For the second straight season, the Packers defeated the Saints at Lambeau Field. Green Bay notched its second win of the season with a 28-27 victory over New Orleans.
Getting Up To Speed
Perhaps it was the sub-par Saints defense or maybe it was revenge from last week’s debacle in Seattle, but one way or another, the Packers offense finally found its groove on Sunday. Commanding the no-huddle offense with precision, quarterback Aaron Rodgers overcame injury and drops from his receivers to put together an excellent day, finishing with 319 yards on 31 completions, four touchdowns and an interception.
Rodgers’ performance was supported by a healthy rushing attack. Veteran Cedric Benson hit holes harder and turned corners faster than any Packers running back since Ahman Green roamed the backfield. Benson finished the day with only 84 yards on 18 carries but his two runs prior to the two-minute warning helped set up a spectacular James Jones catch on third-and-three to ensure the victory.
In the NFL momentum changes faster than Clay Matthews chases down a quarterback. And a single play late in the third quarter altered the course of the game for the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers had just left the game after getting whacked in the eye by Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. Following a facemask penalty on Jenkins, Packers backup Graham Harrell was pressed into his first NFL action. On his first snap, Harrell’s feet got tangled with lineman Jeff Saturday’s and Harrell fumbled the attempted handoff to Cedric Benson.
The Saints’ Malcolm Jenkins came away with the football and the Saints cashed in the turnover with an 80-yard touchdown strike to mark New Orleans’ first lead of the game.
Different Refs, Same Bad Calls
The Packers first defensive drive of the day ended much like the final drive of their last game. Although last week’s no-call of pass interference was much more blatant than this week’s, Saints receiver Marques Colston clearly pushed Packers safety Morgan Burnett to the ground before coming down with a Drew Brees touchdown pass. Regardless of who was wearing the black-and-white stripes, both touchdown calls overlooked blatant pass interference, but luckily for the Packers, the game didn’t end on a disastrous call this week.
The second half welcomed more poor officiating from head referee Jeff Triplette and his crew. The Packers defense would have forced a three-and-out to open the third quarter, but instead Triplette failed to overturn a Mike McCarthy-challenged catch after Saints tight end Jimmy Graham dropped the ball. Instead, the drive continued and culminated in only a field goal thanks to a goal line stand from the Packers defense.
Another key missed call came midway through the fourth quarter, when the referees ruled kick-returner Darren Sproles down-by-contact after Dezman Moses forced and recovered a Sproles fumble. Since McCarthy had already used both of his alloted challenges, the Packers had no means of rectifying the officials’ error and found themselves on the wrong side of yet another bad call.
Always the class act, McCarthy bit his tongue and used his post-game press conference to praise the pace of the game the officials maintained, which helped his offense find its rhythm. Who ever said nice guys finish last?
Safety M.D. Jennings’ rough week continued as he exited early with a shoulder injury. Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett also injured his shoulder but returned late in the game wearing a brace. Charles Woodson briefly left the game with an apparent shoulder injury but was able to return.
On the offensive side of the ball, wideout Greg Jennings re-injured his groin and was unable to return. Even without Jennings, however, Rodgers and the offense sustained its lofty trajectory and sealed the victory with a fourth-quarter rally.
A weaker team may have folded under the circumstances of the infamous Fail Mary and a series of poor calls from the referees this week, but credit Mike McCarthy’s team for fighting through and finding a way to come out victorious. Green Bay’s strength will once again be tested, however, as the Packers embark on a three-week road trip beginning in Indianapolis against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
There are two methods to stopping the run in the National Football League. First, a team can enjoy such a prolific offense that opposing teams are forced to abandon the run and move to the air attack in order to keep pace. The second, and more traditional, is possessing a stout defense that does not allow the opposition any room to breathe.
