Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Champs Sports Bowl Analyzed

Wisconsin and Miami met in a soggy 2009 Champs Sports Bowl. Despite horrible field conditions, Miami returned the opening kick for a touchdown but it was called back due to an unnecessary block in the back on the return. On Miami's next play, Graig Cooper scored a questionable touchdown. Cooper's knee looked down at the 1 yard line but the play was not reviewed from the both.

Thanks to Wisconsin's stellar defensive performance following the opening touchdown, Miami only managed to score once more the rest of the game (52 plays). Wisconsin dominated time of possession for the rest of the game scoring 20 unanswered points to beat Miami 20-14. Wisconsin's win over Miami was their first win over a ranked opponent this season. The win also marked Wisconsin's 10th win of the season, which gives Wisconsin their sixth 10-win season in their football program's history.

The 2009 Champs Sports Bowl was all about the set-up plays. Each of the touchdowns/field goals were nothing special but the plays that set-up the scores were very impressive. Here are the Top 5 Plays from the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl:

#5) Wisconsin leads 20-14, Miami lines up for an onside kick with 1:22 remaining in the 4th quarter:
Matt Bosher's (Miami) on-side kick was recovered by Miami at the Miami 41 yard line.

This would have vaulted to play #2 if Miami managed to drive the field for the winning score in a little over a minute in the 4th quarter. After failing to recover the onside kick, Wisconsin's defense hung tough like they did the rest of the game (besides the 2nd last drive of the game when they gave up a long touchdown drive).

#4) Wisconsin leads 17-7, Miami ball on the Miami 39 yard line, 1st and 10 with roughly 8 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter:
Jacory Harris (Miami) sacked for a loss of 5 yards, fumbled, recovered by J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) at the Miami 34 yard line.

Wisconsin defensive ends J.J. Watt and O'Brien Schofield played outstanding. Both consistently pressured the quarterback, which got Miami's quarterback Jacory Harris out of rhythm from the start of the game. Watt is the only returning starter along the Wisconsin defensive line but based on his play this season he looks poised for a huge season in 2010.

#3) Game tied 0-0, start of the game:
Philip Welch (Wisconsin) kicked off 66 yards. Kick returned by Graig Cooper (Miami) 4 yards, lateral to Sam Shields (Miami) who ran for a touchdown. Miami penalized for illegal block, ball placed at the Wiscconsin 16 yard line.

Sometimes returning the opening kick for a touchdown is a curse. In 2007 the losers of the BCS National Championship Game (Ohio State Buckeyes) and the Super Bowl (Chicago Bears) returned the opening kick for a touchdown but both lost the game. Miami is usually lethal on special teams because of the freakish athletes they recruit and that is exactly what happened on the opening kick off of the game.

#2) Game tied 7-7, Wisconsin ball on the Miami own 36 yard line, 2nd and 10 with roughly 10:00 remaining in the 2nd quarter:
John Clay ran for 52 yards to the Miami 12 yard line for a 1st down.

Three plays after Clay's long run, he walked into the end zone untouched thanks to another great block by tight end Lance Kendricks. Wisconsin is not normally a big play team but Clay's long run helped propel Wisconsin into the lead, a lead they would never relinquish for the rest of the game.

#1) Miami leads 7-0, Wisconsin ball on the Miami 41 yard line, 1st and 10 with 8:26 remaining in the 1st quarter:
Scott Tolzien threw to Lance Kendricks for 37 yards to the Miami 4 yard line for a 1st down.

Two plays later John Clay walked into the end zone untouched thanks to a great block by who else, Lance Kendricks. Wisconsin could have gone into a shell after giving up a big play to start the game. Instead Wisconsin showed their resiliency by buckling down and getting their first points on the board to tie the game.

Final Thoughts:
Although Clay was named MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl, Scott Tolzien and Lance Kendricks, despite not throwing/catching a touchdown, were even more instrumental to Wisconsin's victory over Miami. Tolzien made a number of throws in pressure situations all game. Most of those throws went to the Wisconsin tight ends Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks.

On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin defensive ends Watt and Schofield were in Miami's backfield the entire game. Watt and Schofield disrupted Miami's timing, which kept Miami's offense out of sync all game.

Clay's performance kept his name in the 2010 Heisman discussion but for my money Tolzien, Kendricks, Watt and Schofield should have been the first 4-way MVP in Champs Sports Bowl history.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Champs Sports Bowl - Wisconsin Badgers v. Miami Hurricanes Preview

Sorry this is my first college post, there will be many more to follow in the New Year (may be even some from guest bloggers that attend those universities across the state of Wisconsin). On Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Floria. These two teams have played four times, their last meeting was a Miami victory in 1989 (the year before Barry "The Savior" Alvarez came to Wisconsin). The Badgers' last victory over Miami came in 1958.

All of the pre-game factors seem to favor Miami: better athletes, actually beat a ranked opponent this season, the game is being played in their home state and ranked higher than Wisconsin going into the game. All of those factors are thrown out the window at kick off. It will be the play of these five players for both teams that will determine whether Wisconsin or Miami win the game:

Top 5 Wisconsin Players:
#5) Chris Maragos (FS): has an interesting back story. After running into trouble in high school, Maragos turned things around and is the Tim Tebow of the Wisconsin Badgers. Reading player and coach interviews, everyone loves his positive attitude. Margos also sports one of the biggest Christian entourages in Wisconsin football history, aptly named the "21 club" after his jersey number. Margos will have more than 50 family and friends on hand for the game in Orlando. Margos's play on the field is impressive as well, he leads the team in interceptions with 4 and is 8th in the team in tackles with 44.

#4) Scott Tolzien (QB): has had a productive season: 192 for 302, 2445 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Tolzien has to embrace the Kyle Orton/Trent Dilfer style of play. As long as Tolzien makes a few positive plays and does not turn the ball over the Badgers will have a good chance to win. If Tolzien tries to win the game on his own, Badger fans will be in for a long night.

#3) Nick Toon (WR): the son of former Wisconsin great Al Toon, Nick has stepped out of his father's shadow to make his own legacy at Wisconsin. Toon is among the team leaders in every offensive receiving statistic: 52 receptions (1st), 779 receiving yards (1st) and 4 touchdowns (2nd). Along with tight end Garrett Graham, Toon gives quarterback Scott Tolzien viable receiving options that will challenge the Miami secondary.

#2) O'Brien Schofield (DE): is without question the best defensive player on the Badgers roster. Schofield leads the team in almost every defensive statistic: 59 tackles (3rd), 22.5 tackles for a loss (1st), 10 sacks (1st), 2 forced fumbles (2nd) and 1 fumble recovered (tied for 2nd). In order for Wisconsin to win, it is imperative that Schofield is disruptive in the Miami backfield.

#1) John Clay (RB): has put up absolutely gaudy statistics this season: 1,396 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per attempt and 16 rushing touchdowns. After being the cover boy on Sports Illustrated's "Year in Pictures" issue, Clay is being mentioned as a potential 2010 Heisman Trophy candidate. A big game against Miami will get that campaign started on the right foot.

Top 5 Miami Players:
#5) Orlando Franklin (LT): senior left tackle Jason Fox will miss the game after having knee surgery. Fox was the 3rd most tenured player in Miami Hurricanes history. His replacement, left guard Orlando Franklin, will have some big shoes to fill. Franklin played left tackle for Miami in their regular season finale and preformed fairly well. The more interesting position to watch is who fills in at left guard, all signs point to freshman Brandon Washington.

#4) Leonard Hankerson (WR): leads Miami in receptions (44), receiving yards (773), yards per reception (17.6) and touchdowns (6). Hankerson uses his height (6'3") to create mismatches in the secondary. Unless Wisconsin can disrupt Hankerson's timing and routes, they will have a tough time defending any jump ball thrown his way.

#3) Daryl Sharpton (MLB): leads a good Miami defense in tackles with 91 and is third on the team in tackles for a loss with 7. Sharpton is a physically imposing linebacker that helps pace the 25th ranked defense in the nation that averaged giving up 321 yards this season.

#2) Brandon Harris (CB): has put up some impressive statistics as a cornerback: 52 tackles (3rd on the team), 6 tackles for a loss (tied for 5th on the team), 1 sack (tied for 5th on the team), 2 forced fumbles (tied for 1st on the team), 2 interceptions (tied for 1st on the team) and 16 passes defended (1st on the team by a mile, almost more than the rest of the team combined). Only a sophomore, Harris (much like the rest of the Miami roster) is a physically gifted athlete that is destined to play on Sundays in the NFL.

#1) Jacory Harris (QB): after an impressive start to the season Harris vaulted into the Heisman discussion but his up and down play in the middle of the season along with a few Miami losses quickly knocked him out of that discussion. Although Harris has thrown 23 touchdowns, he has also thrown almost as many interceptions (17). Earlier in the week Harris said he was having trouble with his thumb on his throwing hand. The Badgers are a mediocre pass defense team (ranked 66th in the nation) so the health of Harris's thumb might go a long way to determining the winner of the Champs Sports Bowl.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 Packers v. Seahawks Analyzed

The Green Bay Packers accomplished three things on Sunday:
#1) trounced the Seattle Seahawks,
#2) didn't suffer any major injuries and
#3) punched their ticket to the playoffs.

In one of the more impressive regular season performances of the Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy era, the Green Bay Packers demolished the Seattle Seahawks 48-10. The game was out of hand early in the 3rd quarter, which allowed Mike McCarthy to insert backup quarterback Matt Flynn (along with a number of back ups on both sides of the ball) at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Here were the top five plays from the game:

#5) Green Bay leads 7-0, Green Bay ball on their own 33 yard line, 3rd and 4 with 1:37 left in the 1st quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw deep left to Greg Jennings (Green Bay) for a 40 yard gain.

This play never happens last season, Mike McCarthy would not have called a play that gave Aaron Rodgers a chance to take a shot in that situation. With how well Rodgers is playing this season, McCarthy trusts Rodgers in almost any situation. McCarthy dialed up a play that got Jennings one-on-one with a cornerback. Rodgers saw the mismatch and threw a perfectly weighed ball to keep the drive alive. That completion helped propel Rodgers over 4,000 passing yards for the season. That gives Rodgers back to back 4,000 yard passing seasons to start his career, the first (yes you read that correctly) quarterback to do that in NFL history.

#4) Green Bay leads 14-0, Seattle ball on the Green Bay 8 yard line, 3rd and 6 with 12:10 left in the 2nd quarter:
Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle) threw short middle intended for T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle), tipped by Johnny Jolly (Green Bay) and INTERCEPTED by Atari Bigby (Green Bay) for a touchback.

