Monday, December 28, 2009

Green Bay Packers' 2009 Turning Point Was a "Come to Jesus" Moment



It was Monday, Nov. 9 at 2:25 PM. The "Tragedy in Tampa" had occurred less than 24 hours ago. The Packers offense had just finished watching the film of that very ugly game. More sacks. More penalties. More of the poor and inconsistent play that had plagued them all season. Everyone was disgusted. Veteran players stood up individually and spoke to the entire team, including coaches.

Donald Driver, Aaron Rodgers, Mark Tauscher, and others had their say. Donald Driver had some of the more powerful words: "If we don't win - and I mean now - they are going to fire all of our (butts) at the end of the season," Driver said. "I'm serious."

Daryn Colledge called it a "Come to Jesus" meeting. Whatever it was called at the time, you can now call it the "Turning Point."

As Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote at the time, "If the foundering Green Bay Packers go on a long-shot run to the playoffs in the second half of the season, the record will show the resurrection started at approximately 2:25 p.m. Monday." How prescient those words were.

The Green Bay Packers have spoken to us through their play in the last few games. Against Pittsburgh, they showed us that they have enough talent to play with any team. Going into Pittsburgh in December to play a wounded and desperate Steelers team surely would not end well.

And while in one way it didn't, I think the fact that Pittsburgh needed every last second and a moment of pass-completion perfection to pull out a win, actually empowered the Packers and improved their confidence as a team. Sure it was heartbreaking to lose like that, but knowing how hard the Super Bowl champions had to fight to beat them, the Packers could only be impressed with their progress as a team. If I were a Packers player, that's how I would have felt.

The Steelers loss also put the onus on the Packers to win the next game. If they were really serious about making the playoffs (I know that sounds silly, but look at the Giants yesterday), they would need to come out and beat an inferior opponent. The Packers spoke to us in this game with their relentlessness, avoiding the poor third-quarter play they have exhibited in recent games.

More specifically, in their last seven games (starting with the Tampa debacle), the Packers had been shut out in six of those third quarters. Allowing teams to stay close is never a good idea, even though they prevailed in five of those games.

But against Seattle, the Packers did what they could have been expected to do. They dominated an inferior opponent from start to finish. The Packer offense scored at least 10 points in every quarter, quickly fixed a few rough spots at the beginning of the game, protected Rodgers, and only committed three penalties.

The Packers defense did yield almost 300 yards to the Seahawks, but as I wrote in the preseason, this is a defense that will live and die by the big play/turnover. Zero turnovers and a ton of yardage relinquished to the Steelers equated to a heartbreaking loss. Four turnovers and an inferior opponent like the Seahawks equated to a blowout, despite giving up almost 300 net yards.

From the rubble of that horrible loss in Tampa, the Packers rose up, dusted themselves off and found a new focus and new reason for being—a desperation drive to make the playoffs. I have talked with many people who feel that football players don't need any external motivation; because they are pros, they should be able to motivate themselves. I've never subscribed to that theory, especially in football.

Seems to me that a little "Come to Jesus" kick in the ass was just what the Packers needed.

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TGIF: Green Bay Packers New Go-to Guy, Jermichael Finley



As the 2009 Packers season plays out, and yet another football lands in the hands of the Packers #88, I've adopted a new twist on a popular acronym:

TGIF - Thank God It's Finley...

Packers GM Ted Thompson's 2008 draft will never be featured at the top of his resume. Jordy Nelson, Brian Brohm and Patrick Lee were the first three picks of that draft. While I like Nelson, and think he will develop into a very useful receiver, Brian Brohm was a certified bust from day one and Patrick Lee is just one more injury away from being called the same. But Thompson did uncover a hidden gem in that draft. In the third round (pick 91) Thompson selected a young underclassman from the University of Texas.

After less than two full seasons, it's not a stretch to say that Jermichael Finley could turn out to be the steal of the entire 2008 draft.

Finley played only two seasons at Texas, and after only 26 games, he was already the 3rd all-time receiving tight end in Texas history. A father of two children, yet essentially still a kid (Finley turned 21 just before the 2008 Draft), Finley felt the need to move on to life's next challenge.

The Packers first took notice of Finley a week before the NFL combine. Said tight ends coach Bob McAdoo, "When you start watching guys, obviously you look for things you can't coach, and I think he has a few of those qualities. He's someone who was intriguing the minute you turned the tape on."

Finley did not do particularly well at the combine, running only a 4.82 in the 40 yard dash. That and his limited experience scared off a lot of NFL teams, but not the Packers. They went into the draft prepared to take him with the second of their two second-round picks, but when Brian Brohm and Patrick Lee "fell into their laps" (collective groan from Packers fans...), the Packers plans were sidetracked. Luckily, the Packers found Finley still waiting for them in the third round, and now a lot of other NFL GMs are kicking themselves.

As a rookie for the Packers, Finley's athleticism and potential was apparent to everyone. But at 21 years old, Finley was the youngest player on the Packers and at times, appeared overwhelmed by the whole experience. His immaturity showed as he made some some ill-advised comments to the media, complaining about passes not being where he wanted them.

In the last two games of the 2008 season, he flashed some of that potential. He caught passes for 35 yards and 26 yard gains, and caught his first NFL career touchdown. Throughout it all, he worked as hard as anyone in practice, and impressed coaches with his passion for the game.

As the 2009 training camp progressed, Finley opened eyes all around. Aaron Rodgers called him "unguardable." Coach Mike McCarthy said Finley's blocking skills had improved to the point where he can be used in any formation and for any role.

Packers GM Ted Thompson said, "Historically the tight end has been huge in the classic West Coast offenses and I think sometimes we've gotten away from that a little bit. The idea is to get back to using those guys. It's difficult for defensive backs. Your skill guys outside are busy trying to handle [Donald] Driver and [Greg] Jennings."

For his part, Finley would say, "I'm just excited and confident with what I'm about to get into. When I was at Texas, I used to look at Texas Tech's [passing scheme] and say, 'Man, I would love to have that offense.' And now, basically, it's come true. I'm just going to love it this year when the real games come."

Well, Finley's wish has been granted. As the season has progressed, Coach McCarthy has proven to be comfortable with using Finley inside, in the slot and out wide. The match-up nightmares created for opposing defenses have resulted in a bigger role for Finley. After returning from missing 3 games with a sprained knee, Finley has had more balls thrown to him and caught more passes than any other Packer.

During the Packers recent winning streak, one thing has stood out to me on offense. I believe we are seeing Finley become Aaron Rodgers' "go-to" guy. On key downs, Rodgers has looked for Finley with great success. Every great quarterback has one guy that is his security blanket. The guy he can always look for when things are breaking down. The guy he can always depend on to have a mismatch with a defender. Finley could be that guy.

