1

November

Packers Making the Most of Opponents’ Penalties

Mike McCarthy

Packer coach Mike McCarthy conversing with a pair of refs.

The Packers have had plenty of calls go against them this season, but they’ve also taken advantage of some penalties that have gone in their favor.

Remember the Packers opening drive against the Texans? Aaron Rodgers missed an open James Jones deep and we all groaned while trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with our MVP quarterback. Thankfully, the Texans lined up offside on a punt, giving the Packers a free fist down and Rodgers a re-do on a his deep pass.

This time, Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 41-yard touchdown on the very next play. From there, the route was on and order was restored in the Packers universe.

Before continuing, I want to be clear that I’m not saying the Packers have gotten lucky when it comes to penalties going their way. See the Fail Mary, phantom pass interference calls on Sam Shields and various bogus roughing penalties if you think that’s been the case. All I’m doing is pointing out a few instances where the Packers have taken advantage of an opportunity created by an opponent’s penalty.

I was in the stands when Jeff “I Should be a Replacement Ref but for Some Reason I’m Actually a Real Ref” Triplette and his crew missed a key fumble on a New Orleans kick return late in the game. The Saints appeared to take the lead after a field goal on the ensuing drive, but saw those three points wiped off the board due to a holding call.

The field goal re-try was no good, probably because the wind from all the Packers fans inside Lambeau breathing a sigh of relief caused the kick to sail wide.

How about this Sunday against the Jaguars? Hanging onto a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Packers faced third and 7 from their own 47. Instead of going the safe route and trying to just pick up enough yards for a first down, Rodgers launched a bomb to Jones, who held up his hands looking for a pass interference penalty as the ball fell to ground incomplete.

The official closest to the play did not throw a flag. Two of his colleagues did, however, allowing the Packers to extend the drive and eventually kick the game-clinching field goal. Replays showed it was probably the correct call, but a case could also be made that there wasn’t enough for interference.

20

October

Packers Video: Ryan Pickett Best Packers Nose Tackle Hands down

Packers Nose Tackle Ryan Pickett

Packers’ Best Nose Tackle: Ryan Pickett

Ryan Pickett had a whale of a game against the Houston Texans.  Their Pro Bowler center, the 6’4″ 290lb Chris Meyers, was no match for Pickett. Double teams were no match for Pickett, except when he got chop blocked (more on that later).

The best the Texans were able to do against Pickett was keep him on the line of scrimmage. There was no knocking him back off the line. There was no  getting bounced back and forth between two blockers. These are things I’ve witnessed too much from BJ Raji.

Nothing against Raji, but he is not your prototypical nose tackle that is content with eating blockers and stuffing inside running lanes. Perhaps it’s the Packers’ own fault for also playing him at DE and letting him get a taste of pass rushing glory. To my eyes Raji is a lot more interested in trying to get to the QB than doing what a nose tackle’s primary job is.  I also think he doesn’t always bring that rabid dog intensity I like from my defensive linemen.

The Packers held Arian Foster (averaging 106 yards per game coming into the Packers contest) to 29 yards in 17 carries – 1.7 ypc average. If you don’t think a big reason for that was Ryan Pickett, you need to go watch the game again. There were no running lanes for Foster between the tackles. He scored two short yardage touchdowns, both by bouncing the play off tackle to avoid a hard charging Ryan Pickett.

Lets look at those two plays:

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for the Texans to realize what they were dealing with in Pickett. After only a quarter of play, the Texans decided to deploy some dirty, but legal tactics: the chop block (or cut block, whichever you prefer).

Wait, aren’t chop blocks illegal, you say? Well take a look and tell me if you think this play should be called a penalty:

 

When I watched the game a second time and saw this play, I hit the roof. “Why wasn’t this a penalty?” I asked. Well, because it’s a legal cut block.

19

October

Is Marshall Newhouse as Good as his Pro Football Focus Numbers?

