Miracle in Motown – Packers Fans: R-E-L-A-X

Yep, I just pulled out the most overused quote in the last 10 years of Packer fandom. Packers fans in Wisconsin and abroad are still overjoyed by the very improbable comeback victory over the Lions last night in Detroit. A game that saw the Packers down 20-0 at one point in the 3rd quarter and looking just as lost on offense as they’ve been for virtually every game this year 1. Traditional rankings have them 28th in total offense (great at running, really really really bad passing) and 9th in total defense (mediocre vs the run, really good vs the pass). Of course, the traditional stats leave out a ton. Their pass defense is likely fairly good, but not great and certainly not top 5 or top 3 as some stats have them. Opponents don’t have to score a lot, because the Vikings offense doesn’t score a lot (21 points/gm, 26th in the league). There’s no garbage time passing in blowouts vs the Vikings either, their average scoring margin is +3.4. And since they run a lot, the Vikings have are top 10 in time of possession, so opponents aren’t getting a ton of changes to move the ball. They have a good third down defense, but that’s hidden by the fact that they don’t get in a ton of third down situations (the Vikings are middle of the league, allowing 0.314 first downs per play – all of these rankings are per teamrankings.com, btw). So all that said, the Vikings have definitely been inflated in stature by who they’ve played and how they play. They’re a good team, but I’d guess they have the ability and performance level of a team with a couple more losses than they actually have.

But all that said, it’s still hard for a rational observer to get excited about the Packers. Their offense still rates poorly in every category but points (they are getting a decent rate of points/game and points/play despite being bad in every other category, so essentially they have fair success at big plays). Yes, the defenses they’ve played have been tough,. Denver and Carolina, both who made the Packers offense look pathetic, are two of the best defenses in the league (if not one and two respectively). But the Broncos do not have one of the best defenses in NFL history, and they made the Packers offense look like one of the worst ever. Beyond that, they struggled to put up points in a loss to the Bears, a win against the 49ers and essentially 6.5 out of 8 quarters agains the Lions. Those are not defenses that strike fear into your heart.

The Packers’ defense is in a similar spot to the Vikings. They’re pretty good, not great. They’ve been put in a lot of bad spots by failed drives on the offensive side. They’ve been matched up against some of the better offenses in terms of either scoring, yards or both and done better than expected in many cases (the only real exception being the Broncos game). They aren’t an elite defense, but there are enough stats that put them in the top 10 (and just barely) to simply agree they are definitely above average.

So why have I spent the last 1400 or so words rambling and throwing out numbers about the Packers and their opponents, seemingly drawing no conclusion? It’s about perspective. Last night, the Packers beat a really bad team. In doing so, they’ve done what they’ve largely done all year and beat a team they were favored to beat (the Packers are 8-4 overall and 7-5 vs the spread). They’re still a fairly inconsistant team having lost 3 games they were favored (the 4th loss being that pick’em at MIN, which means GB would have been the favorite on a neutral field). Two of those losses had the Packers favored by eight or more points (at home vs DET and CHI). Prior to last night, they had only two wins where they were favored by less than five points (vs SEA and @ MIN). Their offense shows no trending signs it will be okay, and with what was supposed to be a top running back in Lacy being repeatedly benched for performance and offensive linemen going down for at least periods of multiple games lately, it may get worse. The defense is clearly not good enough to win games on their own.

So sure, the Packers may win the NFC North. Winning in the playoffs against the superior Panthers and Cardinals will not be in their favor, but the division and a single home playoff game is realistic. They have an easier remaining schedule compared to MIN and currently have the tie-breaker (which would obviously be decided in week 17 if a tie were in play). But if they win the division, it will be because they continue to be the same team they’ve been all year. They’ll win because they’re a team that can do enough against inferior teams to win (most of the time). And they’ll win because maybe Minnesota is a little more worse-than-the-record-indicates than the Packers and have a slightly tougher road ahead. The Packers are basically in a favorable spot to win the division without any change in quality of play.

So essentially, last night was not a turning point. It was simply a game where it took incredibly extreme and unlikely circumstances for the Packers to beat a mediocre team that they were favored to beat from the start. Relax, Packers fans. Relax.

