Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wisconsin Badgers head to the 2011 Rose Bowl

On the day that the Wisconsin Badgers officially punched their ticket to the 2011 Rose Bowl it is the perfect time to look back at their impressive 2010 regular season. The Wisconsin Badgers football team started out their 2010 campaign with their normal cupcake non-conference schedule:
- Saturday, September 4, 2010: beat UNLV 41-21 (in Las Vegas, Nevada)
- Saturday, September 11, 2010: beat San Jose State 27-14 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, September 18, 2010: beat Arizona State 20-19 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, September 25, 2010: beat Austin Peay 70-3 (@ Camp Randall)

Despite dismantling Austin Peay, a near loss to Arizona State the week before did not instill confidence in Badgers nation as they started the Big Ten campaign on the road against Michigan State. The Badgers fell flat in East Lansing, Michigan losing to Michigan State 34-24.

Following their loss to Michigan State, the last thing the Badgers were thinking about was the Rose Bowl especially with the prospects of facing Ohio State and Iowa in consecutive weeks. Instead of hanging their heads, the Badgers hunkered down and rattled over 7 consecutive Big Ten wins:
- Saturday, October 9, 2010: beat Minnesota 41-23 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, October 16, 2010: beat Ohio State 31-18 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, October 23, 2010: beat Iowa 31-30 (in Iowa City, Iowa)
- Saturday, November 6, 2010: beat Purdue 34-13 (in West Lafayette, Indiana)
- Saturday, November 13, 2010: beat Indiana 83-20 (@ Camp Randall)
- Saturday, November 20, 2010: beat Michigan 48-28 (in Ann Arbor, Michigan)
- Saturday, November 27, 2010: beat Northwestern 70-23 (@ Camp Randall)

Thanks to overpowering the Big Ten, the Badgers finished 11-1 in a three-way tie as 2010 Big Ten Champions with Michigan State and Ohio State. That gave the Badgers their first Big Ten crown in 11 years. The reason that there was a three-way tie atop the Big Ten was that Michigan State lost to Iowa, Ohio State lost to Wisconsin, and Wisconsin lost to Michigan State. Since Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other, there was no way to break the tie for the Big Ten crown. By virtue of losing first (among other factors), the Badgers had the highest BCS ranking among Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State so they are the Big Ten representative in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

Ohio state finished in front of Michigan State in the final BCS rankings, so they are going to the Sugar Bowl to face the Arkansas Razorbacks. Despite finishing the season 11-1, Michigan State missed out on a BCS bowl game while the University of Connecticut (8-4, unranked Big East Champ) is going to a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which is a BCS game.

One thing that will help Michigan State and the other 8 Big Ten teams not going to a BCS bowl game is that each conference member splits the bowl payouts evenly. The Rose Bowl paid the Big Ten roughly $20 million in 2010 and the Sugar Bowl paid the Big Ten roughly $10 million in 2010. That money gets pooled (minus expenses) and split evenly across all Big Ten members. Michigan State would rather be playing in the Rose Bowl, but they still get 1/11th of the Rose Bowl purse.

The Wisconsin Badgers are set to face Texas Christian University ("TCU") Horn Frogs in Pasadena, California on January 1, 2011 at 4 pm central. TCU comes into the game with a record of 12-0, ranked 3rd in the BCS standings, and heading to a BCS game for the second straight year. Last year TCU lost to Boise State 17 to 10 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

In anticipation of Wisconsin's match-up with the Horned Frogs, let's take a quick look at their opponent. TCU is located in Fort Worth, Texas and has an enrollment of 8,865. TCU is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference but are joining the Big East Conference as "full" member in all sports as the 17th member of the Big East on July 1, 2012. Finally, TCU are coached by Gary Patterson who been the head coach at TCU since 2000 and is 97-28 (.776 winning percentage) as a head coach at TCU.

TCU is ranked 8th nationally in rushing at 261.17 yards per game and 53rd in passing at 230.33 yard per game. Much like the Badgers, TCU has three impressive running backs and a quality quarterback. The added element that TCU's four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton brings to that table is that he can pick up yards with his arm and his legs. That means the Badgers will have to plan for the dual-threat that Dalton brings to the table.

TCU has a very impressive defense as well. TCU ranks 1st in the nation in scoring at 11.42 points per game, yards given up per game at 215.42 yards per game, and passer efficiency. Probably the most important defensive stat is that TCU ranks 3rd in the country against the run. TCU only allows 89.17 yards per game, so it should be an interesting match-up on the ground between TCU and Wisconsin.

