Thursday, October 31, 2013

Building The 25 - Advice for Doug Melvin heading into 2014

Expectations were high for the Milwaukee Brewers going into 2013 but the season ended up being the most trying season in the last decade.  The 65-game suspension of left fielder Ryan Braun, the face of the franchise, exacerbated an already hopeless season.  I have to admit that even before Braun's suspension, my interest in following the team on a daily basis waned.  I did my best to keep up but the product that Brewers general manager Doug Melvin put on the field was less than stellar despite having huge seasons from shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez.  All of that meant I couldn't wait for the 2013 World Series to finish so that we can look towards 2014.

The 2013 World Series pitted the Boston Red Sox against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Going into the 2013 World Series, each team won two World Series titles in the last nine years.  I know New England sports fans have become downright intolerable given that they've won a championship in each of the four major sports in the last decade but at least the Red Sox are not a divisional opponent like the Cardinals.  From a Cheesehead perspective, if the Cardinals would have won the 2013 World Series, it would have been their third World Series in eight years.  The Brewers have only made the playoffs twice over that time-frame without even coming close to winning a World Series so that meant I actually wanted to see the Red Sox win their third World Series title in the last decade.

Thankfully the Red Sox defeated the Cardinals in six games to win the 2013 World Series.  I am sure you will read glowing takes on the 2013 World Series but I was quite underwhelmed with the play on the field even though all the games besides the first and last of the series were close.  That may sound like sour grapes given what a nightmare last season was for the Brewers or it may be that my interest in baseball in general is decreasing.  Either way, the one thing I know for sure is that with the 2013 World Series in the books, we can finally look towards the 2014 season.

Here are five general rules for how Melvin should approach the off-season to build The 25 for 2014.  When Melvin starts making moves, I will review those decisions through the lenses of my five general rules.  Without further adu, here are my five general rules for Melvin.

#1) Do NOT hand out any long-term, expensive contracts this off-seasons.  Fan always clamor for general managers to sign the biggest free agents thinking that will be a long-term solution. Unfortunately in baseball, given that players are under team control for seven major league seasons, most free agents are already in decline when they are available for the other 29 MLB teams to sign.  Before the start of last season Brewers owner Mark Attanasio apparently went behind Melvin's back to sign former Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract that also cost the Brewers their first round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.  Although the Lohse signing will most likely not turn out as bad as the four-year, $42 million contract the Brewers gave former Cardinals starting pitcher Jeff Suppan, both show how much the Brewers have to overpay in the free agent market for starting pitchers on the decline.  Even when the Brewers proactively lock in players long-term like they did with Braun twice, having those guaranteed deals on the books are always a risk too.  The way MLB's revenue structure is so dependent on local revenue, small market teams like the Brewers can barely afford expensive, long-term deals.  When those deals go bad like they did in Suppan's case, it hampers the franchise for a number of seasons, which is why they are not worth the risk for the Brewers.

#2) Give young players every chance to start, within reason.  As mentioned above, there are varying reports on whether Attansio signed Lohse without consulting Melvin.  Even if that is not true, Attanasio clearly did not believe in the starting pitchers that Melvin assembled going into 2013.  In 2014 the Brewers need to see if Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta or Tyler Thornburg can finally give the Brewers a legitimate starting pitcher out of their farm system for the first time since Yovanni Gallardo.  In terms of positional players, the Brewers are high on outfielder Khris Davis, second baseman Scooter Gennett, and shortstop Jean Segura.  Of all the players just discussed, after just one season, Segura looks like a superstar in the making.  The Brewers need to approach Segura soon about an extension because he is about to price himself out of any kind of Evan Longoria-eque six-year, $17.5 million contract that contained three expensive club options at the end of the six-year deal ($7.5 million in 2014 with $3 million buyout, $11 million in 2015, and 11.5 million in 2016).  If that's the case, the Brewers might as well go year-to-yea with Segura knowing he will leave a free agent following the 2018 season.

#3) Hoard all cheap contracts.  The Brewers have a couple of great contracts with right fielder Norichika Aoki signed to a two-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2014 and catcher Jonathan Lucroy signed to five-year, $11 million through 2016 with a club option for 2017.  The Brewers picked up what turned out to be a little less than $2 million option (thanks to some performance bonuses) on Aoki for 2014.  That gives the Brewers a leadoff hitter and starting right fielder on the cheap.  Although the Brewers like Davis and Aoki is in his early 30's, they should approach Aoki about signing a two or three year contract extension that averages around $2 million a season since he will be a free agent after 2014.  In my previous general rule I said to give young players every chance to start so even if Davis is effective in the outfield in 2014, the Brewers could use Aoki as a 4th outfielder for the next couples seasons if they pay him $2 million or less a year.  Moving to Lucroy, the Brewers have him under control for a manageable number though at least 2016.  Even if injuries prevent Lucroy from catching through 2016, for how much they are paying him, they could move him to first base while having him serve as a backup catcher.

#4) Sign cheap, short-term deals to reload the bullpen. Almost every season Melvin remakes the bullpen with a combination of resurrecting careers of players that were left for dead like John Axford or signing somewhat cost-effective free agents like left-hander Tom Gorzelanny (two-years, $5.7 million).  Part of why Melvin has to remake the bullpen is that the lack of quality starting pitching taxes the bullpen so by the end of the season, the bullpen arms are maxed out.  I know it is fairly simplistic to say a bad starting rotation leads to a bad bullpen but it is true, which is why the Brewers need to see if they can actually build a starting rotation through their farm system to help them from burning out and rebuilding their bullpen on an annual basis.

#5) If you decide to ignore #1, at least sign players to front-end loaded deals. The Brewers signed third-baseman Aramis Ramirez to a three-year, $36 million contract.  As a part of that deal Ramirez earned $6 million in 2012, $10 million in 2013, and is scheduled to earn $16 million in 2014 with $6 million of his 2014 compensation deferred into the future.  Ramirez and the Brewers hold an expensive mutual option with a $4 million buyout for 2015.  Sadly, Ramirez doesn't have the worst contract on the books for next season since often injured second basemen Rickie Weeks is hopefully finishing the four-year, $38.5 million deal he signed in February of 2011.  Weeks earned $3.5 million in 2011, $10 million in 2012, $10 million in 2013, and is scheduled to earn $11 million in 2014.  There is an $11.5 million vesting option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout that the Brewers will make sure does not vest.  That means the Brewers will pay Ramirez and Weeks $5 million in 2015 to play elsewhere.  I understand the time value of money but that runs completely contrary to the value players as they age.  Although I still think baseball players will find a way to skirt MLB's testing and use performance enhancing drugs, long gone are the days of players in their mid-30's having "career" years.  The Brewers need to stop getting stuck on the back end of horrible contracts like they are right now with Ramirez and Weeks.  If those deals were front-end loaded, they could flip either of those guys to an American League team looking for a designated hitter in the midst of a playoff run for a pretty good minor league prospect.  Instead the Brewers are mostly stuck with both guys unless they eat almost the entire contract in a trade that nets them a low-level minor league prospect.

