15

March

Around the NFC North: Making Fun of the Bears, Lions and Vikings

NFC North DivisionIt’s free agency time in the NFL, also known as the the perfect opportunity for Packers fans to take a nap for two weeks.

Sure, it’s been mildly entertaining trying to figure out if the Packers did, or did not, sign Steven Jackson. And it’s been somewhat amusing following Greg Jennings and his mysterious tweets as he navigates the free agency waters, possibly back to the Packers.

But none of those things bring as much joy to my heart as mocking and ridiculing the Packers NFC North opponents for their offseason signings, roster cuts and trades.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first round draft pick and a couple other draft picks. They also cut veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield and resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Isn’t it cute how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is trying to act like Ted Thompson? Suddenly the Vikings are all about the draft and getting younger.

Let’s see how long Spielman is able to stick with this philosophy. Remember that the Vikings quarterback is Christian Ponder and owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium opening in a couple years that he’ll want filled to capacity with drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids.

What if Ponder continues to stink and the Vikings take a step backward? Is Wilf patient enough to give Spielman enough of a leash and allow this draft and develop philosphy to take shape?

I doubt it.

You know what’s going to be awesome? Watching the Vikings spend the first-rounder they got for Harvin on the next Troy Williamson.

UPDATE: The Vikings signed Matt Cassel after I wrote this, so you know what else is going to be awesome? Hearing those drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids chanting Cassel’s name after Ponder goes 7-for-16 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s season opener.

Chicago Bears
The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The futures of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonje remain up in the air.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bushrod 24th among left tackles who started at least 10 games at the position in 2012. Bushrod got a pass blocking rating of     -3.5. For comparison, the Packers Marshall Newhouse got a 5.2.

8

January

Packers Stock Report: We Got a Bye Week After All Edition (with Podcast)

DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris scores in the first quarter of Saturday night’s playoff games against the Vikings.

I was at Lambeau for the Packers  bye week   NFC wild-card round victory over the Vikings on Saturday night. I have a couple of questions:

1. Should we be excited about the defensive performance? Or chalk it up to playing against Joe Webb?

2. How awesome is Aaron Rodgers?

3. Will the Packers turn in one of their “we’re nobody’s underdogs” performances against the 49ers?

4. What should we do with people (and I was kind of one of them) who thought the Packers defense was better without Woodson?

5. Since when did the Packers replace the Lambeau PA announcer with a guy from the NBA? Too much screaming, too much nonsense. Packers fans are capable of getting loud without gimmicks.

Now I will attempt to answer my own questions:

1. Somewhat excited.

2. Very.

3. Yes.

4. Ban them from blogging.

5. I already kind of answered this one. On to the stock report:

Rising

Aaron Rodgers
How many other quarterbacks can make the throw where Rodgers rolled right and hit Jordy Nelson inside the 5-yard line? Very few, if any. Rodgers has been excellent the last two weeks. If he keeps it going against the 49ers, I like the Packers’ chances.

Clay Matthews
Every week, the size of Matthews’ new contract gets bigger and bigger. Matthews kept himself under control on Saturday and rarely got out of position while rushing Webb or trying to corral Adrian Peterson.  You know a player is on a roll when he gets blocked to the ground, but manages to get a sack anyway because the quarterback trips over his prone body.

DuJuan Harris
I thought Harris might have lost his hot-hand status after he dropped a third-down pass on the Packers’ first possession. But McCarthy stuck with the car salesman turned starting running back in the NFL playoffs and it paid off. Harris runs to daylight and doesn’t make it easy for the other team to prevent him from getting to that daylight. He’s an ideal back to run behind a more powerful line with Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith (although Dietrich-Smith graded out poorly according to Pro Football Focus).

Steady

5

January

Now a Veteran, Newhouse’s Play is Key to Packers Playoff Run

Marshall Newhouse and Jared Allen

Marshall Newhouse vs. Jared Allen will go a long way in determining the Packers’ fate on Saturday night.

If the Packers’ offensive line holds up, Aaron Rodgers and his (finally) healthy wide receivers should be able to score at least 30 points against the Vikings on Saturday night.

If the Packers put up 30, do we really think the Vikings – with Christian Ponder at quarterback – can once again score more than 30 and beat the Packers in a shootout for the second consecutive week? This time on the road, outside, on grass, in freezing temperatures?

I doubt it. Even if Adrian Peterson goes off again, it’s still going to take another strong game from Ponder for the Vikings to top 30 points.

But back to the Packers’ offensive line. We didn’t hear Marshall Newhouse’s or Jared Allen’s name called often during Sunday’s game. That’s because Newhouse was quietly doing a good job blocking Allen.