I know this post is getting rather lengthy so just trust me when I say much like the Badgers, TCU has a good chance to score on special teams.

Finally in the Allen Brown portion of the post, UW and TCU both played UNLV this year so we have a way of deciding the outcome of the game even before it is played. As chronicled above, the Badgers defeated UNLV 41-21 on Saturday, September 4, 2010 while TCU defeated UNLV 48-6 on Saturday, October 30, 2010. By the Allen Brown transitive property, TCU should win.

As you can see from above, the Wisconsin Badgers have their worked cut out for them when they meet the 3-point favorite TCU Horned Frogs in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tweet Beat - World Cup 2018 and World Cup 2022 Style

For an up to the minute, not completely Cheesehead sports related installment of "Tweet Beat" I decided to look at FIFA's announcement of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The countries in the running for the 2018 World Cup were: Belgium/Netherlands (joint bid), England, Portugal/Spain (joint bid), and Russia. The countries in the running for the 2022 World Cup were: Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar, and the United States. The odds on favorites throughout the process were England for the 2018 World Cup and the United States for the 2022 World Cup.

Before we get to the winners, let's delve into the selection process. The selection process came under scrutiny even before the vote was revealed because it was done by secret ballot, despite the fact that 2 of the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee were not allowed to vote because of allegations of taking bribes in exchange for their vote. Furthermore, since the committee was voting on two world cups, there were rampant accusations of vote trading. To win, a country needed an absolute majority. If an absolute majority was not reached, the lowest bidder was eliminated.

As I am sure most you know by now, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. We know enough about Russia, but I am sure most readers have not even heard of Qatar much less find it on the map or even know how to properly pronounce it. My only real connection to Qatar before today was occasionally playing as "that other random country" in FIFA International Soccer on Sega Genesis against my buddy Uncle Patty.

Just to compare Qatar to some things in the United States, it has a total population smaller than Houston, Texas and the entire country is smaller than the size of the state of Connecticut. Finally, Qatar will have to build all new soccer stadiums from scratch to combat the 130-degree heat expected during the 2022 World Cup.

Twitter blew up after the "announcement" even though a number of media outlets reported Russia and Qatar as winners 5 minutes before the actual announcement. Check out some of the tweets that came in from sports journalists and other pundits around the world:

@GrantWahl: "Choosing Qatar and Russia is the biggest indictment possible that FIFA is not a clean organization. Petrodollars talk."

@JasonLaCanfora: "Way to go Sunil! You lost to Qatar. What a joke. Can't land a top coach. Blow it in 2018 and 2022. Please step down for good of your country."

@sportsguy33: "And... all the rumors about insane bribes being thrown around to get the 2022 World Cup have been proven correct! Wow."

@bruce_arthur: "If you're outraged about nations as repressive as Russia and Qatar being awarded the World Cup, I'd like to have a word about Beijing."

@sportsguy33: "Qatar needs to thank its special consultant for the 2022 WC bid: Cam Newton's father."

@the_real_nash: "No beer in Qatar? No Canadians going! The bribe must have been large to outbid Budweiser's sponsorship."

@sportsguy33: "Any time you can hold a World Cup in a hot Middle East country that's smaller than Connecticut + has no soccer tradition, you have to do it."

@GrantWahl: "FYI, I'm not upset that USA lost. If Australia, Korea or Japan had won bid, FIFA would look cleaner and less influenced by oil money."

@FO_ASchatz: "Soccer people, out of curiosity, what Middle East country has the best soccer tradition? Egypt or Algeria, maybe?"

@stefanfatsis: "2010 Press Freedom Index rankings: Qatar 121st (out of 178), Russia 140th (just ahead of Malaysia!)"

@AroundTheHorn: "This is what Qatar has given the soccer world video."

@GrantWahl: "USA's Gulati: It was US vs Qatar in final round of vote."

@SI_PeterKing: "RT @RunnerLuis: Thoughts on US losing Cup bid to Qatar?... Amazing. Building 10 AC stadia in country size of Conn.? And if oil economy tanks?"

@GrantWahl: "England=Chicago Olympic humiliation. RT @pkelso 1st round: England 2 votes, Netherlands/Belgium 4, Spain/Portugal 7 & Russia 9."

@milfordio: "Early odds for 2030 World Cup: North Korea 7/1, Somalia 6/1, North Pole 11/1, The Moon 25/1 England 10,000/1"

@GrantWahl: "US was never close today. Qatar got 11 votes in 1st round (1 shy of win), US just 3. Australia was first bid eliminated."

