Tag Archives: Aaron Rodgers

NFC Post-Draft Power Rankings

Following the NFL Draft, the Mothership released its post-draft power rankings. You’d think the most visible sports conglomerate in the country would hire writers that don’t get swept up in off-season moves like an average rube and offer a power rankings based off more objective facts. Alas, that is not the case. The Seahawks have suddenly become top-dog because of their off-season signings and drafting depth at DT and another RB (who will likely be third-string behind Lynch and last year’s mid-round draft “steal”). Does it add up? Not quite. Here’s our own “objective” NFC Post-Draft Power Rankings:

1. San Francisco – Best defense in the league. The loss of Dashon Gholdson is mitigated by their selection of Eric Reed. The addition of Boldin is a good move in giving Kaepernick a veteran that runs the right routes, goes up and gets the ball, and is tough as nails – i.e. everything that Randy Moss is not. The rube rule is: until they are unseated, the 49ers are the best in the conference. But, it actually applies in this case.

2. Green Bay Packers – Bias aside, this ranking is justified. The best QB in the game, paired with a deep and talented WR-core that will survive Jennings’ departure, now has the protection offered by what should be a legitimate rushing attack. A top offense just got more dangerous. The return of Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry – to a lesser extent – are significant upgrades for the defense. And the addition of Datone Jones has the potential of finally giving the Packers some inside rush. Remember, the Packers had the fourth-most sacks last season without Bishop and Perry, and Claymaker missed time. And, the Packers already sport one of the deepest and most talented CB-core in Williams, Hayward, Shields, and House. They have gone 26-6 over the last two seasons for a reason and their two playoff losses were to the eventual Conference champs.

3. Seattle Seahawks – Let’s hold off on the Super Bowl parade route just a bit here. There is no doubt that getting Cheech was a huge coup for them. He is probably the most electric player in the game with the versatility he brings to offense and special teams. And they already sport a great defense – one that can challenge SF for supremacy. But, the additions of Avril and Bennett cannot replace Chris Clemmons who is likely lost for most, if not all, of next season after suffering an ACL injury in the playoffs. So, the Avril and Bennett additions don’t make the defense better. In fact, neither are as good as Clemmons – so they either make the defense a little worse or they only barely replace the hole left by Clemmons’ injury – which probably explains why both were signed to short-term deals. So, the real difference between last season’s team that nearly got blown out by the Falcons (until the Falcons went into prevent-the-win mode) and the 2013 team is the addition of Cheech. I don’t think he is the difference between a second-round playoff loss and a Super Bowl.

4. Atlanta Falcons – Call me when Matty Ice earns that nickname and wins more than one playoff game. A 1-4 playoff record (including two losses at home as the no. 1 seed) with a 9:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 85.2 quarterback ranking earns this power ranking. And if we want to get deeper into the analysis, the Falcons already sported a leaky secondary and now lost both Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes in free agency, leaving them with Asante Samuel (known more for his gambling ways than true coverage skills) and two rookies: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In fact, this might be a little high for them considering the Giants potential re-boot and the early returns that RGIII is seeing in his rehabilitation.

5. New York Giants – No matter the missed playoffs last year. This is a team that is always dangerous with that defensive line and the potential for Eli Manning to play like a two-time Super Bowl MVP when it matters most.

6. Washington Redskins – This ranking is purely contingent upon the return to health of RGIII. Shanahan should be sued for his level of “care” for RGIII in that playoff game! One thing to keep in mind about this team, they get Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan back, making what was becoming a good defense even better.

7. New Orleans Saints – Sorry, cannot help it. Brees will welcome back Sean Payton with open arms. There’s been a lot of turnover since their SB win. But, with Rob Ryan now running the defense, this is a team that could improve quickly and challenge ATL for the top-spot in the NFC South.

8. Chicago Bears – There are a lot of questions surrounding this team. There is new leadership everywhere – front office, coaches, and the loss of Urlacher. Still, there is talent on this team with Quitler, Marshall, Forte, Peppers, Briggs, Tillman, et al. The addition of Bushrod – though overrated – is still an upgrade for the line and Martellus Bennett is a nice addition. The real key will be for this aging defense to hang on for another year. My prediction: they are perilously close to going through a rebuild, and need to start strong next year or else things could turn ugly, quickly.