Marshall Newhouse

Packers T Marshall Newhouse has been solid so far this season.

Regular readers of this site know that we like to cite Pro Football Focus (PFF) metrics when talking about the Packers. I wouldn’t call any of us football sabermaticians, but PFF does some excellent work trying to make football analysis as objective as possible.

Too often, people either treat sites like PFF as the be-all and end-all of analysis, or dismiss their work entirely. I do neither. PFF is another tool in the toolbox as we continue to try and understand this complicated game called football.

Anyway, PFF had a doozy the other day: Marshall Newhouse is rated as the fifth-best pass blocking offensive tackle in the NFL. That’s according to PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency statistic.

I’m not kidding. Marshall Newhouse. The guy who was supposed to be the weak link on the Packers offensive line. The guy who PFF rated as one of the wort tackles in football last season. Yeah, that guy.

Don’t believe me? Check out the story for yourself. In addition to all the rankings, you can see exactly how PFF comes up with its pass-blocking efficiency (PBE) stat (also check out their pass-block rating stat because I’ll be talking about that later on).

Marshall Newhouse? For Real?

I’m not questioning PFF’s work, but my immediate reaction upon hearing that Newhouse has been the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the league so far was to snort and laugh a little.

“C’mon,” I thought. “Really? I’m all for using numbers and formulas to try to better understand football, but this is ridiculous. I watch the games. Newhouse can’t be the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the league.”

But the more I thought about it, the more my mind opened to the possibility (don’t you wish we heard that sentence more often in today’s political world? I digress…)

Our perceptions often lead to a false reality. We’ve been told over and over again that Newhouse is no good, so we probably assume that he’s just not that good, or at least nowhere near as good as the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in football.

Since the Packers line has been shaky, and since most casual observers follow the ball and not the offensive line when watching games, it’s easy to assume that a big reason for the line’s struggles is Newhouse. He was supposed to be bad this season, so he must not be playing well if the line is struggling, right?

15

October

Packers Answer Several Questions in Win Over Texans

Jordy Nelson

Packers WR Jordy Nelson caught three TDs against the Texans on Sunday nigh.

The Packers were 2-3 entering Sunday’s game with the Texans and all of Wisconsin was befuddled.

“I thought this was supposed to be a cakewalk to the playoffs,” Packers fans said. “What the heck is wrong with my Packers?”

Week-to-week overreaction is common in the NFL. After a loss you think you’re team is worthless. They’re finished. Done. No good. Time to start preparing for the draft.

After a big win, there’s hope. You’re team is back on track. They finally played with some pride. Mistakes were corrected. Players stepped up. The machine got rolling again.

Truth is, it’s hard to judge teams on a week-to-week basis this early in the season, especially this season. I swear every team is 3-3 like the Packers now are. With the exception of the Falcons (maybe), no team really seems ready to step up and say, “Hey, we’re going to dominate the leage. Good luck trying to slow us down.”

For us Packers fans, our hopes should not have been dashed after losing to Indianapolis last week. And while we’re all wound up about beating the Texans on Sunday night, we shouldn’t be overly excited and think everything is roses back at 1265 Lombardi Ave., either.

The Packers entered Sunday night’s game against Houston with several questions lingering over them. For one night at least, they answered those questions.

Emphatically.

Will they continue answering these questions with a resounding YES as the season progresses? We shall see.

For now, let’s see what those questions were and further examine how the Packers answered them on Sunday.

Q: Can the Packers play with emotion and attitude?
A: Yes.
There hasn’t been a sense of urgency with the Packers all season. It seemed like the team almost adopted the mindset of its fans: Let’s just get this regular season out of the way so we can start the playoffs. After playing some tough defenses and choking away a game in Indianapoils, the playoffs suddenly became less than a sure thing. It’s unfortunate that it took all this adversity to get the Packers to show a little grit, but they showed it Sunday night, and the results were impressive.

