Tag Archives: B.J. Raji

Should the Packers Pursue Revis Island?

Could Revis don the Green-and-Gold next season? Though possible, it's a luxury the Packers cannot afford.

Could Revis don the Green-and-Gold next season? Though possible, it’s a luxury the Packers cannot afford.

Because the J-E-T-S cannot yield the spotlight, Woody Johnson made it know this week that Darrelle Revis – the undisputed best corner in the league – is available via trade. The 27-year-old CB is coming off an ACL injury, which may be allowing this type of player to hit the market. But, even with an ACL injury, there are sure to be many suitors for his services. So, are the Packers one of those teams?

Given the Packers recent struggles on defense (especially with Tramon’s end of season disappearance), it should be of little surprise the Packers are being linked to these rumors.

Trading for Revis would improve one of the deeper set of defensive backs in the league. Starting Revis, Williams, Shields, and Hayward, with House as the 5th back, would be the envy of all teams. And in a division with Megatron, Brandon Marshall, and (deep breath) Jennings (if he dons the Purple), housing Revis would go a long ways in controlling opposing passing offenses.

And with a secondary that can go five-deep, it should allow the front-seven more time to get after the QB. You can be sure Matthews would greatly appreciate the extra split second to close on another sack.

So, yes, it makes sense on the surface. But, there are several issues with making this type of move that cannot be ignored.

First, Revis is coming off an ACL injury. It’s impossible to predict how he’ll play upon his return. AP’s dominance less than a year removed from a similar injury gives hope. But, it’s not hard to think of players that never regained their prior form following the same injury. It’s a risky proposition, even for a player of Revis’ caliber.

Second, to state it nicely, pulling off this trade isn’t exactly TT’s modus operandi. But recall, TT traded UP in last year’s draft on three occasions. Could TT’s evil step-brother strike again?

In order to swing this deal, multiple picks and potentially a player or two would have to be traded away. Daunting, maybe. But, not impossible. A deal including our first-round selection, a later pick or pick in next year’s draft, and Jennings (after franchising him) might get it done. You could include Tramon instead of Jennings. Or, frankly, offer up a collection of players for them to choose: Jennings, Tramon, Finley, Hawk, etc. The Packers have the assets to pull off the deal. It’s the effect of the deal that raises two issues that simply cannot be overlooked.

Revis will demand a “max” contract – borrowing language from the NBA – when his current contract expires in 2014. In order to sign Revis, you will not be able to retain all three of Rodgers, Clay, and Raji. Obviously, the odd-man out will be Raji. But even still, having three “max” contracts completed so close together will further impact the Packers ability to retain other core cogs of the team: Shields, Jordy, James Jones, Bulaga, etc. The toughest aspect for fans to appreciate is how mega-contracts for Rodgers, Matthews, and Revis impact the teams ability to keep the core together.

Without Raji, the Packers would be unable to stop any running game.

Without Raji, the Packers would be unable to stop any running game.

Assuming Raji would be the odd man out in this situation, losing him would be too costly for this team. There is simply no one on the team like Raji. You lose Raji, you lose any ability to stop the run. Pickett is a good run stuffer, but he’d be the only load up front for opposing offenses to contend with. And he’s advancing in age. So, without the young legs of Raji up-front, a secondary that can blanket anyone might not matter when teams run it down our throat all game long.

The easy solution would be building the line through the draft. But, as we’ve witnessed, it’s not always that easy. Worthy, Neal, and Daniels are all draft picks that define players that can occasionally flash, but are absent for long stretches of the game.

It seems ridiculous to say that Raji is a deciding factor in not making this move. I mean, it’s a no-brainer who’d you rather have on the team when considering them alone. But, given the depth at CB, lack of depth on the D-line, and cap space to pull of this deal, trading for Revis is a luxury the Packers simply cannot afford.

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One Man’s Fake Dead Girlfriend, Is Another Man’s Steal Of The Draft

2013’s strangest story gets weirder each and every day. I mean, who expected Octomom to hop back on the stripper pole?? Okay, sad jokes aside, the story of this very new year has been that of confused/disgraced Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s story played out this week like something out of the Theater of the Absurd. He did not know this was a hoax? Hang on, he was not complicit? This kid was supposed to be attending classes at one of the preeminent universities in this country and yet he was duped into a 2 year online relationship with a girl who, let’s face it, was a 7 out of 10 on a good day!? Either he is a hopeless romantic, gay, in on the hoax, or some combination of those three.

But here is the thing: it does not matter. I do not care. Neither should any self-respecting Vikings or Packers fan.

