Sunday, October 31, 2010

Top Green Bay Packers of Cheesehead Sports Nut’s Lifetime

A 10-part series on the NFL Network called "The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players" just revealed their top NFL player of all-time...wide receiver Jerry Rice. I am sure that people are going to argue that certain guys should have been ranked higher while others should have been ranked lower. Either way, a blue ribbon panel of 85 voters by NFL Films put the list together. I love that it is called "blue ribbon panel". As opposed to what? An unqualified panel? A mediocre panel? Anyhow, the Green Bay Packer representatives on the list of “The Top 100: NFL’s Great Players” are:
#7 - Reggie White
#9 - Don Hutson
#20 - Brett Favre
#47 - Ray Nitschke
#51 - Bart Starr
#54 - Forrest Gregg
#64 - Herb Adderley
#86 - Willie Davis

The Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, and Chicago Bears were the franchises with the most players on the lists with 8 players each. The Steelers, Raiders, and Colts were well represented on the list as well with 7 players each. That means that 45 players played for 6 teams, which shows why the aforementioned teams have been so successful.

I appreciated the history lesson that NFL Films gave me since I did not get to see most of the players on the list play. I was born in 1981, which means the 1985 Chicago Bears are a faint memory of my early childhood. Even better, it also means that the lean Packer years in the 70's and 80's were before my prime football watching. That also means that the only Packer representatives in the Top 100 that I saw play was Reggie White and Brett Favre. As a result, I decided to put together two lists of 8 players, the best 8 Packers of my lifetime and the 8 current Packers (not on the first list) with a chance to go down as all-time Packer greats.

Top 8 Green Bay Packers of Cheesehead Sports Nut's Lifetime:
#8 - Marco Rivera (G) and Mike Wahle (G): one of the biggest mistakes current Packers general manager Ted Thompson made was getting rid of Rivera and Wahle without having any adequate replacements.

#7 - Donald Driver (WR): has the most receiving yards in Packers history. With all due respect to Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, and Antonio Freeman...Donald Driver is better than all three. Sharpe was probably more talented while Brooks and Freeman did not produce for long enough. It just goes to show you why Driver is on the list ahead of all those guys.

#6 - Ahman Green (RB): the shelf life is short for power running backs like Ahman Green. That said, Green is still the current record holder of most rushing yards in Packer history. What I liked the most about Green and what probably shortened his career was that he always fell forward for the extra yard.

#5 - Charles Woodson (CB): hands down the second best free agent signing in franchise history behind Reggie White. After winning the NFL defensive player of the year award in 2009, Woodson has regressed a little in 2010. A testament to Woodson’s skills is how well he will play as a hybrid cornerback/safety for the rest of his career in Green Bay.

#4 - Chad Clifton (LT): might feel a little high, but a big part of the Packers success over the last decade is thanks to having a consistent left tackle. Although Clifton does not have a ton of accolades on his resume, he has been a good left tackle for the last decade and is a big reason why the Packers have had a consistently healthy quarterback for the last decade.

#3 - LeRoy Butler (S): the ultimate team player. Butler made personal concessions to help the Packers field the most competitive team possible. When Nick Collins took #36, I thought it was a travesty because I thought the Packers should have retired Butler's number. That is the least the Packers could do as a thank you to the inventor of the Lambeau Leap right?

#2 - Reggie White (DE): the Minister of Defense helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Lombardi Avenue. It can't be understated how big of a free agent signing Reggie White was, and a big reason why Reggie signed with the Packers was the guy rated #1 on this list.

#1 - Brett Favre (QB): I am on record as saying I will go to Brett Favre's jersey retirement game and clap loudly for him. What has transpired since he "retired" three years ago has tarnished his legacy in the short-term. Over the long-term, Packer fans will look back at all the great memories Favre provided. Yes, Favre had some backbreaking interceptions in some big games (think of his last pass as a Packer) but Favre made the Packers relevant again after the franchise struggled for decades.

Top 8 Up-and-Coming Current Green Bay Packers:
There were a couple of current Packers that just missed the cut for "Up-and-Coming" Current Green Bay Packers for various reasons. Despite not having breakaway speed, Ryan Grant is the perfect running back for the zone-blocking scheme. Grant missed the list because of the aforementioned short shelf life for NFL running backs. Other guys on the current roster that I seriously considered was Nick Barnett (MLB), Ryan Pickett (DE), and Cullen Jenkins (DE) but much like Grant, they are a little on the old side to make the up-and-coming list.

#8 - Tramon Williams (CB): after struggling with penalties in 2009, Williams has become a premier cover cornerback in 2010. I know Charles Woodson is still a cornerback, but Williams has been the best cornerback on the Packers roster in 2010.

#7 - B.J. Raji (DT): now healthy, Raji has made quite a jump from year 1 to year 2, which helped justify being selected #9 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Raji is the ideal player for the 3-4 defense because he can play any position along the defensive line.

#6 - Josh Sitton (G): probably the most underrated player on the current Packers roster. I know it seems aggressive to say, but Sitton has a chance to be one of the best offensive linemen in Packers history.

#5 - Jermichael Finley (TE): is too tall for defensive backs to cover him and too fast for linebackers to cover him, which makes Finley a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Going into the 2010 season, despite having a ton of explosive weapons on offense, the Packers geared their offense around Finley. Unfortunately, for the second season in a row, Finley suffered a serious injury. Last year Finley only missed a few weeks, but this year a knee injury early in the year forced the Packers to put Finley on injured reserve.

#4 - Greg Jennings (WR): with all the back-and-forth about whether the Packers should have traded for Randy Moss a few years, the biggest beneficiary of the Packers failing to obtain Moss was Jennings. If Moss comes to the Packers, there is no way that Jennings is on this list and he might not even be playing in Green Bay right now. Instead, the Packers have an electric wide receiver that much like his wide receiving partner Donald Driver, might not be the biggest guy on the field, but boy are they effective.

#3 - Nick Collins (S): has a nose for making big plays and is quickly becoming one of the best all-around safeties in the NFL. Former Packer safety Darren Sharper made big plays but also gave up big plays and didn't like to tackle. That is not the case with Collins, who tackles well and does not guess in order to make those big plays.

#2 - Clay Matthews (OLB): it is hard to keep the Claymaker out of the top spot considering he has the most sacks in the NFL since he entered the league in 2009. Furthermore, Claymaker is making a push for the Packers to have consecutive NFL defensive players of the year. The sky is the limit for the future All-Pro.

#1 - Aaron Rodgers (QB): look who is #1 on both my lists…the quarterbacks always get all the glory. After putting up big stats in his first two NFL seasons, Rodgers is finding ways to win games without having to put up big stats. The biggest knock against Rodgers is that he hasn't done it in the close games or the playoffs. Rodgers career record and statistics are very similar to Favre's numbers at the same point in each of their respective careers. If Rodgers can continue to grow and starts to win big games, he will move out Favre's shadow and start casting his own.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week 7 of 2010 - Packers/Queens Review

I got to take in the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football in person with Cheesehead Chick and 71,107 of my closest friends. The first part of the post will be my impressions of the game. After that, I will end the post with a review of the flurry of moves by the often-conservative Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.

Before I dissect the game, I wanted to give a quick recap of the tailgate. Every sports fan thinks their team has the best fans/tailgate in the world. Let me settle this once and for all...Green Bay is the best. I know this sounds biased, but we got to Green Bay about 2 pm and despite rain falling, there were already thousands of people tailgating and drinking for a 7:30 pm kickoff.

I want to say that we tailgated with 100,000 fans (which we did since we were in Green Bay) but our immediate tailgate was Cheesehead Chick, Sug, E-Dogg, Fernando, Tyler, Tom, Vicky, and Brian. Good times all around, check out the picture of our tailgating crew sans Fernando and Tyler. If you want to see Fernando, he made an appearance on a previous post.

Moving from tailgating to other pre-game festivities, after turning in the 45-man active roster for the Vikings/Packers game, Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins pulled his calf muscle ruling him out for the game. On the second series of the game, already hobbled Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett tweaked his ankle. With Packers defensive lineman Mike Neal (season ending shoulder injury) and Mike Montgomery (healthy scratch) left off the 45-man active roster, the Packers were left with only 3 available healthy defensive lineman (B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, and Jarius Wynn) to combat the ever-dangerous Adrian Peterson.

The Packers had so few healthy defensive linemen that Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang played some snaps on defense in short yardage situations. I know injuries happen but being forced to play an offensive lineman on defense (this was not the first weekend that Lang played defensive line by the way) is unacceptable.