The game was not out of hand at this point. If Hasselbeck throws a touchdown, Seattle only trails by only 7 points. Instead, Hasselbeck threw an ill advised pass that was tipped at the line by Jolly (who set a Packer record for 11 tipped balls in a season) and intercepted easily by Bigby because the intended receiver (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) slipped on the play. After securing the interception, Bigby smartly went to the ground to force a touchback. Often times defenders want to make the big play and try to take interceptions out of the end zone instead of taking the ball at the 20 yard line. Very rarely is it a good decision to take it out of the end zone which actually puts their offense in worse field position.

#3) Green Bay leads 38-3, Green Bay ball on the Seattle 34 yard line, 4th and 1 with 10:52 left in the 4th quarter:
Mason Crosby's 52 yard field goal attempt is GOOD.

Mason Crosby's kicking woes have been well documented (missed field goals in 7 of the last 8 games he attempted a field goal going into the game against Seattle). This kick obviously was of little consequence for the game itself but might prove to be the confidence builder Crosby needed. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have stood behind Crosby all season despite his kicking problems. Today Crosby rewarded McCarthy and Thompson by nailing the 52 yard field goal, which was the first field goal he made over 50 yards since connecting on a 52 yarder in Week #1. The reaction from the sideline said it all. Rodgers, Jennings and other 1st teams lined up to congratulate Crosby. Green Bay is hoping this is the boost Crosby needs for the playoffs.

#2) Game tied 0-0, Seattle ball on the Green Bay 36 yard line, 3rd and 1 with 9:02 left in the 1st quarter:
Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle) threw short right, INTERCEPTED by A.J. Hawk (Green Bay) at the Green Bay 36 yard line and returned 29 yards to the Seattle 35 yard line.

Green Bay won the toss and elected to receive. I am still not too sure why McCarthy elects to receive. With how well the defense is playing this season I would always defer to the second half. On their opening possession, Green Bay went three and out. After a below average punt from Kapinos, Seattle marched down the field running the ball on 7 of 8 plays on the drive. Facing a 3rd and 1 on their 9th play of the drive Seattle ran a play action boot leg play for Matt Hasselbeck. Great call by the way. Any time you can get a slow quarterback moving outside the pocket with very few receiving options on 3rd and 1 you have to take it. With no receiver within 10 yards Hasselbeck threw a perfect strike to A.J. Hawk. If Hawk had any speed it would have been returned for a touchdown. Instead Hawk was run down by every offensive lineman on Seattle.

#1) Green Bay leads 14-3, Green Bay ball on their own 44 yard line, 1st and 10 with 5:46 left in the 2nd quarter:
Ryan Grant (Green Bay) runs off left tackle for 56 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

This was Grant's second big run in three weeks. Grant had a 62 yards TD run against the Chicago Bears in Week #14 (click here and scroll down to play #2). Grant is not an overpowering runner like Ahman Green in his prime (or Sunday when Green ran over the entire Seattle defense to pick up 16 yards on a 3rd and 1). Grant is at his best when he makes one cut and hits the hole. On the 56 yard touchdown run against Seattle Grant hit the hole, made a quick side step to evade the safety at the second level and was off to the races. The Green Bay running backs got into the end zone 6 times against Seattle (2 rushing by Grant, 2 rushing/1 receiving by Jackson and 1 rushing by Green) so there were a number of plays to choose from for the top spot but Grant's 56 yard touchdown run had to be #1 since it put the game out of reach before halftime.

Trojan Boner of the Week Award - Matt Hasselbeck
Just as a refresher, the award goes to a player/coach/referee that makes a stupid play(s)/decision(s)/call(s) during the game.

Hasselbeck's line for the day: 19 for 37, 198 yards, 1 touchdown (that came with only 4 minutes remaining to pull Seattle within 38 points) and 4 interceptions. This marks the second week in a row Hasselbeck threw 4 interceptions. Last week Hasselbeck did it at home against the now 3-12 Bucs after the Bucs knocked off the Saints in New Orleans. Hasselbeck now holds the distinction of being the only Seattle quarterback in team history to throw 4 interceptions in 2 games in a single season.

Hasselbeck threw two picks to Bigby, one to Hawk and one to Jarrett Bush. You read that correctly, Bush got a pick. I have to give Bush credit, it was actually a text book play by him but pretty sad for Hasselbeck considering Bush is the guy that evvery team has identified as the Packers' biggest weakness.

Green Bay has not been a kind place to the Seahawks, they have lost 5 straight in Green Bay (a few coming in the playoffs in recent years). Let's take a quick look back to see if Matt Hasselbeck deserves the "lifetime boner award" when he plays in Green bay as a member of the Seahwaks.

No one can forget the overtime playoff game when Seattle won the coin toss only to have Hasselbeck say "we'll take the ball we're gonna score." Hasselbeck threw a touchdown pass, unfortunately for him it came on an interception returned for a touchdown by Al Harris for Green Bay to end Seattle's season.

A few years later Seattle was also the only thing that separated Green Bay from the 2007 NFC Championship game. Seattle jumped out to a 14-0 lead set-up by two costly fumbles by Ryan Grant. Quick tangent, I missed the start of the game because I was attending a wedding. As I ran to the car I heard the second touchdown on the radio. I was going to drive my beautiful wife to be and friends to the hotel to catch the rest of the game bu once we heard the score I handed over the car keys and immediately started foaming at the mouth. Luckily the Packers got back on track and ended up routing Seattle 42-20.

The only reason I can think of for why Hasselbeck is so horrible in Green Bay is that he might just be a die hard Packer fan. Hasselbeck started his NFL career in Green Bay before being traded to Seattle. Based on how horribly he plays in Green Bay may be he is conflicted on who he really wants to win the games. I am going to make the leap and give Hasselbeck the modified "lifetime boner award". Whenever Hasselbeck plays in Green Bay, bet heavy on the Packers.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009 Week #16 - Packers v. Seahawks

Seattle is coming off two royal beatings in as many weeks, a 34-7 loss at the Houston Texans on December 13th and a 24-7 loss last week at home to Tampa Bay. Seattle is 1-6 on the record and a huge underdogs. At 5-9, Seattle is already looking towards 2010. If the Packers lose this game they don't deserve to go to the playoffs.

Seattle has been bitten badly by the injury bug. They have played the entire season without the starting left side of their offensive line: left tackle Walter Jones and left guard Mike Wahle (who injured is still more effective than Daryn Colledge). Besides that, Seattle lost their Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatufu early in the season. Finally, veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson and promising rookie outside linebacker Aaron Curry are most likely sidelined with injury this week as well.

All five of the players mentioned above would make Seattle's "Top 10 List" if healthy. As a result, some of the names mentioned below are a stretch for inclusion on a "Top 10 List"...

#10 - Max "How Did I Make the List?" Unger (C):
Seattle was forced to move Unger to center because injuries to their regular center Chris Spencer. With all of the "depth" the Packers had on the offensive line to start the season there was some talk of trading Scott Wells to Seattle, good thing that rumor never materialized. Since the beginning of August the Packers have shuffled their offensive line constantly: traded Tony Moll to Baltimore, cut Jamon Meredith (signed to Packers practice squad but later signed to Buffalo's active roster), placed center Jason Spitz on injured reserve and resigned Mark Tauscher. As crazy as it sounds, without Wells the Packers would have been remarkably worse and possibly out of playoff contention.

#9 - T.J. "Way Overpaid" Houshmandzadeh (WR):
Seattle and Minnesota aggressively pursued Houshmandzadeh in the offseason. Would Houshmandzadeh have thrived in Minnesota? May be, but Minnesota would have been much worse off. Houshmandzadeh's presence would have hurt the development of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Minnesota is lucky that Seattle beat out their offer. At 32, Houshmandzadeh is not getting any younger and his 5 year, $40 million contract already looks like a mistake less than a year into it (72 catches, 794 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 fumbles and 1 lost). Houshmandzadeh is a good route runner but lacks speed to stretch the field. At 5 years, $20 million Houshmandzadeh would be overpaid...

#8 - John "Thanks for Nothing Charlie" Carlson (TE):
At 6'5", Carlson gives Matt Hasselbeck options over the middle of the field. Carlson possesses average speed, decent blocking abilities and superb hands. Carlson is in the top three on the team in the major receiving categories: 47 catches (3rd), 536 receiving yards (3rd) and 5 touchdown receptions (1st). Carlson has been a huge upgrade over the psycho that is Jerramy Stevens.

#7 - Jordan "Safeties Should Not have to Make so Many Tackles" Babineaux (FS): Babineaux is second on the team in tackles with 99 (next closest tackler has 64 tackles). Although not the fastest or tallest safety in the NFL, Babineaux gives Seattle a physical presence in the secondary.

#6 - Julius "The Heater" Jones (RB):
Jones might be the only NFL player that smokes cigarettes regularly according to The Sports Guy ("I found out two years ago that he smokes cigarettes and I just can't think rationally about him after that"article). Quick tangent, do you find it odd when you see nurses and doctors smoking in front of a hospital? As I pondered that along with Jones smoking as a professional athlete, I decided I still think it is crazier that Jones smokes. Just so we are not devoid of actual analysis, as a fantasy owner of Jones and his back-up Justin Forsett, the future in Seattle looks to be Forsett. Although not as fast as Jones, Forsett has hit some homeruns this season for Seattle and provides a much bigger upside based on age and production over Jones.

#5 - Jon "Unfortunately no longer a Packer" Ryan (P):
The Packers treated Jon Ryan's family with dignity while he was a member of the team. Just before Ryan's father lost his battle with cancer, the Packers gave Ryan's father the VIP treatment (story). Unfortunately Ted Thompson cut Ryan in favor of Derrick Frost (the man that did not kick well enough this season in the United Football League, you read that correctly United NOT National to last the entire season). After the Packers cut Frost, they turned to the under achieving Jeremy Kapinos. Check the stats for 2008, Ryan has been much more productive than Kapinos:
- Ryan: 4th in average at 47.1 yards and 10th in net average at 39.2 yards.
- Kapinos: 17th in average at 43.8 and 33rd in net average at 34.2 yards.

#4 - Olindo "Fountain of Youth" Mare (K):
Mare has had a renaissance since joining Seattle in 2008. This season Mare has converted over 90% of his field goal opportunities (although his longest is only 47 yards) to go along with his 22 touch backs. I will not list Mason Crosby's might forced me to poke my eye out.

#3 - Josh "Mr. Big Play" Wilson (CB):
Both of Wilson's interceptions this season have been returned over 60 yards for touchdowns. Although Wilson is not your typical shutdown cornerback (only 5'9"), he routinely draws the opposing team's #1 receiver. At 24, Wilson looks to be Seattle's defensive back of the future.

