Saturday, January 23, 2010

Milwaukee Bucks 2009-10 Midseason Player Rankings

Get ready for a mega look at the first half of the Milwaukee Bucks season.

Positives from the 1st half of the 2009-10 season:
- The Bucks started the season 8-3.

- Rookie point guard Brandon Jennings looks like an superstar in the making.

- Center Andrew Bogut is proving his worth in the first year of his five-year contract extension. Bogut only missed a handful of games so far and is averaging 32.9 minutes (2nd to Jennings), 15.6 points (2nd to Jennings), 10.3 rebounds (1st) and 2.14 blocks (1st).

- The Bucks off-season acquisitions of Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Hakim Warrick on cheap, short-term contracts are looking like money well spent.

- The Bucks are 2 games out of the 8th playoff spot held by the Chicago Bulls (Bucks currently lead the Bulls in their season series 2-1) despite being picked to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference by almost every national publication.

- The Bucks are protecting the Fortress on 4th (the Bradley Center for those of you that are not hip to Cheesehead lingo) with a 12-7 home record.

Negatives from the first half of the season:
- After starting the season 8-3, the Bucks went 9-20 over their next 29 games.

- The Bucks lost Michael Redd to the same knee injury for the second straight season.

- The Bucks are having a hard time closing out close games: lost 9 games by 3 points or fewer.

- The Bucks have struggled in overtime games going 2-4.

- Like most NBA teams, the Bucks have trouble on the road 5-17 record (1-5 on their recent West coast swing).

Stock Up:
- Charlie Bell, mostly because of Redd's injury, went from preseason #13 to #8.

- Brandon Jennings went from preseason #6 to #2.

Stock Down:
- Michael Redd went from preseason #2 to #15.

- Hakim Warrick went from preseason #1 to #6.

A Quick Look Back:
If you look back at my Milwaukee Bucks 2009-2010 Season Preview, this is how things looked coming into the season (click here):

- Sports Illustrated picked the Bucks to finish last in the Eastern Conference.

- ranked the Bucks the 29th best team in the NBA narrowly edging out the Minnesota Timberwolves.

-'s season opening power rankings have the Bucks listed 27 out of 30 narrowly edging out the Memphis Grizllies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings.

Surprisingly the Bucks were ranked below the Nets in every preview...good job "experts".

Here were the questions coming into the season:
- Will Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd rebound from injuries? Yes to Bogut, big no to Redd.

- How will all of the players mesh with each other (seven players on the roster that did not play for the Bucks last season)? The team has meshed pretty well so far all things considered.

- Will Brandon Jennings become a legitimate starting point guard? Qualified yes since we are only a half season into what looks like a very promising NBA career.

- How many players will Scott Skiles use in his rotation? Still settling out with the loss of Redd and the addition of Stackhouse.

- Will the Bucks move one of their expiring contracts (Ridnour, Thomas or Elson)? Still don't know, the only one that looks valuable is Ridnour but whether the Bucks try to move Ridnour depends on whether the Bucks are in the mix for the NBA playoffs.

The List:
Here are my updated rankings of the 2009-2010 members of the Milwaukee Bucks. Just as a refresher, there are a number of factors that determine each player's value: short-term expectations, long-term expectations, salary, relative strength at each position and swagger (I know that some of those factors are subjective). Here is the updated list:

#16 (previously #11) - Roko Ukic (Guard): One of my preseason predictions came true. I predicted despite Ukic's potential the Bucks would have a hard time finding minutes for him because of the crowded backcourt (Jennings, Ridnour, Redd, Bell and Meeks). Ukic appeared in only 13 games for the Bucks before asking for his release so that he could get more playing time in Europe, Ukic ultimately signed with Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey.

#15 (previously #2) - Michael Redd (Guard): Might have played his last productive game for the Bucks on January 10, 2009 against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Redd has gone from a second-round pick in the 2000 NBA Draft (43rd overall) to the 10th highest paid player in the NBA in 2010. The Bucks owe Redd $17 million this year and Redd holds a $18.3 million player option for next season. $18.3 million is a ton of money to pay a 30 year-old shooting guard coming off two reconstructive knee surgeries on the same knee over two years. Redd is a devout Christian so some might argue that if he follows "The Golden Rule" he should decline his player option for next season but that would be downright foolish. Redd is unlikely to make $18.3 million the rest of his life so why not bank that for one season of rehab. What complicates the situation is that Redd is one of the nicest guys in the NBA and has possibly the quickest release in the NBA so it is hard to bad mouth him. The knock on Redd is that he was never a "max contract guy". Michael Redd would have thrived as a second or third option on a good team but never carried the Bucks as a franchise player.