  1. side note, Football Outsiders had the Packers ranked 9th in their adjusted offensive DVOA coming into this game. I respect those guys a lot and cherry pick their stats plenty, but I’m missing something here. Their non-adjusted rank is 20. DVOA adjusts for playing from behind in the 4th quarter, where GB has done garbage time damage lately, but it appears mostly that their schedule is far tougher than I’m giving credit.). But then, boom, 14 unanswered points. Hold the Lions to a field goal. Score again on a 3rd down Rodgers run where it looked like we’d have to settle for a 35+ yard field goal.

    And then, the real miracle. After stopping the Lion’s attempt to run out the clock, Rodgers takes over on his own 21 with only 23 seconds left.

    Two incompletions later, they’re still at the same spot but facing 3rd down and 79 yards to go in 6 seconds. Game over, time for Packers fans to start looking forward to baseball season. Here comes the predictable chaos of cross-field laterals in a desperate attempt to make magic happen. According to some random win probability calculator I found, the Packers had a 3% chance of winning in this scenario. Pro-Football-Reference.com says there’s a 10.46% chance of a win here, but has zero plays in its archive where this scenario resulted in a win. Let’s just say the odds are against Green Bay here.

    So like most fans, I’m half watching this little back and forth. The ball goes back to Rodgers (Aaron) and at this point I’m only interested in seeing if the franchise quarterback is going to get hurt on this pointless play.

    And, I guess because it’s the Lions. Because they are one of the most poorly run franchises in league history that has only won one single playoff game over a 75+ year span and forced one of the greatest players in NFL history to retire early out of disdain. Because their coach may have died in 2011. Because their coach is from Wisconsin and may secretly be a Packers fan. Because Detroit keeps getting crapped on or crapping on themselves as a city.

    Or much more likely, because the Lions are a bad team that makes more mistakes than most and the NFL always favors calls that “protect” quarterbacks, there was a flag on the field after the play and time had run out. And of course, it was against the Lions.

    Let’s be clear on this one, it shouldn’t have been a facemask call [2. In previous iterations of the rule, this may have been the often annoying 5 yard incidental facemask penalty, which would’ve allowed a hail mary attempt, but from 10 yards further out (71 yards) and essentially zero chance of the throw even reaching the end zone). You can clearly see in replays that Taylor’s thumb grazed the facemask, maybe latching onto it for a fraction of a second. And the bulk of the grab/pull motion was on Rodgers’ shoulder pads. But Rodgers did some acting when a hand came near his face and the ref saw the head turn. When it’s heat of the moment and the game is potentially going to be decided whether on what the ref does, it makes sense that they go with the seemingly obvious visual and the idea they are protecting player safety. Sure, with zoomed-in slow motion HD replay, we see it’s not a facemask. But from 20 yards away in real time? It sure looked like one. Sorry Lions fans, your player made a really dumb move, his hands should have been nowhere near the helmet.

    Anyway, 15 yard penalty and essentially a free play with no time left from 61 yards away, we all know what happened. Packers win, miracle victory, amazing comeback.

    And suddenly the narrative is that the Packers are back or at least have hope. Why not? They’re 8-4, lead the wildcard in a conference full of mediocre teams, have one more game against the division-leading Vikings which could at least put them in a tiebreaker situation for the North lead. And they have Aaron Rodgers! There’s plenty of reason to think will make the playoffs. There’s a reasonable amount of hope they can win the division, with winnable games against Dallas and Oakland coming up (before playing Arizona and Minnesota). The Vikings might have a slightly harder remaining schedule, also playing the Cardinals but with games against more competitive teams verse Chicago and the NY Giants.

    Minnesota has a bit more at stake too, despite being in the division lead by a game (half game at this point, but 1 game going into Thursday night). Let’s say the Packers go 2-1 in their next 3 games. If Minnesota also goes 2-1, they would have a single game lead over the Packers going into their week 17 matchup at Lambeau Field. Because the Packers beat Minnesota a couple weeks ago, the winner of that game would win the division. Obviously that’s a lot of pressure on both sides, but the Packers would be almost certainly be favored in that game (in their last meeting, the line was a PK w/ Minnesota being at home).