#2 - Matt "I am not getting any younger" Hasselbeck (QB):
After being traded from Green Bay to Seattle in 2001, Hasselbeck has been the face of the franchise. In eight seasons as the starting quarterback, Hasselbeck lead Seattle to five consecutive winning seasons (between 2003 and 2007) and one Super Bowl appearance (lost to the Steelers). Unfortunately for Hasselbeck, he isn't getting any younger. Seattle is in full rebuilding mode after going 4-12 last season, Mike Holmgren moving on as their head coach and only marginally improving this season. Hasselbeck's tenure with the team could end sooner rather than later if Seattle drafts a quarterback in the 2010 NFL Draft (likely a top 10 pick).

#1 - David "Surprising Defensive Leader" Hawthorne (MLB):
Seattle lost Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu for the season in Week #6 against the Arizona Cardinals. Hawthrone stepped in immediately and has been one of the only bright spots for Seattle this season. Hawthrone leads or is tied for the team lead in almost every defensive category: 103 tackles (1st), 4 sacks (tied for 1st), 7 tackles for a loss (1st), 2 forced fumbles (1st) and 3 interceptions (tied for 1st). Although Seattle would like a full compliment of healthy linebackers, Hawthorne's excellent play has eased the loss of Tatupu.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tweet Beat...Milwaukee Bucks Pushing the Limits of Twitter

From time to time I will post notable Tweets by Wisconsin athletes, coaches or commentators along with my thoughts. For the inaugural "Tweet Beat" it had to involve the Milwaukee Bucks since they have been involved in some interesting Tweets.

Former Milwaukee Buck Charlie Villanueva, while still playing for the Bucks, created a firestorm by tweeting during half time of a Bucks/Celtics game last season. Only four current Milwaukee Bucks (Andrew Bogut, Charlie Bell, Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks) and one Bucks announcer (Jim Pashke) tweet but there have been some interesting tweets lately:

Tweet Beat #1: Bogut doesn't want to get in hot water but...

AndrewMBogut tweeted this at 8:50 p.m. on December 16th, 2009: "If I am completely honest about certain things that pertain to tonight's events, someone will steal $$ from me. Honesty is not cool anymore."

AndrewMBogut tweeted this at 9:28 p.m. on December 16th, 2009: "Quick Note.The events tonight, could mean alot of things. If people assume Im talkin bout the game not my prob. :) I was talking bout CHESS"

My Thoughts:
Adrew Bogut was obviously referring to the highly questionable blocking call Kobe Bryant drew on him with 48 seconds remaining in overtime and the Bucks leading the Lakers 106-102. Kobe made the layup and the free throw to complete the 3 point play which pulled the Lakers within a point of the Bucks. Bryant hit a jumped over Charlie Bell as time expired to give the Lakers a 107-106 victory over the Bucks. The call was so questionable that it made PTI the following day. Both Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon agreed it was a no call at best but definitely not a block on Bogut.

The Bucks had a number of chances to win the game (missed free throws down the stretch) so they can't pin the loss solely on the horrible call by the referee but it is an example of "status calls" that happen in the NBA. Bryant got that call because of his reputation and last name. If that was Jodie Meeks instead of Kobe Bryant there is no way a foul is called on Bogut, especially at that crucial of a moment in overtime.

Tweet Beat #2: Stay classy Cleveland...

Paschketball tweeted this at 10:07 a.m. on December 18th, 2009: "Gadzuric patella tendon NWT. Bucks walked into Gund Arena with clocks set to 5.4 - Time left when LA inbounded to Kobe in OT. Coincidence?"

My Thoughts:
After losing a heart breaker in overtime to the Lakers on Wednesday at home as discussed above, the Bucks traveled to Cleveland for a Friday night nationally televised game against the Cavs. As Bucks play-by-play announcer explained via Twitter, when the Bucks took the court for their shoot around Friday morning the Cavs put the exact amount of time on the clock that was left when the Lakers inbounded the ball down a point in overtime. As everyone knows, Kobe Bryant knocked down a jumper as time expired to beat the Bucks 107-106. It could be a coincidence as Paschke said but I highly doubt it. The trash talking by Cleveland didn't motivate the Bucks, they lost to Cleveland 85-82 in their second nationally televised game of the season.

Tweet Beat #3: Thou shall not break David Stern's twitter rules...

flintstone14 tweeted this at 2:21 p.m. on December 18th, 2009: "Man, 7500 is a bit steep for @YUNGBUCK3 tweeting after a game. Unreal."

My Thoughts:
Charlie Bell is talking about the $7,500 fine the league imposed on Brandon Jennings for violating NBA rules. Brandon Jennings tweeted the following message in the locker room right after Milwaukee beat Portland 108-101 in double overtime: "Back to .500. Yess!!! '500' means were doing good. Way to Play Hard Guys."

Here is the NBA's "social media" rule: "During games, the use of cell phones, PDAs, other electronic communication devices and social media or networking sites by coaches, players and other team basketball personnel is prohibited. For purposes of this rule, "during games" means the period of time beginning 45 minutes before the start of the game and ending after the post-game locker room is open to the media, and coaches and players have first fulfilled their obligation to be available to the media attending the game. "During the game" also means halftime."

According to the letter of the law Jennings broke the rule but should that result in a $7,500 fine? The Tweet was removed from Jennings' Twitter account but he is much lighter in the wallet as a result of the fine. I understand that the NBA does not want players to give away information too close to tip or during the game (might give gamblers a slight edge) but why after the game? This rule has unintended consequences and needs to be revisited.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 - Packers v. Steelers Analyzed

The Packers continued their losing ways in Pittsburgh. They are 0-4 in Pittsburgh since 1970. By beating the Packers, the Steelers avoided becoming the first Super Bowl champion to lose 6 games the season after hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

The Packers trailed at a number of points throughout the entire game: 7-0, 14-7, 21-14, 27-21, 30-28 and most importantly 37-36. The Steelers out gained the Packers 537 yards to 436 yards and outclassed the Packers on the final drive of the game.

The Steelers made more plays in the clutch which helped them beat the Packers. It was hard to narrow the list down to five plays because of how many explosive plays occurred in this game. After much deliberation, here are the top five plays and analysis from the game (along with the "Trojan Play of the Game"):

#5) Pittsburgh leads 14-7, Pittsburgh ball on their own 34 yard line, 3rd and 5 with 1:17 left in the 1st quarter:
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) SACKED and FUMBLED, Clay Matthews (Green Bay) RECOVERED at the Pittsburgh 27 yard line. Pittsburgh challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) threw incomplete short right to Heath Miller (Pittsburgh).

Instead of Green Bay getting the ball at the Pittsburgh 27 yard line, Green Bay got the ball at their own 27 yard line following a Pittsburgh punt. The Packers drove the ball down the field and Mason Crosby missed an easy field goal (see play #2 below).

I included this play for two reasons:
#1) Was that enough evidence to overturn the call? After being called a fumble on the field there has to be irrefutable video evidence to over turn the call. After watching the play from every angle it seems close whether his arm was moving forward before the ball was coming out. As a result, it amazes me that they overturned the call instead deferring to the original call on the field.
#2) How great of a rookie season in Matthews having? For the first time in Ted Thompson's tenure as the General Manager of the Green Bay Packers he traded back into the first round to get Clay Matthews. With Green Bay moving from the 4-3 to the 3-4 they needed a quality rush end/outside linebacker to help with the transition. Matthews has been just that type of player and exceed all expectations thus far. Matthews's stats for the season through 14 games are: 47 tackles, 10 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss and 1 forced fumble. Pretty good start to what looks to be a VERY promising professional football career.

#4) Game tied 0-0, Pittsburgh ball on their own 40 yard line, 1st and 10 with 14:28 left in the 1st quarter:
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) threw deep right to Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) for 60 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Losing Al Harris for the seasons meant shuffling the corner back chairs. As a result, Jarrett Bush has been thrust into the lineup more then coaches/fans wanted and has been burned a number of times.

On this play Bush inexplicably slowed down as Wallace raced down field. Without any safety help over the top, Bush allowed Wallace to get behind the entire Green Bay defense. Big Ben bought some extra time by scrambling around and even though he under threw Wallace, it still went for a long touchdown because of how far out of position Bush was on the play.

#3) Green Bay leads 36-30, Pittsburgh ball on their own 44 yard line, 1st and 20 with 59 seconds left in the 4th quarter:
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) threw short right intended for Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) tipped by Brandon Chillar (Green Bay) and INTERCEPTED by Jarrett Bush (Green Bay) at the Green Bay 42 yard line and returned 7 yards to the to Green Bay 49 yard line. PENALTY on Brandon Chillar (Green Bay), Illegal Contact, 5 yards, enforced at the Pittsburgh 44 yard line.

Bush tried to atone for early sins on this play but his interception was nullified by Chillar's defensive hold. It was a clear penalty by Chillar which allowed the Pittsburgh drive to continue.

There were a number of plays on the final drive that could have flipped the game. The Packers committed 3 penalties (defensive holding on Woodson, Chillar and Bell) while the Steelers committed 2 penalties (offensive holding and false start by Starks).

At certain points it looked like both teams were willing the other team on to win. Unfortunately the Steelers had the last laugh.

#2) Pittsburgh leads 14-7, Green Bay ball on the Pittsburgh 16 yard line, 4th and 2 with 13:25 left in the 2nd quarter:
Mason Crosby (Green Bay) 34 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right (Holder Jeremy Kapinos).

The right hash mark and Mason Crosby are not friends. If this continues any longer Mason Crosby might be looking for a new employer before the New Year. Crosby's kicking troubles have been well documented, if I don't move on I might break my keyboard...

#1) Green Bay leads 36-30, Pittsburgh ball on the Green Bay 19 yard line, 3rd and 10 with 3 seconds left in the 4th quarter:
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) threw deep left to Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Assistant challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was Upheld.

After starting slow, the Packers offense gave the team a chance to win. The defense took that chance and flushed it down the toilet. It is inexcusable that the highly rated Green Bay defense allowed Pittsburgh to drive 86 yards in two minutes with only 1 timeout remaining to win the game. The entire drive was a slow burn that resulted in a Steelers win.

Trojan Bonner of the Week Award - Mike Tomlin
Just as a refresher, the award goes to a player/coach/referee that makes a stupid play/decision/call during the game.

Pittsburgh leads 30-28, Pittsburgh ball on their own 30 yard line, kicking off with 3:58 left in the 4th quarter:
Jeff Reed (Pittsburgh) kicks onside 9 yards from, downed by Ike Taylor (Pittsburgh). PENALTY on Ike Taylor (Pittsburgh), Illegal Touch Kick, enforced at Pittsburgh 39 yard line.

