Sunday, November 30, 2014

The 15 - So Far, So Good

At the start of the season I was more bullish on the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks than most given that almost everyone outside of the organization viewed the Bucks as a lock for the lottery and most thought they would be one of the five worst teams in the NBA while I viewed them as a playoff team with an outside chance at the 5th or 6th seed.  With the Bucks currently 10-8 in the underwhelming Eastern Conference you would think I would be even more confident about my preseason pick but I am not quite ready to say I told you so given that most of their wins are over lackluster teams.  Of the 10 wins so far this season, their only impressive wins were at home over the Memphis Grizzlies and on the road over the Miami Heat.  There is no doubt that long-term the Bucks will only go as far as The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker take them but the more interesting thing is that some of the guys that I had low expectations for going into this season performed much better so far than I expected.  Here are my updated rankings to The 15:

5) Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 6): I've always been a fan of Ilysova's game, which is why I've affectionately referred to him as The Poor Man's Dirk but even in my wildest dreams I would not have predicted that Ilyasova would lead the team in PER at 18.6.  What makes that number even more impressive for Ilyasova is that he is an offense first stretch power forward that doesn't pass or rebound all that well so he can't even pad his PER with cheap rebounds or assists.  The reason that Ilyasova has such a high PER is that he is actually shooting over .500 (currently .503) from the field and .333 on three-pointers so far this season.  I am under no grand illusions that Ilyasova will turn into an All-Star but we are starting to see him thrive on the offensive end as his defensive liabilities are sufficiently covered up by all the other long/athletic guys on The 15.  Given how well Ilyasova played so far this season, it might make sense to sell high on him sooner rather than later.

The 15 2.0 for 2014-15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF, LR 2)
3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3)
4. John Henson (PF/C, LR 4)
5. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 6)
6. Larry Sanders (C, LR 5)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 11)
8. Jared Dudley (SG/SF, LR 9)
9. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 7)
10. Kendall Marshall (PG, LR 12)
11. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 8)
12. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG, LR 10)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF, LR 14)
15. Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15)
7) O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 11): The conventional wisdom is that when professional athletes are in the last year of their contract they have an incentive to preform to earn a contract extension but once they sign that extension their incentives can go out the window so they don't perform as well in the first season of their new deal.  Last off-season Mayo signed a three-year, $24 million contract and did just that.  The season got off to a brutal start for Mayo when he showed up out of shape and barely even played himself into shape by the end of the season.  I am not sure whether Mayo is preparing for his contract year next year but this season he not only showed up in shape but it looks like he worked on his game on both ends of the floor.  Suffice to say, Mayo's improvement is the biggest surprise on The 15 so far this season given that I would have traded Mayo for a bag of balls before the start of the season. Instead Mayo started a couple games recently and is currently 4th of the team in scoring, averaging 10.8 points per game.  Much like Ilyasova, I am torn on whether the Bucks should try to trade Mayo now to sell high on him.  Given all the back court depth on The 15, I would actually be more inclined to move Mayo than Ilyasova.

15) Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15): The Bucks are currently under the salary cap so they are NOT able to use the Disable Player Exception on Inglis even though he might not play for the Bucks this season.  I mention this because I've long taken issue with the fact that NBA does NOT employ a disabled list like they do in baseball.  Inglis is a great candidate since he is out with a broken foot until at least early 2015.  Although only 12 players can dress for each game, the Bucks were recently without Zaza Pachulia's services too, which meant the Bucks only had 12 healthy guys.  If anyone else got hurt that would leave the Bucks short.  I've long thought that NBA teams should be able to temporarily go above The 15 when they suffer a number of injuries, the question is when will the NBA actually do something about it?