    You could make a good case that Minnesota is also one of the more fraudulent good teams. They have the weakest schedule in the division and one of the weakest ones in the conference. They’ve only beaten two teams that currently have above .500 records (the Raiders & Falcons, who are both 6-5) and have lost to the only other above .500 teams they’ve played (Packers & Broncos). Their offense and defense both near rank middle of the pack per Football Outsiders [3. See, cherry picking

Is Time Up for Mike McCarthy & Aaron Rodgers?

photo courtesy of packers.com
photo courtesy of packers.com

For the third straight year, the Packers lost in the playoffs.  For most teams, this wouldn’t be so terrible, but the Packers feature one of the two or three best quarterbacks of the past decade.  Someone who is believed to be a sure fire Hall of Famer.  A quarterback who has nine seasons behind him and might be seeing his window of opportunity closing.

The early responses point to a few common themes in the Ted Thompson era.  Many critics are saying there’s a lack of overall toughness, citing repeated losses to very physical Giants and 49ers teams.  Others say the defense is terrible.  And there’s a healthy mix of complaints about a lack of veteren leadership / free agents.

Let’s look at the criticism and see if we can sort out what is going wrong with this team.

Toughness

This is a rather difficult thing to measure.  But let’s see if we can quantify it a bit.  Looking just at the most recent playoff loss, there are a few possible “toughness” numbers (per NFL.com).

49ers avg yards/carry: 5.6

Packers avg yards/carry: 4.0

49ers sacks allowed: 3

Packers sacks allowed: 4

49ers QB Hits: 6

Packers QB Hits: 2

You might look at some of those numbers and think they indicate San Fran is the tougher team.  They run more, they have a better pass rush, they allow fewer yards against the run.  But there is a lot more to it than that.

Running the ball, San Fran barely did anything in the traditional sense.  Gore carried 20 times for a 3.3 yard average.  His longest run was 10 yards.  The yards/carry average was grossly inflated by Kaepernick’s 98 rushing yards and 14 yard/carry average.  And his long runs did not come as a result of the option, but pass plays where he felt pressure and his first read wasn’t open.  Basically, he scrambled and Green Bay couldn’t catch him.

On the Packers’ side, they were facing the 3rd rated rush defense in the league and performed admirably.  Their running game is the best it’s been in years.  I’m not sure how you can rationally argue this.

The pass rushing stats are a bit more subjective, but Green Bay has been very limited in that department all year.  With the strength of San Fran’s offensive line and all the injuries on the Green Bay defense, it’s not much of a surprise.  The 49ers have allowed 2.4 sacks per game this year, so Green Bay was pretty much right on pace.

The Packers’ pass protection remains a mystery.  They without their projected starting left tackle the entire season.  The fill in was lost during the playoff game.  They also have a first round tackle who has yet to get on the field for any meaningful amount of time (although it’s beginning to look like this is less about injury and more about ability).

There are certainly bigger and faster teams compared to the Packers, but I don’t think you can really prove it’s an issue.

Defense

I covered the run defense already.  On the pass defense side, Kaepernick had 227 yards and a 53% completion rate.  Coupled with one touchdown and one interception, this wasn’t a terribly impressive game on paper.  But visually he dominated once again.  Kaepernick still is not an accomplished passer.  You can watch him follow a single receiver on every play, and either force the pass or run if that player isn’t open.  He’s occassionally hitting a second read these days, but it still looks to be rare.

Even with those limitations, he still kept making plays when it counted.  Especially at the end of the game, where the 49ers were 4/4 on 3rd down and 3/3 on the final drive of the game.

Giving the league’s 8th rated offense (according to FootballOutsiders.com) the ball with 5 minutes left, only needing a field goal to win, is not a good situation for any defense.  The Packers made some critical mistakes (Bush allowing Kaepernick to run past him on 3rd and 8) and had some big missed opportunities (Hyde’s dropped interception), but ultimately just looked outmatched on the final drive.