To start the game, the Packers defense forced a 3-and-out. Rodgers and Company moved the ball into the red zone with ease against the talented Vikings defense. It was 1st and 10 on the Vikings 12-yard line. For some reason Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called a screen to barely used back-up running back Dimitri Nance. If there was ever a time to try and establish the run, why not do it there? Instead, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen made an impressive interception that killed a promising drive. One footnote on that interception, it was Rodgers' first red zone interception of his entire career.

After taking a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown running by Packers running back Brandon Jackson, the Packers special teams gave up a 48-yard kickoff return to Percy Harvin. Not only is it a field position killer, but a huge momentum killer. Green Bay Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum has been under constant criticism because of plays like these. Yes the players have to make the plays but the Packers cannot give up big kickoff returns like that. At some point someone has to be accountable for those special teams miscues.

Thanks to Harvin's return, the Vikings started with great field position and shoved the ball down the Packers throat. Harvin finished what he started with a 17-yard touchdown run. When the Vikings drafted Harvin in the first round last year, I thought it was a mistake because of the health issues that Harvin has always had. So far Harvin is proving me wrong returning kicks, catching passes, and running the ball out of the backfield for the Vikings.

The Packers responded nicely to the Harvin touchdown run by putting together their own impressive drive. A long catch by Packers wide receiver James Jones and a long run by Brandon Jackson got the Packers into the red zone. A couple quick notes on Jones and Jackson while we are here.

Coming into the Packers/Vikings game Jones had 15 receptions for 177 yards and 1 touchdown. Although Jones did not get into the end zone against the Vikings, he made up for some rough games the last few weeks. Part of the reason Aaron Rodgers kept going to Jones was that Rodgers was picking on Vikings rookie cornerback Chris Cook. A couple times it felt like Rodgers almost tried to pick on Cook too much. Either way, despite not catching a touchdown, Jones had a huge impact on the game contributing 4 receptions for 104 yards.

Each week Brandon Jackson starts to look better, but much like Kuhn, neither is able to pick up a yard when it matters. I am not too sure why it has taken 5 weeks, but Jackson might be a viable starter for the rest of 2010 and a good 2nd running back when Grant is healthy in 2011.

Back to the game, facing a 3rd and 8 from the Vikings' 9-yard line, Aaron Rodgers hit Andrew Quarless in the back of the end zone for a nice "catch". I say "catch" because replays showed that Quarless did not maintain control of the ball as he went to the ground, so the pass should have been called incomplete. In fairness the back judge, who missed a few calls, he was blocked.

That does not excuse Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress's failure to challenge the play. Television replays clearly showed that Quarless did not catch the ball, but Childress failed to challenge the play in time. Mike McCarthy rushed the kicking team onto the field and the Packers went up 14-7.

When the Vikings got the ball back they marched down the field and looked to cap the drive with another Percy Harvin touchdown. Replays showed that Harvin's foot touched out of bounds at the 1-yard line. As a result, Mike McCarthy challenged the play. McCarthy won the challenge and the ball got move back a yard.

Quick question, why did McCarthy challenge the Percy Harvin touchdown? It only moved the ball back one yard, which gave the Vikings 1st and goal from the 1-yard line. The Packers have a hard time getting in the end zone from the 1-yard line but the Packers do not have Adrian Peterson, who shoved the ball down the Packers' throat on the next play for a 1-yard touchdown run.

After a decent drive the Packers, they faced a 4th and 7 from the Vikings' 37-yard line. Mike McCarthy dialed up a fake punt with back-up quarterback Matt Flynn taking the snap and throwing deep to Packers tight end Andrew Quarless. Unfortunately Quarless tripped on the play, which resulted in an incomplete pass. I heard a number of people in the stands say "Finley would have caught that" or "the Packers are much worse on offense without Finely". Those people were referring to dynamic tight end Jermichael Finely who was lost for the season with a knee injury. Yes, the Packers seem to have a better offense with Finley but in the three games without Finley they averaged 388.3 yards while in the four games with Finley they averaged 321.3 yards. Don't get me wrong, I would rather have a healthy Finley, but those are some interesting numbers.

When the Vikings got the ball back, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (“Claymaker”) put a legal hit on Favre as he released the ball. Last year the Packers defense got no pressure on Favre and he carved the Packers up in their two meetings winning both games while Favre went 41 for 59 throwing for 515 yards for 7 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 135.9 passer rating. This year the Packers defense finally got pressure on Favre and forced him to rush a few throws. A few hits like that in the first half forced Favre to throw a few ill-advised passes that were intercepted in the second half. Claymaker made all the difference against the Vikings, because he was in Favre's face all day.

Back to the game, Favre hit Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for what looked like a touchdown. Mike McCarthy challenged the play and the touchdown was overturned. The Vikings ended the drive with a field goal instead of a touchdown to take a 17-14.

Quick footnote to that overturned play. Brad Childress complained about the call being overturned a number of times in his post-game presser. Apparently the league confidentially called Childress and told him the play should not have been overturned because there was not enough evidence. Against league rules Childress shared that information and was fined $35,000 by the league.

Following the field goal, the Packers moved the ball well again and looked poised to score a touchdown to go into halftime leading 21-17. Unfortunately Rodgers forced a pass to Jennings that was tipped by Vikings cornerback Frank Walker (former Packer that held the distinction of being the only free agent signing by Ted Thompson in 2007) and intercepted by Vikings safety Madieu Williams.

Instead of sitting on the ball, the Vikings tried to get more points. Favre hit Randy Moss for what looked like a 49-yard reception that would have put the Vikings at the Packers 17-yard line with 40 seconds left in the half. The play did not stand though because Moss was flagged for pass interference, which meant the Vikings only lead 17-14 at halftime.

The first rushed throw by Favre came early in the second half on 3rd and 4 from midfield. Packers outside linebacker Brad Jones applied pressure, which lead Favre to throw a stupid interception to Packers middle linebacker A.J. Hawk. On that play Favre broke his ankle, which might break (no pun intended) his 291 consecutive games streak.

The Packers capitalized on Favre's interception and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive with Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Packers up 21-17. The Packers offensive line played really well against the Vikings. Left to right they were left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Daryn Colledge, center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Those five guys held the highly touted Vikings defensive line in check all game with one of their best performances as a unit in 2010. Aaron Rodgers was sacked 14 times in two meeting with the Vikings in 2009. Through one game, Rodgers was not sacked once thanks to the aforementioned 5 guys.

Back to Favre, on his next throw after the Hawk interception, Packers defensive linemen C.J. Wilson got great pressure. That pressure "forced" Favre to throw his 32nd career pick-six to Packers middle linebacker Desmond Bishop. The reason I say "forced" is that you live and die by Favre forcing throws. I have gotten into all my feelings on Favre a number of times. In short, Favre gave Packer fans a million more positive memories than negative, but it is forcing the ball like he did on the Bishop pick-six that stand out when he is wearing purple. Favre was not the only guy to throw a pick-six on Sunday. Nugget alert…there were an NFL record 9 interceptions returned for touchdowns on Sunday.

When the Vikings got the ball back they faced a 3rd and 1 at the Green Bay 49-yard line. Vikings all-around stud Percy Harvin burned Packers cornerback Charles Woodson deep for a 37-yard gain. Charles Woodson continues to show he is not the same guy that won the NFL defensive player of the year in 2009. Later on that same drive there was a breakdown in communication between Woodson and Packers cornerback Tramon Williams that resulted in a touchdown catch for Randy Moss.

Following the Moss touchdown, the Packers again moved the ball well. Facing 4th and 1 at the Packers' 44-yard line to start the 4th quarter they called on fullback John Kuhn to pick up the first down. The Packers lucked out and picked up a first down. On 3rd and 6 at the Vikings 39-yard line, Rodgers completed what looked like a 6-yard pass to Greg Jennings. Instead the refs gave Jennings 5 yards, leaving the Packers facing another 4th and 1.

It boggles my mind why Mike McCarthy did not challenge where the ball was placed. Based on the replays shown at the game, if McCarthy challenged the play, it would have resulted in a first down. Instead, McCarthy decided to go for it again on 4th and 1, this time from the Vikings 33-yard line.

