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.

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