9. Minnesota Vikings – Vikes’ unlikely playoff run was due, in large part, to AP’s superhuman efforts. The key is the play of Christian Ponder. He needs to further develop and become consistent. The jekyll-and-hyde play cannot continue. In the offseason, the Vikes did a tremendous job of filling critical holes in getting Jennings, Floyd, Rhodes, and Patterson. But, after the excitement wears down from sniping three first-rounders, these players all need to produce immediately for the Vikes to build off last year’s playoff run. If they don’t and Ponder is still inconsistent, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Vikes are this year’s Lions – i.e. make a surprise playoffs run only to finish with a poor record when facing a tougher schedule and facing higher expectations in the next season.

Packers Roob: I won’t get into my thoughts on Patterson. But, the following stats are interesting considering Patterson is known mostly for his athleticism rather than route-running:

Patterson – 6’2″, 216 lbs, 4.33 40-yard dash, 37″ vertical, 10’6″ broad jump

Charles Johnson (Pack’s 7th Rd. Selection) – 6’2″, 215 lbs., 4.38 40-yard dash, 39.5″ vertical, and 11’1″ broad jump.

Vikings Rube: I am glad you are not getting into your thoughts on Patterson. Also, it is a damn good thing that they do not play the game at the NFL Combine using lame tests like that. How boring?! Though, if they did, Player A: 6’3″, 223 lbs., 4.46 40-yard dash, 42.5″ vertical, and 11’5″ broad jump, might be a Hall of Fame quarterback. Instead, Joe Webb sold me a McMuffin this morning. Charles Johnson went in the 7th round because most draftniks did not see him being an NFL starter. The same cannot be said of potential superstar Cordarrelle Patterson. That is enough of that nonsense, back to the rankings.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Lots of noise made this offseason. Should improve the secondary dramatically with the arrivals of Gholdson and Revis. And, they already have a good defensive line. If Freeman stops doing his best Ponder impression and reverts back to his sophomore year form, this offense should be able to produce with Freeman, Doug Martin, and Mike Williams.

11. Dallas Cowboys – Tony Romo. The reason why the Cowboys will forever be the bridesmaids and finish 8-8 or 9-7. Good, but always one-game out of the playoffs.

12. Detroit Lions – The Lions are one-year removed from a playoff run. They still have Stafford and, of course, Megatron is Megatron. IF Reggie Bush stays healthy, the line somehow improves dramatically, their terrible first round selection is actually good, and the rag-tag group of mutts in the secondary plays well, they can be a good team. Lot of IFs though.

13. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton has to bounce back, right?

14. St. Louis – A sneaky good, bad-team – if that makes sense.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – The Dream Team!

16. Arizona Cardinals – You have to feel bad for Fitz.

Let us know what you think. Which rankings did we get right and which ones are we way off on?

Packers Have a Leadership Void

Packers lost its defensive leader with Woodson's release.

Packers lose its defensive leader with Woodson’s release.

In a move that should have surprised few, Charles Woodson was released after 7 productive years in green-and-gold. TT’s signature free-agent signing in 2006, Woodson revitalized the Packers defense. He amassed 38 INT and 10 TDs donning the G. And he was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Accolades aside, there is little doubt that Woodson’s play declined this past year. He was noticeably a step slower in coverage, resulting in plenty of PI and holding calls that he used to get away with. He could still support the run well. But he was simply a liability in the secondary. With Hayward’s emergence, Woodson became expendable.

Still, the Packers will miss Woodson because of his leadership. He was, without question, the leader of the defense. He primarily led by example, but he took a vocal leadership role in the later years, most noticeably during the 2010 Super Bowl run. Many players credit his halftime speech – following his injury – as inspiring their play. Heck, his post-NFC Championship speech is engraved in the Super Bowl ring.

Woodson’s release follows on the heel of Driver’s retirement. Like Woodson, Driver’s play regressed this past year – to the point he only earned a roster spot by playing on special teams. Also like Woodson, Driver was a leader of the receiver corps. When it was announced he’d return this past season, the young WR’s – many of whom would eventually fight Driver for playing time and a roster spot – spoke highly of Driver’s presence and leadership role.

Now, the Packers enter the 2013 without two of its veteran leaders. Already a young team, the team just got younger. It is imperative to the Packers success for new leaders to step up and take over the void that is left by Woodson and Driver.

Filling Woodson’s leadership role will be tough because the secondary is full of young players. Tramon would be the most obvious replacement because he is the elder statesmen of the group. But he’s not making the calls for adjustments and getting players into position like Woodson did. For this reason, I expect Morgan Burnett to become more assertive in the secondary.

Burnett’s play was not flashy last season. But, he was one of four non-offensive linemen that played every single snap. An amazing accomplishment considering the amount of injuries that plagued last season’s defense. But this reliability creates a sense of comfort in the secondary, knowing that Burnett is always going to be back there getting them in the right position.