Instead of calling a play action pass, McCarthy had some false confidence in the fullback dive because on the second 4th and 1 of the drive, the Packers again went to Kuhn to try and pick up a yard. This time the Vikings stuffed Kuhn and the Packers turned the ball over on downs. The Packers really struggle at running in short yardage situations. McCarthy, please never run the inside full back hand-off on 4th and 1…it officially doesn’t work.

Just to back that assertion up with stats, the Packers average .7 yards on third and fourth down with 2 yards or less to get a first down. You read that correctly .7 yards NOT 7 yards. If that wasn't bad enough, through Week 6 the Packers were last in the NFL in converting on 3rd and less than 3 yards: 8 for 22 or 36.4%...yikes. The Packers could have added free agent running backs like Ryan Torain (now with the Washington Redskins). Instead the Packers have Jackson, Nance, and Kuhn...not good. Bottom line, the Packers need a better short yardage plan or start running more play action passes in those situations.

The Vikings moved the ball on offense after forcing the turnover on downs. On 3rd and 7 at the Green Bay 35-yard line, Favre threw to Harvin but Packers safety Nick Collins jumped the route (and Harvin) for the interception. Harvin could have fought harder for the ball but give credit to Collins, he read the play and jumped the route. For those counting at home, Favre threw 3 interceptions over the span of 7 throws including 3 touchdowns, one for the Packers and two for the Vikings.

Thanks to the Collins interception, the Packers got the ball back with 9 minutes remaining leading 28-24. The Packers took a few minutes off the clock but were forced to punt. Unfortunately that meant Donald Driver's 133 consecutive games (139 including post-season) with at least one reception came to an end. To compound matters on the home front, Cheesehead Chick got her first jersey ever before the Packers/Vikings guessed it, a home #80 Donald Driver jersey. On behalf of Cheesehead Chick and me, sorry that the streak ended DD, you are on the classiest guys to ever play the game.

Back to the game, the punt gave Favre and the Vikings the ball back at their own 17-yard line down 28-24 with 6 minutes left in the game. Favre made his 119th start at Lambeau Field, breaking John Elway's NFL quarterback record of 118 starts at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The script looked written for Favre to pull off some of his late game heroics in his old stomping ground.

After converting a couple 4th down plays for first downs (the Packers were 1 for 3 and the Vikings were 2 for 3 on 4th down on the day), Packers defensive lineman Jarius Wynn registered the Packers' first sack ever against Favre on the first play after the two-minute warning forcing the Vikings to use their 2nd timeout. Favre followed up the sack with a dump off to Harvin that got the Vikings down to the Packer 15-yard line.

Following a false start penalty by the Vikings, they finally got called for a facemask penalty for essentially tearing Claymaker to the ground by his facemask. How many times does it look like Claymaker was either getting held or having an offensive lineman touch his facemask? I hate to complain about penalties but that was way too obvious.

Following the penalties the Vikings faced a 1st and 30 from the Packer 35-yard line. As Packer fans know, you can never count Favre out. In what initially looked like another notch in his belt, Favre and the Vikings looked to take the lead on a 35-yard connection for a touchdown between Favre and Harvin.

After a booth initiated review (because there was less than 2 minutes left in the half) the refs overturned the play since only one of Harvin's feet came down in bounds. With that call getting overturned, how horrible was the back judge today? It was almost a great play by Harvin to try and get both feet down in bounds. That said, the ref was right there, how did that ref miss that call? I know NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth was calling for a pass interference penalty on Packers safety Charlie Peprah on the play, but that is a hard call to make with 48 seconds left in the game.

On the next play Favre hit Peterson for a 15-yard gain. That left the Vikings with two chances to go 20 yards to score a touchdown and beat the Packers. Favre tried to get the ball to Moss on both occasions but both passes fell incomplete allowing the Packers to pull out a much needed 28-24 win over the Vikings. Neither Rodgers or Favre had their best game but if you compare their stat lines, Rodgers did just a little more than Favre to help the Packers beat the Vikings:
- Rodgers: 21 for 34 for 295 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a 84.8 passer rating.
- Favre: 16 for 29 for 212 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions for a 50.4 passer rating.

The Packers won the turnover battle after losing it the last 4 weeks, which went a long way towards helping them beat the Vikings. Following their 28-24 victory over the Vikings, in games decided by 4 points or less McCarthy is now 5-13 and Rodgers is 2-11.

Switching gears to the personnel moves Green Bay Packers general manger Ted Thompson was forced to make because of all the injuries the Packers have suffered in 2010. As chronicled throughout the blog, coming into their Week 7 match-up against the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers already placed 4 starters (running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, middle linebacker Nick Barnett, and safety Morgan Burnett) and 3 back-ups (cornerback Josh Bell, defensive lineman Justin Harrell and safety Derrick Martin) on injured reserve.

Following the Packers/Vikings game, the Packers had to place another starter (outside linebacker Brad Jones) and 2 back-ups (defensive lineman Mike Neal and outside linebacker Brady Poppinga) on injured reserve. That means 10 players, including 5 starters, have been lost for the season in only 7 weeks.

With three new additions to injured reserve, Thompson was forced to abandon his cautious roster maneuvering and make a ton of moves in short order. Thompson had to start signing players and making waiver wire claims because the 2010 NFL trade deadline already passed. In last week's Wednesday What Happened I talked about how ridiculous it is that the NFL trade deadline already passed for the 2010 season. In the NBA the trade deadline happens roughly 60% of the way through the season. In Major League baseball the trade deadline happens roughly 66% through the season. The NFL trade deadline comes after only 35% of the season is played. With all of that as background, here is a quick look at each move:

#1) Claimed outside linebacker Diyarl Briggs, who was waived by the Denver Broncos. The 24-year old Briggs is 6'3" and 248 pounds. In 2009 Briggs ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and had a 31" vertical leap. Briggs has appeared in 6 regular-season games with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Bowling Green in 2009. The Packers were the only team to put in a claim on Briggs and is on an NFL minimum contract through 2011. The Packers will use Briggs as a situational pass rusher, but don't expect him to contribute a lot other than on special teams.

#2) Signed middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm. The 29-year old Wilhelm was a 4th round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers out of Ohio State University. At the combine in 2003 Wilhelm ran a 4.72 second 40-yard dash, scored 19 on the Wonderlic test, and had a 39" vertical leap but that is all pretty meaningless (besides the Wonderlic) since Wilhelm has been in the league for 8 years now. Wilhelm has played in 82 NFL games (including 22 starts) over 8 NFL season. For his career Wilhelm has 238 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 interceptions, and 53 special teams tackles. The former San Diego Charger and San Francisco 49er has been on the street since September 9th, when the 49ers reached an injury settlement with Wilhelm.

#3) Signed outside linebacker Erik Walden. Walden is a third-year player taken in the 6th round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys out of Middle Tennessee State. The 6'2", 250-pound Walden was cut by the Cowboys at the end of the 2008 training camp. Walden went on to appear in 9 games for the Kansas City Chiefs and 6 games for the Miami Dolphins in 2008. Walden appeared in 11 games in 2009 and 2 games this year for the Miami Dolphins. Walden is mostly a special teams player and was on the unit that saw their special teams coach, John Bonamego, fired in season by the Dolphins. Walden has appeared in more games (28) than he has registered tackles (23) in the NFL so don’t expect much.

#4) Claimed defensive tackle Howard Green, who was waived by the team the Packers play this weekend, the New York Jets. The 6'2", 340-pound (more like 375 pounds) Green was taken in the 6th round in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans out of Louisiana State. Green has appeared in 51 NFL games (including 12 starts) with 5 different NFL teams (Texans, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks, and Jets). Green was cut and signed by the Jets a number of times this year so hopefully he will be out for revenge against his old team.

I don't now enough about Briggs and Walden to make an informed judgment. Basically the Packers added two young outside linebackers in place of injured outside linebackers Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga. I would be surprised if Briggs or Walden could come anywhere close to having the impact that Jones has at the outside linebacker position. Either way, the Packers have arguably the best young outside linebacker in the NFL in Claymaker and a bunch of unproven outside linebackers (Zombo, Francois, Briggs, and Walden) trying to fill the other outside linebacker position.

Usually you have to be undrafted and younger than 25 to get added to the Packers roster during the season. This week Ted Thompson added not one but two veterans to the roster in signing Wilhelm and Green.

The Packers added Wilhelm in place of middle linebacker and former Green Bay Blizzards arena league player Maurice Simpkins. The Packers promoted Simpkins from the practice squad earlier this year. Simpkins was active in 2 of a possible 3 games. It is not like the Packers had a ton of time or money invested in Simpkins so I totally support Thompson adding a proven veteran in place of an unproven rookie.