@GrantWahl: "Qatar won final round of World Cup '22 voting 14-8 over the United States."

@GrantWahl: "Official list of round-by-round World Cup vote totals from FIFA: click here. Interesting to see how votes moved."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Week 12 of 2010 - Packers/Falcons Review

Everybody likes to talk about home field advantage but very few teams actually have a home field advantage. Most NFL teams besides the Miami Dolphins would rather play at home than on the road, but that does not always translate into a better record at home versus on the road.

That is not the case for the Atlanta Falcons; they truly have a home field advantage. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 18-1 at home (only loss was to Denver in 2008 when he was a rookie) and head coach Mike Smith is 18-3 at home. The aforementioned numbers were not a promising sign for the Green Bay Packers when they visited the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 of the 2010 NFL season.

Before we get to the actual game, Fox likes to give a few “nuggets of information” about each team right before kickoff. Here are the Fox nuggets for the Packers:
- Head coach Mike McCarthy is 45-29 as head coach of the Packers.
- The Packers currently rank 13th in total offense
- The Packers currently rank 12th in total defense
- The Packers currently have the best plus/minus ratio in the NFL with a +106 point scoring margin

As a quick side note, I charted the first half of the game for Football Outsiders, so I will have more detailed thoughts on the first half than the second half most likely.

Onto the game. The Falcons got the ball to start the game and put together a balanced drive with a nice mix of play calls. During the Falcons' opening drive Fox flashed some very telling stats titled "How Falcons Win". Fox pointed out that the Falcons have a +10 turnover ratio, 21 drives lasting 5 minutes or longer (most in the NFL), and average only 2 offensive penalties a game (2nd best in the NFL).

The Falcons did their best to hit that penalty average on the opening drive when starting middle linebacker Desmond Bishop drew a late hit call on offensive lineman Harvey Dahl. The 15-yard penalty put Atlanta in a 3rd and 20 situation at the Green Bay 34-yard line instead of 3rd and 5 at the Green Bay 19-yard line. That was a big difference because the Falcons picked up 14 yards on the next play that would have kept the drive alive without the personal foul. Instead, the Falcons had to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Packers’ nickel cornerback and return man Sam Shields decided to return the kick despite the fact that he received it 5-yards deep in the end zone. Shields only got back to the 10-yard line...probably should have settled for the touch back Sammy.

Following the short return, the Packers went three-and-out on a couple sneaks by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a 1-yard run by running back Brandon Jackson. Rodgers looked to have picked up the first down on a third-down scramble, but slid before the first down. I can't get mad at Rodgers for avoiding the hit in that situation, smarter to punt than to take a big shot considering Rodgers has already suffered a concussion this year.

Onto the punt, special teams maven Jarrett Bush downed the punt despite a half dozen other Packers standing around the ball. Bush stepped out of bounds, so by rule he can't be the first one to touch the ball when he comes back in bounds. As a result the Packers were penalized 5 unnecessary yards. There are much bigger issues on special teams than 5-yard penalties, but little mistakes like that continue to keep Packers’ special teams coach Shawn Slocum on the hot seat.

The Packers didn't hold the ball on offense long enough for Fox to flash the "How Packers Win" stats...not a good sign. Fox highlighted the Packers’ +8 turnover ratio, 87 points off takeaways (best in NFL), and 18 points off giveaways (tied for 2nd best in NFL).

Back to the game. After two runs by the Falcons, undrafted rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo beat Falcons left tackle Sam Baker for an easy sack of quarterback Matt Ryan on 3rd down to force the Falcons to punt.

For the second special teams play in a row the Packers were penalized. This time it was an illegal block in the back by former Atlanta Falcons practice squad member and current Packers back-up running back Dimitri Nance. See what I mean about the little things on special teams?

The Packers started running a modified no-huddle offense on their next drive. Thanks to a 15-yard facemask penalty, the Packers moved into Falcons’ territory in short order. After a throw to wide receiver Donald Driver for a first down, Rodgers picked up another first down with his feet but was forced to use a timeout facing a 1st and 10 at the Falcons' 13-yard line.

Coming out of the timeout the Packers picked up a few more yards on the ground with Jackson. Facing a 2nd and 6 at the Falcons' 9-yard line, the Packers went with an empty backfield (4 receivers and 1 tight end) but Rodgers decided to pull it down and run again. Unfortunately Rodgers came up a yard short of the first down.

