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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Bay Packers Offensive Line: Things are not always as they seem.

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(From the “Things are not Always as They Seem Department”: Offensive Line Edition)

Perception #1 ” “Jared Allen had 4 sacks so Daryn Colledge was awful against the Vikings…”

When the Green Bay Packers played the Minnesota Vikings last Monday Night, Aaron Rodgers was sacked 8 times, with 4 credited to Jared Allen. Since Daryn Colledge was the man drawing the difficult task of blocking the two-time Pro-Bowler, one would assume he had a bad night. In fact, I have heard many say how awful Colledge played on Monday Night.

But being the curious type, I needed to know if this was really true or just another case of overreaction by Packers beat writers, bloggers and fans. So, I did the only thing that could be done - I went back to the game films and watched Jared Allen on every play.

I learned a lot, mostly that Jared Allen is even better than I thought. Like him or not, he has to be the best speed pass-rusher in the league right now. Allen is that annoying, arrogant jerk that everyone hates, unless he’s on your team. Then you love him. Like Sean Avery in hockey, if you follow hockey at all. He’s a disruptive force and excels at getting into the heads of opposing players.

The other thing I learned was that Daryn College did not do as bad a job as you probably think. In fact, he actually did fairly well, considering he is at tackle only because of Clifton’s injury.

OK, so you’re probably saying to yourself, what is Jersey Al drinking? Well, I did go to a wine tasting last night, but I am completely sober this afternoon and I know what my eyes have seen after watching the film. Let me prove it to you:

Sack #1: Alan Barbre gets beat, Rodgers holds the ball too long and turns right into Jared Allen’s path. Colledge’s job on that play was to just cut-block Allen, as it was a 3-step drop and a quick pass out. Colledge doesn’t get Allen down, but he does force him deep and wide, giving Rodgers plenty of time on the backside to get off his quick pass. If only he did. Sack blame: Barbre and Rogers.

Sack # 2: This was a bad blocking scheme. Play action right, Rodgers reverses and rolls to his left. Colledge blocks down on the LB and does his job. Spitz and Sitton drop back along with Grant to protect Rodgers’ back side. Barbre blocks his man easily. The Packers have 5 players protecting the back side, but only John Kuhn to block in front od Rodgers. Scott Wells stands in the middle of the field and blocks nobody (this would turn out to be a recurring event ). Vikings linebacker Brad Leber is unaccounted for and untouched (what are you waiting for Scott?) and just circles around and pounces on Rodgers before he has time to react. Sack blame: Coaches, thumb-twiddling Scott Wells, Aaron Rodgers.

Sack #3: Colledge Stands up Allen and DeShawn Wynn is to his left, supposedly to help block. Allen takes an inside slant, and Colledge handles it. Wynn reaches out and touches Allen with his hand (tag you’re it) and then quickly releases out into a pattern. Allen sees this and changes direction with a speed rush into the area that Wynn just vacated. Colledge is beat, his help is gone and Rodgers is sacked. Sack Blame: Colledge and Wynn

Sack # 4: Quick ZBS play action right. Rodgers turns, fakes the inside hand off to Kuhn, then is obviously looking to throw a quick slant. The problem is, the receivers are apparently blocking for a running play. This looks like it was a broken play. Perhaps Rodgers changed the call at the line and the receivers didn’t pick it up. The entire line blocks right, leaving Allen purposely not blocked on the back side. With the broken play, he runs smack into an Aaron Rodgers again holding on to the ball unnecessarily. Sack blame: Rodgers.

Sack #5: Aaron Rodgers drops back to throw and has excellent protection, he waits, he waits, he dances around, waits some more and finally Alan Barbre can’t hold Brian Robinson off no longer and Rodgers is sacked. Sack blame: All Aaron Rodgers.

Sack #6: Colledge has Allen neutralized. Jason Spitz gets beat by a quick move and Jerry Kennedy sacks Rodgers. In trying to catch Kennedy, Spitz crashes into Colledge’s knee, sending him out for the rest of game. Sack blame: Jason Spitz.

Sack #7: This was the safety where Allen beats a double-team by T.J. Lang and Ryan Grant with another change-of-direction move that leaves the blockers wondering where he went. Sack Blame: T.J. Lang, Ryan Grant, Aaron Rodgers.

Sack #8:Jared Allen beats T.J. Lang cleanly with an outside speed move. Sack Blame: T.J. Lang.