"He's done a great job for us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He really adds an extra dimension to our offense and opens things up for Greg and Donald and James. Having Jermichael out there just gives us another weapon. You have to kind of figure out how you're going to guard him."

What the Packers need to figure out now, is that Finley should be the answer to their Red Zone issues. As Leroy Butler recently said, "When you get to the 20-yard line, that's when No. 88 should get every ball. Jermichael Finley is a bad match-up for every defensive back and linebacker in the National Football League. You have to figure out ways to get him the ball."

Pretty high praise from a Packers legend about a kid who is only 22 years old and should still be a senior in college. It seems apparent to me that the Packers may have hit the proverbial home run with Jermichael Finley. He's an All-Pro in the making and for many years to come, after yet another big play by Jermichael Finley, we should all be saying:

TGIF - Thank God It's Finley.

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Green Bay Packers Running Back Ryan Grant Just Can't "Cut" It.


It was July 2007, "The Summer of Favre," yet with all the attention being given to that PR nightmare, Ryan Grant wanted a little attention too. Five months after the Packers had told Grant and his agent that they would "take care of their own" and sign him to a new contract, Grant was a holdout.

There were angry words from Grant's agent. "It's insulting," agent Alan Herman said of the offer he received from negotiator Russ Ball, "Ryan Grant gave them a running game last year. They know what he can do."

Somehow, what was shaping up to be a contentious negotiation and a long holdout was resolved only a week later, as the two sides agreed on a four year contract. Packer fans everywhere rejoiced. The dynamic running back that had gained over 900 yards for the Packers over the last 10 games of the 2007 season was in the fold.

He's never been the same since.

What Ryan Grant is now, is an example of an incredibly inconsistent NFL running back. He's inconsistent from season to season, game to game, quarter to quarter, even play to play.

I believe it comes down to this: Ryan Grant can only gain significant yards when he has a well-defined hole in sight. Give him a nice big seam that he can run through and he'll slash through the hole with aggression. Give him an offensive lineman or two that have been stood up in his path and he just can't adjust. He doesn't have the ability to make sharp cuts and change direction with speed.

For some proof, lets go to the visual aids:

ryan_grant_1a

This was the play where Grant appeared to have fumbled until he was saved by a replay challenge. It's evident above that the Packers left side of the line loses the line of scrimmage battle and allow themselves to get pushed back a yard or two. Grant sees this. In this picture you can see him trying to stop himself. Because of the unblocked corner, bouncing outside is not an option.

ryan_grant_2a

Conversely, as you can see in the picture above, the right side of the Packers line has done a good job. They've gotten a push, are holding their blocks, there is room for Grant to run. I'm not saying it would be a big gain, but certainly there is room to the right and none to the left.

I give Grant credit for seeing it and attempting to get over there, unfortunately, he doesn't have the ability to do it. His attempted cut takes him right up behind his blockers and within easy reach of the defenders.

ryan_grant_3a

The end result, as you can see above, becomes a two yard loss and near fumble.

Folks, Ahman Green makes that cut. Brandon Jackson makes that cut. Even Kregg Lumpkin makes that cut. Possibly Deshawn Wynn makes that cut (ah, maybe not). But without a doubt, Ryan Grant can NOT make that cut.

Ryan Grant is a fine running back if your offensive line is dominating the line of scrimmage. That hasn't happened very often this year. In my opinion, Ryan Grant is just not the right running back for the Green Bay Packers. I've written about this before and nothing has transpired to change my mind.

As I was watching the Ravens game, it occurred to me that Grant seems to get stopped for zero or negative yardage more than any other NFL running back I've seen. Was this just my imagination? Was my perception fantasy or reality. This inquiring mind had to know.

I went back to the Baltimore game stats and charted Grant's runs. He gained 41 yards on 18 carries for a poor 2.3 yard per carry average. But more importantly, take a look at his 18 runs. Here are the yards per carry on each one:

-1, 3, 2, -1, 7, 0, 8, 2, 0, 4, 0, 8, 4, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, -1

Besides being about as inconsistent as they could be, let's look closer at these numbers. Six runs (33%) went for zero gain or a loss. Nine runs (50%) went for 2 yards or less. A running back like that is what you call a drive killer. If Aaron Rodgers wasn't seemingly unconscious on third downs, Grant's performance would have manifested itself in more Jeremy Kapinos punts, certainly not what the Packers want.

Conversely, Ahman Green did what Ahman Green does, gain positive yardage. Despite my pleading with Mike McCarthy through my television set, and much to my chagrin, Green was only given five handoffs during the Ravens game. His yards per carry were as follows:

4, 4, 8, 5, 2

Sure this is too small a sample to be definitive, but throughout Ahman Green's career, one thing has been definitive - he consistently gains positive yardage. Consistency that Ryan Grant does not have. Green is rarely stopped for no gain or a loss. He finds a way to make something out of nothing. Consistently.

Of Ahman Green I say, "Give him the damn ball".

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Packers Vs. Ravens: Q & A With Ravens Writer And Author John Eisenberg


As the Green Bay Packers prepare to meet the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night, I felt the need to get the inside scoop on the Ravens from someone in the know. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview John Eisenberg, a long-time Baltimore sportswriter and author of seven sports books. John is currently employed by the Ravens organization, writing a regular column for the official team web site.

Also of great interest to Packers fans is John's latest book, "That First Season", about the 1959 Green Bay Packers. Based on new interviews with people who were there, the book recounts how Vince Lombardi came to Green Bay and transformed a downtrodden organization into one of the NFL's greatest dynasties. More about the book later, but first lets get to my question and answer session with John Eisenberg.


Al: Thinking about this Packers - Ravens matchup, I have this uneasy feeling that the Ravens are a team ready to break out with a big game. Looking at the Ravens' record, one thing stands out. The Ravens' 5 losses have come to teams with a combined record of 44-10. The average margin of loss in those games was 4.6 points. Are the Ravens a very good team ready to explode on the unsuspecting Packers?

John: The Ravens are indeed a dangerous team. I don't think anyone relishes playing them. They hit hard and play close games. A couple of late-game gaffes, including a missed field goal by a kicker no longer with them, have kept them from being 8-3 or even better. Having said that, they're also one of the most penalized teams in the league, they've been prone to make key mistakes, and most importantly, their defense, long one of the game's best, is not playing at the same level this year -- still solid but more yielding against both the run and pass. I don't think they will explode on the Packers. And I don't think the Packers are unsuspecting -- they have seen the films of all these brutal games the Ravens play in their division with Pittsburgh and Cincy. I would expect a close, hard-nosed game.


Al: Joe Flacco can expect to see plenty of blitzing from the Packers defense. How would you say he has handled teams that try to rattle him in that way?