On 3rd and 1, the Packers gave the ball to Nance hoping he could punish his former employer, but Nance could not pick it up. As a result, the Packers were forced to attempt a short field goal. If the Packers had a decent running game they might have gone for it on 4th and 1, unfortunately the Packers are horrible in short yardages situations as we will reinforce soon. Packers place kicker Mason Crosby made the chip shot field goal to tie the game 3-3.

The Packers forced a three-and-out on the Falcons' next possession. Following the punt, the Packers got the ball back at their own 15-yard line. As the game came back from commercial, we saw the familiar sight of cornerback Pat Lee on the training table. Not to beat a dead horse, but when has Pat Lee been health for any prolonged stretch for the Packers?

Back to the game. The Packers ran a short slant to seldom-used 5th wide receiver Brett Swain that went for a 31-yard gain. A 15-yard personal foul got tacked on (3rd of the game for the Falcons already) at the end of the play because Swain was hit out of bounds.

Coming off the big gain, the Packers stuck with the 4 and 5 wide receiver set. That scheme allowed the Packers to dink and dunk their way down into the red zone against the Falcons suspect secondary.

While in the red zone the Packers called consecutive wide receiver hitches to wide receiver James Jones. Avid readers of the blog know I have a love/hate relationship with Jones. Based on the last two plays we are currently in the love phase. Jones' second catch netted the Packers a 1st and goal at the Falcons' 2-yard line.

On first down the Packers finally ran the U-70 package where backup offensive lineman T.J. Lang is inserted as the 6th offensive lineman. McCarthy called a play action pass on the play that resulted in a miscommunication between the fullback Quinn Johnson and Rodgers. It looked like the pass was intended for tight end Andrew Quarless but Johnson got in the way. That play is a great example of the injury problems the Packers have had to deal with in 2010. Instead of throwing a jump ball to tight end Jermichael Finley in that situation, the Packers were forced to use guys like Quarless and Johnson in the red zone.

The Packers spread out the defense with 5 wide receivers (if you count Quarless as a wide receiver in the slot) on 2nd and goal from the Falcons' 2-yard line. Rodgers tried to sneak it up the middle but was stuffed at the Falcons' 1-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the Falcons' 1-yard line Rodgers tried to sneak it again but fumbled the ball.

If the fumble was not bad enough, the ball somehow ended up into the end zone where the Falcons recovered the ball for a touchback. Oddly enough that was Rodgers' first fumble of the season, which could not have come at a worse time. Fox focused their cameras on McCarthy after the fumble. The only thing McCarthy said was "wow" in a nonchalant manner. That’s it McCarthy? Thanks for the fire and emotion, way to keep the team fired up.

I know this sounds dumb, but in a weird way the Packers have a better shot at scoring a touchdown if they are facing a first and goal from the 10-yard line as opposed to the 2-yard line. I know this seems counter intuitive but the playbook shrinks at the 1-yard line because the Packers cannot pick up a yard or two on the ground to save their life. The Packers have better personnel at wide receiver/tight end as opposed to running back/full back. Furthermore, the Packers have a ton of plays that work from longer distances and very few that work in short yardage situations. As a result, the short yardage situations have been the Achilles heel of the Packers the last few years.

Sorry for that mini jag, following the Rodgers fumble the Falcons took over at their own 20-yard line. The Falcons moved the ball well; mixing in some runs and passes to get the ball into Packers’ territory with a little less than 5 minutes remaining in the half.

After a nice sack by Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins and an incomplete pass, the Falcons faced a 3rd and 19 from their own 48-yard line. In what looked like a dump off for only a few yards, Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli eluded both cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah to set-up a 4th and 3 at the Packers' 36-yard line.

Instead of kicking a field goal, Falcons head coach Mike Smith decided to go for it. Matt Ryan surveyed the field and found all world tight end Tony Gonzalez for an apparent first down. McCarthy had 30 seconds to review the "catch" but decided to let the play stand. Why not challenge the play McCarthy? After the game McCarthy said that he did not have enough information at the time. Really? I have more information at home on my couch watching the game on television than you do as the head coach of the team I am watching? If that is the case then the NFL needs to make some changes because I should not have more information with a beer in my hand than the head coach. Just to beat the dead horse, McCarthy should have at least thrown the challenge flag based on how big of a conversion that was at that point in the game. Even if McCarthy lost the challenge, he still would have had one for the rest of the game.

Following the boneheaded non-challenge by McCarthy, the Falcons ran for a short gain to get to the two-minute warning with the game tied 3-3. Coming out of the two-minute warning the Falcons went back to Gonzalez for a big gain to set-up a 1st and goal from the 5-yard line.

