Thursday, September 24, 2009

Preview of Week #3 of the 2009 Season - Ten Most Interesting St. Louis Rams

This week the Green Bay Packers (1-1) hit the road to take on the St. Louis Rams (0-2). I am going to give my top ten players for the St. Louis Rams as of week #3 and some accompanying comments:

St. Louis Rams:
#10 - Chris Long (RE): This is more based on potential since he was the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. His production thus far has been marginal over his first 18 games: 51 tackles, 4 sacks and 1 forced fumble.

#9 - Donnie Avery (WR): He was the first WR taken in the 2008 NFL Draft, just three spots ahead of current Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Avery has been hobbled by injuries so far this season which has limited his impact to 7 receptions for 50 yards in two games this season.

#8 - Leonard Little (LE): This is his 12 season as a St. Louis Ram. Little's health and production has declined over the last few seasons but he still draws occasional double teams.

#7 - Donnie Jones (P): Jones is averaging 48.3 yards gross and 41.3 yards net per punt this season.

#6: Josh Brown (K): In his second season with the Rams, Brown has converted on 80.8% of his career field goal attempts but is coming off a season where he converted on 86.1% of his field goal attempts.

#5: Oshiomogho Atogwe (FS): He is a turnover machine. Atogwe anchors a secondary that has seen a fair amount of turnover in the last few season.

#4: James Laurinaitis (MLB): Despite spending high draft picks in recent drafts (Adam Carriker in 2007 and Chris Long in 2008) Laurinaitis looks to be the future of the St. Louis defense. In his rookie campaign Laurinaitis leads the team in total tackles with 22.

#3: Jason Brown (C): The Rams gave Brown a huge contract in the off-season (five-year, $37.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed) to lure him away from the Baltimore Ravens. The Rams are unsettled on the offensive line with an injury to 2009 first round draft pick Jason Smith so the jury is still out on Brown.

#2: Marc Bulger (QB): He has been the leader of the Rams since taking over for Kurt Warner in 2003. After experiencing early success with the Rams, Bulger has been under enormous pressure in recent years. He has failed to eclipse a quarterback rating of 72 since 2006.

#1: Stephen Jackson (RB): One of the most underrated RBs in the NFL, Stephen Jackson has been the jack-of-all-trades for the Rams since joining the team in 2004. Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards the last four seasons.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Packers cut Rouse and sign Giordano

As expected the Green Bay Packers signed free agent safety Matt Giordano, a 4th round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2005 NFL Draft. Giordano appeared in 55 games for the Colts over the last four season, starting six contests. The Colts cut Giordano at the end of the preseason. The signing of Giordano reunites him with former California teammate Aaron Rodgers.

To make room for Giordano the Packers cut often maligned safety Aaron Rouse; a 3rd round pick by the Packers in the 2007 NFL Draft. Coming out of Virgina Tech Rouse was a physical specimen at 6'4" and 223 pounds. Rouse ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 at the NFL Combine. Rouse was projected as a late first round pick but his lack luster senior season saw him fall to the 3rd round. Throughout his Packer career everyone talked about his "potential" but Rouse never produced on the field, which lead to the Packers parting ways with Rouse.

Both of the Packers starting safeties (Nick Collins and Atari Bigby) are sidelined with injuries. That leaves recently acquired Derrick Martin, converted corner back Jarrett Bush and Matt Giordano as their only healthy options at safety. The Packers lack of depth at safety calls into question Packers General Manager Ted Thompson's decision to cut Anthony Smith before the start of the season. Smith was signed because of his understanding of the new 3-4 defense because he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2006 to 2008. Ironically Smith now plays for the St. Louis Rams, the Packers next opponent.

Injuries happen in the NFL, which makes the Packers complete lack of depth at safety very alarming. Matt Giordano better pick-up the 3-4 defense fast because he will most likely be active this weekend against the Rams.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Preview of Week #2 of the 2009 NFL Season – Packers v. Bengals

Here is an abbreviated preview of the Green Bay Packers v. Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field at noon on Sunday:

The Packers offense had a lack luster showing last week against the Chicago Bears until their final drive when Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for a 50 yard go ahead touchdown to beat the Bears.