#14 (previously #14) - Joe Alexander (Forward): John Hammond's first draft pick as Milwaukee Bucks GM is officially a bust after only one and a half seasons. Hammond choose Joe Alexander #8 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft (instead of taking Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph or Courtney Lee just to name a few). Alexander had a very unimpressive rookie campaign, he played in 59 games but only averaged 4.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and .7 assists. Alexander has yet to play for the Bucks this season because of injuries. The Bucks essentially gave up on Alexander earlier this season by declining their team option on Alexander for 2010-2011 which rarely happens after only two seasons in the NBA. Alexander is currently on a rehab stint in the NBDL. If Alexander wants to resurrect his career, he has to stay healthy for more then a few weeks at a time.

#13 (previously #12) - Francisco Elson (Center): Appeared in a team low 11 games (besides Stackhouse who has only been with the team 2 games) contributing next to nothing in those appearances. Elson is earning the easiest $1.7 million in NBA history this year.

#12 (previously #15)- Dan Gadzuric (Center): Ganny G only appeared in 19 games (started 6) because a number of recurring injuries this season. Much like Elson, Gadzuric is earning a ton of money ($6.75 million) for limited production.

#11 (previously #7) - Kurt Thomas (forward): Speaking of earning a ton of money for playing very little, Thomas rounds out the triumvirate. Playing time has been hard to come by for Thomas with the emergence of new comers Ersan Ilyasova, Hakim Warrick and Carlos Delfino. Add in the recent signing of Jerry Stackhouse and Thomas is going to earn $3.8 million this season for clapping and occasionally dispensing wisdom to the younger players on the team...its great to be Kurt Thomas.

#10 (previously NR) - Jerry Stackhouse (Forward): A very smart signing by John Hammond. Stackhouse's veteran presence will be crucial with the loss of Michael Redd. Although Stackhouse is in the twilight of his career, what is not to like about Stackhouse? Over his 856 game career Stackhouse has averaged 18.4 points, 3.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and .97 steals. Furthermore, Stackhouse has said all the right things since joining the Bucks: "I get along well with everybody. These guys are going to help keep me young." Stackhouse signed for peanuts by NBA standards. To put it in perspective, Stackhouse will earn $340,000 for the rest of the season while Elson, Gadzuric and Thomas will earn roughly $6.5 million for the rest of the season (that doesn't even factor in the $6.5 million they already earned this season) or 18 times more than Stackhouse for much less production. The Bucks will get a huge bang for the buck (no pun intended) for Stackhouse in the second half of the season, look for him to move into the Top 5 Bucks by the end of the season if he can stay healthy.

#9 (previously #10) - Jodie Meeks (Guard): Despite the loss of Redd, Meeks has been given very few chances to play this season (appeared in 32 games, starting none). As stated earlier, playing time is hard to come by in the Bucks crowded backcourt. There is no question that Meeks can score, he set the University of Kentucky single game scoring record last year but Meeks needs to improve on the defensive end of the court if he wants Bucks coach Scott Skiles to increase his playing time.

#8 (previously #13) - Charlie Bell (Guard): Bell has started at shooting guard at various points this season because of Michael Redd's well documented injuries. Unfortunately Bell doesn't have a ton statistics to show for it. Bell has appeared in 39 games (started 22) averaging 26 minutes, 7.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, .72 steals and .23 blocks. If I were Scott Skiles, I would give Meeks more playing time then Bell. The Bucks have both Bell and Meeks signed through the 2011-2012 season but between now and then Bell will earn $9.75 million and Meeks will earn $2 million. If it is all about the money then play Bell but if it is all about the future then play Meeks now...worked out pretty well with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute last season.

#7 (previously #5) - Carlos Delfino (Guard/Forward): Delfino has started 29 games for the Bucks this season but has not maximized his opportunities so far. Despite being 5th in minutes per game on the Bucks if you don't count Redd, Delfino is averaging less than 10 points a game (9.2) while shooting less than 40% from the field. Delfino was acquired in a sign and trade with the Toronto Raptors in the off-season and signed a 3 year, $10.5 million contract (earns equal amounts of $3.5 million per year as opposed to most NBA contracts that step up after each season) so he is still relatively cheap by NBA standards. Look for Delfino to have a better year next year and a breakout season in his contract year 2011/2012 so he can sign a lucrative contract with another team for the 2012-13 season.

#6 (previously #1) - Hakim Warrick (Forward): May be the Memphis Grizzlies were smart for deciding not to offer their former first-round pick a contract in the off-season. The Grizzlies, much like the Bucks, were picked to be bottom feeders of their conference at the start of the season. Currently the Grizzlies are 23-19 and only one game out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. I put Warrick #1 on the list at the start of the season (biggest mistake of the rankings obviously) because Warrick's combination of size, speed, athleticism and shooting range seemed to make him an ideal fit for the Bucks uptempo offense. At the very least, I thought Warrick would be a perfect 6th man for the Bucks, unfortunately that hasn't been the case. On the positive side, Warrick appeared in 40 of 41 games this season for the Bucks (only started only 6 games though) and is attempting to make the most of his time on the court. Warrick is averaging 22.1 minutes, 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.