Filling Driver’s leadership role will fall to James Jones. With Jennings also leaving the Packers, the WRs will be markedly different next year. And with Jones’ emergence this past season after rediscovering his hands, he becomes the senior member of the group and also its most productive.

This is a perfect role for Jones too. Always quiet in the way he goes about his business. Ascending as he did last year, Jones will provide leadership through example: work hard, stay patient, and trust that Rodgers will get you the ball when you are open.

Burnett and Jones are positioned to assume the leadership positions for their respective position groups. But, the Packers team leadership roles will fall to young stars: Rodgers and Clay. Primed to earn the richest contracts for offensive and defensive players, both Rodgers and Clay must become the team leaders.

Rodgers has already assumed this mantle to a certain extent. But he was also deferential to the veteran leaders. Now, Rodgers is the fourth oldest player on the team. He is the veteran leader.

For Clay, he’s still young and hasn’t appeared to take true leadership role on the team. But, with a new contract comes new responsibilities. He is bound to inspire players with his relentless play and heart. He will be looked to assume a bigger leadership role beyond just setting an example.

It’s a young man’s game. And the Packers are a young team that just got younger by losing Woodson and Driver. Its imperative to next season’s success that new leaders fill the leadership void left by them. Burnett, Jones, Rodgers, and Clay must be ready to fill it.

Rube vs. Roob: Playoffs Edition

Well ladies and gentlemen, AP has forced a Game 3. The bitter rivals face off again in another playoff matchup – and this time, under the bright lights of Saturday Night Football. After an instant classic this past Sunday, the two teams play for keeps with a chance to play at SF or Atlanta as the reward. Out of no respect to the ass-clown Rube, you can go first:

Vikings Rube:

Mr. MVP, AP, forces game 3.

Mr. MVP, AP, forces Game 3 – 1.5.13 – Lambeau Field.

Someone’s bitter. What, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy the 199 yards AP forced down your throat? Or the fact that Christian Ponder – yup, that Christian Ponder – had 3 TD’s and ZERO turnovers? What happened to that “elite” defense you’ve been bragging about?

Packers Roob:

Blind squirrel theory me boy – except that whole AP bit. That guy is a beast.

Vikings Rube:

While I am a full believer in the blind squirrel theory, that was not what happened Sunday. All-galaxy RB Adrian Peterson happened. Dr. Ponder and not Mr. Christian happened. Mike McCarthy doing his best Andy Reid impression happened (McCarthy gave no value to his TOs and it killed him). Kicking savant Blair Walsh happened. And lastly, a surprise playoff appearance happened.

It is this last bit that makes this Saturday’s playoff game so intriguing. The Vikes are playing with house money. They have nothing to lose. AP has already locked up his MVP candidacy. Side note, if he does not win, he needs to file the 843rd lawsuit, and counting, against Roger Goodell. AP’s season, compared to the very good seasons of Messers Manning, Brady, and Rodgers, was just that much better. All you need to do is look at last Sunday’s game to know AP deserves the hardware. Every person in the Packers organization knew AP was going to get the ball and he still went for nearly 200 yards.

But enough about the Vikings clutch victory last Sunday, let’s get back to this weekend’s game.

The Vikes were 3-13 last year and were not supposed to be even 5 wins better this year. This Saturday’s game represents the gravy. And I am talking, at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving gravy. The good stuff. Most Vikes fans would have been thrilled with AP’s other-worldly season, an improvement from Dr. Ponder, some consistency on defense, and an 8-8 year. That would have been great considering how poorly we played last season.

Instead, this team finishes 10-6 and makes the playoffs???? Seriously???

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei... McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei… McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Match-ups (I swear we will get to these) and Coach Reid’s…I mean…McCarthy’s decision making aside, this Saturday’s game is going to be interesting because one team is not supposed to be there. That is always dangerous for the team that is.

Packers Roob:

House money. Interesting take. I frankly think it works against you. The Vikings just played their best game of the season… by far. It was a highly emotional game and atmosphere. Vikings simply gave everything they had to get to the playoffs by winning multiple games in a row, including a contested final game against its biggest rival. Their goal was making the playoffs, and they accomplished it. Now, to turn around and regain that emotion is difficult to accomplish – especially for a young and inexperienced team. I simply don’t see how the Vikings are able to regain that level of emotion which you need to play at such a high level in the playoffs. Of course, this is similar to what the Packers did in 2010 when it made it’s Super Bowl run. Still, that was a team led by an elite QB coming into his prime and a juggernaut of a defense. Vikings don’t have either.

