Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Week 8 of 2010 - Packers/Jets Review

The New York Jets were the darlings of the NFL coming off a bye with a 5-1 record and hosting the injury-riddled Green Bay Packers at New Meadowlands Stadium. I love that they called it "New" Meadowlands Stadium. Yeah because when you throw "new" in front of the name of the old stadium, there is no way that it is going to evoke memories of the old crappy stadium that you just tore down to put up this new one.

Before we go any further I want to go on a quick jag about naming rights. I know naming rights are part of the price of doing business, but I hate when they retroactively assign naming rights. For example the MECCA in Milwaukee will always be the MECCA to me despite a cellular phone company paying for the naming rights. Juxtapose that with Miller Park. I am not against calling it Miller Park. In fact it will always be Miller Park to me, even if new naming rights are sold down the road. I am sure they will sell the naming rights soon to New Meadowlands Stadium, but why not do it right away? For me, it will always be the “New” Meadowlands Stadium.

Anyhow, back to the Packers/Jets game. Coming into the their match-up with the Packers, the Jets had not lost in over a month and a half. Add in that the Jets outscored their opponents by an average of 11.8 points in their last 5 wins and most people picked the Jets to continue their impressive winning streak.

The Packers and Jets both started out slow offensively trading 3-and-outs for each of their first two possessions of the game. On the Packers' third possession of the game they picked up one first down but were forced to punt again. The Jets' matched the Packers picking up one first down but were forced into a 4th and 18 from their own 20-yard line. Inexplicably, the Jets ran a fake punt from deep in their own territory. Initially it looked like Jets punter Steve Weatherford got just enough to pick-up the first down.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy smartly challenged (you don't get to read that often) the spot of the ball. Upon further review, the Jets did not get enough for a first down, so they turned the ball over to the Packers deep in their own territory. There are differing accounts about whether the Jets coaches actually called the fake punt or whether Weatherford decided to run the fake on his own. Either the way, the Packers got great field position following the botched fake punt.

When the Packers took over at the Jets' 36-yard line, Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with wide receiver Greg Jennings for a 30-yard gain on first down. Despite having a first and goal from the Jets' 6-yard line, the Packers failed to get into the end zone. As a result, the Packers settled for a Mason Crosby 20-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

On the ensuing drive the Jets moved the ball really well. That set-up a 2nd and 7 from the Green Bay 33-yard line to start the second quarter. Instead of running a traditional play, Jets' offensive coordinator (and for some reason much-hyped head coach in the making mostly because of his last name) Brian Schottenheimer dialed up a trick play. Former college quarterback and current Jets wide receiver Brad Smith took the direct snap in the Wildcat formation. The Packers' defense was not fooled on the play. Outside linebacker Frank Zombo tracked down Smith and ripped the ball out of Smith's hands. Packers' cornerback Tramon Williams recovered the fumble.

I have to question the play call by Schottenheimer, especially since the Jets were in the midst of their first good drive of the game. I know that the Jets want to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers like Smith as much as possible, but Smith needs to threaten to throw the ball before the Wildcat is anything more than a glorified predictable run.

With very little hesitation, Jets head coach Rex Ryan challenged the fumble. New Meadowlands Stadium is supposed to be the most technologically advanced football stadium in the world besides the new "Jerry Dome" in Dallas. Despite having that technology at his fingertips, Ryan challenged the play in short order without taking the time to look at the million-and-one replays he would get during the television timeout because of the change of possession. Great move Rex, I am glad they are still calling you a "genius". After reviewing the play, the referees rightly confirmed the ruling on the field.

The Packers failed to capitalize on the turnover and the teams traded a few short possessions till the Jets got the ball back with 10 minutes remaining in the half. After putting together what looked like another nice drive, the Jets faced a 3rd and 11 at the Green Bay 43-yard line. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez hit wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery for what looked like a minimal gain but Tramon Williams wrestled the ball away from Cotchery to force another Jets turnover.

Again Ryan challenged the play. Whether that was actually an interception is questionable but that was the ruling on the field. Mike Pereira, the former head of officiating for the NFL and a great addition to Fox, helped explain that since the call on the field was made one way there was no way that the play should be overturned. That means if the play was ruled a catch on the field, Pereira would have left it as a catch. Since the play was ruled an interception on the field, the interception had to stand.