With Jenkins and Pickett questionable to even play this week, Green is a big body that the Packers sorely need to help slow down the potent Jets running attack. It doesn't hurt that Green played for the Jets last week either.

If you read this far, you obviously have a few more minutes to spare. Check out these videos below:
- Packers/Vikings post-game speech: glad to see McCarthy, Rodgers, and Company celebrate after finally beating Favre.
- SNL's spoof on Favre's Wrangler commercial: my only beef is that they make Favre a left-handed quarterback. Everything else about the commercial was great besides that, nice work SNL.
- "We Love the Green and Gold" by Pat McCurdy: an all around Cheesehead production.

#13 Wisconsin Badgers beat #15 Iowa Hawkeyes

I am breaking my Sunday Funday post rule two weeks in a row because the Wisconsin Badgers registered their second impressive victory in as many weeks. After knocking off the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes at home last week, the Badgers registered an even more impressive 31-30 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City in front of 70,585 people.

Earlier in the week, Wisconsin Badger head coach Bret Bielema talked to his players about not letting down after a big victory. Bielema pointed to the South Carolina Gamecocks. After the Gamecocks knocked off the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, they lost the following week to the lowly Kentucky Wildcats.

There was no such let down by the Badgers against the Hawkeyes though. Bielema and the Badgers avenged consecutive losses to Iowa (38-16 in Iowa City in 2008 and 20-10 in Madison in 2009) to come out on top 31-30. The win over Iowa allowed Bielema to improve his career record at Wisconsin to 45-15 and 3-2 against Iowa. The victory also marked the first time since 2004 that Wisconsin beat ranked opponents in consecutive weeks (beat #18 Ohio State in Columbus, OH and #5 Purdue in West Lafayette, IN).

The Badgers got out to a 3-0 lead on a 33-yard field goal by Philip Welch. That might seem like a good thing but the kick actually snapped 23 consecutive touchdowns scored by the Badgers in the red zone (not counting killing the clock twice). The field goal ended up being the smallest discussion point of the day though.

If the Badgers hadn't won, some decisions by Bielema might have been second-guessed. In the third quarter the Badgers were leading 13-10, facing a 4th and 1 from the 2-yard line. Instead of attempting a field goal, Bielema gave the ball to Badgers running back John Clay who ran in for a touchdown behind left tackle Gabe Carimi and left guard Justin Moffitt. One of the reasons Bielema decided to go for the touchdown as opposed to attempting the field is that Carimi and Moffitt form possibly the best left side of an offensive line in the nation.

Even crazier than the 4th and 1 call above was the fake punt call by Bielema. With a little more than 6 minutes remaining, the Badgers trailed by 6 points and faced a 4th and 4 from their own 26-yard line. Bielema shocked everyone by dialing up a fake punt that saw Badger punter Brad Nortman scamper for 17 yards and a first down. The Badgers knew that the Hawkeyes sometimes only rushed two people on special teams to set-up the punt return and picked the perfect time to call the fake punt. After converting another 4th down along the way, the Badgers capped off that impressive drive with a Monte Ball 8-yard touchdown run to take a 31-30 lead with 1:06 remaining in the game.

Unfortunately for the Badgers, the game was far from over. The Hawkeyes actually got a first down on a quarterback sneak by Ricky Stanzi at the Badger 39-yard line with 12 second remaining. That quarterback sneak left the Hawkeyes with 1st and 10 from the Badger 39-yard line with 12 seconds left in the game and 1 timeout in their pocket.

In the NFL the clock keeps rolling as long as a player stays in bounds, but that is not the case in college. For those of you that don't know, in college the clock stops on every first down until the ball is spotted giving the offense a few "free seconds" to regroup. That meant if Stanzi rushed for the first down in the pros, the Hawkeyes would have been forced to take a timeout, otherwise the clock would have run out before they got off another snap.

Keep that in mind because Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz had two options because of the college first down rule. Ferentz could let the clock run down to 3 second and attempt a 56-yard field goal. That is the less desirable option because Hawkeye kicker Mike Meyer doesn't have that strong of a leg. Otherwise, Ferentz could hold his timeout and spike the ball on first down. That would leave the Hawkeyes with roughly 8 seconds to complete a pass and use their final timeout to give Meyer a closer field goal chance to win the game. Ferentz inexplicably choose another option and used his last timeout, which left the Hawkeyes with 12 second and no timeouts. On the next play the Hawkeyes completed a pass but the receiver was tackled in bounds so time ran out and the Badgers won 31-30.

You can point to a number of reasons, besides Bielema's gutsy play calls, to why the Badgers beat the Hawkeyes but three stand out. First, sophomore running back Montee Ball took being demoted from 2nd string to 3rd string (in favor of freshman James White) in stride. This week Ball made big plays in crucial situations with White out with a knee injury. Second, Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien atoned for 3 second half interceptions last year against the Hawkeyes by going 20 for 26 for 205 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception this time around. Third, despite facing double teams almost the entire game, all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt had another huge game. Watt registered 5 tackles (2 for a loss) and 1 sack. All of that is impressive but it is Watt's blocked extra point in the first quarter that was the difference against the Hawkeyes.

The Badgers had to pull almost everything out of their bag of tricks to beat the Hawkeyes. The Badgers needed a fake punt, a blocked extra point, and a couple other 4th down conversions to get by the Hawkeyes. The Badgers survived 8 lead changes and registered their first 4th quarter comeback since 2008 (beat Cal Poly 36-35 in overtime) and their first 4th quarter comeback against the Hawkeyes since 1969.

To say this was a big win for the Badgers is an understatement. Iowa was undefeated at home so far this season (4-0) and 48-9 at home since 2002. It is well chronicled by now but still worth mentioning that Badger head coach Bret Bielema played at Iowa and still has an Iowa tattoo on his leg. Bielema stands by the tattoo saying it is a part of what makes him who he is today, which I respect. What I respect even more is that Bielema finally notched his first road win over a ranked Big Ten opponent after failing in his previous 5 opportunities and ran his road record in the Big Ten to 8-10.

With Nebraska joining the Big Ten (pushing it to 12 teams by the way), the series record between Wisconsin and Iowa stands at 42-42-2. Although their all-time record is a tie, the Badgers get to hold on to the Heartland Trophy until their next meeting, which isn't till 2013. The Heartland Trophy will provide the Badgers ample bragging rights over the Hawkeyes in recruiting battlers and make their 2013 game one for the ages.

One final footnote on the game, a bye could not come at a better time for the Badgers. Going into the Iowa game the Badgers were without wide receiver Nick Toon and defensive tackle Jordan Kohout. During the first half the Badgers lost starting tight end Lance Kendricks to an ankle injury and often used back-up running back James White to a knee injury. Kendricks was injured on a kickoff return, which begs the question, why is the best tight end on the Badgers blocking on special teams? The Badgers also lost starting center Peter Konz to an ankle injury. Somehow with all the injuries mentioned above, Bret Bielema and company still managed to beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.

While the Badgers are off next week, the Hawkeyes can really make things interesting if they knock off Michigan State (8-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten) at home next weekend. A Hawkeye win would create a 3-way tie atop the Big Ten between Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

The Badgers still have a couple tough tests on the schedule but back-to-back victories over Ohio State at home and Iowa on the road might be the best two weeks of football in the entire history of the Wisconsin Badger program. Congrats to Bret Bielema and company, you made it a Sunday Funday in Cheesehead country for two weeks in a row now.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Week 6 of 2010 - Packers/Dolphins Review

Another week, another overtime loss. With the Green Bay Packers' overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy halted his 6 game home winning streak while extending his overtime losing streak to 6 games.

Last week not only did the Packers lose in overtime to the Redskins, they lost a number of key players to serious injuries. The only silver lining to this week's overtime loss to the Dolphins is that besides Brady Poppinga, no new names were added to the injury list. That said, most of the reason that few new names were added to the injury list was that a ton of players (Clay Matthews, Ryan Pickett, Jermichael Finley, Mark Tauscher, Mike Neal, and Brandon Chillar) were held out of the Packers/Dolphins game due to injury.

With defensive linemen Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal out, the Packers were so thin along the defensive line that they re-signed defensive linemen Michael Montgomery. Montgomery took Nick Barnett's roster spot when Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson decided to place Barnett on injured reserve.