The rest of the game, they looked really solid.  When the offense was absolutely pathetic in the first quarter, the defense stopped two drives inside their own 10 yard line.  The only touchdown they allowed in the first half was a result of a terrible bit of defense that led to Kaepernick’s 42 yard run.  That play included a lot of people out of position.

But basically the two big Kaepernick runs and the Davis touchdown were the only plays where the defense did not look good.  A good defense wouldn’t allow those plays, but this performance was still much better than what we’ve seen in the past.

Veteren Leadership

There are all sorts of variations of this theme thrown out every year under Thompson.  Let’s look at a few numbers for defensive & offensive starters… Below is name followed by years of experience.

Offense

– Aaron Rodgers: 9 years
– TJ Lang: 5 years
– Josh Sitton: 6 years
– James Jones: 7 years
– Jordy Nelson: 6 years

Defense

– Tramon Williams: 7 years
– Ryan Pickett: 13 years
– BJ Raji: 5 years
– AJ Hawk: 8 years
– Brad Jones: 5 years
– Clay Matthews: 5 years

11 of 22 starters are 5+ year veterens.  Every one of those 11 players were on the Super Bowl roster, all but Brad Jones as a starter.

So what we’re really talking about here is free agency.

In the last offseason, probably the most prominent free agent to change teams was Elvis Dumervil.  While his 9.5 sacks for the Ravens looks good, he was just a situational pass rusher.  He totaled 31 tackles and 3 passes defended.  While the 3rd down presence would help, it’s hard to imagine $5.2 million per season being worth it for such a limited player.

While plenty of people wanted Greg Jennings to stick around, it’s hard to argue against the results without him.  The biggest struggle the Packers’ offense faced was the loss of Aaron Rodgers.  No receiver group could make Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn look good.

Where the Packers missed in free agency is at the less attractive end.  Glenn Dorsey was a big contributor at the end of the season for the 49ers.  Chris Cante is an ideal 3-4 defensive end that eats blockers all day.  Shaun Phillips was a steal compared to Dumervil, but offered virtually identical production.  And these were all positions of great uncertainty entering the season.

Injuries

I don’t know if enough data will ever be available to figure this one out.  The Packers players get injured more frequently than the rest of the league.  This has happened historically under Thompson.

I’ve tried to pull data about player growth from high school to the pros, and it looked like a lot of Ted Thompson draft picks showed big increases in BMI (35-30% increase from high school to pros).  The rest of the league, appears to have gains more like 10-15% over the same timeframe.  The theory is that players are bulking up fast, to a size larger than their frame is designed to hold.  so you have someone with the skeleton of a linebacker by the mass of a lineman.  Potentially, if your body isn’t meant to hold that kind of weight, it could break down more often.  There’s no science I know of to support this, it’s just a guess.  Trying to turn correlation into causation.  But data from high schools is not reliable enough.  Too often, it seems players measure bigger than they really are (maybe to appear bigger and get noticed by scouts?).  I’d love to look further into it, but without access to scouting data, I think it’s a dead end for now.

Beyond that, there are plenty of questions out there about the conditioning staff and McCarthy’s training/practice program.  Changes have been made in both departments over the year, with no changes.

Regardless, something desperately needs to change.  The Packers had 15 people on injured reserve this year, and had a lot of missed games by other starters.  You cannot operate a team that way and expect them to be successful through the postseason.

Playcalling

I’m not throwing this entirely on McCarthy, since Rodgers runs the show in the no huddle to a great degree.  But things just don’t seem to make sense year after year.  In 2007, Favre’s last year with the team, McCarthy had a young team and a very shaky offensive line.  He dealt with that by using a fantastic variation of the west coast offense.  The Packers were a late game Favre meltdown away from the Super Bowl that year.

Ever since, we haven’t seen that willingness to adapt to adverse situations.  In Sunday’s game, despite struggles with the 49ers’ pass rush, the Packers kept sending their receivers deep play after play.  In most instances, one receiver would go short on a slant with everyone else 15+ yards deep.  If that short pass wasn’t open, it left Rodgers waiting in the pocket far too long for routes to develop.

