Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wisconsin Badgers head to the 2011 Rose Bowl

On the day that the Wisconsin Badgers officially punched their ticket to the 2011 Rose Bowl it is the perfect time to look back at their impressive 2010 regular season. The Wisconsin Badgers football team started out their 2010 campaign with their normal cupcake non-conference schedule:
- Saturday, September 4, 2010: beat UNLV 41-21 (in Las Vegas, Nevada)
- Saturday, September 11, 2010: beat San Jose State 27-14 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, September 18, 2010: beat Arizona State 20-19 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, September 25, 2010: beat Austin Peay 70-3 (@ Camp Randall)

Despite dismantling Austin Peay, a near loss to Arizona State the week before did not instill confidence in Badgers nation as they started the Big Ten campaign on the road against Michigan State. The Badgers fell flat in East Lansing, Michigan losing to Michigan State 34-24.

Following their loss to Michigan State, the last thing the Badgers were thinking about was the Rose Bowl especially with the prospects of facing Ohio State and Iowa in consecutive weeks. Instead of hanging their heads, the Badgers hunkered down and rattled over 7 consecutive Big Ten wins:
- Saturday, October 9, 2010: beat Minnesota 41-23 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, October 16, 2010: beat Ohio State 31-18 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, October 23, 2010: beat Iowa 31-30 (in Iowa City, Iowa)
- Saturday, November 6, 2010: beat Purdue 34-13 (in West Lafayette, Indiana)
- Saturday, November 13, 2010: beat Indiana 83-20 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, November 20, 2010: beat Michigan 48-28 (in Ann Arbor, Michigan)
- Saturday, November 27, 2010: beat Northwestern 70-23 (@ Camp Randall)

Thanks to overpowering the Big Ten, the Badgers finished 11-1 in a three-way tie as 2010 Big Ten Champions with Michigan State and Ohio State. That gave the Badgers their first Big Ten crown in 11 years. The reason that there was a three-way tie atop the Big Ten was that Michigan State lost to Iowa, Ohio State lost to Wisconsin, and Wisconsin lost to Michigan State. Since Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other, there was no way to break the tie for the Big Ten crown. By virtue of losing first (among other factors), the Badgers had the highest BCS ranking among Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State so they are the Big Ten representative in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

Ohio state finished in front of Michigan State in the final BCS rankings, so they are going to the Sugar Bowl to face the Arkansas Razorbacks. Despite finishing the season 11-1, Michigan State missed out on a BCS bowl game while the University of Connecticut (8-4, unranked Big East Champ) is going to a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which is a BCS game.

One thing that will help Michigan State and the other 8 Big Ten teams not going to a BCS bowl game is that each conference member splits the bowl payouts evenly. The Rose Bowl paid the Big Ten roughly $20 million in 2010 and the Sugar Bowl paid the Big Ten roughly $10 million in 2010. That money gets pooled (minus expenses) and split evenly across all Big Ten members. Michigan State would rather be playing in the Rose Bowl, but they still get 1/11th of the Rose Bowl purse.

The Wisconsin Badgers are set to face Texas Christian University ("TCU") Horn Frogs in Pasadena, California on January 1, 2011 at 4 pm central. TCU comes into the game with a record of 12-0, ranked 3rd in the BCS standings, and heading to a BCS game for the second straight year. Last year TCU lost to Boise State 17 to 10 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

In anticipation of Wisconsin's match-up with the Horned Frogs, let's take a quick look at their opponent. TCU is located in Fort Worth, Texas and has an enrollment of 8,865. TCU is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference but are joining the Big East Conference as "full" member in all sports as the 17th member of the Big East on July 1, 2012. Finally, TCU are coached by Gary Patterson who been the head coach at TCU since 2000 and is 97-28 (.776 winning percentage) as a head coach at TCU.

TCU is ranked 8th nationally in rushing at 261.17 yards per game and 53rd in passing at 230.33 yard per game. Much like the Badgers, TCU has three impressive running backs and a quality quarterback. The added element that TCU's four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton brings to that table is that he can pick up yards with his arm and his legs. That means the Badgers will have to plan for the dual-threat that Dalton brings to the table.

TCU has a very impressive defense as well. TCU ranks 1st in the nation in scoring at 11.42 points per game, yards given up per game at 215.42 yards per game, and passer efficiency. Probably the most important defensive stat is that TCU ranks 3rd in the country against the run. TCU only allows 89.17 yards per game, so it should be an interesting match-up on the ground between TCU and Wisconsin.

I know this post is getting rather lengthy so just trust me when I say much like the Badgers, TCU has a good chance to score on special teams.

Finally in the Allen Brown portion of the post, UW and TCU both played UNLV this year so we have a way of deciding the outcome of the game even before it is played. As chronicled above, the Badgers defeated UNLV 41-21 on Saturday, September 4, 2010 while TCU defeated UNLV 48-6 on Saturday, October 30, 2010. By the Allen Brown transitive property, TCU should win.

As you can see from above, the Wisconsin Badgers have their worked cut out for them when they meet the 3-point favorite TCU Horned Frogs in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tweet Beat - World Cup 2018 and World Cup 2022 Style

For an up to the minute, not completely Cheesehead sports related installment of "Tweet Beat" I decided to look at FIFA's announcement of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The countries in the running for the 2018 World Cup were: Belgium/Netherlands (joint bid), England, Portugal/Spain (joint bid), and Russia. The countries in the running for the 2022 World Cup were: Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar, and the United States. The odds on favorites throughout the process were England for the 2018 World Cup and the United States for the 2022 World Cup.

Before we get to the winners, let's delve into the selection process. The selection process came under scrutiny even before the vote was revealed because it was done by secret ballot, despite the fact that 2 of the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee were not allowed to vote because of allegations of taking bribes in exchange for their vote. Furthermore, since the committee was voting on two world cups, there were rampant accusations of vote trading. To win, a country needed an absolute majority. If an absolute majority was not reached, the lowest bidder was eliminated.

As I am sure most you know by now, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. We know enough about Russia, but I am sure most readers have not even heard of Qatar much less find it on the map or even know how to properly pronounce it. My only real connection to Qatar before today was occasionally playing as "that other random country" in FIFA International Soccer on Sega Genesis against my buddy Uncle Patty.

Just to compare Qatar to some things in the United States, it has a total population smaller than Houston, Texas and the entire country is smaller than the size of the state of Connecticut. Finally, Qatar will have to build all new soccer stadiums from scratch to combat the 130-degree heat expected during the 2022 World Cup.

Twitter blew up after the "announcement" even though a number of media outlets reported Russia and Qatar as winners 5 minutes before the actual announcement. Check out some of the tweets that came in from sports journalists and other pundits around the world:

@GrantWahl: "Choosing Qatar and Russia is the biggest indictment possible that FIFA is not a clean organization. Petrodollars talk."

@JasonLaCanfora: "Way to go Sunil! You lost to Qatar. What a joke. Can't land a top coach. Blow it in 2018 and 2022. Please step down for good of your country."

@sportsguy33: "And... all the rumors about insane bribes being thrown around to get the 2022 World Cup have been proven correct! Wow."

@bruce_arthur: "If you're outraged about nations as repressive as Russia and Qatar being awarded the World Cup, I'd like to have a word about Beijing."

@sportsguy33: "Qatar needs to thank its special consultant for the 2022 WC bid: Cam Newton's father."

@the_real_nash: "No beer in Qatar? No Canadians going! The bribe must have been large to outbid Budweiser's sponsorship."

@sportsguy33: "Any time you can hold a World Cup in a hot Middle East country that's smaller than Connecticut + has no soccer tradition, you have to do it."

@GrantWahl: "FYI, I'm not upset that USA lost. If Australia, Korea or Japan had won bid, FIFA would look cleaner and less influenced by oil money."

@FO_ASchatz: "Soccer people, out of curiosity, what Middle East country has the best soccer tradition? Egypt or Algeria, maybe?"

@stefanfatsis: "2010 Press Freedom Index rankings: Qatar 121st (out of 178), Russia 140th (just ahead of Malaysia!)"

@AroundTheHorn: "This is what Qatar has given the soccer world video."

@GrantWahl: "USA's Gulati: It was US vs Qatar in final round of vote."

@SI_PeterKing: "RT @RunnerLuis: Thoughts on US losing Cup bid to Qatar?... Amazing. Building 10 AC stadia in country size of Conn.? And if oil economy tanks?"

@GrantWahl: "England=Chicago Olympic humiliation. RT @pkelso 1st round: England 2 votes, Netherlands/Belgium 4, Spain/Portugal 7 & Russia 9."

@milfordio: "Early odds for 2030 World Cup: North Korea 7/1, Somalia 6/1, North Pole 11/1, The Moon 25/1 England 10,000/1"

@GrantWahl: "US was never close today. Qatar got 11 votes in 1st round (1 shy of win), US just 3. Australia was first bid eliminated."

@GrantWahl: "Qatar won final round of World Cup '22 voting 14-8 over the United States."

@GrantWahl: "Official list of round-by-round World Cup vote totals from FIFA: click here. Interesting to see how votes moved."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Week 12 of 2010 - Packers/Falcons Review

Everybody likes to talk about home field advantage but very few teams actually have a home field advantage. Most NFL teams besides the Miami Dolphins would rather play at home than on the road, but that does not always translate into a better record at home versus on the road.

That is not the case for the Atlanta Falcons; they truly have a home field advantage. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 18-1 at home (only loss was to Denver in 2008 when he was a rookie) and head coach Mike Smith is 18-3 at home. The aforementioned numbers were not a promising sign for the Green Bay Packers when they visited the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 of the 2010 NFL season.

Before we get to the actual game, Fox likes to give a few “nuggets of information” about each team right before kickoff. Here are the Fox nuggets for the Packers:
- Head coach Mike McCarthy is 45-29 as head coach of the Packers.
- The Packers currently rank 13th in total offense
- The Packers currently rank 12th in total defense
- The Packers currently have the best plus/minus ratio in the NFL with a +106 point scoring margin

As a quick side note, I charted the first half of the game for Football Outsiders, so I will have more detailed thoughts on the first half than the second half most likely.

Onto the game. The Falcons got the ball to start the game and put together a balanced drive with a nice mix of play calls. During the Falcons' opening drive Fox flashed some very telling stats titled "How Falcons Win". Fox pointed out that the Falcons have a +10 turnover ratio, 21 drives lasting 5 minutes or longer (most in the NFL), and average only 2 offensive penalties a game (2nd best in the NFL).

The Falcons did their best to hit that penalty average on the opening drive when starting middle linebacker Desmond Bishop drew a late hit call on offensive lineman Harvey Dahl. The 15-yard penalty put Atlanta in a 3rd and 20 situation at the Green Bay 34-yard line instead of 3rd and 5 at the Green Bay 19-yard line. That was a big difference because the Falcons picked up 14 yards on the next play that would have kept the drive alive without the personal foul. Instead, the Falcons had to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Packers’ nickel cornerback and return man Sam Shields decided to return the kick despite the fact that he received it 5-yards deep in the end zone. Shields only got back to the 10-yard line...probably should have settled for the touch back Sammy.