Quick side note, Montgomery and suspended Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly were teammates at Texas A&M. Both guys have been working out together the last six weeks in Houston while being unemployed for different reasons. Jolly is suspended for the entire 2010 NFL season by the league while Montgomery is just not that good. Montgomery spent training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, so the most he can offer the Packers in terms of value is a copy of the Vikings play book at this point.

Anyhow, back to the Packers/Dolphins game. The Packers were forced to start C.J. Wilson in place of Ryan Pickett. You read that correctly, C.J. Wilson. That meant the healthy Packers defensive linemen against the Dolphins were B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins, C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn, and Mike Montgomery. The Packers were so thin at defensive line that they inserted back-up offensive lineman T.J. Lang on a few plays on defense.

With the Packers thin along the defensive line, the two-headed running back monster of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams got a bunch of carries. The Dolphins are proof that the two-back system can work in the NFL. Even if Packers running back Ryan Grant was healthy, having another quality running back would help the Packers immensely. With Ryan Grant out for the season, Thompson's decision not to trade for another running back looks downright foolish now. Let's say Marshawn Lynch was in fact a head case (despite rumors that Thompson was gunning for Lynch even before Grant got injured) then take a chance on another guy. The Cleveland Browns recently traded running back Jerome Harrison to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Mike Bell. Are you trying to tell me Harrison was not available for a late draft pick?

Not only were the Packers thin at defensive line but All Pro in the making outside linebacker Clay Matthews (and his league leading 8.5 sacks) didn't play either, so the Packers struggled to create any pass rush. That gave Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne plenty of time to sit in the pocket and locate wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Another quick side note, the Dolphins would be much worse off if Ted Thompson picked the right quarterback in the 2008 NFL Draft. For those of you that don't remember, Thompson picked Lousiville quarterback Brian Brohm one pick ahead of when the Miami Dolphins selected Michigan quarterback Chad Henne. As we all know by now, Brohm was cut last year in favor of quarterback Matt Flynn. That lead to me writing a post about whether Justin Harrell or Brian Brohm was Ted Thompson's worst draft pick. For a guy that "builds through the draft", Harrell and Brohm are two huge black marks on the resume for Thompson.

Let's leave those horrible personnel decisions and get back to the painful Packers/Dolphins game. Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake was a one man wrecking crew against the Packers. Wake tormented rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga all game. Despite Wake having his way with Bulaga, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy refused to give Bulaga any help. As a result, Wake and Company sacked Rodgers 5 times and hit Rodgers 10 times. May be it is because Rodgers is getting hit more than he wants (although that was the case the first half of last year as well) but Rodgers been just a little off this year compared to last year. Through 6 games this year, Rodgers has thrown 10 TDs and 7 INTs. Through 6 games last year, Rodgers threw 11 TDs and 2 INTs.

Last year third down was a productive down for the Packers, but this year it has been a completely different story. Against the Dolphins the Packers only converted 3 of 13 on third down after a 2 of 13 performance on third down against the Redskins. Aaron Rodgers was automatic on third down last year, but this year things have been different on third down for Rodgers. Take a look at the stats:
- 2009: completed 67.5% of his passes, throwing 14 TDs and 0 INTs for a 133.5 passer rating.
- 2010: completed 53.5% of his passes, throwing 4 TDs and 4 INTs for a 65.6 passer rating.

Finally Packer punter Tim Masthay struggled again. In fact, 2010 Packer punter Tim Masthay has worse numbers so far this year then the horrendous Jeremy Kapinos did in 2009. The Packers need to invest in a quality veteran punter and special teams coach soon, otherwise it will be more of the same out of Tim Masthay and Shawn Slocum.

Despite all the negative things said above, there were a few positive things that came out of the Packers/Dolphins game. For one thing, Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers finally got on the same page. That was sparked by the Rodgers/Jennings 86-yard touchdown hook-up. On that play, Jennings beat Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis, one of the up and coming cornerbacks in the NFL.

Also the Packers have amassed a little less than 800 yards of offense in their last two games but only have 33 points and 2 losses to show for that. According to most professional bettors (I know that sounds like an oxymoron), yards are a much better indicator of a team's ability than points so may be things are looking up...

At the start of the season the Green Bay Packers were picked by a lot of pundits to win the Super Bowl. A ton of serious injuries (18 players have missed at least 1 game) later the Packers are 3-3 and the Super Bowl talk has come to a screeching halt. Let me play the optimist for a second. At 3-3, the Packers are only 1 game out of first place. I am convinced that 9-7 (may be even 8-8) will get you into the playoffs in the NFC this year so there is no reason to hit the panic button yet. Plus, the Packers are a few small breaks away from being 6-0. Lets turn each of the Packers' 3 losses into a win.

Packers/Bears Game: If James Jones holds onto the ball at the end of the Packers/Bears Monday Night game, the Packers most likely move down the field and score to win the game. Instead, the Bears got the ball back and Mike McCarthy inexplicably let the Bears run the clock out and kick a field goal with only a few seconds left in the game to win.

Packers/Redskins Game: If Mason Crosby makes either of the two (should have been three) field goals he missed against the Redskins, the Packers win that game. I put three in parenthesis because McCarthy should have attempted a field goal when it was 4th and goal from the 1 yard line up 7-0 against the Redskins. Any more points via Crosby's foot and the Packers win in regulation instead of losing in overtime to the Redskins.

Packers/Dolphins Game: If the referees eat the flag, as they should have, with the Dolphins punting to the Packers mid-way through the 4th quarter then the Packers probably win that game. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out in a great blog post, the Packers got absolutely hosed on the Robert Francois special teams penalty.

See how I turned the 2010 Green Bay Packers' record from 3-3 to 6-0 with a few minor tweaks? Unfortunately, it is the little things that usually decide whether a team wins or loses a close game. Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, and Company have struggled to do those little things in close games which is why the Packers are 3-3 instead of 6-0. Just to drive the point home, in 39 career starts Aaron Rodgers is 1-11 in games decided by 4 points or less and 0-5 in overtime games. Mike McCarthy is 4-13 in games decided by 4 points or less and 1-6 in overtime games. Those are downright horrible stats, so what do the Packers need to do to fix it?

Despite all the injury troubles the 2010 Green Bay Packers have gone through, Thompson made only one trade before the NFL trade deadline. Not that it would matter for the Packers but isn't it crazy that the NFL trade deadline is so early in the season? I understand that the NFL does not want teams to trade away players for future draft picks if their season is going down the drain but the NFL trade deadline should be at least a few weeks later in the season. Players just became eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list so many NFL rosters are in flux with no ability to add players via trade.

Back to Thompson's one trade. Immediately following the loss to the Dolphins, Thompson sent a conditional 7th round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for safety Anthony Smith. Some will remember that Thompson cut Smith in favor of the perpetually disappointing safety Aaron Rouse at the end of the 2009 preseason. Throughout 2009 Thompson tried to reacquire Smith via the waiver wire, but was unsuccessful on two occasions. Well Thompson finally got Smith back, but is that enough to keep the Packers in the playoff picture?

Here is a little unsolicited advice for Ted Thompson. This week cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby, and running back James Starks are eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list. That means Thompson has to activate, cut, or place on injured reserve the aforementioned players in the next three weeks.

Of the three players, Al Harris should be put on the active roster immediately. Yes Harris is only 11 months removed from a serious knee injury but he is a physical freak. The Packers are in need of another physical freak this weekend when the face Brett Favre, Randy Moss, and the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football in Lambeau Field. As a result of activating Harris, Thompson will have to cut a player from the 53-man roster. Thompson should cut offensive line prospect Nick McDonald. If McDonald clears waivers, put him on the practice squad where he should have been from the start of the season.

With the recent re-acquisition of Anthony Smith, Thompson can take his time with Atari Bigby. If Bigby is ready to play significant snaps this weekend then put Bigby on the active roster immediately. Thompson should cut fullback Quinn Johnson in favor of Bigby if that is the case.

Thompson still does not know what he has with the current running backs on the roster so there is no rush (no pun intended) to add rookie James Starks to the active roster right away. Plus, Starks has not played a live snap of football in over two years so the Packers should ease Starks back into the fold.