#5 (previously #9) - Luke Ridnour (Guard): At the start of the season Ridnour looked like the most likely candidate to get traded since he is in the last year of his contract and only earning $6.5 million. While that might still happen if the Bucks fall out of playoff contention before the trading deadline, Ridnour has been a huge spark for the Bucks off the bench. Despite not starting a single game this season and battling through a number of injuries, Ridnour is one of only three Bucks to appear in every game this season along with Ilyasova and Jennings. Rindour is not even in the top 6 in minutes per game but only trails Jennings and Bogut in points per game (again not counting Redd), Jennings in assists and has the highest assist to turnover ratio on the team. Ridnour has helped Jennings flourish and John Hammond should only consider trading Ridnour if he can get a very good player in return (such as Kirk Hinrich and Jerome James for Luke Ridnour and Dan Gadzuric...probably would never happen but the trade worked in the NBA Trade Machine on, check out the website here if you want to waste 4 or 5 hours on hypothetical trades that you have no control over). Otherwise the Bucks should let Ridnour play out his contract and see if he is willing to return next year for a below market deal.

#4 (previously #8) - Ersan Ilyasova (Forward): John Hammond faced a decision in the off-season on what to do with Charlie Villanueva. If the Bucks resigned Charlie V it would push the them over the luxury tax with a long-term Danny G like contract. Instead, John Hammond brought Ersan Ilyasova back from Europe at a much cheaper price. The statistics and money, all be it only through a half of a season, shows that it was a smart decision.

- Ilyasova: 41 games (31 started), 24.4 MPG, .417 FG%, .351 3P%, .727 FT%, 6.8 Rebounds (2.1 offensive and 4.7 defensive) and 10.7 points.
- Charlie V: 41 games (16 started), 27.3 MPG, .437 FG%, .321 3P%, .821 FT%, 5.5 Rebounds (1.2 offensive and 4.3 defensive) and 14.0 points.

The Money:
- Ilyasova: $6.96 million for three years ('09-10: $2.1 million, '10-11: $2.3 million and '11-12: $2.54 million) or $2.32 million per year.
- Charlie V: $37.7 million for five years ('09-10: $6.50 million, '10-11: $7.02 million, '11-12: $7.54 million, '12-13: $8.06 million and '13-14: $8.58 million player option) or $7.54 million per year.

The Bucks opted to bring back Ilyasova for three years at little more than what Charlie V will make in the first season of a five year contract. If Ilyasova can put on a little muscle over the next year while maintaining his outside touch, he fits the profile of a budding NBA superstar.

#3 (previously #4) - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Forward): He is an actual prince in his native village of Bia Messe in Cameroon (source: here) so he will be referred to as "The Prince" any time he is mentioned going forward. Besides fighting some minor injuries this season, The Prince picked up this season where he left off last season by playing lock down defense on the opposing team's best offensive player. Although The Prince does not score very much, he is 3rd on the team in rebounds and provides the Bucks with some much needed versatility (can play both small forward and power forward). The Prince is being paid like a peasant by NBA standards (a mere $736,420) and is worth every penny.

#2 (Previously #6) - Brandon Jennings (Guard): After half a season Jennings looks like a trail blazer in every sense of the word. In only his 7th NBA game Jennings took the NBA by storm when he dropped a Double Nickel (tied for 2nd most in Bucks history) on the Golden Sate Warriors. Since then, the Bucks have been moved to a few national TV appearances and are actually talked about by the national media. To put his 55 points in perspective, here is the list of most points by a rookie in NBA history:
- 58: twice by Wilt Chamberlain (January and February 1960)
- 57: once by Rick Barry (December 1965)
- 56: once by Earl Monroe (February 1968)
- 55: Brandon Jennings (Saturday, November 14, 2009), Wilt Chamberlain (November 1959) and Elgin Baylor (February 1959)

Jennings is the first player to forgo college and opt to play in Europe for a season to satisfy the NBA requirement of being out of high school for one season before entering the NBA. Jennings is in the top 4 among all rookies in almost every offensive statistic: 1st in assists, 2nd in scoring, 3rd in free-throw percentage and 4th in three-point percentage. With Blake Griffin (#1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft) out for the season and Ricky Rubio (#5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft) playing in Europe, Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings are looking like the darlings of the 2009 NBA Draft. Jennings did not put up big number in Italy last season, so most teams were afraid to draft him but 7 of the 9 teams that passed on him are re-thinking their decision. The only teams that can defend their decision to pass on Jennings are the Los Angeles Clipper and Sacramento Kings. The Clippers got Blake Griffin #1 and despite his freak knee injury should be closer to Lebron James than Michael Olowokandi (but it just shows you how snake bitten of a franchise the Clipper really are). The Kings picked Tyreke Evans #4 (good job Memphis taking Hasheem Thabeet #2 and Oklahoma City James Harden #3) and looks to be the odds on favorite to win the rookie of the year award.

