Tag Archives: 2012 Green Bay Packers

Border Battle: Fighting for the Playoffs

The intensity of the Packers-Vikings rivalry escalated to another level after Lord of the INT donned the purple.

Sunday will be the 103rd installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 53-48-1. The Packers have won seven of the last ten, including the last four games. The current four-game streak started with the revenge game against Brent Favre in his second season donning the purple.With both teams fighting for a playoff spot, this match-up is a critical game for both teams. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we’ll let the Vikes Rube fire the first shot:

Vikes Rube:

First shot? Better be careful, after watching that vaunted Packers secondary against the G-Men last week, giving us the first shot likely means six, even if it is the spaghetti-armed Ponder going deep to one of our hands-challenged wide receivers.

The G-Men exposed a Packers secondary that is ranked 22nd overall and is considerably worse without Clay Matthews wreaking havoc up front. Now, Matthews might be back, so that means the Packers might at least generate a pass rush. But, there are still concerns, on both sides of the ball. Jennings is practicing but no one knows how he will return from injury. Bulaga is still out and the plan to replace him does not appear to be working. And that means Jared Allen might be throwing more lassos than a rodeo.

This Vikings squad, while inconsistent, is pesky. In terms of shared opponents, the Vikings actually stack up pretty well with the Packers. Both teams went 4-3 against SF, CHI, JAC, SEA (yes, we both get Ls here), NFC North Killers IND, ARI, and DET.

Packers Roob:

Please. You’re touting your cheap-shot artist as this Clay Matthews type. I’m worried about guys that actually get to the QB, not guys that have gone three games without a sack and tallied a total of 10 tackles (well 11 if you count the cheap shot that should have gotten him suspended this week). He couldn’t sniff Quitler last week, and that’s against the Bears’ high school-like offensive line. And even if he does touch Rodgers this week, that’d be one less play that doesn’t go for six. Need I remind you of last year’s 45-7 drubbing at Lambeau? I’m sure you know that score marks the biggest landslide in the 102-game-series.

And frankly, I did not even know Minnesota was starting a QB these past few games. I just thought you were direct-snapping it to AP every play. In all seriousness, what the hell has gotten into the “franchise” QB?! Even with AP going gangbusters and having the defense do everything it can to stop him, Ponder still looks worse than Mark Sanchez out there. I mean, 58 and 63 yards passing in two separate games. TOTAL! And he has (had) Randall Cobb-lite to bail him out. Question, what’s 35.5 and 37.3 mean to you?

Vikes Rube:

I dunno.

Packers Roob:

Ponder’s QB rating those two games. I’m no Mike Mayock, but I’m thinking the Christian Ponder experiment has run its course.

Vikes Rube:

Almost clever. That said, I agree that after that putrid performance versus an overrated Bears squad, there is little to be excited about in Vikings country. Without Colorado’s newest citizen, Cheech Harvin, in the line-up, the Vikings offense is  about as creative as Justin Bieber’s entire discography. Sprinkle in the return of All Day’s issues with holding the rock and now is not the greatest time to be a Vikings fans. If ever there was a team in need of a slump-buster, it is the Minnesota Vikings. Enter the Packers. Now, I know what you are thinking Packers Roob…brats with kraut…check that…I know what you will eventually be thinking…enter the Packers? Yep, that is right. Enter the Packers.

Packers Roob:

You cannot be serious? Not even PA would make such a preposterous statement. The last thing the Vikes need right now is a road game against a pissed off Packers team. Embarrassed after getting de-flowered on Sunday Night, the Packers will be looking to take out their aggression on an alleged division threat. And the Vikes have 3 combined road victories over the past two seasons. Save yourself the misery, it’s going to get ugly. Like you ain’t got no alibi ugly.

Vikes Rube:

Alright, so slump buster might be a bit of hyperbole, but only in the same way that guaranteeing it is going to be a one-sided Packers blowout. As an allegedly bright football mind (and I am beginning to have some concerns), if you actually think either team in this rivalry could ever be considered a runaway favorite, you have lost your mind. Has the game at the Dome last year already been erased from your memory? When a Ponder-led squad, with a worse defense, was a dropped TD pass away from upsetting your beloved Pack? These games are rarely blowouts. So let’s abandon the runaway favorite foolishness right now.

The current Vikings squad is clearly far from perfect. With the Mayor of Denver limping, the Viking WRs have been downright pathetic. Poor routes and dropped balls have plagued this unit. Jerius Wright’s semi-decent performances have been the lone bright spot. And even that might be best described as a flicker. However, Cheech is practicing and looks like he might give it a go this week and even at 80%, he is still better than we are trotting out there.

Perhaps a larger concern for Vikings fans is the return of AP’s recent fumblitis. After 6 lost fumbles in 2009, AP had gone 2 ½ seasons without a lost fumble. Now he has 2 in the last 4 games. Hopefully this is a blip and not a trend.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Lastly, there is Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. After a solid performance against the Lions at home, we were treated to another lambastable performance against the Bears. Now, the Bears secondary is decent. Maybe not as good as Bears’ fans think they are, but they are decent. So there is a little room for forgiveness. But Ponder’s problem might be more than just about the quality of the defense he is facing. The guy who was supposed to be a mental giant, nailed the Wonderlic and was Mr. Joe Cool, looks frantic in the pocket. Does he still exhibit flashes? Sure. Hence Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. But Vikings fans will need him to be consistent if they are going to win on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

Ponder is THE reason the Vikes will struggle at Lambeau. The guy has not been simply inconsistent, he has been downright terrible the last several weeks. He’s lost all confidence and the WR’s, outside of Percy, have done little to help him. Further, the Packers have feasted on less-than-elite QBs. Even with last week’s debacle, the Packers are 9th in the league in the real defensive QB rating – which measures the QB’s total play, rather than just the QB’s passing efficiency – at 72.57. On the flip side, the Vikes’ real QB rating is 23rd in the league at 74.43. Stated more plainly, outside of Brees and Eli carving us up, the Packers have handled the non-elite QBs soundly. Consider the following QBs performances: Schaub (2 INT, 0 TD, and 56.6 passer rating (the commonly known passer rating)), Cutler (4 INT and 28.2 passer rating), and Stafford (2 INT, 1 TD, 54.0 passer rating). I just don’t see Ponder doing much damage against this defense. As a result, it’s going to take a Herculean-like effort from AP to keep this game close. Working in the Vikes’ favor is the fact that C.J. Wilson, a developing 3-4 end that was stout against the run, may be out for the season. You saw how Bradshaw exploited this. I’m not looking forward to seeing AP do the same. Still, AP alone hasn’t proven enough to date, and I don’t expect that to change.

And while we’re on the topic of defensive real QB rating, the Vikes are a paltry 25th in the league at 86.58. As you might expect, Packers are high up on the real QB ratings at 6th: 92.37. And this ranking dropped a few spots because of last week’s debacle. Point being, Rodgers is performing at an elite level.