Finally Thompson has to buck his trend and sign a couple free agents that can contribute immediately. First, Thompson should sign a veteran free agent outside linebacker (i.e. Adalius Thomas) in place of rookie outside linebacker Robert Francois. Next, Thompson should sign a veteran middle linebacker (i.e. Abdul Hodge) in place of rookie middle linebacker Maurice Simpkins. After that, if Brady Poppinga has to go on injured reserve, Thompson should sign recently released (from the Detroit Lions) tight end/linebacker Spencer Havner for Havner's versatility alone. Finally, Thompson should sign a dedicated return man because Jordy Nelson/Pat Lee on kickoff returns is not working and Tramon Williams on punt returns is not worth the injury risk.

The advice is free for now, I can only hope that Thompson follows at least a few of the suggestions. Good luck to the Packers this weekend on Sunday Night Football against Brett Favre and the Vikings at Lambeau Field. I am going to the game so look for my notes next week on the blog.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

#18 Wisconsin Badgers beat #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Usually the Sunday Funday posts look back at a great moment in Cheesehead sports history from years or even decades ago unless it is one of my player rankings posts but yesterday the Wisconsin Badgers pulled off one of the most improbable victories in the history of the program by thumping the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 31-18 at Camp Randall Stadium, so I couldn't resist taking a look back at the game.

The number 29 was the key number for the Wisconsin Badgers in their triumph over the Buckeyes. It has been 29 years since the Badgers knocked off a #1 ranked team and 29 games since the Buckeyes allowed a 100-yard rusher. Nugget alert...both of those numbers were toppled on Saturday night by the Badgers in front of 81,194 people at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI.

Only five weeks after getting knocked out cold on the same field returning a punt, Badger wide receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97-yards (4th longest in school history) to put the Badgers up 7-0. The return was a testament to Gilreath's explosive return capabilities but more importantly to the Badgers special teams as a whole because Gilreath wasn't even touched en route to the end zone.

The opening kickoff return for a touchdown made Gilreath the Big Ten's all-time leader in kickoff-return yards with 2,611 kickoff return yards (passed Michigan State's Derrick Mason who amassed 2,575 kickoff return yards from 1993 to 1996). That was also the Badgers first kickoff return for a touchdown since Lee Evans (who served as an honorary captain for the game) returned an onside kick for a touchdown in 2000 at Indiana. One last note on Gilreath's return to open the game, it was the first time the Badgers opened a game with a kickoff return for a touchdown since Fred Owens did it against Illinois in 1989.

Coming into the game, the Buckeyes had the 4th ranked rush defense in the nation. The Buckeyes only allowed 78.7 rushing yard per game and 2.7 yards per carry. Before the game, Badger running back John Clay carved the numbers of his offensive lineman into his hair. Good move by Clay because each one of those offensive linemen deserves credit for the big Badger victory. Left to right, the Badgers offensive line against the Buckeyes was Gabe Carimi (LT), John Moffitt (LG), Peter Konz (C), Kevin Zeitler (RG), and Ricky Wagner (RT). Besides that, reserve offensive lineman Bill Nagy served as the "jumbo" tight end. In certain rushing packages. There is no way the Badgers come close to beating the Buckeyes without the aforementioned 6 offensive linemen.

Thanks to a very impressive offensive performance to start the game, the Badgers lead the Buckeyes 21-0 with 13:15 left in the first half. That marked the first time the Buckeyes trailed a Big Ten opponent by 21 points since 2004. Following a Buckeye field goal, the Badgers lead 21-3 with a few minutes left in the first half thanks in large part to forcing the Buckeyes to settle for a field goal attempt despite having a first and goal from the 3-yard line.

Instead of going for the kill shot at the end of the first half up 21-3 with the ball, the Badgers elected to play conservative and run the clock out. You can't argue with the results since the Badgers ultimately won, but if I were coaching the Badgers at the end of the first half I would have tried to put more points on the board. Either way, at the end of the first half the Badgers held a surprising 21-3 lead over the Buckeyes.

Ohio State Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel must have given a passionate halftime speech because the Buckeyes started the second half on fire rolling off touchdown drives of 77 and 94 yards respectively. Add in a successful two-point conversion and the Badgers only lead the Buckeyes 21-18 with 11:38 remaining in the game.

The Badgers handled the challenged and scored a touchdown and field goal to take a 31-18 lead and the Badgers put the game away with Badger linebacker Blake Sorensen intercepting Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor with 1:13 remaining in the game.

On the night the Badgers were much more efficient in all phases of the game that the Buckeyes. On special teams the Badgers returned a kickoff for a touchdown while the Buckeyes failed to create their own game changing plays on special teams.

Despite throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception, Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien was very efficient going 13 for 16 for 152 yards and no sacks. Quick side note, the worst personal foul I have ever seen was called on the return of Tolzien's interception. If anything, the Badger players were blocked into Buckeye linebacker Andrew Sweat as he ran out of bounds.

What made this victory extra sweet for Tolzien is that he avenged his horrible performance last year at Ohio State when two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns en route to a Buckeye victory at The Horseshoe in Columbus, OH. Last year the Badgers won the time of possession battle (42 minutes and 47 second to 17 minutes and 13 seconds), first down battle (22 to 8), and the total offense battle (368 yards to 184 yards) but ultimately failed to score more points than the Buckeyes losing 31-13 in Columbus.

Tolzien's much more hyped counterpart, Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, went 14 of 28 for 156 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. Pryor also had 18 carries for 56 yards and no touchdowns. Pryor is a physical freak at 6'6" and 233 pounds with speed (runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4. seconds) that is often compared to former Texas Longhorn and current Tennessee Titan quarterback Vince Young. Both Pryor and Young may be able to create yards with their feet but Young is a much more accurate passer, which not really a complement to either player. With all of that as a backdrop, that shows that Pryor will most likely struggle in the NFL if he stays at quarterback.

Moving from the quarterback position to the running back position. The Badgers ran the ball early and often, pounding the ball through the Buckeyes much hyped defensive line. When the dust settled, John Clay ran for 104 yards on 21carries and 2 touchdowns. Clay's performance was the first time the Buckeyes allowed an opposing running back to eclipse 100 yards in 29 games (USC's Joe McKnight ran for 105 yards on 12 carries in 2008). Freshman running back James White was no slouch himself, rushing for 75 yards on 17 carries and 1 touchdown. The Buckeyes' featured running back Dan Herron had a good game in his own right running for 91 yards on 19 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Buckeye fans, Herron didn’t have anywhere close to the impact that the two-headed monster of Clay and White had on the game.

Finally on defense, J.J. Watt and company held the aforementioned Terrell Pryor in check all game with Watt even registering 2 of the 3 Badger sacks on the always-slippery Pryor. Probably the most telling stat of the game was how well the Badgers defense played. The Badgers defense held the Buckeyes offense to their lowest point total of the season and 25.2 points less than their season average.

As mentioned above, it has been 29 years since the Badgers last defeated a #1 ranked team. In 1981 the Badgers defeated the Michigan Wolverines 21-14 at home. The Badgers victory over the Buckeyes pushes their record to 4-18 all-time against #1 ranked teams and 2-6 over the Buckeyes when they were ranked #1 in the country.

Bret Bielema also got his first victory against the Buckeyes, moving his career record at Wisconsin against the Buckeyes to 1-3. The victory over Ohio State pushed Bielema's record to 2-8 against ranked Big Ten teams and 5-9 against all ranked teams.

With their win over the Buckeyes, both the Badgers and Buckeyes are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The only blemish on the Badgers' record was a road loss to the Michigan State Spartans. That said, the Badgers face another tough road test next week when they play the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are coming off a huge road victory over the Denard Robinson lead Michigan Wolverines so the Wisconsin/Iowa game has tons of post-season implications for the entire Big Ten Conference.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Week 5 of 2010 - Packers/Redskins Review via Injuries

Sometimes teams are snake bitten by injuries from the beginning of the season, unfortunately that is what it looks like for the 2010 Green Bay Packers. Going into Week 5, it looked like the Packers' most glaring need was running back. The Packers not only lost in overtime on the road to the Washington Redskins in Week 5, but they suffered a number of injuries to key players leaving notoriously conservative Packers general manager Ted Thompson with a ton of holes to fill.

Instead of going over the Redskins loss blow-by-blow, I will do it in a much more painful way by slowly dissecting the major injuries the 2010 Green Bay Packers have suffered so far. Before the season I ranked the 2010 Green Bay Packers opening day roster 53 to 1 so I put my ranking before each players' name just to show impact of each injury.

