5

October

Who Is The Real Clay Matthews?

Clay Matthews gets a hit on Drew Brees in Week 1, but is it too little too late?

One sack.

Through four games in the 2011 regular season, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews has just one sack. As the 26th overall draft pick two years ago, he notched 10 sacks in his rookie season, followed by a 13.5-sack performance his sophomore year in the NFL. Opposing offenses have resorted to giving him plenty of attention through chips, double teams, and moving the pocket away from his side. Fans and coaches alike have come to expect an elite level of play from Matthews.

And yet it doesn’t seem like they’re getting it.

Despite playing against a porous Chicago Bears offensive line and matching up against pedestrian right tackles, Clay Matthews has just one sack to his name. The worst part is that his sack is no more than a technicality, as first draft pick Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was running out of bounds on the play.

We gave him some leeway in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, since Drew Brees is an elite quarterback who can get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. The Week 2 matchup against the Panthers proved to be an unexpected performance from a rookie quarterback and a set of receivers that cut holes in the Packers’ secondary. Plus, Newton’s ability to run and the frequent checkdown passes required the linebackers to do some spying.

Then, after Week 3 against the Bears, people began to get worried.

Why hasn’t Clay Matthews been the disruptive force we’ve known him to be? Are the minor injuries and lack of preseason playing time catching up to him? Is the loss of Cullen Jenkins having that much of an effect across the line? Are offensive coordinators figuring out the defense?

It’s a frustrating situation, and despite all the opining from journalists and bloggers, no one has been able to come up with an answer.

Of course, this whole issue is just a slice of the larger problem – the Packers’ lack of a pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks are getting time in the pocket to make their reads, and there has seemingly been no consistent push along the line. This is what makes it challenging to sort out the concerns with Matthews’ performance.

28

July

Packers 2011 Training Camp: The Best Positional Battles to Watch

Ryan Grant will be taking on all challengers for his starting job

Ryan Grant will have plenty of competition in Packers training camp.

With the NFL’s longest work stoppage in league history in the rear view mirror, the Green Bay Packers will begin their 2011 training camp on Saturday, July 30th in De Pere, Wisconsin. It will be the first step in the Packers Super Bowl title defense, and like most training camps, it should provide a framework for how the organization’s roster will look heading into the 2011 season.

But it will also be home to several intriguing and important positional battles that will determine who starts and who rides the bench to open the year. Let’s go in-depth to breakdown some of the Packers best battles to watch during training camp.


RUNNING BACK

This will be the one everyone watches. 28-year-old Ryan Grant is returning from a season-ending ankle injury, and as the leading man to start each of the last three seasons, Grant still believes he is going to be the primary carrier. Grant claims the ankle is 100%, which is more then conceivable considering he believed he could have played in the Super Bowl if not on IR. He’s also the most experienced and accomplished back on the roster, as Grant rushed for over 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2007 to ’09.

When Grant’s 2010 season ended just eight carries in, the Packers running game floundered in his absence. Grant’s vision and one-cut and go mentality were sorely missed. Neither Brandon Jackson or John Kuhn were able to handle the No. 1 role, and the Packers running game was nearly non-existent. That is, of course, until 2010 sixth rounder James Starks took control of the position late in the season.

Starks rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries in his NFL debut against the 49ers, marking only the second time to that point that a Packers rusher went over 70 yards in a game. Starks then mostly disappeared for the remaining of the regular season, but reemerged for the playoffs and took the postseason by storm. His 123 yards against the Eagles in the Wild Card was a Packers rookie playoff record and arguably the team’s best rushing performance of the 2010 season. He rushed for just 66 and 74 yards in the following two games in Atlanta and Chicago, respectively, but Starks provided the kind of offensive balance the Packers needed.

4

May

3 Main Themes Emerge From Green Bay Packers 2011 NFL Draft

The 2011 NFL draft is now officially over, and its time to take a look at what the Packers did.  Over the next couple of weeks, fans and analysts alike will sit in front of their computers and grade each team’s draft class; in my opinion this is completely absurd for two reasons.

For one, these players haven’t played a single snap in the NFL yet and no one knows exactly how these players are going to pan out; if anyone did the draft would be a pretty boring affair.