So you see, after analyzing every sack, Daryn Colledge’s name comes up only once. Surprised, aren’t you? And that sack doesn’t happen if Wynn sticks around a second or two longer and actually helps out. Oh and have I mentioned recently that the Packers kept DeShawn Wynn supposedly for his blocking? Did I also mention that he drops easy passes every game? What? You say I manage to work those into every article I write? That’s not possible, is it? Oh, OK. Sorry…

Perception #2 “The Packers finally found their screen game against the Vikings…”

Sorry to burst every one’s bubble. I know you all want to believe we can run a decent screen. Believe me, nobody wants that to be true more than I do. But alas, our screen game is weighed down quite simply by interior linemen that simply can not get outside fast enough to even help out. Any yardage the Packers gained on screen passes against the Vikings was a direct result of an outstanding individual effort by the pass catcher and a great block by a wide receiver. The lead-blocking linemen had NOTHING to do with it.

The linemen can’t get out in front of the play, and even if they do, they don’t block anybody! It was uncanny seeing this on every screen play. Here’s the evidence:

Screen Pass #1:

screen-1-vikings-smallThis play surprised the Vikings, who most likely were not expecting a screen pass from green Bay so early in the game. The play looks well setup and succeeds, but not why you might think. Jason Spitz is able to get out in front of Grant, but completely misses the block. Fortunately Grants picks the correct lane and the LB misses. Wells never come close to catching up and does what he does on a lot of plays - ends up blocking nobody. If he had gotten out in front, he would have had the chance to block the player that eventually tackled Grant. Wells is slow and doesn’t look for someone to block down field, he always just seems to be running along with the play. I can see why the Packers chose Spitz as the starter. Sitton can “lumber” at best, and never comes close to being part of the play. The only blocker who does his job on this play is Jordy Nelson, who keeps the cornerback tied up. Grant hits the hole aggressively and picks up 13 yards, no thanks to his linemen.

Screen Pass #2:

screen-2-vikings-small

Donald Lee (the player in the center of this frame) does a good job on this screen play selling his block before peeling off outside. Alan Barbe is the outside player that misses his block. James Jones is the player on the outside right that has completely missed his block. Josh Sitton, late once again into the play, is attempting to cut block a Viking but ends up missing the block. Scott Wells is once again seen trailing the play and blocks absolutely nobody. The three Vikings defenders converge on Lee, but Lee miraculously hurdles over them to go on and pick up 16 yards. This screen play succeeded purely because of the outstanding individual effort by Lee. No help was received from anyone else.
Screen Pass #3:

screen-3a-vikings-smallOn this screen to Grant, Jason Spitz not only doesn’t slow his player’s rush at all, he then for some reason is jogging and looking back at Rodgers instead of hustling out to get in front of Grant. As Grant catches the ball and turns outside, there is an unblocked Viking there to meet him. Grant does a very un-Grant-like thing and makes the Viking defender miss by cutting inside. By that time, Spitz has now gotten down field.

screen-3b-vikings-smallThat takes us to this frame. Here we see Ryan Grant reading the block by Greg Jennings and about to cut inside. There is only one defender that can prevent a touchdown and Spitz is right there to block him. Spitz misses him and Grant is tackled. Scott Wells, once again runs down field and blocks nobody. And also once again, the only player executing a block is a wide receiver. Instead of a touchdown, Grant is tackled at the five and the Vikings go on to stop the Packers on four downs for zero points. If Spitz makes that block, the Packers would have ended up tying the game, eventually, instead of losing by seven.

Screen Pass #4:

I had trouble getting this frame, so I’ll just have to describe it. This was another tight end screen to Lee. Again, there is no blocking on this one. The Viking player that makes the tackle was surrounded by 3 Packers when Lee catches the ball, yet was not blocked and tackled Lee for a 2 yard loss. Sitton and Wells are in contact with the defender, Barbre sees that and advances down field to block someone else. That was the correct play, because you would assume that two offensive linemen could block or at least slow down one defensive tackle and prevent him from making a tackle outside on a screen play. Wrong assumption.

Summary:

So what did I learn from watching our interior linemen closely? Basically that they are not good in open space. They are slow, not aggressive enough and are easily run around by fast defenders. Their best work is definitely done inside where there is less room for the defenders to work in and the offensive linemen simply have to hold their ground and let the player take themselves in whatever direction they want.

Also, despite what many have said, Daryn Colledge should not be the poster boy for the offensive line’s struggles based on this game. You can directly fault Colledge for only one of the eight sacks registered by the Vikings. There were plenty of other players more deserving of the goat horns, so don't put them on Colledge's head.