Monday, December 15, 2014 is an important day on the NBA calendar because that is the first day that a player signed on or before Monday, September 15, 2014 can be traded.  It should actually officially be called NBA General Manger Buyer's Remorse Day.  We might even be able to get it sponsored by Christal or some other luxury good that NBA players blow money on once they sign a lucrative contract extension.  I will do my best to cobble together a couple realistic trades for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond for NBA General Manager Buyer's Remorse Day.  I presume that advice will be ignored but if Hammond does make any moves on or before then, make sure to check back in this space for full coverage.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Building The 53 - Tretter & Perillo In, Meredith In then Out, Sherrod & Dorsey Out

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is churning the bottom of The 53 due to injuries that backups suffered at offensive line, tight end, and wide receiver.  Sadly the most notable of the churn is offensive lineman Derek Sherrod who joins wide receiver Terrance Murphy as a bust*.  I put the * after bust because neither of them had a long injury history in college before a freak injury early in their NFL careers ended them essentially before they started.  All busts are NOT created equally though.  Juxtapose Murphy and Sherrod with defensive lineman Justin Harrell who had a long injury history before Thompson drafted him with the 16th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.  As a result, I will give Thompson a pass on Murphy and Sherrod but not on Harrell.

After spending just a couple weeks on The 53, Thompson placed wide receiver Kevin Dorsey on injured reserve.  Rookie Jared Abbrederis's season was over before it started after he tore his ACL in the preseason.  That means that the Packers have now put two wide receivers on injured reserve this season.  Hopefully both guys will push each other in the off-season to get healthy for 2015. Thompson drafted Abbrederis in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft while Thompson drafted Dorsey in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft so given that Thompson drafted Abbrederis higher and more recently than Dorsey, it looks like Abbrederis will be given a better chance to make The 53 in 2015.  In terms of their specific skill sets, they are similar players although Dorsey is slightly bigger than Abbrederis.  Despite the Wisconsin connection, I like Dorsey slightly more than Abbrederis given how many injuries Abbrederis suffered throughout his decorated collegiate career at Wisconsin and his brief professional career so I hate to put too much stock in such an injury prone guy.

Thompson does not often sign guys that played for other NFL teams but let's not forget that offensive lineman Jamon Meredith started his career in Green Bay before he spent time with the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Indianapolis Colts before he returned to the Packers.  I viewed adding Meredith to The 53 as a positive move mostly because he is more NFL ready than the backup offensive lineman on The 53 (Garth Gerhart, Lane Taylor, and J.C. Tretter) or anyone on the practice squad.  As it turns out, Meredith's stay on The 53 was one of the shortest in team history so Thompson did not share my view.

Thompson added tight end Justin Perillo from the practice since the Packers only had two healthy tight ends on The 53 in Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers given that Brandon Bostick is currently injured.  Some thought Perrillo deserved a spot on The 53 to start the season after how well he performed in the preseason.  I am not sure I would go that far but now Perrillo has a chance to prove me wrong.

Thompson activated offensive lineman JC Tretter from injured reserve designated for return.  Apparently the Packers view Tretter as a Don Barclay-esque backup given that he is reportedly getting reps at all five offensive line positions.  Given that Tretter has been hurt since Thompson drafted him in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, I would have him focus on one or two spots where the Packers currently have the least depth (either tackle position) instead of overwhelming him with limited reps at all five offensive line spots.

You can rationalize each move to The 53 in a vacuum but not when you look at The 53 as a whole since none of the moves to The 53 address the lack of bulk along the defensive line, which is problematic given that the defensive line is the biggest reason why the Packers allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL so far this season. Along the defensive line the Packers have leaned heavily, no pun intended, on Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion.  After that Josh Boyd and Datone Jones (when healthy) have been the 3rd and 4th options.  That leaves Mike Pennel and Luther Robinson bringing up the rear.  Both Pennel and Robinson are nice stories but they've yet to produce any real tangible results outside of Robinson's pressure that lead to a pick-six by Peppers.  This season the Packers have used more athletic, lean guys along the defensive line and it has lead to a porous rush defense.  That is a long way of saying that the Packers could use another run stuffing body in the middle so if Thompson is open to adding former Packers, how about bringing Johnny Jolly back?