Even if we assume the emotional levels will match, the Packers still have the edge. Like I said, it was a herculean-like effort for the Vikes to pull of this win. I don’t see Dr. Ponder (and not Mr. Steele) re-appearing to the tune of 200+ yards, 3TDs, and zero turnovers. And, in our third try, the Packers HAVE to limit AP to less than 200-yards. Right?!?! Plus, the Vikings pulled off this win after the Packers spotted them 13 points while it toiled away with running Ryan Grant the first two possessions – not to mention a few lucky bounces, such as the non-catch catch. Meanwhile, this was one of the worst defensive performances of the season by the Packers. Bottom line, there was a lot that went right for the Vikes last Sunday, while the Packers did not look like the same team that had been starting to peak at the right time. I just do not see the same thing happening, and that is what needs to happen in order for the Vikes to win.

Vikings Rube:

You are absolutely right (holy hell, someone write that down). It will be difficult for the Vikings to match the emotion of last Sunday’s game. But that is the beauty of it. They do not have to achieve that kind of emotion. There is no pressure on them. Just like the Packers in 2010. Or the Giants in 2012. Both teams won big games going into the playoffs and replicated that success in the playoffs. The Vikings can just go out and play football. Meanwhile, the pressure continues to build for the Green and Gold. The Packers are looking at this match-up and thinking, man, we got gifted the first game, played an outstanding offensive game in round two, and somehow we still lost. We should be 0-2 against this squad. The Packers’ defense is reeling. They have shown no answer for stopping AP. And for the record, I am not sure there is one. I am waiting to hear back from my buddy at NASA.

Mr. Steele's wedding was the first one without a reception.

Mr. Steele’s wedding was the first one without a reception.

Now, will Dr. Ponder play as well this Saturday as he did last Sunday? Maybe not. But, he is trending in the right direction. His average QBR during the last 4 games of the season (against quality opponents) was nearly 30 points higher than through his previous 12 games. And 4 games is a decent sample size. Keeping that in mind, if Dr. Ponder can find the stadium, lace his shoes up right, and not throw any back-breaking INTs he could manage the Vikes to victory. Remember, just saying that AP will not continue to impose his will on this defense is not a solution. Coach Reid…I mean McCarthy…better come up with a better scheme than that.

Packers Roob:

You will not win in the playoffs hoping your QB can be a game-manager. The Vikings defense is not elite enough to accomplish that. Dr. Ponder needs to have a similar effort for the Vikes to win. And that is assuming AP runs roughshod over our defense again. And even though there is no stopping this beast, I do expect the third time to be a little more difficult for him. This is a proud defense. Woodson is coming back this week, and he is known for sticking his nose in there and making tackles at the line or even behind it. And you have got to expect the coaching staff to embarrass Tramon, Shields, and Hayward for their poor tackling efforts. Check that, Tramon did not make tackling efforts, he simply played ole with AP.

Plus, lost in AP’s dominance was B.J. Raji’s dominance. He was constantly in the backfield, bottling up the middle of the line. AP got his yards by bouncing it outside where our OLB’s – yes, that includes Claymaker – poorly set the edge and/or the CB’s wanted no part of AP. But, if Raji and Pickett continue to control the middle and are able to push the line into the backfield, AP will have to work hard, again, to get his yards. If the Packers maintain better gap control, they can limit AP. And before you go off, realize that by limiting AP, I simply mean limiting him to the low-100’s. That can be accomplished. In his career, AP has had the following rushing yards at Lambeau: 2011 – 51 yds.; 2010 – 131; 2009 – 97; 2008 – 103; and 2008 – 45. Though there are many variables in play with such a historical study – i.e. worse offensive lines and blowouts by the Packers – those performances show that the Packers have historically “limited” AP to normal, human-level rushing totals. If the Packers expect to win, AP’s 200-yard average cannot continue.

Vikings Rube:

I have to give credit, where credit is due, Woodson is a better tackler than Tramon. Though, that might the world’s lowest bar. Raji did play well and Sullivan played poorly. If you want to talk about a trend that likely will not continue, that is it. Sullivan is too good of a player (his Pro Bowl spot was stolen by the Packers’ back-up center) to let that happen twice. So, even if the Packers are able to improve on the edges, I expect a similar improvement for the Vikings in the middle. And while 200 yards might be a reach, AP and the Vikes could get a win with a consistent 150 and a well-managed game from Dr. Ponder.