And second, the inherent flaw in grading is that it’s based on a big board typically made by an analyst or the fans themselves.  There are only a few people privy to the actual boards of the 32 teams, and I’m willing to bet that none of the boards you see online are even remotely close to the real things.

Nevertheless, one fact that must be true is that every team drafts with a logical purpose; whether drafting purely on talent, athleticism, speed, need or value, it would be simply foolish for a team to draft a player without an idea of what to do with him and how that player fits into the team.  With that in mind, in the following article I hope to analyze what the Packers were thinking when they drafted each player.

Overall Impressions:

  1. The retooling of the defense is basically complete: Teams set a tone with the players they draft and this year it was all about giving Aaron Rodgers more help.  Many people have forgotten that the Packers are only two years removed from completely changing their defensive scheme from a 4-3 bump and run scheme under Bob Sanders to a 3-4 zone blitz scheme under Dom Capers.The 2009 and 2010 drafts were very defensive heavy, with BJ Raji and Clay Matthews III being drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and Mike Neal and Morgan Burnett being taken in the 2nd and 3rd round in 2010.  This was simply based on the fact that many of the players acquired pre-2009 weren’t ideal for a 3-4 defense (such as DE/OLB Aaron Kampman).  In comparison, the 2011 draft was definitely an offensive draft, with the first 3 picks on the offense and 4 offensive skill positions being addressed overall.
22

April

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Outside Linebacker

In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the outside linebacker position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.

CURRENT PLAYERS:

#52 Clay Matthews
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#51 Brady Poppinga
31 yrs. old / 6 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#93 Erik Walden
25 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#59 Brad Jones
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#47 Diyral Briggs
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#58 Frank Zombo
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

I can’t tell you how many times the past two years that I’ve heard or said, “Clay Matthews is a beast.”

He alone propels this defense to a new level. Opposing offenses work up their game plans in a concentrated effort to take him out of the equation, because he is the biggest threat to the quarterback. Matthews’ motor never stops running, his lightning fast break off the line is a nightmare to blockers, and there’s just something intimidating about that long mane of hair.

Okay, so maybe I made that last one up. But in all seriousness, Clay Matthews boasts 23.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Packers. Ted Thompson made one of the best moves in his career as a GM by trading up in the 2009 NFL Draft to grab him.

Now, despite the lack of a stud player “opposite Matthews” (as you so often hear), there is a lot of strength in the depth of this unit. The cliché may be that this team won the Super Bowl with the players, but they also made it through the season with them.

15

April

Packers Prospect Profile — OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA

1. Profile

Akeem Ayers

College: UCLA

Position: Outside Linebacker

Height: 6’4”    Weight: 255 lbs

Birthdate: July 10, 1989    Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

2. High School/College highlights:

In high school Ayers was named a Super Prep All American and was chosen as a four-star recruit at defensive end by scouts.com and rivals.com .  Also played on offense in high school catching four passes for 132 yards.  At UCLA, he was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2009 and placed third in voting for the Dick Butkus award honoring college football’s best linebacker in 2010.  Ayers also was a team captain in 2010 and finished as a second team All-American.

3. College stats: After three seasons: 183 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for a loss and six interceptions

4. NFL Scouting Combine results:  4.81 40 yard dash, 7.49 three cone drill, 4.28 20 yard shuttle, 18.0 bench press, 31.0 vertical jump, 116 broad jump.

5. Strengths/Weaknesses: Ayers plays a very fast brand of football, as can be seen in his 40 time despite his size.   He has a very good burst and is an excellent pass rusher.  As a rookie, he would bring immediate impact to any team looking to significantly improve its blitzing ability.   He also has strong intangibles and was very honest about where he needed to improve during interviews at the NFL Combine.    College players that enter the NFL not expecting to light the world on fire right away often have a higher success rate than those who think they will take over the league in their first year.

On the down side, there are concerns with Ayers’ lower body.  With a smaller body mass in his legs, Ayers is forced to tackle high and that could be a problem when it comes to stopping NFL backs.    He developed a reputation in college as more of a pass rushing specialist so it will more than likely take time for him to acclimate to the running game in the NFL.    There also are some doubts about his ability to learn complex defensive schemes.  His performance at UCLA dropped off in 2010 slightly, leading to questions that once he was figured out he had a hard time adapting to working around some double teams.