Make sure to check back as the off-season unfolds for my full thoughts on each move made by Attanasio and/or Melvin viewed through the prism of the five general rules provided above.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Building The 15 - How We Got Here

The 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks open the the season on the road tonight against the New York Knicks. There are just four players left on The 15 from the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks so I expect there to be some chemistry issues.  Despite the fact that I already looked at some of the moves Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond made earlier this off-season, I thought it made sense to take a total look at all the moves that netted the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks 11 new players on The 15.

It is well known by now that Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl would rather see the Bucks creep into the playoffs as an 8th seed and get swept by the Miami Heat again like they did last year than bottom out.  Almost every move this off-season by Hammond looked like another middling move that caused me to try to get #FearTheMediocreDeer trending as a hash tag on Twitter.

Whether you view the moves that Hammond made as an attempt to pacify Kohl's mandate to stay relevant instead of bottom out or middling moves that will help the Bucks long-term, I find a few of the moves sensible but most of them and others downright ridiculous.  Here are my rankings (worst to best) of every move made between the end of last season and the start of this season to cobble together The 15:

Hire Larry Drew as head coach: For some reason teams would rather give retread coaches another chance instead of rolling the dice on a young, hungry defensive minded coach.  I gave a number of suggestions for where the Bucks should go at head coach, unfortunately Hammond ignored my suggestions.

Signed Zaza Pachulia (C ) to a three-year, $15.6 million contract: The Bucks are paying Pachulia a ton of money despite the fact that they have a bunch of young talent in the front that needs to play in order to see if their potential translates into production.  Given how much the Bucks are paying Pachulia, if he sits on the bench then he is most expensive insurance policy in the NBA or will take away valuable minutes from one of the young front court players that should learn on the job this season.

Waived Gustavo Ayon (C): The Bucks could have had a decent, young backup center on the roster for $1.5 million.  Instead they Bucks waived Ayon before his contract was guaranteed for the season.  I know $1.5 million is a lot of money in the real world but that is a pittance in the NBA for a legitimate backup center.

Renounced the rights to Joel Przybilla (C): Waiving Ayon made even less sense with Przybilla no longer on The 15.  I know Pachulia is a much better player than Ayon or Przybilla but I would rather pay Ayon or Przybilla 20% of what they are paying Pachulia since Ayon or Przybilla are are about 80% as effective as Pachulia.

Traded Viacheslav Kravtsov (C) and Ish Smith (G) to the Phoenix Suns for Caron Butler (SF): Given that Butler is a starting small forward, the Bucks got a ton of talent in return for spare parts in this trade but it came at a cost since Butler is due $8 million this season on his expiring deal.  I hope the Bucks added Butler in hopes of flipping him to a contender at the trade deadline because the goal this season is to hand out playing time to younger players not guys pushing their mid-30's.

The 15
1. Ersan Ilyasova (PF)
2. Larry Sanders (C)
3. John Henson (PF/C)
4. Brandon Knight (PG)
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF)
6. Gary Neal (SG)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG)
8. Caron Butler (SF)
9. Nate Wolters (PG)
10. Khris Middleton (SF)
11. Luke Ridnour (PG)
12. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C)
14. Ekpe Udoh (PF)
15. Miroslav Raduljica (C)
Signed O.J. Mayo (G) to a three-year, $24 million contract: For those that are unable to read between the lines, I would much rather see the Bucks sign one-year deals instead of shelling out large, multi-year deals.  In this instance the Bucks took a calculated risk on a player in his mid-20's that could actually improve over the life of his contract.  I think the odds are slim (not a word used to describe May's current weight) that Mayo ever turns into a superstar but I would much rather the Bucks pay Mayo instead of their other shooting guards (Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick) from last season.

Traded Luc Mbah a Moute to the Sacramento Kings for two second round draft picks: I am an unabashed lover of The Prince for the mere fact that he is a defensive stopper that can guard almost anyone in the NBA very well.  Injuries have limited his effectiveness over the last few seasons but when healthy, The Prince is one of the better one-on-one defenders in the NBA.  Despite The Prince's limited offensive game, two-years for $9 million feels about right.  I get trying to cut costs but it is hard to reconcile the decision with how much the Bucks overpaid Mayo and Pachulia.

Renounced the rights to Marques Daniels (SG/SF): The Bucks decided to upgrade this spot by signing slightly more expensive players in place of Daniels but I would have just brought Daniels back on a one-year deal for the league minimum to save money.

Traded J.J. Redick (G) for two second round pick: I guess it is better to get something instead of nothing for Redick since he was going to leave as a free agent but when you factor in that the Bucks got two second round draft picks for Tobias Harris and Beno Udrih, the Redick for Harris and Udrih doesn't look very good.

Renounced the rights to Mike Dunleavy (SF): According to various reports, the Bucks wanted Dunleavy to return but he wanted to play for a winner so I can't blame him for signing with the Chicago Bulls.

Signed Miroslav Raduljica (C) to a veteran minimum contract: For how horribly the Bucks messed up the Pachulia instead of Ayon or Przybilla move, they saved themselves slightly with the Raduljica signing.  My expectations for Raduljica are low in terms of on-court production but like the contract and extra six fouls he brings to The 15.

Renounced the rights to Samuel Dalembert (C): The Bucks traded Jon Brockman, Jon Leuer, Shaun Livingston, and the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the Houston Rockets for Samuel Dalembert, the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a future second round pick, and cash considerations.  Let's not forget that Dalembert said he wouldn't mind playing for the Miami Heat during the playoffs.  Keep in mind Dalembert was a member of the Bucks as they were getting swept by the Heat when he made that comment.  The Bucks fined and suspended Dalembert a number of times throughout the season so this move was a no brainer.  Funny that the Heat thought so little of Dalembert that they rolled the the perpetually injured Greg Oden instead of signing Dalembert.