Hopefully injuries do not force Thompson to make any more changes to The 53.  If Thompson is forced to make changes, check back for full coverage in this space.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Man City Report - Derby Win & Not Much Else

Following the second international break of the season, Man City had seven matches from mid-October through early November before their next international break: four EPL matches, two UEFA Champions League group stage matches, and one Capital One Cup match.

In the first of those seven matches, Man City picked up where they left off in the EPL with a 4-1 win at home over Tottenham thanks to four goals by striker Sergio Aguero.  Man City's Champions League struggles continued with a 2-2 tie on the road against CSKA in an empty stadium on a shaky late penalty for CSKA. The match was played in an empty stadium because of racist chants fans sang at previous matches.  Unfortunately Man City's struggles in the Champions League spilled over into their EPL form with a 2-1 road loss to West Ham.  Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse, October ended in horrid fashion as Man City crashed out of the Capital One Cup with a 2-0 loss at home to Newcastle.  Thankfully November started out better than October ended as Man City beat Man United 1-0 at home against a 10-man United side that deserved to lose the first Manchester Derby of the 2014-15 season.  Those positive vibes could NOT carry over to the Champions League as Man City lost 2-1 at home to CSKA to put their hopes of advancing to the knockout phase of the Champions League on life support as they finished the match with nine guys after midfielders Fernandinho and Yaya Toure were both given red cards.  Man City tied QPR 2-2 on the road in the EPL in their final match before the third international break of the season.

Following their most uneven set of matches in over a calendar year, here are my updated player rankings for Man City:

2014-15 Player Rankings 2.0
1. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2)
2. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 3)
3. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1) 
4. David Silva (M, LR 4) 
5. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 5)
6. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 7)
7. Samir Nasri (M, LR 6)

8. Joe Hart (GK, LR 9)
9. James Milner (M, LR 11) 
10. Jesus Navas (M, LR 10)
11. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 15)

12. Fernandinho (M, LR 8)
13. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 13) 
14. Fernando (M, LR 12)
15. Eliaquim Mangala (D, LR 14)
16. Gael Clichy (D, LR 16)
17. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 17)

18. Bacary Sagna (D, LR 19) 
19. Willy Caballero (GK, LR 18)
20. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 21) 
21. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 20)
22. Scott Sinclair (M, LR 22)

23. José Ángel Pozo (M, LR 23)
24. Sinan Bytyqi (M, LR 24)
25. Frank Lampard (M, LR 25)
26. Richard Wright (GK LR 26)
1) Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2): So far this season Aguero has 12 of Man City's 22 EPL goals and no one else scored more than two EPL goals
.  I am not sure what the NBA Jam equavalent of "on fire" is in soccer but whatever it is, that is what Aguero is right now.  In fact if Aguero fails to score in the EPL, Man City usually loses.  Take Man City's four EPL matches discussed above: 4-1 win over Tottenham (four Aguero goals), 2-1 lose to West Ham (zero Aguero goals), 1-0 win over Man United (one Aguero goal), and 2-2 tie with QPR (two Aguero goals).  I never thought I would love a Man City forward from Argentina more than Carlos Tevez but Aguero's flair for the dramatic goals throughout his Man City tenure (remember his 2011-12 EPL title clincher against QPR!?!?!) OFFICIALLY makes him my favorite Man City forward from Argentina of all time.

9) James Milner (M, LR 11): I've long hailed defender Pablo Zabaleta as the most versatile player on the roster despite the fact that he only plays right outside back for Man City because of how well he defends and seamlessly counters-attacks.  Milner's performances so far this season is giving Zabaleta a run for his money given that Milner lined up at every midfield position and even played right back in a pinch earlier this season.  Other than Milner's impressive work rate there is nothing else that stands out about his game as exceptional but that alone gets him well deserved appearances for Man City even though there are many more technically skilled passers and finishers that could line-up ahead of him in the midfield for Man City.  Milner's contract runs out at the end of the season.  I hope Man City are able to retain his services because if Milner leaves not only would it be on a free transfer but Man City would also be forced to spend roughly $25 to $30 million in the open market to get a versatile midfielder like Milner.