As a quick side note, the NFL needs to simply the rules because they are becoming too complicated even for an avid NFL follower like me. Pereira helps explain things on Fox, but the NFL should not even need someone like Pereira to help explain the needlessly over complicated rules. The rules should make enough sense that the announcers can easily explain the calls without the help of outside experts.

While I am on this mini-jag, can we also officially stop calling Rex Ryan genius now? Even if the questionable play is overturned, what do the Jets gain? The Jets were facing a 3rd and 11 at the Packers 43-yard line. The Cotchery catch would have netted the Jets a few yards, which would have made it 4th and 8 from the Packers' 40-yard line. By NFL rule, even if Ryan wins that challenge, he would be out of challenges for the rest of the game because he already lost his first challenge. Is it worth roughly 30 yards in field position to be out of challenges for the rest of the game? If you answered yes, please stop reading and slap yourself. Of course it was a dumb challenge, one that will pay off for the Packers down the road. For all Cheeseheads, I want to personally thank you Rex for the dumb challenges.

Thanks to Ryan losing 2 challenges against the Packers, they have now had 5 consecutive lost challenges against them. Enjoy it while it lasts Cheeseheads because that is a nice run that I am sure will come to an end soon.

Back to the game. Following Williams' interception getting upheld, the Packers moved the ball well and looked like they were going to score a touchdown till Rodgers took an ill-advised 9-yard sack on 2nd and 10 from the Jets' 23-yard line. I guess that is redundant most of the time to say an "ill-advised sack" since a sack by definition is almost always ill advised, but this is the definition of a bad sack because it forced an even longer field goal attempt on a windy day. Crosby went on to miss the 45-yard field goal attempt giving the Jets the ball back with a little less than 2 minutes to go in the half.

The Jets failed to do anything when they got the ball back, which forced them to punt. The Packers got the ball back with a little less than a minute to go in the half. Following a sack, running back Brandon Jackson gained 27 yards on the ground with only a few seconds left in the half. Talk about getting your s$%t yards. Jackson struggles to pick up important yards, but gains 27 meaningless yards to end the half.

To start the second half the Packers gave up a 47-yard kickoff return to give the Jets great field position. After a minimal gain on first down and no gain on second down the Jets faced a 3rd and 7 at the Packers' 45-yard line. This time Schottenheimer called the perfect play and Sanchez hit much-maligned wide receiver Santonio Holmes in stride. Unfortunately for Jets, Holmes dropped the pass.

The safety was out of position on the play so if Holmes catches that ball, he probably scores a touchdown to put the Jets up 7-3. The only thing that would have prevented Holmes from taking it to the house was that Packers' rookie cornerback Sam Shields (possibly one of the faster players in the NFL) was covering Holmes on the play. Either way, the Jets were forced to punt despite starting with great field position.

Following a decent Packer drive that ended with a punt, the Jets got the ball back and put together a nice drive of their own. On 4th and 1 at the Green Bay 19-yard line the Jets do the smart thing and try a 36-yard field goal attempt. Much to the delight of Cheeseheads around the world, Jets' place kicker Nick Folk misses the field goal attempt wide right to keep the Packers up 3-0 in this offensive barn burner (I hope you sense the sarcasm).

Following the missed field goal, Rodgers saw something in the defense on first down and called an audible. Rodgers threw an absolutely perfect pass in stride to wide receiver James Jones. Unfortunately Jones dropped the easy reception, which would have netted a 50-yard gain and possibly a touchdown if Jones beats Jets' cornerback Antonio Cromartie in a foot race. You just saw reason #43 why James Jones is not a #1 or #2 wide receiver in the NFL yet. I am not saying Jones can’t develop into one; he just isn’t there yet. The Packers picked up a first down but are forced to punt.

Packers’ punter Tim Masthay got off his best punt of the day pinning the Jets deep in territory at their own 5-yard line. In the midst of another nice Jets drive, recent Jets castoff and current Packer defensive lineman Howard "I never miss a meal" Green forced a fumble on an end around that was recovered by the Jets for an 8-yard loss.