Newhouse has had his bad moments this season, but for the most part, he’s been decent. If what he did on Sunday against Allen is any indication of how he will perform in the playoffs, the outlook for the Packers’ offense is bright.

Don Barclay has boosted the Packers’ running game since taking over at right tackle. Pass protection has been a different story, especially on Sunday when Everson Griffen and Brian Robinson got around Barclay for sacks.

With three sacks, a hit, and a hurry allowed (to go along with two penalites) Pro Football Focus gave Barclay a -3.1 grade, the lone Packers’ lineman to grade out negatively. Barclay also had a -3.1 grade in week 13 against Minnesota.

If Newhouse holds up on the left side, and the pass protection can be shifted to focus on helping Barclay, that should go a long way in keeping Rodgers upright and giving him time to play pitch-and-catch with his healthy receivers against an outmanned Vikings’ secondary.

But if the Vikings’ front four gets to Rodgers and gets to him early, we could see a repeat of what happened against the Giants in last season’s divisional round: an outmanned Giants’ secondary bolstered by a pass rush that overwhelmed the Packers’ offensive line and rattled Rodgers.

To me, it all hinges on Newhouse. Newhouse is no longer the inexperienced guy on the line who is trying to find his way and doing his best to survive. That guy is now Barclay (and Evan Dietrich-Smith, I suppose).

3

January

Soft Zone or Blitz? What Will Packers DC Dom Capers Do?

Christian Ponder - Packers Blitz

Will Packers blitz Christian Ponder?

Now that we’ve dissected the “Peterson Problem” here and here, it’s time to turn to the guy who really won the game last week for the Vikings: Christian Ponder.  The Packers made a huge mistake by being passive and letting Ponder get comfortable. This was the exact opposite approach they took against Ponder in the first meeting of this season.

Rightfully so, Packers fans are up in arms again over Dom Capers’ use of the soft zone / 3-man rush last week, specifically on 3rd downs. The one play that has caused the most consternation was the 3rd and eleven with 2 minutes left in the game. Capers went to the three man rush with only one DL. With no pressure, Ponder found the soft spot in the zone for a 25-yard completion that kept the Vikings game-winning drive alive.

While one could argue that Casey Hayward did not execute his drop properly, thus creating the open area, this is not just about one play. Throughout the game, Capers kept the blitz in his pocket, especially on third downs.

Keven Seifert of the ESPN NFC North Blog uncovered some very pertinent statistics from the Packers – Vikings two meetings this season (full article here):

Overall, the Packers sent 5 or more pass rushers after Ponder 60% of the time in Game 1, and only 44% in Game 2. But wait, that’s not even the good part:

In their first meeting, the Packerblitzed Ponder a whopping 75% of the time on third down. Ponder’s resulting cumulative QBR rating on those down was a horrendous 5.5.

In last week’s game, the Packers blitzed Ponder only 25% of the time on 3rd down.  Ponder’s resulting cumulative QBR on those plays was a whopping 98.6.

Think that made a difference in the result?

Adrian Peterson had pretty much the same performance in both games. The difference was Ponder. Why was Ponder different? The Packers allowed him to be.

Here’s hoping the defensive game plan more resembles the first time around…

——————

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

2

January

Packers Drive Rewind: Rodgers Owns the Vikings’ Secondary

Jordy Nelson

Jordy Nelson’s TD catch tied Sunday’s game against the Vikings at 34 in the fourth quarter.

Let’s keep it positive for this week’s Packers Drive Rewind and focus on Green Bay’s game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter.

The Situation
Down 34-27, the Packers get the ball at their own 22-yard line with 7:54 to play.

The result
Aaron Rodgers overcomes a sack and a penalty, and leads the Packers on an 11-play touchdown drive that ties the game at 34. Green Bay’s defense was so impressed with Rodgers’ effort that it decided to let the Vikings march right back down the field and win the game on their ensuing possession.

Play 1: Rodgers to James Jones for 12 yards

This is what happens when Rodgers can just stand in the pocket, find a favorable matchup, and exploit it. It looks so easy. Jones is one-on-one with A..J. Jefferson and it looks like Jefferson doesn’t want anything to do with him. Jones takes advantage of the loose coverage and runs a nice hitch route for the easy catch. If the Packers offensive line can pass block like this consistently throughout the playoffs, Green Bay will win the Super Bowl.

Play 2: Rodgers sacked for an eight-yard loss by Everson Griffen

Remember the last play where the Packers’ offensive line blocked so well? The opposite happened here. Griffen beats Don Barclay on his outside shoulder and Rodgers is a smidge late in recognizing it and stepping up in the pocket before being thrown down by Griffen. There’s no doubt that Barclay has boosted the Packers’ running game, but he’s a liability in pass protection. He’s going to need some help in Saturday’s rematch.