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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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Green Bay Packers Loss to the Vikings: Film Study of Aaron Rodgers

aaron-200x120

Since this is a bye week, I decided to go slowly, dig deep and hopefully bring you some in-depth insight on a few things I have noticed. Therefore, I will be breaking my film study into a series of articles over the next week.

Aaron Rodgers:
As I sat down to re-watch the Packers - Vikings game, remote control in hand, I wondered about one thing; Is Aaron Rodgers as good a quarterback as I think he is? The answer, for the most part is YES. The part that still needs improvement may only come with time, but it's definitely missing right now. Aaron Rodgers does not feel the pressure if it's not right in front of him. Then, when the pressure is upon him, in that fateful moment of truth, Rodgers is not yet making the right decision. Yes, there are times when taking a sack is the best thing to do. But that wasn't often the case in the Vikings game.

I studied every one of his sacks, over and over again. On five of them, Rodgers had every opportunity to either throw the ball away or look for a safety valve. In each case, he kept looking down the field, hoping against hope and holding on to the ball too damn long. It's nothing more than bad decision-making in that critical moment.

The two best examples are these:

The Fumble:

rodgers_holds_ball

After moving the Packers down the field nicely on their first possession, the Packers have a first and ten on the Minnesota 24 yard line. Rodgers, takes a quick 3-step drop, looks downfield and doesn't like what he sees. Right in front of him is his safety valve. Ryan Grant has run about 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and is all alone - closest Viking player is 7 yards away and backpedaling in the opposite direction. Rodgers gets pressure from the right and all he has to do is just toss it to Grant for an easy and safe completion and probably a 7-10 yard gain.Instead, he freezes with the ball, and tries to navigate out of the pocket - which is pretty impossible to do on a 3-step drop when everything is closing in around you. He runs right into the path of Jared Allen, who gets the sack and strips the ball, causing the fumble.

The Safety:

rodgers-safetyedit

There were roughly 7 minutes left in the game with the Packers looking at 3rd and 10 on their own 1yard line. Rodgers in the shotgun in the end zone with Grant to his left. Ball is snapped. Grant helps T.J. Lang with Allen. Rodgers has a nice pocket to step up into, which he does. When Allen gets pushed deep, he stops on a dime and reverses his direction, leaving both Grant and Lang looking at the back of his jersey. In the meantime, Donald Lee, who had lined up in the backfield, ran a quick turn turn-around. He is available for a quick dump off. Sure, it wouldn't have been a first down, but it would have been better than a safety. Instead, Rodgers is looking deep. He shifts his weight back, winds up and starts to let one fly. For some reason, he stops his throw. A split-second later, Allen is on top of him and the Vikings have a safety. Why would Rodgers change his mind there at the very last second? Heave it as far as you can. Not much to lose. An interception down the field would be like a punt. But he doesn't feel Allen behind him, doesn't see Lee in front of him, hopes he'll have time for a better option, and gets sacked.

Brett Favre:

favre-pass

In both of those situations, Rodgers had an easy dump-off to avoid the sack, but chose to keep looking down field. Contrast those with a play that Brett Favre made to neutralize the Packers blitz. On a second and eleven, with about eight minutes left in the second quarter, the Packers run their all-too familiar crossover blitz with the two inside backers (Barnett and Chillar). Chillar finds a rare open lane and is coming through untouched. As soon as Favre saw what was happening, he didn't hesitate, he immediately turned and threw to his safety valve, Adrian Peterson out in the flat. Peterson was stopped for no gain on the play, but there was no sack, no fumble, no interception.

This appears to be about the only thing Aaron Rodgers is lacking right now. He's already led several drives down the field late in games this season, so that monkey is off his back. He looks to have all the tools, the confidence and the leadership qualities you will find in a premier quarterback. He just has to get over this final hump. If he does, I think he can be a top-5 QB in this league.

You'll notice I haven't discussed the offensive line. For those of you yelling at your screens that it's the line's fault, I say - somewhat. But that's a separate article (hopefully in a few days). However, no matter how good a team's offensive line is, a top-flight QB will have to face moments like these in a game. Rodgers has to learn to handle it and make the right decision - period. That's how you become a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady.

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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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Green Bay Packers’ Ryan Grant and Offensive Line Struggling to Find Their Way



The Green Bay Packers running game has taken a lot of hits lately, both on and off the field. Sportswriters, bloggers and fans have all been lamenting the paltry number of rushing yards being gained. I dare to dissent and say it’s been “good enough”.