That said, the team’s success hinges, not necessarily on the offense (where I expect the Vikings to put up some points), but on the defense (where there are a couple of significant question marks). Those questions marks are the health of Antoine Winfield and Brian Robison. Both are impact players for the Vikings and not having either or both could suck all the drama out of this weekend’s match-up faster than a Psy concert on New Year’s Eve.

(Not so quick aside, after watching Psy’s terrible performance on New Year’s Eve, he had the gall to announce that he is putting an end to the Gangnam Style momentum? My first reaction was: what a moron!!! Why kill the golden goose? Milk that bad boy for all it is worth. Just ask other one-hit wonders (that is right Psy, you are a one-hit wonder) like Vanilla Ice and Lou Bega. You do not kill the golden goose. My second reaction (I know what you are thinking – you had two reactions to this news – this is my life) was: who does he think he is? When we (putting on my society hat), make you an overnight millionaire, WE tell YOU when to stop playing that terrible song. That means we might just stop paying attention or we might relegate it to the wedding circuit for the next 10 to 15 years (in which case –  you’re welcome). Or, we may give that bad boy an S-curve bounce in the charts and have its remix (thank you Skrillex) be the hit song of this summer. We are fickle and have not decided yet. But you will keep playing it until we decide.

Okay, back to football.

Robison's strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

Robison’s strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

The loss of Winfield or Robison would be killer. Robison has had a really good season and his strip sack in Sunday’s game was a huge turning point. Him being out there is critical to the Vikes rushing the passer and getting home with 4 guys. Perhaps most importantly, he allows Everson Griffen to play inside, where he had a field day on Sunday, notching a hat trick with 3 sacks. As huge a loss as Robison would be, the loss of Winfield might be even bigger. Prior to Winfield’s injury, Rodgers was Ponder-like 8 for 15 for 48 yards and one TD. After Winfield’s injury, with Sherrels and Jefferson seeing more playing time, Rodgers went 20 for 25 for 317 yards and 3 TDs. That is downright scary.

Both players swear they will play this week. But a bum shoulder is not the best injury for a defensive lineman. It is just about as bad as a broken hand for a defensive back. The outlook is scary and the Vikes will need both players healthy if they are going to prevail.

Packers Roob:

Raji’s been on a tear for the last 1½ months or so. And he didn’t abuse Sully; he abused those turnstiles you call guards. Though not as dominant as last Sunday, Raji was regularly blowing up the middle runs in the first go-around too. I expect the same to happen this third game.

Finally, we get to the most important part of Saturday’s game: the relative health of each team. In a weird turn of events, the Packers enter Saturday’s game about as healthy as it can be. The only noteworthy injury to follow is Jordy, who mysteriously missed practice early this week. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear serious and he appears to be full-go. And yes, I’m aware of Jerel Worthy’s season-ending injury, but those 14 tackles aren’t exactly tough to replace. Conversely, there are major injury issues with the Vikings. You are absolutely right, Winfield’s injury opened the flood-gates to Rodgers & Co. You’re also forgetting your new favorite, the Golden Fundamental. He was out for the last part of the game and, while it sounds like he will play, he may be limited. If both Smith and Winfield are out or severely limited, the game is over before it begins.

Frankly, Robison does not scare me. He made the most important play of the game when he stripped-sacked Rodgers. But, I do not buy into his importance. And the reason is simple: I do not care how much you sack Rodgers. Unless it turns into the first-half of the Seahawks game where Rodgers was sacked a preposterous 8-times or something, sacking him a number of times throughout the game has little impact on his effectiveness. In Sunday’s game, the Vikings had 5 sacks and applied some pressure on top of that. What did Rodgers do? Throw for 365 yards and 4 TD’s. This was his third-consecutive game of 3 or more TDs and nearly-or-above 300 yards throwing. The offense is clicking. The only thing I worry about with the sacks is the strip-sack. But, Rodgers isn’t Culpepper with the ball. And as I said last week, the sacks often occur because of Rodger’s propensity to hold the ball longer in hopes of making plays with his feet. He’s simply lethal rolling out of the pocket. So, bring the pressure. You may get the sacks. Unless you get a turnover with it – which is not a common occurrence when Rodgers is pressured – I do not expect the sacks, pressure, or hits to impact the game as it does with other QBs. Thus, to me, the game turns on the Vikings’ secondary play. Given the recent success of the Packers passing offense and the Vikings injuries, the Packers are probably licking their chops to get after it Saturday night.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

And, let’s not also forget about the success of the Packers run game Sunday. Though far from great, once Ryan Grant was benched and DuJuan Harris was inserted into the full-time role, the run game produced an effective 70 yards on 14 carries, good enough for a 5.0 ypc. If the Packers continue to have any sort of success with the run game, the offense should approach, if not surpass, 30 points again. I do not see the Vikings going tit-for-tat in the scoring department like last week. So, yeah, you may say, I am rather confident heading into Saturday’s showdown.

