16

January

Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Injuries, Ted Thompson, Dom Capers, Nick Collins and more injuries. The reasons identified for the Green Bay Packers’ struggles at safety are plentiful, but the current state of the position leaves little room for debate.

The Packers are in less-than-ideal shape at safety. And it’s debatably the team’s most glaring need this offseason.

After missing the first three games of the season, Morgan Burnett was, as usual, an every-down player for the Packers, leading the safeties with 874 snaps played. M.D. Jennings, prior to seeing a reduction in playing time late in the season, finished second among the team’s safeties, as he was on the field for 809 snaps. But with Jennings’ future in doubt as he hits unrestricted free agency, the 2014 depth chart is foggy.

It may be unlikely but still possible that the Packers’ opening-day starter opposite Morgan Burnett is already on the roster, however he’s probably not currently listed as a safety.

Casey Hayward, who missed all of the 2013-14 season except for 88 plays, is set to return in 2014, which brings Micah Hyde’s situation into light. Hayward graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 cornerback as a rookie in 2012 and is at his best operating from the slot–the same spot Hyde saw most of his action this past season.

When he’s healthy, Hayward will be on the field. Given the Packers’ state at safety, Hyde’s best chance to see significant playing time may be at safety. Remember you’re living in a world in which Mike Neal plays outside linebacker.

Despite dropping what would have been a career-defining interception against the 49ers in crunch time a couple weeks ago, Hyde had a terrific rookie season, one in which he proved capable of playing all over the formation. If the Packers give him a full offseason of preparation, perhaps Hyde could be “the guy” alongside Burnett.

Of course, Hyde’s transition to safety hinges on the uncertain futures of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. And both could be playing elsewhere next season.

Ideally, the Packers want two players who can play both free and strong safety. By committing to Morgan Burnett with a long-term contract, the Packers feel they have one such player already. But other than Burnett, the Packers have just Chris Banjo–and his 192 snaps played in 2013–and Sean Richardson (156) set to return next season at safety, and neither player has proven to be anything more than a solid run defender.

13

November

Packers Stock Report: Another Defensive Meltdown Edition

Packers safety MD Jennings isn’t doing much to help Dom Capers’ defense snap out of its two-week funk.

I’m fine with Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson not firing Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers after yet another defensive meltdown against the Eagles.

Would canning Capers and replacing him with a defensive position coach really make the defense tackle better or the safeties cover more ground and pick off a pass here or there? I don’t know. Maybe.

What I don’t get is the people who argue that firing Capers would be a “knee-jerk” reaction. The Packers defense has been average at best for the better part of three seasons now. In the last two weeks, when Capers and the defense had an opportunity to truly step up and cover for a banged-up offense, they failed. Miserably.

We’ve seen a steady pattern of issues from the Packers defense over the last three seasons:

  • Poor tackling
  • Confusion in the secondary
  • Minimal pass rush from the defensive line
  • Relying heavily on turnovers
  • Playoff meltdowns

That’s plenty of reason for dismissal.

I suppose you could say firing any coach midseason is a knee-jerk reaction in an of itself. But I don’t necessarily agree with that.

When it comes to Capers, the failures are consistent and prevalent enough that his dismissal would not be considered “knee jerk.” Again, I’m not saying it would be the right decision, but it would not be knee jerk.

Anyway, hopefully Capers figures it out and we can add him to the rising category once again.

On to the stock report:

Rising

T.J. Lang
All season, Lang has been clearing a patch for Eddie Lacy on the inside. When injuries struck the offensive line Sunday and claimed C Evan Dietrich-Smith, Lang stepped up and played center for the first time in his career. He never screwed up a snap and did an adequate job blocking. Bravo, Mr. Lang.

Jarrett Boykin
Lost amidst all the injury chaos is the emergence of Boykin. After looking totally lost against Baltimore trying to fill in for the injured Randall Cobb and James Jones, Boykin has come to life and turned into a confident and reliable receiver for the Packers rotating stable of quarterbacks.

12

September

Packers Stock Report: Wide Receivers can also be Tough Guys Edition

Randall Cobb showed toughness by fighting for this touchdown.

When you think of tough football players — whether they play for the Packers or not — you probably think of Mike Singletary and his stare, Ray Nitschske and his scowl or Ronnie Lott lopping off part of his finger so he could keep playing.

You probably don’t think of too many wide receivers, especially modern-day receivers with their diva-like tendencies. There’s a couple of Packers wide receivers that are the exception to that rule, though, and should be on any list of tough guys in today’s NFL.