In a three team deal the Bucks traded the Oklahoma City Thunder the rights to Szymon Szewczyk (C) for Luke Ridnour (G) and a second round draft pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves: The Bucks facilitated a sign-and-trade between the Thunder and Timberwolves so they got a quality backup combo guard and a second round pick for their trouble.  I don't mind bringing Ridnour back into the fold, especially because he is the perfect mentor for the young Bucks back court since he is the older version of rookie Nate Wolters.

Signed Carlos Delfino (SG/SF) to a three-year, $9.75 million: Much like Hammond, I've always been a fan of Delfino's game.  When healthy, I would much rather pay $3 million for Delfino than $8 million for Mayo.  This move would have been even higher on the list but the Bucks are without Delfino's services through at least the first month of the season, if not longer, due to a foot injury

"Drafted" Nate Wolters (G) in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft: The Bucks actually drafted Ledo and then traded his rights along with a future second round pick for Wolters.  Originally I wished the Bucks just held onto Ricardo Ledo instead of trading for Wolters because it cost them a future second round pick despite the fact that they own roughly 500 second round picks in the next dozen drafts.  I can't kill the trade because as I discussed in the Ridnour trade, Wolters looks like a potential ten year veteran that could be the 7th or 8th guy on a championship team.  As long as Ledo doesn't turn out to be a complete stud, I am fine with the transaction.

Signed Gary Neal (G) to a two-year, $6.5 million contract: The only player on The 15 that played meaningful minutes in the playoffs last season was Neal, which is why I was shocked the Bucks were able to get Neal for such a reasonable price.  Neal's shot selection is questionable but that is also what makes him a potential instant offense guy off the bench.

Traded Brandon Jennings (PG) to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight (PG), Khris Middleton (SF), and Viacheslav Kravtsov (C): Some might like the versatility of Middelton's game but I have very low expectations for him so this trade will boil down to how Jennings and Knight pan out long-term.  Jennings is a shoot first point guard that did not want to be in Milwaukee so even though Knight has been underwhelming so far in the NBA, I look at this trade as getting something for nothing.  If Knight flames out at least the Bucks are not sullied with a high-volume shooter like Jennings.  The Bucks already exercised their option on Knight for next season.  I would much rather pay Knight $12 million than Jennings $24 million through 2015/16.

Named Scott Williams assistant coach: For how much I hated hiring Larry Drew as a retread head coach, I love adding Williams to Drew's staff.  Williams worked in the media at various spots for the Phoenix Suns and Bucks after retiring from the NBA.  Last season Williams was an assistant coach for the Idaho Stampede in the NBDL, which was his first real taste of professional coaching.  When Williams played for the Bucks he had a sweet baseline jumper that would be a great shot for Sanders to add to his offensive game. Sure guys like Jim Cleamons, Bob Bender, and Nick Van Exel are going to get more acclaim than Williams but he was my favorite Buck of all time besides Big Dog so yes, I am excited to see him on the coaching staff.

Signed Larry Sanders (C) to a four-year, $44 million contract extension: The last two off seasons the Bucks committed long-term to Ersan Ilyasova and Sanders.  If the Bucks could somehow morph Ilyasova's offensive game and with Sanders' defensive game into one player, they would have the perfect two-way NBA player.  The ceiling for Sanders is much higher than Ilyasova but the floor is also much lower for Sanders.  For how good Sanders is defensively, unfortunately he still struggles offensively and always seems to get in trouble off the court.  As long as Sanders can keep his off-the-court issues in check and improve offensively, the sky is the limit so I like the calculated risk of the contract extension.

Exercised contract option on John Henson (F): If they choose, the Bucks could have Henson under contract through the 2016/17 season on his rookie contract.  I never thought the Bucks would get Henson with the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft but luckily he fell into their lap.  Henson has not been a stud by any means so far in the NBA but looks like a front-court starter, which is a pretty nice haul with the 14th pick in a nine player draft.

Signed Jeff Teague (G) to a four-year, $32 million offer sheet: The Jennings/Knight trade never happens if the Atlanta Hawks declined to match the Bucks offer.  If you take salaries out the equation I like Teague slightly more than Knight although Teague has a lower ceiling than Knight.  When you factor in contracts, I favor Knight just a little more than Teague.

Renounced the rights to Monta Ellis (G): A high-volume shooter is the last thing the Bucks need.  Add in that Ellis was one of the worst three-point shooters in the entire NBA and I am happy to see the Ellis-era end in Milwaukee.  Sure trading for Ellis cost the Bucks center Andrew Bogut but given Bogut's injury history and their front-court depth, the Bucks are better off long-term without Bogut and Ellis.

Amnestied Drew Gooden (F), which wiped two-years and $13.4 million off the books: Kohl still owes Gooden the money, we luckily just don't have to watch Gooden languish on the bench any longer.  In what turned out to be another Dan Gadzurich-esque overpay with the mid-level exception, hopefully Gooden is the last incarnation of 

Drafted Giannis Antetokunbo (SF) with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft: Despite only playing in the second division in Greece, I love that the Bucks rolled the dice by taking The Greek Freak with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  Small market teams cannot attract free agents so taking flyers on potential studs like The Greek Freak is a no brainer in my book.  With The Prince in Sacramento, if I had to buy a Bucks jersey there is no question it would be The Green Freak's jersey.

I thought Hammond was trying to follow Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's model of amassing assets in hopes of making a bigger move down the road but there are two problems with that approach for a small market team like the Bucks.  One, there is always pressure to put a winner on the court to keep fans going to the games.  Two, no big-time free agent will ever sign in Milwaukee.  Unless the Bucks are perfectly healthy throughout the season, I could see them severely regressing this season.  That would not be the worst thing though because the Bucks need to bottom out and get a Top 3 pick this off-season to build a long-term winner.

Much like I do with The 53 for the Packers, I plan to do the same thing with The 15 for the Bucks.  I probably will not update the rankings on a weekly basis unless there is a sudden string of moves over a short period of time.  I want to see the Bucks play in-person before updating my rankings so look for updated rankings in late November or early December once I get to see the totally revamped roster in-person.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The 53 - Packers beat Vikings in last visit to The Humpty

The Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings met for the 31st and last time at The Humpty because for at least the next two years the Vikings are going to play at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, while they build a new stadium on the footprint of The Humpty.  Despite the fact that the Vikings sputtered to start the season, I still think the NFL made the right call to make the last Packers/Vikings game at The Humpty a Sunday Night Football game.  Given the late kickoff, it allowed plenty of time for fans to get ready for the game.