Following two short runs, the Falcons faced a 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line coming out of a timeout with 12 second remaining in the half. The Falcons obviously threw, and guess who caught the ball? Yeah, Gonzalez was wide open for an easy touchdown. That catch allowed Gonzalez to pass Jimmy Smith and move into 15th place on the NFL's career receiving list. I am not a defensive genius like Dom Capers but I think you put at least one guy on the best tight end to ever play in the NFL. Much like Bubba Franks back in the day for the Packers, whenever the Falcons are in a goal line situation there should always be at least one defender on Gonzalez. Last year Charles Woodson shadowed tight end Jason Witten in the red zone and was a big reason why the Packers beat the Cowboys. Why not do the same thing against the Flacons?

Much like I did last week in my recap of the Packers/Vikings game in the Humpty Dumpty Dome, let's play the "what if" game for second. What if the Packers scored a touchdown instead of fumbling the ball? The Packers would be up 10-3 and worst-case scenario they are tied 10-10 at halftime. Even better, let the fumble stand but what if McCarthy challenges the Gonzalez "catch" on 4th down? The Packers get the ball back tied 3-3 and most likely come away with some points. If not, the Packers bleed the clock and go into the half tied 3-3. Instead the Packers trailed 10-3 at half against possibly the best team in the NFC. Add in that Atlanta is a superb home team and you can see why the Packers cannot afford the aforementioned errors (Rodgers’ fumble and McCarthy’s failure to challenge) if they expect to win games.

The half time stats look like this according to Fox:
- Packers: 4 possessions, 28 rushing yards, 2 plays over 20-yards, and 13:07 time of possession.
- Falcons: 4 possessions, 57 rushing yards, 1 play over 20-yards, and 16:53 time of possession.

Why flash the rushing stats Fox? You know this is the match up of possibly the two best young quarterbacks in the NFL right? Again I am not a television executive but I think you want to highlight Aaron Rodgers v. Matt Ryan, not Brandon Jackson v. Michael Turner.

Shields opened the second half with a decent return. The Packers used the empty backfield to start the second half. Instead of sticking with what works, McCarthy tried to run on second and short but Jackson lost five yards. On 3rd down the Packers failed to pick up enough yards for the first down and were forced to punt. Let's second-guess the play calling a little bit while we are here. 2nd and 2 turned into 3rd and 7 because McCarthy called a run. Can we officially give up on the run or do you need more evidence?

When the Falcons got the ball back the Packers gave up a long run on first down. After picking up a first down, the Falcons failed to move the ball and were forced to punt.

Following a Tramon Williams fair catch, the Packers started their next offensive drive in the 5 wide receiver set and picked up 9 yards. On second down the Packers ran the ball for no gain. Why do you continue to call running plays that result in a loss of yards? McCarthy, when your team is good at throwing the ball and you are playing in a dome…just throw the ball. On 3rd and 1 McCarthy calls a flea-flicker that goes for a big gain to wide receiver Greg Jennings. That might be the first play call that I have agreed with in a while.

Following the big gain the Packers spread out the defense and Rodgers picked up yards with his feet. As Rodgers went to the ground he took a pretty big hit. Probably a legal hit but I don't get why a quarterbacks slide if they are going to get hit anyways. Don’t get me wrong, the NFL treats quarterbacks like porcelain dolls on every play besides when the quarterback slides. That is part of the reason why the defenseless quarterback rule still remains a mystery to me.

Following a bad pass by Rodgers, the Packers faced a 3rd and 1 at the Falcons' 29-yard line. The Packers lined up in the I-Formation with 2 tight ends and 1 wide receiver. That is a formation that looks like an obvious running formation considering the personnel, especially when you factor in the down and distance. Instead, the Packers went deep and Rodgers completed a perfect pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. As the last play shows, the Packers are 100 times better throwing the ball than running the ball...way to have a pair on that play call McCarthy.

The Packers capped off the drive with an empty backfield for a designed quarterback sneak. Again great play-call McCarthy. I give McCarthy credit for learning from his mistakes in the first half. Following the extra point, the game is tied at 10-10.

When the Falcons got the ball back they were penalized for a false start. The Falcons followed that play call with an inside hand off, seemed like a wasted play call ala former Packer head coach Mike Sherman to me. The Falcons picked up a few yards the next play on what looked like a blatant hold on outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers followed that up by burning a timeout for having too many men on the field. Wasting a timeout there is inexcusable...two steps forward and two steps back for McCarthy.

