas, Finley, then just 205 pounds, redshirted and learned the tight end position behind David Thomas, who is now a backup tight end for the New Orleans Saints.

But when Thomas graduated, an opportunity presented itself for the redshirt freshman Finley. In 2006, Finley caught 31 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns–all three totals set new school records for a freshman tight end.

As a third-year sophomore, Finley improved upon his individual numbers, racking up 45 catches for 575 yards. The Longhorns went 20-6 in Finley’s two years in Austin before the talented tight end decided to declare for the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Green Bay Packers snagged Finley with the No. 91 overall pick, throwing a 21-year-old Finley into a close-knit locker room that was looking to rally around quarterback Aaron Rodgers in his first season as the starter.

But the confident, occasionally outspoken rookie was in for a rude awakening, as he barely touched the field. Incumbent starter Donald Lee was coming off the best season of his career, in which he caught 48 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns; he remained the starter during Finley’s rookie year.

But in Week 9 in Tennessee, Rodgers called Finley’s number. Facing a fourth-and-one in the first quarter against the then-undefeated Titans, Rodgers went to Finley on a back-shoulder throw.

The two were not on the same page, the pass was incomplete, and the Titans took over on downs. Finley was asked about the play after the game.

“I think he should have led me a little more, well a lot more,” Finley said. “Really, he didn’t throw it good at all, to be honest. He knows my game, coaches know my game. I’m more like a run and jump (receiver). I’m really not no back shoulder or whatever he had going on back there. They just have to know what kind of player I am and use me in that aspect of the game.”

10

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Adam Czech usually puts together this post on Sunday, but he had other commitments this week, so I’ll do my best to pick up the slack.

Last Sunday, Adam called into attention the injury woes of the Packers’ recent first-round picks. Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod and Nick Perry missed a combined 33 regular-season games last year. It’s a concern to a certain degree, but at the same time, all three players will be expected to compete for a major role with the team in 2013.

On the flip side, the Packers have struck gold recently in round two. This past week, the team decided not to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Greg Jennings, a second-round pick in 2006. Jennings played seven years with the Packers, made two Pro Bowls and helped the team to Super Bowl XLV.

This year’s draft may lack elite talent in the top-half of the first round, but it’s an extremely deep class in the first few rounds. The NFL went to a three-day format in 2010, featuring round one on Thursday and rounds two and three on Friday.

Let’s take a look at the Day 2 gems Ted Thompson has brought to Green Bay:

  • 2012: Casey Hayward (2nd, No. 62)
  • 2011: Randall Cobb (2nd, No. 64)
  • 2010: Mike Neal (2nd, No. 56) and Morgan Burnett (3rd, No. 71)
  • 2008: Jordy Nelson (2nd, No. 34) and Jermichael Finley (3rd, No. 91)
  • 2007: James Jones (3rd, No. 78)
  • 2006: Greg Jennings (2nd, No. 52)
  • 2005: Nick Collins (2nd, No. 51)

Every year since taking over as Packers GM in 2005, Thompson has found a starter in either the second or third round. Now, guys like Brian Brohm, Aaron Rouse and Abdul Hodge may not have lived up to their expectations, but Thompson’s track record is impressive nonetheless.

With Jennings on his way out, perhaps wide receiver is a position to consider on Day 2 this year. There will be receivers galore available on in rounds two and three.

Packers News, Notes and Links

  • Here’s a piece I wrote on Bleacher Report focusing on the depth of the wide receiver position in this year’s draft. They come in all shapes in sizes, and value will certainly be there on Day 2.
3

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

When is it time to get worried about the Packers recent history in the first round of the NFL draft?

  • Bryan Bulaga (2010): Missed four games in 2011 with a knee injury and seven games in 2012 with a season-ending hip injury.
  • Derek Sherrod (2011): Broke his leg toward the end of a ho-hum rookie season and missed all of 2012.
  • Nick Perry (2012): Broke a bone in his wrist and missed the final 10 regular season games and the playoffs.

Ouch.

Of those three, Bulaga appears to be a good to great player if he can stay on the field. The jury is still out on the other two.

If you’re looking for a silver lining with these three, you could probably say that these are not re-occurring and nagging types of injuries. It’s not like these three are always hobbling around with a strained hamstring, sore back or migraine headaches. If these injuries heal as they should, the chances are good each player’s development could get back on track.

Or maybe the serious nature of these injuries has set each player back so far that they will never reach their potential.

Either way, I’m sick of the tough luck (or maybe the fragility) of the Packers recent first-round picks. Here’s hoping things turn around this April and Ted Thompson finds another Clay Matthews or B.J. Raji who is productive and stays on the field.