After going out for a bunch of drinks to celebrate Halloween following the Gophers' victory over the Cornhuskers, Nick and I watched Man City play Chelsea at Brit's Pub & Eating Establishment, a great futbol pub in Minneapolis.  Brit's Pub has the most impressive lawn bowling set-up on their rooftop I've ever seen at a bar, unfortunately it was closed for the year.  Also unfortunate was City's 2-1 loss to Chelsea due to a defensive gaffe that lead to a Fernando Torres goal in the 90th minute.

Following the match, Nick and I met up with Sug at the Aloft Minneapolis right by The Humpty.  After grabbing some drinks around the stadium and dominating Sug on the official Sunday Night Football bag set, we met up with Gaber.  Finally the Nordys met us to give us equal Packers and Vikings fan representation at our tailgate.  Despite not having a grill we had a million options for grilling our brats because of all the tailgating going on around the stadium.  Thanks to the Old Fashions provided by Gaber, we made the best of our time in the parking lot before heading into the game.

A rowdy crowd of 64,134 peopled turned out for the last installment of Packers/Vikings at The Humpty.  The inactives for the Packers against the Vikings were: Jermichael Finley (TE, spinal injury), Brad Jones (OLB, hamstring), James Jones (WR, knee), Clay Matthews (OLB, thumb), James Nixon (CB, healthy scratch), Nick Perry (OLB, foot), and Ryan Taylor (TE, knee).  Vikings rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff for an NFL record typing 109 yards to put the Vikings up 7-0.  Unfortunately for the Vikings that was really the high point of the game for them as the Packers won their 15th game against an NFC North team in their last 16 tries.  Their only loss came at The Humpty last year to close the 2012 regular season, which meant the teams met in the playoffs the following week.  Cheesehead Chick, Dre, Gaber, Nick, Sug, Tessa, and I saw the Packers beat the Vikings handily in that playoff game last season.

Back to the game at hand.  Despite giving up 31 points, the final scoreline of 44-31 was very misleading.  The Packers scored every time they touched the ball besides their last possession when they ran out the clock.  Plus the Vikings scored 14 of their points when the game was out of reach after the Packers lead 41-17 midway through the fourth quarter.  With a victory, the Packers finish with a record of 15-16 at The Humpty.  Here are my updated rankings along with my thoughts on certain players following the last installment of Packers/Vikings at The Humpty:

 The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2)
3. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 3)
4. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 4)
5. Josh Sitton (G, LR 6)
6. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 7)
7. Sam Shields (CB, LR 5)
8. T.J. Lang (G, LR 8)
9. James Jones (WR, LR 9)
10. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 10)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 11)
12. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 15)
13. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 12)
14. Jermichael Finley (TE, LR 13)
15. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 14)
16. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 22)
17. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 17)
18. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 21)
19. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 18)
20. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 16)
21. Don Barclay (T, LR 20)
22. Tim Masthay (P, LR 23)
23. Datone Jones (DL, LR 19)
24. Davon House (CB, LR 24)
25. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 26)
26. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 27)
27. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 25)
28. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 31)
29. Mason Crosby (K, LR 28)
30. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 29)
31. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 30)
32. James Starks (RB, LR 34)
33. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 32)
34. Brett Goode (LS, LR 33)
35. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 38)
36. Chris Banjo (S, LR 35)
37. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 36)
38. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 37)
39. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 39)
40. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 40)
41. John Kuhn (FB, LR 41)
42. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 42)
43. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 43)
44. Sam Barrington (LB, LR 44)
45. Seneca Wallace (QB, LR 45)
46. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 46)
47. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 47)
48. Myles White (WR, LR 50)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 51)
50. Chris Harper (WR, LR 48)
51. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 52)
52. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 49)
53. James Nixon (CB, LR 53) 
Physically Unable to Perform
1. Jerel Worthy (DE)
2. Derek Sherrod (T)
3. JC Tretter (T)
4. Sean Richardson (S)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Bryan Bulaga (T)
2. DuJuan Harris (RB)
3. Robert Francois (MLB)
4. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
5. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
6. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, FA)
#1) Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1): The Humpty has been a house of horrors for former Packer quarterback Brett Favre besides the two years he (gulp) actually played for the Vikings.  I know Favre broke quarterback Dan Marino's all-time touchdown record in The Humpty but the fake noise pumped in crowd noise always seemed to get to Favre.  The same cannot be said for Rodgers.  Although Rodgers is only 3-3 all-time in The Humpty, he usually puts up great stats.  Case and point, in Rodgers's last visit to The Humpty, he went 28 for 40 throwing for 365 yards and 4 touchdowns but the Packers still lost 37-34.  Besides putting up greats stats in The Humpty, another reason why Rodgers doesn't mind playing in there is that he gets to wear his favorite shoes, The Destroyers.  Former Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings had a number of disparaging comments about Rodgers (12 as he called him) and the Packers (apparently the organization brain washes people in Green Bay) after he signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings in the off-season.  Apparently Jennings was trying to make good with Rodgers because Rodgers said nothing as Jennings whispered a number of things into his ear as a part of one of the longest post-game embraces I've seen by opposing players in a long time.

#4) Jordy Nelson (WR, LW 4): With Cobb, Finley, and Jones missing time due to various injuries, Nelson has been the only constant pass catcher for the Packers this season.  Sunday against the Vikings was no different, Nelson had seven catches for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Packers got a nice performance from backup wide receivers Jarrett Boykin last week against the Browns but let's be honest, Nelson is really their only healthy stud pass catcher right now.

#6) B.J. Raji (DL, LR 7): Let me be the 10 millionth person to write a blurb about Raji being a good citizen for not complaining about his reduced playing time despite the fact that he is in a contract year.  In 2011 and 2012 the Packers kept Raji on the field for most downs, which wore him down each game and made him a lot less effective. Thankfully this season the Packers have more depth along the defensive line than they've had in the past so they can rotate their defensive lineman to keep everyone fresh.  The Packers defense limited running back Adrian Peterson to 13 carries for 60 yards and former Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings to 1 catch for 9 yards thanks in large part to their fresh defensive line wreaking havoc.

#16) Mike Daniels (DL, LR 22): The Packers used the first of their two compensatory fourth round draft picks in 2012 NFL Draft to select Daniels.  At the time I said Daniels was going to have to battle defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn for a roster spot.  Even if you combine Wynn's and Wilson's talent, they still would not provide the inside pass rush that Daniels gives the Packers in their sub-packages.  The two sacks by Daniels against the Vikings is evidence of how far he has come as a player in less than a year and a half to leapfrogged almost everyone in the defensive line rotation.