And then there’s the Cobb run inside the red zone.  And the wasted timeout at the end of the first half.  Nearly every game includes questionable moves like this.  The team nearly missed the playoffs because McCarthy didn’t go for two later in the Bears game.

The Packers have obviously built their offense around big plays, but they can’t expect them every snap.  There needs to be some adjustment to the playcalling philosophy to allow for adapatation against tough defenses.  Just like the first touchdown drive on Sunday when they went exclusively with runs and short passes

Closing Windows

Next year will be difficult for Ted Thompson to orchestrate.  Two thirds of their starting defensive line will be unrestricted free agents.  Sam Shields, James Jones, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jermichael Finley, Mike Neal and CJ Wilson will all join them.  The following year will see the same time come for Jordy Nelson, Bryan Bulaga and Randall Cobb.  Tramon Williams is a likely cap casualty in 2014 with $9.5 million in salary and bonuses due.  The team has $107.8 million in spending against the cap (according to OverTheCap.com) for next year, before drafting anyone or even getting a full roster.

The point is, things are going to get a lot harder.  All of this doesn’t take into account teams like the 49ers and Seahawks contuing to develop, along with other powerhouses around the league.  If the Packers hope to not let another hall of fame quarterback career go by with only one title, they are going to have to figure out a lot of issues that don’t have obvious answers.

Unless you believe there is a coach out there that can make an immediate impact given the existing talent, you can’t make a change in that department.  The aging roster and heavy contracts of Matthews & Rodgers won’t allow big splashes in free agency, and history shows there really aren’t big splashes worth making most years.  Thompson will likely need to replace veterens on the team currently with lower priced options (via draft and lower tier free agecy).

But he’ll need to go on a talent evaluation run that ranks up there with the best GM’s of all time, as the window of opportunity for this team appears to be closing.

 

 

Green Bay Packers Offseason Wish List

Assuming we actually have a semi-normal offseason, the Packers are quite a fortunate team in that they have few key free agents, are in healthy shape cap-wise, and are going to get a ton of injured players back.  However, there’s still work to do.  Here’s my wish list broken down by activities.

Team Free Agents

There are people to sign, and we certainly cannot or will not sign all of them.  Here’s my list of guys to sign, ordered by priority.  Of course, we have no idea what the restricted free agency, franchise, transition tender situation will be.  They’ve already taken care of a few free agents (notably Tramon Williams, AJ Hawk, Desmond Bishop).  Here’s thoughts on the remaining.

Must Sign

– Cullen Jenkins (DE) – Dominant end, won’t get Peppers money, essential for our line.

Would be great to have back.

-       Darryn Colledge (OG) – He’s been a shaky player in the past, but we don’t have an immediate replacement.

-       Jason Spitz (OL) – Versatile player, always looks like a starter in camp but in the end is a solid backup for a reasonable price.

-       Mason Crosby (K) – I’ve been very critical of his accuracy, and his kickoffs seemed to suffer last year on top of it.  I’d rather have someone new, but don’t want to cut him without a legit plan.

As long as they don’t want starter money…

-       Atari Bigby (S) – Can’t stay on the field, but can make plays when he does.

-       Allen Babre (OL) – I’d like to see him be a full-time backup at guard, he’s a pretty big & nasty guy and has potential to be the left side version of Sitton.

-       John Kuhn (FB) – Proven he can do a lot.  He has no future as a tailback, too many short yardage runs where he just ran into the back of people.  But a solid guy to have in the backfield.

-       Charlie Peprah (S) – Our safeties have proven they can and will get hurt, need depth.

Only if we don’t have any other plan

-       James Jones (WR) – Too many drops of sure touchdowns, too many games where he can’t get open (against nickel backs or safeties no less).  Jennings, Driver, Nelson are the top 3 wideouts and we need to find some fresh blood to take over for Jones.

-       Korey Hall (FB) – three fullbacks?  Good on special teams…

-       Brandon Jackson (RB) – Was hopefully going to be the year where he just got it, put on extra weight, etc.  I like him in pass protection, but not much else.

The Draft

The Packers consistently take 9-10 players in every draft and we can only assume they’ll do something similar this year.  I really don’t want to get into predicting which players they’ll take, as they’ll end up taking the best available.  However, here’s my list of priorities for positions.