On 3rd and 9 the Falcons picked up the first down with Jason Snelling taking a dump off and beating three Packer linebackers for a first down. Following a short run by Turner, the Falcons picked up a few yards to set-up a 3rd and 6 at their own 35-yard line. The Falcons picked up the first down on an easy pass and catch between Ryan and White.

On the next play the Falcons ran a play action tight end dump off. The Packers sold out on the run and left Gonzalez wide open. The Packers got greedy on that play because if they stayed in their lanes, Gonzalez would have been covered. On the following play the Falcons shoved the ball down the Packers throat for a big gain on the ground. Turner is hard to tackle but the Packers have to do a better job than that at tackling.

A few more positive runs netted the Falcons a 1st and goal from the Packers' 1-yard line. Despite having a formidable backfield the Packers did a nice job on 1st and 2nd down to keep the Falcons out of the end zone. On 3rd down the Falcons went to Gonzalez but he was ruled short of the end zone on the play. Smith challenged the play but the was confirmed by the replay. I am not too sure why Smith challenged the play, there was a visible bobble on the initial replay. On 4th and inches the Falcons went for it and walked into the end zone. That play shows the difference between the Packers and the Falcons. One team can pick up a yard in a pinch (Falcons) while the other (Packers) cannot pick up a yard to save their life. Sometimes it is the little things that determine whether a team is a playoff team or a Super Bowl champion, unfortunately the Packers really struggle in short yardage situations which might come back to haunt them this year.

Quick digression. For my money, Turner is exactly the type of running back the Packers need. Turner is hard to tackle and falls forward almost every time he touches the ball. When Turner was a free agent after the 2007 season the Packers were not yet completely sold on Ryan Grant. Ultimately the Packers caved amid the Favre drama and signed Grant to a lucrative four-year contract. A few months earlier the Packers could have had Michael Turner for much less than they paid Grant because the Falcons ultimately signed Turner to a six-year, $34.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. The Packers would rather have Turner than Grant at this point. With so many teams transitioning to a two running back scheme, it still boogles my mind that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't make a run (no pun intended) at Turner. Obviously with Grant hurt this year it seems easy to say, but a backfield of Turner and Grant for the last three years would have given the Packers possibility the best one-two punch at running back in the NFL.

On the kickoff return following the Falcons’ touchdown the Packers were flagged for 15-yard facemask personal foul. I guess I don't understand the facemask rule because kick returner Sam Shields should be able to stiff-arm a player right? That was a shaky call at best in my opinion. The only thing that makes sense is that Shields was going out of bounds so he did not need to stiff-arm the defender, but we are in fact still playing tackle football in the NFL not two-hand tag right?

Following the penalty the Packers came out in the 5 wide receiver set to pick up an easy first down followed by another nice run by Rodgers. The Packers got greedy and went 5 wide again looking to run another quarterback sneak but the Falcons sniffed it out and stopped it for no gain. In case you were wondering how bad the Packers are at running the ball, with 12 minutes left in the game Rodgers was the only Packer with positive rushing yards on the day.

The Packers ran a screen for Kuhn to net 9 yards, which set up a 3rd and 1. The Packers actually picked up a first down on the ground with Jackson to move the ball to mid-field. The Packers ran Jackson again for a few yards. Following a throw to Jennings, the Packers faced another 3rd and 1. Instead of going heavy the Packers spread out the Falcons and Rodgers took a shot down field that fell incomplete.

Instead of punting, McCarthy decided to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Falcons' 41-yard line. The Falcons blitzed, which forced Rodgers to unload it a little faster than he wanted. Rodgers missed wide receiver Donald Driver by inches, which forced a turnover on downs giving the Falcons the ball back up 17-10 with 9 minutes remaining.

I like that McCarthy took a chance on that play. I might have kept more blockers in to protect Rodgers on 4th down, but I have no problem with the Packers going for it in that situation.

The Falcons moved the ball a little bit when they got the ball back but the Packers defense stopped the Falcons, which gave the Packers offense the ball back down a touchdown with 6 minutes remaining. On first down the Packers ran the ball. That makes no sense to me, not only does it get the clock rolling but also running is not the Packers' strength.

Following the run, Rodgers hit Quarless on consecutive plays to move the Packers to their own 40-yard line. Following an 8-yard run by Jackson, Rodgers picked up the first down on a scramble to set up a 1st and 10 from the Falcons' 45-yard line. Rodgers lucked out not getting intercepted on the next play, but made up for it by hitting Jennings for another first down.