John: The Vikings had a lot of luck early in their game with the Ravens by blitzing Flacco. And Pittsburgh had some success last week. Flacco is just in his second year and is still learning about reading defenses and coverages -- sometimes his youth shows. But he is a big guy and not afraid to take a hit. A warning, he gets up and comes back at you. The Vikings had him on the ropes and he directed a huge rally in the fourth quarter and had the game won until Steve Hauschka missed the 44-yard kick -- in a dome, unforgivable. Flaaco's biggest problem right now is a sore ankle that is hampering his mobility and also his throwing mechanics.


Al: The Ravens brought in kicker Billy Cundiff two weeks ago. He has made an immediate impact, making 5 out of 6 field goals against Indianapolis and then kicked a game winner in OT against the Steelers. How much were the Ravens affected by missed field goals in their five losses?

John: Cundiff has provided stability, which the Ravens needed. They took a big gamble and failed by not bringing back Matt Stover, a superb kicker who was getting old but still had it. They thought Hauschka could step in with a huge leg, but he was a kid (24) and he crumbled under the pressure. The miss in Minnesota was devastating, and he missed a couple of other key kicks before the Ravens cut him. It is not impossible that Cundiff could eventually struggle, too, but he looks good so far.


Al: Ravens fans have been very critical of head coach John Harbaugh, much like Packer fans were of Mike McCarthy earlier this season. Do you feel he's being out coached during games and is the criticism warranted?

John: The fans are rightfully upset with all the penalties, which indicate a lack of discipline that falls on the shoulders of the head coach. And he has had problems with time management, timeouts and challenges. But he isn't really taking that much heat. Cam Cameron runs the offense and Greg Mattison runs the defense. Mattison is taking more heat than Harbaugh because the defense has had some problems. Mattison was a longtime college coordinator and some fans don't like his more conservative approach. They long for the days of Rex Ryan, the mad scientist, who brought all kinds of blitzes.


Al: Having followed Ray Rice at Rutgers, I was very high on him coming into the NFL draft. The Ravens grabbed Rice in the second round, one pick before the Packers made their ill-fated selection of Brian Brohm. I have often wondered if the Packers would have taken Rice if the Ravens didn't. I consider Rice a future Pro Bowler. Do you agree and what problems do you think he presents for the Packer defense?

John: The Ravens drafted Rice, but like every team, had no idea he would be this good, especially so soon. They thought they were set at running back with Willis McGahee but Rice has made Willis expendable. He can run and catch, and makes a ton of yards after the first hit. He has been a huge playmaker. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the Pro Bowl this year -- he deserves it. He will present the Packers the same problem he has presented every opponent -- with his strength and low center of gravity, he is elusive in traffic, has a knack for getting through scrums.


Al: How did the Ravens come out of the Pittsburgh game injury-wise? Will any starters be out for the Packers game? Is Terrell Suggs expected back?

John: The Ravens are banged up. I realize that is true for every team this time of year, but the Ravens have issues. Flacco is playing on a sore ankle that is having an impact. Their best defense defensive player, Haloti Ngata, is also playing on a sore ankle that has made him less effective. Suggs is questionable, and if he plays, won't be 100 percent. Starting cornerback Fabian Washington is out for the season, but the rookie who replaced him, Lardarius Webb, had a great game against the Steelers. Webb is a classic Raven, a third-round pick from a little school who plays tough.


Al: In your opinion, what are the three main things the Packers will have to do to beat the Ravens?

John:

1. Run the ball. It can be done against the Ravens this year, as opposed to years past, and it throws the defense off.

2. Pass the ball down field. The Ravens are susceptible to big plays in the secondary.

3. Don't make mistakes. The Ravens tend to make their share -- penalties and turnovers. If you don't give the game away, you're halfway there.

That concluded my interview with John Eisenberg. I find it interesting that the three things John mentioned as keys for beating the Ravens are all things the Packers have had issues with. Running the ball successfully has been a problem until just recently. Being able to throw downfield, of course, depends on the offensive line's ability to protect Aaron Rodgers. Excessive penalties have been a recurring problem for the last three seasons.

Personally, I think the performance of the offensive line will be the key for this game. Can they open some holes for Ryan Grant to keep the Ravens defense honest? Can Rodgers be given enough time to pick apart the Raven's struggling secondary or will he spend the evening fearing for his life? The answers to those questions will most likely determine the outcome.

Getting back to John's book, the full title is "That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory". It is interesting to note that John grew up in Dallas and was a Cowboys fan during the 50’s. He jokingly says that the Green Bay Packers “ruined his childhood.” But you would never know that from reading his book.

I am personally about halfway through the book and have found it both entertaining and informative. I rate it a “must-read” for anyone interested in the Green Bay Packers or NFL history, in general.

Thank you, John, for the interview and enjoy the game!

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Packer Transplants Live Blog - Dec 1st

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Green Bay Packers Defeat The Detroit Lions, 5 Things To Be Thankful For


As the Green Bay Packers knocked the stuffing out of the turkeys known as the Detroit Lions, Packer fans everywhere were surely in a thankful mood. After watching the game, here are five things this Packer fan and writer is thankful for. Feel free to add your own in the comments section:

Thank you for the 2009 NFL Draft: Clay Matthews, BJ Raji, T.J. Lang, Brad Jones, Quinn Johnson, Brandon Underwood. Six Packer draft picks have made significant contributions in just their first year in the NFL. Clay Matthews has shown he can be a star in this league. Watching him beat two players easily in a three-man rush and then chase down a scrambling Stafford for a sack showed me the kind of will he has to be successful. I have no doubts that he will. BJ Raji, has been coming on strong and making an impact as his ankle injury has healed and his play count has increased. Today he crushed a Lion running back in the backfield, knocked down a pass, and was a force in the short yardage defense. T.J. Lang once again stepped in at left tackle today when Chad Clifton pulled a hamstring. The line did not miss a beat and Mike McCarthy called lang's play, "impressive." Lang, Jones and Johnson are all potential starters next season.

Thank you for making it through a game with Jarret Bush as the nickel back:
I've never seen a defensive back look more confused in coverage than Jarret Bush. Now, this is his fourth season with the Packers, shouldn't he know who to cover by now? On the Tramon Williams interception, he first ran at the receiver Williams was covering, turned and ran at another receiver, turned again and realized he was covering nobody. Fortunately, Williams stuck with his man and Stafford made a poor decision to throw it to the wrong receiver. Had he looked down-field, he would have seen the receiver Bush should have been covering wide open. Did I forget to mention that a punt hit Bush in the back?