#1 (Previously #3) - Andrew Bogut (Center): Maybe Bogut read the Forbes article at the start of the season that claims he is one of the NBA's most over paid players. The Bucks have Bogut under contract for five-years for $60.5 million ('09-'10: $10 million, '10-'11: 11.05 million, '11-12: $12.1 million, '12-13: 13.15 million and '13-14: 14.2 million) which is really cheap by NBA standards for a starting NBA center, especially if Bogut can stay healthy. With Redd out, the Bucks can finally funnel the offense through Bogut which is what they should have been doing all along. The Bucks are 12-2 when Bogut scores 17 or more points. I actually find this to be a legitimate statistic because sometimes those statistics are a shame. An example of a sham statistic is that the NFL loves to flash the stats that when "running back X gains more than 100 yards rushing his team is 12-2". Usually those rushing yards are gained in the second half when the team is leading and they are trying to bleed the clock. As a result, the running back gets 100 yards because his teams is winning as opposed to the other way around. In the case of Bogut, it is almost the opposite. When the Bucks get Bogut involved in the offense early and often the team wins games. Bogut passes well for a big man (tied for 4th on the team in assists) which makes even more of a case to run the offense through him. Besides assists, Bogut is averaging a double-double so far this season and is either first or second in every major category for the Bucks: 32.9 minutes per game (2nd to Jennings), 15.6 points per game (2nd to Jennings), 10.3 rebounds per game (1st) and 2.14 blocks per game (1st).

Final Thoughts:
With the young core of Ilyasova, The Price, Jennings and Bogut, despite what most pundits say, the Bucks look a like a team on the rise for the 2011-2012 season. That is the only hitch, I did say the 2011-2012 season. The Bucks still need to shed some ugly Larry Harris contracts after next season, Michael Redd and Danny G are scheduled to earn a combined $25.5 million for the 2010-11 NBA season. For the 2011-12 season the Bucks only have $19.6 million committed ($25.6 million if team options are exercised) all on "core" players Andrew Bogut ($12.1 million), Charlie Bell ($4.1 million), Carlos Delfino ($3.5 million team option), Brandon Jennings ($2.5 million team option), Ersan Ilyasova ($2.5 million) and Jodie Meeks ($900,000). That is a pretty nice, cheap core for the 2011-12 season. If Hammond can hit on 50% of his picks in the next two drafts with his 4 picks (2 first rounders and 2 second rounders) the Milwaukee Bucks will be a fun team to watch.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What to do with Michael Redd?

Michael Redd went from a second round draft pick out of Ohio State to a borderline NBA superstar. Unfortunately Redd's last two season have been riddled with knee injuries. In consecutive seasons Redd has torn both his ACL and MCL in the same knee. Let me repeat that, Redd tore the same ACL and MCL two seasons in a row.

What complicates Redd's most recent injury is that he is entering the final year of the richest contract in Milwaukee Bucks franchise history. After the 2004-05 NBA season, Larry Harris (the worst executive in Bucks history which is saying something because Ernie Grunfeld did some damage on his way out of Milwaukee en route to Washington) talked Redd into spurning a similar offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign a "max" six-year, $91 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The aforementioned "max" contract makes Redd the 10th highest paid player in the NBA this season (click here). That means Michael Redd is making more money than: Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul just to name a few. The final year of the contract is a player option worth $18.3 million, which Redd will now undoubtedly exercise since he could not command anywhere close to that as an injured free agent.

Earlier this year I posed a question to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's senior sports editor Bill Windler about trading Michael Redd and an expiring contract for Tracy McGrady (click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to read the exchange). The trade would allow both franchises a "fresh start" with a player coming off a significant knee injury. When I say "fresh start" I really mean it would have been a thinly veiled way for Milwaukee to dump salary. McGrady is in the last year of his contract which would free up tons of cap space for the cash strapped Milwaukee Bucks next year while Houston would be on the hook for another $18.3 million for Redd in the 2010-11 season. Windler agreed that it would be a nice salary dump for Milwaukee, unfortunately that deal is no longer possible with Redd's most recent injury.

After appearing in only 6 games as a rookie (2000-01 NBA Season), Redd made an impact in Milwaukee for the next decade. Redd, like most borderline NBA superstars, was woefully underpaid by NBA standards early in his career and now is woefully overpaid since he is a scorer and not much more (think Alan Houston, Steve Francis, Jermaine O'Neal etc). Redd has never averaged over 5 rebounds or 4 assists for a season which makes his astronomical contact even harder to reconcile.

If Redd picks up his option, he will comprise roughly 1/3rd of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2010-11 payroll. Right now the Bucks have $50,205,954 committed for the 2010-11 season with Redd scheduled to make $18,300,000. Best case scenario, Redd returns for the second half of next season at no where near 100%. The Bucks have no choice but to pay Redd $18.3 million next season to a player over the age of 30 coming off multiple knee surgeries.

Despite losing Redd, the Milwaukee Bucks have options at shooting guard. All indications are that Charlie Bell will take over in the short term. Although Bell has been underwhelming since Milwaukee matched Miami's offer sheet for the restricted free agent a few years ago, his play has improved this season. Bell is signed through the 2011-12 season so if he can continue to produce, his contract goes from being characterized as a very expensive bench player's contract to very reasonable starter's contract.