Following the short return, the Packers went three-and-out on a couple sneaks by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a 1-yard run by running back Brandon Jackson. Rodgers looked to have picked up the first down on a third-down scramble, but slid before the first down. I can't get mad at Rodgers for avoiding the hit in that situation, smarter to punt than to take a big shot considering Rodgers has already suffered a concussion this year.

Onto the punt, special teams maven Jarrett Bush downed the punt despite a half dozen other Packers standing around the ball. Bush stepped out of bounds, so by rule he can't be the first one to touch the ball when he comes back in bounds. As a result the Packers were penalized 5 unnecessary yards. There are much bigger issues on special teams than 5-yard penalties, but little mistakes like that continue to keep Packers’ special teams coach Shawn Slocum on the hot seat.

The Packers didn't hold the ball on offense long enough for Fox to flash the "How Packers Win" stats...not a good sign. Fox highlighted the Packers’ +8 turnover ratio, 87 points off takeaways (best in NFL), and 18 points off giveaways (tied for 2nd best in NFL).

Back to the game. After two runs by the Falcons, undrafted rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo beat Falcons left tackle Sam Baker for an easy sack of quarterback Matt Ryan on 3rd down to force the Falcons to punt.

For the second special teams play in a row the Packers were penalized. This time it was an illegal block in the back by former Atlanta Falcons practice squad member and current Packers back-up running back Dimitri Nance. See what I mean about the little things on special teams?

The Packers started running a modified no-huddle offense on their next drive. Thanks to a 15-yard facemask penalty, the Packers moved into Falcons’ territory in short order. After a throw to wide receiver Donald Driver for a first down, Rodgers picked up another first down with his feet but was forced to use a timeout facing a 1st and 10 at the Falcons' 13-yard line.

Coming out of the timeout the Packers picked up a few more yards on the ground with Jackson. Facing a 2nd and 6 at the Falcons' 9-yard line, the Packers went with an empty backfield (4 receivers and 1 tight end) but Rodgers decided to pull it down and run again. Unfortunately Rodgers came up a yard short of the first down.

On 3rd and 1, the Packers gave the ball to Nance hoping he could punish his former employer, but Nance could not pick it up. As a result, the Packers were forced to attempt a short field goal. If the Packers had a decent running game they might have gone for it on 4th and 1, unfortunately the Packers are horrible in short yardages situations as we will reinforce soon. Packers place kicker Mason Crosby made the chip shot field goal to tie the game 3-3.

The Packers forced a three-and-out on the Falcons' next possession. Following the punt, the Packers got the ball back at their own 15-yard line. As the game came back from commercial, we saw the familiar sight of cornerback Pat Lee on the training table. Not to beat a dead horse, but when has Pat Lee been health for any prolonged stretch for the Packers?

Back to the game. The Packers ran a short slant to seldom-used 5th wide receiver Brett Swain that went for a 31-yard gain. A 15-yard personal foul got tacked on (3rd of the game for the Falcons already) at the end of the play because Swain was hit out of bounds.

Coming off the big gain, the Packers stuck with the 4 and 5 wide receiver set. That scheme allowed the Packers to dink and dunk their way down into the red zone against the Falcons suspect secondary.

While in the red zone the Packers called consecutive wide receiver hitches to wide receiver James Jones. Avid readers of the blog know I have a love/hate relationship with Jones. Based on the last two plays we are currently in the love phase. Jones' second catch netted the Packers a 1st and goal at the Falcons' 2-yard line.

On first down the Packers finally ran the U-70 package where backup offensive lineman T.J. Lang is inserted as the 6th offensive lineman. McCarthy called a play action pass on the play that resulted in a miscommunication between the fullback Quinn Johnson and Rodgers. It looked like the pass was intended for tight end Andrew Quarless but Johnson got in the way. That play is a great example of the injury problems the Packers have had to deal with in 2010. Instead of throwing a jump ball to tight end Jermichael Finley in that situation, the Packers were forced to use guys like Quarless and Johnson in the red zone.

The Packers spread out the defense with 5 wide receivers (if you count Quarless as a wide receiver in the slot) on 2nd and goal from the Falcons' 2-yard line. Rodgers tried to sneak it up the middle but was stuffed at the Falcons' 1-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the Falcons' 1-yard line Rodgers tried to sneak it again but fumbled the ball.

If the fumble was not bad enough, the ball somehow ended up into the end zone where the Falcons recovered the ball for a touchback. Oddly enough that was Rodgers' first fumble of the season, which could not have come at a worse time. Fox focused their cameras on McCarthy after the fumble. The only thing McCarthy said was "wow" in a nonchalant manner. That’s it McCarthy? Thanks for the fire and emotion, way to keep the team fired up.

I know this sounds dumb, but in a weird way the Packers have a better shot at scoring a touchdown if they are facing a first and goal from the 10-yard line as opposed to the 2-yard line. I know this seems counter intuitive but the playbook shrinks at the 1-yard line because the Packers cannot pick up a yard or two on the ground to save their life. The Packers have better personnel at wide receiver/tight end as opposed to running back/full back. Furthermore, the Packers have a ton of plays that work from longer distances and very few that work in short yardage situations. As a result, the short yardage situations have been the Achilles heel of the Packers the last few years.

Sorry for that mini jag, following the Rodgers fumble the Falcons took over at their own 20-yard line. The Falcons moved the ball well; mixing in some runs and passes to get the ball into Packers’ territory with a little less than 5 minutes remaining in the half.

After a nice sack by Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins and an incomplete pass, the Falcons faced a 3rd and 19 from their own 48-yard line. In what looked like a dump off for only a few yards, Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli eluded both cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah to set-up a 4th and 3 at the Packers' 36-yard line.

Instead of kicking a field goal, Falcons head coach Mike Smith decided to go for it. Matt Ryan surveyed the field and found all world tight end Tony Gonzalez for an apparent first down. McCarthy had 30 seconds to review the "catch" but decided to let the play stand. Why not challenge the play McCarthy? After the game McCarthy said that he did not have enough information at the time. Really? I have more information at home on my couch watching the game on television than you do as the head coach of the team I am watching? If that is the case then the NFL needs to make some changes because I should not have more information with a beer in my hand than the head coach. Just to beat the dead horse, McCarthy should have at least thrown the challenge flag based on how big of a conversion that was at that point in the game. Even if McCarthy lost the challenge, he still would have had one for the rest of the game.

Following the boneheaded non-challenge by McCarthy, the Falcons ran for a short gain to get to the two-minute warning with the game tied 3-3. Coming out of the two-minute warning the Falcons went back to Gonzalez for a big gain to set-up a 1st and goal from the 5-yard line.

Following two short runs, the Falcons faced a 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line coming out of a timeout with 12 second remaining in the half. The Falcons obviously threw, and guess who caught the ball? Yeah, Gonzalez was wide open for an easy touchdown. That catch allowed Gonzalez to pass Jimmy Smith and move into 15th place on the NFL's career receiving list. I am not a defensive genius like Dom Capers but I think you put at least one guy on the best tight end to ever play in the NFL. Much like Bubba Franks back in the day for the Packers, whenever the Falcons are in a goal line situation there should always be at least one defender on Gonzalez. Last year Charles Woodson shadowed tight end Jason Witten in the red zone and was a big reason why the Packers beat the Cowboys. Why not do the same thing against the Flacons?

Much like I did last week in my recap of the Packers/Vikings game in the Humpty Dumpty Dome, let's play the "what if" game for second. What if the Packers scored a touchdown instead of fumbling the ball? The Packers would be up 10-3 and worst-case scenario they are tied 10-10 at halftime. Even better, let the fumble stand but what if McCarthy challenges the Gonzalez "catch" on 4th down? The Packers get the ball back tied 3-3 and most likely come away with some points. If not, the Packers bleed the clock and go into the half tied 3-3. Instead the Packers trailed 10-3 at half against possibly the best team in the NFC. Add in that Atlanta is a superb home team and you can see why the Packers cannot afford the aforementioned errors (Rodgers’ fumble and McCarthy’s failure to challenge) if they expect to win games.

The half time stats look like this according to Fox:
- Packers: 4 possessions, 28 rushing yards, 2 plays over 20-yards, and 13:07 time of possession.
- Falcons: 4 possessions, 57 rushing yards, 1 play over 20-yards, and 16:53 time of possession.

Why flash the rushing stats Fox? You know this is the match up of possibly the two best young quarterbacks in the NFL right? Again I am not a television executive but I think you want to highlight Aaron Rodgers v. Matt Ryan, not Brandon Jackson v. Michael Turner.

Shields opened the second half with a decent return. The Packers used the empty backfield to start the second half. Instead of sticking with what works, McCarthy tried to run on second and short but Jackson lost five yards. On 3rd down the Packers failed to pick up enough yards for the first down and were forced to punt. Let's second-guess the play calling a little bit while we are here. 2nd and 2 turned into 3rd and 7 because McCarthy called a run. Can we officially give up on the run or do you need more evidence?

When the Falcons got the ball back the Packers gave up a long run on first down. After picking up a first down, the Falcons failed to move the ball and were forced to punt.

Following a Tramon Williams fair catch, the Packers started their next offensive drive in the 5 wide receiver set and picked up 9 yards. On second down the Packers ran the ball for no gain. Why do you continue to call running plays that result in a loss of yards? McCarthy, when your team is good at throwing the ball and you are playing in a dome…just throw the ball. On 3rd and 1 McCarthy calls a flea-flicker that goes for a big gain to wide receiver Greg Jennings. That might be the first play call that I have agreed with in a while.

Following the big gain the Packers spread out the defense and Rodgers picked up yards with his feet. As Rodgers went to the ground he took a pretty big hit. Probably a legal hit but I don't get why a quarterbacks slide if they are going to get hit anyways. Don’t get me wrong, the NFL treats quarterbacks like porcelain dolls on every play besides when the quarterback slides. That is part of the reason why the defenseless quarterback rule still remains a mystery to me.

Following a bad pass by Rodgers, the Packers faced a 3rd and 1 at the Falcons' 29-yard line. The Packers lined up in the I-Formation with 2 tight ends and 1 wide receiver. That is a formation that looks like an obvious running formation considering the personnel, especially when you factor in the down and distance. Instead, the Packers went deep and Rodgers completed a perfect pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. As the last play shows, the Packers are 100 times better throwing the ball than running the ball...way to have a pair on that play call McCarthy.

The Packers capped off the drive with an empty backfield for a designed quarterback sneak. Again great play-call McCarthy. I give McCarthy credit for learning from his mistakes in the first half. Following the extra point, the game is tied at 10-10.

When the Falcons got the ball back they were penalized for a false start. The Falcons followed that play call with an inside hand off, seemed like a wasted play call ala former Packer head coach Mike Sherman to me. The Falcons picked up a few yards the next play on what looked like a blatant hold on outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers followed that up by burning a timeout for having too many men on the field. Wasting a timeout there is inexcusable...two steps forward and two steps back for McCarthy.

On 3rd and 9 the Falcons picked up the first down with Jason Snelling taking a dump off and beating three Packer linebackers for a first down. Following a short run by Turner, the Falcons picked up a few yards to set-up a 3rd and 6 at their own 35-yard line. The Falcons picked up the first down on an easy pass and catch between Ryan and White.

On the next play the Falcons ran a play action tight end dump off. The Packers sold out on the run and left Gonzalez wide open. The Packers got greedy on that play because if they stayed in their lanes, Gonzalez would have been covered. On the following play the Falcons shoved the ball down the Packers throat for a big gain on the ground. Turner is hard to tackle but the Packers have to do a better job than that at tackling.