My biggest concern is Rodgers’ protection. The injury that has hurt the Packers the most this season has been the loss of Bryan Bulaga. Lang, a developing guard, had to move outside and Dietrich-Smith stepped in at guard. Like you said, this has not been pretty. Both are significant downgrades from the original starting-5. The results have been rather ugly since then, culminating in last week’s 5-sacks and Rodgers running for his life on the plays he wasn’t sacked. But that’s the Giants defensive line, which is one of the best in the league. And breaking news – the Vikings defensive line is far from what it used to be. Allen can still dominate, but he’s been slowed these last few weeks as I have already pointed out. Kevin Williams is a shell of his former self – he only has 2 sacks. As a result, the Vikings defensive line won’t (knock on wood) dictate the game the way it needs to in order to slow the Packers.

Vikings Rube:

Wow, someone figured out how to navigate the world wide interweb. Impressive.

I am not going to continue beating a dead horse in regards to Ponder’s play. He needs to be consistent (read: limit the mistakes) or the Vikings lose on Sunday. I am a little surprised by the Packers’ alleged ownership of less-than-elite QBs considering the great Alex Smith diced up the entirely healthy Packers secondary in Week 1 and then NFC North-killer Andrew Luck did the same in Week 5. I am pretty certain Alex Smith made me my McMuffin this morning. And Luck, while a promising rookie, is still just a rookie. So let’s just back off the ravenous Packers defense against less-than-elite QBs bit.

11.5 sacks in 6 games. Clearly, Jared Allen is licking his chops to get after Rodgers again.

Instead, let’s focus on that offensive line you are right to be worried about. Losing Bulaga was a huge blow. Though, despite that, you think the Packers will get by because you continue to underestimate the Vikings defensive line. Yes, Kevin Williams does not get as many sacks as he did, but that is not really his job. His job is to try and occupy two interior linemen and keep help from sliding over to Allen and Robinson. He has done a good job of that. Allen may not be the force he was last year, but he is still solid. And he always brings his A-game against the Pack – 11.5 sacks in his last 6 games – only once was he shutout. The Vikings will get pressure with four guys, the question is whether that will matter. Unfortunately, seven guys in coverage might not be enough to stop Rodgers. Because at the end of it all, your green and gold foolishness aside, Rodgers is the difference in this rivalry.

Packer Roob:

It almost pains me to say this, but you are right. The biggest reason why the Packers are Super Bowl contenders and the Vikes will have a mid-round draft pick again is because of the Packers passing game (it also does not hurt the Vikes recent drafts have been less than stellar and haven’t shored up the secondary). Though Rodgers’s numbers are down and he has not been as sharp at times this season (he’s missed on a number of longer shots that he usually connects on), Rodgers is still putting up numbers that have him in the MVP-discussion. Yes, he won’t win it. But, he is part of the discussion.

John Abraham learned the hard way in the 2010 playoffs to what happens when you piss off Rodgers. Championship Belt mode!

Rodgers has thrown for 2,838 yards and owns a 28/7 TD-to-INT split. His QB rating is 105.6, good for second-best in his career. Most impressively, he’s done this without his top WR for most of the season, Jordy for 2 games, and a TE that taught Jerome Simpson how to catch. Still, in an alarming trend, Rodgers’ has not surpassed 250-yards in any of the last four games. And these have been against the likes of Jax and Detroit – secondaries that Danny O’Brien would be able to exploit! Nonetheless, it’s the Michael Jordan-esque inability to forget his critics and haters that makes Rodgers a threat to go into full-out Championship Belt mode – just ask Houston. Based on last week’s performance – remember he apologized for the way the team played – I expect Rodgers to be on point this week against a hapless secondary.

As far as our defense, it has the potential to be a championship-winning defense. The defense has suffered an exhaustive list of injuries at various points this season: Claymaker, Raji, Wilson, Worthy, Nick Perry, Bishop, D.J. Smith, Woodson, and Shields. But through these injuries, the Packers have been forced to break in younger talent that is starting to emerge. Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward is proving to be the SOD. He’s an absolute ball-hawk that has really lifted the defense’s play. McMillian and Jennings have had their fair share of growing pains, but have also learned from the same and continue to get better – evidenced by Jennings’ game-changing pick-six at Detroit. House has returned from injury and taken over the outside CB position due to his size and physicality. And Dezman Moses, an undrafted free agent, and Erik Walden have proven that they can supply pressure opposite Clay. So when the defense gets back Claymaker, Woodson, and Shields – three of its best/better playmakers – it has the potential to really take off and lead this team.

The Packers won the 2010 Super Bowl because of Rodgers’ unbelievable play and a dominant defense. This squad could shape up similarly when healthy.

Vikings Rube:

To delve into a discussion about the Packers’ secondary would be a fruitless endeavor. You are clearly so drunk on the Kool-Aid that you might even be over the limit in Wisco. Hayward is a good little player. But the rest of those mutts are just not good. McMillian, Jennings, and House looked like they needed a map last week. It looked like they thought they were in the wrong stadium. Now, that is not to say these guys will not be serviceable NFL players at some point, but classifying it as growing pains is an insult to Kirk Cameron fans everywhere.

If the Packers fate rests with Rodgers, the Vikings fate, especially sans Harvin, clearly rests with AP. Fresh off his 2011 knee surgery, AP has come back with a vengeance, leading the league in rushing with 1,254 yards and getting them at nearly 6 yards a pop. He has been a beast. And against the squad with the fifth worst run success rate, this could mean BIG things for AP.

Alright, enough is enough. Time for our predictions.

Vikings Rube:

Rodgers tries to do his thing, but is hog-tied  so often he has flashbacks to 2009. Ponder does just enough to allow a fumble-less AP to roll over the Packers run defense. The Kid Kicker puts it away.

Vikings 24 Packers 21

Packers Roob:

Wow. Just wow. You’re either on to something or on something. With my sanity clearly intact, I foresee the Packers starting their trek through the NFC North on a high-note. A game that will be close for a majority of the game due to AP’s dominance will eventually give way to the Rodgers’ show.

Packers 31 Vikings 17

One thing we both can agree upon: get your tickets to the game from Ticket King. A local company, you won’t find a better deal for the toughest tickets in town.
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The Missing Play-Action Threat

One of the most exciting plays in football is a well-executed play-action deep ball. Packers fans have been spoiled in recent years in watching Rodgers do exactly this. Despite the cannon arm, Rodgers has shown an unbelievable touch to drop one in over the shoulder as if he were handing it off to the receiver. It’s simply a thing of beauty.

His primary target on these plays since the 2010 Super Bowl has been Jordy Nelson. Not a true blazer, Nelson has enough speed to open-up-the-top on the defense. And when necessary, he can go up and get the ball in traffic. The latter was on full display on this ridiculously tough and clutch grab at NYG last season.

Together, they formed a hell of a pairing in 2011. On 96 targets, Nelson had 68 receptions (good for a 71% completion percentage), 1,263 yards, 15 TDs, and an average of 18.6 yards-per-reception. Fast forward to 2012. Nelson has 43 receptions on 63 targets (68%), 577 yards, 5 TDs, and 13.4 yards-per-reception. With 7 games remaining, the numbers are down. And the numbers mask his inconsistency – for example, he had 3 TD’s in one game.