Last season’s Green Bay Packers took the former approach. The offense was so productive that even with a defense that ranked 29th against the run, the team still came out victorious on most occasions. And while most were not willing to admit it, the fact remained that the team’s shortcomings would eventually be uncovered. Last year’s playoff game against the Giants exposed the defense, and the offense could not compensate for the chink in the armor.
In order to address 2011’s shortcomings, the Packers added nine new defensive faces to the roster. Among the additions were eight rookies, so Dom Capers will have to be patient with expectations, but two games into this season, many of the young players have already been thrust into key roles.
Last week’s matchup against the Bears featured seven of the new defensive players seeing action, with rookie safety Jerron McMillian leading the way, playing 70% of the defensive snaps and recording his first career interception.
Defensive linemen Jerel Worthy (59% of defensive snaps) and Mike Daniels (24%) each contributed a sack apiece, and along with the rest of the defense, held Chicago to 94 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
Contrastingly, in week one, the Packers gave up 186 yards on the ground in a loss to San Francisco.
To oversimplify, when the Packers stop the run, they come away victorious.
With a number of factors deciding the result of a game, it may be foolish to completely reduce the outcome to whether or not the defense stops the run, but more often than not, it does become that straightforward.
In tonight’s match up against the Seahawks, stopping Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle rushing attack will be the difference. In the Seahawks two games this season, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards in a victory and was held to 85 in a loss.
To oversimplify things once again, if the Packers stop Marshawn Lynch, they win. Let him run wild, and the Packers suffer their second loss in three games.
With future contests against Adrian Peterson (twice), Arian Foster, and Maurice Jones-Drew, the Packers ability to stop the run will be tested throughout this season.
If the young players continue to grow, the defense could blossom into a formidable force. If not, the outcome of the 2012 season could play out a lot like the 2011 season – high expectations with an early playoff exit.
As noted earlier this week, it can be difficult to quantify the influence an individual coach has on a particular team. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, however, touched on the influence former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin made on him during their shared time in Green Bay.
Making his weekly radio appearance on ESPN Milwaukee, Rodgers talked about controlling his emotions on the field, and in doing so, praised Joe Philbin.
“I think I have (gotten better) and I give credit to Joe Philbin for that,” Rodgers told Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee. “I always appreciated that about Joe. It was always more than just the game to him; it was how you conduct yourself.
“You saw a lot of that on Hard Knocks (on HBO). He cares as much about the kind of man that you are than the kind of teammate that you are, and I’ve always appreciated that about him and enjoyed our conversations together, and enjoyed getting the chance to talk about ways to be a better professional.”
Aaron Rodgers’ emotions were in full view last week when he chided receiver James Jones after an interception in the fourth quarter of the team’s victory over the Chicago Bears. Rodgers has since apologized to Jones and praised the receiver for handling the situation so well.
While it is still difficult to determine the influence a coach has on a team, the reigning MVP’s words will have to stand on their own.
“Joe’s a great guy, an incredible coach and teacher.”
The 2012 season is a mere two games old but this year’s iteration of the Green Bay Packers offense lacks the stop-us-if-you-can mentality it possessed much of last season.
As expectations run high for a team that brings back almost every offensive player from a season ago, one possible cause for this year’s lack of luster is former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has taken his talents to South Beach and is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
A myriad of factors play into making an NFL offense function at a high level, but is it possible that Philbin’s absence is the reason the Packers offense has struggled so far this season?
Granted, the Packers have faced two quality defenses in San Francisco and Chicago, but regardless of the opponents, the Packers offense appears to be somehow different. Maybe it is confidence, maybe it is preparation, but for some reason, this unit is not the same.
With head coach Mike McCarthy routinely filling the role as game-day playcaller, outside observers were left to question Philbin’s influence on the offense. In charge of implementing the overall offensive scheme each year, game plans each week, and numerous other tasks, Philbin’s responsibilities with the team were not only enormous but also essential.