The Cincinnati Bengals only put seven points on the board last week against the improved Denver Broncos defense; don't expect that to be a trend the whole season with the likes of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco.

The Packers defense picked up where they left off in the preseason. New Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers gave the Bears a number of different looks, which kept the Bears offense off balance all day. They forced Jay Cutler to throw four interceptions in his Bears regular season debut.

The Bengals defense gave up a back breaking fluke 87 yard touchdown with only seconds remaining in their game last week to lose to Denver 12-7. Look for them to rebound defensively this week against the Packers.

Special Teams:
The Packers have a shaky punter and place kicker while the Bengals have a rookie punter and a veteran place kicker.

Bottom Line:
The Packers are favored by 9 points and the under/over is 42 points. If I were a betting man (and I am not) I give the edge to the Packers and the over. That said, it doesn't matter what I think because the only thing that matters is what happens on the field on Sunday.

Fielder Breaks Brewer Single Season RBI Mark

Prince Fielder got his 127 RBI for the 2009 season on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 8th inning in a Brewers' win over the Houston Astros. That RBI gave Fielder the single season Brewers' RBI record. Ironically the former record holder Cecil Cooper manages the opposing Astros and was very gracious in complementing Fielder breaking his club record.

Yet another sign of the camaraderie in the Brewers clubhouse despite their disappointing season was Trevor Hoffman closing off the clubhouse to pay Fielder a proper tribute. Despite only joining the Brewers in the spring, Hoffman has become a clubhouse favorite. Hoffman along with other veterans such as Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron have helped the Brewers maintain a positive attitude despite missing the playoffs this season after making the playoffs last year for the first time in 25 years.

Who knows whether this will be Fielder's last season with the Brewers but as he showed this season he is a forced to be reckoned with at the plate.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Preview of Week #1 of the 2009 NFL Season – Packers v. Bears

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears renew one of the oldest rivalries in professional sports this Sunday night on NBC. There are two subplots that jump-start the storied rivalry. First, the Bears made the blockbuster acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler in the off-season. That gives the Bears’ their first pro bowl quarterback since Jim McMahon in 1986. Second, the Packers made the transition from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers. That gives the Packers’ a new look on defense, which they sorely need after their poor defensive performance in 2008. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the upcoming game:

- Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers v. Jay Cutler Round 1. They are two of the youngest, undeniably talented and most promising QBs in the NFL. Cutler is learning a new system but by mid-season he should know it like the back of his hand. Rodgers returns to the same system that he has worked in for the last four seasons, which gives him a leg up Cutler. The Packers have the advantage at quarterback.

- Running Back: the Bears hold the advantage here with promising 2nd year running back Matt Forte coming off a very successful rookie year edging out incumbent Packers’ starting running back Ryan Grant. The Bears have the advantage at running back.

- Wide Receivers: the Packers have much better top end WRs with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver over the Bears’ Devin Hester and Earl Bennett. Furthermore, the Packers have better depth with James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Brett Swain over Rashied Davis, Devin Aromashodu, Juaquin Iglesias and Jonny Knox. On both top end talent and quality depth the Packers have the advantage at wide receiver.

- Tight End: although this season might be Finley’s coming out party, he has to prove it on the field. The Bears’ have better TEs in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark over the Packers’ Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley. As a result, the Bears have the advantage at tight end.