A few more positive runs netted the Falcons a 1st and goal from the Packers' 1-yard line. Despite having a formidable backfield the Packers did a nice job on 1st and 2nd down to keep the Falcons out of the end zone. On 3rd down the Falcons went to Gonzalez but he was ruled short of the end zone on the play. Smith challenged the play but the was confirmed by the replay. I am not too sure why Smith challenged the play, there was a visible bobble on the initial replay. On 4th and inches the Falcons went for it and walked into the end zone. That play shows the difference between the Packers and the Falcons. One team can pick up a yard in a pinch (Falcons) while the other (Packers) cannot pick up a yard to save their life. Sometimes it is the little things that determine whether a team is a playoff team or a Super Bowl champion, unfortunately the Packers really struggle in short yardage situations which might come back to haunt them this year.

Quick digression. For my money, Turner is exactly the type of running back the Packers need. Turner is hard to tackle and falls forward almost every time he touches the ball. When Turner was a free agent after the 2007 season the Packers were not yet completely sold on Ryan Grant. Ultimately the Packers caved amid the Favre drama and signed Grant to a lucrative four-year contract. A few months earlier the Packers could have had Michael Turner for much less than they paid Grant because the Falcons ultimately signed Turner to a six-year, $34.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. The Packers would rather have Turner than Grant at this point. With so many teams transitioning to a two running back scheme, it still boogles my mind that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't make a run (no pun intended) at Turner. Obviously with Grant hurt this year it seems easy to say, but a backfield of Turner and Grant for the last three years would have given the Packers possibility the best one-two punch at running back in the NFL.

On the kickoff return following the Falcons’ touchdown the Packers were flagged for 15-yard facemask personal foul. I guess I don't understand the facemask rule because kick returner Sam Shields should be able to stiff-arm a player right? That was a shaky call at best in my opinion. The only thing that makes sense is that Shields was going out of bounds so he did not need to stiff-arm the defender, but we are in fact still playing tackle football in the NFL not two-hand tag right?

Following the penalty the Packers came out in the 5 wide receiver set to pick up an easy first down followed by another nice run by Rodgers. The Packers got greedy and went 5 wide again looking to run another quarterback sneak but the Falcons sniffed it out and stopped it for no gain. In case you were wondering how bad the Packers are at running the ball, with 12 minutes left in the game Rodgers was the only Packer with positive rushing yards on the day.

The Packers ran a screen for Kuhn to net 9 yards, which set up a 3rd and 1. The Packers actually picked up a first down on the ground with Jackson to move the ball to mid-field. The Packers ran Jackson again for a few yards. Following a throw to Jennings, the Packers faced another 3rd and 1. Instead of going heavy the Packers spread out the Falcons and Rodgers took a shot down field that fell incomplete.

Instead of punting, McCarthy decided to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Falcons' 41-yard line. The Falcons blitzed, which forced Rodgers to unload it a little faster than he wanted. Rodgers missed wide receiver Donald Driver by inches, which forced a turnover on downs giving the Falcons the ball back up 17-10 with 9 minutes remaining.

I like that McCarthy took a chance on that play. I might have kept more blockers in to protect Rodgers on 4th down, but I have no problem with the Packers going for it in that situation.

The Falcons moved the ball a little bit when they got the ball back but the Packers defense stopped the Falcons, which gave the Packers offense the ball back down a touchdown with 6 minutes remaining. On first down the Packers ran the ball. That makes no sense to me, not only does it get the clock rolling but also running is not the Packers' strength.

Following the run, Rodgers hit Quarless on consecutive plays to move the Packers to their own 40-yard line. Following an 8-yard run by Jackson, Rodgers picked up the first down on a scramble to set up a 1st and 10 from the Falcons' 45-yard line. Rodgers lucked out not getting intercepted on the next play, but made up for it by hitting Jennings for another first down.

Rodgers dumped off the ball to Jackson for another nice gain. Rodgers found Jones in the back of the end zone on the next play but Jones was unable to get both his feet down in the end zone. Brian Billick talked about a rule change that the NFL recently made. Under the old rule, if a player was "forced out of bounds" without getting both feet down it could still be called a catch. I generally think the NFL is making rules more complicated, but this is one instance where the NFL simplified things. The rule now is that the player has to get both feet down in bounds or it is not a catch...smart change.

On 3rd and 1 the ball was snapped before Rodgers expected the ball. Rodgers threw the ball incomplete setting up a 4th and 1 at the Falcons' 21-yard line. It looked like the Packers didn't get off the snap in time to beat the play clock but it turned out that the Falcons jumped off sides. Either way, Rodgers took full advantage of the free play and threw a shovel pass to Jones that got the Packers a 1st and goal from the Falcons' 3-yard line. On the next play Rodgers was stripped but luckily fell on the ball to get the game to the two-minute warning.

On 2nd and goal from the Falcons' 6-yard line Rodgers threw behind Jones to avoid a blitz. On 3rd down the Packers called a naked running back screen. That play call makes absolutely no sense to me. The Packers should run more screen, but not down by the goal line with the game on the line.

On 4th and goal from the Falcons' 6-yard line rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga got called for a false start. Former Baltimore Ravens head coach and current Fox commentator Brian Billick made the point I described above about how more room might actually be better for the Packers. On 4th and goal from the Falcons' 11-yard line Rodgers took the snap, bought time with his feet and uncorked an absolute laser to Nelson for a touchdown. Following the extra point the Packers tied the game up 17-17 with 56 seconds remaining in he game.

On the ensuing kickoff the Packers special teams basically gave the game away. Not only did they surrender a 40-yard return, but also a 15-yard facemask penalty by back-up linebacker Matt Wilhelm allowed the Falcons to take over at midfield with one timeout. Let me pile on a little more to the point I made above about special teams coach Shawn Slocum. I understand that there have been some injuries to players on special teams, but how do the Packers surrender such a big play on special teams with less than a minute left and Slocum still has a job?

On 1st down the Packers not only gave up a 9-yard catch to Roddy White, but they let White get out of bounds to stop the clock. On 2nd down the Falcons picked up the first down through the air but the clock continued to roll.

On the next play the Packers brought an all-out-blitz but still gave up an easy reception to the sidelines for a 4-yard gain. Again the Packers let the Falcons use the sideline to set-up a 3rd and 3 at the Packers' 32-yard line with 18 second remaining. The Falcons ran a roll out on 3rd down that almost resulted in a sack until Ryan threw it away.

McCarthy used his last timeout right before the field goal attempt. Why? The NFL is a copycat league so everyone does that. Okay fine but the bigger issue is that the Packers no longer had a way to stop the clock when they get the ball back. As we will see soon that doesn't matter for this game, but McCarthy should keep that in mind down the road because every second counts and those timeouts can always be used better than to “ice the kicker”.

On the actual field goal attempt following timeout, Bryant hit the ball perfectly to put the Falcons up 20-17. That left the Packers with 9 seconds to pull off a miracle. The ensuing kickoff wasted 7 seconds, leaving only 2 seconds on the clock for the Packers. On the final play of the game Jennings picked up a bunch of yards but his flip to Driver to keep the play alive went out of bounds. 68,204 were treated to a possible NFC Championship preview that saw the Falcons continue to assert their home field advantage. Ryan moved his home record to 19-1.

As a result the Packers fell 20-17. Somehow this goes as a loss for Rodgers. Yes Rodgers did fumble at the goal line, but that is because the Packers are horrible at picking up short yardage so they put their franchise quarterback in harms way on 3rd and 1. If the Packers running backs could do anything in short yardage situations, they wouldn’t need their franchise quarterback to sneak in those situations. Instead, the Packers could pound it in with an actual NFL running back. Unfortunately Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance are not starting caliber NFL running backs at this point.

For the day Rodgers was 26 for 34 for 344 yards and 1 touchdown for a 114.5 quarterback rating. Rodgers also picked up 51 yards on the ground and 1 touchdown (13th of his career and most in the NFL since 2008). As I have argued many times over, Rodgers’ game is suited for indoor games. Rodgers has averaged 288.7 yards passing over nine dome starts.

Ryan was 24 of 28 for 197 yards and 1 touchdown for a passer rating of 108. Ryan also notched his 12th fourth quarter comeback. I hate the Matty Ice nickname but 12 fourth quarter comebacks in less than three years is pretty impressive.

Coming into their match-up the Packers lead the all-time series 12-11. As we all know by now, the Falcons tied up the series and gave us a potential NFC Championship preview. The loss to Atlanta also marks the Packers 4th loss by three points this season…a disturbing trend that is going to have to change if the Packers want to make a legitimate playoff push. It also pushed Mike McCarthy’s record to 5-14 and Aaron Rodgers’ record to 2-12 in games decided by four points or fewer.

Green Bay Packer general manager Ted Thompson placed two more players on injured reserve, moving the season total up to lucky 13. Recently signed reserve tight end Spencer Havner was activated for the first time since rejoining the Packers. Havner aggravated his left hamstring against the Falcons, which will see him miss the rest of the 2010 season. Since Havner was placed on injured reserve, he only made one appearance for the Packers in 2010.

Back-up middle linebacker Brandon Chillar was lost for the season with a left shoulder injury. Chillar has played hurt for almost the entire season. With the emergence of Bishop the loss of Chillar is not that bad unless the Packers lose Bishop or Hawk before the end of 2010…knock on wood please because I might have just put the hex on them.

Robert Francois (LB) and Josh Gordy (CB) were signed to the active roster from the practice squad in place of Havner and Chillar. Gordy is a 5’11”, 185-pound rookie that has Sam Shields like speed. Gordy ran a 4.35 second 40-yard dash and looks like another raw cornerback that the Packers can use on special teams. Francois is making s repeat appearance on the active roster. Francois is a 6’2”, 255-pound linebacker that has been with the Packers at various points over the last two years. Much like Gordy, Fran├žois looks like a special teams player at best. Terrance Smith (WR) and Curtis Young (LB/DE) replaced Francois and Gordy on the practice squad. Not much to say about Smith or Young so let’s move on.

With all of the backup moves out of the way, let’s move on to the Tramon Williams extension. Williams’ extension has been covered a number of different places with Andrew Brandt at the National Football Post giving a great insiders perspective but that has never stopped me from adding my take. Williams got a much-deserved four-year, $33 million extension with $11 million in guarantees. The deal averages $8.25 million per year (14th among all NFL cornerbacks), which makes Williams the 4th highest paid Packers behind Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, and Greg Jennings. In a bit of an oddity, Williams signed the deal last week but was not announced until earlier this week. The Packers had to do something because Williams was playing on a one-year, $3.043 million tender (36th among NFL cornerbacks) that would have allowed him to become a free agent after the 2010 season. Here is an annual breakdown of the deal:
- 2010: $6 million signing bonus, $14.4 million base salary but only makes $5.1 million this year because the salary is pro-rated over 17 weeks ($11.1 million) = 11.1 million maximum
- 2011: $1 million base salary, $2.2 million roster bonus (due 30th day of the league year), $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $100,000 workout bonus = $3.6 million maximum
- 2012: $2.3 million base salary, $2.5 million roster bonus (due 15th day of the league year), $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $5.4 million maximum
- 2013: $5.9 million base salary, $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $6.5 million maximum
- 2014: $6.9 million base salary, $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $7.5 million maximum

Finally Williams has a $250,000 escalator in his contract if he makes the Pro Bowl in 2011 through 2014, which I expect him to earn in 2011.