What’s the cause of this drop-off between the two? The loss of Jennings isn’t the cause because Jordy played well last season without Jennings in the lineup. Cobb’s emergence has been huge for the offense, but he is more or less getting Jennings-type production.

The Packers’ inability to establish a play-action game has frustrated Jordy and the Packers offense.

The drop-off can be blamed, in part, on the Packers’ inability to establish a reliable play-action game this season. The Packers thrived on the play-action last year in spite of the fact they didn’t have a running game (here’s looking at you Ryan Grant). This year, though, defenses are playing deep coverage and not biting on the play-action. The result is ugly.

Through week 7, Rodgers was dead-last in the NFL in completion-percentage difference between non-play-action passes and play-action passes. On non-play-action passes, Rodgers completed 72.3% of his passes. Play-action passes were completed at a 55.3% clip. That’s a 17% difference. Amazing, isn’t it.

And those stats bear out what the naked eye can see. Think, when’s the last time you saw Jordy break free past the last defender on a play-action play? Frankly, it might be 2011.

The Packers force-fed the play-action deep ball at the beginning of the season to no success. Time and again, Rodgers would play-action, roll out, and even with ample time to find a receiver, no one could get open. Teams simply weren’t biting on the play-action. Defenses are begging the Packers to run. And in doing so, teams have taken away the play-action play from the Packers playbook.

Adjustments are the life of the NFL. MM has realized the offenses inability to establish a play-action game and not called them nearly as often. Thankfully, the offense has evolved without it. But there’s no doubt, the play-action game is a missing threat.

Binders Full of Injuries

There’s one word to define the 2012 Packers season so far: Injuries. At the bye, the Packers are 6-3, good enough for the fourth-best record in the NFC. Comfortably in playoff contention, the Packers have five remaining divisional games in which to defend its division title. Typically, such a position in the standings is reason for optimism. But with a slew of injuries, you can’t help but wonder whether the mounting injuries will prove too much – even for a team as deep and talented as the Packers.

Banged up, the Packers hoped to get through the Cardinals game with a victory in-hand and no more additions to the injury list. The former was accomplished. Not the latter.

Already without its veteran leader – Charles Woodson – the defense is set to lose Clay Matthews for “a couple weeks” because of an annual hamstring injury. On the offensive side, the Packers lose perhaps its best lineman in Bryan Bulaga to a hip injury that appears serious. And not to be outdone, Jordy Nelson, returning from a one-game absence, couldn’t make it through the first quarter without injuring his ankle. This appears to be the least worrisome out of the three new injuries.

Lose your hard-hitting MLB in the preseason? No worries. Next Man Up.

So let’s review. Here’s as full list of the Packers’ injuries this season (and forgive me if I’ve missed one or two – it’s a long list): Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Bryan Bulaga, Jerel Worthy, Nick Perry, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, and Sam Shields. And this does not include injuries that have limited players at some point this season: JerMichael Finley, Mike Neal, B.J. Raji, Davon House, and Jerron McMillian. Finally, we can’t forget players that started the year on the PUP list: Derek Sherrod, Frank Zombo, and Andrew Quarles.Removing the names from the discussion, consider this: the Packers are without their season-opening starter at RB, WR1, WR2, RT, DE/DT, OLB, OLB, MLB1, MLB2, S, and CB. Out of 22 potential starters, that’s 10 different starters and a third-stringer for the MLB position.

The Packers pride themselves on the “Next Man Up” mantra. And so far, this mantra has worked as even the loss of Charles Woodson was minimal due to the emergence of so many promising, young defensive backs. The loss of the top two WR’s has resulted in a career year for James Jones and the emergence of Randall Cobb. And even the loss of first-round pick Nick Perry went unnoticed because of Erik Walden’s play.

But, it’s the most recent set of injuries that may prove the breaking point for this team. Clay Matthews has almost single-handedly carried this defense to respectability. He leads the team in sacks and effort. He played almost every defensive snap and forced defenses to account for his whereabouts on every play. Without him, the defense loses its identity. And you can be sure it loses its hold on the top spot in the league for sacks.

Unlike other injured players, there is simply no way you can come close to replacing Matthews. And it’s not just replacing his stats. It’s a trickle-down affect that impacts the rest of the defenses play. Without offenses devoting game-plans to stop Matthews, that effort can focus on the likes of Raji, Walden, Worthy, etc. The pass rush will suffer. Without a strong pass rush, the pass defense reverts back to 2011 levels. It’s a scary proposition.

Similarly, Jordy’s loss leaves a once-deep position rather bare. Jones and Cobb, though dangerous, are not the same players when they are the ones lined up against the oppositions best CB’s. Particularly for Cobb, he needs protection from the likes of Jordy and Jennings out wide to create room for him to operate out of the slot. Without Jennings and Jordy, the offense has stumbled the past two games. Rodgers has struggled connecting with these two, demonstrated by a Christian Ponder-esque 47% completion percentage against Arizona.

Finally, Bulaga’s loss shines a light on the thinnest position on the roster: the offensive line. To replace him, the Packers will move LG T.J. Lang to RT and insert Evan Dietrich-Smith at guard. What’s left, due to Sherrod’s injury, are undrafted free agents Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten. The Packers can skate by with Dietrich-Smith and Lang. But one more injury – say to a long-in-the-tooth center – and, well, things could get ugly. Fast.

A pissed off Rodgers is nearly unstoppable.

Despite the negativity, all is not lost. The Packers are still 6-3 and still have #12. Remember, Rodgers thrives on haters and doubters. Even with a depleted roster, look to Rodgers to take this team over and will it to key victories. I have little doubt the Packers land a playoff berth. And when that happens, watch out. A healthier Packers team, fueled by doubt is as dangerous as they come.

The Impact of Woodson’s Injury

The improved Packers defense is well-positioned to handle the loss of its leader.

News broke mid-afternoon that Charles Woodson is out for 6-weeks due to a broken collarbone, the same collarbone he broke in Super Bowl XLV. It’d be fair to think that replacing an 8-time Pro Bowler, 2009 Defensive MVP, and a pure playmaker in the secondary would be difficult for a defense fresh off putting together one of the worst statistical seasons ever for a collective defense. Amazingly, that’s not the case with this new and young defense.

At age 36, there is no denying the fact that Woodson has lost a step. Because of this, he moved to safety in the base defense and plays the slot in sub-packages. His savviness, game knowledge, and veteran leadership have enabled him to seamlessly make this transition. But, his stats bear out the fact he’s not the player he once was.

In the 7 games so far, Woodson has only 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1.5 sacks. His tackling numbers are consistent with years past, though he has more assisted tackles this year already than all of last year. These numbers support what the eye can see. He’s simply not the playmaker we’ve grown accustomed to over these past seven seasons. And he’s been getting called for holding and clutching WR’s like he hasn’t in years past.