John Hammond acquired Carlos Delfino this offseason in part because of his versatility. Delfino has been playing mostly at small forward but can play shooting guard. Like Bell, Delfino is signed through 2011-12 at a relatively cheap cap number. Look for Skies to toy with inserting Delfino in the starting lineup if Bell struggles.

Although Luke Ridnour is a point guard, he has been playing well this season despite playing through nagging injuries all season. Milwaukee likes to pair Ridnour with rookie sensation Brandon Jennings so there is a chance Skiles will insert both of them into the starting lineup. Ridnour is earning $6.5 million in the last year of his contract, which will most likely be his last season with Milwaukee. In fact, if Rindour continues to play well he is probably the most likely player to get traded at the trading deadline (assuming Milwaukee is out of playoff contention).

Finally rookie Jodie Meeks (who has been looked over most season) is another option for Scott Skiles. In terms of symbolism, it would be a seamless transition to insert Meeks into the lineup for Redd. Meeks was a 2nd round pick out of a Kentucky where he set a school record for points scored in a game last season. Meeks has shown his ability to score in bunches this season. If Meeks can pick up his play on the defensive end he has chance to earn significant minutes in Redd's absence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Packers v. Cardinals 2009 NFL Wild Card Playoff Game Analyzed

What an impressive offensive performance by the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals? Notice I said nothing about defense. It begs the question, did any defender besides Karlos Dansby play today?

Just to drive home how horrible both defenses played, two post season offensive records were set today: most combined points scored (96) eclipsing the previous record (95 points: Eagles 58, Lions 37 in 1995) and most first downs (62).

We could look back at 25 plays but I don't want to subject Packer fans to any further pain or mental may result in further school absences. Here are the Top 5 plays that had the biggest impact on the outcome of the game:

#5) Game tied 0-0, Green Bay ball on their 21 yard line, 1st and 10 with 14:56 remaining in the first quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short right intended for Jordy Nelson (Green Bay) TIPPED by Karlos Dansby (Arizona) and INTERCEPTED by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Arizona) at the Green Bay 34 yard line and returned -6 yards to the Green bay 40 yard line.

Was that Brett Favre circa 1993 that threw that pass? That pass might have been Aaron Rodgers' worst pass of the season. Luckily Rodgers rebounded and put together the best 3 quarter performance in Packers post season history. I say 3 quarters because Rodgers only passed for 2 yards and an interception in the 1st quarter.

The Packers are in good hands with Aaron Rodgers. Although Rodgers did not lead the Packers to victory, he played very well after an early misstep and gave the entire franchise hope for the next decade. Remember Peyton Manning started his playoff career 0-3 and now is considered one of the more clutch players in the NFL. Rodgers grew up today and probably vindicated Ted Thompson's decision to part ways with Brett Favre. Look for Rodgers to have a great offseason and come back even hungrier next season.

#4) Arizona leads 31-17, Green Bay kicked off with 7:20 remaining in the 3rd quarter:
Mason Crosby (Green Bay) kicked onside 13 yards from the Green Bay 30 yard line to the Green Bay 43 yard line, RECOVERED by Brandon Underwood (Green Bay).

What an amazing call by Mike McCarthy. I did a double take as Underwood recovered the kick. The Packers had to do something to shake things up since their defense clearly wasn't going to stop anyone. Mike McCarthy picked the perfect place to roll the dice. As all of my readers (The Cheesehead Gal, Mom, Dad, Mr. K, Mrs. K and may be a few of my friends) can attest, I have been less than impressed with McCarthy on a number of occasions this season but he made the absolute perfect call on this play. Credit Crosby and Underwood, they carried out McCarthy's orders perfectly.

#3) Game tied 45-45, Green Bay ball on their 20 yard line, 1st and 10 with 15:00 remaining in overtime:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw incomplete deep middle to Greg Jennings (Green Bay).

For all of the plays that were executed on offense today, file this under "the one that got away"... As the ball left Rodgers' hand I thought the Packers stamped their ticket to New Orleans. As the ball sailed through the air I had flashes of Brett Farve's throw to Greg Jennings in overtime in Denver (video). Jennings had at least a step on the cornerback with no safety help over the top...oh dang.

#2) Game tied 45-45, Arizona ball on the Green Bay 16 yard line, 1st and 10 with 14 seconds left in the 4th quarter:
Neil Rackers (Arizona) 34 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Left.

Was that Mason Crosby taking the last kick for Arizona? Rackers definitely did not earn his $19,000 game check today. You could point to the fact that Rackers battled injuries this season which caused him to miss a few games but that miss almost cost the Cardinals the game. So often games are decided by special teams, which always makes me question why teams refuse to pay place kickers. Despite being arguably the most dependable kicker in Packers' history, Ted Thompson let Ryan Longwell trade Green and Gold for purple and puke...the Packers have not had a dependable place kick since.