Players already lost for the season:
#7) Ryan Grant (RB, ankle): Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, Dimitri Nance, Korey Hall, and Quinn Johnson are not the answer at running back. Last week, I said the Packers should have acquired Marshawn Lynch. At this point the Packers have too many holes to worry about failing to acquire Lynch. The best that Packer fans can hope for is that rookie James Starks, a guy that has not played in a live football game for over two years, will hit the ground running when he comes off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6.

#23) Morgan Burnett (S, ACL): The health of Al Harris (CB) and Atari Bigby (S) when they come off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6 will determine who fills in for Burnett. If only Harris is healthy then Woodson will move to safety for 2010. If only Bigby is healthy then Woodson will stay at cornerback for 2010. If both Harris and Bigby return healthy then Ted Thompson (along with Packer nation) better thank their lucky stars because that alone will keep the Packers in the Super Bowl hunt.

#43) Derrick Martin (S, knee): The Packers signed Robert Francois off the practice squad, which means they only have two healthy safeties on the roster heading into their Week 6 game against the Miami Dolphins at home. See what I mean about running back not being the biggest hole to fill?

#46) Justin Harrell (DL, knee): Long time Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers columnist Bob McGinn wrote a great article on how horrible of a draft choice Harrell was, so let's move on because there is no way I can top McGinn.

Players most likely lost for the season:
#5) Jermichael Finley (TE, knee): This is the good news/bad news story of the day. On the second snap of the Packers/Redskins game Donald Lee fumbled at the end of a 17-yard reception. During the ensuing return Finley tore his meniscus. Originally it was believed that Finley would be out for 3 to 6 weeks because the injury would force Finley to have his meniscus removed. During surgery the doctors realized they could salvage Finley's meniscus, which means that Finley will be out for 8 to 10 weeks instead of 3 to 6 weeks. This does not help the 2010 Green Bay Packers much because Finley will most likely have to be placed on injured reserve. This does help the 2011 through 2020 Green Bay Packers though...see what I mean about good news/bad news? Even with Finley out, the Packers have 4 very dynamic wide receivers. Unfortunately the Redskins game showed that Finley might be the straw that stirs the receivers drink though.

#9) Nick Barnett (MLB, wrist): After getting multiple opinions, Barnett decided to have wrist surgery which means he is out for at least 8 weeks. With Brandon Chillar ailing, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop hold the keys to the middle linebacker castle...yikes.

Players questionable to play this weekend against the Dolphins:
#1) Aaron Rodgers (QB, concussion): When did Rodgers actually suffer the concussion? The Packers contend it happened on Rodgers' last throw of the game, a back breaking overtime interception. Many people are questioning that theory though. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers beat writer (and soon to be Boston Globe lead NFL columnist) Greg A. Bedard put together some pretty interesting numbers that show Rodgers might have suffered a concussion early in the second quarter against the Redskins. It goes without saying that the 2010 Green Bay Packers' season hinges on whether Rodgers can return healthy. Even if it almost guarantees a loss, the Packers should consider sitting Rodgers this weekend against the Dolphins. Concussions are the hot button issue in the NFL and all the medical literature shows that violent hits close to the original concussion are what cause the long-term problems.

#4) Clay Matthews (OLB, hamstring): Despite having Charles Woodson (reigning NFL defensive player of the year), Matthews is the catalyst of the 2010 Green Bay Packers defense. Matthews tweaked his hamstring in the second half against the Redskins and the defense never looked the same. The bad news is that Matthews continues to tweak the same hamstring that kept him out of his first two NFL training camps. The good news is that Matthews' injury is not as severe as first feared. While it might be wise to sit Rodgers this week against the Dolphins, the Packers will need Matthews this weekend if they hope to have any chance to beat the Dolphins.

#8) Ryan Pickett (DL, ankle): Ankle injuries are never a good thing, especially for offensive and defensive lineman. Two things soften the Pickett injury. First, the Packers play a ton of nickel defense meaning only two defensive lineman need to be on the field. Second, the emergence of rookie defensive lineman Mike Neal means that the Packers have four legitimate NFL defensive lineman on the roster.

#17) Mark Tauscher (OT, shoulder): Much like Pickett's injury, the only thing that makes Tauscher's injury bearable is that the Packers have quality at that position. Last week against the Redskins rookie Bryan Bulaga filled in well at right tackle. I know it was only one game but the Packers now know they have their left or right offensive tackle of the future. Rest assured, Bulaga will see extensive playing time this year.

#30) Sam Shields (CB, calf): Although Shields missed the Redskins game because of injury, with how much the Packers play nickel, the Packers are going to rely heavily on Shields in 2010. Shields has all the tools to be a good NFL cornerback in 2013 but he needs to be a good NFL cornerback in 2010 unfortunately.

#40) Donald Lee (TE, chest): It can't be overlooked that Lee's fumble against the Redskins in Week 5 lead to Finley's injury. If that wasn't bad enough, Lee caught a touchdown pass and tried a FedEx Field Leap. That happened to be Lee's last play in Week 5, he missed the rest of the game with a chest injury. Initial reports are that Lee will be out a few weeks which means the injuries to Finley and Lee will allow Ted Thompson to try and justify his selection of Andrew Quarless (TE) at the end of the 2010 NFL Draft. Since Thompson selected Quarless, he cut Spencer Havner (a rare two-way player that played both tight end and outside linebacker). With versatile players at a premium on any roster, especially a roster ravaged by injuries, having a player that can play on offense, defense, and special teams would be amazing. Instead the only healthy tight ends on the current Packers roster are Quarless and second year player Tom Crabtree.

Final Thoughts:
All told that makes it 6 significant injuries to guys I had ranked in my preseason top 20, with 3 of those guys (1 for sure) most likely lost for the season. Yes, the 2010 Green Bay Packers could use an explosive running back. Unfortunately as you can see from all the horrible injury news above, the Packers have a ton of holes at a number of other positions that must be addressed as well.

If the 2010 NFL season is a football game, the 2010 Green Bay Packers just started the second quarter so the Packers will probably suffer even more injuries. Ted Thompson is a notoriously conservative general manager. As a result, I don't expect Thompson to make any bold moves. Since Thompson hates to trade draft picks, here is what I would do if I were Ted Thompson.

First, sign Adalius Thomas in place of Maurice Simpkins (MLB). The Packers desperately need an outside linebacker to play opposite Clay Matthews. Thomas played extensively in the 3-4 throughout his career so his knowledge alone wold be worth having on the roster.

Second, give Al Harris (in place of Jarrett Bush), Atari Bigby (in place of Robert Francois), and James Starks (in place of Quinn Johnson) every chance to be on the 53-man roster as soon as possible. All those guys should be fresh since they spent the last 6 weeks on the physically unable to perform list.

The season is not over, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers still have several key players on the field. For the Packers to meet their 2010 expectations, they will need several role players to take their game to the next level, and for Ted Thompson to acquire a handful of players to fill the holes left by the notorious injury snake.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tweet Beat...Darington Hobson Surgery Style

Sorry it has been a while since my last "Tweet Beat" post. Ask a quick refresher, these are actual tweets sent by a Cheesehead athlete. For this installment of The Tweet Beat, I wanted to show how up to the minute and personal Twitter can really be. Often people tweet about mundane things in their life but that is not the case for this installment of The Tweet Beat.

Let me quickly set the stage for the following tweets. Milwaukee Bucks rookie guard Darington Hobson (ParkaySmooth) recently required surgery for hip issues. Instead of getting information through traditional media outlets, Hobson gave a blow-by-blow account of his hip surgery via twitter. Check out some of Hobson's tweets from Tuesday, October 12, 2010:

Tweet #1: "Today is the day I'm goin in (wanye voice)" tweeted at 6:43 AM on October 12, 2010.

Tweet #2: "@TheHoopsReport not true I will not miss the hole season" tweeted at 8:00 PM on October 12, 2010.

Tweet #3: "Surgery went well followers ! Back to sleep I go" tweeted at 8:01 PM on October 12, 2010.

Tweet #4: "No1 feel sorry for me I'm good as u could see hahah click for picture" tweeted at 11:46 PM on October 12, 2010.

My Thoughts:
I am on the record right after the 2010 NBA Draft saying that Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should have packaged his three second round picks in the 2010 NBA Draft to move into the first round to select Xavier shooting guard Jordan Crawford. Instead, Hammond held on to all three second round picks to select: Darington Hobson, Jerome Jordan, and Keith "Tiny" Gallon.