Big Ben bailed out Tomlin and almost made me give the award to someone else (Mason Crosby, Jarrett Bush and Donald Lee dodged a bullet). Tomlin inexplicably tried an onside kick with the lead and 4 minutes remaining in the game.

Some might argue that Tomlin is an evil genius for giving the Packers a short field which allowed the Steelers to get the ball back with 2 minutes left in the game. The onside kick seemed like a slap in the face to his defense (similar to the infamous 4 and 2 decision by Belichick earlier this season).

Tomlin lucked out that the Steelers pulled out the victory but the win does not diminish how stupid of a decision it was for Tomlin to attempt the onside kick in that situation.

Congrats Tomlin, you are the second recipient of the "Trojan Bonner of the Week Award"!

2009 Week #15 - Packers v. Steelers

Everyone talks about the loss of Troy Polamalu but in Week #5 when Pittsburgh beat Detroit 28 to 20 their season took a turn for the worse because they lost standout defensive end Aaron Smith for the season (last year the Packers lost Cullen Jenkins after 4 games and the defense struggled the rest of the season). Through 5 weeks, Pittsburgh was 4-1 (with 10 takeaways). Since losing Smith, Pittsburgh is 2-6 (with 6 takeaways). As a result, this "top ten" list has two players (because of injury to Polamalu and Smith) that would not be there if Pittsburgh was completely healthy. Here is weekly "top ten" list:

#10 - Ryan Clark (S): despite missing a game this season, Clark is second on the team in tackles with 71 and tied for second on the team in interceptions with 2. Clark is a hard hitter but is nothing close to Polamalu.

#9 - Casey Hampton (NT): a former pro bowler that is on the decline. In his prime, Hampton was the ideal nose tackle for the 3-4 defense. His size and strength still allows him to draw double teams and give Pittsbrugh's accomplished linebackers opportunities to make plays.

#8 - Rashard Mendenhall (RB) : after missing almost all of his rookie season because of injury, Mendenhall unseated "Formerly Fast" Willie Parker as Pittsburgh's #1 running back. Mendenhall has a good combination of size and strength which gives Pittsburgh an every down running back they have been searching for years.

#7 - LaMarr Woodley (LOLB): although he doesn't have the most tackles on the team (45), Woodley has wreaked havoc in opposing teams backfields all season with 9 sacks and 5 tackles for a loss.

#6 - Hines Ward (WR): a great all around wide receiver. Ward was recently voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers. Most of that comes from his bone crushing blocks he puts on defenders. Ward is the Kdog of NFL wide receivers...if he is on your team you love him but if he is on the other team you hate him.

#5 - Santonio Holmes (WR): was the Super Bowl MVP last year when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in one of the more entertaining Super Bowls ever. Holmes is currently 3rd in the league in receiving yards and has become the #1 receiver in Pittsburgh (no longer Hines Ward).

#4 - Heath Miller (TE): blocks well, runs good routes, creates separation with his above average speed, catches everything thrown his way and doesn't fumble often...a great all around tight end.

#3 - James Farrior (SILB): leads the team in tackles and locker room presence. Farrior is having a great statistical season: 83 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss and 1 forced fumble.

#2 - James Harrison (ROLB): a great story. A former practice squad player that put in his time and turned into one of the best outside linebackers in Steelers' history. Harrison had possibly the most impressive defensive play in Super Bowl history last year and has followed that up with another great season: 70 tackles, 10.0 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss and 4 forced fumbles.

#1 - Ben Roethlisberger (QB): with two Super Bowl rings, he is the most decorated quarterback of the 2004 NFL Draft (Eli Manning has one Super Bowl ring and Phil Rivers has zero). Big Ben is not the fastest or strongest NFL QB in the NFL but somehow he evades defenders and makes great throws on the run.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 - Packers v. Bears Analyzed

The Green Bay Packers broke their two game losing streak in Chicago with an ugly win over the Chicago Bears. By beating Chicago, the Packers extended their winning streak to five games (the fourth longest current winning streak in the NFL behind New Orleans-13, Indianapolis-13 and San Diego-8).

The Packers defense set the tone early by forcing a 3-and-out on the Bears' first offensive series. After the Bears punted, Ryan Grant took the Packers' first offensive play to the house for a 62 yard rushing touchdown. After Mason Crosby hit his second field goal early in the second quarter to give the Packers a 13-0 lead, the game looked to be a blowout. Credit the Bears, they settled down and made the game interesting. With the Bears leading early in the fourth quarter, Jay Cutler threw a horrible interception and the Packers pulled away for a 7 point victory.

Below are the five most important plays analyzed and a new section added to the end of the column:

#5) Green Bay leads 13-7, Green Bay ball on the Chicago 29 yard line, 1st and 10 with 12:56 left in the 3rd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) FUMBLES and RECOVERS at the Chicago 36 yard line. Aaron Rodgers FUMBLES at the Chicago 38 yard line RECOVERED by Anthony Adams (Chicago) and returns the ball 3 yards to the Chicago 44 yard line.

With the Packers driving in Chicago territory on their first possession of the second half Rodgers was under intense pressure and tried to make something out of nothing. At first blush it looked like Rodgers attempted two forward passes but upon further review Rodgers did in fact commit two fumbles. Rodgers recovered the first fumble but unfortunately did not recover the second fumble. The turnover also prevented Rodgers from scoring a touchdown to start the second half for the 29th consecutive game (for those counting at home that is every 2nd half since taking over for Brett Favre to start the 2008 NFL season).

This play sums up the offensive line play by the Packers. Right after the snap Roders was under siege. All in all the Packers offensive line was ineffective after their first play from scrimmage, Grant's 62 yard touchdown run. Although the Packers only gave up two sacks, Rodgers was under pressure all day. Luckily the Bears secondary was suspect and they didn't have an answer for match-up problems Jermicahel Finely creates.

#4) Green Bay leads 21-14, Green Bay ball on the Chicago 24 yard line, 4th and 9 with 6:10 left in the 4th quarter:
Mason Crosby (Green Bay) 42 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right.

Mason Crosby continued his abysmal season by missing another important kick. If Crobsy converts that kick, the game is pretty much out of reach. Instead, the Bears got the ball on their own 32 yard line only down a touchdown.

After hitting all 4 field goal attempts against Detroit in Week #6, Crosby is 13 for 19 with 3 of the 6 misses coming from less than 50 yards away. The right hash mark has been his kryptonite, the same spot where Crosby missed from today. The Packers have to stick with Crobsy since it is so late in the season.

Crosby's poor kicking begs the question: if it is 4th and less than 3 yards between the 35 and 20 yard line does Mike McCarthy leave Aaron Rodgers and the offense on the filed? The Packers offense has a much better chance of picking up a few yards than Mason Crosby converting a kick from further than 35 yards out at this point.

#3) Green Bay leads 10-0, Chicago ball on their own 28 yard line, 1st and 10 with 3:31 left in the 1st quarter:
Jay Cutler (Chicago) threw deep right intended for Devin Aromashodu (Chicago) INTERCEPTED by Charles Woodson (Green Bay) at the Chicago 48 yard line and returned the ball 9 yards.

Woodson had an up and down day. On the positive side of the ledger Woodson picked off a poorly thrown ball by Jay Cutler and had a great shoe-string tackle that saved a huge gain. On the negative side of the ledger Woodson was responsible for consecutive back of the shoulder receptions (a long pass to Johnny Knox and a touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu) on the drive that put the Bears up 14-13 early in the 3rd quarter. With how well Woodson has played all season, it is hard to get on him for giving up a touchdown catch but it shows the expectations that Woodson has created. With another interception, Woodson continues to make his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

#2) Game tied 0-0, Green Bay ball on their own 38 yard line, 1st and 10 with 13:23 left in the 1st quarter:
Ryan Grant (Green Bay) ran left tackle for 62 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

For those that took a little while getting through security they missed an explosive run by Ryan Grant. Take a read that correctly that "explosive" and "Ryan Grant" did in fact appear in the same sentence. The long touchdown run by Grant was blocked beautifully (one of the only times you can say that today) and Grant outran the Bears secondary for the 62 yard touchdown.

#1) Chicago leads 14-13, Chicago ball on their own 32 yard line, 3rd and 5 with 13:39 left in the 4th quarter:
Jay Cutler (Chicago) threw short left intended for Johnny Knox (Chicago) INTERCEPTED by Nick Collins (Green Bay) at Chicago 42 yard line and returned 31 yards to the Chicago 11 yard line.

Jay Cutler had a chance to make a play on 3rd down to help the Bears move the chains and possibly upset the Packers but he flat out blew it. Dom Capers dialed up a blitz that forced Cutler to throw the ball earlier then he wanted. Cutler's badly under thrown ball was easily intercepted by Nick Collins. Once Collins picked off the ball it looked like he had a chance to take it to the house but Collins was forced out of bounds by Matt Forte at the Bears' 11 yard line.

Trojan Bonner of the Week Award - Lovie Smith
This is a new award that I am adding to my weekly game analyzed column. The award goes to a player/coach/referee that makes a stupid play/decision/call during the game. This is quickly turning into one of the most talked about awards in all of sports so Lovie Smith should feel like a trailblazer for winning the first installment.

Green Bay leads 21-14, Chicago ball on the Chicago 20 yard line, 2nd and 22 with 4:58 left in the 4th quarter:
Jay Cutler (Chicago) threw incomplete deep middle to Greg Olsen. Chicago takes their first charged timeout of the 2nd half. After the timeout, Chicago challenged the incomplete pass ruling and the play was Upheld. Chicago is charged their second timeout of the 2nd half.

Lovie Smith made Mike McCarthy look like a genius today...that is really hard to do. With 5 minutes remaining in the game, the Bears had 3 timeouts and 2 challenges. After an incomplete pass the Bears faced a daunting 3rd and 22. Instead of challenging the play, Lovie Smith calls a timeout. That left the Bears with 2 timeouts and 2 challenges.

The Bears fan in front of me turned around and said "I bet you Lovie challenges the play after the timeout...he is a complete idiot." Right on cue, the Bears offense heads back onto the field for 3rd and 22 just as Lovie Smith throws the red challenge flag. The refs took a look at the play but did not find enough evidence to overturn the play. As a result the Bears lost a challenge and another timeout. That meant before ever running their 3rd and 22 play, Lovie Smith burned two timeouts and one challenge leaving the Bears helpless to stop the clock in a tight contest.

Obviously Lovie Smith should have just challenged the play originally, what are the chances that there would be two more challenge worthy plays in the final 3 minutes of the game?