Was the extension worth it? Based on Williams’s performance in 2010 I would say so. Williams has not allowed a touchdown this year, amassed only 1 penalty, has 4 interceptions, and has defended 16 passes. As stated above, Williams will be the 14th highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Williams is on the cusp of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL so only being the 14th highest paid cornerback in the NFL seems like a good deal.

When Williams’s extension expires, he will only be 31. Odds are, the Packers and Williams will renegotiate that deal even before that because there is not any guaranteed money in the last two years of the deal.

Williams probably could have gotten more money if he waited till after the season but Williams always wanted to stay in Green Bay (who can blame him) and has a chance to renegotiate starting in 2013 because he will no longer have any guarantees for 2013 and 2014.

My ratings for each move on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best possible score:
- Havner placed on IR: 3 (why did TT resign him?)
- Chillar placed on IR: 7 (let him get healthy for 2011)
- Gordy added to 53-man roster: 4 (should he play in front of Underwood?)
- Francois added to 53-man roster: 4 (don’t cover up the long snapper ever again)
- Smith added to the practice squad: 1 (no need for a 6th receiver)
- Young added to the practice squad: 3 (more combo DE/OLB are a good thing for 3-4 teams like the Packers)
- Williams Extension: 10 (pay the man his money…he earned it)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Funday – Bob Uecker

From Bob Uecker's signature home run call: "Get up, get up, get outta here...gone!" to his self-deprecating humor...every time I hear those golden pipes of Uecker’s a big smile comes to my face.

Despite being the best broadcaster ever to call games in Cheesehead country and one of greatest announcers of all-time, Bob Uecker is a remarkably humble man. Uecker has had the option to take more prestigious full-time announcing jobs but he loves Milwaukee and he loves baseball, so Uecker has remained the radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971.

For how much Cheeseheads know Uecker as the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, most people know Uecker from his acting career. Uecker appeared in:
- Movies: Harry Doyle in the Major League trilogy (I only acknowledge the original Major League)
- Televisions shows: George Owens on Mr. Belvedere, hosted Saturday Night Live, and was a regular guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
- Television commercials: appeared in a number of famous Miller Lite spots

Uecker was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the WWE Hall of Game in 2010. As you can see, Bob Uecker has some impressive range. I loved all of the aforementioned performances by Uecker, but Uecker’s best performances come when he calls Milwaukee Brewers games.

Uecker is a well-chronicled mediocre professional major league player, which he always said prepared him for knowing how hard it is to play in the majors. One of the reasons that Uecker is in the Hall of Fame is that he never shows players up.

I am a baseball fan first and foremost because my dad loves the game. My mom knows that, so she makes sure that my dad and I got to see every Milwaukee Brewers game we wanted, including Robin Yount’s 3,000 hit.

If I had to attribute my interest in baseball to anyone besides my parents, it would be listening to hundreds of Milwaukee Brewers games on the radio growing up. In the internet age saying radio (in part) peaked my interest in baseball sounds like saying I grew-up with the dinosaurs, but Bob Uecker really makes baseball games colorful for radio listeners.

Bob Costas recently interviewed Bob Uecker on "Inside Studio 42 with Bob Costas" on MLB Network. I thought I knew almost everything imaginable about Uecker but even I picked up some nuggets from the interview. For one, Uecker worked as a car mechanic during the day and "played baseball" at night. The economics of professional sports have changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Just to put it in perspective, can you imagine Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun working a day job before heading to Miller Park that night to play for the Brewers?

Uecker is notorious for having a lifetime .200 batting average and only hitting 14 career home runs in 6 major league seasons spanning 731 at-bats. Uecker claims his top salary playing professional baseball came in 1966 when he earned $17,000...$11,000 of that came from selling other guys equipment. Uecker also talked about getting fined while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. The cop fined Uecker $50 for being intoxicated on the street and $150 for playing for the Phillies.

In Uecker's interview with Costas, Uecker also told some of my favorite Bob Uecker stories that I am sure we have all heard before but bear repeating.

When Uecker's major league career was over he joked that he found out by the Braves manager Lumen Harris telling him "no visitors allowed in the clubhouse."

Uecker also talked about calling games with some of the greatest announcers of the last 50 years. One of those guys, Howard Cosell, called Bob Uecker "truculent" on the air. Cosell followed that up by saying "you probably didn't know what that meant though Ueck." Uecker said something to the effect: "of course I do, if you had a truck I borrowed, it to would be a truck-you-lent." I know that is not the most nuanced humor in the world but it just shows how quick Uecker is calling games no matter whom he is sharing the booth with.

Finally, Costas and Uecker also talked about how great the brats and secret stadium sauce combo is at Brewers games in Milwaukee. I know this seems like a shameless plug, but it really ties into the story...for a great story about how brats can be a great networking tool, check out Joe Sweeney’s New York Time Bestseller, Networking is a Contact Sport and the accompanying website.

Unfortunately Uecker has had some health issues over the last year. Uecker had pancreas surgery in January, heart surgery in April, and unfortunately had another heart procedure recently. Luckily Uecker is doing well relying on his sharp self-deprecating humor to get through his health issues. I know I am not alone in looking forward to hearing Uecker in the booth next year and thank you for being you Ueck!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Week 11 of 2010 - Packers/Queens Review

The Green Bay Packers played the Minnesota Vikings ("Queens") for the 100th time in their storied rivalry on Sunday, November 21, 2010 in front of 64,120 people at the Metrodome ("Humpty Dumpty Dome"). The Cheeseheads dominated the Queens to give the Cheeseheads a slight upper hand in the all-time rivalry 51-48-1.

If you are an avid reader of CheeseheadSportsNut.com, you know that I am often critical of Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy but starting with the coin toss, McCarthy made almost all the right moves to push his dome coaching record to 10-4 (including playoffs). The Packers called "heads" and won the toss. Instead of taking the ball, the Packers deferred to the 2nd half. I love that move on the road for two reasons.

One, with the Packers defense playing so well it gives them a chance to get on the field and silence the home crowd right away. The Packers have forced three-and-outs on 6 of 9 opening defensive drives. The only team to score on their first possession of either half was the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game and a field goal on their first drive of the second half. There is always the possibility of giving up a score on the opening drive, which makes deferring look dumb, but the numbers were in the Packers' favor.

Two, at the start of a professional game the stadium is usually full unless you are the Miami Heat and have to tell your fans to "Fan Up" in a cheesy video. How sad is it that the Miami Heat have Wade, James, and Bosh but still have to tell their fans to "Fan Up" and show up to the games on time? The Miami Heat "Fan Up" video feels like a bad SNL parody. In fact, I looked for a better one but this mediocre parody of the Miami Heat’s “Fan Up” video was the best one I could find. Back to my original point, if you add in that the stadium is usually empty at the start of the 2nd half because people are getting food and going to the bathroom, the best time for the road team to have the ball is the start of the 2nd half. As a result, I think it makes complete sense to defer on the road to get the ball in the second half.

The Packers stopped the Queens on their opening drive but failed to do anything on offense when they got the ball. The Queens opened the scoring with a 24-yard field goal by all-time Packer's leading scorer and current Queens' place kicker Ryan Longwell. Unfortunately for the Queens, those would be the last points they scored on the day. In a bit of an oddity, for the second game in a row the Packers failed to score in the first quarter but still walloped their opponent.

The Packers opened the second quarter down 3-0 but with the ball thanks to a strip by Packer cornerback Charles Woodson of Queens running back Toby Gerhart that was recovered by Packer middle linebacker A.J. Hawk. The Packers failed to capitalize on the turnover and the teams traded possessions until the Packers matched the Queens with a field goal of their own 5 minutes into the second quarter.

The Packers forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Queens possession. Then the Packers offense moved the ball down the field methodically into scoring position again where Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers uncharacteristically threw what should have been an interception but Queens’ safety Husain Abdullah dropped the interception in the end zone. The Packers made the Queens pay. On the next play, Rodgers found Greg Jennings on an improvised route that ironically burned Abdullah and the Queens for a touchdown.

The Queens got the ball back with 5 minutes remaining in the half and proceeded to pound the ball on the ground with running back Adrian Peterson and all-around-stud Percy Harvin to set-up a 1st and 10 at the Packers’ 25-yard line. In what I like to think was the ultimate retirement gift…Favre uncorked a screamer intended for Harvin that was intercepted by cornerback Tramon Williams.

When Favre came to the sideline following the interception he got into a verbal altercation with Queens offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. You know things are going bad when Favre gets into a disagreement with Bevell because Bevell is Favre's biggest advocate on the Queens' coaching staff. If Favre and Bevell are at odds, Favre's days as a starter for Queens could be numbered.

Thanks to a low block by Queens’ wide receiver Greg Camarillo, the Packers offense took over at their own 47-yard line with a little over a minute remaining in the half. A scramble followed by 5 consecutive passes by Rodgers was capped off with a touchdown when Rodgers found wide receiver James Jones in the end zone with only 3 second remaining in the half to put the Packers up 17-3.

Let's play the "what if's" game for a second. What if Favre and the Queens scored a touchdown at the end of the half? The game would have been tied 10-10 with everything to play for in the second half. Instead, the Packers lead 17-3 and got the ball to start the second half.

The Packers picked up where they left off to start the second half moving the ball fairly well. On 1st and 10 at the Queens 46-yard line Rodgers hit Jennings on a short pass and Jennings was off to the races for a 46-yard touchdown to put the Packers up 24-3.

When the Queens got the ball back they moved it a little bit and looked to have converted a 51-yard field goal but were called for a hold which forced them to punt instead. Those are the types of things that happen to teams that are in a downward spiral. Dumb penalties compound an already dismal situation, which leads to unrest among the players.

Speaking of unrest among the players, the public went crazy over Nipplegate when Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed Janet Jackson's nipple for a millisecond during the Super Bowel XXXVIII halftime show, yet the NFL routinely shows NFL coaches and players swearing on the sidelines. In all honesty I have no problem with either, but I find it funny that people were so up in arms over Nipplegate but never complain about in-game swearing. As things started to fall apart for the Queens, rookie cornerback Chris Cook and veteran defensive end Ray Edwards got into a yelling match where you could see Chris Cook plainly saying "F#%k You Ray" a bunch of times. For my money it is worse for kids to see swearing like that all the time than a nipple for a millisecond.

After a couple of lackluster possessions by both teams, the Packers finally went for the kill when the Queens turned the ball over on downs on their own 42-yard line. The Packers moved the ball well setting up a 3rd and 1 at the Queens 22-yard line. Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a "go" route for a touchdown. After the extra point the Packers were up 31-3 with 9 minutes remaining in he game. Things were so bad for the Queens in the Humpty Dumpty Dome at that point that when the broadcast went to commercial you could hear "Go Pack Go" chants.

Let's take a brief intermission to look at Greg Jennings' impressive day: 7 catches for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns. On two of the touchdowns, Jennings did a little something extra to get into the end zone. Almost 5 games removed from losing dynamic tight end Jermichael Finely for the season, it looks like Rodgers has finally locked into his go-to-guy Greg Jennings.

