15

August

Matthew Mulligan is Blocking his way onto the Packers’ Roster

Matthew Mulligan has shown his blocking ability so far in Packers training camp.

Matthew Mulligan might not charm fans on Twitter, have arms covered in tattoos or take a fake field goal flip all the way to the end zone against the Packers biggest rival. But so far, it looks like the Packers lone veteran free agent signing is filling in nicely for departed fan favorite Tom Crabtree at tight end.

Bob McGinn wrote in Wednesday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Mulligan has been “solid as a rock” and is close to locking up a roster spot. The journeyman was signed mainly as a blocker, but with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, as long as you have two hands and can take three steps forward without falling over, you might end up eventually becoming part of the passing game.

Crabtree was a durable and scrappy tight end who understood his role and always lined up where he was supposed to. Players like that have value — A.J. Hawk has become a rich man by being that type of player for the Packers on defense. Crabtree and Hawk are also the types of players where you set a value on how much you’re willing to pay them and you don’t exceed that value under any circumstances.

This offseason, the Packers determined Hawk wasn’t worth what he was making, so they told him to take a pay cut or else. Hawks said yes and remains a Packer.

Crabree was a free agent and felt he was worth more than what the Packers were offering (which was something around the league minimum). The Buccaneers agreed with Crabtree, offered him closer to what he thought he deserved, and Crabtree is now trying to build the same rapport with all the blue-hair retirees in Florida that he had with the cheeseheads in Wisconsin.

What does all of this have to do with Mulligan? Even though Crabtree had value, the Packers felt they could find a better player at a more team-friendly price. It’s still early, but it looks like they might have found that player in Mulligan (making $820,000 on a one-year deal).

Pro Football Focus gave Mulligan a 4.9 run blocking rating last season and a 6.5 in 2011. Crabtree was a -7.7 as a run blocker last season and a -8.4 in 2011. Obviously, Pro Football Focus metrics aren’t gospel, but that’s quite the difference. If you believe the reports from training camp, Mulligan is backing up those metrics by passing the eye test as well.

2

September

Packers vs. Chiefs: Quick Observations from 20-19 Win in Preseason Finale

Photo from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 20-19 Thursday night after Kansas City’s 56-yard field goal attempt with no time remaining was wide left.

Here are some quick observations from the Packers’ preseason finale:

Twos outplay ones:

The Packers can take a lot of positive things away from their preseason finale. They got an incredible amount of positive film on the young guys who needed more evaluation time. The backups played nearly the entire game at most positions. The Chiefs even helped the Packers out by playing their starters well into the second half, which gave Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy the rare opportunity to see how their backups stacked up against the Chiefs starters. For the most part, the Packers twos and threes didin’t look overmatched. In fact, the defense did a number on Kansas City’s offense for a majority of the contest. Overall, to win a preseason game that should have been so undeniably onesided is certainly something to be proud for players and coaches throughout the Packers organization.

So’oto shines

Vic So’oto had the game of his life Thursday when he needed it the most. Many had already pegged him as a player who had a chance to crack the Packers 53-man roster, but his play against the Chiefs all but sealed it. So’oto had 1.5 sacks, another tackle for a loss, a strip of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the lead back to the Packers. If that’s not enough to make this team, I don’t know what is. It was an all-around impressive performance from the undrafted rookie out of BYU.

McDonald struggles

While So’oto had a night to remember, backup center Nick McDonald had one to forget. His botched snap inside the 10-yard line gave the Chiefs a safety, but he was also flagged for a false start and got beat up in the running game on several occasions. McDonald hasn’t progressed like the team thought he would after a rookie campaign in which he impressed several of the Packers coaches. Despite his versatility to play both center and guard, McDonald played himself onto the roster bubble Thursday night.

Pat Lee, last game in GB?

1

September

Packers vs Chiefs: Things to Watch In Green Bay’s Preseason Finale

The Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs will close out their preseason schedules Thursday, with the Chiefs traveling to Lambeau Field in a rematch of each team’s 2010 preseason finale. The Chiefs won that game at Arrowhead Stadium, 17-14.

As was the case when these two met last August, the Chiefs come in to the game 0-3 in preseason play. The Packers were also 2-1 heading into their finale in 2010.

These two teams play in Week 15 of the regular season in Kansas City.

Here are some things to watch between the Packers and Chiefs Thursday:

Secondary Blues

Backups in the Packers secondary haven’t played well in three preseason games. Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush have been picked on at times, culminating with the touchdown pass Bush gave up against Curtis Painter in Indianapolis. Both Bush and Lee have struggled finding the football in man coverage, and Lee gets lost sometimes in zone.