#1) Game tied 45-45, Green Bay ball on their 24 yard line, 3rd and 6 with 13:50 left in overtime:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) sacked at the Green Bay 17 yard line for -7 yards by Michael Adams (Arizona) FUMBLES and RECOVERED by Karlos Dansby (Arizona) at the Green Bay 17 yard line and returned it 17 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

I know this seems like sour grapes but isn't this picture akin to frame 150 of the zapruder film? You are looking at the definition of illegal hands to the face and thanks to Tom Brady it is enforced very strongly in favor of quarterbacks...most of the time.

Just because I am going to miss watching Packer football for 7 months, I watched the replay a number of times. One of the angles shows the head referee looking directly at the action from less than 10 yards away, so how does he miss it? This is going to sound petty and crude but the ref didn't miss the infraction, he choose not to throw the flag.

The ref didn't throw the flag because he was holding in a dump the entire game. Every time they cut to the ref it looked like was holding in a deuce, I could not get over it.

Here is my theory, the ref wanted the game to end so instead of throwing a flag (which would have possibly given the Packers the ball back) he turned the blind eye and high tailed it to the nearest bathroom. That is my theory and I am sticking to it, to quote Bill Simmons: "Now I will now light myself on fire."

Check back later in the week for a number of year end articles including: a #1-53 ranking of the current roster and an open letter to Ted Thompson for how to proceed in the off-season.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Packers v. Cardinals 2009 NFL Wild Card Playoff Preview

The Green Bay Packers travel to Arizona for the 3rd time this season to take on the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the NFL playoffs. That is a quite a feat considering the play in different divisions. The Packers defeated the Cardinals in the 3rd week of the preseason and the last week of the regular season. Both of the those victories are meaningless at this point though.

Last week, in essentially a meaningless game by kickoff, the Packers and Cardinals handled the game very differently. The Packers played their starters well into the second half of the game despite leading by multiple touchdowns. The Cardinals sat most of their starters but somehow still amassed a long injury list.

Here is a quick look at the Top 10 Arizona Cardinals:

#10 - Ben "Never refer to me as Kapinos" Graham (P): was picked off the scrap heap by the Cardinals in 2008 and this season lead the NFL in punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Don't get me wrong, that is a good thing but I have always questioned that statistic. For one thing, it could be a slight on your offense since it means they can move the ball a little bit but not far enough to actually attempt a field goal or score a touchdown. Again the Packers are at a disadvantage on special teams despite the Cardinals having a hurt place kicker and an overlooked punter.

#9 - Reggie "Had to include one offensive linemen" Wells (LG): the Cardinals sorely miss left tackle Mike Gandy. After placing Gandy on injured reserve, the Cardinals were forced to insert underachiever Jeremy Bridges at left tackle and he has struggled mightily. Some of Bridges deficiencies have been masked by Wells picking up the slack. Wells will be called on to help block Pro Bowl rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

#8 - Chris "The Fumbler" Wells (RB): I thought I was the most biased fan in the country but a play that involved Wells confirmed at least one person is more of a homer than me. In Wells' freshman season at Ohio State he broke off a long run against the Michigan Wolverines. Even though he wasn't the starter for Ohio State at that point my cousin Steve claimed that Wells would win multiple Heisman (you read that correctly) trophies before he left Ohio State. Wells was a good running back in college, unfortunately he never even sniffed a Heisman. Sorry about that tangent, onto his pro career. Wells was the back-up for most of his rookie season this year but emerged as a starter towards the end of the regular season. Wells has embraced that role amassing 793 rushing yards on 176 attempts, 7 touchdowns and 4 fumbles.

#7 - Calais "Freak of nature" Campbell (DE): at 6'8" and 290 pounds is an absolute physical freak. Campbell suffered a broken left thumb last week against the Packers. Oddly enough, Packers left tackle Chad Clifton claims that is one of the worst injuries to have. Last season Clifton played through knee, shoulder and thumb injuries. When asked after the season which injury was the hardest to play with he said his thumbs.

#6 - Dominique "I give up big plays" Rodgers-Cromartie (CB): has a bruised left kneecap that he suffered at the expense of Jermichael Finely's cleats last week but will most likely play this weekend. DRC is Arizona's best cornerback but he is susceptible to giving up big plays (remember Santonio Holmes' touchdown catch in the Super Bowl last season) and does not like to play physical at the line of scrimmage. If DRC allows Jennings and Driver to get separation it is going to be a long day for Arizona because Green Bay's wide receivers are lethal once they get the ball in their hands.

#5 - Anquan "Yes, I have a reconstructed face" Boldin (WR): has a sprained left ankle and knee. According to various reports Boldin is the player most likely to miss the game against the Packers. Boldin has tried everything including acupuncture to try to relieve the swelling in his knee. That said, losing Boldin this weekend might not be the worst thing. The Cardinals are 6-1 in games that Boldin is innactive. Clearly Boldin is a talented player so it might be one of those silly statistical anomalies but the Cardinals are the only team in the NFL with a deeper wider receiving core than the Packers.