In Woodson’s place will slide a number of young and talented DB’s. In the base package, you can expect more Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings, the same safeties that take over in the sub-packages. McMillian is the more willing tackler of the two and has already shown a knack for being strong in run support. I expect to see more of McMillian in the base for this reason.

In sub-packages, which the Packers play greater than two-thirds of the plays, the Packers are sitting pretty with four young players that have proven they belong: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey “All I Do Is Catch Interceptions” Hayward, and Davon House. Of course, Williams will man the outside along with Shields when he returns. Hayward will get the nod for Woodson’s role. This is a fitting replacement given Casey’s knack for the ball. And when the Pack go dime, they still bring in Davon House – who very well could be the starting CB in place of Shields had he not gotten injured. In his first game back, House showed well last weekend with strong, physical play, and showing mostly tight coverage. Needless to say, the Packers are well-stocked with four players that could all start for many NFL teams.

The biggest unknown will be how much Woodson factored into getting the defense aligned pre-snap. It will be incumbent upon Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams to become the vocal leaders in the defensive backfield.

It is also worth noting that the Packers’ schedule sets up nicely for the six games Woodson will miss. Two games remain before the bye week. Both at home, against offensively challenged teams. Off the bye, the Packers travel to play the free-falling Detroit Lions. The toughest game will be the following weekend at NYG. But then, the sixth week is a home game against the Vikes, who also have challenges in the passing game. If the original prognosis is true, the Packers are well positioned to handle these next six games.

Let’s be clear: Charles Woodson is a special player that, even at an advanced age, brings a lot to the table that cannot be replaced. He’s a pro’s pro and the veteran leader on a young team. Though he’s lost a step, he’s savvy and has made game-changing plays few others could make. But, with a stable of young talent in the defensive backfield, the Packers are well-positioned to handle the six weeks without their defensive leader.

Next Man Up

Coming off ‘The Statement Game’ of the 2012 season, it’s clear that this seasons Packers defense is exactly what this team needs in order to win a Super Bowl. As I explained earlier this year, a top ranked defense is not required for this team to get back to the Super Bowl. Instead, an average, respectable defense will suffice. And so far, the defense has been average, while working on becoming a good defense.

The return to form by the Claymaker is a big reason the defense has improved so much.

The game stats show a defense that has been average: 14th in yards per game and 19th in points per game. But the Packers rank high in game-changing plays: leading the league in sacks with 21, and 10th in the league in takeaways. And this last number will surely rise because the Packers have not recovered a fumble and there have been numerous interceptions dropped in recent games.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from the embarrassment that was the 2011 defense. Unfortunately, the ability for this defense to continue its improvement is in jeopardy because of a rash of injuries at all levels of the defense.

In the defensive backfield, Sam Shields went down with a shin injury and is out for this Sunday’s game. It appears to be a short-term injury. But even with Shields returning to 2010 form, his loss will not be noticed. Stepping into Shields’ shoes will be rookie Casey Hayward. Justifying why TT traded up (and trade-raped The Hoodie) to get him, Hayward has played like a seasoned veteran in limited playing time. Not only has Hayward shown he’s not just the zone-cover man many draftniks pegged him, but he’s also shown a knack for the ball with 3 INT’s so far – two more than the next best rookie.

And replacing Hayward in the sub-packages will be Davon House, the guy that may very well have won Shields’ starting spot had he not suffered a shoulder injury in the first pre-season game. House, in limited time during the pre-season and training camp, had clearly separated himself from the competition with both good coverage and strong, aggressive tackling in run support. Combined with Hayward, the defense should not miss Shields.

The linebackers have been hit the hardest with Nick Perry and D.J. Smith both getting injured. Perry avoided the dreaded ACL injury, but is out for the near future. Smith, on the other hand, suffered a freak knee injury and is already on the season-ending IR list. Still, their losses will likewise be minimal for the defense going forward.

As a first-round pick, Perry has underwhelmed to date. In six starts, he registered only 18 tackles and 2 sacks. The transition to OLB proved a tall task (to date – still too early to say whether he can or cannot make this transition) for the rookie. He was largely ineffective getting to the QB and was lost in coverage. As a result, Erik Walden often saw more playing-time. Though Walden’s number may not reflect it (he only has a half-sack), he seems to be around the QB more and has mounted a steadier pass-rush than Perry. And he certainly is more comfortable in coverage. This doesn’t even account for Dezman Moses, the undrafted free agent star from pre-season. Moses’ tenacity has already earned him a spot in the psycho sub-package and with Perry’s injury, he’s likely to see more playing time.

You would think that D.J. Smith’s injury would be the most crippling to this defense. After all, he’s already the second-string MLB and was an up-and-coming second-year player. But, frankly, Smith’s play has been average at best. Far too often his lack of size was exploited in pass coverage. And, surprisingly, Smith had not been strong in the run game. He often got beat to the edge and wasn’t attacking the ball carrier. As a result, the drop-off in production will likely not be as significant as many expect from a third-stringer.

The most pressing injury to the defense is B.J. Raji. Raji has been ruled out for the second-straight game due to an ankle injury. He practiced in a limited fashion this week. But, wisely, he is being held out until he’s fully healthy. It is imperative that Raji not rush back too soon. Ankle injuries can be fickle. And the defense can ill afford to have Raji deal with a lingering ankle injury.

Unlike other injured defensive starters, Raji returning from his injured ankle is imperative for the continued success on defense.

Don’t let last week fool you. Despite the Packers’ dominating effort last week in holding Foster to under 30-yards rushing, Raji is an important fixture for the future success of this defense and team. He’s a monster up-front and started playing to his talent again this year. He was playing stout against the run, and generated solid and consistent up-the-middle pressure. The Packers simply don’t have another talent like him that can replace him over the long-haul. It is because of this that makes Raji’s injury the most important injury to the defense.

The mounting injuries are harkening many back to the 2010 Super Bowl run. Like that juggernaut, this Packers team must adopt the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra to survive this recent rash of injuries. But, because of the depth this team has built up, the Packers have players ready to step up and ensure there will be little to no drop-off in production for most of the injured players.

Sometimes You Just Need to Vent

Hide your kids. Hide your wives. This is going to be aggressive. Tonight was the low-point in the NFL labor dispute with the refs. And the “low-point” is the polite way of saying the replacement refs are worse than Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight. Ugly, terrible, and simply incompetent, the replacement refs cost the Packers a hard-fought victory over the pesky Seahawks tonight.

As if it was a slow death over these last three weeks, the replacement refs have steadily regressed to the point of endangering players safety and ruining the integrity of the game. The culmination is tonight’s epic performance. Picking up from Sunday Night’s debacle, yellow flags littered the field for much of the night. Any chance of tempo was shot – not that the Packers established any. Still, a real football game had developed in the midst of this shit-show. That is until the last two possessions for the Seahawks.

Up 5 (never mind the terrible 2-point conversion play-call), Russell Wilson threw a terrible INT that should have been the perverbial dagger. But, wait. A replacement ref had a yellow flag in his pocket still. Flag out of pocket, and a phantom roughing the passer call on Walden pulls the dagger out and keeps the drive alive. Game Should Be Over Call No. 1.