The two got a chance to face a starting NFL quarterback in Colt McCoy in Week 1 of the preseason, and he roasted the pair to the tune of 135 yards, one touchdown and just one incompletion in 10 attempts. In the finale, they should get another chance with Matt Cassel. It’s important these two, and especially Lee, start making strides. Another tough outing could spell the end to Lee’s career with the Packers.

Ones vs. Twos

Packers coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t announced anything yet, but it’s widely assumed most of the Packers starters will get the night off Thursday as the team prepares to face the Saints just a week after their preseason finale. McCarthy sat the starters last year at Arrowhead and the Packers weren’t playing the league’s first game of the season.

That’s not the case in Kansas City, where coach Todd Haley said he’ll get most of his starters a good chunk of playing time. How much exactly wasn’t announced by Haley either. Regardless, Haley’s decision should get some of the Packers backup players valuable experience against a starting team that won the AFC West last season. You really can’t beat that from an evaluation standpoint. It’ll help both McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson get a gauge on where some of the second-stringers are and which should make the Packers final 53-man roster.

In the Trenches

24

August

Packers Film Study – Bryan Bulaga Much Improved at Right Tackle

Green Bay Packer Offensive Tackle Bryan BulagaWe haven’t heard much this year about Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga. T.J. Lang and Derek Sherrod have received most of the training camp attention on the offensive line as they battle for the open LG spot. Now that Lang is apparently the clear frontrunner, it’s time to start focusing more on the offensive line as a whole.

The Packers stability on the line has allowed Mike McCarthy to test a no-huddle offense in each of the first two preseason games. Both no-huddle drives have resulted in touchdowns that made the Packers offense look unstoppable. It’s going to be fun if the Packers’ no-huddle keeps rolling into the regular season.

It’s going to be even more fun if that up-tempo style is complemented by a reliable running game anchored on the right side by Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga.

McCarthy has praised Bulaga throughout training camp, saying that he is a “different player this year than he was last year.” If Bulaga continues to progress and Sitton keeps playing at a high level, the Packers could have a formidable run-blocking duo for the first time in a long time.

On the below play late in the first quarter of Friday’s preseason game against Arizona, Bulaga knocks the defender he’s matched against off the line and gives Ryan Grant some room to operate. Sitton also gets to the second level and makes his block.

The efforts from Bulaga and Sitton did not result in a big play this time, but if they consistently make blocks like this, big plays will happen.

Last year I broke down Bulaga’s penalty-filled performance against the Bears in Week 17. One of the things Bulaga struggled with was engaging pass rushers before they penetrated deep into the pocket. By waiting too long to square up his block, Bulaga allowed pass rushers to get too close to Aaron Rodgers and the QB got spooked and broke the pocket before it was necessary.

Bulaga had no problem keeping his man from spooking Rodgers against the Cardinals. On this play, Bulaga engages the pass rusher early and prevents him from even getting close to the Super Bowl MVP.

19

August

Packers vs. Cardinals: Things to Watch in Preseason Week 2

In the lead up to the Packers and Cardinals preseason matchup, consider this: in two of the last three games between these two clubs, there has been some serious offensive fireworks—to the tune of  177 total points and nearly 2,000 total offensive yards.

Most remember (or would rather forget) the 2009 Wildcard Card game in Arizona—a back-and-forth affair in which the Packers and Cardinals engaged in one of the wildest shootouts in playoff history.

A week after the Packers dismantled the Cardinals in Week 17 of the regular season, Arizona jumped out to leads of 17-0, 24-7 and 31-10 before Aaron Rodgers and the Packers mounted two impressive comebacks.

With the score 31-10, Rodgers lead the Packers on four straight touchdown drives—all ending on Rodgers’ touchdown passes—to tie the game at 38.

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who threw for five touchdown passes and 379 yards, put Arizona back into the lead with 4:55 left when he hit Steve Breaston for a 17-yard score. Rodgers remained unfazed, however, as he led the Packers right down the field for another tying-touchdown. His 11-yard pass to Spencer Havner with 1:52 left helped send the game into overtime tied at 45 (of course, so did a Neil Rackers missed chip-shot 34-yard field goal on the Cardinals next drive).

Then, the game abruptly ended when Rodgers was stripped on a controversial play during the Packers first offensive series, giving the Cardinals a 51-45 win. The loss was certainly disappointing from a Packers perspective but the stat line was not: Rodgers threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another. The two teams combined for over 1,000 yards and 96 points, and to this day it remains the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history.

But before the Packers and Cardinals gave the 2009 NFL playoffs an aerial assault that hasn’t been seen since, they put together a high-scoring preseason affair that same year.

In the third week of exhibition play in ’09, the Packers were the ones who jumped out to a big lead in Arizona. In fact, with their No. 1 offense playing the entire first half, the Packers raced out to a 38-10 lead—only to see that advantage shrink to a final score of 44-37.