Rodgers dumped off the ball to Jackson for another nice gain. Rodgers found Jones in the back of the end zone on the next play but Jones was unable to get both his feet down in the end zone. Brian Billick talked about a rule change that the NFL recently made. Under the old rule, if a player was "forced out of bounds" without getting both feet down it could still be called a catch. I generally think the NFL is making rules more complicated, but this is one instance where the NFL simplified things. The rule now is that the player has to get both feet down in bounds or it is not a change.

On 3rd and 1 the ball was snapped before Rodgers expected the ball. Rodgers threw the ball incomplete setting up a 4th and 1 at the Falcons' 21-yard line. It looked like the Packers didn't get off the snap in time to beat the play clock but it turned out that the Falcons jumped off sides. Either way, Rodgers took full advantage of the free play and threw a shovel pass to Jones that got the Packers a 1st and goal from the Falcons' 3-yard line. On the next play Rodgers was stripped but luckily fell on the ball to get the game to the two-minute warning.

On 2nd and goal from the Falcons' 6-yard line Rodgers threw behind Jones to avoid a blitz. On 3rd down the Packers called a naked running back screen. That play call makes absolutely no sense to me. The Packers should run more screen, but not down by the goal line with the game on the line.

On 4th and goal from the Falcons' 6-yard line rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga got called for a false start. Former Baltimore Ravens head coach and current Fox commentator Brian Billick made the point I described above about how more room might actually be better for the Packers. On 4th and goal from the Falcons' 11-yard line Rodgers took the snap, bought time with his feet and uncorked an absolute laser to Nelson for a touchdown. Following the extra point the Packers tied the game up 17-17 with 56 seconds remaining in he game.

On the ensuing kickoff the Packers special teams basically gave the game away. Not only did they surrender a 40-yard return, but also a 15-yard facemask penalty by back-up linebacker Matt Wilhelm allowed the Falcons to take over at midfield with one timeout. Let me pile on a little more to the point I made above about special teams coach Shawn Slocum. I understand that there have been some injuries to players on special teams, but how do the Packers surrender such a big play on special teams with less than a minute left and Slocum still has a job?

On 1st down the Packers not only gave up a 9-yard catch to Roddy White, but they let White get out of bounds to stop the clock. On 2nd down the Falcons picked up the first down through the air but the clock continued to roll.

On the next play the Packers brought an all-out-blitz but still gave up an easy reception to the sidelines for a 4-yard gain. Again the Packers let the Falcons use the sideline to set-up a 3rd and 3 at the Packers' 32-yard line with 18 second remaining. The Falcons ran a roll out on 3rd down that almost resulted in a sack until Ryan threw it away.

McCarthy used his last timeout right before the field goal attempt. Why? The NFL is a copycat league so everyone does that. Okay fine but the bigger issue is that the Packers no longer had a way to stop the clock when they get the ball back. As we will see soon that doesn't matter for this game, but McCarthy should keep that in mind down the road because every second counts and those timeouts can always be used better than to “ice the kicker”.

On the actual field goal attempt following timeout, Bryant hit the ball perfectly to put the Falcons up 20-17. That left the Packers with 9 seconds to pull off a miracle. The ensuing kickoff wasted 7 seconds, leaving only 2 seconds on the clock for the Packers. On the final play of the game Jennings picked up a bunch of yards but his flip to Driver to keep the play alive went out of bounds. 68,204 were treated to a possible NFC Championship preview that saw the Falcons continue to assert their home field advantage. Ryan moved his home record to 19-1.

As a result the Packers fell 20-17. Somehow this goes as a loss for Rodgers. Yes Rodgers did fumble at the goal line, but that is because the Packers are horrible at picking up short yardage so they put their franchise quarterback in harms way on 3rd and 1. If the Packers running backs could do anything in short yardage situations, they wouldn’t need their franchise quarterback to sneak in those situations. Instead, the Packers could pound it in with an actual NFL running back. Unfortunately Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance are not starting caliber NFL running backs at this point.

For the day Rodgers was 26 for 34 for 344 yards and 1 touchdown for a 114.5 quarterback rating. Rodgers also picked up 51 yards on the ground and 1 touchdown (13th of his career and most in the NFL since 2008). As I have argued many times over, Rodgers’ game is suited for indoor games. Rodgers has averaged 288.7 yards passing over nine dome starts.

Ryan was 24 of 28 for 197 yards and 1 touchdown for a passer rating of 108. Ryan also notched his 12th fourth quarter comeback. I hate the Matty Ice nickname but 12 fourth quarter comebacks in less than three years is pretty impressive.