10

October

Packers Stock Report: How Bad is This Team?

Packers James Jones

If the Packers play this season has you down, just look at James Jones’ sleeveless turtleneck and smile.

The Packers are not a bad football team. At least I don’t think they are.

The Packers are playing bad right now, but I don’t think they are bad.

Then again, maybe the Packers are just bad. I suppose that’s possible. But consider the following:

  • Their No. 1 WR has barely played
  • 95 percent of all bad calls go against them
  • They drop 95 percent of their interception opportunities
  • They lost their starting RB, TE and NT last week
  • They played a very inspired team last week

Every team goes through stuff like that. I get that. But all of that this early in the season?

  • You have to think some of those calls will start to even out
  • How many more picks can Woodson and Tramon drop?
  • They’ve always adjusted well to injuries and Jennings should come back eventually
  • They won’t be playing a team whose coach is in the hospital with leukemia every week

Does this mean the Packers will beat the Texans? Not necessarily. But I think it will be a good game and I wouldn’t consider it much of an upset if the Packers won.

Now that all the positivity is out of the way, let’s get to the stock report. There isn’t much positivity there.

Rising

James Jones’ sleeveless turtleneck
You don’t see many guys who are able to pull off the sleeveless turtleneck look. Jones can, and he wore that sleeveless turtleneck with pride on Sunday. Screw Bill Bellichick and his ugly sweatshirts with the cut off arms. Jones and his sleeveless turtleneck are much more fashionable.

Steady

T.J. Lang
Lang is the only Packers offensive lineman that plays mean. He’s always attacking defenders. If you could combine Lang’s aggression with Josh Sitton’s talent, you’d have the perfect guard.

Clay Matthews
Good Lord, Matthews has energy. He played every snap on Sunday and went 100 mph on each one. He’s no longer on pace for 50 sacks, but he still makes other teams gameplan for him.

Falling

Jordy Nelson
So far Nelson doesn’t want anything to do with becoming a No. 1 receiver.

2

October

Did Sunday’s Victory Save the Packers’ Season?

Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb played a big role in the Packers’ emotional win over the Saints on Sunday.

I laughed when the headline to Kevin Seifert’s game story popped up on my Twitter account Sunday night: “Emotional Packers save their season.”

“Really, Kevin?” I thought. “A season cannot be saved in week four. Calm down.”

I thought Kevin was reaching for a story angle to try and be different, get people riled up and generate web traffic.

But Seifert is an excellent reporter, one that isn’t prone to hyperbole and weird narratives that attempt to push reader’s buttons just for the hell of it. So I clicked on the story, read it, and decided that Seifert might be on to something.

This passage in particular stood out:

At 1-2, the Packers were facing some long odds if they lost Sunday’s game. Since the NFL moved to its current playoff format, 85.3 percent of teams that started 1-3 missed the playoffs. In a league in which most teams have relatively equal talent, the so-called “snowball effect” is very real.

I won’t summarize Seifert’s entire post — read it for yourself — but he makes some excellent points about emotion and the toll it would have taken on the Packers to lose another emotionally-charged game, this time at home to a team that was just as desperate as they were.

Instead let’s focus on the immediate future. If the Packers lost Sunday, not only would they be facing long playoff odds at 1-3, they’d be facing them with their next three games on the road; a tough situation in any case, let alone coming off two straight heartbreaking losses.

It’s silly to project more than three games into the future during the NFL season (even three games might be too far), but there’s a common theme among the Packers next three road opponents: Hope. The next three teams the Packers face all have reasons to be hopeful, and likely view the Packers games as a chance to go from hopeful to confident.

  • The Colts are coming off a bye week armed with a phenom quarterback and Dwight Freeney returning. Their coach was also just admitted to the hospital for treatable leukemia, which means emotions will be running high in that stadium. There’s hope for a promising future in Indianapolis, and what better way to take a step forward than by beating the Packers.