Still, Wilson is at the helm and the Seahawks had yet to get a first down on their own the entire second half. Let me repeat that… the Seahawks had ZERO first downs on their own merit in the second half with less than 6 minutes to play. Thankfully they had the refs on their side tonight to make up for their incompetence.

In little more than a minute of play, the Seahawks faced a 1st-and-25. Wilson makes another pass downfield – that can only be described as a “lob-thrown-by-the-passer-in-a-game-of-500” – that is up-for-grabs. Shields sees this unfold and is looking back at the ball for the last 3/4-time it is in the air. Admittedly he has a hand on Sid Rice’s jersey. But, Rice has a full on grab of Shields’ shoulder pads. Both guys battle for the ball. The grab of the jersey wouldn’t be called in pop warner football. But, the NFL hasn’t hired pop warner refs. They are worse than that. Pass interference. Spot foul. Gain of 35 or so yards – unwarranted. Game Should Be Over Call No. 2.

Despite playing against 12 men when you include the Zebras, the Packers stopped Seattle on 4th down and got the ball back deep in their territory. Of course, three straight runs nets negative yards and a punt is forced. Wilson completes one pass to get it to around the 20. Last second play. 4th down. Wilson fades back, avoids pressure, and throws another 500-type ball for the Hail Mary to end the game. Chaos ensues.

Despite the ball being pinned to Jennings’ chest, Tate allegedly caught the game-winning TD. Dohkay.

Amidst no less than 5 Packers – and this time they are ready to defend the Hail Mary unlike last January – Golden Tate gets away with highway robbery. Check that. That’s an insult to highway patrol-men. Tate would have been caught by Chief Wiggum! Tate pushed off on Shields in a clear offensive pass interference. And somehow, Tate then proceeds to catch the ball while cradling it against M.D. Jennings’ chest. You heard that correctly. M.D. Jennings, a Packer, had the ball pinned to his chest with both hands secure around it. Yet, the candy-ass ref calls a touchdown on the field because it’s in Seattle. Replay official inexplicably says the call stands. Game Should Be Over Call No. 3. Well, the game was over. Gift-wrapped for the P.O.S. Pete Carroll.

Roger Goodell, in his quest for utter world domination, has made the game we love a farce. Power hungry, Goodell has taken an unnecessary hard-line stance in his labor dispute with the regular officials. The result is utter and complete mockery of officiating.

Lost in this mess of officiating is the fact that there are careers and jobs at stake in the cut-throat NFL. Though I expect the Packers to make the playoffs, an undeserved loss can be the difference between home-field advantage and a first-round bye, and a road wild-card game. Worse yet, it can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. With only 16 regular seasons games, every game truly matters. To have complete shit-for-brains officials deciding these games is embarrassing for everyone involved – from the owners, players, coaches, all the way down to the fans – the people that pay big money to this multi-billion dollar industry.

They always said it would take the refs costing a team a game in order to make Goodell react and cut a deal. Well, mission accomplished. Asshole.

The Evolution of Randall Cobb

Known primarily for his return skills, Cobb has morphed into a Percy Harvin-lite.

In his fourth season, the Vikings’ Percy Harvin has developed into a special all-around talent that ended up with 100 touches over the last half of last season – 20+ more than the next closest receiver. Harvin’s combination of size and speed allows him to be used out wide, in the slot, and even out of the backfield – Harvin had 52 rushing attempts last season. This dynamic threat has resulted in him being a focal point alongside AP, which is saying something.

After two games this season, the Packers’ Randall Cobb has quickly morphed himself into a Percy Harvin-lite. Like Harvin, Cobb has a unique skill set that allows him to lineup all over the field and exploit mismatches with his speed, burst, and cutting ability.

With the last pick of the second round two drafts ago, TT nabbed another gem with Cobb. Cobb made a name for himself immediately, scoring twice in the first game of the NFL season when he had a receiving touchdown and return touchdown. Both were notable, but for different reasons. The receiving touchdown was infamous in that he scored after running the wrong route. The return touchdown was famous – it earned AP play of the year – for the acrobatic manner in which he stayed off the ground. Such a sterling start fizzled for most of the remainder of the year.

The different dimensions Cobb could have brought to the offense were not realized in his first year. Only the tip of the iceberg was shown in the first NYG game when Cobb took a reverse, pulled up, and heaved a tight spiral along the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete. But, the message was clear – Cobb added a different dimension to an already explosive offense.

Fast forward to 2012. Cobb’s unique skill set has been on full display through two games. When the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get any openings against the staunch (and clutching) 49ers defense, Cobb was the one player that presented a mismatch and exploited it. Lining up next to Rodgers often, Cobb was very effective catching the ball in the flat where his burst and cutting ability shined. In the second game, Cobb lined up more in the backfield and received a few carries. The pitch wide to get him into space was especially effective.

But, the reason he is Percy Harvin-lite, is he doesn’t have Harvin’s size. And this was clear when he took a carry up the middle, and took a shot to his shoulder. Cobb’s day was effectively over, as he didn’t touch the ball (on offense) again.

At 5’10” and 190 lbs., Cobb simply isn’t built to take the tough hits that come with running the ball between the tackles. Harvin does this, and does this well. He is simply unlimited in what he can do out of the backfield, whereas Cobb must be used more as a scat back when lined up back there. MM needs to understand this limitation when he designs and calls plays for Cobb going forward. Exposing Cobb to these types of violent hits would be careless.

Cobb’s evolution from a fifth-string WR in year 1 to a heavily-used, multi-purpose threat in year 2 has been the biggest offensive story of the first two games. I anticipate MM will scheme different ways to utilize Cobb and his skill set going forward. I expect a few passes – hopefully they connect this year – and plenty more plays out of the backfield. But, it’s a delicate balance in exploiting Cobb’s skill set while also not exposing him to potential injury.

2012 Border Rivals NFL Preview: Rube v. Roob

In the spirit of the Border Rivals rivalry, we decided to jointly preview the 2012 NFL season for both of the Border Rivals’ squads. To capture the essence of that rivalry, and to help out the Vikings fan (because seriously, what is there to preview), we are taking a novel approach to the typical NFL preview. Enjoy the banter and analysis.

Vikings Rube

Professor Williams’ class on cheap shots and headhunting derailed what may have been a purple dynasty these last few years.

Well Vikings fans, the 2012 season is nearly upon us. To call the last two years rough would be an understatement. Following the high that was 2009, Vikings fans have had the displeasure of watching a 6-10 squad that featured amateur photographer Brent Favre (his pen name) and a 3-13 squad that showcased Lifetime Fitness Ultimate Hoops 6th Man of the Year stud, Donovan McNabb (no seriously, I did not make that link up). Who would have thought the low would be so low following the unreal high of taking the Pack’s beloved Favre and marching to the NFC Championship game? If not for G. Williams and his implementation of a real life version of The Hunger Games on that fateful Sunday, we might be talking about whether Favre should come back for his 3rd year with the Vikes and make one more run at another Vikings Super Bowl. Now who is ready for some football? Me either. Can’t we all agree to give that lockout thing a try?