  1. Offensive Tackle – We’ve got someone who is currently acceptable on the right side and might project to move left.  We need another one.
  2. Defensive Line – End or tackle, we just need depth.
  3. Outside Linebacker – The carousel due to injury showed us that we don’t have anyone on the roster worth putting opposite Clay Matthews.
  4. Corner Back – Probably a distant 4th given the potential of Shields.  If you can find a guy that projects to be a nickel back in 2-3 years, that’d be great.
  5. Middle Linebacker – I’m debating moving this higher.  Seems Barnett is a starters as of today, but he’s missed 19 games in 3 years and he’s going to get $6m if he plays this year.
  6. Wide Receiver – I don’t know that Jones will be back and Driver had a big production drop off last year.  We don’t really have a prototypical slot receiver on the roster.
  7. Running back – Grant should be back and starting, Starks shows promise, but assuming Jackson is gone we don’t have a 3rd down back.  That’s not something you usually find in the draft, but it is a definite need.

Jets playing smart with Revis?

I think of corners like closers in baseball. There are very few that can dominate for a long stretch of time. Very few. Darrelle Revis has been really good for two years, but is he a franchise player?

I think of corners like closers in baseball. There are very few that can dominate for a long stretch of time. Very few. Darrelle Revis has been really good for two years, but is he a franchise player? Think about it… the players that typically make the biggest impact on a football team are quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher. A good corner is useless without a pass rush (look at Oakland) as they only cover one guy and even if they can keep up with their man for 3-4 seconds, someone else is bound to get open if the quarterback is given time. I can certainly see Reevis deserving higher pay, but he shouldn’t be the highest paid guy on defense. Bottom line is he’s not going to be winning a ton of games on defense for the Jets by himself. A top pass-rusher, on the other hand, can disrupt so much of the game and make average corners look like stars.

9 guys the Packers need to step up

Every blogger writes stupid top 10 lists, I don’t think I ever have. So I’m attempting one on my favorite subject, the Pack. The team was better than expected last year and this year is a potential NFC champ. However, if that’s going to happen, I’ve got some guys who will need to step it up.

Every blogger writes stupid top 10 lists, I don’t think I ever have.  So I’m attempting one on my favorite subject, the Pack.  The team was better than expected last year and this year is a potential NFC champ.  However, if that’s going to happen, I’ve got some guys who will need to step it up.

9. BJ Raji
The Johnny Jolly legal situation is looming and it looks like Pickett will at least toy around at LDE.  That puts Raji at the nose and setting the table for the run defense.  A lot of people didn’t project him to be a prototypical 3-4 nose, but the Packers need him to eat up 2-3 blockers every snap so the fairly undersized linebackers can be effective.

8. Tramon Williams
Williams had to fill in for injuries to Al Harris the past two seasons.  Each year when his playing time increased, he was beaten up early before settling in.  Last year, however, he was part of a secondary that got torched by Pittsburgh late and Arizona in the playoff loss.  Harris probably won’t be 100% at the start of the season, and may not be all year.  Williams will need to be ready to start from day 1 and work toward being a full-time starter soon.

7. Mason Crosby
I hate to mention kickers as impact players, but when they perform as poorly as Crosby has during his career with the Packers, you have to take note.  Seeing our offense stall out on the opponent’s end of the field is disappointing, seeing Crosby consistently shanking 35 yard field goals is worse.  If he can kick somewhere close to 85% this year, he won’t be a liability, which would be huge.

5/6. James Jones, Jordy Nelson
With neither guy being really promising, they’ll probably alternate as the #3 option this year.  One of them has to elevate their game to be a potential 3rd down threat.  The Packers will give up sacks, like every year, and face 3rd and long situations regularly.  Finley often has to at least chip pass rushers and Driver/Jennings can’t make every play.  Someone has to help move the chains once in a while.

4. Morgan Burnett
A theme here, the pass defense was shaky last year.  Atari Bigby is terrible in coverage and gets hurt consistently.  Burnett has the potential to replace him and be a playmaker in center field next to Collins.  If he can help add stability on the back end, the team could compete against good QBs.