With the game out of reach, my nostalgia for Favre kicked in Stockholm Syndrome style. I am a Packer fan first, but there will always be a place in my heart for Favre. As Favre started to miss throws and fumble snaps with the game out of reach, I weirdly felt myself rooting for him to at least be competent. No matter how much of a diva Favre was on his way out of Green Bay, it will never change what he did for the Packers. I felt myself starting to hope that Favre would do enough to keep going because he was flirting with getting benched.

I think Packers wide receiver Donald Driver's quote after the game summed it up the best, Driver said something to the effect: "I love him to death but when you play this game, there's no friends until it's all over. I'm happy that we beat him." I felt the same way watching the end of the game. Favre did so much for the Packers. I by no means was rooting for him, but as he slumped over on the sidelines looking like a beaten down man I couldn't help but feel for him.

The politically correct thing to say is that this was not about Rodgers v. Favre but that would be a lie. Favre and the Queens pounded Rodgers and the Packers twice in 2009, but it looks like Rodgers and the Packers will have the last laugh taking it to Favre and Queens twice in 2010.

Rodgers was on fire going 22 for 31 for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rodgers notched the second highest passer rating of his career, 141.3 (his highest was 155.3 against the Cleveland Browns on October 25, 2009). For the year Rodgers has a passer rating of 95.7 (9th best in the NFL) and has thrown 19 touchdowns (tied for 3rd best in the NFL).

On the other side of the coin, Favre was a pedestrian 17 for 38 for 208 yards and 1 interception for a 51.2 passer rating. Favre was only sacked once but got hit 7 times. At the end of the game Favre and Rodgers talked for a few moments with Rodgers smiling knowing he has a promising NFL career to look forward to while Favre gingerly left the field looking like a battered man finally headed for retirement.

One of the keys to beating the Queens was bottling up the ever-dangerous Percy Harvin. On kickoff returns Harvin averaged a mere 17.3 yards per return, which is 7.3 yards below his average. Despite blowing out the Queens 31-3, the Packers still could not establish a consistent running game. The leading rusher on the day for the Packers was Dimitri Nance, who gained a mere 37 yards on 12 carries...oh dang.

After crushing the Queens, the Packers defense is firing on all cylinders. Over the last 3 games the Packers defense has only given up 10 points: shut out the Jet on the road, gave up a touchdown to the Cowboys at home, and held the Queens to a field goal on the road. The last time the Packers defense only allowed 10 points over a 3 games period came in 1974.

For the season, the defense ranks third in the NFL in sacks with 29, tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with 15, second in the NFL in defensive touchdowns with 4, and second in the NFL in opposing quarterback passer rating allowing 66.5. Even better, the defense ranks first in the NFL in fewest touchdowns allowed with only 14 touchdowns surrendered and tied for first with the Chicago Bears in points allowed per game at 14.6 points per game. The only stat that flies in the face of all the aforementioned stats is that the Packers rank 12th in the NFL in total defense with 323.4 yards allowed per game.

I much prefer looking at yardage totals than points because sometimes points are fluky, but the 2010 Green Bay Packers are making me change my line of thinking. The Packers have scored 252 points and allowed 146 points for 106 positive net points. The next closest team in the NFL is the Pittsburgh Steelers with 70 positive net points. That means the Packers are outpacing the next best plus/minus team in the league by 36 points or 3.6 points per game...pretty impressive.

Just to juxtapose the yardage and points theories, the Packers beat the Queens 31-3 but only out gained the Queens by 74 yards for the game (374 yards for the Packers and 300 yards for the Queens). So as you can see I am going to hang my hat on the points stats this week as opposed to yardage stats.

Let’s look at some final game stats to understand why the Packers pounded the Queens on the road in the Humpty Dumpty Dome. The Packers:
- converted more first downs: 20 for the Packers and 15 for the Queens.
- converted more 3rd down attempts: 8 of 15 for the Packers and 4 of 14 for the Queens.
- won the turnover battle: Queens committed 2 turnovers while the Packers didn't commit any turnovers.
- committed less penalties: the Packers committed 1 penalty for 5 yards while the Queens committed 6 penalties for 50 yards.

In the end the Packers handed the Queens their second biggest home beat down in the 100 game rivalry dating back to 1961. The biggest home beat down the Queens have suffered came in 1964 when the Vince Lombardi lead Packers knocked off the Queens 42-13.

Throughout the game there was a steady stream of boos and "Fire Childress" chants. Well your wish was granted. For the second game in a row, the coach of the team the Packers beat did not have a job the following day. Brad Childress joined Wade Phillips in the NFL head coach unemployment line.

I hate to say "I told you so" (not really) but why did the Queens extend Childress for so long at such a big number after the 2009 season? In 2009 Favre had his best year of his entire career playing for an aging football team. It is not like a bunch of NFL teams would have been lining up to sign Childress if he was available. Everyone outside of the land of 10,000 lakes knew that Favre made the Queens season in 2009. Furthermore I have always maintained that the day Childress picked Favre up from the airport during training camp in 2009, he lost the locker room. Winning made that go away in 2009 but it reared its ugly head in 2010.

As always, I will end the post with a look back at the roster moves Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made between my review of the Packer/Cowboys game and today. The Packers released linebacker Robert Francois and subsequently signed him back to the practice squad (in place of safety Michael Grego) to make room to activate running back James Starks off the physically unable to perform list. I have covered the physically unable to perform list and James Starks' health situation a number of times throughout the blog so I will keep it brief. Although the Packers want to bring Starks back slowly since he has not participated in a live football game in a little less than two years, Starks might be forced into action sooner rather than later because of the lack of quality depth that the Packers have at running back.

In an even bigger move, the Packers placed veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher on injured reserve and signed former Packer tight end Spencer Havner. With Tauscher getting placed on injured reserve, he might have taken his last snap as a Green Bay Packer. Despite only being a 7th round pick out of Wisconsin in 2000, Mark Tauscher has put together quite an impressive NFL career: played in the NFL for 11 years, made 132 starts, and appeared in 134 NFL games.

I find it interesting that Thompson put Tauscher on injured reserve as opposed to cutting him in the uncapped year. Part of that might be because McCarthy wants to keep Tauscher involved in the daily team activities through the end of the season to help tutor rookie tackle Bryan Bulaga. Tauscher is owed $4.58 million in 2011, but most of it comes in the form of salary ($4.1 million) as opposed to roster bonus ($280,000), with a $200,000 work out bonus making up the balance. That is an indication to me that the Packer expect to, or are at least leaving the door open to bringing back Tauscher in 2011 despite having Bulaga, Lang, and Newhouse in the fold.

I am going to start a new thing this week. I will score each move on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible score:
- Cut Francois for Starks: 8
- Placed Tauscher on injured reserve and resigned Havner: 4

Check back this weekend for a Wisconsin Badger related “Sunday Funday” post and next Wednesday for a long look back at the clash between two of the best teams in the NFC when the Packers take their talents to Atlanta to face the Falcons.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Midseason Rankings of 2010 Green Bay Packers

The 2010 Green Bay Packers have suffered a ton of serious injuries so far this season, which has forced them to place 11 players on injured reserve after only 9 games. Here is a list of players placed on injured reserve between opening day and today, along with my initial ranking (53 players are on the roster) for each of them:
#46 - Justin Harrell (DE)
#43 - Derrick Martin (S)
#33 - Brady Poppinga (OLB)
#24 - Mike Neal (DE)
#23 - Morgan Burnett (S)
#18 - Brad Jones (OLB)
#17 - Mark Tauscher (T)
#9 - Nick Barnett (MLB)
#7 - Ryan Grant (RB)
#5 - Jermichael Finley (TE)

If you look back at my initial rankings of the 2010 Green Bay Packers opening day roster, a number of rankings have changed. Some players have stepped up, while others continue to wallow on the bench.

Based on losing all of the players above for the season, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has had to add 10 new faces to the 53-man roster between the start of the season and today. In parenthesis is my opening day ranking for each player. You will notice that 10 guys have a ranking of NR because they have been added to the roster in place of the aforementioned 10 players placed on injured reserve. Without further ado, here is the list:

#53 (53) - Nick McDonald (G):
Why not bring in a dedicated return man instead of subjecting Jordy Nelson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields to injury? McDonald has been inactive for every game this season, which is why I am 100% convinced that the Packers would be better off with a dedicated return man than McDonald. McDonald may be good down the road, but the Packers need a dynamic return man in 2010 much more than a potential starting guard in 2012. Remember the impact that Desmond Howard had in helping the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI?

#52 (NR) - James Starks (RB):
Starks is a big back that the coaches have been impressed with, but he has been injured for over two years. As a result, Starks has not played in a competitive football game since January of 2009. Look for the Packers to slowly incorporate Starks into the offense, which will be helpful since the Packers have been thin at running back since losing starting running back Ryan Grant for the season in week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

#51 (NR) - Spencer Havner (TE):
After getting cut at the end of training camp, Havner was picked up and subsequently cut by the Lions...ouch. With the loss of Finley, the Packers brought Havner back because no one has stepped up in place of Finley. Will Havner be the answer? Probably not, but Havner gets the Packers back to having 4 tight ends on the roster again. If Havner can stay healthy he will end up in the 30's for the final rankings, but that is a big if.

#50 (NR) - Diyral Briggs (OLB):
Biggs has only been active against the Cowboys for the Packers this year. Briggs looks to be mostly a special teams player. The Packers are in trouble if Briggs is getting regular snaps on defense in a close game as well.

#49 (NR) - Erik Walden (OLB):
Walden was active against the Jets and Cowboys. Walden looks to be just slightly better than Briggs, but much like Briggs, the Packers are in trouble if Walden gets regular snaps on defense in a close game.

#48 (NR) - Matt Wilhelm (MLB):
Thompson normally does not add a veteran like Wilhelm during the season. Instead Thompson prefers to add young players like Briggs and Walden. With all the injuries the Packers have suffered at linebacker this year, Wilhelm is a veteran middle linebacker that the Packers need to not only play but also provide veteran knowledge and leadership for the young Packers defense.

#47 (50) - Quinn Johnson (FB):
With all the talent on the Packers roster going into the 2010 campaign, Johnson looked like one of the first guys that would get cut when the Packers had to add players. Fortunately for Johnson, injuries have forced the Packers to add players at other positions. Whether the Packers suffered injuries or not this year, carrying 3 fullbacks is still a joke.

#46 (44) - Marshall Newhouse (T):
With offensive tackle Mark Tauscher (ranked #17 at the start of the season) lost for the season to a shoulder injury, Newhouse might be forced into action if the Packers suffer another injury along the offensive line. Newhouse has long arms, which makes him an ideal candidate to play left tackle down the road.

#45 (NR) - Atari Bigby (S):
After missing most of the off-season because of a contract dispute, Bigby reported to training camp with an injured ankle. As a result, the Packers had to place Bigby on the physically unable to perform list so he has only appeared in one game for the Packers this year. If things continue this way, 2010 is looking like a lost season for Bigby.

#44 (NR) - Anthony Smith (S):
The Packers sent the Jacksonville Jaguars a conditional 7th round pick to re-acquire Smith this year. It still boggles my mind why the Packers cut Smith before the 2009 season. Smith looks to be mostly a special teams player that might see some action at safety if the Packers suffer yet another injury.