Packers Roob

I feel your pain Rube. Being Favred is not easy. I am just happy you were able to enjoy that experience as well. What has to make that “favre-ing” so much more painful is how much it set your franchise back. The 2009 Vikings were the best football team that season. And in less than two years, it’s one of the worst. To top that off, the Vikes won a meaningless game at Washington costing them the #2 pick and the ensuing RGIII bounty. And if that wasn’t enough, AP goes down in said game, jeopardizing his future to some extent and, more immediately, his success this season. At least you have the Twin… Timberwolv… Wild (oh wait, the lockout). Well, the Lynx are still good! But I digress. With the easy part of the schedule at the beginning of the season, Gerhart and Percy need to step up while AP gets his legs under him.

Vikings Rube

Enough about Brent Favre, he is hustling social studies teachers in Mississippi , let’s get to the previewing already!! The 2012 Vikings feature a stable of young, talented rookies that were drafted as part of the haul the Vikings received in the RG III trade…wait…what…we WON that game…son of a…moving on. This year’s squad features some interesting rookies: Mount Kalil and  Harrison Smith being the obvious new kids on the block. But, it is actually the sophomore seasons of a couple key Vikings players that will likely impact the team’s success on a greater scale. On the offensive side of the ball, Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph are going to be counted on to produce in a big way.

Ponder showed flashes last season of being a legitimate NFL QB, but, he combined those flashes with some less than brilliant play as well. He seems to get happy feet a little too easily. And yes, that might have something to do with the fact that the Vikings gave up 49 sacks last year. I would probably have happy feet too if Julius Peppers was chasing me like a Packers fan after a Miller Light forty and a Polish sausage. Mount Kalil should change that. And, with more time, hopefully the flashes of legitimacy become the norm. It is important to emphasize, part of Ponders’ success is directly related to the growth and development of fellow sophomore, Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph dominated while at Notre Dame. Vikings fans have only seen glimpses of that dominance while with the Purple.

Rudolph is a freak athlete who graded out with 1st round talent, but, was derailed by injuries. Stop me if you heard this one before, but, he continued to battle health problems once he got to the league. Though, when he played, he too showed real flashes and he seemed to have that knack for making the big play. Because of the garbage bin lids he has for hands, he can flat out go and get nearly anything thrown close to him. His problem is staying on the field. If he can stay healthy, he is exactly the kind of safety valve a young QB like Ponder needs to succeed in this league.

Packers Roob

If Rudolph is this wunderkind you speak of, then why did the Vikes drop so much coin on an even more-often injured John Carlson? Is it because he’s a local kid? In any event, if that’s a key to success, you have a low bar for success. And maybe that’s appropriate because any rube not named PA or Wobschmidt can see that the Vikes are staring at a 6-win season, at best. There are just too many holes at all levels of offense and defense, with my personal favorite being that Swiss-cheese like secondary – because, you know, the NFC North isn’t loaded with stud QB’s and WR’s. Even with the addition of Kalil at LT, the OL is a huge question mark. This has to be a make-or-break season for Loadholt. And the Vikes need another WR option outside of Percy. The defense is carried by Allen. But am I the only one thinking Greenway is a better version of Mr. T-Rex, A.J. Hawk – as in makes some tackles, but little actual impact on the game?

Vikings Rube

Carlson got signed because Musgrave is running the two tight end system. Not sure I am fan, but we have seen it work in New England. Rudolph is a wunderkind. The type who could succeed in a system that showcases his skills. He just needs to put it together. The OL is not nearly as huge a question mark as you make it seem. Sullivan established himself at a top line center last year. Charles Johnson will be playing his more natural position, guard, this year. And, Brandon Fusco has come, literally, out of nowhere (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania) to earn the other starting guard position. Loadholt is definitely in a make or break season, but he too should improve with the addition of MountKalil and another year under his belt.

Now, for the Purple’s defense. If you thought the offense had question marks, then strap in, this may take a while. The 2012 Vikings offense should be able to move the ball and score some points. Sadly enough, that is the bar that Vikings fans have set for the squad. On defense, coverage, of any kind, would be a huge improvement from last year’s squad. The release, that is right, the release of Chris Cook is a definite benefit. He actually looked the part of a first round talent last year. Though, that solid play would have been difficult to deliver from a HennepinCounty jail. Jared Allen is the man Claymaker wishes he could be. No one knows what veterans Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield have left in the tank, but it better be more than fumes, or this year’s defensive unit is not going to be much better than last year. Harrison Smith displayed a penchant for big plays, sort of a Honey Badger Light. Those big plays were lacking all of last year for the Vikes and they will need them if they are going to stop anyone. But, the NFL is a lot faster than cupcakes Notre Dame played. If Smith can make the adjustment, his playmaking ability will be another critical piece to this unit’s success. If not, expect the 28th ranked pass defense from 2011 to remain right about where it was, the bottom of the league.

Packers Roob

You just compared your starting safety to a drug rehab, former-COLLEGE player. Um, good luck with that. What’s next, Ponder is the next Russell Wilson – wait, that actually might be an upgrade. The best point you made is the question marks surrounding Williams and Winfield. Williams has certainly lost a step and Winfield finally broke down last season. If neither plays to their previous performance, the defense will be simply Jared Allen. Sadly though, this Swiss-cheese defense accurately describes my squad’s defense. There is reason for optimism in the new faces and competition. But, when Jarrett Bush wins the starting RCB spot, God help us. Only Ahmad Carroll has been a bigger sieve covering than Bush. Nick Perry has a great bull rush, but shown little else. And we still don’t know how well he will play in space and covering. One OLB to keep an eye out for is undrafted free agent, Dezman Moses. Yes, I know. I’m resorting to undrafted free agents. But, the way that kid played with heart and desire all pre-season, he deserves some chances to see if he can carry it over to the regular season or is just this year’s Vic So’oto.

Vikings fans cringe when they see No. 52 strap the helmet on.

Jerel Worthy is not worthy of the early praise. He hasn’t shown much more than an early burst that opposing QB’s will surely exploit with hard counts. He needs to develop more hand action in the trenches and not simply rely on his speed/burst. And the safeties in the nickel and dime will be Morgan Burnett – who needs to take that next step – and M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian. The importance of losing Nick Collins cannot be overstated. On the bright side, at least Tramon and the Claymaker look like their old playmaking selves and will raise hell all season. And yes, I forwarded your earlier comment about Julius Peppers to Claymaker, indicating that Vikings fans do not fear him. Thanks for the bulletin-board material.