As I was walking out of the stadium the same Bears fan that called Lovie Smith's bone head move before it ever happened put it very succinctly: "same old Bears bull s^&t, you are so lucky to be a Packers fan." Today is a sweet day to be a Packer fan living in Chicago...9-4 and a good chance to go to the playoffs!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2009 Week #14 - Packers v. Bears

The Packers/Bears rivalry is one of the most historic rivalries in sports. The two have played 178 times (only once in the playoffs), the most games between two teams in NFL history. The Bears hold the upper hand in the all-time series: 90-81-6.

The Packers dominated the Bears in Chicago for more than a decade, winning 12 of the last 16 meetings. The tide of the rivalry shifted recently, the Packers lost their last two trips to Chicago. Both games were played in frigid conditions just like they will be on Sunday (weather report). Sunday's installment marks the sixth consecutive season the Packers played the Bears in Chicago after November 30th.

Although the Bears are already eliminated from the playoffs, a win would give the Bears the satisfaction of putting a big dent in the Packers' playoff hopes. The Bears don't have a draft pick until the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft so they have no reason to tank the rest of the season for a better draft pick.

Here is a quick look at the top 10 Bears that will face the Green Bay Packers:

#10 - Robbie Gould (K): after a subpar rookies season in 2005 (77.8% field goal accuracy) he has turned into one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL over the last four seasons. Gould routinely has a field goal percentage in the high 80's (all-time statistics). Recently Gould has sputtered, two field goal attempts have been blocked in the last five games.

#9 - Tommie Harris (DT): made this list on reputation more than production this season. Harris's most notable play so far this season is getting ejected from the Cardinals/Bears game for punching Arizona Cardinal offensive guard Deuce Lutui: video. Quick question for all NFL players, why punch a guy wearing a helmet? Besides being a bone headed play and getting ejected what damage does it really do? Baseball and basketball fights are so much better:

Exhibit #1 - Nolan Ryan beat Robin Ventura (video): It makes sense that his first name is Robin. Why charge the mound on a living legend only to get your brain beaten in by a guy almost twice your age?

Exhibit #2 - David Stern's Worst Nightmare (here): When Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson go into the stands anything is possible. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson are lucky to be collecting a pay check in the NBA after going Kermit Washington on the entire crowd in Detroit.

#8 - Johnny Knox (WR/KR): not too sure why he shares return duties with Danieal Manning (Devin Hester occasionally contributes as well). With Hester, Manning and Knox the Bears have one of the most potent groups of return men in the NFL. By the way, why did Manning's parents name him Danieal? I am not trying to be sexist but it seems like a female spelling right? Back to Johnny Knox, the Bears selected Knox with the 4th pick in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft (a pick they got back from Denver in the blockbuster Jay Cuter trade that is discussed later). A raw prospect coming out of college, Knox ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds. In the Packers/Bears first meeting this season Knox beat the Packers' defense for his longest catch of the season, 68 yards.

#7 - Chris Williams (LT): at 6'6" and 315 lbs, Williams has the ideal combination of size and weight to excel as an offensive tackle in the NFL. One of the three members of the Vanderbilt Bears offense (along with WR - Earl Bennett and QB - Jay Cutler). After an injury riddled rookie season Williams has had a much better sophomore campaign. Since Orlando "Less than Half of His Hall of Fame Self" Pace got injured again, Williams moved to left tackle where he should be a staple for the Bears for the next decade.

#6 - Charles Tillman (CB): he plays much bigger then his nickname ("Peanut") leading the Bears with 6 forced fumbles. Similar to Charles Woodson, Tillman is a sure tackler that always looks to strip the ball from a player when he is within arms reach. In an otherwise underwhelming Bears secondary, especially after parting ways with the oft-injured Mike Brown, Tillman is the clear standout.

#5 - Olin Kreutz (C): the rock of the Bears offensive line has started at center for the Bears for more than a decade. This week Kreutz had to go on the defensive when Packers rookie B.J. Raji questioned Kreutz's strength. This is stupid rookie move #2 by Raji, stupid rookie move #1 was holding out and missing most of training camp for what amounted to a few extra dollars. With Packers DT Ryan Pickett doubtful for the game, Raji and Kreutz will get their chance to settle it on the field Sunday.

#4 - Jay Cutler (QB): the honeymoon is over. The Bears sent two first-round picks in 2009 (18th overall, LB Robert Ayers on Denver) and 2010 (TBD, most likely a top 10 pick), a third-round pick in 2009 (84th overall, WR Mike Wallace on the Pittsburgh Steelers) and under appreciated Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick (140th overall, WR Johnny Knox on Chicago). The Bears thought they were getting their best quarterback since Sid Luckman, who played for the Bears before the invention of electricity. Here is a look at the 2009 production of just the quarterbacks involved in the trade:
- Kyle Orton: 229 for 369 for 2627 yards, 14 TDs and 7 INTs, 18 sacks, 88.2 QB Rating and 8-4 record.
- Jay Cutler: 261 for 421 for 2814 yards, 17 TDs and 20 INTs, 26 sacks, 75.3 QB Rating and and 5-7 record.

Is Cutler's poor play really his fault? Clearly the Denver Broncos are a better team then the Chicago Bears so that factors into the equation for comparing Orton and Cutler. TO quote Bill Parcells (and Sugawitz), you are your record. Orton has 29 wins (21 as a Bear and 8 as a Bronco) and 16 losses (12 as a Bear and 4 as a Bronco) while Cutler has 22 wins (17 as a Bronco and 5 as a Bear) and 27 losses (20 as a Bronco and 7 as a Bear). For a quick tail of the tape the Broncos have Kyle Orton, Robert Ayers and an extra 1st round pick in the deep 2010 NFL Draft while the Bears have Jay Cutler and Johnny Knox. A little less than a year after the trade the Broncos looked to have gotten a better end of the deal. This also doesn't factor in that Cutler looks to be a prima donna that complained his way out of Denver...sorry Bears fans those are the facts.

#3 - Greg Olsen (TE): is a huge target at 6'5" and 255 lbs that creates a real mismatch in the red zone. Olsen is among the team leader in almost offensive receiving category: 49 receptions (2nd), 449 yards (3rd) and 6 touchdowns (1st). The Packers will need to key on Olsen because he creates match-up problems (similar to Jermichael Finely) when facing undersized safeties.

#2 - Matt Forte (RB): holds the distinction of being the biggest first round fantasy bust this season (taken on average 7.3 overall in ESPN Fantasy Drafts). Forte is more of a threat in receiving then rushing for the Bears. Forte has 47 receptions (3rd on the team) and 438 yards (4th on the team). In terms of rushing, Forte has 189 rushing attempts (11th in the NFL), 634 rushing yards (22nd in the NFL), 3.4 yards per rush (42nd in the NFL), 4 touchdowns (tied for 23rd in the NFL), 3 fumbles (tied for 9th in the NFL) and 2 fumbles lost. Some argue that Forte's lack of production has to do with the problems the Bears have on their offensive line (sound familiar Packer fans?) but Forte was expected to have a much bigger season after his impressive rookie campaign.

#1 - Lance Briggs (OLB): Tiger's recent one car crash made me think of Briggs' one car crash: quick refresher. Obviously the crashes are different circumstances (a million women have yet to come out ans say they slept with Briggs to the best of my knowledge) but anytime there is a single car crash at 3 AM it is never a good thing. What makes Briggs even more culpable is that he ditched the car and gave sketchy details to the police.

Enough bashing Briggs, on the positive side he has taken over as the heart and soul of the Bears defense since they lost Brian Urlacher to a wrist injury Week 1 in Green Bay. Briggs leads the Bears in tackles (83) and paces the Bears defense.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2009 - Packers v. Ravens SUPER-Analyzed

The Green Bay Packers rattled off their fourth consecutive victory by beating the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. Green Bay caught a break with Terrell Suggs (OLB) and Ed Reed (S) out of the Baltimore line-up with injury. Green Bay took advantage of those injuries to the Baltimore defense by attacking Baltimore through the air.

Besides injuries, penalties played a HUGE part in this game. There were 310 combined penalty yards in the game, tied for the second most in NFL history. The Green Bay Packers were penalized for 175 yards and committed 3 turnovers but somehow pulled out a victory. Green Bay is only the second team since the AFL/NFL merger that holds that "distinction". The other occurrence came in 1988 when the Houston Oilers beat the Raiders 38-35 despite committing 175 penalty yards and 3 turnovers.

Sorry that it took me so long to cobble something together, but I made up for it by analyzing the top 10 plays instead of the usual top 5 plays. Here were the 10 most notable plays from the Monday Night clash between the Packers and Ravens, if you disagree please post a comment to get the discussion started:

#10) Green Bay lead 24-14, Baltimore ball on the Green Bay 1 yard line, 1st and goal with 9:46 left in the 4th quarter:
Chris Chester (Baltimore) and Haloti Ngata (Baltimore) reported in as eligible. Willis McGahee (Baltimore) tackled for a 2 yard loss by Charles Woodson (Green Bay).

I know this seems like an odd choice for a top play but it made the list for three reasons. First, Charles Woodson continues to play at a VERY high level and is a legitimate candidate for NFL Defensive Player for the Year. Second, cornerbacks don't usually knife through the offensive line when they are in goal line formation like Woodson did on this play to stop the running back for a 2 yard loss. Third, by pushing the ball back a few yards, Baltimore decided to throw on 2nd down and paid a hefty price (see play #5).

#9) Green Bay lead 17-7, Baltimore ball on the Green Bay 42 yard line, 1st and 10 with 3:14 left in the 3rd quarter:
Joe Flacco (Baltimore) threw incomplete deep middle to Demetrius Williams (Baltimore). 41 yard defensive pass interference PENALTY on Tramon Williams (Green Bay). Ball placed at the Green Bay 1 yard line.

With how many pass interference penalties were called, at least one had to make the top 10 list. By the NFL definition, Tramon Williams interfered with Demetrius Williams but the rules are becoming too offensive friendly (Steve Young even admitted that. Yes, you read that correctly, a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN commentator said that the rules are becoming too offensive friendly). Green Bay just committed their second consecutive turnover in as many plays. The penalty gave Baltimore the ball at the Green Bay 1 yard line. Willis McGahee punched the ball into the end zone 2 plays later to make the score 17-14. In the span of less than a quarter Baltimore flipped the mementum of the game drastically. When Green Bay kicked off to start the second half they were winning 17-0 and after McGahee's touchdown the lead was trimmed to 17-14.

#8) Green Bay lead 17-0, Green Bay ball on the Baltimore 41 yard line, 3rd and 6 with 8:15 left in the 3rd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short middle to Donald Driver (Green Bay) to the Baltimore 32 yard line for 9 yards and FUMBLES, RECOVERED Frank Walker (Baltimore) at the Baltimore 29 yard line for no gain.

