14

January

2011 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round – Game Predictions from AllGreenBayPackers.com

GAME PREDICTIONS
2011 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round
Name Straight Up
Against the Spread
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (+3.5)
Kris Burke Saints Saints
“Jersey” Al Bracco Saints Saints
Adam Czech Saints 49ers
Thomas Hobbes Saints Saints
Zach Kruse Saints Saints
Chad Toporski 49ers 49ers
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (-13.5)
Kris Burke Patriots Broncos
“Jersey” Al Bracco Patriots Patriots
Adam Czech Patriots Broncos
Thomas Hobbes Patriots Patriots
Zach Kruse Patriots Broncos
Chad Toporski Patriots Patriots
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
Kris Burke Ravens Ravens
“Jersey” Al Bracco Ravens Texans
Adam Czech Ravens Texans
Thomas Hobbes Texans Texans
Zach Kruse Ravens Texans
Chad Toporski Ravens Texans
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-8.5)
Kris Burke Packers Giants
“Jersey” Al Bracco Packers Packers
Adam Czech Packers Giants
Thomas Hobbes Packers Giants
Zach Kruse Giants Giants
Chad Toporski Packers Giants

Current Standings:

“Jersey” Al Bracco, 6-2
Thomas Hobbes, 5-3
Zach Kruse, 5-3
Chad Toporski, 5-3
Kris Burke, 2-6

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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26

October

Undefeated But Not Overconfident: What The 2011 Packers Can Learn From The 2007 Patriots

It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

The Green Bay Packers, the defending world champions, are 7-0 and the only remaining undefeated team in the National Football League.   Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing lights out (and that may be an understatement) and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.   The Packers’ nearest competition in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions, have lost two straight games which has given the Packers a two game lead in the division. Brett Favre remains a source of scorn and ridicule.

Could life be any better for Packer Nation? Not likely.

There is one major roadblock each week going forward that both the team and its fans will have to face.

Overconfidence or even arrogance.

For their part, Mike McCarthy and his players all seem to be saying the right things.  They know they nearly blew in Minnesota against a rookie quarterback.  The defense is all too aware they are giving up far too many yards.

McCarthy himself said it best in his press conference yesterday: “It’s exciting because we know our best football is ahead of us.”  He even described his team’s play right now as “above-average” despite the Packers not blowing out their opponent for the first time in weeks.  The team knows it can play better and that slow starts could come back to haunt them.

As for the fans, they seem to be doing their part as well.

I honestly expected that heading into the bye at 7-0 and having only a few potentially challenging games remaining that there would be a lot of chest bumping and talk of a 16-0 season.  That’s not to fault fans for doing such a thing. Runs like this only occur so often so they have every right to be excited and fired up.

Thankfully, we seem to have taken a page from the Book of McCarthy.  Fans are taking the season one week at a time and the talk of a perfect season has been limited to whispers if not less. We know our team has its flaws and that the old adage is true:  “Anything can happen on any given Sunday.”

Perhaps we’ve all learned from history.  Rewind to January 2008 and the NFC Championship between the Packers and Giants.  After the Giants beat the Cowboys in Dallas in the divisional round, we thought we had a trip to Super Bowl XLII in the bag.

17

September

AllGreenBayPackers.com Poll: Was Week 1 the Death of NFL Defenses?

Clay Matthews is one of the players that can bring some defense back to the NFL.

The first week of the NFL season is usually ruled by defense. Not this year.

Quarterbacks and passing dominated opening weekend in 2011 and it’s going to be interesting to see if the trend continues throughout the season. Some stats:

  • Offenses racked up 7,842 passing yards in Week 1, the most in NFL history.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were five games where both teams QB’s threw for over 300 yards, also a record.
  • The Patriots-Dolphins game on Monday night was the first to have one QB throw for over 500 yards (Tom Brady) and the other throw for over 400 (Chad Henne).
  • All of these records were set despite the fact that Minnesota’s Donovan McNabb had just 39 yards through the air.

Thanks to rule changes that favor quarterbacks and wide receivers, tight ends that are getting bigger, stronger and faster, and offensive game plans designed to exploit mismatches, defenses have been on the ropes for a while now.

 

Did defense finally die in week one?

It was only one week so it’s far too early to make any judgement, but it worries me a little. I don’t want the NFL to turn into the Arena Football League where teams move the ball up and down the field at will.