Coming into their match-up the Packers lead the all-time series 12-11. As we all know by now, the Falcons tied up the series and gave us a potential NFC Championship preview. The loss to Atlanta also marks the Packers 4th loss by three points this season…a disturbing trend that is going to have to change if the Packers want to make a legitimate playoff push. It also pushed Mike McCarthy’s record to 5-14 and Aaron Rodgers’ record to 2-12 in games decided by four points or fewer.

Green Bay Packer general manager Ted Thompson placed two more players on injured reserve, moving the season total up to lucky 13. Recently signed reserve tight end Spencer Havner was activated for the first time since rejoining the Packers. Havner aggravated his left hamstring against the Falcons, which will see him miss the rest of the 2010 season. Since Havner was placed on injured reserve, he only made one appearance for the Packers in 2010.

Back-up middle linebacker Brandon Chillar was lost for the season with a left shoulder injury. Chillar has played hurt for almost the entire season. With the emergence of Bishop the loss of Chillar is not that bad unless the Packers lose Bishop or Hawk before the end of 2010…knock on wood please because I might have just put the hex on them.

Robert Francois (LB) and Josh Gordy (CB) were signed to the active roster from the practice squad in place of Havner and Chillar. Gordy is a 5’11”, 185-pound rookie that has Sam Shields like speed. Gordy ran a 4.35 second 40-yard dash and looks like another raw cornerback that the Packers can use on special teams. Francois is making s repeat appearance on the active roster. Francois is a 6’2”, 255-pound linebacker that has been with the Packers at various points over the last two years. Much like Gordy, Fran├žois looks like a special teams player at best. Terrance Smith (WR) and Curtis Young (LB/DE) replaced Francois and Gordy on the practice squad. Not much to say about Smith or Young so let’s move on.

With all of the backup moves out of the way, let’s move on to the Tramon Williams extension. Williams’ extension has been covered a number of different places with Andrew Brandt at the National Football Post giving a great insiders perspective but that has never stopped me from adding my take. Williams got a much-deserved four-year, $33 million extension with $11 million in guarantees. The deal averages $8.25 million per year (14th among all NFL cornerbacks), which makes Williams the 4th highest paid Packers behind Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, and Greg Jennings. In a bit of an oddity, Williams signed the deal last week but was not announced until earlier this week. The Packers had to do something because Williams was playing on a one-year, $3.043 million tender (36th among NFL cornerbacks) that would have allowed him to become a free agent after the 2010 season. Here is an annual breakdown of the deal:
- 2010: $6 million signing bonus, $14.4 million base salary but only makes $5.1 million this year because the salary is pro-rated over 17 weeks ($11.1 million) = 11.1 million maximum
- 2011: $1 million base salary, $2.2 million roster bonus (due 30th day of the league year), $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $100,000 workout bonus = $3.6 million maximum
- 2012: $2.3 million base salary, $2.5 million roster bonus (due 15th day of the league year), $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $5.4 million maximum
- 2013: $5.9 million base salary, $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $6.5 million maximum
- 2014: $6.9 million base salary, $300,000 game day bonus ($18,750 for each game he is on the 45-man active roster), and $300,000 workout bonus = $7.5 million maximum

Finally Williams has a $250,000 escalator in his contract if he makes the Pro Bowl in 2011 through 2014, which I expect him to earn in 2011.

Was the extension worth it? Based on Williams’s performance in 2010 I would say so. Williams has not allowed a touchdown this year, amassed only 1 penalty, has 4 interceptions, and has defended 16 passes. As stated above, Williams will be the 14th highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Williams is on the cusp of becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL so only being the 14th highest paid cornerback in the NFL seems like a good deal.

When Williams’s extension expires, he will only be 31. Odds are, the Packers and Williams will renegotiate that deal even before that because there is not any guaranteed money in the last two years of the deal.

Williams probably could have gotten more money if he waited till after the season but Williams always wanted to stay in Green Bay (who can blame him) and has a chance to renegotiate starting in 2013 because he will no longer have any guarantees for 2013 and 2014.

My ratings for each move on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best possible score:
- Havner placed on IR: 3 (why did TT resign him?)
- Chillar placed on IR: 7 (let him get healthy for 2011)
- Gordy added to 53-man roster: 4 (should he play in front of Underwood?)
- Francois added to 53-man roster: 4 (don’t cover up the long snapper ever again)
- Smith added to the practice squad: 1 (no need for a 6th receiver)
- Young added to the practice squad: 3 (more combo DE/OLB are a good thing for 3-4 teams like the Packers)
- Williams Extension: 10 (pay the man his money…he earned it)