#18) Micah Hyde (CB, LR 21): The Packers finally got their first look in 2013 at cornerback Casey Hayward.  Going into the season you could make an argument that Hayward was the best cornerback on the roster or at least the cornerback with the highest upside on The 53.  Less than halfway into the season Hayward is nominally the 4th cornerback on the roster due to a lingering hamstring injury.  With Hayward out, Hyde has taken over the nickel cornerback role.  More importantly, Hyde has excelled as a punt returner.  Apparently the reason why Hyde fell to the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft was his lack of speed.  On Hyde's 93-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Vikings he looked like the fastest guy on the field so looks like the scouts were about Hyde's speed.  I know this is supposed to gauge "trade value" but given how much a nagging hamstring has limited Hayward so far this season, when you combine Hyde defensive and return capabilities, I honestly think Hyde has more value to the Packers in 2013 (and possibly beyond) than Hayward.

#32) James Starks RB, LR 34): The Packers put together their best performance on the ground of the season amassing 182 yards.  Running back Eddie Lacy gained 94 yards, quarterback Aaron Rodgers gained 31 yards, and last but certainly not least Starks gained 57 yards.  Sure Lacy was more impressive against the Vikings than Starks but I highlight Starks because if he can stay healthy the Packers will have a rich man's version of a two-headed running attack for the first time since Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens.

In what is now becoming an annual post-game tradition whenever we stay at an Aloft thanks to Sug, we hit the pool for a soak to kibitz about the win.  There really is nothing better than taking in an impressive Packer win followed by drinking beers and reminiscing about the game in the hot tub.  The only bummer of the post-game soak was my 6:50 am flight the following morning that necessitated a 5 am wake up call.  Luckily I was able to ride the train to the airport and make it through security just in time to make my flight.  Unfortunately because I cut it so close, I got a middle seat next to a guy with a Larry Craig-esque wide stance.  Thanks to Sug for locking down a hotel room and Gaber for bringing the drinks (Old Fashions and beers) and brats, which really made the day.  Despite a rough Monday, thanks to Minneapolis for a truly great sports weekend.  I hope we are all able to make it back next year for the first ever Packers/Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium.

I Went There - Gophers beat Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium

As an avid Cheesehead sports fan I try to cut people from the Land of 10,00 Lakes slack because although we are technically "border football rivals", the Packers and Badgers have dominated the Vikings and Gophers for the better part of the last decade.  Since this is the last season that the Vikings play their home games in The Humpty before they play for at least two years where the Gophers play while their new stadium is built where The Humpty currently stands.  As a result we decided to catch a game at both stadiums in the same weekend as a preview of coming attractions and a goodbye to The Humpty.

My buddy Nick and I took early flights out of Chicago to Minneapolis on Saturday morning.  After dropping our bags off at the hotel, luckily we still had enough time to tailgate before heading to see the Gophers take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium.  There are some great bars around the stadium and even though it was an 11 am kickoff, tons of people were out having drinks.  Thanks to Nick we had great seats in the first row of the upper deck in the end zone.  High comedy ensued right after we got to our seats when the singleton sitting next to us started rattling off the offensive stats he is putting up in NCAA 2014.  For the uninitiated, NCAA 2014 is a video game, which means we were in fact getting a recap of video game stats from a stranger.

Following the video game stats recap we made our way to the "beer area".  Normally you cannot drink at college football games but for some reason they sell beer at the stadium, which is a good thing for the most part.  Unfortunately they make it very inconvenient to actually buy the beer so instead of selling beer inside the stadium you have to essentially leave the stadium to buy beers.  Trust me, it is nice that you can drink at the game but making it so inconvenient forces you to buy as many beers as possible (two per ID). Instead of casually buying beers throughout the game, Nick and I made two trips to the beer area to get our allotment of two beers each.  I hope they made the beer area to sell more bear instead of trying to curb consumption because making the trek out to the beer area essentially forces you to get as many beers as possible.

There are a million reviews of the Gophers' impressive 34-23 win over the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1960.  Instead of giving a full game recap of the Gophers' snapping their 16-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers, I want to highlight one play from the game and a player from each team that stood out to me.

The play of the game actually happened midway through the second quarter.  The Gophers were down 10-7 and facing a 4th and 10 at the Cornhuskers 33-yard line.  Instead of trying a field goal or punting, the Gophers decided to go for it and quarterback Phillip Nelson hit Derrick Engel for a beautiful touchdown.  Luckily that play happened right in front of us so we had a great view of the play.  Nelson was only 7 of 15 throwing for 151 yards and 1 touchdown but his pass to Engel was perfect.  Although Nelson's pass to Engel was his only touchdown pass of the day, he did add two rushing touchdowns.  I say that was the play of the game because it gave the Gophers their first lead over the Cornhuskers since 1969.

I was very impressed by Gopher defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.  When we got to our seats Nick told me to keep an eye on Hageman and I came away quite impressed. At 6'6" and 311 pounds, Hageman looks like a dominant defensive tackle in the making.  ESPN's draft guru Mel Kiper has him as a late first round prospect.  On talent along I agree with Kiper, the only real knock on Hageman is that he turns 24 before he ever plays a snap in the NFL so I am not sure whether he is worth a first round pick when you factor in his age.

For how impressed I was with Hageman, I was equally unimpressive with Cornhusker quarterback Talyor Martinez.  I know Martinez was playing with a number of injuries but for the last few seasons I've thought his only chance to transition from playing on Saturdays to playing on Sundays in the NFL is to change positions. Martinez is only 6'1" tall so he is not tall enough to play tight end. Luckily Martinez runs a 4.5 40-yard dash so he is fast enough to turn into a quality slot wide receiver if he can work on his hands and route running ability.

After the game Nick and I went to Buffalo Wild Wings across from the stadium to hang with his parents and their friends.  There was tons of talk of the Gophers victory over the Cornhuskers being a program changer.  I wouldn't go that far, especially since their head coach Jerry Kill still is not healthy enough to attend games because of the seizures he suffers as a result of his bouts with epilepsy. For what its worth, the same guy that was rattling off his video game stats claims a buddy of his that works in the athletic department said they are trying to get Kill to take a buyout.  I chalk that up to unfounded speculation, interesting, but but still unfounded.

My college soccer coach Nick Gaudioso had the same condition that Kill does. Fortunately Gaudioso was able to manage his epilepsy so that he was still able to coach but keep in mind that Gaudioso was the head soccer coach at Carnegie Mellon University, a Division III soccer program, whereas Kill is the head coach of a Division I Big Ten football program.