Packers News, Notes and Links

  • Bob McGinn had some great stuff in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week. He got Mike McCarthy for a one-on-one and covered issues such as the Packers toughness, the salary cap and the Packers draft outlook. I like how McCarthy took some ownership for the Packers defense in the story on toughness. He needs to do more of that this season.
  • Evan Western at Acme Packing Company goes over Jermichael Finley’s comments about not being willing to take a pay cut. I’m on Finley’s side here. He shouldn’t have to take a pay cut. And he shouldn’t be vilified for taking that position.
  • Jacob Westendorf, the newest scribe at Packerstalk.com, also chimes in on Finley. Packerstalk.com podcasts this week include a breakdown of the corners and safeties, the Out of the Pocket Podcast with Richard, Kelly and Colleen, and a personal favorite of mine, the ‘Ol Bag of Donuts podcast on Charles Woodson, free agents and other stuff.
23

October

Packing the Stats: Rushing to Conclusions

Packing the StatsAfter Sunday afternoon’s 30-20 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the St. Louis Rams, I listened to Jason Wilde’s weekly appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s radio show “Pack Attack.” The conversation immediately dove into a debate between Wilde, Bill Johnson, and Homer about the effectiveness of Alex Green’s rushing attempts. While he made 20 rushing attempts the entire game, Green only netted 35 yards for a 1.8 yards per carry average. His longest run was for 15 yards.

On one side of the debate was Jason Wilde, who maintained that making the attempts to run the ball was more important than their overall yards per carry. He posited that the defense’s linemen would have to account for a run, even if it wasn’t for significant yardage. That means they couldn’t just “pin their ears back” and go after the quarterback each down.

Opposing this idea was Bill and Homer, who both insisted that Green’s yards per carry was unacceptable and would need to get better in the future to ensure offensive success. They claimed that if the running game isn’t making traction, then the defense doesn’t really have to worry about it, period. (Jason Wilde eventually called them “stubborn” in their opinions.)

So which matters more – yards per carry or total rushing attempts? This really piqued my interest from a statistical standpoint, and I decided to head over to Pro-Football-Reference.com to being my research. My sample data was all games (regular season and postseason) within the past ten years (2002-2011) that matched the rushing criteria below.

(You can download the complete Excel file here: rushing_stats.xlsx)

TOTAL RUSHING YARDS PER GAME (2002-2011)
TOTAL YARDS W L T W-L% COUNT GBP W-L% GBP COUNT
60-79 212 513 1 29.20% 726 30.40% 23
80-99 342 527 0 39.36% 869 68.60% 35
100-119 435 427 0 50.46% 862 61.30% 31
120-139 393 291 0 57.46% 684 75.00% 20
140-159 352 189 0 65.06% 541 61.10% 18
AVERAGE YARDS PER ATTEMPT (2002-2011)
YDS/ATT W L T W-L% COUNT GBP W-L% GBP COUNT
1.0-1.9 42 77 1 35.00% 120 33.30% 3
2.0-2.9 322 363 0 47.01% 685 65.20% 23
3.0-3.9 786 768 1 50.55% 1555 64.00% 50
4.0-4.9 746 745 1 50.00% 1492 52.50% 40
19

October

Getting In Rhythm With The Packers Offense

In this week’s edition of “Tuesday’s with Aaron” with Jason Wilde (a must listen if you are a Packers fan), Aaron Rodgers tried to describe what is a “rhythm offense”:

“I don’t know… I think a rhythm offense is an offense that operates best in favorable down and distances and making consistent plays and not having negative yardage plays, whether its a negative run, sack, penalty…and making the plays that keep you on the field”

Rodgers is always insightful during his interviews so his response took me a little by surprise; I’m not entirely sure Aaron Rodgers knows what really is a rhythm offense because no one really knows what a rhythm offense is.  Teams either are in a rhythm or they aren’t; some teams (typically with great quarterbacks) tend to be in rhythm more often than teams that don’t have great quarterbacks, but conversely having a great quarterback doesn’t necessarily mean the offense will be in rhythm.  As far as I can tell, it just happens.

If you’ve watched any Packers games at all this year, it should be pretty apparent that the Packers weren’t in a rhythm in beginning of the season and maybe have “righted the ship” with a 6 touchdown demolition of the Houston Texans last week.  To me this seemed a little odd since the Packers managed to start off hot during the 2011 season, and that was without the benefit of having an offseason due to the CBA lockout; so if anything the 2012 Packers should have been even more ready than the 2011 Packers.