Te'o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why...

Te’o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why…

Manti Te’o is clearly a bit of a hunyuck. But he is also one helluva a football player. Sure, he got lit up like Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation house in the national championship game, but do you think he had other things on his mind? According to approximately 326,789 online reports, Te’o’s life had been falling apart (behind the Golden Dome) for about three weeks. Anytime you are spending a lot of QT with the school athletic director – Jack Swarbrick – your stress level is likely a bit higher than normal. Might even affect your play a little, especially against a squad like Alabama.

So, giving Te’o a mulligan for the Alabama game, what do we know? Te’o averaged 125 tackles, including 61 solo numbers, during the last three years. The guy has been a tackling machine. This year, he has added some play-making ability in the secondary, nabbing 7 INTs.

In terms of off-season hardware, the guy pretty much cleaned house. In fact, Te’o is the most decorated defensive player in college football history. His awards list includes: IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. Of course, he also took 2nd in the Heisman Trophy race.

Now, did the fact that Te’o’s fake girlfriend supposedly died only 6 hours after his grandma (or was it before – a cloudy timeline is a bit suspecting to say the least) give him a bit more national noteriety? Undoubtedly. Did his star shine a bit brighter? Assuredly. But he still had to perform on Saturdays. And perform he did.

Prior to Te’o’s world falling apart in spectacular fashion, he was ranked as the top linebacker in the country and, according to most draftniks, a guaranteed Top 10 pick. Now? Who knows? And that is where we come in.

Both the Vikings and Packers could use an improvement at middle linebacker. The Vikings have Jasper Brinkley, who had a decent season, but Te’o is the type of talent that could carry a franchise for the next 10 years. Now there could be some concern that Te’o could not adapt to the Vikings’ Cover 2 because in that system, the middle linebacker has to be able to get to the deep seam to help the safeties. And while Te’o has shown flashes of strong ball skills, particularly this season, he does not have break away speed. All of that said, I am not too worried, Te’o would still be a major upgrade for the Vikings and he would represent a superb value at the 23rd overall spot.

Hawk's minutes this year were way too high and Te'o would be a huge upgrade.

Hawk’s minutes this year were way too high and Te’o would be a huge upgrade.

The Packers could use a middle linebacker even more considering the corpse of A.J. Hawk logged serious minutes for the Green and Gold this year. For that reason alone, you know – having a pulse – Te’o would represent a significant upgrade in Dom Capers’s system.

Talent upgrade aside, the Packers might actually be a better fit for Te’o considering that he ran a 3-4 at Notre Dame. That system would not require him to get as deep on his pass drops and he would have the luxury of playing with a near Pro Bowler at nose tackle – B.J. Raji. Linebackers in a 3-4 are only as good as their nose tackle. And having Raji occupy interior linemen would give Te’o space to do what he does best: make tackles. He and Bishop would finally give the Packers top-end talents at ILB.

The Packers also have a veteran squad that could easily address/diffuse any lingering issues with Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend. This is perhaps more important than anything else considering how poorly Te’o played in the national championship game with everything on his mind.

Of course, this is all speculation. Over the next several months, we will learn – hopefully – the truth behind this hoax. And the truth will be the big determining factor into how much this hoax will affect Te’o’s draft stock, if at all. But for now, the imaginary 7 out of 10, Lennay Kakua, could be a very real blessing in disguise for the Vikings or Packers come draft day.

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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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.

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.

Why the Packers Aren’t Active in Free Agency

There will not be any Reggie White type signings for the Pack in the foreseeable future.

The Packers just completed one of its best regular seasons in franchise history. But, a 15-1 record guaranteed nothing, as the team fell in the first playoff game in miserable fashion. It’s clear the Packers are just a few difference-makers on defense from claiming its 5th Super Bowl title. So, TT should be active in getting those difference-makers in free agency, right? Wrong. Although it would be nice, the Packers simply cannot be active in free agency.

We all know TT has done a helluva job building this team through the draft. Undoubtedly, TT is one of the best in the league in mining the middle- to late-rounds for talented players that can contribute and develop into key members for the squad: JMike (3rd Rd.), James Jones (3rd), Sitton (4th), T.J. Lang (4th), Newhouse (5th), Starks (6th), Bishop (6th), Crosby (6th), and D.J. Smith (6th). The list only grows longer when you consider the undrafted free agents he has hit on. But, as with all things in life, this success comes with a cost.