One final note – 2 of Walsh’s 3 misses were in outdoor games – at Chicago and at Lambeau. Considering the Vikes only played four outdoor games this season and the fact Walsh has never kicked in a game when the temperatures will be 20-degrees or below, your second-best offensive weapon may not be as reliable. (And save it. Yes, I know Shanksby is still our kicker.)

Vikings Rube:

Only a Packers Roob would try and go after a Pro Bowl, record-setting kicker with some foolish stat like that. All three of those misses occurred on either Thursday or Sunday, this weekend’s game is Saturday night. Boom! The best way to counter a preposterous stat is with another preposterous stat.

You are sort of right about Rodgers. You cannot stop him by blitzing him. You can stop him by getting pressure with your front four. That is where Robison’s value comes in. Plus, and you completely ignored this, it is not just about Robison, but instead about allowing Griffen to rush from the middle, that means so much to the Vikings defensive scheme. Unfortunately, even with that pressure from the front four, I am not sure a coached up Sherrels or Jefferson can hold their own. That is why Winfield is so important.

So, now that I have re-explained it to you, how about that vaunted Packers running attack. Sure, the Packers averaged 5 yards a carry, but it was not consistent. Harris had more than half his yards, 39, on just 5 carries. Everything else was a few yards here and there. Since the Packers are not going to give him the rock 25 plus times and let him try to break a big one, why even bother? Rodgers has already shown an ability to sustain a drive without running the ball. Take a page out of Sean Payton’s book and just throw it 50+ times. Now that is a scary proposition. And as proof, in 5 of the 6 scoring drives last weekend, the Packers ran the ball two times or less. Um, hmmmmm, even Andy Reid could figure this one out. Actually, on second thought, never mind…pay no attention to that…I was only playing around.

Predictions:

Vikings Rube:

I know what the logical move is here. Pick the Green and Gold. Vegas has them as a TD+ favorite. Fortunately, Adrian Peterson plays for the Vikings and this season has just been one of those years. He has done illogical things all year. He is a man possessed who has answered the bell every time he has been called on. Oh, 2nd and 27 following a moronic set of penalties? How about 28 and a trail of bodies for 1st and Goal. Out of the backfield after a ball fake? Sure, this receiving thing cannot be that hard. 2nd and 10 on the final drive of the game/season and only seconds remaining? I will have 26 yards and a near record to set up Blair for a chippy. Block a FG or make a tackle on special teams? Okay, so he only wants to do that. It seems like every time the Vikings have needed him, Peterson has performed. Logical or not. What is more, the Vikings’ opponents knew it was going to him and they still could not stop him. That only adds to the lunacy. I am not picking against him now. Peterson gets whatever we need, including a Vikings playoff win.

Vikings 30 Packers 28

Packers Roob:

The Packers have been looking to the playoffs all season long. That is why they were so cautious with injuries and have been slowly gaining momentum to come into the playoffs playing at or near its peak. Last week was a setback for the defense. But, the return of Woodson will make a difference and I think the rest of the defense will fair better tackling AP. Rodgers & Co. keeps on rolling. This is a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. With last year’s brutal ending in mind, they will be looking for redemption. Packers start their Super Bowl run with a complete game victory over the Vikes.

Pack 34 Vikes 23

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Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

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 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.

What the Hell is Going On Out There?!

Both the Gophers and Vikings end the week with better records than the Badgers and Packers. As Vince said, “What the hell is going on out there?!?!?” The most disappointing aspect of the Packers loss is the fact that so little has changed from last year’s problems.

The Packers “boasted” one of the worst defenses in the league last year. Hemorrhaging yards and big plays, the defense was painful to watch. It couldn’t apply any pressure on opposing QB’s, couldn’t get off the field on 3rd downs, and sound tackling was a figment of our imagination. All pre-season, we heard about the upgrades at crucial positions and how much the fundamentals were emphasized. Things were going to be different. Well, what happens week 1 against Alex Smith – yes, that Alex Smith – & Co.? The defense allowed Smith to orchestrate 5 straight scoring drives, made Frank Gore and the player formerly known as Randy Moss relevant for one week, and still struggled tackling – I’m looking at you Morgan Burnett.