Unfazed by the fumble, the Jets put together a nice drive. On 1st and 10 from the Packers' 37-yard line, Jets tight end Dustin Keller (covered in-depth under the 19th ranked player Jordy Nelson) got called for a hold setting up a 1st and 20 from the Packers' 47-yard line. Sanchez tried to hit Keller for a short gain but Charles Woodson jumped in and took the ball out of Keller's hands. Credit Woodson for making another big play. For how much Woodson has been a liability in coverage this year, he continues to make big plays that usually net turnovers…gotta take the good with the bad with Chaz.

Remember the Jets are out of challenges because of the two plays Ryan unsuccessfully challenged earlier in the game. Based on replays the play probably would not have been overturned since it was very similar to the Williams interception from earlier in the game that was upheld, but the inability for the Jets to challenge the play is the bigger issue. That is the price that Ryan and the Jets had to pay for two stupid challenges earlier in the game.

Following the interception, the Packers moved the ball fairly well mixing in some short passes and runs to move the ball down the field. On 3rd and 10 from the Jets' 26-yard line the Jets brought heavy pressure. Rodgers smartly dumped the ball off to wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the flat. Nelson picked up a few yards but the Packers were forced to try a field goal. Rodgers looked to limp off the field after the play, which seemed to impact his mobility for the rest of the game. Crosby converted the 41-yard field goal attempt to put the Packers up 6-0.

When the Jets got the ball back Sanchez went back to the aforementioned Dustin Keller for a huge 40-yard gain on 3rd and 6 from their own 26-yard line. That first down put the Jets in striking distance of scoring. After a quarterback sneak by Sanchez on first down, Sanchez unsuccessfully tried to get the ball to Cotchery on the next two plays. That left the Jets facing a 4th and 8 from the Packers' 35-yard line. Sanchez again looked for Cotchery but Packers safety Charlie Peprah made a huge play to break-up the pass.

When the Packers got the ball back the Packers and Jets traded three runs and three timeouts. I am not too sure that I like the Jets using all their timeouts with four minutes left in the game, especially considering Rodgers was limping a little bit. If the Jets hold their timeouts, may be the Packers would have entertained throwing, especially with McCarthy at the helm. With Rodgers moving around gingerly, may be the Jets could have forced a turnover.

Either way, the Jets got the ball back with a little less than 4 minutes remaining in the game trailing 6-0. For some reason the Jets ran on first down, nice call Brian Schottenheimer. Good move getting the clock rolling on first down deep in your own territory with less than four minutes remaining. On second down, Sanchez found Cotchery for what looked like a big gain but again Charlie Peprah stepped up to make a big play and knock the ball loose to cause an incomplete pass. On 3rd and 5 from the Jets' 28-yard line, Claymaker executed a perfect spin move on right tackle Damien Woody to sack Sanchez for a 6-yard loss.

If the Jets would have held one of their timeouts, they could have punted here since they were at their own 22-yard line facing a 4th and 11 with 2 minutes and 40 seconds remaining. Instead the Jets were forced to go for it and did not convert on 4th down.

Since the Jets were out of timeouts, the Packers essentially sat on the ball to waste the clock. On 4th and 9 with 32 second remaining (with the Packers leading 6-0) they set-up an important 40-yard field goal attempt. I know this seems obvious but the field goal attempt was important because a made field goal extends the lead to 9-0 and clinches the game but if the Packers miss the field the Jets would have gotten the ball at their own 30-yard line only down 6-0 with 30 seconds on the clock.

With 19 seconds on the clock and the few thousand remaining fans chanting "Go Pack Go" the Jets decided to try and run some plays. On first down they completed a 20-yard pass to Cotchery. For some reason the clock stopped even though it should have rolled because Cotchery was forced out of bounds. Either way, it allowed the Jets to run one more play, which turned out to be a quarterback sneak by Sanchez.

You might be asking yourself, why did I describe the last two plays of the game in such detail? It gives me another chance to take a shot at Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer. Why run plays in those situations? It is impossible to win the game at that point. I know kneeling feels like waving the white flag but it is the smart thing to do. What if Sanchez got hurt on one of those two seemingly meaningless plays? The Jets have way too much money invested in the guys on the field to run plays with 19 seconds on the clock down 9 points without any timeouts. It is not just Ryan that does that, almost all NFL coaches do it and I find it moronic.