3. Brad Jones
Asking a lot from a guy who almost wasn’t drafted last year.  Clay Matthews has the potential for double-digit sacks.  However, the pressure can’t come from just one side.  Jones has talent in coverage and even in run support.  However, he can get pushed around easily in the passing game and will need to develop some consistent rush skills.

2. Bryan Bulaga
Maybe too much pressure for the rookie, but with both of the projected starters at OT being in their 30’s and with a big injury history, Bulaga will likely have to step in at some point.  The team cannot suffer the shakeup they went through last year when the line played musical chairs to cover for injuries and poor play.

1. Dom Capers
Most people expected the Packers defense to struggle in their first year in the 3-4.  Over-committing to the run and playing some extremely weak teams helped them boost their stats to a top ranking.  However, it was clear they were outclassed against good quarterbacks.  In fact, the defense was a joke against Favre (twice), Roethlisberger and Warner.  Capers seemed to be either lacking the personnel or the guts to call a good game against a tough passing offense.  They often played soft, offering no pass rush and putting anywhere from seven to nine guys in coverage (and still getting beat).  Stopping the run is important, but the Packers are expected to put up 24+ points a game and will see a lot of teams throwing on them.  They also have potentially more quality QBs on the schedule compared to last year (Favre 2x [assumed], a more aggressive/comfortable Stafford and Cutler, Eli, Brady, McNabb, Romo, Kolb [maybe]).  Miami, the Jets and Atlanta even have very capable signal callers.  The only dud QBs on the schedule are likely to come from the San Fran and Buffalo games.

Thompson alters approach, drafts on need

Cynical Packers fans likely went into Thursday night expecting to not see anyone added to the team. Many probably thought GM Ted Thompson would simply trade out of the first round and draft the best player available a few picks later. Maybe we’d end up with another try-hard wide receiver or linebacker. Instead, Thompson showed signs that he feels the team might be done simply turning over the roster and ready to build for something.

Cynical Packers fans likely went into Thursday night expecting to not see anyone added to the team.  Many probably thought GM Ted Thompson would simply trade out of the first round and draft the best player available a few picks later.  Maybe we’d end up with another try-hard wide receiver or linebacker.  Instead, Thompson showed signs that he feels the team might be done simply turning over the roster and ready to build for something.  While there are little arguments that Bryan Bulaga was the best player at pick 23, he also fit a glaring need for the team.  It doesn’t matter if he isn’t ready to be an NFL left tackle this season.  He can play on the right side or at left guard, and the Packers need help in both spots.  We now have a legitimate offensive line prospect to develop for the future, but who can also help the team immediately.  In the 2nd round, Thompson addressed a position of concern with the defensive line.  Jolly and Jenkins are potentially gone after this season (and Jolly’s legal situation is an ongoing concern), so getting another big body who can play the 5-technique is a very smart move.  Neal can find his way into the rotation immediately but is under no pressure to start this season.  Finally, Thompson surprised people a bit by trading up in the 3rd round for Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett.  Burnett is a prototypical Thompson player, with more athleticism than football acumen, but he definitely addresses a need.  Hopefully he can start alongside Nick Collins and offer a bit more security in the deep secondary and against the run than the team got from Atari Bigby over the past few seasons.

While there aren’t a lot of quality corners left, I would expect that to be one of the next positions Thompson targets.  Dominique Franks could be a good pickup for that position.  Another concern might be running back, where there is no quality depth behind Ryan Grant.  Joe McKnight and Jonathan Dwyer are still on the board and either one would make a quality back.  McKnight would likely be the better fit as he’s a speedy guy who can catch passes.

Great Moments in New Orleans Saints History

With the Saints going to their first Super Bowl after 43 years in the league (only 2 teams have existed longer without one), what better time to review some of the milestones in Saints history.

1965: The city of New Orleans votes on the name of their upcoming football team.  The final ballot included “New Orleans Frenchies,” “The Confederate Football Team of New Orleans” and “Noluns Bouyatoufees” (that’s the best written translation of whatever those people were trying to say).  Not seeing a suitable option, the NFL picked “Saints” out of a hat.