Communicating the whys and hows of the Packers offense to young players each year cannot be overstated. One of the major reasons Philbin was promoted to a head coaching job in the NFL was his ability to easily communicate complex ideas while maintaining a calm, likeable demeanor among players and colleagues.
Philbin’s successor in Green Bay, former quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, is undoubtedly an excellent coach, but has he had the same effect on the Packers offense that Philbin did?
Under Clements, the offense simply does not look the same. Receivers’ routes are not as crisp, players are not on the same page, and throws seem to be missing their mark. Add in Aaron Rodgers regressing to the behavior of publicly berating his receivers and signs point to something behind the scenes affecting this team.
Another result of Clements’ promotion to offensive coordinator is being a step removed from Rodgers. As quarterbacks coach, Clements attended the entirety of every quarterbacks meeting and lived and breathed every moment of Rodgers’ day on and off the field.
Under former tight ends coach, and new quarterbacks coach, Ben McAdoo, the reigning league MVP’s interception total is already a third of what it was all of last season. The picks and are not all necessarily Rodgers’ fault, but they are indicative of the offense’s general funk.
Against the Niners and Bears, the Packers offense managed to cobble together 14- and 17-points, respectively (both games included touchdowns not scored by the offense). For a team that averaged 35 points last season, including 42 and 30 in their first two contests, something is amiss.
Alternative explanations exist for the lack of production. The fatigue of playing two games in a five-day span, losing Scott Wells, your literal and figurative center, in free agency or the absence of Greg Jennings in the Chicago game are all possible reasons for a departure from last season’s dominance. But overall, the issue appears to be a general malaise across the entire offense, which would suggest a coaching issue rather than a player issue.
Even in its current rut, the Packers offense is still a formidable force. And in time, Clements’ offense should find its stride. Just as the many new faces on the Packers defense will take time to gel, so too will the Packers offense under its new coordinator.
Perhaps next Monday’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks is just what the Packers need to get the offense back on track.
Whether or not it is Joe Philbin or Tom Clements at the helm, however, this offense needs to find its rhythm, and a way to convert a third-and-1.
The Green Bay Packers dropped their season opener 30-22 to the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s usually a word that describes the reigning MVP, but on Sunday it was the opposing quarterback who displayed poise and efficiency. On the ground and through the air, Alex Smith and the 49ers offense moved up and down the field. Smith finished the day completing 20-of-26 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, there’s no question who the better signal caller is, but on this particular day, Alex Smith got the best of Aaron Rodgers.
Same As It Ever Was
The Packers defense looked a lot like it did most of last season. Despite being 200 regular-season games old, Charles Woodson’s still got it. Clay Matthews chipped in a couple sacks and regularly applied pressure. As a whole, the group came up with a few stops, but ultimately was unable to stop the run and play at a level befitting of a championship-caliber team. It’s easy to blame the miscommunications and mishaps on the number of new faces, and the growing pains of this young unit are going to be tough to endure as long as they last. The only thing that stood out as different from last season was the fact that the offense wasn’t there to bail them out.
Turnovers And Momentum
The lone turnover in Sunday’s game was Aaron Rodgers’ pick with just under 9:00 minutes to play in the game. Rodgers didn’t appear to see NaVorro Bowman slip back into coverage before the All Pro linebacker pulled down the interception. And on the very next play, 49ers running back Frank Gore rushed to his right, scampering 23-yards into the end zone. Normally, a costly interception would deflate a team and kill any chance of a comeback, but on this particular Sunday, circumstances proved to be different. The turnover actually woke up the Packers offense as Rodgers and company marched down the field with surgeon-like precision on the ensuing drive. Perhaps needing a kick in the pants, the turnover seemed to spark a momentum shift in favor of the team who committed the error. I’m sure QB1 was unhappy with the pick, but in some cases, mistakes can turn into badly needed wake-up calls.