Defense and field position were the determining factors in the game. I know it seems like a simple equation but if you win the turnover battle (Packers were plus-3 against the Jets after the Jets only committed 4 turnovers in their previous 6 games) and field position battle (Packers were plus-14 yards against the Jets with the Jets average starting field position their own 22-yard line), you usually win the game.

Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay has taken his fair share of heat so far this year. Through 7 weeks, Masthay was 21st in the NFL in gross punting average (43.2 yards) and 30th in the league in net punting average (33.8 yards). Masthay forgot all that and put together the punting performance of his life. In 8 attempts, Masthay averaged 44.0 yards gross and 41.5 yards net. That helped Masthay improve his season punting averages to 43.4 yards gross and 35.6 yards net. Masthay also doubled his inside-the-20 total to 10 (or 29.4% of his 34 punts). Just for comparison sake, 2009 much maligned Green Bay punter Jeremy Kapinos averaged 43.8 yards gross, 34.1 yards net and placed only 10 of 66 punts inside the 20-yard line (or 15.2% of his punts in 2009). Considering the windy conditions, it was one of the most impressive punting performances in Packers' history.

The Packers matched Masthay's impressive punting performance with an impressive defensive effort as well. Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers devised the perfect game plan in what was undoubtedly the most impressive defensive performance of his tenure in Green Bay. Thanks to the defense, the Packers notched their first shutout since a 26-0 victory over the Detroit Lions on October 18, 2009 and their first road shutout since 1991 (only their sixth in 50 years).

Despite being thin on the defensive line, waiver wire pick up Howard Green (played 34 snaps) from the Jets couldn't have been any bigger (no pun intended). The Packers held the second best rushing attached in the NFL in check. The two headed running back monster of Ladainian Tomlinson (54 yards on 16 carries) and Shonn Greene (22 yards on 6 carries) ran for 76 yards on 22 carries, with their longest only going for 8 yards.

"The Sanchize" ended the day going 16 for 38, throwing for 256 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a 43.3 passer rating. Those numbers are a little skewed by the fact that Jets receivers dropped a lot of balls and had a few taken away from them by Packers defensive backs that counted as interceptions. That said, from what I saw today, Sanchez is not a franchise quarterback.

Although Rodgers did not have a much better day going 15 for 34 throwing for 170 yards with 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 59.7 passer rating (3rd lowest in 40 career starts), he made the plays to help the Packers win the game.

I know it is early in his career but Sanchez looks much more like a Trent Dilfer type quarterback than an Aaron Rodgers type franchise quarterback. Don't get me wrong, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with Dilfer as their quarterback but that Ravens defense was one of the best defenses ever assembled. The Jets have a good defense, but it is almost an insult to the 2000 Ravens defense to compare them to the 2010 Jets defense.

Bottom line, if I had a chance to take Aaron Rodgers or Mark Sanchez for the next 10 years to quarterback my franchise I don't even give it a second thought, I take Rodgers.

Normally I end each Wednesday What Happened Packer game review post with an in-depth look at each roster move that Green Bay Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson was forced to make because of injuries suffered in the game. Luckily the Packers did not suffer any significant injuries in their impressive road shutout victory over the Jets. As a result, the only roster move that Thompson made was to cut defensive end Michael Montgomery. That move was not very surprising for a few reasons.

Being an undersized defensive end (only weighs 282 pounds), Montgomery is a bad fit for the 3-4 defense. Plus the Packers have some quality depth at defensive end in C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn behind starters Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins so Montgomery became expendable. Thompson most likely cut Montgomery so that he could active one of the three players (cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby, or running back James Starts) off the physically unable to performs list before the Packers’ Sunday Night Football game against the hapless Dallas Cowboys next weekend at Lambeau Field.

In conclusion, that was a quality road win by the Packers that helps shut up some of the AFC snobs that think the NFC is inferior this year. Slow down AFC snobs. Rex Ryan is not a genius, evidenced by getting shut out at home coming off a bye week.

Check back next Wednesday for a full recap of the Packers/Cowboys game along with an update on all of the pending roster moves for the guys currently on the physically unable to perform list because by next Wednesday Harris, Bigby, and Starks will either have to be activated (meaning someone else on the current 53-man roster will get cut), placed on injured reserve, or waived.

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