12) Fernandinho (M, LR 8): I found the Fernando signing over the 2014 Summer Transfer Window curious.  Sure that signing looked like a straight replacement for Javi Garcia but Fernando's presence made me worry about Fernandinho's spot in the team.  Fernandinho started the season slow following an emotionally and physically draining World Cup Cup in his home country of Brazil.  Thankfully Fernandinho looked more like himself as of late till he was sent off in the Champions League against CSKA.  Last season Fernandinho and Yaya Toure formed one of the most dynamic central midfield tandems in club history but that spark has just not been there this season.  Each guy deserves some blame for the tandem's collective dip in form.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the duo performs in the next couple months given all the fixtures in such a short period of time.  If the tandem struggles, look for Fernando to move ahead of Fernandinho.

21) Matija Nastasic (D, LR 20): Apparently Nastasic is NOT in Man City's long-term plans, which is a shocking fall from grace for Nastasic given that Man City paid Fiorentina roughly $20 million for his services in the 2012 Summer Transfer Window and they signed him to a five-year contract that runs through the 2016-17 EPL season.  Unless Nastasic is a locker room cancer, it makes no sense to me for Man City to give up on Nastasic given that he is still just 21 years old.  I know Nastasic has been perpetually injured during his Man City tenure and is currently 4th on the central defender depth chart behind Kompany, Demichelis, and Mangala but young defenders like Nastasic are hard to find.  In fact they are valued so much by clubs that Man City paid $50 million for Mangala's services this summer.  If healthy, I say give Nastasic some FA Cup starts.  Worst case, you pump up his transfer value.  Best case, you rediscover the central defender you thought your purchased a couple years ago to give Man City some much needed depth at central defender for the first time in a very long time.

Man City has a ton of matches from mid-November through mid-January so make sure to check back for my next Man City Report once Man City's fate in the group stage of the Champions League is decided in mid-December.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Packers & Head Coach Mike McCarthy Agree to Contract Extension

The Green Bay Packers extended head coach Mike McCarthy's contract through 2018 to mirror the same length that general manager Ted Thompson is under contract with the Packers.  There is no doubt that the Green Bay Packers have been a very competitive, fun team to watch during the McCarthy/Thompson tenure since 2006 given that they've made six playoff appearances in eight years.  This may seem overly simplistic but let's also not forget that the starting quarterbacks for McCarthy's tenure have been either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers.  When Rodgers wasn't under center for seven games last season, the Packers posted a 2-4-1 record with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn as their starting quarterbacks.

That gets to the heart of my biggest beef with extending McCarthy.  I honestly think McCarthy's success has more to do with Favre and Rodgers given that his "vaunted" quarterback school has produced very little fruit.  Just think, besides Rodgers, Flynn had one big game for the Packers and flamed out everywhere else he went in the NFL (Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, and Buffalo Bills).  Last time I checked B.J. Coleman, Graham Harrell, and Vince Young are not lighting up the NFL.  Sure the new NFL CBA restricts how much time McCarthy can spend with quarterbacks and when healthy, Rodgers clearly gets most of the in-season practice snaps under center.  With all due respect to the aforementioned Flynn and Scott Tolzien, I honestly can't name another quarterback that even looks like a serviceable backup at this point besides Rodgers that learned under McCarthy

While we are in full bash McCarthy mode, I also question how innovative McCarthy's offenses have been.  Other NFL offenses like the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks added interesting wrinkles to keep NFL defenses off-balance while the Packers continue to run a mostly conventional offense.  Sure consistency is good in the NFL but sometimes change is good.  Lately the Packers have lost some assistants (Joe Philbin) but by and large there has been very little turnover in McCarthy's tenure, which worries me because getting some new ideas within the organization is helpful in the NFL. The way I see it, the longer that McCarthy is in charge, the less likely he is to add someone that will rock the boat or come up with innovative ways to approach the game.

This is McCarthy's ninth season in Green Bay, which is tied for the 4th longest current tenure in the NFL if you do NOT count New Orleans Saints Sean Payton's suspension for the 2012 season.  That leaves just Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots since 2000, Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals since 2013, and Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants since 2004.