As the above tweets show, Darington Hobson is the only person on the planet that thinks he will actually play for the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks. Shortly after the 2010 NBA Draft, Jerome Jordan was shipped to the New York Knicks for cash considerations and currently plays in Serbia. Finally, Keith "Tiny" Gallon was released a week ago by the Bucks.

With Jordan Crawford lighting up the preseason for the Atlanta Hawks, my prediction looks even smarter. So would the Bucks rather have Jordan Crawford or an injured Darington Hobson? Only time will tell, but there is no doubt the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks would be much better off with Crawford than Hobson.

If you want to follow Darington Hobson, check out his Twitter handle ParkaySmooth. I hope you enjoyed the most recent installment of The Tweet Beat. I will have another installment of The Tweet Beat as soon as a Cheesehead athlete tweets something interesting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Week 4 of 2010 - Packers/Lions Review & NFL Notes

I thought this space was going to be devoted to an in-depth discussion of how a lackluster win over the lowly Detroit Lions was a win nonetheless. Unfortunately with all the injuries and trades that happened in the last 72 hours, the game review will be brief. Following the game review, I will take an in-depth look at Morgan Burnett's season ending injury, Nick Barnett's potentially season ending injury, Randy Moss getting traded to the Minnesota Vikings, and Marshawn Lynch getting traded to the Seattle Seahawks.

Packers/Lions Revisited:

There were a number of players and plays that stood out from the Packers/Lions game but two players, Jordy Nelson (KR/WR) and Charles Woodson (CB), are worth talking about the most for two very different reasons.

Until week 4 Nelson was the John Kuhn of kickoff returns...nothing to fast or flashy but reliable. Every time Kuhn or Nelson have a long run or return, it feels like anyone off the street could have done the exact same thing. Well reliable went out the window against the Lions when Nelson fumbled twice.

I know I have talked about this a number of times but it is becoming borderline criminal that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson refuses to use the 53rd roster spot on a dedicated return man. Absent a run of catastrophic injuries to the offensive line, there is no way that Nick McDonald (53rd ranked guy in my pre-season rankings) will play a meaningful snap for the 2010 Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, every time the Packers field a kickoff or punt, they could have a dedicated specialist threatening to return it for a touchdown. Just to drive the point home, probably the biggest reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI was Desmond Howard.

With the negative talk out of the way, Charles Woodson (and 5,000 Packer fans) made the regional sports illustrated cover this week. The aforementioned cover shows Woodson acrobatically capping his 48-yard interception return for a touchdown ("pick-six"). A number of interesting footnotes accompanied that play by Woodson, it was his: 3rd consecutive season with a pick-six against the Detroit Lions (NFL record), 8th pick-six as a Packer (broke Herb Adderly's club record of 7), 9th defensive touchdown as a Packer (team record), and 10th career pick-six (3rd all-time behind Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper). Woodson is challenging the late, great Reggie White for the best free agent acquisition in Packers' history. It would take two Super Bowl rings on Woodson's fingers to top White but since Woodson will be a Packer for the next 5 years he has a window.

Unfortunately the Packers/Lions game might be the like the Packers/49ers game from last year when the Packers lost two players to season ending injuries. It was Al Harris and Aaron Kampman against the 49ers...this year Burnett and Barnett might suffer the same fate.

Morgan Burnett:

Sometime during the Packers/Lions game rookie safety Morgan Burnett tore his ACL. Everyone is puzzled as to when the injury actually occurred but one thing is certain, Burnett is out for the rest of the 2010 NFL season. Burnett, a third-round draft out of Georgia Tech, showed flashes of flashed of brilliance (interception against the Bills) mixed with rookie growing pains (pass interference against the Bears that nullified a game changing interception). Paired with Nick Collins (one of the best young safeties in the NFL) Burnett was just starting to get comfortable when he suffered a season ending knee injury. So now the question is where the Packers go from here?

Former starting safety Atari Bigby is scheduled to come off the physically unable to perform list after week 6. It is questionable whether Bigby will be healthy enough to play right away since he has not faced live action in over 10 months. In the meantime, the Packers have two other reserve safeties on the roster (Charlie Peprah and Derrick Martin) and another reserve safety on the practice squad (Anthony Levine).

If Peprah can get fully healthy by Sunday then he will start opposite Nick Collins against the Redskins in Washington this weekend. If Peprah is unable to go, Martin is next in line. Finally, if Levine gets promoted to the active roster in place of Burnett, that is an indication that Bigby is not quite at full strength.

Nick Barnett:

Not to be confused with Morgan Burnett, starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett faces potentially season ending wrist surgery. Barnett (and his samurai sword) is the leader of the vocal leader of the Packers defense. With Brandon Chillar already injured, the Packers only have two healthy middle linebackers on their current roster: A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. The Packers have former Arena Leaguer Maurice Simpkins on their practice squad but Simpkins is really only a short term solution. If Barnett is lost for the season, the Packers will be forced to make a trade or sign a free agent.

Barnett has been an integral part of the Packers defense since they drafted him in the first-round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Many Packer fans remember that Barnett suffered a season ending knee injury against the Vikings in 2008. After losing Barnett in 2008 the Packers imploded, losing 5 of their last 7 games.

If Barnett is able to continue, he only needs 8 tackles to break John Anderson's franchise record of 1,020 tackles. Unfortunately there is a small asterisk on that record though because tackles only became an official statistic starting in 1975.

Barnett is schedule to get a second opinion, hopefully he can gut it out and take care of the injury in the off-season. If losing Ryan Grant for the season seemed bad, as 2008 showed, losing Nick Barnett for the year would be a borderline season killer.

Randy Moss:

While still wearing the green and gold, Brett Favre lobbied on numerous occasions for the Packers to acquire Randy Moss. Favre finally got his wish to be paired with Randy Moss. Although Favre gets his chance to hook-up with Moss, albeit three years later than he hoped, this might not necessarily be a match made in heaven like it would have been in 2007. For the first time in a long time, Favre looks his age and Randy Moss is no fountain of youth.

Since Favre has held the Vikings hostage for the last year and a half, I am sure there was a clause in his contract that forced the Vikings to trade for Moss at Favre's direction. Would Vikings coach Brad Childress step in the way? No way, Childress and Company have become Favre's lap dog. By giving up a third-round pick for Moss the Vikings mortgaged their future to win now. That said, you have to give the Vikings credit for going all-in for 2010. With how old Favre looks, the Vikings knew this might be Favre's last season so they are going for it all, good for them.

Marshawn Lynch:

According to NFL sources the Seahawks, Packers, Eagles, and Patriots were vying for the services of running back Marshawn Lynch. As we all know by now, former Green Bay Packer front office employee and current Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider acquired Marshawn Lynch for a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and a conditional sixth-round pick (that could be a fifth-round pick) in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The good news is that Ted Thompson was actually involved in trying to acquire Lynch. The bad news is that the pupil (Schneider) outdid the teacher (Thompson). According to the aforementioned sources, Thompson offered a fourth-round pick and a borderline starter. This is pure speculation but based on the Buffalo Bills' offensive line issues, I am guessing the unnamed borderline starter was either Jason Spitz or T.J. Lang. Including Spitz is fine by me but if Lang was involved the Packers might have dodged a bullet by the trade failing to go through.

The Bills balked at the Packers offer because the Packers fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft will likely be 20 spots later than the Seahawks fourth-round pick. As a result, the source speculated that Thompson would have had to offer the Packers' third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Thompson was probably reluctant to part with a third-round pick because that has been fertile ground for him. Look at Thompson's third-round picks: Jason Spitz (2006), James Jones (2007), Jermichael Finley (2008), and Morgan Burnett (2010). Thompson used the Packers' 2009 third-round pick (along with two other picks) to move back into the first-round in 2009 to select Clay Matthews. Needless to say, Thompson has been successful drafting in the third-round.

Much like the failed acquisition of Randy Moss in 2007 and Tony Gonzalez in 2008, Thompson had a chance to "overpay" for Lynch according to his personal valuation but decided against overpaying. The failed Moss and Gonzalez acquisitions pale in comparison to the failure to acquire Lynch.

If rookie running back James Starks doesn't hit the ground running (no pun intended) after coming off the physically unable to perform list after week 6 then the groans are only going to get louder.

Will failing to acquire Lynch mean the Packers have no chance to win the Super Bowl this year, no. Does the failure to acquire Lynch make it much harder, yes. Bottom line, despite Lynch only being under contract through 2011, Thompson should have pulled the trigger and sent a 3rd round pick to the Buffalo Bills for Marshawn Lynch.