- Offensive Line: both the Packers and Bears have a revamped offensive line coming into the 2009 season. The Bears signed starting left guard Frank Omiyale and left tackle Orlando Pace as free agents in the off-season. 2008 1st round draft choice Chris Williams takes over at right tackle for the retired John Tait. Holdovers, right guard Roberto Garza and center Olin Kreutz return. The Packers return starting left tackle Chad Clifton and left guard Daryn Colledge. Jason Spitz started all over the offensive line last season for the Packers; this season he took the starting center job away from Scott Wells. The Packers tabbed promising young players Josh Sitton at right guard and Allen Barbre at right tackle. With both offensive lines in flux, it almost too early to tell. The offensive line is a wash.

- Defensive Line: the Bears have a veteran line with Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams and Alex Brown. As long as the Bear’s defensive line stays healthy, they have a very formidable front four on defense. The Packers are trying to see what players fit where in their new defensive scheme. NT Ryan Pickett and DE Johnny Jolly have excelled in the preseason but rookie defensive lineman B.J. Raji has been limited in the pre-season because of contract negotiations and an ankle injury. The Bears have the advantage at defensive line.

- Linebacker: although early reports are that Urlacher had one of his best training camps in years, the Bears’ linebackers got a year older with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. The Packers’ transition to the 3-4 means they will utilize more linebackers (they kept ten on their 53-man roster). Aaron Kampman seems to have made a smooth transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. Nick Barnett has made a healthy return to middle linebacker along side A.J. Hawk. With all of their depth and talent, the Packers have the advantage at linebacker.

- Defensive Backs: the Packers’ have a better starting defensive backfield in Charles Woodson, All Harris, Atari Bigby and Nick Collins over Trumaine McBride, Nathan Vasher, Kevin Payne and Daniel Manning. The Packers have the advantage at defensive back.

- Special Teams: Devin Hester, Daniel Manning, punter Brad Maynard and place kicker Robbie Gould are much more accomplished then Will Blackmon, Jordy Nelson, punter Jason Kapinos and place kicker Mason Crosby. The Bears have an advantage at special teams.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers and Bears both won two positions and tied on one. As a result, the offensive side of the ball is a wash. On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers won two positions and the Bears won one position. As a result, the Packers won on the defensive side of the ball. For special teams, the Bears have the advantage on paper. Add that all up and it looks like there will be a great battle between the Packers and Bears at Lambeau Field tune into NBC Sunday night to see it unfold.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bucks Decline to Match Sessions Offer Sheet

The Milwaukee Bucks declined to match the offer sheet that combo point guard/shooting guard Ramon Session signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves (source here). Last Friday Sessions signed a four-year offer sheet with the Timberwolves worth a reported $16 million. This move comes as no surprise as Bucks General Manager John Hammond continues to re-shape the roster he inherited from former Bucks General Manager Larry Harris. Signing Sessions would have put the Bucks over the luxury tax threshold, which neither Hammond nor Bucks Owner Herb Kohl were interested in doing.

The Bucks already have a crowded backcourt with Brandon Jennings, Luke Rindour and Roko Ukic at point guard as well as Michael Redd, Jodie Meeks and Charlie Bell at shooting guard. The last name on that list Charlie Bell is an example of the difference between the Larry Harris regime and the John Hammond regime. While General Manager of the Bucks, Harris matched the five-year $18.5 million offer sheet that Bell signed with the Miami Heat in 2007 (source here). The Bell contract has proved to be wasted money and it was smart for Hammond not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.

Bucks fans are fortunate that Hammond has a long-term vision for the roster. There is so much turnover in professional front offices, usually General Managers mortgage their future for short term results. Hammond could have resigned Sessions but it would have created an even bigger logjam at the guard position. Instead, much like declining to re-sign Charlie Villanueva, Hammond opted for long-term financial relief. The open question is whether long-term financial relief will come at the expense of short-term results.

Brewers Catchers for 2010

The Milwaukee Brewers’ season has been unofficially over for more than a month now. With the September call-ups joining the club, it’s time for Brewers management to take stock of the talent they have at each position in order to start the transition into the off season and prepare for 2010. Over the next few weeks, I’ll do the same thing here at BPBSports. Let’s start with catcher.