As you can tell, I was very impressed by the Gophers in their win over the Cornhuskers.  More importantly I was even more impressed with TCF Bank Stadium besides the inconvenient beer situation.  As long as the Vikings install beer lines inside the stadium, I actually think going to a game at TCF Bank Stadium will be a better experience than going to a game at The Humpty.  Thanks to the Gophers for providing a nice prelude to Sunday Night Football for the Packers and the Vikings at The Humpty.  Check back later today for my thoughts on the Packers/Vikings game.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The 53 - Packers beat Browns at home

It is always great to see a game at Lambeau Field.  My last trip to Lambeau I saw the Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs in a fairly ho-hum game before the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers on the road to end their 2012 season. 

My first trip to Lambeau this season to see the Packers take on the Cleveland Browns with cousin Joe (pictured later), Fernando (orange hat to the right), and Uncle Patty (middle on the right) felt pretty similar to the Packers/Vikings playoff game.  Sure the crowd was into it but the game felt fairly ho-hum after the Packers scored two early touchdowns against the Browns.  I know I sound like a jerk calling any game at Lambeau Field ho-hum so let me clarify, I mean the game itself NOT the experience because trust me there is no better place to see a sporting event in North America than Lambeau Field.  Finely's horrific injury in the fourth quarter cast a pall over the rest of the game as the Packers went on to beat the Browns comfortably.

After losing outside linebacker Clay Matthews to a thumb injury against the Lions and wide receiver Randall Cobb to a broken leg against the Ravens, Finley's spinal cord injury means that for the 3rd consecutive week the Packers won but lost a huge contributor to The 53.  With all the injuries to The 53, the Packers could barely field a healthy active 46-man gameday roster.  The following seven guys were inactive against the Browns due to various aliments: Casey Hayward (CB, hamstring), Brad Jones (MLB, hamstring), James Jones (WR, knee), Clay Matthews (OLB, thumb), Nick Perry (OLB, foot), James Starks (RB, knee), and Ryan Taylor (TE, knee).  That means the Packers had no healthy scratches for the first time (I think) in the 2013 season.

Sorting through all the changes to The 53 that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made between their loss on the road to the Bengals to drop to 1-2 and their win over the Browns to improve their record to 4-2 is pretty complicated.  You will notice that I added some sections to the table below to help keep straight all the roster moves and injuries that have happened so far this season.  I will cover how Thompson added Chris Harper (WR), James Nixon (CB), Jake Stoneburner (TE), and Myles White (WR) to The 53 in their player descriptions below.  Here are my updated rankings and thoughts on certain players following the Packers/Browns game:

 The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2)
3. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 4)
4. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 7)
5. Sam Shields (CB, LR 8)
6. Josh Sitton (G, LR 11)
7. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 6)
8. T.J. Lang (G, LR 10)
9. James Jones (WR, LR 9)
10. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 12)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 13)
12. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 14)
13. Jermichael Finley (TE, LR 5)
14. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 15)
15. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 20)
16. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 16)
17. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 25)
18. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 17)
19. Datone Jones (DL, LR 18)
20. Don Barclay (T, LR 22)
21. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 23)
22. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 27)
23. Tim Masthay (P, LR 19)
24. Davon House (CB, LR 38)
25. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 24)
26. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 21)
27. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 46)
28. Mason Crosby (K, LR 31)
29. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 32)
30. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 35)
31. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 37)
32. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 26)
33. Brett Goode (LS, LR 34)
34. James Starks (RB, LR 28)
35. Chris Banjo (S, LR 40)
36. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 29)
37. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 33)
38. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 41)
39. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 43)
40. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 47)
41. John Kuhn (FB, LR 42)
42. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 30)
43. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 36)
44. Sam Barrington (LB, LR 48)
45. Seneca Wallace (QB, LR 45)
46. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 50)
47. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 49)
48. Chris Harper (WR)
49. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 51)
50. Myles White (WR)
51. Lane Taylor (G, LR 52)
52. Jake Stoneburner (TE)
53. James Nixon (CB) 
Physically Unable to Perform
1. Jerel Worthy (DE)
2. Derek Sherrod (T)
3. JC Tretter (T)
4. Sean Richardson (S)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Bryan Bulaga (T)
2. DuJuan Harris (RB)
3. Robert Francois (MLB)
4. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
5. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
6. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, FA)
13. Jermichael Finley (TE, LR 5): It feels crass to move Finley down to 13 from 5 after being carted off the field on a stretcher with a horrific spinal cord injury but there is a chance that was Finley's last game in the NFL so 13 might even been too high since The 53 is my look at the trade value of every member of The 53.  Let's not forget that Finley suffered a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals a few weeks ago.  Following that incident Finley's son said that he did not want him to play football anymore so I can only imagine his entire family's reaction to his most recent injury.

15. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 20): The Packers have a bruising running back for the first time since running back Ahman Green left town the first time.  I was fine with the Packers taking Lacy in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft so I thought they stole him in the second round.  Sure bruising running back's careers like Lacy's can be short because of their running style but seeing a punishing runner in Green Bay sure is a nice sight. I was bummed not to be able to get a Lacy kid's XL jersey at the game.  Normally I buy my jersey from the smaller Packer Pro Shop outside Mama Cheese's secretary's seats but they were not selling any Lacy jerseys there for some reason.  Now I have a few weeks to decide whether to go with Lacy or stick with wearing a t-shirt for the rest of this season.

17. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 25): As a native of Ohio, I think my cousin (pictured to the left in the top hat to the Lambeau Tuxedo) is obliged to like Hawk aka The Business H.J. because Hawk went to Ohio State.  With how well Hawk played the last few weeks, he is quickly trying to distance himself from the Business H.J. nickname.  My only question is why has this taken so long?  Usually players do not evolve in the 8th season in the NFL, all of a sudden Business H.J. has turned into at least Naughty H.J. and possibly more.  I guess better late than never.  Quick side note on the Browns, following the game my cousin Joe was convinced with a competent quarterback the Browns would have made it a game.  I don't deny that the Browns have a good defense but I am not sure that they are just a quarterback away from contending.  The one thing that I am sure of is that Brandon Weeden is not a good quarterback but I am not sure that is the only piece missing from their roster.  Oh and just to add insult to injury, Weeden is older than Rodgers despite the fact that this is his second season in the NFL (played five years of minor league baseball) while Rodgers is in his 9th year in the NFL.

31. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 37): With wide receiver James Jones most likely out at least one more week and wide receiver Randall Cobb out until at least mid-December, the Packers went from having arguably the most potent trio of wide receivers in the NFL to having Jordy Nelson and some unproven commodities.  As I've mentioned in the past, I have an off-the-field reason to like Boykin because he went to Virginia Tech where my sister-in-law is getting her Ph.D. After Boykin eclipsed 100 yards receiving and scored a touchdown, now I have an on-the-field reason to like him.  The next few weeks will be interesting to see if the Packers found another diamond in the rough in Boykin or if his performance against the Browns was just a one game aberration.

42. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 30): I gave McMillian the Defensive Trojan Boner of the Week Award against the Ravens and went so far as to say McMillian will be buried on the depth chart behind safety Chris Banjo.  Keep in mind that at one point in training camp Banjo was literally the 90th man signed to the roster and now he is on The 53 getting significant playing time.  Things have gotten so bad for McMillian that I could actually see the Packers activating safety Sean Richardson from the physically unable to perform list in place of McMillian as opposed to Banjo despite the fact that the Packers used a 4th round pick on McMillian in the 2012 NFL Draft and Banjo went undrafted in the same draft.

48. Chris Harper (WR): There was quite a string of moves to get Harper on The 53.  After the Seattle Seahawks picked Harper in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL they cut him before the start of the season.  The San Francisco 49ers claimed Harper off waivers but he never actually made 46-man gameday roster.  Meanwhile, the Packers signed running back Michael Hill to The 53 from the practice squad to fill the spot created by cutting wide receiver/kicker returner Jeremy Ross.  After being on The 53 the last two weeks, Thompson cut Hill because they needed a roster spot when they claimed Harper off waivers from the 49ers.  Although Harper didn't have a catch in against the Browns, look for him to serve a bigger role in the coming weeks as he actually learns the offense.

50. Myles White (WR): As I said in my advice for how to fill the open spot on The 53 after Thompson cut Jeremy Ross, if the Packers were going to add a wide receiver to The 53 I thought they should have signed wide receiver Tyronne Walker to The 53.  Apparently the Packers like White more than Walker though because although Walker is now on the practice squad, White is ahead of him on The 53 to fill the spot created by placing wide receiver Randall Cobb on injured reserve - designated for return after Cobb suffered a gruesome leg injury against the Ravens.  White has some big shoes to fill because the loss of Cobb is arguable the biggest loss to The 53 besides Rodgers and Matthews.

52. Jake Stoneburner (TE): After a lackluster end to his collegiate career at Ohio State due to some off the field issues, Stoneburner had a nice training camp to actually push for a roster spot on The 53.  The Packers kept Stoneburner on the practice squad and signed him to The 53 to fill the spot created by placing guard/center Greg Van Roten on injured reserve after he suffered a broken foot in practice.  Luckily Stoneburner has been around the team all season on the practice squad so look for him to play meaningful snaps following Finely's injury.

53. James Nixon (CB): After an up and down preseason the Packers decided to sign Nixon to the practice squad and promoted him to The 53 to fill the spot created by placing linebacker Robert Francois on injured reserve after Francois suffered a torn achilles tendon against the LionsThe Packers have so much depth on their roster at cornerback that I am shocked that Nixon is still on The 53 so look for his stay on The 53 to come to an end soon.

Check back next Monday because I am attending my second Packer game in a row, this time I get to see the last Packers/Vikings game in the Humpty with Gaber, Nick, and Sug.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The 53 - Packers beat Ravens on the road

I located what I think is the only sports bar in Santiago, Chile that shows NFL game(s).  I put the "s" in parenthesis because I was unable to get a straight answer from the bar whether they will in fact play all the games or just the "national game".  I say "national game" because when Cheesehead Chick and I tried to watch the Packers/Lions game at a bar in Rio de Janerio, Brazil we were only able to watch the the Colts/Seahawks games since ESPN only shows one non-SNF or MNF game a week instead of the full slate.  Instead of rolling the dice that I wouldn't even get to see the Packers/Ravens game, I made the smart decision to go on a winery tour of Conchay y Toro aka the MillerCoors of wineries in Chile with Cheesehead Chick.  I had the best of both worlds because I was able to get wifi at certain times to stay apprised of the game.

Inactives for the Packers against the Ravens were: Josh Boyd (DE, healthy scratch), Jarrett Bush (CB, hamstring), Casey Hayward (CB, hamstring), Brad Jones (MLB, hamstring), Clay Matthews (LB, thumb), James Starks (RB, knee), and Greg Van Roten (C/G, foot).

Going into the game Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was 10-0 against the NFC at home and the Ravens had not been beaten by an NFC team at home since 2006 (won 13 in a row) while Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was merely 7-8 against AFC teams on the road.  The Packers not only broke the aforementioned streaks but they are now 4-1 "all-time" against the Ravens.

A lackluster first half performance that saw the Packers leading the Ravens 6-0 was compounded by some very serious injuries.  Wide receivers Randall Cobb (knee) and James Jones (shin) both were injured in the first half and did not return to the game.  Cobb's injury occurred on what looked like like a borderline questionable tackle by rookie safety Matt Elam while Jones was hurt blocking on a run play.  Cobb's injury looked much worse and will most likely keep him out an extended period of time.  Besides the wide receiver injuries, outside linebacker Nick Perry played well with a sack that lead to a forced fumble but suffered a foot injury and the severity is unknown.

Although injuries will cloud the win for the second week in a row, the Packers had a number of positive individual performances against the Ravens.  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had what most quarterbacks would consider a very good game going 17 for 32 throwing for 315 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception that stat line almost looks average on paper given how well Rodgers has played the last few years.

The Packers got another impressive performance by rookie running back Eddie Lacy.  After rushing for 99 yards last week against the Lions, Lacy ran for 123 yards on 20 carries against the Ravens.  Rounding out the impressive offensive performances was wide receiver Jordy Nelson with four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.

The defense looked good against the Ravens despite missing two starting linebackers: outside linebacker Clay Matthews and middle linebacker Brad Jones.  The Business H.J. aka A.J. Hawk had 10 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and three sacks.  Yes, you read that last sentence correctly, Business H.J. had arguably his most productive game as a member of the Packers.  Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde was productive on defense as well with 7 tackles, 1 for a loss and 1 sack.

Moving to special teams.  Not only was Hyde impressive on defense but more importantly he averaged just under 14 yards a return on his five punt returns against the Ravens, which is helpful given that the Packers might be without Cobb for an extended period of time.  If Hyde can be an effective punter returner that will soften the blow of losing Cobb slightly.  Punter Tim Masthay boomed some punts but unfortunately with special teams maven Jarrett Bush out the coverage of those punts was lackluster.  Place kicker Mason Crosby made four of his five field goals attempts so he is no longer perfect on the season but still went a long way towards helping the Packers notch a much needed road victory over the Ravens.