Read this week’s stock report to learn more:

Rising

Jordy Nelson
Randall Cobb
When we talk about the Packers being a tougher, more physical team, I think most of us probably mean that the defense needs to hit harder and the offensive line needs to start pushing people around to get the run game going. We probably don’t put wide receivers into the toughness equation, but we should. Both Nelson and Cobb are coming off injuries and absorbed some wicked hits on Sunday. The kept getting up for more. They completely sold out on every single play and did whatever they could possibly do to punch back at the 49ers defense — the big bully on the block. Cobb and Nelson might not play a position defined by toughness, but they both proved on Sunday that they’re two of the toughest players on the Packers roster.

Ryan Pickett
According to Pro Football Focus, Pickett has three stops on Sunday — solo tackles that resulted in an offensive failure. Frank Gore didn’t have the space he’s used to against the Packers and Big Grease is one of the reasons why. The soon-to-be 34 year old looked as good as he ever has, absorbing double teams, winning the battle when single-blocked, and causing chaos inside.

Steady

Tim Masthay
Ging matched all-world punter Andy Lee punt for punt and even took over kickoff duties. More importantly, Masthay is fearless! He made one tackle on a kick return and nearly had another. I wonder if he can play safety?

Mike Neal
I thought the Neal-as-outside linebacker experiment would be a massive failure, but so far, so good. He’s an anchor on the edge against the run and even got after Colin Kaepernick a few times in the pass rush. He’s nowhere near an adequate complement to Matthews yet, but if he keeps making progress, who knows…

21

January

Packers Draft Needs: Time to Start the Conversation

What would Ted do? - Ted Thompson

Packers GM Ted Thompson has plenty of directions he could go in the 2013 NFL draft.

The Packers lost to the 49ers in the NFL playoffs. Badly. Embarrasingly. Frustratingly. Think of some other negative adverbs and they would probably also apply.

But in the fast-paced world of the NFL, that loss is already ancient history. We’ve dissected it to death on this site and other media outlets and blogs have done the same. It’s time to move on.

In the coming weeks, the ALLGBP.com staff will have complete reviews and grades of everyone on the Packers roster for the 2012-13 season. We will also begin breaking down prospects in the the April NFL draft that may fit the Packers needs.

This post is meant to start the discussion on what the Packers needs in the draft may be.

If everything was equal, what position group should the Packers focus on when they pick 26th in the upcoming draft? If there was at least one player from each position group on the board when Ted Thompson’s turn came up, and they were all equally talented, which position group should Thompson bolster?

I realize this is a very general and broad question, but remember, we’re just starting the conversation. There will plenty of specific prospect breakdowns and more focused discussion in the coming months. For now, let’s focus on the big picture and moving on from the 49ers loss.

Here’s how I see things.

  1. Inside linebacker: Yes, Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith should be back, but will there be lingering effects from the major injuries that ended their 2012 seasons early? The NFL seems to be cyclical. Just when we think a position group isn’t as valuable as it used to be, it makes a little bit of a comeback. With the rise of spread offenses and passing attacks, inside linebackers don’t seem as important as they once were. But then you don’t have one and you realize how valuable they can be. It’d be nice to have a linebacker on the inside that can ocassaionaly cover a tight, move well enough to deal with quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kapernick, and be a solid tackler. Another good inside linebacker would allow Thompson to cut A.J. Hawk and use Brad Jones as a versatile backup and situational player, perhaps at all four linebacker spots.
24

November

Packers Young Secondary Can Erase Bad Memories of Playoff Hail Mary

Casey Hayward

Packers rookie CB is leading a younger and more aggressive secondary.

I know your belly is still full of Thanksgiving turkey and you’re probably all excited that you managed to outlast the middled-aged lady next to you for that discounted Xbox at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

If you can overcome your full stomach and pause your Xbox euphoria, take a minute and watch the video of the Packers allowing a Hail Mary touchdown to the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks before halftime in last season’s playoff loss.

Makes your full tummy feel more like the stomach flu, right?

Now, take another look at the play. Notice the four players around the ball when Nicks comes down with it? Not one of them will be on the field for this Sunday night’s rematch.

Charlie Peprah is off the team. Charles Woodson is injured. Sam Shields is injured. And Jarrett Bush mainly plays special teams (I suppose it’s conceiveable that Bush could end up out there, but hopefully not).

If Eli Manning launches another Hail Mary on Sunday, the players around the ball will likely be a combination of Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings.

That group is a lot more aggressive than the group that stood there with their thumbs up their butts while Nix caught the ball in the playoffs.