Thank you for Jermichael Finley still having a head:
Finely took a vicious hit after an incomplete pass, as Lions rookie Louis Delmas took a run at him in what was very nearly a direct helmet-to-helmet hit. Only a slight turn of the head at the last minute prevented what could have been a serious injury. Finley did stay on the ground for a while holding his head, causing me to fear a possible concussion, but luckily, he just had the wind knocked out of him. Regardless, it was a scary hit that is sure to draw Delmas a fine from the league office.

Thank you for Donald Driver: Like Old Man River, Donald Driver just keeps rolling along. Driver caught seven passes today for 142 yards and a touchdown, For the season, that gives him 53 catches for 845 yards and five touchdowns. With 5 games to play, Driver is sure to reach the 1000 yard mark for the sixth straight season. Driver is on a mission to disprove the perception that he is getting old. After the game, as he was awarded the "Golden Gobbler" as player of the game from Fox, Driver commented, "I may be old in age, but I still play young." Yes you do Donald, and thank you for that.

Thank you for Charles Woodson: A multi-dimensional player like Woodson, who can do so many things, and all in an outstanding manner, is a rarity. It was just another day at the office for Woodson, with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble and fumble recovery, 4 passes defended and he also returned a kickoff. Even more significantly, it was announced before the game that Woodson has donated two million dollars to a new children's hospital at his Alma mater, the University of Michigan. Clearly, Charles Woodson doesn't do anything in a half-hearted manner. Hopefully, other multi-millionaire players will be inspired to follow his example. After all, how many millions does a person need to be able to live a good life?

So those are the five things from the Packers Thanksgiving Day victory that this writer is thankful for. I'd like to hear yours...

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Green Bay Packers Injury Fallout Hits Charles Woodson Hardest



The injury bomb fell on Green Bay, Wisconsin this Sunday, and the fallout will surely hit Charles Woodson the hardest. Just as many Packer fans were marveling at the relative good health of this team, Aaron Kampman and Al Harris, two Packer stalwarts that have had few injuries throughout their careers, were hit hard by misfortune.


The first question that comes to mind is, " Will these injuries have the same devastating effect on the Packers defense as Nick Barnett's and Cullen Jenkins' injuries did last season? With the improvement this year in personnel and scheme, I wouldn't expect that drastic a drop-off.
What hurts as much as anything is that the two players whose seasons have just ended might have been the Packer's two least-injured players.


When Kampman missed the Packers' Nov. 15 win over Dallas because of a concussion, it was the first game since 2003 Aaron had missed. Harris has only missed 4 games in his entire career, all last season when he suffered a ruptured spleen. For his part, an adamant Al Harris says he'll be back in six months.

The fallout from these injuries will affect the Packers in many ways: For one, the inexperienced Brad Jones and much-maligned Jarret Bush suddenly will see a lot more playing time and another cornerback will probably be brought in. As I am writing this, I see that it's already happened. On Monday, they worked out and signed Josh Bell, a former Denver Broncos backup who started five games last year.

With Dom Capers' propensity for playing nickel, Jarret Bush will now see significant playing time as the nickel back, as Tramon Williams moves into Harris' spot. That also means Brandon Underwood will see action when the Packers go to the dime package.

Jeremy Thompson, the OTA marvel that looked so impressive in shorts and helmets, but disappeared once the pads came on, will now be active on game day for the Packers. The Packers are unlikely to look at free agent linebackers, as they feel that is a position of depth and they also have Cyril Obiozor waiting on the practice squad.

The leadership quotient on the Packers has also taken a big hit. The veterans Kampman and Harris were fixtures on defense and in the locker room. As Nick Collins said, "Guys were ready to step up, but not hearing their voices out there, it was tough, because they’re so vocal out there and they’re leaders and everybody feeds off their passion for the game."

This also ratchets up the pressure on the offense to score more points and be more efficient in the red zone. Few people doubt the Packers ability to chew up yardage (they are currently seventh in the league in total yardage), but they currently have scored a touchdown only 52% of the time from the Red Zone (18 of 34). That's a lot of points left on the table that has kept some games unnecessarily close. The margin for error will now just get considerably smaller.


But the biggest impact, I fear, will be on Charles Woodson (AKA Superman). Can Dom Capers afford to let Woodson loose as he did in the Dallas game, where Woodson single-handedly ruined any plans Tony Romo had for a Cowboys victory?


For your answer, watch the replay of the 49er game. Two plays after Harris went out, Capers blitzed Underwood and Woodson. The result; touchdown to Vernon Davis over the top on a vertical route, covered man-to-man by Clay Mathews with too-late help from Jarret Bush.


After the game, Capers said he decided to stop calling for pressure packages at that point to keep Woodson exclusively on Vernon Davis. So for everyone clamoring to know why the Packers stopped blitzing, there's your answer. Of course, with a straight four man rush and no blitz pressure, Alex Smith had the time to quickly march the 49ers down the field for a touchdown to bring the game to a one score differential. Fortunately, the offense was able to move the chains and kill the clock on their final possession.


So the question I'll be asking myself every week is WWCD? What Would Capers Do?


Regardless of WWCD, there can be no question about one thing: the Packers defense has been at its best when they have been aggressively attacking opposing quarterbacks. A huge part of that was due to Charles Woodson. I hope this doesn't mean we've lost that.


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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Green Bay Packers Ride the Dallas Cowboys Out of Town - 3 Reasons to Smile



Hold on everybody, the Packer rollercoaster season is only in mid-ride. Just when most Packer fans were ready to bail out of the car, the season swooped up to it's highest point so far. The amazing win against the formerly on-a-roll Dallas Cowboys has left Packer fans everywhere just a bit giddy.

So what changed? What was responsible for the 180 degree turnaround from the putrid performance in Tampa? Specifically, what three things put a smile on my face?

1. Mike McCarthy had a good game plan and called a good game - for a change. As critical as I have been of his coaching, I have to give him credit. Here are some of the things he did that I liked:

a) The running game. For once, Mike McCarthy ran the ball throughout the entire game, never abandoning it as he is so inclined to do. . The Packers running backs ran the ball 23 times for 90 yards, an average of 3.9 yards. You wouldn't call that great, but it was enough to help keep the Cowboys honest. A good number of draw plays were called, again to keep the Dallas defensive linemen from committing all-out to the pass rush. Seems like a simple concept, but one that often eludes the Packers head coach.

b) Screen passes: The Packers ran 5 screen plays, and while the average gain was not great, it would have been much better if the first screen to Ryan Grant hadn't been nullified by a penalty. Not to mention if Chad Clifton could just throw a block in the open field. On two quick screens to his side, Clifton had but one Dallas player to block and the Packers would have had large gains, as there were no other defenders in sight. Instead, he whiffed twice and the Packer running back was tackled for a loss or no gain.