Vikings Rube

No, but seriously, did someone hack your computer? Are you feeling okay? Have you been spending too much time west of the Mississippi? That kind of negativity is not befitting a Packers roob. Smug superiority and being a Packer fan go hand in hand. Like Jared Allen and sacks or B.J. Rajii and…well…food. That being said, you are correct, the Packers defense is not that good. In fact, it might actually be worse than the Vikings (which is saying something). At the very least, both teams have a lot of unknowns. Despite your knock on Worthy, the talent is there. And, in Dom Caper’s system, he possesses the athleticism to be a force on the inside. Losing Collins certainly hurt, though, the bigger unknown might be Woodson’s official transition to safety. Even though he was basically playing there last season, now that it is official, I wonder if it will impact how he plays coverage. Will he still gamble? He is used to covering a specific receiver and now he will be responsible for an area. Will those gambles that miss result in even bigger plays for opposing offenses? How that transition unfolds is going to be play a big role in the effectiveness of the defense.

Packers Roob

You’re right, I’m not sure what the hell just got into me. All that negativity talk about your squad somehow seeped into my analysis for the 2012 Super Bowl Champs. I’m not as concerned about Woodson’s transition to safety. He’ll be there in the base set, but the Packers play base in less than 1/3 of the time. In the nickel and dime, Woodson will be back in his normal slot position, going pick-six all year long. The saving grace, in my opinion, for the defense is that it doesn’t need to be top-10 in order for the Packers to win the Super Bowl. As I’ve detailed previously, the defense just needs to be average. Remember, last year’s Super Bowl defenses were statistically terrible during the season – though the NYG defense stepped up in the playoffs. And with our offense, an average defense will get the job done.

Using that seemless transition, hey, let’s talk about that offense. It’s the best offense ever. A-Rodg is the best QB ever. We will score when we want and how we want, and A-Rodg may only get hurt this season from throwing down so many Championship Belts.

Vikings Rube

From one extreme, the Packers secondary could not stop a good high school squad, to the other, Rodgers is the best QB ever. The latter statement is utterly preposterous. The best QB ever does not get trounced at home in the first round of the playoffs. Nor does he suffer game losing fumbles to tewible linebackers who may or may not have sold me a double cheeseburger yesterday. Rodgers might not even be the best QB in the league yet. He is certainly in the conversation, but, if Super Bowls is the measure by which everything is judged (as Packer fans love to remind Vikings fans), then Tom Brady is the best QB in the league.

Packers Roob

Maybe not the kid that Brent Favre was, Rodgers is definitely a leader and the Packers will only go as far as he can take them.

Don’t pretend I know what you’re doing right now. Just looking to get a reaction. I am not taking the bait….*Blood pressure rising, face getting flush*….Brady used to be the best QB in the league. But that position has been usurped. There is no debating. A-Rodg is the best player in the league. Heck, even the reliable and indisputable NFL Players rankings had him 1st (because when John Kuhn makes that list, it has to be reliable). Cheering for Randy Moss all of those years must have convinced you that it’s not a team sport. But it is. And the Packers, not A-Rodg, lost that game because of a comedy of errors – a list too long and too painful to go over at this juncture. Ok, blood pressure dropping. On to the offense. To state the obvious, the Packers success hinges on A-Rodg & Co. With the best QB and WR corps in the league, the Pack will not be stopped on offense – often. Some keys for improvement on offense, if that’s even possible, are JMike reverting back to his 2010 self (pre-injury), a running game that is at least respectable, and improved play from Newhouse. JMike is too talented to put up such average numbers. Outside of the first Bears game last season, JMike was more decoy than the stud he should be. With two years removed from his knee injury, I expect this to be a break-out year. And man-crush aside, his YOTTO TD celebration is getting old – fast – when he drops more balls than Troy Williamson. Old Cedric had some giddy-up to him in pre-season, but I’m not counting on him to be the savior many are hoping. He’s a career volume runner. That is not going to magically change. The Pack just need him for short yardage down-and-distance and to potentially ice out games pounding the rock. One thing to watch for is if Benson continues to put the ball on the turf. And for Newhouse, he needs to perform. With no backup on the roster, his development is crucial. Will the offense continue to dominate like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, most likely not. But I don’t anticipate much of a drop-off. I expect A-Rodg to be a leading candidate for another MVP and if the defense bounces back, we should get one for the thumb!

Vikings Rube

Not be stopped on offense. That is too rich. I bet you thought that same thing rolling into that first round playoff game against Da G-Men last season. That worked out well. Have you heard of hubris? And no, it is not something you eat with a pita chip. Also, Finley too talented to put up average numbers?  And you come after me for jumping…okay…driving, the Rudolph bandwagon? Let’s set the bar a little lower for ole Jermichael, shall we? Say, hope he plays in more than 12 games? That feels about right.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

Classy like that??? Says the guy with a foam piece of cheese on his head.

Packers Roob

JMike will only need 12 games to surpass Rudolph’s production me boy! And how many times are you going to go to the well with the Giants jokes? Did you notice I refrained from bringing up Gary Anderson’s name, the infamous NOOOO, NOOOO game, or your own disaster against the G-Men in the playoffs. I stay classy like that. On to our picks.

I’ve got the Pack going 13-3, losing at Houston, at NYG, and at Chicago. As for the Vikes, I’m predicting 5-11, beating the Jags, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, and St. Louis.

Vikes Roob

Negative. The Vikes will surprise some people this year, going 7-9 or 8-8, beating the Jags, Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, Kitties, Rams, and maybe Houston (because it will be Week 16 and it will not matter for the top seeded Texans).

I have the Packers at 12-4 or 11-5. I think they get beat by New Orleans, @Houston, @Detroit, and @Chicago. Throw in a loss to the 49ers or Giants to make it 11-5.

WEEK ONE PICK    

Packers Roob

Packers score late to pull away for the victory. Alex Smith reverts back to the Alex Smith we know and love. As much as A-Rodg doesn’t want to call him a game manager, Alex Smith is this era’s Trent Dilfer, but not as savvy. I don’t buy into the revamped WR core for the Niners. What part of a 35-year-old, out of retirement and dropped by three teams in the last year he played, Randy Moss am I supposed to worry about? And Manningham is the next David Tyree. VD concerns me over the middle, especially when Mr. T-Rex is on the field. But, our defense is good enough to slow this squad and the offense will score enough against the vaunted Niners defense. Pack 27 Niners 17

Vikings Rube

Vikings come out strong at home and beat an equally young Jaguars team. The defense is the key as MJD and Jennings are shut down by Greenway & Co., so Gabbert is forced to the air where he is unable to capitalize on the inexperienced Vikings secondary. Ponder, Harvin, and Rudolph tear up one of the worst secondaries in the league and All Day shows a few bursts in his return. Toby brings his hard hat and lunch pail, eventually grinding out a 27 to 13 Vikings win.

Looks to be a good start to the year for the Border Rivals’ squads. Enjoy week 1 and thank god football is back!

Cedric Benson… Yep, Cedric Benson

By now, you know that the Packers added former Bears first-round bust, Cedric Benson. With his hand somewhat forced by Starks’ latest injury, TT felt that he could “never have enough horses” and added the veteran to the stable of young backs. Many around Packers nation are wondering why Benson over former Packer, Ryan Grant. Frankly, the question should be, why even bother with Benson in the first place?