Since the Packers won, I thought I would have some fun with highlighting some of the bonehead plays by various Packers from the game so I will hand out an offensive, defensive, and special team Trojan Boner of the Week Award.  The winner on offense is tight end Jermichael Finley.  After Finley picked up 52 yards on a third and three with less than two minutes in the game he went out of bounds to stop the clock.  Lacy ran out the clock so he bailed out Finley but those kind of mental mistakes are inexcusable from a player of Finley's caliber.

The winner on defense is safety Jerron McMillian for two consecutive plays.  First McMillian let wide receiver Tandon Doss break free for a 63 yard gain on 4th and 21.  The play had flashes of 4th and 26 against the Eagles in the playoffs from a decade ago as McMillian let Doss get behind him and slipped as he turned to chase Doss.  If that wasn't bad enough, McMillian gave up a touchdown catch to tight end Dallas Clark on the next play.  Given how bad McMillian has been in coverage, safety Chris Banjo will most likely be the primary backup safety ahead of McMillian going forward.

Finally the "winner" on special teams and a strong candidate for the Trojan Boner of the Year Award is fullback John Kuhn.  The Packers blocked a punt but it went across the line of scrimmage.  Kuhn unsuccessfully tried to the field the punt, which was then recovered by the Ravens for a fresh set of downs.  Kuhn has long been considered a special teams maven but last week Kuhn didn't see a single snap on offense so there is no room for special teams gaffes like that.

Sorry for the non-traditional posts the last two weeks but traveling around South America has severely hampered my ability to post my usual updated player rankings and comments following each game.  Don't worry, next week I am going to the Packers/Browns game at Lambeau Field so check back for my usual post with updated player rankings.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The 53 - Packers beat Lions for 23rd connsecutive time in Wisconsin

As I mentioned leading up to my fabulous trip to South America with Cheesehead Chick, posting is going to be spotty while I am out of the country but I still want to give quick recaps of games despite being out of the country.

I am not sure whether this is a badge of honor or a sad commentary on my devotion to the Green Bay Packers but their 22-9 victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in Week 6 of the 2013 NFL season on Sunday, October 6th is the first Packers games that I've missed watching on television (live or tape delay) or in-person since the Packers hosted the New Orleans Saints on October 9, 2005.

I know the exact date because I missed the game to travel all over Chicago to root on my girlfriend at the time and the future Cheesehead Chick as she ran the 2005 Chicago Marathon.  For those that don't remember, the Packers had a rough start to their 2005 season.  Heading into that game the Packers were 0-4 (en route to going 4-12 and head coach Mike Sherman getting fired) while the Saints were 2-2.

I walked into the now defunct Solstice on Halsted, don't be fooled by the new dessert bar with the same name, for a post-marathon celebration with future Cheesehead Chick, future In-Law-Cheese, and Company just as Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett was returning an interception 95 yards for a touchdown to seal a 52-3 victory for the Packers over the New Orleans Saints.  The week before the Packers lost starting running back Ahman Green to a season ending injury so Najeh Davenport started in place of Green.  Davenport had a memorable game in what turned out to be his only start and last game for the Packers amassing two touchdowns on the ground before breaking his ankle to guarantee that his most memorable contribution as a Packer was saying "Where's the evidence? Where's the manure?" in a press conference when asked about the allegations that he defecated in a women's laundry hamper.

I missed the Packers/Saints game because I wanted to support Cheesehead Chick given how much time and effort she put into training for the marathon.  If we are being completely honest, the other reason I went is that I didn't want future In-Law-Cheese to know the depth of my passion for the Packers before they got to know me better.  I would have never known then but a little less than seven years later Cheesehead Chick, In-Law-Cheese, Mama Cheese, Papa Cheese, and I went to a Packers/Saints game in Lambeau Field.

Fast forward to 2013, the Packers beat the Lions to notch their 23rd consecutive victory in Wisconsin over the Lions.  As it turns out I missed a game with a fairly forgettable score line, 6-3 at halftime and finished 22-9, but nevertheless a game that will go a long way towards shaping the season.  The Packers caught a huge break when the Lions decided to sit wide receiver Calvin Johnson due to a lingering knee issue because Johnson is always good for at least 100-yards receiving and a touchdown when he faces the Packers.

The inactives for the Packers were: Brandon Bostick (TE, healthy scratch), Josh Boyd (DE, healthy scratch), Casey Hayward (CB, hamstring), Nate Palmer (LB, healthy scratch), James Starks (RB, knee), Greg Van Roten (C/G, foot), and C.J. Wilson (DE, healthy scratch).  The Packers are going to be adding some names to that inactive list next week because they suffered a number of serious injuries at linebacker: lost backup middle linebacker Robert Francois for the season, starting outside linebacker Clay Matthews for at least a month with a broken thumb, and starting middle linebacker Brad Jones for at least a week with a hamstring injury.  The injuries and settling for field goals instead of touchdowns were the only real negatives for the Packers.

One the positive side of the equation safety Morgan Burnett played his first snaps of 2013 after playing every defensive snap in 2012.  Much maligned placekicker Mason Cosby went 5 for 5 on field goal attempts with three coming from over 40 yards with a long of 52 to not only tie a franchise record but stay a perfect 9 for 9 in 2013.  Rookie running back Eddie Lacy looked like a very rich man's Najeh Davenport rushing for 99 yards (3rd game in a row where the team ran for at least 135 yards, which is the first time that has happened in a decade)  Wide receiver Randall Cobb had over 100 yards from scrimmage and wide receiver James Jones had over 100 yards receiving thanks in large part to a career long 83-yard touchdown catch.  Finally outside linebackers not named Clay Matthews registered three sack (two for Nick Perry and one for Mike Neal).

With Johnson out, the Packers defense focused on containing running back Reggie Bush, which they accomplished since Bush only had 69 yards from scrimmage on 13 carries for 44 yards and four catches for 25 yards.

Even more embarrassing than losing 23 straight times to the Packers in Wisconsin was starting Lions center Dominic Raiola verbally abusing the University of Wisconsin band.  The details of Raiola's disgusting outburst were posted on Facebook and Twitter so look for a fine from the NFL and a hallow apology from Raiola.

Make sure to check back next week for a quick recap of the Packers/Ravens game.  The following week I am going to the Packers/Browns game at Lambeau Field so these posts will return to their usual format with updated player rankings in two weeks.