#43 (51) - Brett Swain (WR):
With Donald Driver hobbled, Swain is getting more snaps on offense than expected in 2010. The Packers continue to keep Swain on the roster despite better wide receivers being on the free agent market. It must be Swain's play of special teams, because he has shown little as a wide receiver to justify his place on the roster.

#42 (NR) - Dimitri Nance (RB): the Packers signed Nance off the Atlanta Falcons practice squad. People complain about the Packers failure to trade for Marshawn Lynch or Jerome Harrison, but it was the Packers failure to add a guy like Ryan Torain (current Washington Redskin running back) that really hurts. Torain was a free agent when the Packers signed Nance so they could have gotten Torain for nothing. Nance might be good, but his lack of carries despite being on the roster for 8 games is telling.

#41 (37) - Brandon Underwood (CB):
Going into training camp Underwood looked like the odds on favorite to hold the nickel cornerback job (3rd on the depth chart). A little more than halfway through the season the Packers have him no higher than 5th on the cornerback depth. No one besides Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson know whether it is because of the cloud surrounding his off the field issues or his play.

#40 (48) - Pat Lee (CB):
Lee showed some promise returning kickoffs, but as usual, got hurt. I feel for Lee on personal level but as a professional he needs to be on the field more often. If not, it is time to cut Lee in the uncapped year and move on without him.

#39 (NR) - Howard Green (DT):
When the Packers claimed Green off waivers from the Jets before their match-up with the Jets, it was just what the doctor ordered. The Packers sorely needed a big body to add along the defensive line. Green was one of the keys to the Packers beating the Jets. Get out your “Grave Digger” shovels because Green looks like the 2010 version of Gilbert Brown.

#38 (47) - Tom Crabtree (TE):
With the injury to Jermichael Finely, the tight end position went from a position of strength to a pedestrian group of guys. Crabtree blocks well but it is questionable whether Crabtree will become a receiving threat in the second half of the season.

#37 (45) - Jarrett Bush (S):
I might be wrong on Bush. Initially I thought it was a waste of a roster spot to keep Bush, but he has proven to be a consistent player on special teams. Bush has cut down on penalties and justified Thompson’s decision to keep him on the 53-man roster.

#36 (NR) - Jarius Wynn (DE):
After getting cut at the end of training camp, Wynn was on the street until the Packers re-signed him following the inevitable Justin Harrell season ending injury. Wynn was the 182nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and has sadly given the Packers more than Harrell, the 16th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

#35 (35) - Jason Spitz (G/C):
Going into the season, Spitz was the #1 back up at left guard, center, and right guard. Fortunately with all the injuries the Packers have suffered on both sides of the ball, one of the only places they have been healthy all season is the three interior offensive line positions.

#34 (31) - T.J. Lang (G):
Apparently Lang is not fully healthy yet because the Packers were working rookie first round draft pick Bryan Bulaga at left tackle and left guard. When starting right tackle went down, the Packers went with Bulaga instead of Lang. Lang still looks to have promise, but he will have to prove that 2009 was not a one-year flash in the pan.

#33 (40) - Donald Lee (TE):
By all accounts, Lee is a nice guy off the field but he still doesn't do enough for me on the field. Look for the newly acquired Havner to take away snaps from Lee when the Packers are looking to pass.

#32 (52) - C.J. Wilson (DE):
Wilson looked too small to play defensive end in the 3-4 and too slow to play outside linebacker. As a result, Wilson did not look like a match for the 3-4 defense. Fortunately, Wilson has put in the hard work to prove all the critics wrong and play well as a back up at defensive end in the 3-4.

#31 (49) - Andrew Quarless (TE):
This is based on potential more than production, because Quarless has yet to make a clean catch the entire season. His only touchdown "catch" stood because Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress failed to challenge the play. Some people compared Quarless to Finley in terms of their physical skills. Half way through his rookie season, Quarless has shown that he has a ways to go to get compared to Finley.

#30 (26) - Matt Flynn (QB):
The Packers tried a fake against the Vikings with Flynn throwing a deep pass to Andrew Quarless that should have been caught but Quarless tripped. As a result, I stand by my assertion that Flynn should be the holder instead of Masthay. Again one of my favorite journalists Bob McGinn completely disagreed with me in his chat, but I stand by the assertion. Flynn got some garbage time snaps against the Cowboys. It is still hard to tell whether Flynn is an NFL caliber quarterback…hopefully the Packers will not have to find out in 2010.

#29 (38) - Korey Hall (FB):
Converted from linebacker to fullback. With the Packers lack of quality depth at linebacker, may be the Packers should give him a few reps at linebacker like they did with newly re-acquired tight end Spencer Havner.

#28 (42) - Brett Goode (LS):
Recently the Packer tried wide receiver James Jones and offensive lineman Josh Sitton at long snapper. I understand that long snapping is a very specific skill but I am still amazed that teams cannot teach their starting and back-up centers to be the long snapper. Not only would it save a roster spot, but it would also provide some continuity at the snapper position. That said, Goode has been almost perfect in 2010 so the Packers might not want to mess with a good thing.

#27 (20) - Brandon Chillar (MLB):
Injuries have kept Chillar on the sidelines for a good portion of the season. With Bishop thriving in a starting role at middle linebacker, the Packers might be forced to decide whether they part ways with Barnett, Hawk, or Chillar in favor of Bishop because keeping all of them would mean the Packers have way too much money invested in four middle linebackers when only two can play at a time.

#26 (34) - Tim Masthay (P):
After a rough start to the season, Masthay's performance on the road against the New York Jets in windy conditions might have saved his job for the season. Masthay doesn't look like a franchise punter yet, the real test will be how he performs in the nasty weather conditions at Lambeau Field in December.

#25 (27) - Mason Crosby (K):
Crosby has pulled a Dennis Green "being who we thought he was". Crosby missed a tough game winning field goal on the road against the Washington Redskins as time expired. If Crosby made the aforementioned kick, he probably would have been ranked 5 spots higher on the list. Unfortunately Crosby continues to be just an above average place kicker as opposed to an excellent kicker. Plus, Crosby still hasn't had to kick in horrible conditions yet, so December might be a make-or-break month for Crosby.

#24 (19) - Jordy Nelson (WR):
Nelson has not taken the opportunities presented by the absence of Donald Driver to thrive in the passing game. Nelson still does not look like a #1 or #2 wide receiver. The Packer tried Nelson on kickoff returns, but much like Kuhn being pedestrian at running back, Nelson is pedestrian at kickoff returns. After his horrible two fumble performance that almost lead to a home loss to the Lions for the first time since the Model T was invented, the Packers are trying Sam Shields on kickoff returns.

#23 (39) - Frank Zombo (OLB):
With Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga lost for the season, Zombo is the starting outside linebacker opposite of Claymaker for now. Zombo looks better than an undrafted free agent but still not talented enough to be a legitimate starting outside linebacker in the NFL yet. Zombo is the beneficiary of playing opposite Claymaker. With teams forced to double Claymaker, Zombo has been able to make some plays.

#22 (29) - John Kuhn (FB):
With starting running back Ryan Grant lost for the season, the Packers have used Kuhn as their back-up running back. Kuhn is a good blocker but does not possess the breakaway speed to break off a big run or the power to consistently pick-up a yard in short yardage situations.

#21 (28) - Brandon Jackson (RB):
Each week Jackson gets better and better in place of the injured Ryan Grant. Jackson has shown that he will never be an every down running back like Grant, but his confidence continues to increase each week. As long as Jackson holds onto the ball, the Packers will be fine for the rest of 2010 with Jackson as their starting running back.

#20 (41) - Charlie Peprah (S):
The most undervalued player on the initial rankings. Peprah has played well enough to keep Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith on the sidelines.

#19 (21) - James Jones (WR):
In a contract year, Jones was supposed to have a breakout year. Unfortunately Jones has had breakout games followed by horrible games. With Donald Driver hobbled by injury for most the season, Jones had a chance to take the #2 receiving job and run with it. Instead Jones has had huge fumbles (lead to a loss to the Bears on Monday Night Football) and games riddled with drops. Jones looks like a guy that thrives as a 3rd receiver because of the mismatch it creates as opposed to a 1st or 2nd receiver.

#18 (36) - Desmond Bishop (MLB):
In my initial rankings I talked about how Bishop was "Mr. August" because he always impresses in training camp but never plays in actual games. I went on to say the only way that Bishop would get on the field in 2010 was a catastrophic injury at middle linebacker. Well that catastrophic injury happened to starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Fortunately Bishop has stepped up and performed admirably in place of Barnett. Bishop has played so well that the Packers need to seriously consider extending Bishop's contract before the end of the season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

#17 (22) - Daryn Colledge (G):
With a little more than half the season in the books, Colledge has played above average at left guard. Unfortunately for Colledge, the Packers have quality back-ups (Spitz, Lang, Newhouse, and McDonald) on the offensive line so he still might not get the big extension he wants.

#16 (30) - Sam Shields (CB):
One of the biggest surprises and reasons why former starting cornerback Al Harris is playing for the Miami Dolphins instead of the Green Bay Packers. Coming out of the bye week the Packers are going to try Shields in the return game, something I have been calling for all season.

#15 (32) - A.J. Hawk (MLB):
Hawk has come up with a bunch of big plays this season. Although Hawk still has not justified being the #5 pick overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, he is making the Packers think twice about bringing him back in 2011 despite his $10 million salary.

#14 (25) - Bryan Bulaga (T):
With the loss of starting right tackle Mark Tauscher for the season, Bulaga has justified being a first round selection in less than one full NFL season. Whether Bulaga is the left tackle of the future in Green Bay is still up for debate. Bulaga has made a few rookie mistakes but has played well in place of Tauscher.

#13 (12) - Donald Driver (WR):
Out family hopes we didn't personally put the hex on Driver. Before the Packers/Vikings Sunday Night Game, Cheesehead Chick got her first NFL jersey...a Donald Driver jersey. I totally supported the decision because of Driver's back-story and consistent performance for the Packers over the last decade. Since then, Driver has not caught a ball…sorry DD.

#12 (15) - Scott Wells (C):
The anchor of the offensive line continues to play at a high level. Wells name has not been mentioned that often this year, which means he is doing what he is supposed to do along the offensive line.

#11 (8) - Ryan Pickett (DE):
Pickett has struggled with injuries this year. Despite Pickett being hobbled and losing up-and-coming rookie defensive lineman Mike Neal, the Packers have still been able to get a pass rush thanks to the emergence of C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn. That said, the Packers are much better with a healthy Pickett in the line-up

#10 (11) - Cullen Jenkins (DE):
Despite playing most of the season with a club on his hand, Jenkins has gotten the most consistent pass rush of any defensive lineman on the roster. Jenkins claims he would have had 5 more sacks without the club. That is up for debate, but what is not up for debate is that without Jenkins the Packers would be a 5-4 team, at best, as opposed to a 6-3 team.

#9 (14) - Chad Clifton (T):
When the Packers signed Clifton to a three-year contract in March, it looked like a one-year deal depending on how healthy he was at the end of the season. With Bulaga playing well at right tackle, Clifton has played even better at left tackle and deserves every chance to keep his job at left tackle in 2011 as long as he is healthy.