And let me also add here that the Packers fool no one when they run a screen. They are very poor at disguising it. You can see the opposing players running to the ball carrier before the ball is even thrown. Perhaps if the Packers keep running it, practice will make perfect.

c) Blocking help: There were only 3 passes thrown to the tight ends this game, because the majority of the time, they were part of the protection package. When you are playing a team with a pass rush like Cowboys have, that's the right thing to do. While in many cases Lee and Havner were of help in protection, Lee was called for two holding penalties and Havner was slow to react on 2 plays, both resulting in sacks.

But despite that, I am at least pleased that Mike McCarthy didn't do what he has done in other games this year - left inexperienced players out on an island to deal with All-Pro defensive lineman on their own.

d) Short passing game: Mike McCarthy finally realized that no matter the advantage he thinks the Packers receivers may have against opposing secondaries, it does no good to try to hit the home run if Aaron Rodgers doesn't have time to throw it. The short routes and completions were plentiful. The slant route was back (despite Troy Aikman not realizing it had ever left). The screen pass, as discussed above, was back.

From my unofficial count after watching the game tape, 23 of the 35 passes thrown were passes of less than ten yards in the air. To me, this was the best-called game by Mike McCarthy in a long time.

e) Aaron Rodgers: Let's not give Mike McCarthy too much credit. Aaron Rodgers was given more responsibility for making line of scrimmage calls this past week. He managed the game well, and made an obvious conscious effort to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. Rodgers threw the ball away three times to avoid a sack (one was penalized, but I applaud the thought, anyway). He also dumped the ball off 4 times to avoid a sack. These numbers may not seem earth shattering, but compared to his other games, it's a downright plethora of sack-avoidance maneuvers.

Rodgers also seemed to move a bit better in the pocket, avoiding a few sacks and only losing a total of 11 yards on the four times that he was sacked. For comparison, the Cowboys lost 34 yards total on the Packers' 5 sacks. Perhaps the Monday "Come to Jesus" meeting clarified everything for Rodgers. Evidently, in this no-holds barred meeting, a few Packer players called out Rodgers for holding the ball too long. Hearing it from his own teammates is probably what it took for him to see things in a different light and make a concerted effort to change things. I think he did a great job of it and showed his commitment winning and to his teammates.


2) Dom Capers finally let it all hang out.

Blitzes from the Edge. I've been calling for it all season: "Where is Matthews coming off the edge?", I have asked. Why do the Packers keep running the same crossover blitz with the inside linebackers over and over? What happened to the DB blitzing we saw against the Bears? Well guess what, all of that arrived last weekend, plus a whole lot more.

Watching the game tape, it was startling some of the blitzes I saw. Capers called some things you hardly ever see, like two defensive backs blitzing from the same side. Now, unless you're in a situation where you're blitzing eight, you just don't see that. Let me tell you, from one play to the next, Romo had no way to predict who was coming and from where.

As an example, lets just look at the first half. The Packers blitzed 13 times in the first half. Here's what occurred.

Blitz #1: Bigby
Blitz #2: Matthews
Blitz #3: Woodson
Blitz #4: Collins
Blitz #5: Matthews & Jones
Blitz #6: Collins & Bush (same side)
Blitz #7: Bigby
Blitz #8: Barnett & Hawk - inside crossover blitz - sack
Blitz #9: Matthews
Blitz #10: Matthews
Blitz #11: Matthews - sack
Blitz #12: Barnett & Woodson - inside crossover blitz
Blitz #13: Matthews & Jones

Eleven of the thirteen blitzes were from the outside. The first seven of the game were all from the outside, from six different players. When the Packers finally ran their inside crossover blitz on Blitz #8, it worked to perfection. No wonder! Suddenly the inside blitz was a surprise and not expected. This is what we had heard since the day Capers had been hired, that the Packers defense wanted to be unpredictable and confuse the offense. Looks like that day finally arrived.

3) T.J.Lang: Early on in training camp, word was that the Packers were going to give T.J. Lang a chance to compete for the right tackle job. I want the head of whomever decided to change that. T.J. Lang was very good against the Cowboys. Not just OK, actually VERY GOOD. He did not give up a sack himself, he neutralized Ware and Spencer on running plays and I saw him plant a few players into the ground.After the game, McCarthy commented on how Lang is more comfortable on the right side - I see, so that's why the Packers decided to slot him as a backup left guard and left tackle.

Of course, there were plenty of other reasons to smile; Superman (AKA Charles Woodson), better kick coverage, shutdown run defense and more. But the three items above you could say were pleasant surprises, and I'm still smiling...

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.





Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy Said What?!?



Watching a Mike McCarthy press conference always brings out my emotional side. The chuckles, the sneers, the jaw-drops, the yelling, the abusing of my computer monitor. Good thing I don't work in an office full of people.

I am often left wondering, does McCarthy really believe the s**t he drops on us every week? Does he get a kick out of insulting beat reporters and fans with the same empty promises and catch-phrases? After this Tampa debacle, a real coach would have just come out and said: We stunk today - players, coaches, collectively we were horses**t. I promise you it will NOT happen again as long as I am coach of this team.

Instead, what was heard was the Mike Milquetoast show. A few examples:

QUOTE: "We have four individuals on our offensive staff that I'd be very confident in coaching the offensive line... I think Shawn Slocum has done a good job in putting his print on what we're trying to do... But our problems to me aren't teaching and scheme, they do not fall in that area."

MY COMMENT: Yet every week, the Packers are hurt by self-inflicted wounds. Missed assignments, mis-communications, bad decisions, penalties, etc. And he thinks the coaches have all done a good job. So is coach McCarthy saying the players are too dumb to execute what they are taught? Or is he saying he's coached them perfectly and they're just not good enough?

QUOTE: "We don't need wholesale change. We may need to adjust some things and that will be our focus. ...I'm very confident in the issues that we've had in pass protection, that they are correctable."

MY COMMENT: Half the season is gone. NOW the coach thinks he MAY need to adjust some things? There goes another clump of my hair... It's also heartening to hear that the pass protection issues are correctable. Whew! That's a relief. I'll just wait here patiently...

QUOTE: "If there was an error that was made leading up to this game it was probably too much work this week."

MY COMMENT: Earlier in the season, Coach McCarthy was called out for possibly not keeping the players focused in practice. Now he thinks he may be working them too hard? So basically, he doesn't know how to run a practice correctly and efficiently.

Here's what Packers great Leroy Butler had to say about this: "The guys weren’t in full pads all week, so it’s hard to overwork a group that’s not in pads. If they were in pads Wednesday and Thursday, I could see him overworking them where they’re tired... But if you have the youngest team in the league, they need to be overworked every day because you’re seeing the same mistakes. If he did overwork them, then they’re not working on the stuff that needs to be worked on." How great is that?