#4 - Adrian "The pacemaker" Wilson (S): is the undisputed leader of the Arizona Cardinal defense. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Wilson is one of the bigger safties the Packers faced all season. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals try to put Wilson on Packers tight end Jermichael Finley in an attempt to neutralize the mismatch that Finley creates. When teams put linebackers on Finley they usually lack the speed to keep up with him. When teams put cornerbacks on Finley they usually lack height (as evidenced by Finley's jump ball touchdown catch last weekend). In the second best match-up of the weekend, behind Woodson/Fitsgerald, the Finley/Wilson battle will be fun to watch.

#3 - Kurt "I have the same haircut as my wife did circa 1999" Warner (QB): old man time still hasn't caught up with Brett Favre or Kurt Warner. We have heard Warner's back story a million times, it is very nice but Packers fans hope he doesn't add to it in a positive way this Sunday. Warner lacks mobility but he makes up for it with pocket presence. Warner has an uncanny ability to read pre-snap blitzes and get the ball out within a second or two. The Packers will need to bring overloaded pressure and disguise it well if they want to disrupt Warner's rhythm.

#2 - Darnell "More effective then the Williams Brothers" Dockett (DE): in the Cardinals march to the Super Bowl last season Larry Fitzgerald had one of the most statistically impressive post seasons in NFL history but most scouts claim it was the pressure created by Dockett that propelled the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. Dockett is tied for the team lead in sacks (7) and tackles for a loss (10) and was one of four Cardinals selected to the pro bowl this season. It might be simplistic but if the Packers neutralize Dockett I think they win the game. If not, watch out Mr. Rodgers...

#1 - Larry "Try to cover me...Chuck" Fitzgerald: last week the Cardinals sat most of their starters but for statistical purposes Fitzgerald stayed in the game till the bitter end. Luckily Fitzgerald emerged without injury. This season he leads the team in every major receiving statistic with 97 receptions, 1092 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. At 6'3" and 217 pounds, Fitzgerald might be the most gifted wide receiver in the NFL. The Packers will put Charles Woodson on Fitzgerald all day, which will pit the best cornerback in the league against the best wide receiver in the league.

Go Pack Go!!!!!!!

Wisconsin (#20) knocks off Purdue (#4) at the Kohl Center

The Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team knocked off the previously undefeated Purdue Boilermakers 73-66 at the Kohl Center. With their victory over Purdue, Wisconsin improves to 13-3. Wisconsin's only bad loss of the season came on the road at the hands of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Besides that, Wisconsin lost to two opponents that are currently ranked ahead of them: Gonzaga ranked 18th in Hawaii and Michigan State ranked 11th at Michigan State.

Wisconsin's victory over Purdue is not the only time Wisconsin played spoiler to Purdue's perfect 14-0 start to a season. In 1994, Purdue started 14-0 but Wisconsin broke that winning streak with a 75-69 win over Purdue on January 15, 1994.

Coming into their match-up with Purdue, Wisconsin was ranked 20th while Purdue was ranked 4th in the country. Despite the large difference in their rankings, Wisconsin's victory is only a qualified upset because Wisconsin takes care of their home court. Since 2001-02, Wisconsin is 3rd in the nation in home winning percentage at .928 behind only Kansas (.944) and Duke (.932).

Wisconsin overcame a horrible shooting day from Jon Leuer (2 of 15) because of a great all around shooting performance by their guards. Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon and Jordan Taylor combined to score 57 of Wisconsin's 73 points. The trio was 16 of 24 from the field (5 of 10 from three point range) while converting 20 of their 23 free throw attempts.

Wisconsin looks to continue their winning ways on the "road" against the lowly Northwestern Wildcats this Wednesday in Evanston, look for the crowd to be 90% red and 10% purple.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Week #17 - Packers v. Cardinals Analyzed

Sorry for not posting a preview to this game. At kickoff the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers were guaranteed to play each other next week in the first round of the playoffs (by virtue of the Minnesota Vikings thrashing the New York Giants) so I thought I would take input from this game to give a proper "Top 10" list of the Arizona Cardinals before the playoff game next week in Arizona.

In a mostly meaningless game, injuries played a big part in the game for both teams. For Arizona, they lost starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a knee injury in the 1st quarter. Arizona better hope Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is healthy next week because Green Bay picked on his replacement (Michael Adams) for the rest of the game very similar to how teams have picked on Jarrett Bush in Al Harris's absence. Arizona's starting wide receiver Anquan Boldin also left the game with a left ankle/knee injury. For Green Bay, Charles Woodson landed awkwardly on his right shoulder towards the end of the 2nd quarter and did not return.

At the start of the 4th quarter Mike McCarthy finally sat some of his offensive starters (Aaron Rodgers, Chad Clifton, Scott Wells and Mark Tauscher) but that seemed way too late given the outcome of the game was decided by halftime (Green Bay lead 26-0).