#8 (3) - Greg Jennings (WR):
The Packers have tried to get Jennings involved in the offense but his numbers are still down this year despite the Packers missing wide receiver Donald Driver and tight end Jermichael Finely. You would think with less people to throw the ball to, Jennings numbers might go up. In fact the exact opposite has happened. Defenses are keying on Jennings, which has lead to a down year for him so far. I expect the Packers to make some adjustments in the bye week and Jennings will have a big second half in 2010.

#7 (6) - Nick Collins (S):
Part of the reason that Charlie Peprah has looked so good filling in for injured rookie safety Morgan Burnett is Nick Collins. Safeties like Collins have so much range that they make the other players around them look better. Collins has made some spectacular plays (think of his interception of Favre on Sunday Night Football) this season. The only knock on Collins is that he dropped a few interceptions this year. Either way, Collins is carrying on the tradition of wearing jersey #36 well.

#6 (2) - Charles Woodson (CB):
As I have mentioned a few times before on the blog, I chart games for Football Outsiders. One of the things that I have to mark down when charting games for Football Outsiders is the defender targeted for each pass thrown. I have written “21-C.Woodson” much more than “38-T.Williams” this year. One theory is that Woodson covers the best receiver on the other team. Even if that is the case, Williams is shutting down his receiver more than Woodson this year. It is amazing that the NFL defensive player of the year is not the best player at his position on his own team the next year, but that shows just how well Tramon Williams is playing in 2010.

#5 (10) - Josh Sitton (G):
Sitton continues to impress and looks like the starting right guard in Green Bay for the next decade if the Packers are willing to pay Sitton. Sitton's combination of size, strength, and agility is rare at the guard position, so the Packers would be wise to extend Sitton.

#4 (16) - Tramon Williams (CB):
Despite being up-and-down in the preseason, Williams had been the best defensive back for the Packers in 2010. You read that correctly, Williams is playing better than safety Nick Collins and cornerback Charles Woodson. The Packers let former starting cornerback Al Harris go, in part, because of how well Williams has played in 2010. Williams is in a contract year so the Packers need to extend Williams soon or risk losing him to free agency in the off-season, which would be a catastrophic loss.

#3 (13) - B.J. Raji (NT):
Raji has been the playing time MVP of the defense in 2010. With all of the injuries the Packers have suffered along the defensive line, Raji has played the most snaps of any defensive lineman by a mile. Not only has Raji been healthy, but he has also played extremely well. There is no way that the Packers defense would be getting all the turnovers they are creating right now without Raji plugging up the middle so well.

#2 (1) - Aaron Rodgers (QB):
When Rodgers took over the starting job in 2008, some thought he forced the ball to wide receiver Greg Jennings. Last year Rodgers spread the ball around much better. Unfortunately this year Rodgers forced the ball into dynamic tight end Jermichael Finely much like he did with Jennings in 2008. When the Packers lost Finley for the season, Rodgers seemed to lose his rhythm with the offense. In the bye week, I hope the Packers took time to make sure everyone is incorporated in the offense so the second half can look more like the Packers/Cowboys game than the Packers/Redskins game.

#1 (4) - Clay Matthews (OLB):
I am not too sure if you have noticed lately, but I am calling Clay Matthews "Claymaker" on the blog because not only do I like the name but it succinctly describes how well he is playing. Claymaker is putting together quite an impressive resume in only a year and a half wearing the Green and Gold and quickly turning into the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL. Claymaker leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks this year, making him the only player in Packers' history to register 10 sacks in each of their first two seasons in the NFL. Claymaker was named NFC defensive player of the month for September. Claymaker also earned his 2nd defensive player of the week award this year and 3rd all-time. As a result, Claymaker joined Charles Woodson (4 times) and Reggie White (3 times) as the only Packers to be named NFC defensive player of the week at least 3 times. Something tells me Claymaker is going to break Chuck's record in short order. Let me leave you with something to ponder, 51 of the 53 NFL's most valuable players have been on the offensive side of the ball (two defensive players were: Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986)…could Claymaker be the 3rd all-time in 2010?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Week 9 of 2010 - Packers/Cowboys Review

With Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback and Wisconsin native Tony Romo out with a shoulder injury, NBC had to throw away their scrip for the game. Instead, NBC focused on the tenuous employment situation of now fired Dallas Cowboy head coach Wade Phillips. The first part of the post will recap the game I was fortunate enough to attend with Sug, David, and Jake followed by a look at the personnel moves the Packers made over the last week.

The game started with a quick three and out for the Cowboys. It looked like former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman was in charge because Dallas called three straight runs without getting the required 10 yards for a first down. Not a very inspired start to the game for the Cowboys...was offensive coordinator Jason Garrett sabotaging the game to get the Cowboys head coach job with those play calls?

The Packers followed that up with a nice methodical drive. The Packers lucked out that wide receiver Jordy Nelson jumped on wide receiver James Jones' fumble, again two steps forward and one step back for Jones. On 3rd and 3 the Packers gave up a 12-yard sack, which is inexcusable. That was only compounded by an even more inexcusable decision by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy's decision to try a 54-yard field goal attempt. Packers place kicker Mason Crosby's 54-yard attempt was blocked so the Packers came up empty handed on what looked like a nice first drive that soured quickly.

When the Cowboys got the ball back they moved the ball a little bit till Packers nickel cornerback Sam Shields made his first NFL interception. For a guy that was playing wide receiver in college just over a year ago, Shields has made a seamless transition to cornerback and looks like an actual NFL cornerback in the making.

NBC flashed the Green Bay Packers' 3rd down conversions rates through week 8 (yes I re-watched the game on Monday...I know I am a dork):
- With 1-3 yards to go they are 11 for 29 (37.9%) - 2nd lowest in NFL
- With 4-6 yards to go they are 7 for 18 (38.9%) - Tied for 19th in NFL
- With 7-plus yard to go they are 15 for 47 (31.9%) - 3rd in the NFL

Back to the game, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers rolled off another nice long run. That might be the most underrated part of Rodgers' game. Rodgers is more slippery than fast, but either way, it is very effective.

NBC flashed another 3rd down stat, this time focusing on Rodgers' performance on 3rd down in 2009 v. 2010:
- 2009: Quarterback Rating of 133.5 (highest in NFL since 1999), Touchdown to Interception ratio of 14 to 0, and 1st-Down percentage of 47% (2nd in NFL).
- 2010 (thru 8 weeks): Quarterback Rating of 65.7, Touchdown to Interception ratio of 5 to 5, and 1st-Down percentage of 36%.

Rodgers was absolutely on fire on 3rd down in 2009. That was not the case in 2010, but there is nothing like facing the 2010 Dallas Cowboys to help improve your 3rd down stats.

Back to the game, the Packers dialed up a perfect inside screen to running back Brandon Jackson to put the Packers up 7-0. That touchdown marked the 15th consecutive home game that the Packers scored points off a turnover, in this case Shields’ interception, which is the longest streak in the NFL. Why doesn’t Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy call screens more often? Jackson might not be the most explosive guy, but I like his chances to make a linebacker miss on a screen much more than a handing the ball off to him.

On consecutive plays Claymaker had a sack (forced the Cowboys into a 3rd and 17) and tipped ball at the line (that slowed the wide receiver screen just enough) to force the Cowboys into another 3 and out.

When the Packers got the ball back, Rodgers had another nice run. Rodgers is really starting to feel pressure better and running at the right times. Good call by all those scouts that knocked Rodgers athleticism coming into the NFL.

James Jones made two nice catches in a row. It is nice to see Jimmy playing better, but I still do not get why he is so inconsistent. Jones shows flashes of being a stud wide receiver, but as you will see a little later, he still has in-game mental lapses.

Brandon Jackson capped the drive with a nice hard run to put the Packers up 14-0. For some reason now former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillps challenged the play. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must have used that decision by Phillips as reason 1,427,136 why Wade Phillps was fired. It makes no sense to me why Phillips challenged the play. Let's say it wasn't a touchdown, the Packers get the ball at the one-inch-line with three chances to score a touchdown. I called out Mike McCarthy a few weeks ago for the same thing against the Vikings so I have to give Wade Phillips equal airtime. That does unfortunately put Mike McCarthy in the same company as Wade Phillips…yikes.

The Cowboys got the ball back down 14-0. On 3rd and 1, another great play by Claymaker. You have to seize any opportunities you get but what a horrible blocking scheme by the Cowboys? The Cowboys tried to block Claymaker with tight end Jason Witten. To make matters worse, Witten just let Claymaker run by without touching him.

When the Packers got the ball back, Rodgers hit wide receiver Greg Jennings for a long gain. They followed that up with a shotgun sweep to Jackson. For some reason Wade Phillps decided to use a timeout to stop the clock before the 2 minute warning, leaving the Cowboys with no more timeouts. On the next play Rodgers hit Jennings for an easy touchdown to cap another methodical 93-yard, 5-minute, 10-play drive to put the Packers up 21-0. Thanks for taking a timeout Wade, any time you can get your potent offense on the field down 21-0 you have to...way to conserve clock time.

On the ensuing kickoff, there was a nice "strip" by special teams maven Jarrett Bush. Starting safety Nick Collins gobbled up the fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. Quick question before we get back to bashing Wade Phillps, why is Nick Collins playing on special teams? The Packers are already thin at safety so if I were in charge, there is no way that Collins would get any special teams snaps on my watch. Just to balance the negative with the positive, the 28 points the Packers scored in the 2nd quarter were the most points the Packers have scored in a quarter since December 20, 1992 when they beat the Los Angeles Rams 28-13.

Back to Wade Phillps, thanks to taking a stupid timeout a few plays earlier, the Cowboys were out of timeouts and unable to challenge the play. The Cowboy return man was clearly down before he got stripped but Phillips could not challenge the play, which is reason 1,427,137 why Wade Phillps was fired after the game.

On the ensuing kickoff Mason Crosby inexplicably kicked the ball out of bounds. I hate to complain about the little things during a big win but something like that is unacceptable against a good team.

With good field position the Cowboys moved down the field at ease to score a touchdown. Too bad that the defense gave up a few big plays leading to the touchdown, but they can take some solace in the fact that they were victimized by Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant. Just to refresh your memory, the Packers selected now starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga one pick before the Dallas Cowboys selected Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Bryant is quickly turning into one of the most impressive offensive weapons in football. I still think it was the right pick by Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson to take Bulaga over Bryant, but much like the Michael Oher and Claymaker comparisons in the 2009 NFL Draft, Bulaga and Bryant will be forever compared.

Shields started the second half with a great return. Finally the Packers have wised up and put possibly the fastest guy in the NFL back there to return kicks. What took so long? Unfortunately the Packers did not capitalize on the good field position going three and out.

Back on defense, the Packers dialed up another effective blitz with Charles Woodson and Claymaker coming off the same side. I know the Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the NFL but the Packers should consider using the overload blitz more often based on the results it produced against the Cowboys.

After getting the ball back, the Packers moved the ball well dinking and dunking down the field. The Packers ran two consecutive wide receiver hitches to James Jones and Brett Swain. For those that don't know what a "hitch" is, the quarterback throws a quick pass to the wide receiver right at the line of scrimmage. That leaves the wide receiver one-on-one with the cornerback giving the wide receiver a chance to make a big play. Since the Packers don't run the ball at all, they use the "hitch" as a form of running. I like the play call but I might try that play with Jennings as opposed to Jones and Swain.