The reason why I am skeptical about Benson is that I simply do not see him as a good fit for the Packers’ system. The Packers offense obviously runs through Rodgers. The backs are asked to (1) pick-up the blitz, (2) get the yards that are available, and (3)  be adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. Focusing on the latter two, it is clear that Benson is a curious fit.

Although Benson has surpassed the 1,000 milestone the last three seasons, he’s accomplished this averaging 20 carries per game, resulting in under 4 yards per carry. To put this in perspective, here’s a list of notable runners that averaged less than 4 yards per carry last season: Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Michael Bush. Bush and Benson were the only backs last year to receive 200+ carries and average less than 4-yards per carry. Additionally, Benson has a career “long” carry of 46 yards. Essentially, Benson is the modern-day Leroy Hoard, who famously said: “if you need 1 yard, I’ll get you 3 yards. If you need 5 yards, I’ll get you 3 yards.”

Benson is best fitted for running between the tackles. There is hope that this attribute can result in Benson becoming the “closer” to ice close games. But, I’m not sure this closer role is merited. After all, he has 12 fumbles in the last two seasons. More to the point, though, is Benson’s fit in the Packers’ scheme. Something that has gone overlooked is that Benson comes from a smash-mouth team. The Packers, on the other hand, still have zone blocking principles in the run game. In a zone blocking scheme, the back is asked to stretch the field until he finds the hole, and then get into it and beyond before that hole closes. Successful running backs in zone schemes are built like Terrell Davis (sorry to bring his name up), not bulky and lumbering like Benson.

Benson is also not known for his hands out of the backfield. Over his career, he averages 6.9 yards per catch, with only 1 receiving touchdown. Outside of one 79-yard reception, his next longest reception is 24 yards. And he averages fewer than 2 catches a game. In such a pass-heavy offense, this becomes a liability. With Benson on the field, defenses likely will be able to narrow the play selection by ruling out screen passes and stretch runs.

The right fit for the Packers offense is James Starks, circa 2011 playoffs. He was perfect in that he got the yardage that was available and, as a bonus, he even made a few people miss. He was reliable enough in pass protection and he caught the ball out of the backfield well. For example, in the Super Bowl, Starks ran for a modest 52 yards, but did so on 11 carries. Even this little production kept the defense honest enough to allow Rodgers to utilize the play-action with a high degree of success. When Starks was offering this, the offense was clicking.

Unfortunately, Starks has been unreliable since that Super Bowl performance. And with his recent injury and Alex Green on a snap-count following last season’s knee injury, the Packers hand may have been forced in adding Benson. Thankfully for Packers fans, today’s NFL does not require a strong rushing attack in order to get to the Super Bowl. Just take a look at this list of starting Super Bowl running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Tim Hightower, Brandon Jacobs, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Jones, and Cedric Benson. Yep, Cedric Benson.

How Good Does the Packers Defense Need to Be?

The 2011 Packers season was one of the more enjoyable regular seasons for fans. The offense was spectacular, taking most of the drama out of the games. And Rodgers turned in a season for the ages. But the dominant offense masked the glaring weakness – check that, the glaring liability – that was the Packers defense. Posting historical numbers for ineptness, the defense yielded big play after big play, rarely got off the field on 3rd downs, and would’ve been hard-pressed to make even Blaine Gabbert uncomfortable in the pocket. Any chance the Packers win a 5th Lombardi Trophy in 2012 is tied directly to the Packers defense improving, markedly so, from last season.

But exactly how much improvement is necessary in order for the Packers to truly contend for the Super Bowl? After all, 38 out of the 46 Super Bowl winners fielded top-10 defenses, with 22 of those winners having top-3 defenses. Still, last year’s two Super Bowl teams boasted the 27th and 31st “best” overall defenses. My belief is the Packers defense needs to be somewhere in the middle in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

Since 2000, 14 of the 24 teams that played in the Super Bowl fielded top-10 defenses. Only six teams fielded defenses ranked 16 or worse, two of which played last season, as noted above. This tends to support the “defense wins championship” mantra. But, consider that in that same time frame, 15 of 24 Super Bowl teams boasted top-10 offenses, with a whopping 5 teams sporting the best offense in the league. Similarly, only 3 teams were ranked 16 or worse. So, “defense wins championships” is not entirely true.

What these statistics show is that fielding a top defense is not essential to be a Super Bowl contender. But, it does lend credence to the fact that the Packers defense needs to improve in order to put them in contending position. Because the Packers will field one of the top-3 offenses, a defense merely respectable or average should be all that’s necessary. To put it another way, the 2012 Packers defense needs to find the happy-middle between the 2010 defense and the 2011 defense.

In order to make the necessary improvements, the Packers will need immediate contribution from a few rookies and second-year players – not to mention a return-to-form season out of Tramon Williams. Thankfully, the early signs from camp are pointing towards such an improvement.

Most noteworthy has been the competitive battle for the starting CB spot opposite Williams. Davon House is the early leader in the clubhouse, having played with a much sharper sense of urgency and making plays on the ball. Second-round pick Casey Hayward has likewise impressed with his ball-hawking skills and quick assimilation in the system. And after a slow start, Sam Shields seems to have turned the corner and making a push not to lose his starting spot. Finally, it’s impossible to count out Jarrett Bush, who simply refuses to be content as just a special teams star. This battle will go on throughout pre-season and the play during the games will determine who starts. Here’s what each player needs to show during pre-season action to earn that spot:

  • House – play aggressive and show he can man-up in coverage;
  • Hayward – demonstrate his ball-hawking skills and demonstrate he’s not just a zone guy;
  • Shields – must show he’s a willing and able tackler, and cannot continue getting caught looking in the backfield; and
  • Bush – show he is not the liability in coverage he has been in past years.

Most important to the defenses success, though, is the Packers’ ability to get after the quarterback. Enter Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, et al. Perry has been relatively quiet in the first few weeks of camp. By all accounts, he is going through the growing pains of learning a new position and dropping into coverage. Unfortunately, little has also been said about his pass-rushing, which is likely due in large part to the fact he continually goes against Bryan Bulaga – who is fast becoming one of the best, young RTs in the game. But, just recently, Perry broke through with a dominant victory against Bulaga in one-on-one pass rushing  drills, leading some observers to question whether this could be the start of something greater.

Not so quietly has been the emergence of Worthy, the star on defense at the Family Night scrimmage. Ever the yapper on the field, Worthy has breathed life into the dormant DL. He has shown tremendous burst and quickness for a man his size, and should see plenty of playing time with Raji in the nickel. Meanwhile, Daniels was playing very well during the first week of camp before going down with a non-serious leg injury. Assuming he returns healthy, he, too, can provide a spark to the pass rush. Finally, we cannot count out contributions from Hargrove and Neal (after serving their suspensions), and maybe even the undrafted free-agent Dezman Moses.

As shown, defenses do not necessarily win championships. But, what is necessary is a defense that is respectable. In order to regain respectability, the Packers 2012 defense must improve across the board. So far, the reports from camp have been positive. But, it is imperative that this progress carries over into the pre-season games. As Kevin Greene said to Clay, “It’s time!” Starting in San Diego, it’s time to see these young guys step up.