Here is a quick look at the top 5 plays from the under card before the real bout between these same teams next week:

#5) Green Bay leads 14-0, Arizona ball on their own 3 yard line, 3rd and 9 with 12:40 left in the 2nd quarter:
Matt Leinart (Arizona) threw deep middle intended for Steve Breaston INTERCEPTED by Atari Bigby (Green Bay) at the Arizona 20 yard line. PENALTY on Reggie Wells (Arizona) for Offensive Holding, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY.

This was set-up by Steve Breaston's (Arizona) bone-head decision to field Jason Kapinos's (Green Bay) punt at his own 1 yard line. I wish Breaston would have saved that gaffe for next week when it matters. Back to the play at hand, the safety marked the Packers' first safety since 2001. Reggie Wells (Arizona) held Clay Maatthews (Green Bay) in the end zone to prevent Matthews from sacking Matt Lienart (Arizona). In a crowded rookie defensive player of the year race, Clay Matthews continues to play at a high level. What makes Matthews so impressive is his ability to rush the passer and still play stout against the run. Ted Thompson has to be smiling from ear to ear for trading back into the first round to get a potential franchise player at outside linebacker.

#4) Green Bay leads 33-0, Green Bay ball on the Arizona 18 yard line, 3rd and 8 with 3:18 remaining in the 4th quarter:
Matt Flynn (Green Bay) threw short right intended for James Jones (Green Bay) INTERCEPTED by Ralph Brown (Arizona) at the Arizona 13 yard line and returned 80 yards to the Green Bay 7 yard line. PENALTY on Matt Flynn (Green Bay), Low Block, 4 yards, enforced at the Green Bay 7 yard line.

After three interceptions by the Packers defense (Charles Woodson, Atari Bigby and Tramon Williams) they were on pace to set a franchise record for turnover margin with plus-25. That would have bested a trio of Packers teams from the 1960's (plus-24 in 1965, plus-22 in 1962 and plus-20 in 1960). Unfortunately Matt Flynn's interception knocked the 2009 Packers back down to plus-24 turnover margin. Despite Flynn's interception, the Packers finish the season with the best turnover ratio in the NFL. Flynn's interception also set-up an easy touchdown for the Cardinals which robbed the Packers defense of their second shutout of the season (they shutout Detroit 26-0 at home in Week #6).

#3) Green Bay leads 26-0, Green Bay ball on the Arizona 5 yard line, 1st and 5 with 4:21 left in the 3rd quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short right to Jermichael Finley (Green Bay) for 5 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

It is a close race between Clay Matthews and Jermichael Finley for breakout performance of the year for the 2009 Green Bay Packers. Finley's touchdown catch shows why he is such a match-up problem for other teams. As long as Rodgers gets air under the ball, Finley's size allows him to out jump defenders.

Finley's touchdown catch also marked Aaron Rodgers' last throw of the 2009 regular season, which has been anything but regular for Rodgers. Rodgers ranks in the top 5 in almost every important passing statistic: 4th in Passer rating (1st Packer to finish with a quarterback rating over 100 since Bart Starr...yes, you read that correctly...Lynn Dickey, Don Majkowski and Brett Favre in his 3 MVP seasons never finished with a passer rating over 100), 3rd in Touchdown passes, 5th in Passing yards (Rodgers finished the season 24 yards shy of Lynn Dickey's team record of 4,458 passing yards in a season with 4,434 passing yards), Fewest Interceptions and 1st in Quarterback rush yards.

#2) Green Bay leads 19-0, Arizona ball on their own 32 yard line, 2nd and 11 with 4:44 left in the 2nd quarter:
Matt Leinart (Arizona) threw short right intended for Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) INTERCEPTED by Charles Woodson (Green Bay) at the Arizona 45 yard line and returns it 45 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

Woodson's interception gives him a career high 9 interceptions for the season and 45 for his career. Woodson returned 3 of those interceptions for a touchdown, the others came against Cincinnati in Week #2 and at Detroit on Thanksgiving in Week #12. Woodson's pick-six gave him a franchise record for most defensive touchdowns (7 interceptions and 1 fumble return) in Green Bay Packer history in merely 4 season. It took the former record holds much longer to amass 7 defensive touchdowns: Herb Adderly (8 seasons) and Darren Sharper (8 seasons). Although Aaron Rodgers would have a good argument, Woodson is the best player on the Packers right now. Even though Woodson's pick-six came against Arizona's backups, it should cement his place as the NFL Defensive MVP.

#1) Game tied 0-0, Green Bay ball on their own 31 yard line, 1st and 10 with 14:56 left in the 1st quarter:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short right to Donald Driver (Green Bay) to the Green Bay 45 yard line for 14 yards.

That catch gave Donald Driver more than 1,000 receiving yards for the season. More importantly, it means the Packers finished their second consecutive season with a 4,000 passer (Aaron Rodgers), a 1,200 rusher (Ryan Grant) and two 1,000 yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver). The Packers are the first team in NFL history to accomplish that feat.