I love defense. I’ll take a 20-17 game over a 45-38 game every time. When a quarterback throws for over 300 yards, I want it to mean something. I don’t want teams with mediocre quarterbacks throwing the ball 45 times per game because the rules make it more beneficial to do so.

Unfortunately, I think I’m in the minority. Along with those record passing numbers this weekend came a record number of television viewers. People want offense, and the NFL is giving it to them.

But do they really want this much offense? The Patriots-Dolphins game was almost unwatchable to me. Standout defensive plays in the Packers-Saints and Cowboys-Jets games seemed to come after strange play calls or stupid blunders from the quarterback, not necessarily from dominant defensive play. And did anyone see Vikings defenders try and fail to tackle Mike Tolbert all game? It was embarrassing.

6

January

Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Film Study of the Infamous Three-Man Rush

Packers Beer MugIf there’s one criticism Green Bay Packers fans have about Dom Capers, it is his seemingly consistent use – and failure – of the three-man rush in third-and-long situations. Since last year, the defense has been burned numerous times with this “prevent” approach, and perhaps the most maddening use of the three-man rush was on a December afternoon in Pittsburgh last season.

With only three seconds and a prayer left in the fourth quarter to make the go-ahead touchdown, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a full 19 yards for the score. On the snap, the Packers sent only three down linemen against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, leaving the remaining eight defensive players in coverage. The offensive line held the rush, “Big Ben” was allowed plenty of time to throw from the pocket, and he connected with Mike Wallace in the endzone on an amazing sideline pass-and-catch.

After making the extra point, the Steelers ended up winning 37-36.

(It would be prudent to note that Green Bay also allowed a 4th-and-7 conversion on that final drive using the three-man rush. The result? A 32-yard reception by Santonio Holmes.)

The aftermath of that game left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Packers fans, and they can’t help but hold their collective breaths every time Dom Capers is faced with a third-and-long situation.

More recently, against the New England Patriots in Week 15, this concern once again reared its ugly head.

Setting the scene is the Patriots’ first offensive drive. After a 25-yard catch-and-run by Ron Gronkowski to set up the first down in Packers’ territory, B.J. Raji sacks Tom Brady for a big loss. Woodson breaks up another pass intended for Gronkowski on second down, which then brings up a third-and-17 on the 50-yard line.

Then comes the infamous three-man rush:

On what should have been a stalled drive, the rush fails to get to Tom Brady, and he has time to find a wide-open Deion Branch right at the first-down marker. On the very next down, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis takes the ball 33 yards for their first touchdown of the game.

What would have happened if the Green Bay Packers had stopped Tom Brady on that third down, maybe by bringing more pressure?

We’ll never know.

Now, to be fair, let’s fast-forward one week to the game against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

26

December

Packers Film Study: Fearing for Aaron Rodgers’ Well Being vs. the NY Giants

While doing some film study of the Packers – Patriots game, one thing became painfully clear. The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line has a devil of a time picking up blitzes. Even simple, straight on, undisguised blitzes seem to confuse them and result in missed assignments.

This does not bode well for Aaron Rodgers. Coming off of his second concussion of this year, you would like for him to go through this game as hit-free as possible . But here come the New York Giants, a team that likes to punish quarterbacks. Even if they don’t get the sack, they will hit you and hit you hard. The last thing the Packers can afford is for Aaron Rodgers to be subjected to such abuse.

Going back to the Patriots game, the most obvious example of poor pass protection was the last-minute missed assignment by Bryan Bulaga that resulted in a heartbreaking sack of Matt Flynn, just as was attempting to lead the Packers on a game-winning drive.

What you may not realize, is that the Patriots used the same basic blitz six times in that game. It was correctly picked up only once.  And I’m not even going to discuss other blitzes by the Patriots that gave the Packers fits. Let’s just take a look at these six examples of a very basic blitz that I am referring to.:

Patriots Blitz vs. Clifton – Colledge; Exhibit A:

On this play, you’ll see Daryn Colledge stay inside, leaving Chad Clifton to deal with two players to block. Clifton makes a rookie mistake and leaves the inside rusher to go block the outside rusher. As for Colledge, I almost have to give him a pass on this one.