McCarthy is only the 14th head coach in franchise history and will most likely surpass legendary coach Vince Lombardi for the 2nd most wins as a Packer head coach by the end of the season.  McCarthy would need to coach into his 70's to surpass Curly Lambeau for most wins in franchise history given that Lambeau won 212 games over his 29 seasons in charge.  Take McCarthy passing Lombardi with a grain of salt though because the NFL regular season only had 12 (1959 and 1960 NFL seasons) or 14 (1961 through 1969, sans the 1968 NFL seasons) games during Lombardi's tenure while McCarthy has always had 16 regular season games.

My last beef with McCarthy is how he handles things on gameday.  McCarthy's inability to make in-game adjustments or even make simple decisions like when to challenge plays makes me wonder whether he is doing too much on gameday as a head coach that calls the offensive plays too.  McCarthy's challenge in the Packers/Jets game earlier this season is one of his many challenge gaffes on his resume.  For an example of McCarthy's inability to make in-game adjustments, think back to the Packers/Lions game from earlier this season.  The Packers struggled offensively in the first half.  Instead of making changes at halftime, the Packers looked no different in the second half.  I know sometimes the Packers will just have a stinker of a game start to finish but I had zero confidence that McCarthy would make any useful changes at halftime, which is hardly the kind of coach you want to lock-up long-term.

McCarthy is about to turn 51, which makes him a little more than 10 years younger than Thompson.  Now it looks like McCarthy and Thompson will work together through at least 2018.  These two are currently the longest tenured coach/general manager working for the Packers since 2006, unless you count Belichick as a two-headed coach/general manager.  Hopefully now that McCarthy has more job security he will shake some things up with his play calls (try some read option with Rodgers), in-game decisions (go for it on 4th down in short yardage situations and figure out when to challenge plays), off-season quarterback school (please produce something besides Rodgers), and his assistant coaches (might be time for defensive coordinator Dom Capers and/or special teams coach Shawn Slocum to go).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The 53 - Packers are 5-3 & Looking (Pretty) Good

It has been an interesting three game stretch for the 2014 Green Bay Packers since my last The 53 post.  The Packers won on the road over the Miami Dolphins thanks to a 4th quarter comeback engineered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and followed that up with a blowout win over the Carolina Panthers.  Everything was looking good for the Packers as they went on the road to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football before their bye week given the fact that the Saints were just 2-4 heading into the game while the Packers were 5-2.  The turning point of the game was when Rodgers pulled up gimpy with a hamstring injury.  Before that, the Packers and Saints traded offensive blows but with Rodgers hobbled, the Packers ended up losing by 21 points.  Unfortunately that sent the Packers into their bye on a sour note.

The bright side is that their bye week gives Rodgers time to let his hamstring heal.  Given that the 2014 NFL Trade Deadline came and went without any consequence, I thoughts I would drop the rankings of The 53 and just highlight a few players of note on The 53.  Without further adu, here are my thoughts on certain players on The 53 with half of the 2014 regular season in the books for the Packers:

Eddie Lacy (RB): Rodgers missed almost half the season last year in Lacy's impressive rookie season so it seemed like a healthy Rodgers and Lacy would give the Packers their best quarterback/running back combo since Brett Favre and Ahman Green. Oddly so far this season Lacy has been less effective in his second year in the NFL despite the fact that Rodgers has been healthy for the entire first half of the season.  Through eight games Lacy has just 428 rushing yards (17th in NFL) on 105 carries (tied for 29th in the NFL) for a 4.1 yard average.  Lacy only found the end zone on four carries (tied for 12th in the NFL), which is somewhat surprising given how much he can move the pile in short yardage situations.  Juxtapose that with last season when through eight games Lacy had 669 rushing yards on 158 carries for 4.2 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns.  There is no question that Lacy has earned every single one of those 428 yards this season thanks to his punishing running style and the fact that his longest run of the season is just 29 yards.  Although Lacy has not put up huge rushing stats this season, on the surface it looks like he has improved catching the ball out the backfield with 209 yards receiving on 21 catches (4th most on team) for a 10 yard average but take that total with a grain of salt because one of Lacy's receptions went for 69 yards and he has yet to catch a touchdown pass from Rodgers. Lacy's biggest improvement has been in pass blocking, which has limited the number of snaps given to backup running backs James Starks and DuJuan Harris as well as fullback John Kuhn since Lacy is no longer subbed out on third downs.  Starks has just 193 rushing yards on 44 carries for a 4.4 yard average.  I know the Packers want Lacy to be a three-down back but I would like to see Starks get some more touches.  Relax fantasy owners, I have Lacy on my fantasy team too but I like the Packers a million times more than my fantasy team, which is why I would like the Packers to keep Lacy fresh by giving Starks some more touches.  Plus, I actually think that is a good thing for Lacy and Starks given Lacy's punishing running style and how injury prone Starks has been in college and the NFL.  Starks is signed through 2015 and Lacy's rookie contracts runs through 2016.  Sharing carries might be the only way Lacy and Starks see another contract with the Packers.  If I were in charge, I would aim to get Lacy and Starks between 25 and 30 touches combined per game with Lacy getting 70% of the touches and Starks getting 30% of the touches.  For whatever reason the Packers have gotten away from using the screen for the last couples seasons.  Whether it is Lacy or Starks, I would make sure to add that back into the game plan for at least a couple plays each game.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S): I support all things Cheesehead sports related, which makes me a Wisconsin Badger fan but Lacy and Ha Ha are trying to retroactively turn me into an Alabama fan.  Sure that would make me look like a front runner since they've won three of the last five national championships but I can't underscore how important it is that the Packers got Lacy and Ha Ha in the last two draft.  Lacy and Ha Ha not only are two of the younger and more physical players on The 53 but they help fill specific positional needs of The 53 at just the right time.  There is no question when everyone is healthy that the Packers view Morgan Burnett as their best safety.  The real question is whether Ha Ha or Micah Hyde will cement their place next to Burnett.  So far Ha Ha has played more snaps (422) than Hyde (354) this season.   Ha Ha currently has the third most total tackles on the team with 43 while Hyde is nipping at his heels with 41 tackles.  The difference is on big plays since Ha Ha has a sack, a tackle for a loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery while Hyde's only impact play is a tackle for a loss.  Ha Ha wears 21, which is Charles Woodson's old number but Ha Ha actually reminds me more of a blend of Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.  I know that seems like a pretty lofty comparison given that Ha Ha is just a rookie but I say that because so far Ha Ha looks like a thumper (Bigby) that can create turnovers (Collins).  As a result, I see the floor for Ha Ha as a very rich man's Bigby and his ceiling as a healthy Collins.

Corey Linsley (C): Offensive lineman JC Tretter was nominally named the starter at center after general manager Ted Thompson let former starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith leave via free agency.  Tretter was injured before he could even play a single regular season down so the starting center job fell to Linsley, a guy Thompson drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Linsley has been a rock in the middle of the offensive line given that that he is the only offensive player to play every snap this season.  Its one thing to show up healthy every week, it is quite another to preform well every week too.  So far Linsley has graded out as one of the best centers in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus so even if Tretter can return healthy after the bye week, the Packers better stick with Linsley.  The center position has been a revolving door for Rodgers since he took over as the starting quarterback from Scott Wells to Jeff Saturday to EDS almost to Tretter and finally Linsley.  As crazy as it sounds, even though Linsley is just a rookie, he looks like the best of the bunch so absent injury it looks like the Packers have their starting center settled for the rest of Rodgers's tenure.