Of the players identified above, most have received a healthy new contract to keep them around for the foreseeable future. And, that is the reason why the Packers simply cannot participate in free agency. To keep the core that won Super Bowl XLV together, TT must have enough money to pay them. And coming down the pipeline are not simply core players needing new deals. Instead, TT has the daunting task of figuring out cap-friendly deals to keep Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, and Aaron Rodgers.

First up is Greg Jennings. The star receiver is in his last year of a 4-year extension he signed in 2009. Jennings will hit free agency at the ripe age of 29 and is one of the best WR’s in the business. If you’ve been paying attention at all to the free agency frenzy this past week, you know that WR’s have been getting absurd contracts. Consider, Josh Morgan – all 9 career TD’s in 4 seasons – is getting $12M over two years, $7.3M of which is fully guaranteed. Or, Pierre Garcon – he whose single-season career bests are 6 TDs and 947 yards – signed a 5-year, $42.5M contract, $20.5M guaranteed. (Sidenote – do you think other franchises have asterisks next to Redskins-signed players when agents use said contracts for favorable comparisons in negotiations? I’ve gotta think anytime an agent cites to a Dan Snyder contract, TT and Russ Ball smirk and say try again.) Needless to say, Jennings is in line for a substantial deal; one that is going to require TT and Russ Ball to get as creative as ever to not cripple the Pack’s salary cap for the future.

Next, we have the Claymaker. Matthews is still only 25, but has already established himself as one of the best defensive players in the game. He was second for Defensive MVP in 2010 and is the best defensive player that has donned the Green-and-Gold since Reggie White. If you thought last season’s defensive efforts were meager, just imagine if the offense didn’t have to devote two players to Clay every snap. It’s not a pretty thought. Matthews’ rookie contract expires in 2014. He’s in line for a massive contract extension. Super Mario Williams just got a 6-year, $100M contract, and this, off a season he finished with a knee injury. Last season, Da Bears (still suck) signed a 30-year-old Julius Peppers to a 6-year, $84M deal, with $42M guaranteed. When Matthews hits free agency, he will only be 27 and hardly have had a poor season (assuming he’s healthy (knock on wood!!!)). This contract might be particularly difficult. I would not be shocked if the Pack slap the franchise tag on Clay to give them extra time to figure out a deal.

Free agency is a no-go when you need to resign this Orca in the next year or two.

Finally, and probably the reason why Claymaker’s contract may be on the back-burner for a while, Rodgers is in line for a new contract. Savvy as always, TT signed Rodgers to a healthy extension back in 2008 when Rodgers had yet to even complete his first season starting. Obviously, the contract extension was a shrewd move. And, Rodgers still has 3 years before he reaches free agency. But, to say Rodgers has outperformed his contract would be the understatement of the year – remember, if the Pack had franchised Flynn, the franchise number for Flynn would have been more than Rodgers’ 2012 salary. TT will look to sign Rodgers to a deal to keep him in Green-and-Gold for the rest of his career (or at least until his good years are past and the Vikes will overpay out of desperation). Drew Brees’ contract (whenever he signs it) will set a new benchmark for elite QBs. Right now, Mr. Bundchen is playing on a 5-year, $78.5M deal, of which $48.5M is guaranteed. Whenever Rodgers reaches a new deal, I imagine it will reach 9-figures.

Long story longer, if you weren’t keeping track (and I’m not sure I even did), keeping those three players alone will likely cost the Packers upwards of $200M+. And that doesn’t even account for B.J. Raji, Sam Shields (assuming he doesn’t regress like last season), Bryan Bulaga, JMike (again), and Mike Neal (kidding) to name a few others that will also likely need to be resigned.

TT’s drafting prowess is the reason the Packers are set to become the team of the decade. To do so, though, TT must forego free agency in order to ensure he can resign the best players. So, those hoping the Packers will make a run at Kamerion Wimbley, consider: do you want Wimbley or the cap room to ensure the core of our team is together? I think it’s a no-brainer when you look at the big picture.

An Exercise in Futility

TT is averse to free agency, but this could be the year he breaks that trend.

Let’s be honest, talking free agency strategy with Ted Thompson running our squad has been mostly an exercise in futility. The way TT pinches pennies, you’d think he was Mitt Romney’s financial advisor. But, the few times he has dipped his toes in the free agency waters, he’s hit it big by plucking Woodson and Pickett. The Packers have few needs, and free agency might be a good route for TT to fill a need or two.