QUOTE: "There is structure. To have a new message or a new messenger, I'm confident that's not what our football team needs right now. They have a very loud, direct, clear message in the team meetings day in and day out. So there is no question or uncertainty of what we are asking everybody to do, coaches and players, and the accountability of what needs to be done."

MY COMMENT: I think coach McCarthy is not being honest with himself. What is the message? That if we make mistakes, we'll "fix'em" next practice? Where is the accountability? One more quote from Leroy Butler: "But he needs to be more of a dad than a friend to these guys. Your dad disciplines you, but also loves you. Your friend tells you what you want to hear even when you’re playing bad."

SUMMARY:
Mike McCarthy is failing in many aspects of his job. Mostly, he seems to accept mediocrity while regurgitating the same old excuses and empty promises. He has proven to be a poor leader of men and his game-day decision making incites more questions than answers. His post-game press conferences ostensibly do the same.

Mike McCarthy has 3 1/2 years left on his contract that pays him approximately $4,000,000 per year. Despite the widespread clamoring, McCarthy is not likely to be fired during the season. It would also take a monumental failure during the second half of this year for the Packers to eat the final three years of that contract. It's not something the Packers will want to do, and I'm sure Mike will tell his bosses the same s**t we are hearing: It's correctable...

By the way, if you haven't read it, the full Leroy Butler interview can be found here:

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green Bay Packers Vs. Minnesota Vikings II: 3 Plays Tell the Story



I sat down tonight to review the film of the Packers - Vikings game. I didn't make it very far. Within the first 5 minutes, I saw three plays that would foretell how the game would unfold. Already disgusted, I threw down the remote and bailed on watching the whole game. Why torture myself? It was clear that these three plays would give me plenty to write about.

Play # 1: Packers first running play. Grant makes a BAD, BAD decision.

With Quinn Johnson as the lead blocker, Rodgers hands off to Ryan Grant on what looks like an outside zone run. Johnson meets the linebacker head-on and everywhere, the play is blocked perfectly. Every Viking player, except for the deep safety, has a Packer blocker in their face. The Packers are all holding their blocks well, and you can see a nice seam for Grant to run through between Sitton and Barbre. Make it through that hole and at least a 10-yard gain and possibly a huge play awaits....


In the picture above, you'll see that Grant is looking to that hole. But look at the picture below.

For some unexplainable reason, Grant cuts inside, trying to squeeze between Quinn Johnson and Sitton. He ends up running right into Johnson and the Viking player he's blocking. As you can see from the next picture, Grant goes nowhere:

Grant actually ends up fumbling on this play, but the Packers get lucky and the officials rule forward progress stopped, so Minnesota was not allowed to challenge.

With all the heat the offensive line has been taking, I have quietly felt that their run blocking for the most part has been good enough. But I held off laying the full blame at Ryan Grant's feet. Well, the gloves are off. Ryan, if this is the best you can do, then you are a thief - you are stealing the Packer's money.

I would opine that Brandon Jackson, who I'm no fan of, would have hit the right hole. I would expect Ahman Green to have hit the right hole, but who knows what he has left. I believe that Tyrell Sutton, who the Packers chose to let go, would have hit the right hole. And finally, let me one more time invoke the name of Kregg Lumpkin, buried on the Packer's practice squad. I am sure Lumpy would have hit the right hole.


Play # 2: Rodgers doesn't sense the pressure.

There has been much discussion of Aaron Rodgers holding on to the ball too long. And most of it is accurate. He is too often determined to make the big play, ignoring safer and quicker options.
I devoted an entire article to this subject after the first Vikings loss. But another issue that goes along with that is that he doesn't yet sense pressure until it is right upon him. It's maddening to watch, at times, and the play I will show you is very symptomatic.

Here Rodgers moves to his left in the pocket. Ray Edwards gets around Alan Barbre late and is pursuing Rodgers from behind. It's 3rd and seventeen, so Rodgers is looking down field, hoping for a long completion. As you can see from the first picture, as Edwards is only two steps away, Rodgers is still looking down field, ignoring a wide open Brandon Jackson, who has no defender within ten yards of him.

As Edwards, gets closer, Rodgers is still waiting for the deep receiver to complete his pattern. Although he has room, he doesn't continue moving up in the pocket to avoid Edwards because he doesn't feel him coming. Instead he sets himself to throw.

In the next picture, you can see a wide open Donald Driver directly in front of Rodgers. But does he unload the ball to him? No he does not. He ignores Driver and Jackson (again), and tries to thrown the ball further down field. But because Rodgers didn't feel the pressure, Edwards is able to hit his arm as he throws.



Finally, in this picture you can see what Rodgers was waiting for:



You can see the third Packer receiver (James Jones) who has just made the inside cut on a post pattern. Unfortunately, the ball is now fluttering to nobody and Rodgers is on the ground. While Rodgers was looking for a big play on 3rd and seventeen, he ended up with nothing. As you can see, Jackson and Driver are still wide open. If he had sensed the pressure sooner and continued to move away, Rodgers would have bought himself another half-second, which would have been more than enough to allow him to get the pass off to the deep receiver. Or he could have just thrown to Driver or Jackson for an easy completion. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Aaron, you just have to improve this part of your game or all those gaudy numbers you put up will mean nothing in the end.


Play # 3: Brett Favre will make you pay if your blitzers don't get to him.

Here we have a 3rd and five on the Vikings' first possession. The Packers are showing blitz (a bit too obviously and too soon) and the Vikings make adjustments. You can see the Vikings' right guard pointing and no doubt calling out a blocking assignment (See that Aaron?). The Packers run their tired crossover blitz, with Aaron Kampman circling behind Clay Matthews. Barnett does not blitz and is responsible for coverage, if needed. You can see the huge area that will be left empty when the linebackers blitz.



Brett Favre also sees it coming (See that Aaron?), and looks over and gestures to running back Chester Taylor to move to his right:


When the blitz does come, the Vikings offensive line is ready for it. And so is Favre. He simply lets Chester Taylor run into the big empty area and feeling pressure from Cullen Jenkins, quickly unloads the ball to Taylor. A 5-yard pass becomes a 20-yard gain.


It's so basic and simple, and it's what the Vikings and Favre did to the Packers in both games. Pick up the blitz, throw the ball to the area left vacated by the blitz and move the chains. It's the reason why, in both games, the Packers covered more and blitzed less as the game went on. Of course, that in turn allowed Favre more time to throw and we all know he can pick you apart if you let him. So it becomes a no-win situation for Capers.

So in summary, these three plays were all you needed to see to let you know how this game would turn out. Rodgers continuing to have issues with not feeling pressure soon enough and looking too much for the big gain. NO running game, to which McCarthy's answer is to just give up on it. You mean, he can't see that Grant is just plain playing POORLY? Why wouldn't you at least try to give Jackson or Green a few carries? And finally, if the Packers can not pressure, hurry, or sack the quarterback, they can not stop a team with a good quarterback.