And even with Claymaker’s 2.5 sacks, the Packers got little pressure throughout the game. Capers was forced to bring heavy blitzes in the second half to create some sort of pressure. But even that was mostly ineffective. Perry has the bull rush, and that’s pretty much it – not to mention he is a huge liability in pass coverage. Worthy, Daniels, etc. were invisible. Moses got little run. And I barely saw Hayward or McMillian out there (though that could be a good sign as in no word from secondary players means they did their job. We can hope.) Just no help from the newcomers. As they say, some things never change.

To pile on those issues, the coaching was poor. In classic MM fashion, he stubbornly attempted to establish a running game at various points in the second half when it was so clearly obvious we weren’t running on them. And then on the first possession of the second half, MM goes for the home-run play on 3rd-and-1. I’m all for aggressive play-calling. But, only when it’s appropriate. That was the wrong spot to get aggressive. We had yet to establish any rhythm on offense and needed to sustain that drive.

The most egregious coaching errors (and one player mental error), though, were at the end of the first half. Down only six despite being dominated for most of the half, the Packers got the ball with just over :50 left at their own 20-yard line. After a short completion on 2nd down, MM called a timeout with around :30+ second left. Coaching error number 1. On the ensuing play, A-Rodg couldn’t find anyone and instead of sliding and keeping the clock running, he threw it away, preserving SF’s last timeout. Player mental error. Reminiscent of Bradshaw’s long scamper to get the G-Men into range for the fateful Hail Mary to end that first half, the 49ers sent in Colin Kaepernick – the backup QB who is well-known for his running – who proceeded to take a QB draw for around 20 yards. An obvious play call that somehow no one on the GB coaching staff saw coming. Coaching error number 2. The result was the 49ers were in “field goal range” – quoted because it was still a 63-yarder. The timeout was way too aggressive, particularly since the 49ers defense is so dominant. And how the players were so woefully unprepared for Kaepernick is unacceptable. You can’t give away free points like that. And even though the Packers lost by 8, the 3 points required the Packers going for 2 and surely made it seem like a more daunting comeback when they needed 2 TDs and 2 successful 2-point conversions.

One of the more disappointing efforts of the afternoon belonged to D.J. Smith. He took poor angles and got shoved off potential tackles. His lack of size was evident out there. Not to be outdone, Hawk was up to his normal play – making tackles 3-5 yards downfield. He made one great play behind the line of scrimmage in the 1st half to force a field goal. Just more of the same.

As for the offense, the 49ers forced the Packers to methodically march down the field with underneath plays. They took away the deep shots and easily handled the alleged Packers running game. Randall Cobb emerged as the star of the offense. Making good on my Percy-Lite comparison, Cobb lined up all over the field – slot, out wide, and in the backfield. Although he didn’t register a carry, he wreaked havoc out of the backfield on quick hits to the flat. MM will get more creative with the burgeoning stud and he will be a big playmaker for the Packers this season.

Often overlooked, James Jones also put together a nice game. He had a couple long gains, and was looked to on a few bombs. He was hosed on a completed bomb because of a phantom offensive pass interference. (Yes, I know he had two arms extended, but the alleged push off didn’t create any unfair separation. No way that’s called by the real refs.) Most impressive for Jones was his YAC. Not known for the same, he made some nice moves and created most of his YAC.

I’d be remiss not highlight the offensive line’s play. Against a formidable front 7, the line held up for the most part. Aldon Smith got his hands on A-Rodg only when Rodgers broke away from the pocket. Justin Smith was never heard from. Newhouse had a bad false start penalty early in the game, continuing a trend from pre-season. But, otherwise, his name or number were never called. All-in-all, it was a pretty solid effort by the O-line. (Of course, this completely ignores the fact they can’t run-block – but we already knew that.)

Finally, it needs to be said. The refs were absolutely horrendous. I think the Packers got the short end of the bad calls – even with that missed block in the back on Cobb’s punt return. Calls were missed all game long. The refs conferenced over almost every call, slowing the game down to a painful level at times. It is simply unacceptable because the refs absolutely had a negative impact on the game. Did they lose the game for the Packers? No. But, they made their mark on the game in a negative way and who knows how the chain of the events impacts the game.

It’s one game. Far too early to read anything more into this other than the Packers got beat by a better team. The 49ers showed last season’s playoff run is no fluke. With a quick turnaround for Thursday’s game, the Packers don’t have time to lick their wounds. A Bears team far improved on offense will be a tough opponent for this defense. Hopefully, this loss lights a fire under the team’s ass, and makes them realize this is a different season and it won’t be so easy this time around.