A New Dimension
Opponents of the Green Bay Packers will have yet another weapon to fear in Mike McCarthy’s offense: wide receiver Randall Cobb. The second-year player out of Kentucky lined up all over the formation on Sunday to rack up a game-high 9 catches for 77 yards. Clearly, McCarthy plans to involve Cobb more into the offense this year, and if Sunday was any indication, the young man has a bright future in Green Bay. Add in his 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, and I think it’s safe to say he’s a playmaker. If Cobb continues to develop when given opportunities, one has to wonder if the Packers will consider letting Greg Jennings walk at season’s end. At the very least, Cobb’s play on Sunday gave the Packers a little leverage in Jennings’ contract negotiations.
Say what you want about the replacement referees, but the Packers were simply outplayed and outcoached. After the game, defensive lineman B.J. Raji told reporters that the defense wasn’t prepared for what the 49ers offense brought on Sunday. Ultimately, the 49ers were the better team, and the better team won. Looking at a short week of practice, attention immediately shifts to the Bears who come into Lambeau this Thursday to open up division play. As always, the border-rivalry should be a heck of a game.
MANKATO, Minn – After compiling only three victories last season, fans of the Minnesota Vikings enter the 2012 season with lowered expectations. The team, players and coaches appear to be comfortable in the underdog role, however, as training camp is running smoothly. With very little excitement, commotion or fuss, the team warmly welcomes the change in the atmosphere of this year’s camp.
The notable distinction between seasons past and this season is the absence of drama in Mankato, Minnesota. No Brett Favre. No Donovan McNabb. No expectations for the team (Well, almost none). The players are relaxed, the coaches are busy teaching the abundance of new players and there is almost a tranquil, peaceful nature to this year’s camp.
Whether or not they call it rebuilding, the Vikings are clearly in the midst of revamping their roster. Gone are grizzled veterans Steve Hutchinson, E.J. Henderson and Ryan Longwell and the youth movement is in full force with a duo of first-round draft choices – left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith – expected to perform immediately along with a handful of other draft picks and free agents expected to restock a talent-depleted roster. In fact, there are so many new players on this team that as I watched practice I had to continually scan the team roster to make sure I knew all of the players.
Regardless of how the rookies perform, the future of the Minnesota Vikings rests on the right arm of Christian Ponder. The second year quarterback out of Florida State is in the midst of his first full off-season and by all accounts is progressing nicely. If Ponder can stay healthy – which is a significant “if” – the Vikings offense will be able to compete in almost every game. If Ponder goes down, the team turns to the talented, but raw, Joe Webb. Webb, a versatile player, is a ridiculously talented athlete, but still has a long way to go towards becoming an NFL signal caller. In order to predict the success of the 2012 season, look no further than Christian Ponder. His success is the Vikings’ success; his failure is the Vikings’ failure.
A Clear Plan
Prior to this year, the Vikings power structure was complicated and convoluted. With no general manager, final decisions over personnel and roster moves were divided among three people. This off-season, however, Vikings ownership passed control over to Rick Spielman by promoting him from Vice President of Player Personnel to General Manager. For better or worse, this is now Rick Spielman’s team. His work ethic, attention to detail and, most importantly, his good favor with ownership should keep the team in his hands for the foreseeable future.
Another area that appears to have come into focus is the defense. Gone are the days of players receiving mixed messages from head coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac. Pagac has been demoted and the players will have a more focused plan under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who is working more directly with Frazier as the team implements its defensive schemes. For a unit that could not get on the same page all of last season, the singular message and philosophy on defense should lead to improvement. An infusion of young talent should also help.
The enigma that is Percy Harvin will be as fascinating as ever this season. After an unexpected trade request during the offseason, Harvin appears to be happy again. How long he remains at ease is unknown. Harvin’s 2012 base salary is $915,000 and in 2013, $1.55 million. That’s a bargain for the Vikings who will be watching Harvin’s health, production and attitude closely this season. If the talented wideout is able to perform on and off the field, expect the Vikings to extend him next summer. If any problems arise, the Vikings will face a dilemma, but I highly doubt Harvin reports to training camp next year without signing an extension.