After a two-yard pass to Jermichael Finley, Barclay is flagged for a false start, leaving the Packers with a third and 21 at their own 23.

Play 4: Rodgers to Finley for 20 yards

John Kuhn gives Barclay a little bit of help, which leaves Barclay’s side open for Rodgers to scramble. Rodgers has to scamper around because Jared Allen gets upfield on Marshall Newhouse and Kevin Williams ends up in the backfield after a crazy-looking spin move. It kind of looks like Williams ends up back there almost by accident. From there, it’s all Aaron Rodgers. Not many other quarterbacks can make this play. Finley does a nice job of recognizing where Rodgers is heading, then floating to an open space in the zone. Rodgers lofts a perfect pass over Jefferson, who came up just a little too far and put too much space between him and Finley. Finley does a nice job to catch the ball and get both feet down.

2

January

Packers Stock Report: Playoff Time Edition

Greg Jennings

Packers WR Greg Jennings is rising after Sunday’s game.

For the last three years, I’ve always been confident whenever the Packers play because they had the best player on the field.

No matter who the Packers were playing, what the score was, or how slow the Packers started, I always felt good because I knew that Aaron Rodgers played for Green Bay and would probably find a way to win the game. He was the best player on the field and the best player on the field typically comes through and leads his team to a win. Not always, but usually.

When the Packers play the Vikings in the playoffs on Saturday, Rodgers will not be the best player on the field. That title will belong to Adrian Peterson, and it scares me.

The Packers are better than the Vikings in almost every facet of the game. But as long as Peterson is carrying the ball, the Vikings will have a shot. I shouldn’t be nervous about Saturday, but I am. And it’s all because of Peterson.

Hopefully, for at least one night, Rodgers regains his best-player-on-the-field championship belt. Rodgers can then worry about getting the Packers to another Super Bowl and defending his best-player-on-the-field title next season.

On to the stock report:

Rising

Adrian Peterson
I don’t think I’ve ever put a non-Packers player in the rising category. Usually I put players from the other team in the falling category so I can mock and ridicule them. But as a football fan, I have to show respect to Peterson. He lead his team to the postseason and left several Packers defenders limping off the field. It was agonizing to watch as a Packers fan, but fascinating as a football fan.

B.J. Raji
The finger-wags got a little annoying. Don’t wag your finger, B.J., when the other running back is going for 200 yards on your defense again. Other than that, Raji was a beast. Peterson got a lot of his yards when he bounced outside. He often had to bounce out because Raji plugged the middle. If Peterson wasn’t able to bounce out, it was because Raji grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground.

Greg Jennings
It was nice to be reminded just how silky smooth Jennings is in both his route running and running after the catch. He’s an artist (pronounced ar-teest). He also made himself a boatload of cash.

1

January

If the Packers Want to Stop Peterson, Defense Needs to Be Tougher

Tramon Williams

Packers CB Tramon Williams needs to step outside his comfort zone and tackle Adrian Peterson if the Packers want to win on Saturday night.

People usually think of toughness as some intangible trait, something that can’t be measured by an actual set of skills or statistics. People also use the word toughness as an adjective, a cliche to just throw out there when they really can’t explain why their favorite team can’t make a tackle, catch a pass or win a game.

I hate using words just to use words. Words mean things. And if you use a word, it better mean something.

If the Packers want to avoid another one-and-done in the postseason and beat the Vikings on Saturday, they need to get tougher on defense. Here’s what toughness means in the Packers’ case:

  • Doing things you’re not comfortable doing. This is for Tramon Williams. I know you’re not comfortable tackling. Maybe it’s your shoulder, maybe it’s something else. Either way, you need to get tougher and tackle. Packers fans applaud your toughness when you clamp down on Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall. That’s great. But you’re a No. 1 cornerback. Playing the other team’s top receiver is what you’re supposed to do. True toughness comes when you take on Peterson and bring him down before he reels off another big gain on your side. Teams win championships when players do things they’re not comfortable doing and do them well.
  • Owning your gap. The Packers looked very conscious of gap assignments against Peterson Sunday. They seemed to get the concept of maintaining gap responsibility, but had no idea what to do when Peterson came into their gap. If you beat your blocker, or at least fight him to a draw, standing in the gap flat-footed is not good enough against Peterson. You need to own your gap, not just hang out in it for a while. If Peterson comes into your gap — the gap you own! — you need to be in a position to make a play and bring him down. Standing flat-footed and reaching with your hands won’t do it. You also can’t wait for your teammates to come help you out. Peterson gets his big yards when he runs through your feeble attempt at a hand grab and cuts back to where your teammates used to be before they came to help you. Peterson runs aggressively. If you want to stop him, you have to at least match that aggressiveness.