Rodgers followed that up with a perfect back shoulder throw to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Following two incomplete passes, on 3rd and goal from the 10-yard line Rodgers hits James Jones for a touchdown. That was an absolutely perfect play call by the Packers. Rodgers threw right at the blitz with Greg Jennings already blocking for the easy touchdown. As Cris Collinsworth pointed out, cornerback Mike Jenkins gave up on the play...just a microcosm of the Dallas Cowboys season.

Coming back from the touchdown, high comedy that NBC was playing the sad Dallas player montage. That was the nail in the coffin for Wade Phillips. You know Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was watching that in his luxury suite. If there was any question whether Phillips would get fired, NBC guaranteed the dismissal of Phillips.

When the Cowboys got the ball back, Collins delivered a horrible helmet-to-helmet hit on Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams. In a rather odd move, Williams pleaded with NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell not to fine Collins for the fit after the game. Williams said: "Commissioner Goodell, don't fine the guy. It wasn't that bad of a deal, he shouldn't get fined. It was a football play, a football player making a football play. No injury, no harm."

Despite what Williams said, I am not too sure why Collins lowered his head on that play. I have mentioned this a number of times throughout the season, but if the NFL really wants to cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits they will need to change things at the Pop Warner Football level. Players are trained to lead with their head from a very young age, and that is exactly what Collins did. It is sad, but that is how they have been taught to play the game.

Following the Collins hit, middle linebacker Desmond Bishop continued his strong play by forcing a strip-sack of Jon Kitna. Truth be told, half a sack should be credited to Cowboys running back Felix Jones for failing to identify Bishop. Following that, Claymaker tips another ball to stall the drive.

The Packers got the ball back deep in their own territory. The Packers offense again dinked and dunked their way down the field. Using odd formations like three fullbacks lined up should-to-shoulder behind Rodgers. The formation is so odd that Football Outsiders doesn't even have that as a formation example. Aaron Rodgers and Brandon Jackson looked good on the drive; Jackson even had a run where he made a cornerback miss in the open field…a welcomed sign for Packer fans.

Quick drive intermission, the game was so one-sided that NBC had to go back to the Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers comparison. In case you didn't know by now, current Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005 under former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan. The 49ers drafted Smith instead of Rodgers, in part, because of McCarthy's input. Just to drive 49ers fans nuts, let's look at Smith and Rodgers careers side-by-side:
- Alex Smith: Drafted 1st overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, has a 17-30 career record, and a passer rating of 70.2.
- Aaron Rodgers: Drafted 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, has a record of 22-18, and a passer rating of 94.9.

Just to rope in Redskins fans, the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers one pick before the Washington Redskins drafted current Oakland Raider quarterback Jason Campbell. Suffice to say the reason why the Packers are on the upswing while the Redskins and 49ers are struggling has a lot to do with picking the right quarterback in 2005, Ted Thompson’s first and best draft pick as general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

Back to the game, if you question whether the game is one sided at this point let’s look at some current stats:
- The Packers have no turnovers and the Cowboys have 2 turnovers.
- The Packers are out gaining the Cowboys 383 yards (264 passing and 119 rushing) to 87 yards (82 passing and 5 rushing).
- The Packers lead the Cowboys 35 to 7.

The Packers opened the 4th quarter facing a 3rd and 3 from the Dallas 18-yard line. The Packers made another easy conversion to give them 1st and goal from the 5-yard line. After a short run by fullback inexplicably turned running back John Kuhn and a false start by stud offensive guard in the making Josh Sitton, the Packers motioned Jackson out of the backfield and hit tight end Tom Crabtree who dropped a fairly easy pass. Quick side note on Kuhn, he set career highs with 13 carries for 50 yards…see what I mean about him not really being a running back? Anyhow, the aforementioned plays set-up a 3rd and goal from the Dallas 8-yard line.

Going into that 3rd down play, Rodgers was 8 for 8 throwing for 100 yards and 2 Touchdowns on 3rd down for the day. Rodgers hit wide receiver James Jones in stride on a crossing route that would have been a touchdown, but again, Jones dropped it. See what I mean about Jones not being a #1 or #2 wide receiver? Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby converted the 26-yard field goal to put the Packers up 38 to 7.

Following the field goal, the Cowboys moved the ball a little bit on the ground. Kitna followed that up by completing a ball down field to tight end Jason Witten. That gave Kitna a false confidence because on the next play Kitna threw right into the teeth of the blitz. Packers’ middle linebacker A.J. Hawk tipped the pass and the ever-alert Claymaker snagged the ball and took it to the house for a 62-yard touchdown.

Two notes on the aforementioned pick-six. First, that play came right towards where we were sitting. With how crazy the crowd was going, you would have thought that was a last second score to seal a playoff win...gotta love Lambeau crowds. Second, that was the weakest Lambeau Leap I have seen in long time. Nice pick-six Claymaker but work on the hops because that will not be the last Lambeau Leap of your career.

With the score 45-7 and 10 minutes remaining in the game, the result was not in doubt. The Packers forced a 3 and out. For some reason McCarthy still had Tramon Williams back there to return the punt. Why leave Williams open to injury in general, let alone in a blowout? Following a dumb penalty, the Cowboys had to re-kick. Again Williams was back there and he got absolutely crunched. Let me ask the question again McCarthy because you seem a little headstrong, why leave Williams open to injury when the game is decided?

While we are second guessing Mike McCarthy, why did he insert Matt Flynn on 1st down? The classy move would have been to have Rodgers hand off on first down, then insert Matt Flynn. That gives the crowd a chance to applaud Rodgers’ impressive night.

The drive stalled forcing the Packers to punt. Somehow Dez Bryant totally misjudged the punt and special teams maven Jarrett Bush came up with the fumble. In a sign that Wade Phillips has completely given up, he didn't challenge the play. Bush looked to have secured the ball in bounds, but at least if Phillps challenges the play, he can show he is still interested in keeping his job.

As a result, the Packers got the ball in the red zone. For some reason on 4th and 3 from the Dallas 10-yard line the Packers went for it. If they were going to go for it, why not at least throw it to see what the back-up quarterback brings to the table? Instead, the Packers were predictably stuffed on the run. In that spot I kick the field goal 99 times out of 100. If I go for it, I throw the ball to see what Flynn can do.

Since there was nothing left to talk about with 5 minutes remaining, NBC showed a Claymaker highlight package followed by a Charles Woodson highlight package. As a quick side, NFL.com took it a step further putting together a Claymaker highlight video from the Packers/Cowboy game...definitely worth a watch after you finish reading the post.

Back to the game, Collinsworth and Michaels followed that up by giving Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers praise for doing what he's doing with the rag-tag defensive group ravaged by injury. Keeping that in mind, why are B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, Frank Zombo, and Tramon Williams still on the field? FYI McCarthy, there are plenty of back-ups that could be in there now. Why risk more injures in garbage time?

In a perfect end to the game, Packers defensive lineman C.J. Wilson sacked Kitna to end the game. For some reason, the Cowboys were still throwing at the end of the game. As a guy who charts games for Football Outsiders, Wade Phillps could at least give a friendly parting gift before he gets fired of calling runs...they are much easier to chart.

One quick tangent, ESPN's The Sports Guy Bill Simmons contends that former up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was deliberately calling bad plays to get Wade Phillips fired. I am not willing to go that far, especially since the Cowboys are playing with a geriatric back-up quarterback, but the Cowboys did look stagnant on offense against the Packers. I like to think it is because the Packers have such an impressive defense but Garrett might have had a small hand in it as well.

NBC sideline report Andrew Kremer interviewed Charles Woodson and Claymaker after the game while "I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas played in the background. Woodson, complete class as usual, talked up the Claymaker throughout his interview. Small things like that give me a good feeling about this team. Woodson could have talked about his plays against the Cowboys but he took the time allotted to praise the up-and-coming defensive stud. I love to see that. Claymaker's interview was pretty uneventful besides him at least admitting that his Lambeau Leap wasn't the best.

Cheesehead Chick's text to me at the end of the game succinctly described the beat down that the Packers put on the "Cowgirls" as she called them in an earlier text message. Cheesehead Chick texted: "The word is that it is an across the board Dallas collapse. I prefer to think that its an across the board Packer A@$ Pounding."

Indeed Cheesehead Chick, the Green Bay Packer offense put up 415 total yards on the Dallas Cowboys (2nd highest output of the season), converted 26 first downs (highest of the season), and went 10 for 15 on 3rd down (highest of the season).

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was 27 for 34 (completed 79.4%) for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns for a 131.5 passer rating (3rd highest passer rating of his career). You know the game is going well when the running game is involved as well. The Packers had their 2nd highest rushing total of the season with 138 rushing yards. It is sad that 138 rushing yards is their 2nd highest rushing total of the year…please be ready for 2011 Ryan Grant.

As always, I will finish the post with a look at the personnel moves made by Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson over the last week.

In a mild surprise, Thompson waived former starting cornerback Al Harris. That move brought an end to an 8-year marriage between the Packers and Harris. In one of the only positive personnel moves that former Green Bay Packers head coach and general manager Mike Sherman made, he acquired Harris and a 4th round pick from the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2nd round pick in 2003. For his Packer career, Harris started 102 of a possible 112 regular season games from 2003 to 2009. Harris made 2 Pro Bowl appearances and had 14 interceptions donning the green and gold.

The most memorable interception of Harris' Packer career came in overtime of their wild-card playoff game at home against the Seattle Seahawks. For those of you that don't remember, former Packer and then starting Seahawk quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said "we're gonna take the ball and score" after the Seahawks won the overtime coin toss. Hasselbeck went on to throw a "touchdown" pass in overtime, unfortunately for Seattle fans it was a pick-six by Al Harris.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Al Harris for two reasons. One, Harris is going to go down as one of the most successful cornerbacks in Packers history. Two, Harris' current agent Jack Bechta is one of the "good guys" on the agent side of the NFL. I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Bechta and his colleagues at the National Football Post recently. Harris and Bechta are a good match. By the way, if you want to follow Bechta on Twitter click here.

The release of Harris leaves the Packers' depth-chart at cornerback looking like this: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Pat Lee, Brandon Underwood, and Jarrett Bush. A few weeks into the season I thought Harris would be the perfect nickel cornerback coming off the physically unable to perform list. With how well undrafted rookie Sam Shields has played, the Packers were probably right to move on without Harris.

In the other personnel move, rookie running back James Starks was activated from the physically unable to perform list. Starks was a 6th round pick (193rd overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Buffalo. In order to add Starks to the roster, the Packers had to waive some. That someone was rarely used linebacker Robert Francois.

Starks was Buffalo's all-time leading rusher (3,140 yards) despite missing his senior season with a shoulder injury. The last time that Starks played in a game was January 3, 2009 in the International Bowl. Starks hurt his hamstring in training camp, which landed him on the physically unable to perform list. As a result, Starks has not played a competitive down of football in a little less than two years. It is questionable whether Starks will see the field in 2010.

At 6’2” and 218 pounds, Starks is a big back that the Packers will need as the weather gets colder in Green Bay. Hopefully Starks can get healthy and run low to the ground because at 6’2” he will be easy to tackle if he runs to upright.