Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Week 11 of 2010 - Packers/Queens Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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