1967: The Saints set the tone for the next 40 years by losing their first game.

1972: QB Archie Manning becomes the best player in Saints history by leading the league in pass completions and games lost.

1979: Local professional basketball team, the Jazz, moves to Utah.  Left with no other option, New Orleans sports fans immediately turn their support to LSU.

1979: After drafting punter Russell Erxleben with the 11th pick in the draft, coach Dick Nolan was quoted as saying “it’s getting harder and harder to have a white guy as the best player on your team.”

1980: Unsure about their direction, the Saints hold a public raffle to become the next head coach.

1982: The famous “Who Dat” cheer is adopted in reference to the Saints.  The phrase was popularized by New Orleans residents expressing shock/confusion when they were told they had a professional football team.

1983: Zara’s Super Market in New Orleans launches a successful promotion: Buy $50 worth of groceries, get 4 Saints tickets free (And we’ll throw in a paper bag!).

1985: Local man Tom Benson purchases the Saints for $681,200 and a Chevy Caprice with a full tank of gas.

1985-1996: As part of the NFL’s new campaign to boost fan morale, the Saints are granted their first winning season, first division title and first playoff appearance during the Jim Mora coaching era.

1999: Mike Ditka trades 8 draft picks, 300 lbs of crawfish and $500,000 for Ricky Williams and a 10lb bag of pot.

2002: After achieving success and winning the NFL Executive of the Year award, GM Randy Mueller is promptly fired.

2006: Having had previous success with one-armed quarterback Bobby Herbert, the Saints take a chance signing the injured Drew Brees.

Cutler Running the Show in Chicago

According to the Daily Herald, Jay Cutler is somehow involved in the interview process of the Bears’ next offensive coordinator.  I shouldn’t need to say one more word beyond that to prove how inept the Chicago staff is, but let’s look closer.  Some of you might think it a good idea to involve your franchise quarterback in the hiring process of the guy who will design the offense.  If your franchise quarterback went by the name of Brady, Manning, maybe even Brees or Favre, sure, it’s a great idea.  Those guys have (most of them, anyway) won titles and MVP awards.  They’ve played the game for a long time with a great amount of success and witnessed every offensive scheme imaginable.  Three of those guys are first ballot Hall of Fame players.  If your franchise quarterback is Jay Cutler, the story is different.  Cutler is entering his 5th year (4th as a starter) and has amassed a 24-29 record, never had a winning season (in college either), throws an interception for every 1.29 TD’s and has yet to play an entire game without crying on the sidelines or insulting a teammate’s mother (I might have exaggerated on the last part, but admit, you believe it).  Essentially, Cutler doesn’t have a successful track record.  He’s new to Chicago and has done nothing to prove he’ll be a starting quarterback 3 years from now.  By involving Cutler in this process, Angelo and Smith are saying that A) They are afraid of upsetting Cutler, B) They are not in complete control of the team and C) They are not capable of hiring a quality offensive coordinator.

Of course, all of this equates to more great news for myself and any fan of another NFC North team.  Coupled with Angelo’s regular failings in the early rounds of drafts, the disaster the Bears created on the offensive line, Lovie’s inability to get defensive players to meet their potential, the Bears are almost assuring another sub-500 season in 2010.

How bad is life for Chicago fans though?  Neither baseball team looks like a division winner in 2010, the Bulls are playing better but their best player doesn’t want the ball in the clutch and it’s extremely unlikely they’ll come away with anyone in free agency this year, now the Bears are further punishing their season ticket holders with their inability to make a quality decision.  At least the Blackhawks are good.  Too bad the NHL still isn’t relevant.

NFL Feeling the Crunch?

It’s playoff time, but who can afford to go?  There are 4 games this weekend, and two of them were almost blacked out in the home TV markets.  Arizona and Minnesota had to get extensions to sell all their tickets.  Arizona eventually sold out, Minnesota is still trying.  Hmm, how could these games not sell out?  The Cardinals haven’t hosted a playoff game since way before I was born.  The Vikings aren’t exactly seeing the post season on a regular basis either.  Could it be that tickets are selling for $600 a seat and up?