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!

Why Packers Fans Should Care About Vegas Odds

Packers are the favorites again. But, a 12-win season is a challenge for any team – even an Aaron Rodgers led team

Proving once again the NFL season never ends, Vegas released the over/under victories lines for the 2012 NFL regular season. Predictably, the Packers lead the pack (terrible, unintentional pun turned intentional after I caught it) with the over/under on the 2012 season set at 12 (same as The Hoodies). Easy money, right? After all, this is the same offense that set all kinds of records last season, but now should have a much better defense after the infuse of talent via the draft.  But, there’s a few things you need to consider before putting down your next mortgage payment on the over.

1. History

If you don’t learn anything from history, you are condemned to repeat it. History repeats itself, and the numbers aren’t favorable to a repeat of last season. To begin with, remember that the Packers just won 15 games, but set a franchise record in doing so. Prior to last season, the Packers had won 13 games only four times in franchise history, including repeating this effort in 1996 and 1997. Never a 14-win season. In order to win the over-bet, the Packers would have to do something that has only been done once before in franchise history – back-to-back 13+ win seasons.

Admittedly, franchise records are more illustrative than instructive. After all, the Dan Devine and Lindy Infante years are included. But, league history is also not favorable. Since 1990, there have been only 46 teams that went 13-3 or better. Of those 46 teams, only five had faired better than 12 wins in the prior seasons, with another five teams winning 12 games in the prior season. Why do you ask? Simple – parity.

2. League Parity

As the saying goes: Any given Sunday. What makes the NFL the best pro sports league is that every team has a legitimate shot to win every week. Need I remind you that the seemingly invincible and undefeated Packers got embarrassed at Arrowhead last season? I also remember the eventual Super Bowl champs getting absolutely thrashed by the T-Jax led Seachickens 36-25 at home (I remember because this was my King of the Hill pick).

Since 2000, there have been 9 different Super Bowl winners and 16 different teams to play in the big game. On average, half the teams that make the playoffs fail to make the playoffs in the very next season. It is this parity and unpredictability that make 13-wins easier said than done, even for an Aaron Rodgers led squad.

3. Schedule

Also working against the 2012 Packers is the schedule. Because of its success last season, the Packers face a sterner test this season. The Packers play the defending Super Bowl champs on the road and three other division champs (SF, NO, and Houston). Packers also have a few trap games that will be harder games than they should: at Seattle – sandwiched between the Thursday night Bears game and hosting Who Dat nation – and hosting the Vikes – sandwiched between two Sunday night games at NYG and at home against the Motor City Kitties.

The Packers also play in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, divisions in the league. The Lions are THE up-and-coming young team primed to be perennial playoffs contenders. Da Bears should be much improved on offense now that Cutler got his favorite old target, Brandon Marshall, and spent a second-round pick on Alshon Jeffery, a beast WR from South Carolina. Da Bears are getting a little long in the tooth on defense, but they always play Rodgers tough. And the Vikings are, well, a rebuilding project. But as Ponder proved when they hosted the Pack last season, he’s not afraid to go right after Woodson & Co. Sweeping the division again will be a tough feet for the Packers to duplicate in 2012.

4. Flukes, Injuries, and the Unexpected

Finally, there is always the unpredictable. The Packers have great depth at numerous spots on the roster; but, as the case with most teams, there are a few positions thin in depth. A few injuries along the offensive line like last season – think Sitton, Bulaga, Saturday – would result in continued line shuffling and likely inconsistent play. The Packers are banking on James Starks and Alex Green shouldering the load at running back, but both players are coming off injuries. And, the obvious, an injury to key players like Rodgers, Clay, Woodson, etc. would be absolutely crushing.

Beyond just injuries, though, are the flukes that occur throughout the season. A perfect example of this is the UW Badgers 2011 season. But for a hail mary and another long completion under a minute left, the Badgers would have been playing in the BCS Championship Game (assuming the SEC bias wouldn’t have still prevailed). It’s a long season and crazy things can happen. And even an easy mid-season stretch like St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Arizona could result in players taking the games a little easier, making the Packers vulnerable.

The bottom line is that it is hard to back-up a franchise-best season with another stellar season. 13+ wins is tough to accomplish in today’s NFL. I’d like to think that the over-play should be the right play. But, as you can see, it will be quite the accomplishment if they do. And even if they don’t, an 11- or 12-win season is just fine too; because all that matters is ending with a win!