Hell, Jennings has already intercepted a Hail Mary pass this season, even though it counted as a touchdown for the other team.

Sunday night is a big test for the new faces in this secondary. They’ve held their own agaisnt the likes of Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, John Skelton and Matthew Stafford. But Manning, Nicks and Victor Cruz are on a completely different level that what this secondary has seen over the last six weeks.

If Hayward continues getting his hands on passes, House keeps using his size to his advantage, Burnett, McMillian and Jennings keep developing their nose for the ball and Tramon just does what Tramon does, I think this group will hold its own.

If all of that happens (and it’s a big if), and the Packers claw out another road win in November, the sky is the limit for this team.

At the very least, it’d be another step in erasing the image of Peprah, Woodson, Shields and Bush looking helpless on the playoff Hail Mary.

19

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 24, Lions 20

Aaron Rodgers

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers looks down the field against the Lions on Sunday

It was ugly but when it comes to winning division games, the Green Bay Packers will take any kind of victory.

In their 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers made enough plays on defense plus one spectacular Randall Cobb catch late in the fourth quarter to come out on top to go to 7-3 on the season and 2-0 in the NFC North.

The Packers had their issues on offense but the defense was spectacular.   Matthew Stafford was sacked five times and intercepted twice, including one that was returned for a touchdown.  Even without linebacker Clay Matthews, the defense was aggressive and the young players in the secondary came up big when a play needed to be made.

The offense, on the other hand, was another story.   With Bryan Bulaga now out for the year, TJ Lang was moved to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith got the start at left guard.   Their inexperience at their respective positions was evident thanks to multiple holding penalties and quarterback Rodgers often running for his life.

Let’s take a look at the good and the not-so-good from Sunday’s game. There were many standouts, but here are three that played well and three that left room for improvement.

Game Balls

TE Jermichael Finley

We have all been pretty tough on the Packers starting tight end, but to finally be able to put him in the Game Ball part of this column is an absolute thrill.

Finley came up big against the Lions during a game in which the Packers struggled to get in any kind of tempo on offense.  Finley finished the game with three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.  His 20 yard catch and run gave the Packers their first lead of the game and he had a clutch 40 yard catch late in the fourth quarter that helped set up the go ahead touchdown catch by Randall Cobb.

Finley’s issues with his hands and his mouth are well documented.  He was feeling the heat from many fans especially with the big play emergence of Tom Crabtree in the passing game.  Hopefully this game can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things for Finley which would add just one more explosive element to an offense that is not short on weapons.

1

November

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 7 vs Jacksonville Jaguars

So I’m going to do something a little bit unusual from the usual Packers Playbook series; first off I’m going to breakdown a special teams play, namely Davon House’s blocked punt which turned into a special teams touchdown, but ru because I want to hear your rationale for running this play because frankly I don’t really understand it.

The Situation: The score is 7 to 3 in Green Bay’s favor and the Packers defense has just forced a 4th down.  The Jaguars have stayed in the game longer than most people had predicted but it’s probably more because the Packers seem to be off rather than any offensive firepower displayed by the Jaguars.

The Formation: To be honest I wasn’t able to find any of the position names for any of the positions, so I will be using my best approximations.  Naturally first off is KR Randall Cobb (18), who for obvious reasons is not in the picture and since this is a blocked punt play, is irrelevant to the play.  In the gunner/jammer positions are CB Davon House (31) aligning to the top of the screen and CB Jarrett Bush (24) and CB Casey Hayward (29) aligned to the bottom of the screen.  In terms of linemen (are they called linemen?), at RDE is ILB Jamari Lattimore (57) and at LDE is OLB Dezman Moses.  In the “middle” at DT is ILB Robert Francois (49) and TE Ryan Taylor (82).  In the “backfield” are SS Sean Richardson (28) and FS MD Jennings (43).

For astute readers out there will have noticed that this only adds up to 10 players, which is probably another reason why the Jaguars aren’t probably winning many games.

Pre-snap: SS Richardson approaches the line and looks to blitz while CB Hayward motions from the jammer position to the outside shoulder of LDE Moses.  After that CB House motions to the outside shoulder of RDE Lattimore.  Essentially at this point there are 8 players in the box, which is even with the 8 players the Jaguars have to block.

The Snap: CB Hayward bails out of the blitz to cover WR Kevin Elliot (87) who is the gunner that CB House was originally covering.

“OT” SS Chris Harris (43) blocks DT Francois leaving one of the upbacks, #35 to deal with RDE Moses.