So don't waste your time watching the whole game again, Packers fans. The first five minutes tell the whole story...

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on twitter.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings: The History, the Rivalry and Favre



Throughout the 48-year history of the Packers-Vikings rivalry, there have been some special moments, but probably none that will live up to this weekend's events. An aging Viking leader returns with a new band of men, looking to plunder the very homeland he once loved.

The word Viking is Scandinavian for "pirate," an appropriate description of our former hero gone astray. Like the Vikings of the eighth and ninth centuries, Brett The Grey and his band of marauders will be trying to claim a foreign land for their own—in this case, Lambeau Field.

Residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin certainly have a deep-rooted interest in this battle. Packers fans and Vikings fans have always had a special dislike for each other. As bordering states, there was a natural competitiveness between people of the two states. When close-to-Wisconsin Minneapolis-St. Paul suddenly became host to a professional football team, many fans, including those in Western Wisconsin, had a difficult choice to make.

As fans made their choices, resentment built and friends became enemies. The Green Bay loyalists sneered at the Vikings converts and the new Vikings fans became jealous of the Packers as their dominance of the 1960s became a sore point.

The Minnesota Vikings entered the NFL in 1961 as the 14th franchise in League history, but not without a few interesting twists. The Minnesota team was originally slated to be one of the eight charter members of the new American Football League, and had even completed the college draft.

But the NFL saw great potential for a team in Minneapolis, and the prospective owners were lured away from the AFL by the promise of an NFL franchise. The Oakland Raiders took Minnesota's place in the AFL and automatically inherited all of their draft choices.

Bert Rose, the first GM of the Minnesota franchise, chose the Vikings nickname to embrace the area's heavy Scandanavian population and then set about looking for a head coach. Ara Parsegian was his first choice, but when that didn't work out, he hired Norm Van Brocklin, who had just beaten the Packers in the NFL Championship the year before and had retired as a player.

The irony of that choice was not lost on Vince Lombardi, and beating Van Brocklin and the Vikings became another obsession for Vince. They were fierce rivals as coaches, engaging in many shouting matches, as both teams occupied the same side of the field in those stadiums.

Van Brocklin delighted in giving Lombardi a hard time and played up the David vs Goliath role to his players. Lombardi was convinced that Van Brocklin was instructing Viking players to try to injure the Packers players whenever possible. When Jerry Kramer broke his leg in a game vs. the Minnesota Vikings, Lombardi had one of his most famous tirades.

Both Packers and Vikings players have stated throughout the years that the Vikings never purposely tried to injure the Packers players, but they did play hard and tough against those elite Packers teams.

But in the late '60s, as Vince Lombardi exited and Bud Grant entered, the rivalry would begin to turn on it's head. During the '70s, the Packers would win only four out of 20 games against the Vikings. Suddenly the Packers fans were jealous and Vikings fans were sneering. That decade was when the rivalry grew some nasty teeth among Packers fans.

In the 48-year history of this rivalry, the Packers hold a slight winning edge at 49-46-1. There have been many special moments, but let's take a look at just a few:



1961, The First Season

In the first year of the Vikings' existence, a scheduling quirk matches up the Packers and Vikings for two consecutive weeks. The first-ever meeting between these two teams was played before a sellout crowd at Metropolitan Stadium, with the Packers entering the game as 17-point favorites.

Norm Van Brocklin joked that he would petition the league to reschedule the game in a few weeks, so that Paul Hornung and Ray Nitschke would miss it due to military commitments. The game was played on schedule and the score at halftime was a surprisingly close 13-7.

Vince Lombardi must of had a few choice words for the Packers at halftime, because they came out a different team and rolled over the Vikings, 33-7. The very next week, playing at City Stadium in Green Bay, the Packers would beat the Vikings 28-10 in a driving rainstorm.

After that second game, the Vikings record stood at 1-6 while the Packers were 6-1 and on their way to winning their first NFL championship under Vince Lombardi.



1972, Packers Clinch Division Title

When the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings met on a frigid December Sunday in Minnesota, the Packers success of the 60s and their domination of the Vikings were nothing more than fond memories. Coming into this game, the Vikings had won seven of their last eight meetings.

With a game time temperature of zero degrees and a wind-chill of minus 18, this would be a game where the running game would dominate. Fortunately for the Packers, they had the bruising tandem of John Brockington and MacArthur Lane on their side. While neither team could mount much offense in the first half, the Packers' running game and some key turnovers helped the Packers take control of the game in the second half.

Brockington and Lane finished with 114 and 99 yards, respectively. Willie Buchanon had two interceptions and his fellow cornerback, Ken Ellis, also had one. With this win, Brockington would reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season and the Packers clinched the division title for second-year coach Dan Devine.



1998, Green Bay, Meet Randy Moss

On a rainy October Monday night at Lambeau, Randall Cunningham introduced the Packers and a national TV audience to their newest heart-breaker, Randy Moss.

Although only catching five passes on the night, Moss gained 190 yards, including two long TDs against undersized and over-matched Packer CB Tyrone Williams. Randall Cunningham threw for 4 TDs and 442 yards on only 20 completions.

"This was the greatest night in my football career," Cunningham would say after the game. It was one of the worse nights for the Packers, as they lost 37-24 and their secondary was thoroughly embarrassed on national TV.



1995, T.J. F'ing Rubley

The Minneapolis Metrodome had been developing the reputation of being a house of horrors for the Wolf-Holmgren Era in green Bay. The Packers game on Nov. 5 solidified the feeling and sparked talk of a Metrodome "curse." In a crazy game that included four turnovers in the last five minutes, the Packers went down to defeat, 27-24 to the foot of Fuad Reveiz

In this game, Bret Favre was injured and missed the last third of the game. Hi replacement, Ty Detmer, and defensive ends Reggie White and Sean Jones were all injured in the fourth quarter. Despite everything, the Packers had an opportunity to win this game. With under a minute left and the game tied 24-24, the Packers found themselves at the Viking 38 yard line with third down and a foot to go.

Third-string quarterback T.J. Rubley, who had fumbled the snap on his first play from scrimmage, called the play in the huddle from Coach Holmgren—a quarterback sneak. Holmgren wanted to get a first down, run the clock down, setup a field goal and escape with a road win. Unfortunately, Mr. Rubley had other ideas.

As he got to the line of scrimmage, he saw the Vikings stacking the box and decided to audible to a pass. He found nobody open, but threw the ball anyway and it was intercepted. The Vikings then took the ball down the field and won the game as time ran out on a Reveiz field goal.

After the game, Rubley would say he had no problem with the decision to audible and would do it again, since he thought he was doing what he had been coached to do. His coach, however, seemed to disagree, as Rubley was quickly cut from the team.