This was an absolute surprise to see Donald Driver cough up the ball. Driver's fumble started a rapid change of events in the middle of the 3rd quarter that changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead of Green Bay having the ball 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 29 yard line marching towards a touchdown to possibly put the game out of reach, Baltimore took over possession and started to creep back into the game.

#7) Green Bay lead 24-14, Baltimore ball on their own 26 yard line, 1st and 10 with 7:00 left in the 4th quarter:
Joe Flacco (Baltimore) threw deep middle intended for Todd Heap (Baltimore) INTERCEPTED by A.J. Hawk (Green Bay) at the Green Bay 47 yard line and returned 13 yards to the Baltimore 40 yard line.

Is this the first big play A.J. Hawk's Green Bay Packer career? Hawk underachieving is well documented but the last few weeks Hawk has started to play much more effectively. Two things happened right before Hawk's in-season resurgence. First, Brandon Chillar went down with a hand injury and ever since Hawk's play has started to improve weekly. Second, everyone under the sun has been ripping Hawk and labeling him as a draft bust. Players claim they do not read papers but may be that was just what Hawk needed to spark his play.

#6) Green Bay lead 3-0, Green Bay ball on their own 19 yard line, 1st and 10 with 4:18 left in the 1st quarter:
Ryan Grant (Green Bay) ran left end to GB 17 for -2 yards FUMBLES and RECOVERED by Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore) at the Green Bay 21 yard line and returned for no gain. Green Bay challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED.

A very smart challenge by head coach Mike McCarthy. In one of his post game comments McCarthy stated that he was in constant contact with offensive coordinator Joe Philbin throughout the game over his head set. After watching a few television replays Philbin told McCarthy to challenge. Later in the game McCarthy challenged an obvious touchdown for no apparent reason (may be Philbin talked him into that one too). In any case, by winning 1 challenge and losing 1 challenge McCarthy is now 5 of 12 in challenges this season.

#5) Green Bay lead 24-14, Baltimore ball on the Green Bay 3 yard line, 2nd and goal with 9:00 left in the 4th quarter:
Joe Flacco (Baltimore) threw short middle intended for Demetrius Williams (Baltimore) INTERCEPTED Tramon Williams (Green Bay) in Green Bay's end zone for a touchback. Ryan Pickett (Green Bay) was injured during the play.

The game was not over when Flacco made one of the worst decisions of the entire season. Instead of throwing the ball away, Flacco decided to throw late over the middle to a guy that was well covered. Does that decision remind you of anyone? I will give you one hint, he is know as a waffler. Tramon Williams atoned for a number of earlier penalties by securing the interception. Ryan Pickett hurt his hamstring on the play and if he is hurt for any length of time that might vault this play to the top of the list of impact plays. Pickett has been an absolute forced to be reckoned this season, let's hope for a good prognosis.

#4) Green Bay lead 3-0, Baltimore ball on the Green Bay 17 yard line, 1st and 10 with 4:26 left in the 1st quarter:
Ray Rice (Baltimore) ran to the Green Bay 18 yard line for a 1 yard loss. Clay Matthews (Green Bay) forced a FUMBLE, RECOVERED by Nick Collins (Green Bay) at the Green Bay 15 yard line and returned it 4 yards to the Green Bay 19 yard line.

After Green Bay kicked a field goal on their opening drive Baltimore methodically moved down the field and looked like they were going to score a touchdown until Rice coughed up the ball at the Green Bay 18 yard line. Rice is normally a sure handed runner. If Baltimore scores a touchdown on that drive they lead Green Bay 7-3, which would have changed the entire complexion of the game. As a side note, Ray Rice is clearly the focal point of Baltimore's offense. Baltimore likes to run the ball a lot with Rice and if they throw the ball, Flacco always looks for Rice on short dumpoffs. Despite a poor performance on Monday Night, Rice often turns what look like short losses into big gains...again he was picked one spot before the now departed Brian Brohm (I hope that is the last time I have to make that connection, it makes me cringe every time I think about it).

#3) Green Bay lead 17-7, Green Bay ball on the Green Bay 37 yard line, 1st and 10 with 3:22 left in the 3rd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short middle intended for Donald Driver (Green Bay) INTERCEPTED by Jarret Johnson (Baltimore) at the 50 yard line and returned 8 yards to the Green Bay 42 yard line.

Driver and Rodgers were both at fault on this interception. Rodgers delivered the ball low but Driver still should come up with the catch. The play reminded me of Antonio Freeman's famous acrobatic catch on Monday Night to beat the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately this time Driver did not come up with the ball and Baltimore scored a few plays later which made the score 17-14 in favor of Green Bay but Baltimore had ALL the momentum at that point.

#2) Green Bay lead 17-14, Baltimore ball on the Baltimore 21 yard line, 3rd and 17 with 14:03 left in the 4th quarter:
Joe Flacco (Baltimore) threw deep left to Derrick Mason (Baltimore) to the Green Bay 33 yard line for 46 yards. Offensive pass interference PENALTY on Mason. Unsportsmanlike conduct PENALTY Mason.

This sequence of events was set-up by Mason Crosby missing a field goal from 38 yards. Holder and back-up Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn bobbled the snap and got the hold down late but Crosby should still make the kick from 38 yards out. If Crosby made the field goal then we wouldn't have to talk about this horrible offensive pass interference call. Just to refresh everyone's memory, Joe Flacco under threw Derrick Mason who was being covered one-on-one by Charles Woodson. When Mason slowed down to catch the ball he lightly shoved Woodson to the ground. I am not accusing the potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year of flopping but it didn't look like a lot of contact. Mason ended up coming down with the ball and would have put Baltimore at the Green bay 33 yard line down 3 points with 14 minutes left. Instead, after the penalties were enforced Baltimore was forced into a 3rd and 32 at the Baltimore 6 yard line. Baltimore tried to run a Mike Sherman Special (for those you that don't know the reference, it means a team called a draw on 3rd and long instead of trying to pick up a 1st down through the air) but Flacco and Rice had trouble executing the hand-off and almost fumbled the ball to Green Bay in Baltimore's red zone.

#1) Green Bay leads 3-0, Green Bay ball on the Baltimore 2 yard line, 1st and goal with 4:39 left in the 2nd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short left to Jermichael Finley (Green Bay) for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Finley had a HUGE game: 7 catches for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns. Green Bay split Finley out wide and threw a simple jump ball to him that he easily hauled in. This play underscores the match-up problems that Finley gives opposing teams. Granted if Ed Reed plays this might not have been a touchdown but Green Bay smartly exploited a mismatch by splitting 6'5" Jermichael Finley out wide on 5'11" Tom Zbikowski (the guy playing in place of Ed Reed). Although Ed Reed is the same height as Zbikowski, Reed has a much better vertical leap. Also on reputation alone Green Bay might not have tried a play like this on Reed. Either way, Green Bay has a budding star in Jermichael Finley.

Monday, December 7, 2009

2009 Week #13 - Packers v. Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are without two of their key players on defense Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed. Since I have a ton of family from Cleveland I thought about going on a long rant about how shady it is that Baltimore stole their franchise from Cleveland after experience that same heartache in the mid-1980's but I don't want to bring any negative energy in the game. As a result I will give you a quick look at the top 10 players that will face the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football:

#10 - Dawan Landry (SS): he has the second most tackles on the team (60) and would not have made the list unless Suggs and Reed were inactive against Green Bay so let's just move on.

#9 - Matt Birk (C): left the Minnesota Vikings this offseason for more guaranteed money and is probably regretting that decision. When Birk signed with the Baltimore Ravens he did not know Brett Favre would come out of retirement to help turn Minnesota into one of the best teams in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens are a potential playoff team but not nearly as impressive as the Minnesota Vikings. Birk is no longer in his prime but he gives Baltimore a quality veteran presence on an otherwise very young but impressive offensive line.

#8 - Jarret Johnson (OLB): although he does not receive as much hype as other players on the talented Baltimore Ravens defense, Johnson leads the team in sacks (6). Quietly Johnson is becoming one of he most indispensable players on the Baltimore Ravens defense.

#7 - Derrick Mason (WR): he is never the biggest or fastest receiver in the NFL but the cagey veteran still produces on the field. As Baltimore's clear #1 wide receiver, Mason runs very crisp routes and catches almost everything thrown in his direction. Mason has been such a safety valve for quarterback Joe flacco that coaches started to force Flacco to look for receivers other than Mason.

#6 - Joe Flacco (QB): after a stellar rookie season in 2008 (lead Baltimore to the AFC Championship where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers) his sophomore campaign has been up and down. Flacco has not missed any games this season but battled injuries all season.

#5 - Jared Gaither (LT): an absolute physical freak at 6'9" and 340 pounds. Gather has battled some injuries this season but when fully healthy is a top tier left tackle. Gather's combination of height, weight and athleticism makes you question if he is in fact human.

#4 - Michael Oher (RT): the centerpiece of a national best seller (The Blind Side by Michael Lewis) and the top grossing movie at the box office over the weekend (you guessed it...The Blind Side), Oher is one of the most promising young offensive tackles in the NFL (along with Jake Long and Joe Thomas). Baltimore selected Oher with the 23rd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and is fighting with Percy Harvin (selected 22nd by the Minnesota Vikings) for offensive rookie of the year.

#3 - Ray Lewis (MLB): one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game. Lewis is known for his pre-game trash talking and punishing hits on the field but it is his work ethic off the field that has helped shaped the Baltimore Ravens defense for the last decade. Lewis is known to watch more film than anyone else in the NFL which has allowed him to still play at a high level despite losing a step.

#2 - Haloti Ngata (DT): one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL, Ngata routinely faces double teams and still makes plays. In three of the last four weeks Green Bay has faced some of the best nose tackles in the NFL Franklin (San Francisco), Ratliff (Dallas) and Nagata (Baltimore).

#1 - Ray Rice (RB): selected one spot before the now departed Brian Bhrom, Rice has established himself as an every down multi-dimensional running back. Rice is a punishing runner (similar to Ahman Green in his prime) that has forced defenses to account for him at all times. Rice is second in the league in yards from scrimmage behind the presumptive #1 pick in almost every 2010 fantasy draft and modern day version of Barry Sanders - Chris Johnson of the Tennesee Titans.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Milwaukee Bucks Squad 6

Milwaukee Bucks Center Andrew Bogut started "Squad 6" to spice up the crowds for Bucks home games. Here is the intro paragraph from the official "Squad 6" website: "Andrew Bogut wants you to help the Milwaukee Bucks create a home court advantage at the Bradley Center this season. So much so, that he's bought 100 Lower Level tickets for every game to give out to the most energetic, fanatical and rowdy Bucks fans he can find."