Davante Adams (WR): In two of the last three games Rodgers made a conscious effort to get Adams the ball, including targeting Adams in very important spots.  Remember Adams was the target when Rodgers pulled a Dan Marino-esque fake spike and throw in their last minute go-ahead drive on the road against the Dolphins.  Usually defense lineman and wide receivers struggle in their rookie seasons but Adams looks very comfortable lining up outside.  The Packers continue to use the same hurry up package with three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back.  At the start of the season Jarrett Boykin was the third wide receiver behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in that formation but Adams started to show more and more in practice to supplant Adams as the third option.  Adams has played 333 offensive snaps so far this season (66.7%) while Boyikn has only played 139 (27.9%).  Through eight games Adams has 263 receiving yards on 24 catches and two touchdowns.  Clearly Adams is becoming another one of Thompson's second round wide receiver gems to go along with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb.  In fact, besides outside linebacker Clay Matthews, no one is poised for more of a breakout in the second half of the season than Adams.

Davon House (CB): When every cornerback on The 53 is healthy the depth chart is Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, House, Casey Hayward, Jarrett Bush, & Demitri Goodson.  That doesn't even account for the fact that sometimes Micah Hyde lines up as a slot cornerback instead of as a safety.  That gives the Packers six, or seven if you count Hyde, viable NFL cornerbacks.  That makes it seem like the Packers are all set at cornerback but Williams, House, and Bush are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.  Just a few weeks ago it looked like House was going to break the bank at the end of the season given that he is the youngest of the three but Williams found the fountain of youth this season and Bush continues to be the captain of special teams so if House continues to play well I could see him pricing himself out of Green Bay because he is NOT worth what Shields got (four-years, $39 million) but will most likely command something close to that in a contract worth at least $6 million a year on the open market.  Quick side note on Bush, he played the most special teams snaps (169 or 77.5%) of anyone on The 53 this season. The only other non-kicker/punter that played more than 50% of the special teams snaps is safety Sean Richardson (153 plays or 70.2%).  If Richardson can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see if he leads to the end of Bush's tenure in Green Bay given that Richardson is five and a half years younger than Bush.  Back to House, if wants to be paid like a number one or number two cornerback then the Packers should place the franchise tag on him and see if they can get a second or third round pick for his services in a trade.  If House is willing to be paid like a number three cornerback (e.g. three or four million per year) then the Packers should lock House up long-term despite having the young trio of Hayward, Hyde, and Goodson behind him.

Sam Barrington (MLB): For all the talk of the two middle linebacker spots not being very important in the 3-4, the Packers are proof that you still need at least slightly above average play.  When healthy, which is essentially all the time since Hawk has only missed two games in his nine year NFL career, his spot on the field in the base 3-4 defense is secure mostly because he lines up the defense. I've been one of Hawk's harshest critics for his on-field performance but every time a Packer defender is asked about Hawk they say how important he is to the defense.  I've come to accept that Hawk will never produce highlight reel plays that you expect out a player drafted 5th overall but his steady hand is a plus for the defense even though he routinely gets beat by running backs out of the backfield on wheel routes and fails to get home whenever he blitzes.  With Hawk lining up the defense and thus occupying one of the two MLB spots in the 3-4, now the Packers need is a disruptive force that can make big plays at the other MLB spot.  So far this seems like a review of Hawk but that is all meant as a set-up to Barrington because he is the third guy that the Packers have tried next to Hawk this season.  So far Brad Jones played 111 snaps, Jamari Lattimore played 281 snaps, and Barrington played 94 snaps.  It looks like Jones is 4th on the depth chart at middle linebacker but it is hard to tell whether Barrington or Lattimore is #2 on the depth chart given that Barrington started the last two games next to Hawk but Lattimore served as the dime linebacker last week.  If Barrington struggles, unless the Packers make a radical position change, the only other option they have on The 53 is rookie Carl Bradford.  Before you get too excited about Bradford, keep in mind that he is moving from OLB to MLB so I would be shocked if he actually plays MLB this season.  Unless Barrington or Bradford show that they can be that disruptive force, the Packers need to rebuild the MLB position this off-season because if Jones plays another defensive snap for the Packers that will be too soon and Lattimore's star has faded lately.

The Packers have a couple important games coming up following their bye: home against the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles followed by a road game outside (you read that correctly) against the Minnesota Vikings that I will miss because of the birth of my first child.  Those are all a prelude to a potential Super Bowl XLIX preview when the Packers host the New England Patriots.