After the game, Ron Wolf was uncharacteristically angry at the loss and the team's troubles at the Metrodome. “We’re sick and tired of Fuad Reveiz deciding the outcome of the game,” Wolf said. “All this B.S., ‘Wait until next year,’ is meaningless. The bottom line is, when you’re playing a division opponent, you have to beat that division opponent. I don’t care where it is.”

The ugly loss seemed to spark the Packers, as they would go on to win six of their last seven games to finish 11-5 and win the division title for the first time since 1972.


For those of you who still feel the need to vent your anger, there is a Facebook page for those who despise T.J. Rubley.



2000, The Immaculate Deflection

On a cold, windy, rainy, November Monday night at Lambeau Field, one of the most amazing and improbable catches in NFL history sent the Packers home a winner. The Packers came into the game under rookie head coach Mike Sherman with a 3-5 record, while the Vikings were 7-1.

Despite being heavy underdogs and being thoroughly outplayed statistically by the Vikings, the Packers somehow found themselves tied with the Vikings at the end of regulation. It was mostly the Vikings doing, as they committed five turnovers in the game, including three interceptions by Dante Culpepper.

The Vikes were also flagged for 11 penalties, one of which would earn Vikings WR Chris Carter a $5000 fine for kicking Packers CB Mike McKenzie. With eight seconds left in the game, the Vikings Gary Anderson lined up for a 33-yard field goal to win the game. But the Vikings holder couldn't handle the wet ball, bobbling it before recovering and trying to throw a pass.

His throwing wasn't any better, as it was intercepted by Tyrone Williams to force the game into overtime. The Packers won the toss and marched down to the Vikings 43-yard line, where they had a 3rd-and-4. The play call was a quick slant, but as the teams lined up, with the Vikings Chris Dishman showing blitz, Freeman yelled to Favre and made a motion indicating he was going to run a slant and go.

Despite the driving rain and strong winds, Favre went along with the plan and threw the ball deep to Freeman. But Dishman did not blitz and was there to deflect the floating pass that was being knocked around by the wind. Everyone thought the play was over as Freeman fell to the ground.

Of course, the ball miraculously hits his leg, rolls up his body into his hands. Amid widespread confusion, Freeman gets up off the ground and starts running to the end zone. he put a move on the only Viking player that seems to know what was happening and scores the touchdown to give the Packers the overtime win.

The Vikings stood in stunned silence while the Packers celebrated wildly in the end zone. The touchdown inspired Al Michaels' famous "he did WHAT?" In 2005, ESPN named this play the greatest catch in the history of Monday Night football.

Watch it again...along with comments by Brett Favre and Mike Sherman.



2009, Brett the Grey Returns to His Former Homeland

The storyline on this Sunday's game hasn't been written yet. So why don't YOU write it? I think it would be fun if the readers would leave a comment describing how you all think the story will play out. Go for it, readers...

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on twitter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Green Bay Packers Quinn Johnson Is Already Serving Up The Pancakes...



The Green Bay Packers have finally found something that can help their running game, and I'm not talking about the signing of former Packer Pro-Bowler Ahman Green. No, quite accidentally (thanks to the injury to Korey Hall and the blowout of the Lions), the Packers finally put 5th round draft choice Quinn Johnson onto the field.

With a safe 26-0 lead and only the hapless Lions to hold off for 1 quarter, Coach Mike McCarthy took the opportunity to see what Quinn Johnson could do in live game action.

Inactive for the first five games as fullback #3 in the Packers fullback triumvirate, Johnson finally got to play in a regular season NFL game. Based on Johnson's performance and the success of the running game in the fourth quarter, McCarthy may have found a serviceable power running game for the Packers.

Quinn Johnson lined up for 13 snaps in the fourth quarter of the Lions game. The last two were Aaron Rodgers kneel-downs, so lets throw those out and call it eleven snaps. Here's a quick synopsis of what Quinn Johnson did on those eleven snaps:

1. Grant runs to the right, Johnson has a backside seal block and he successfully keeps his man away from the play.

2. Straight lead blocker into the hole with Grant following. Meets thelinebacker head-on and neutralizes him. LB has no chance at a tackle.

3. (See No. 2)

4. Johnson PANCAKES the linebacker. Meets him head-on, ties him up and throws him onto his back.

Quinn Johnson Pancake #1

5. Leads into the hole, sideswipes the linebacker out of the play then continues on and throws a cut block at another player.

6. In a short yardage situation (third and one), Johnson ties up the linebacker, keeping him sealed to the inside. Kuhn runs behind Johnson to get the first down.

7. Johnson blasts into the hole, blocks the linebacker and pushes him back five yards down field. The linebacker tries to get away and Johnson continues to chase after him until the whistle blows.

8. Johnson PANCAKES a Lions linebacker. Johnson comes through the hole, heads for the outside linebacker, meets him head on and pulverizes him. The Lions linebacker seems to disappear into Johnson like a scene from Alien played backwards.

Quinn Johnson Pancake #2



9. Leading Ryan Grant off-tackle, a Lions linebacker takes himself out of the play in an attempt to avoid Johnson's block. That, plus TJ Lang sprinting 10 yards down field from the other side to make a block, help Ryan Grant spring loose for a 22 yard gain, his longest of the season.

10. Johnson can't find anyone to block on this play, as the Detroit defenders have obviously figured out it's better to avoid him.

11. Johnson leads Ryan Grant into the hole, standing up the linebacker with another successful block.


One big thing you should take from the descriptions above - you'll notice there is not even ONE case of a missed block or assignment. Johnson knew exactly where to be, who to block and how to do it. Johnson has come a long way from training camp, where he struggled with learning the offense, running too upright and missing or not holding blocks.

That last part is the key. Johnson is now holding blocks and not letting the defender slip away. In training camp, Johnson was trying too hard to blow up opponents with a single hit. That may have worked in college, but the NFL is a whole different story. NFL defenders can take a hit and brush it off. Johnson has learned to take the player on squarely with his his elbows extended and to keep the defender centered in front of him using his forearms. That allows him to hold the block longer and then use leverage to potentially drive him to the ground for the pancake. His blocking techniques are markedly improved. Kudos to Johnson and running backs coach Edgar Bennett for bringing about this transformation so quickly.

So now that we've seen what Quinn Johnson can bring, will we see Coach McCarthy commit the Packers to more of a power running game, utilizing Quinn Johnson and playing more to Ryan Grant's strengths? The Cleveland Browns appear to be the perfect test case and the perfect opportunity for the Packers to establish confidence in some type of running game before Brett Favre and the Vikings come to Lambeau. This is one writer who says, "Bring on the Might Quinn!".


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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on twitter.