I commend Andrew Bogut for doing this. This allows some fans that might not be able to afford tickets a chance to attend games. Furthermore, it makes the home crowds for Bucks games much more energetic. What an all around great idea.

A number of people across the league are taking notice. Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) recently attended the Bucks/Mavs game in Milwaukee and tweeted this: "@AndrewMBogut those fans were the most fun fans I have seen on the road EVER. It made the atmosphere 100x better. More PBR for them." Great endorsement from one of the most forward thinking owners in professional sports.

For more information on "Squad 6" click here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Thanksgiving Day Packers v. Lions Analyzed

The Green Bay Packers extended their winning streak to three games by beating the lowly Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The NFL clings to certain traditions that seem woefully outdated. One of them is giving the Detroit Lions a home game every Thanksgiving. The Lions have sputtered as a franchise over the last decade under the direction of Matt Millen. Detroit's last win on Thanksgiving came in 2003 and they have lost 8 of their last 9 games on Thanksgiving Day. The only plausible justification besides "tradition" that the NFL can use to rationalize giving Detroit a home game every Thanksgiving is the easy ratings ANY Thanksgiving NFL games generates.

Most American families get together on Thanksgiving Day for a big meal and watch sports in a food induced comma. The higher ups in the NFL know that Detroit has not been competitive in the last decade as explained above but they still schedule them on Thanksgiving. This is genius on the NFL's part. They bank rating because of the day NOT the teams. As a result they have a crappy team (Detroit) host a home game that they actually sell out (few and far between for a number of reasons as of late) and almost all of America tunes in (gives random family members something to talk about).

Enough of my rambling, I am going to mix up the "Top 5 Plays Analyzed" column for the Thanksgiving clash between Green Bay and Detroit. There were "5 microcosms" in this game, both good and bad, that will have a large bearing on the rest of the season for Green Bay. Here are this season's microcosms illuminated through important plays in the Packers/Lions game:

#5) The Ageless Donald Driver:
Green Bay leads 13-7, Green Bay ball on the Detroit 7 yard line, 3rd and 5 with 6:43 left in the 3rd quarter: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short right to Donald Driver (Green Bay) for 7 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Coming into the 2009 NFL season, Greg Jennings looked to be the go to wide receiver on the Green Bay Packers. Through 11 games, Driver has emerged as the #1 wide receiver on Green Bay not Greg Jennings. Here is a comparison of Driver's and Jennings's stats for 2009:
- Donald Driver: 53 catches, 845 yards and 5 touchdowns.
- Greg Jennings: 47 catches, 722 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Driver's assent from a 7th round draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft to a go to wide receiver in the NFL is nothing short of amazing. Check out this video here, if your eyes didn't well then you need to re-evaluate whether you are in fact a caring person. Driver is hands down the most likable person on the Green Bay Packers.

#4) Mike McCarthy's Game Management:
Green Bay Leads 27-7, Green Bay ball on their own 1 yard line, 2nd and 10 with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter: Ryan Grant (Green Bay) ran right to GB -1 for -2 yards, FUMBLES and the ball is RECOVERED by Jordan Dizon (Detroit) at the Green Bay -1 yard line, TOUCHDOWN. Green Bay challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED. Ryan Grant (Green Bay) tackled in the End Zone for -1 yards, SAFETY.

This play illustrates the good and the bad for Mike McCarthy. It was a horrible play call by Mike McCarthy from the 1 yard line. Ryan Grant is not fast enough to bump a run outside from the 1 yard line. If that play stood as called on the field the score would have been 27-14 with 9 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The game would have probably still been out of reach but McCarthy astutely challenged the play and it was reversed. McCarthy later challenged a play that was overturned making him 2 for 2 on Thanksgiving and and 4 of 8 on the season. Although I vehemently disagree with the play call (the bad), McCarthy kept a cool head and challenged the ruling on the field (the good). Something clicked against Dallas a few weeks ago and McCarthy started making in game adjustments that he has not made in the past. Hopefully that means McCarthy is more in tune with the game instead of impersonating Andy Reid (the most clueless coaches in the NFL when it comes to game management).

#3) Aaron Rodgers on 3rd Down:
Detroit leads 7-0, Green Bay ball on their own 25 yard line, 3rd and 11 with 13 second left in the 1st quarter: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw deep right to Donald Driver (Green Bay) to the Detroit 7 yard line for 68 yards.

Aaron Rodgers had ample time to scan the defense before unleashing an absolute bomb (he claimed after the game he threw it as far as he possibly could, roughly 70 yards). Rodgers is the highest rated passer in the NFL on 3rd down and that trend continued on Thanksgiving Day, Green Bay converted 9 of 16 plays. Earlier in the seasons a number of pundits complained that Rodgers was holding onto the ball too long, which lead to a number of unnecessary sacks. Over the last few weeks Rodgers has extended plays with his pocket presence and ability to scramble. What were sacks earlier in the season are turning into completed passes or scrambles for positive yards. If this trend continues, Green Bay might be playing deep into January thanks to Aaron Rodgers.

#2) Issues on Special Teams:
Game tied 0-0, start of the game: Jason Hanson (Detroit) kicks 71 yards from the Detroit 30 yard line to the Green Bay -1 yard line. Jordy Nelson (Green Bay) returned the ball to the Green Bay 21 yard line for 22 yards but FUMBLES, ball RECOVERED by Detroit at the Green Bay 20 yard line.

Here is a quick snap shot of the negative special teams plays against Detroit: 4 penalties, 2 kick off returns of over 30 yards given up, 1 fumble and 1 missed field goal. Those are all unacceptable for a team fighting for a wild card spot. Luckily Green Bay played Detroit this week. The only touchdown Green Bay surrendered was set-up by the short field Detroit (got the ball at the Green Bay 20 yard line) had as a result of Jordy Nelson's fumble to start the game.

Atari Bigby was penalized for one of the most blatant and useless blocks in the back I have ever seen on special teams. Mason Crosby has missed a field goal in 7 of 11 games this season. In fairness, 4 of those came from over 50 yards but the missed field goals, penalties and poor decisions continue on special teams. Green Bay has to stick with their special teams coach Shawn Slocum (assistant under Mike Stock last year...not exactly a strong branch of the Bill Walsh coaching tree) for the rest of the season at this point. Hopefully they get better as a unit but through 11 games this season there is no reason to believe that will happen.

#1) Charles Woodson:
Green Bay leads 27-12, Detroit ball on their own 33 yard line, 1st and 10 with 3:55 left in the 4th quarter: Matthew Stafford (Detroit) threw short right intended for Calvin Johnson (Detroit) INTERCEPTED by Charles Woodson (Green Bay) at the Detroit 38 yard line and returned 38 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

Charles Woodson has been the best player on the Green Bay Packers in 2009 and is making a strong bid for NFL defensive player of the year. Woodson continued his stellar play on Thanksgiving: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 1 defensive touchdown.

Despite his impressive play on the field on Thanksgiving, Woodson did something even more impressive off the field on Thanksgiving. Woodson started off Thanksgiving by donating $2 million to the his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to help build a pediatric hospital.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week #12 of 2009 - Packers v. Lions

The Green Bay Packers look to continue their two game winning streak against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Green Bay lost two defensive stalwarts (Aaron Kampman and Al Harris) last week against San Francisco and will have to rebound quickly before their Thanksgiving game in Detroit.

Detroit has their own injury trouble, starting quarterback Matthew Stafford separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder last week against Cleveland and starting wide receiver Calvin Johnson continues to nurse a knee injury. Both Stafford and Johnson are questionable for Thanksgiving Day. Here is a look at the top 10 players that will most likely line up against the Packers this week:

#10 - Gosder Cherilus (RT): is the ideal right tackle because of his size, consistency and strength. Cherilus is one of the only players on Detroit that grades out ahead of his counter part on the Packers (Mark Tauscher, T.J. Lang or Allen Barbre depending on who is the healthiest). Cherilus, a first round pick from the 2008 NFL Draft, looks to be Detroit's long term solution at right tackle.

#9 - Julian Peterson (OLB): leads the team in sacks but is definitely NOT the player he was earlier in his career in Seattle. What Peterson has lost in speed he makes up for with experience. Despite that fact, Peterson has taken on a leadership role that the young Lions (Pettigrew, Levy, Smith, Stafford and Johnson) sorely need.

#8 - Brandon Pettigrew (TE): was selected with one of the draft picks Detroit acquired from Dallas for underachieving wide receiver Roy Williams. Pettigrew is the second leading receiver for the Lions (334 yards and 2 touchdowns) and gives the Lions a dynamic tight end that they were sorely missing over the last decade.

#7 - DeAndre Levy (OLB): a former Wisconsin Badger, Levy was selected in the 3rd round in the 2009 NFL Draft by Detroit. Levy has made an instant impact for Detroit, he is tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (6) and third on the team in total tackles (47).

#6 - Larry Foote (MLB): the former Pittsburgh Steeler along with Peterson provide quality leadership and production at linebacker. Foote leads Detroit in tackles (71) and is tied with Levy for the team lead in tackles for a loss (6).

#5 - Dominic Raiola (C): a consistent starter for Detroit, Raiola continues to captain the offensive line and has helped rookie Matthew Stafford transition nicely to the NFL. Raiola has gotten into verbal spats with various Green Bay players in the past, look for that trend to continue on Thanksgiving Day.

#4 - Jeff Backus (LT): another consistent starter along the offensive line for Detroit, Backus is not the flashiest left tackle in the NFL but his consistency (started every game at left tackle for Detroit since being drafted in 2001) makes him an indispensable player for Detroit.

#3 - Kevin Smith (RB): the leading rusher and the third leading receiver on Detroit, Smith gives Detroit a quality running back. Smith would have even higher numbers if he played for a team with a better record but instead of complaining Smith continues to go about his job like a consummate professional.

#2 - Matthew Stafford (QB): one of the highest paid quarterbacks in NFL history before ever taking a regular season snap, Stafford won over his teammates last week when he completed a game winning touchdown pass on the last play from scrimmage to beat Cleveland despite having a separated left shoulder. Stafford is routinely singled out as "The Problem" with the compensation given to high draft picks but if Stafford continues to play this way he might be the savior of the Detroit Lions and you can't put a price on that.

#1 - Calvin Johnson (WR): next to Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson is one of the most impressive physical specimens at wide receiver in the NFL (6'5", 236). Despite miss action this season with a knee injury, Johnson leads Detroit in receiving yards, catches and yards per catch.