For starters, the Packers have approximately $6.9 million in cap space presently, which includes an added bonus of $1.6M thanks to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. That’s not a lot to wheel and deal, and I expect TT to create more cap space in the coming days. The two obvious candidates are DD and Clifton. Both players have been great players and representative for the Packers throughout their careers. But, it’s a cut-throat business and the Pack have younger and better players that need to see the playing field in their place – Cobb/Gurley and Newhouse. TT has always been one to cut a player one season too soon than too late (see Cullen Jenkins), and I expect this will be no different. Frankly, I’d love to see TT cut Mr. T-Rex arms (Hawk). I have no clue what the cap repercussions may be in doing so (if you can find this information out, please comment and I will update accordingly), but he’s a dud and replaceable. Regardless, if the Packers handle DD and Clifton, they would be sitting with approximately $12M – more than enough ammunition for TT to get to work in free agency.

Even though our defense is in desperate need of some upgrades, the biggest priority in free agency needs to be retaining or replacing Scott Wells. Numerous reports indicate Wells harbors vitriol towards the Packers because they attempted to replace him in years past and refuse to pay him top-5 money for his position. Wells may be in for a rude awakening, though, once he gets to free agency. After all, the same reasons the Packers have continually tried replacing him – short, stocky, and not a road grader – still exist. In fact, his value is probably the greatest with the Packers than any other team because of his familiarity with the system and it being a pass-oriented attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up resigning with the Packers once he sees his market is not nearly as big as he anticipates. This situation reminds me James Jones from last year in that respect.

In the event Wells signs elsewhere, there are a number of available centers in free agency. Chris Myers from Houston is regarded as the best available center. He comes from a zone-blocking scheme and led their top-ranked rushing attack. He’s also over-30, though. An interesting prospect is Samson Satele from Oakland. He’s younger at 27 and anchored the 2nd and 7th ranked rushing offenses the past two seasons. Otherwise, the Pack will have to look to the draft to replace Wells. A pair of Sconnie’s are regarded as two of the best available centers in the draft – Peter Konz (1st round grade) and Kevin Zeitler (guard, but might be better suited for C).

After Wells, then it’s a matter of finding the right fit for the right price on defense. Obviously, the Packers could use upgrades or depth at every position on defense. And, to beat you to the punch, Mario Williams is out of the question. He’s going to demand the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, and the Packers have too many players to resign in future years – Matthews, Rodgers, Jennings, and Raji to name a few. So who, exactly, could the Packers target? Well, who the hell knows, but here’s a few names to keep in mind as the free agency madness gets into full-swing:

Mark Anderson – OLB for the Pats. He resurrected his career with the Pats this past season, recording 10 sacks. At 29, he’s still relatively young and would be an instant upgrade opposite Matthews. He won’t demand top-dollar, either, and would be the savvy, under-the-radar type move that may appeal to TT.

Kamerion Wimbley – OLB for Oakland. He’s under contract with Oakland, but his contract will require the Raiders to cut him soon. He’s 28 and is very athletic and talented at 6′-4″ and 255 lbs. He had 7 sacks this past season, and 9 the year before. In six full seasons, he has 42.5 sacks. Needless to say, he’d be a great compliment to Matthews. Unfortunately, his price tag will probably be too steep for TT.

Adam Carriker – DE for the Skins. He’s a former high draft pick that hasn’t panned out. But, he’s still only 28, and at 6′-6″ and 315 lbs., he could play at NT or DE in the 3-4. Starting in 15 games last season at the nose tackle position for the Skins’ 3-4 defense, he notched 5.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he’s not going to garner much immediate attention and should come on the cheap.

Tracy Porter – CB for the ‘Aints. Tracy Porter happens to be one of my favorite non-Packers player because of this play. Don’t forget, Porter is the player that iced the Super Bowl win with the late pick-six on Manning. He clearly does not shy from the big-moment and, at 26, he’s a player with a lot of potential still in him. Porter’s problem, though, has been staying healthy, having never survived a full season. And because of this, he might come cheaper than a young cornerback with his potential might otherwise.

Reggie Nelson – S for the Bungals. Nelson was another former high-draft pick that never made it with his original squad. He’s a safety the Packers may want to target for insurance in case Mr. Pick-Six cannot return. Nelson had a solid season last year with 85 tackles, 4 picks, and 2 sacks and fumbles apiece.

Do you sense a theme in the players listed above? It was intentional. Outside of Wimbley, they are players under-the-radar and not splashy. That’s how TT operates, and if he decides to dabble in the free agency pool, expect him to target these types of players – good fits at the right price. But, considering his last foray into free agency was the huge signing of Duke Preston, well, I’m tempering my expectations.