If you watch the Patriots linebacker in the middle of the field (Mayo) he does give a bit of a fake blitz, enough to hold Colledge, who I believe Wells has instructed to look out for that blitzer. Of course, the Packers make the age-old mistake of worrying more about the lesser threat rather than the closer threat at hand.

As for Matt Flynn, his only chance would have been to immediately get the ball out to James Jones, who has run into the spot vacated by the blitzers. Once he misses that chance, there is nothing else for him, as the other Packers receivers all appear to be running routes into the end zone.

24

December

News and Notes Heading into the Green Bay Packers’ First Playoff Game (the NY Giants)

I hoped to file a couple of posts this week examining the play of Bryan Bulaga and the Green bay Packers playcalling, but then I realized it was almost Christmas, so I proceeded to buy presents and hang out with my family.

Instead of a full-blown analysis, I had to go with some quick thoughts and notes. The playoffs start Sunday, folks. It should be interesting.

  • The Packers’ run game showed some promise against the New England Patriots, but lets not confuse the 2010 Packers with the 2009 Jets. The Packers will go as far as Aaron Rodgers’ arm takes them, not Brandon Jackson’s legs. By all means, Mike McCarthy should try and establish the run early against the Giants. But he shouldn’t handcuff himself into sticking with it for too long if it’s not working. The Giants’ defensive backs are slow. The Packers receivers have a clear advantage and that needs to be exploited.
  • What about the Giants pass rush? Getting the ground game going will help slow down the pass rush, but so will short passes. If the Packers can’t run the ball, McCarthy needs to mix in plenty of quick passes, screens and high-percentage throws. The Packers offense has moved the ball every time they’ve reverted to using more short passes. The problem has been punching through to the end zone.
  • If McCarthy runs another fullback dive this week, I am going to personally travel to Green Bay and destroy that page of the playbook. If you want to gain one yard with John Kuhn, line him up at halfback and give him a running start before he crashes into the line.
  • Calling James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver: According to Football Outsiders, the Giants are one of the worst defenses in the league against No. 3 receivers. I’m not sure which one of you is the No. 3 receiver, but whoever it is, you need to step up.
  • Can the Packers beat the Giants if they are not able to force a turnover? I don’t think so. Anyone disagree?
  • Anyone have advice about watching Packers games with small children? I watch most games with my wife. We both yell, scream, swear and punch things when things don’t go the Packers’ way. I have to watch Sunday’s game with my little nieces and nephews running around. How can I control my normally uncotrollable rages? What’s the best strategy for getting the kids to shut up so I can concentrate on the game?
21

December

Dear Mike McCarthy; Hope You Learn from the New England Game

Dear Mike McCarthy,

It is with the deepest pride in the Green Bay Packers that I write to you today. Despite their loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, I thought they played “one heckuva game.” And for the first time this year, I saw the passion, fire, and determination they had been looking for all season.

First, let me say that Matt Flynn is a keeper. He wasn’t flashy or dramatic, but he got the job done. He kept his head clear and stood tall the entire game, even in the face of adversity. After throwing a pick-six at the start of the third quarter, he came back to march the Packers down the field on thirteen plays for a touchdown.

If that doesn’t speak to his character and ability, then I don’t know what does.

Furthermore, there is a lot both you and Aaron Rodgers can learn from what Flynn and the offense did today.

Did you notice what a solid running game can do for you? Finally, for the first time this season, you gave the ball to Brandon Jackson more than 20 times in a game. And what did he do with those carries? That’s right: 99 yards on the ground, for an average of 4.5 YPC. Of the nine rushing first downs, Jackson had seven and John Kuhn had two.

You ran a balanced offense, and it paid off. Of the 80 snaps on offense, 38 were running plays and 42 were passing plays. Combined with the short yardage passing game, this was a recipe for success.

(Except when you got a little overconfident too deep in your own territory. See three-and-out, fourth quarter.)

But don’t think you have to keep this game plan only for Matt Flynn. I would be willing to bet this strategy could work even better with Aaron Rodgers, who can make the occasional deep throws that Flynn simply doesn’t have the arm for. Not only could you control the clock, but the opposing defense would have to play at every level. They wouldn’t always know where you were going to attack next.

Look, your offense controlled almost 41 minutes of this game. They outplayed Tom Brady and the Patriots for crying out loud!

It’s just these little mistakes that keep getting in the way.