NOTE: I included Stafford and Johnson despite the fact that they might not even play against Green Bay for two reasons:
#1) Even playing at 50% health, Stafford and Johnson are much better then their back-ups (Culpepper at quarterback and the poo poo platter that is Detroit's back-up wide receivers).
#2) Detroit does NOT have that much talent on the roster. It was a stretch to fill out a top 10 list so if I did not include Stafford and Johnson the list would have been "The Top 8".

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 - Top 5 Plays Analyzed - Packers v. 49ers

The Green Bay Packers won an important conference game at Lambeau Field over the San Francisco 49ers but the victory came at a steep price. Green bay lost defensive standouts cornerback Al Harris and outside linebacker Aaron Kampman to season ending knee injuries (source: here). The injuries to Harris and Kampman have both short and long-term implications. With the short week (Green Bay plays Detroit on Thursday) it will be hard to get anyone from outside the organization acclimated in time to contribute against Detroit. For the rest of the season it will be hard for Green Bay to replace their production. Without further ado, here are the five most important plays from the game:

#5) Green Bay leads 23-10, San Francisco ball on their own 2 yard line, 1st and 10 with 13:31 left in the 4th quarter:
Alex Smith (San Francisco) threw deep left intended for Vernon Davis (San Francisco) INTERCEPTED by Nick Collins (Green Bay) at the San Francisco 21 yard line. Nick Collins (Green bay) returned the ball to the San Francisco 11 yard line.

At the time, Collins' interception looked to put game out of reach. The game looked all but over a few plays later when Ryan Grant scored from the 1 inch line to put Green Bay up 30-10. The game looked out of reach at that point until play #4...

#4) Green Bay leads 30-10, Green Bay kicked off to San Francisco with 11:05 left in the 4th quarter:
Mason Crosby's (Green Bay) kick traveled 70 yards from the Green Bay 30 yard line to the San Francisco goal line. Josh Morgan (San Francisco) returns the ball 76 yards to the Green Bay 24 yard line.

After going up 30-10, Green Bay could have put the game out of reach by holding San Francisco to a short return. Instead, the Green Bay Special Teams gave up another big play to put San Francisco in scoring position. San Francisco scored a touchdown a few plays later to keep the game interesting.

#3) Green Bay leads 6-3, Green Bay ball on their own 36 yard line, 1st and 10 with 8:59 left in the 2nd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short middle to Greg Jennings (Green Bay) for 64 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

As Green Bay went with an empty backfield (five receivers) I started to yell NOOOOOOOOOOOO. Then Rodgers hit Jennings on a short slant and my displeasure with the formation turned in into jubilation! Rodgers hit Jennings on a short pass and Jennings did the rest. Although the offensive line played better this week against San Francisco's stout front seven, leaving Rodgers without any blockers in the backfield is always a risky proposition. Remember the first play of the 4th quarter, Rodgers got sacked for a 12 yard loss when Mike McCarthy called another play with an empty backfield.

#2) Green Bay leads 23-3, San Francisco ball on the Green Bay 38 yard line, 2nd and 20 with 7:42 left the 3rd quarter:
Alex Smith (San Francisco) threw incomplete deep right to Issac Bruce (San Francisco). Aaron Kampman (Green Bay) injured on the play.

Kampman was inactive against Dallas last week because of the concussion he sustained against Tampa Bay in week 8. Kampman returned to the lineup this week and made an instant impact with 4 tackles and a sack (the sack came in a 3-point stance NOT a 2-point stance) before getting injured. Yes, Kampman looked out of sorts as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 but Green Bay is clearly a better team with him in the lineup. With Kampman most likely lost for the season, it leaves two open questions:

#1) Who will play in place of Kampman?
Luckily Green Bay has quality depth at the linebacker positions. Although hampered by a broken hand, Brandon Chillar has played a number of different positions for Green Bay. From back up middle linebacker to starting safety in the "Big Okie" formation, Chillar has played everywhere on defense for Green Bay. Now Chillar might be asked to move to outside linebacker. If not, Green Bay has a number of back-up outside linebackers: Brady Poppinga (former starter), Jeremy Thompson (making transition from defensive end to outside linebacker) and Brad Jones (rookie that played outsider linebacker 3-4 in college). Another crazy theory would be to give A.J. Hawk a look at outside linebacker. Moving Hawk outside would allow Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop to split snaps opposite Nick Barnett at middle linebacker. As you can see, Green Bay has options at linebacker.

#2) How will this injury impact Kampman's future?
Kampman is scheduled to become a free agent in the off-season. Unfortunately for Kampman, he is in a similar situation to Mark Tauscher last season. Tauscher tore his ACL on December 7th, 2009 against Houston. Tauscher was only able to return to football action on October 1st, 2009, a little less than 10 months after he tore his ACL (the normal recovery time for a torn ACL is 8 to 12 months). As a result, Kampman will most likely not be healthy in time for training camp in August of 2010. Another layer of complexity is that the NFL will most likely be uncapped for the 2010 season. Green Bay has three options: place the franchise or transition tag on Kampman, allow Kampman to leave via free agency or apply the "wait and see" approach to gauge Kampman's health before offering him a contract.

#1) Green Bay leads 30-10, San Francisco ball on the Green bay 24 yard line, 1st and 10 with 10:52 left in the 4th quarter:
Alex Smith (San Francisco) threw incomplete short left to Frank Gore (San Francisco). Al Harris (Green Bay) was injured during the play.

If Harris is in fact lost for the season, Green Bay will have 4 cornerbacks on the active roster: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush and Brandon Underwood. Green Bay also has Trevor Ford on the practice squad. The most logical move with a short week would be to promote Ford from the practice squad to the active roster. Ford has a similar back story to Brandon Underwood. Ford started his collegiate career at a national powerhouse (Florida State while Underwood went to Ohio State) but transferred to smaller school (Troy while Underwood went to Cincinnati) where he finished his college career on a positive note. Ford joined the Packers as a non-drafted free agent on May 4th, 2009. After Green Bay plays Detroit, they have 10 days before their Monday Night clash with Baltimore which gives management a chance to assess the free agent cornerback market.

Final Thought:
The Green bay Packers are returning the mystic to Lambeau Field. Back to back wins against Dallas and San Francisco gives Green Bay momentum and a share of the wild card lead as they head into their clash with Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Check back Wednesday for a preview of the Green Bay/Detroit Thanksgiving Day Game.

Week #11 of 2009 - Packers v. 49ers

The Packers are coming off a HUGE conference win at home over the Cowboys. This week the Packers host the hot and cold San Francisco 49ers who haven't beat the Packers since the T.O. crying catch in the playoffs in 1999. Here is a look at the top 10 players that will line up against the Packers this week (note that Nate Clements would definitely be in the list if he were healthy):

#10 - Barry Sims (LT): he stepped in for Joe Staley and has been the only consistent contributor on the offensive line for the 49ers the last few weeks. A dinosaur for NFL lineman (34 years old), Sims is turning back the clock in a big way for the 49ers.

#9 - Manny Lawson (OLB): a physical freak, Lawson provides speed at the outside linebacker position. The biggest knock on Lawson is his inability to cover in space but with his speed allows him to make-up for his coverage deficiencies.

#8 - Michael Lewis (SS): a big thumper at safety, Lewis provides a physical presence in the secondary. If Finley (assuming he is healthy) gets into one on one situations it should be interesting to see them battle against each other.

#7 - Alex Smith (QB): after stating the season as the back-up quarterback to Shaun Hill, Smith came in a few weeks ago to ignite the 49ers and win back the starting QB job. In the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith was taken 1st overall over Aaron Rodgers while Mike McCarthy was the 49ers offensive coordinator. Smith was expected to start right away while Rodgers had a the luxury of sitting behind a hall of fame quarterback. 4 1/2 years later the Packers are in a much better position with Rodgers then the 49ers with Smith. As a point of reference here are the rest of the quarterbacks taken in the 2005 NFL Draft: Jason Campbell (1st round), Charlie Frye (3rd round), Andrew Walter (3rd round), David Greene (3rd round), Kyle Orton (4th round), Stefan LeFors (4th round), Dan Orlovsky (5th round), Adrian McPherson (5th round), Cleveland’s Derek Anderson (6th round), James Kilian (7th round), Matt Cassel (7th round) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (7th round). The 49ers would much rather have at least four guys from the aforementioned list (Rodgers, Campbell, Orton and Cassell) and settle for a number of the other quarterbacks that were taken later in the draft (Walter, Orlovsky, Anderson and Fitzpatrick) instead of drafting Smith 1st overall. The 49ers missed on a bunch of studs that went in the top 15 picks of the 2005 NFL Draft because they took Smith. I recommend you skip this list if you are a 49ers fan, here are the studs from the top 15 picks in the 2005 NFL Draft: Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman and Jamal Brown.

#6 - Michael Crabtree (WR): almost a Green Bay Packer, Crabtree was taken one pick after the Packers selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji out of Boston College #9 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Ted Thompson has always taken the "best player available" in his mind. In moving to the 3-4, it was prudent of Thompson to pass on Crabtree with the depth the Packers have at wide receiver (Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones) and nab a potential building block on the defensive side of the ball. After holding out for more money, Crabtree finally signed with the 49ers in early October. Since joining the team, Crabtree has assumed the #1 receiver position.

#5 - Justin Smith (RE): the former Cincinnati Bengal provides the ideal defensive end in Mike Singletary's 3-4 scheme. Smith is not the flashiest player in the NFL but he eats up offensive lineman which allows linebackers opportunities to capitalize.

#4 - Vernon Davis (TE): taken one pick after A.J. Hawk in the 2007 NFL Draft, Davis is becoming an elite tight end under Mike Singletary after underachieving his first few seasons in San Francisco. Singletary sent Davis to the locker room during a game last season because of attitude issues. Since then, Davis has answered the bell becoming a team captain and leader for the 49ers.

#3 - Aubrayo Franklin (NT): very similar to Jay Ratliff (Cowboys), Franklin is a perfect nose tackle for the 3-4 defense. Similar to Justin Smith, Franklin does not put up gaudy statistics (24 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss and 1 interception) but gives linebackers opportunities to make plays.

#2 - Frank Gore (RB): although he has been dinged up a little this season, when healthy Gore has top 5 running back in the NFL potential. Packers' fans will remember Gore breaking off a 72 yards in 2006. If the Packers can bottle up Gore, the 49ers become very one dimensional. That will allow Dom Capers to send some exotic blitzes and keep Smith off balance all day.

#1 - Patrick Willis (MLB): possibly the best middle linebacker in the NFL. Willis is following in the footsteps of his head coach leading the team in almost every defensive statistic (88 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 1 defensive touchdown.