Everyone has been criticizing the Packers play calling for running 17 times on first down in the win against the St. Louis Rams. I dare to say that the Packers did a good job with the play calling and were actually very aggressive on first downs. Huh? Don’t worry, more on that later.

How can I come to these conclusions, you ask? Well first, you have to spend a few hours with the game tape. Last night I played back the Packers game, with heavy use of the rewind and slo-mo buttons. Because it seems to be the favorite post game topic of the Rams game, I specifically focused on the Packers running plays.

Albeit a bit bleary-eyed, I can distill the Packer’s running game’s struggles down to two major factors: Offensive linemen that aren’t holding their blocks long enough and a running back that just takes too long to get to the line of scrimmage.

Now, there are certainly plenty of other contributing factors. Grant’s lack of lateral movement, how easily he goes down when tackled very low and the lack of creativity in the running plays (seriously, 80% of the running plays look like the same play). But I just felt it was important to identify the top two.

Analyze the running plays closely, and you will see how many times Grant is tackled from behind or the side (often around the ankles) because an offensive lineman could not keep the backside sealed off or hold their block. Using freeze-frame, you can see that many times there are holes early on, but the Packers running plays are not designed as quick hits (with the exception of the fullback dive).

By the time Grant gets there, the hole is often gone. He then lacks the lateral movement and quickness to make a last minute change of direction. In my opinion, the Packers had two backs better suited to running in this scheme. But Tyrell Sutton is in Carolina and Kregg Lumpkin is languishing on the practice squad.

Having said all of that, after watching for hours, I’m actually not as upset with the running game as most people seem to be. If the Packers can average 3.8 YPC on 25 attempts per game, that’s just about good enough. The Packers will never have the game breaking threat from the current running game, but it’s OK. That’s what Rodgers and the wide receivers are for.

As we all know, running the ball is necessary to keep the safeties honest and setup the deep play-action passes down the field. Although the running game didn’t exactly burn it up, the plan still worked for the Packers. Every big pass play in the game was off of play action. The Rams linebackers and safeties bought the run fakes because the Packers had shown the run so much. Here are some examples:

2nd and six, Driver, 46 yard pass reception - I formation, play fake right, single coverage on Driver.
3rd and seven, Jennings, 50 yard pass reception - Shotgun with single back,. Fake draw play, single coverage on Jennings.
1st and 10, Driver, 21 yard TD reception, - I formation, play fake right, rollout left, single coverage on Driver.
1st and 10, Jennings, 53 yard pass reception - I formation, play fake right, single coverage on Jennings.
There were at least three other long passes attempted, two on first down. Jordy Nelson dropped one right in his hands and two were overthrown.

17 RUNS ON FIRST DOWN!!!
Now, for all of you screaming about the Packers running 17 times on first down versus 11 passes, look a little closer. Seven of those runs came in the 4th quarter, when they were protecting a lead - that’s what your SUPPOSED to do! So through 3 quarters, the Packers were actually 10/11, run/pass on first down. And one of those runs was a reverse, which warms the cockles of my heart. In light of those facts, there is NOTHING wrong with a 17/11 pass/run ratio on first down, especially if four of those passes were long shots down the field and a fifth was a TD.

I have often accused Mike McCarthy of being too conservative, but this was not one of those times. And for the first time this season, the Packers won the time of possession battle over their opponent. Yes it was only the Rams, and yes they could stand to gain more yards on their first down runs, but it’s a good start towards developing a serviceable running game.

My main criticism after watching this game is one that I have had before: the lack of originality in the running play design. The Packers’ second play from scrimmage was a creatively designed play. Rodgers in the shotgun, Grant to his right. Nelson slot left, Lee tight end on the right side. Nelson goes in motion to the right. Ball is snapped, Lee blocks down on the DE, Barbre pulls around him to the outside, pitch out to Grant with Barbre and Nelson lead blocking. It worked beautifully and picked up 10 yards. They never ran it again. Every other running play to Grant was a straight hand off. But I digress - play design is a pet peeve of mine and a whole separate article.

The litmus test for McCarthy will come in situations like the Packers trailing by 10 points in the third quarter. Will he revert to his old ways and throw the running game out the window, or will he stay committed?

With the Favre-led 3-0 Minnesota Vikings next on the schedule, that test could very well come this week. The Packers’ offensive line will have their hands full with the Vikings front four. That matchup will probably be the deciding factor in this game. Sorry Brett, but it’s not ALL about you.

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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.

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