7

April

Packers Prospect Profile – LB Von Miller, Texas A&M

1) Profile:

Von Miller

College: Texas A&M

Position: Defensive End/ Weak Side Linebacker (Hybrid)

Height: 6′3″   Weight: 246 lbs.

Born: March 26th, 1989 From: DeSoto, Texas

2) High School / College Highlights: Von Miller joined the Aggies in 2007 as the Rivals 29th ranked weak side linebacker in high school but first saw action as a defensive end in the 4-2-5 defense and was voted Freshmen All-Big 12.

After a disastrous 2007 season lead by head coach Dennis Franchione which was headlined by a newsletter scandal and several crushing defeats, Franchione resigned midseason and subsequently former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman was hired.

Sherman installed a 4-3 defense and Miller was moved to weak side linebacker under defensive coordinator Joe Kines.  2009 was his break out season, where Miller played in all 12 games, leading the NCAA with 17 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss (4th in the NCAA) and garnering First-team All-America and First-team All-Big 12 honors.

After 2009 Joe Kines retired and was replaced with Tim DeRuyter, who installed a 3-4 defense where Miller played the outside linebacker position.  Miller suffered a foot injury but still managed to record 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss as well as garnering First-team All America, First-team All-Big 12 and the Butkus award, given annually to the nation’s best collegiate linebacker.

Miller also leaves for the NFL in the strange position of being one of the plaintiff’s in the lawsuit between the NFL and the player’s union on the current lock out situation, the sole draftee to be included; he also is planning on being at Radio Music City in New York for the annual NFL draft

3) College Stats: 4 year starter.

4) NFL Combine Results: 4.53 40-yd dash, 21 bench press, 37 vertical, 126 broad, 6.7 3-cone, 4.06 20 yard shuttle, 11.15 60 yard shuttle.

5) Strengths/Weaknesses: Miller’s strongest asset is his pass rushing ability; he great speed around the corner and the displays good ability to dip under the pads of tackles and get skinny when shooting an inside gap.  Miller also has great closing ability to the quarterback.  Miller has a wide array of moves at his disposable including spin moves, change up and arm over moves.

1

April

Packers Prospect Profile – LB Justin Houston, University of Georgia

1) Profile:

Justin Houston

College: Georgia

Position: OLB (3-4), DE (4-3)

Height: 6’3″   Weight: 260 lbs.

Born: January 1, 1989 From: Statesboro, GA

2) High School / College Highlights: According to his Georgia bio, Houston was a class 4A All-State Honorable Mention his senior season, and was All-Region in both his junior and senior years.

Coming out of high school, Rivals.com ranked him as their No. 21 defensive end prospect, ESPN had him at No. 27, and Scout.com ranked him No. 42. During his junior season, Statesboro High won the class 4A State championship.

Houston decided to stay home and attend the University of Georgia. Like many mid-level freshman recruits, Houston began his college career by redshirting in 2007. He played in 13 games (2.5 sacks) the next season, but 2009 was the year that he really broke out. In 10 games, Houston had a team-leading 15 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks, and was awarded with AP Second Team All-SEC honors.

While still somewhat of an unknown before last season, Houston stamped his name among the draft’s top pass-rushers with a dominant 13-game showing. He racked up 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for losses and 44 quarterback pressures on his way to being named an AP First Team All-SEC selection. Originally slated in the middle rounds, Houston’s play last season shot himself into the first round discussion.

3) College Stats: 36 games/24 starts, 70 solo/26 assisted tackles, 20.0 sacks/134 yards lost, 38 tackles for losses/168 yards lost, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 5 passes broken up, 1 interception, 78 quarterback pressures.

4) NFL Combine Results: 4.68 second 40-yard dash, 30 bench presses, 36.5″ vertical jump, 10’5″ broad jump, 6.95 second cone drill, 4.37 second 20-yard shuttle, 11.46 60-yard shuttle.

5) Strengths/Weaknesses: His 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine suggests Houston might not be explosive off the edge, but that number is very misleading. Houston has an excellent first step, and his flexibility has allowed him to dip his shoulder around offensive tackles. He also counters the dip move with a solid outside-to-inside fake that kept SEC tackles on their heels all season.

Georgia also switched their defense to a 3-4 last season, so Houston has experience rushing the passer from a standing position. His performance at the both the combine and his pro day erased many of the big concerns about playing in space.