Perhaps even more interesting is that Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, two other great quarterbacks known for their use of up-tempo, no-huddle, “rhythm offenses” had very similar results as Aaron Rodgers in terms of struggling early in the season and playing much better down the stretch (if you can even be “down the stretch” in week 6).  Below is a table looking at the individual passing statistics of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees during the 2012 season.  I’ve split the averages for games 1 to 3 and then games 4 to 6 (the Saints have only played 5 games since they had a bye last week):

 

Aaron Rodgers     COMP ATT % COMP YARDS TD INT QBR Y/A AY/A
1 SFO L 22-30 30.00 44.00 68.20% 303.00 2.00 1.00 93.30 6.89 6.77
5

September

Greg Jennings And His Contract: The Sky is Not Falling

Greg Jennings

Could Greg Jennings be putting a different team on his back in 2013? Not likely.

The 2012 NFL season literally just got underway and already some Green Bay Packer fans are thinking about the 2013 offseason.

Thanks to some recent comments by free agent-to-be Greg Jennings and his MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers,  it’s becoming clear that Jennings could be playing the 2013 season in a uniform other than the Green and Gold.

First, here is what Jennings had to say on the matter on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the morning:

“I definitely want to be here, but understanding the nature of the business, you never know. There is really nothing else I can really say or do. The ball is not in my court at all. I have to play the cards that I’m dealt. Right now it’s football. That’s my focus.”

This really isn’t a cause for panic nor is it really any different than what he has said in the past.  Jennings has maintained all along he wants to remain a Green Bay Packer.  This mindset is the best for the Packers if this indeed truly Jennings’ mindset right now.

What Rodgers had to say, however, probably raised more than a few eyebrows.  Here’s what he told ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde on his weekly radio show on ESPN 540:

“I think you have to be realistic about it and think that it might be. I have loved my time with Greg. Greg and I are going to be buddies whether he’s here or not.”

The fact that Rodgers used “loved” vs. “love” is likely what has caught everyone’s attention.  Knowing that the Packers will very soon be faced with resigning Jennings, Rodgers, Clay Matthews and BJ Raji, as well as a possible pay raise for Jordy Nelson there seems to be a thought that thanks to these recent remarks there’s a good chance #85 will be elsewhere next year.

Folks, relax. While I am not inside the heads of Ted Thompson and Russ Ball, I would be willing to bet that Jennings isn’t going anywhere outside the state of Wisconsin.

Jennings’ recent comments are part of the all too familiar part of contract negotiations called “posturing.” Jennings (or more accurately, his agent) is publicly conveying the message that while he wants to remain in Green Bay, he is prepared to move on.  This is designed to force the team to sweeten its deal under the threat of one of its star players moving on.

5

March

Monday Morning View: Bounties Have No Place in the NFL

If you’ve been away this weekend or cooped up in a hole to avoid the weather, you might have missed the big story that hit all the media outlets on Friday afternoon. I first found out through our friends at CheeseheadTV that the New Orleans Saints have been found guilty of offering bounties (or payouts) to defensive players as a performance incentive. It wasn’t only for interceptions or fumble recoveries, though. No, they were getting rewarded for injuring other players.

I, for one, found this appalling.

Now, I’m no fool. I am well aware that the rules of the league are often broken to gain a competitive advantage. And some people in the CheeseheadTV comments section feigned a sarcastic state of shock in light of this news.

But what really got to me were the comments and tweets around the internet that this is commonplace and not that big of a deal. The only reason it’s a huge story is because the Saints actually got caught. Some people likened it to the use of performances enhancing drugs (PEDs), in that it happens all the time, yet only a few are ever found out.

There was even an article penned by Matt Bowen for the Chicago Tribune, titled “Bounties part of game across the NFL.” In the article, Bowen shares his experience as a player who was coached by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the Washington Redskins. Daily player fines for breaking the rules or miscues during practice would be gathered and “stashed away at the team facility.”

Then, after the coaches reviewed the game film, the money would be handed back out for things like “big hits, clean hits by the rule book.” Extra cash was earned for interceptions, sacks, and forced fumbles, and during the playoffs, the bounty rewards would increase.

“I ate it up,” admits Matt Bowen.

And really, who wouldn’t? Cash incentives for performance can be a big motivator. It is a classic case of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning. (Sorry, it’s the teacher in me.) Behaviors are supported through positive and negative reinforcers, as well as positive and negative punishment. In this case, breaking the rules and mental errors during practice are met with negative punishments (fines), while exceptional performances are met with positive reinforcers (bounties).