Incumbent starter Jason Kendall is scheduled to become a free agent after the season but has expressed an interest in returning to the Brewers for 2010. Back-up catcher Mike Rivera is salary arbitration eligible and also expressed an interest in returning to the club, but he seems to prefer the starting job. Kendall is an average hitter (source: here) and above average defender. Rivera has not been given the chance to prove whether he is an every day catcher. Kendall, 35 years old, and Rivera, 33 years old, are advanced in baseball age and do not provide a long-term solution for the Brewers at the catcher position.

Brett Lawrie, the Brewers’ first round pick in 2008 (16th overall), showed interest in staying at catcher, which was part of the reason the Brewers selected Lawrie. Once Lawrie joined the Brewers after competing in the World Baseball Classic for Canada, he changed his mind on playing catcher and elected to play second base. In 2009, Lawrie split time between A and AA where he hit .274 and .269 respectively (source: here).

The only other catcher on the Brewers 40-man roster is Angel Salome. At 23 years of age, Salome is quite a bit younger than Kendall and Rivera. He has appeared in only three major league games, and only as a pinch hitter. In 2008 at AA Huntsville, Salome hit .360 in 411 at bats (source: here). The Brewers promoted Salome to AAA Nashville in 2009 but he battled injuries and he hit only .286 in 314 at bats (source: here).

The Brewers are in a difficult position that will most likely require them to bring back both Kendall and Rivera as short-term solutions. The Brewers should give Salome every chance to earn the starting job in spring training, though. If for some reason Salome’s not ready at that point, I’d rather see him go back to the minors for a while where he can catch every day until he is ready. The Brewers are so thin at catcher that they should force Lawrie to play catcher. That would give the Brewers options to choose between Salome and Lawrie as their long-term solution at catcher unless they make a move outside the farm system. In the mean time, with the potential free agents available at catcher slim, get used to Kendall and Rivera for 2010.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Biggest Surprises on the 53-Man Roster

There were a few surprises on both sides of the ball when the Green Bay Packers trimmed their roster to 53 on Saturday (source: here). The biggest shock was that the Packers cut safety Anthony Smith, one of their two off-season signings (the other, Duke Preston, was cut earlier in the pre-season). The Packers originally signed Smith as a free agent in the off-season because of his familiarity with the 3-4 defense from his time as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Packers General Manager Ted Thompson hoped Smith could use his experience to help the team transition from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. The St. Louis Rams claimed Smith after the cut, and the Packers now lack a player who can lead the team through the changeover (source: here).

The Packers also cut veteran Ruvell Martin, one of the most liked players in the locker room. After Martin was cut, he called Brett Swain, the player the Packers kept instead of him. Martin congratulated Swain on making the 53-man roster (source: here). The Packers need the versatility that Swain provides on special teams, which lead to keeping Swain over Martin. As of Sunday, no one has claimed Martin; so if the Packers suffer an injury at the WR position, expect them to call Martin in short order.

The Packers decision to keep nine linebackers, ten if you count combo OLB/TE Spencer Havner, was another bombshell (source: here). The Packers are making the transition to the 3-4 defense, which means they will utilize more linebackers than defensive lineman but keeping 9 or 10 linebackers seems excessive. Since the Packers put defensive lineman and former first round pick Justin Harrell on injured reserve, they are rather thin on the defensive line. They might look to add depth at defensive end or defensive tackle.

Finally, on the offensive side of the ball, the Packers cut back-up quarterback Brian Brohm. Once considered a top 10 prospect, Brohm was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Packers. In that same draft, the Packers took quarterback Matt Flynn in the seventh round. Since being drafted by the Packers, Flynn has clearly outplayed Brohm, which made Brohm expendable. Since being cut, Brohm accepted the Packers offer to sign on their practice squad (source: here).

The 53-man roster is fluid and changes week-to-week depending on injuries and other moves around the NFL. The Packers should feel confident with the talent they have assembled heading into week one of the 2009 NFL season.