Another compelling storyline will be the progression of Everson Griffen. The second year defensive end brims with talent, but the coaching staff is finding it difficult to find playing time for the former USC star. Stuck behind Pro Bowler Jared Allen and the reliable Brian Robison on the depth chart doesn’t leave much room for Griffen at defensive end, but his talent is undeniable. He continually shines during practices and the coaches have suggested a “hockey philosophy” towards rotating defensive linemen in order to get players like Griffen and D’Aundre Reed a chance to see the field. The coaches have even toyed with Griffen at linebacker, but his skills are best utilized on the line. One way or another, Griffen is simply too gifted to sit on the bench.
How do you measure success for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings? Will wins and losses tell the story or will the progress of the quarterback and rookies act as the measure? Following a dismal 3-13 record last season, any improvement would be welcome, but incremental improvement may not save the jobs of the coaching staff at season’s end. General manager Rick Spielman did not hire head coach Leslie Frazier, and anything less than seven or eight wins could result in pink slips for the entire coaching staff. From Frazier’s point of view, a win total doubling last year’s would be a step in the right direction. To turn around a young, rebuilding team that is not expected to compile many victories would be remarkable, but Frazier’s timing in the rebuilding process may set him up for failure. This is Rick Spielman’s team after all, and he may want to bring in his own guy to coach the team. Perhaps success will be difficult to measure for this year’s team, but the fans, coaches and players will welcome anything better than last year.
Brian Carriveau’s book, “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” chronicles the 2008 season of the Home Talent amateur baseball league in southern Wisconsin. In Carriveau’s first attempt at a full-length book, he combines exhaustive research with skillful storytelling as he weaves together the personal and professional lives of players, coaches and families involved in the Home Talent league. While documenting the play-by-play of key games throughout the season, the storyline zigzags across the state of Wisconsin to tell the tales, events and tragedies of the book’s characters. “It’s Just a Game” details how baseball is not only alive and well in Wisconsin but is inextricable from the lives of its small towns.
The backdrop for Carriveau’s narrative is the heavy flooding that devastated seven Midwestern states in 2008. Some of the hardest hit areas in Wisconsin were towns where the Home Talent teams resided. Showing their resolve, the people of the Midwest trudged on despite Mother Nature’s wrath. Carriveau relays the stories of people who came together to volunteer their time and effort to help salvage homes, towns and annual festivals that featured Home Talent baseball.
The volatility of the weather in 2008 mirrored the players’ own triumphs and catastrophes. “It’s Just a Game” provides readers with glimpses into the daily lives of small town America by narrating the lives of everyone involved in the 42 Home Talent league teams across southern Wisconsin.
The prevailing theme in “It’s Just a Game” is the notion that everyone seems to have a connection to the Home Talent league. As evidenced by Carriveau’s own father-in-law striking up a conversation at a Fourth of July game with an old baseball rival, which sparked the writing of the book, connections between the people of Wisconsin and the Home Talent league run deep. Throughout the manuscript, Carriveau chronicles the lives of brothers, fathers and cousins who play and coach alongside one another as each seeks the ultimate goal of a league championship.
Despite the rising popularity of football and basketball across the United States, Brian Carriveau’s book shows that baseball is still the centerpiece for many small towns in Wisconsin. And a big part of what makes the Home Talent league so great is that the players go out and play every Sunday for the right reasons. No one makes any money; they are motivated by the camaraderie and love of the game.
When I finished the book I realized the triumphs and tragedies of the 2008 season could have occurred just as easily during seasons past. In his book, Brian Carriveau captures the timelessness of Wisconsin’s amateur baseball by showing that the Home Talent league is played with the same integrity and on the same fields as it was 50 years ago. To put it in Carriveau’s own words, “It’s only the names that change in Home Talent, not the game.”