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.