Tag Archives: C.J. Wilson

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.

2012 AL Central Preview (With A Throwback Twist)

The recent (and sudden) heat wave here in the Midwest means that spring is here and America’s pastime is ramping up for its 2012 debut.

Brewers fans going to miss watching Fielder turn those massive hips on opposing fastballs and sending another moonshot to downtown Milwaukee.

This past offseason saw the movement of one of the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), Albert Pujols, another potential GOAT, Prince Fielder, (if he can lay off the Tofu bacon cheeseburgers), and multiple other big names like C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes.

Unfortunately, none of the big names that switched teams landed with Border Rivals squads the Minnesota Twins or Milwaukee Brewers.  Both the Brewers and the Twins were active in the offseason, though, only the Brewers made a marginal splash in bringing in a semi-marquee name.  With that mind, let’s get to Part 1 of the 2012 AL Central Preview (with a throwback twist):

Milwaukee Brewers

The Crew had a wild offseason.  Right off the bat (to be punny), they had to come to grips with the notion that Prince was not coming back.  A guy who averaged 40+ bombs, 110 RBIs, and 90+ Rs, for the past six years was packing up his vegetarian patty press and skipping town.  He leaves behind him a pretty significant void. Both literally and figuratively. Not only will Prince’s numbers sorely be missed, but, the protection he provided in the line-up, the insurance for Mr. Bernie Brewer, Ryan Braun, is what Brewer fans (and Braun) will miss the most.

Considering Braun’s off-season, if he was not a principal owner of FedEx stock before this season, he certainly is now, losing his battery mate could make life a lot more difficult.  Without Fielder’s presence in the line-up, pitchers can go after Braun a little bit more aggressively. This is particularly nasty for a guy who hits most MLB fastballs like he is hitting them off a tee.  Add to that the cloud of uncertainty overshadowing Braun’s every move, that void will likely be amplified.

To help fill that void, the Crew went out and signed All-Star 3B, Aramis Ramirez, to a 3 year, $36 million deal.  It is the kind of deal that actually balances the risk (Ramirez is an enigma — to say the least) and the reward (he is an undeniable talent).  If the talented/semi-driven Ramirez  shows up, he will be serviceable protection for FedEx’s No.1 Fan and will help drive a better than average MLB offense.

Gamel has some mighty big shoes to fill, but, if this year's spring training is any indication, he just might be up to the task.

The other question marks for the Crew are perpetual prospect-in-waiting, Mat Gamel, and consummate professional, Corey Hart. Gamel has had a terrific spring-training (.400 AVG and 4 HRs), and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to fill-in Fielder’s shoes at 1B.  If he can finally perform at he level scouts have long-projected him at, Fielder’s departure will not hurt nearly as bad.  Hart has been a mainstay in the Crew line-up for the past 8 seasons.  He is a versatile player, he can leadoff or hit 5th, who does a little bit of everything for the team.  He underwent off-season knee surgery and has yet to play an inning of baseball this spring.  His successful return from that surgery is going to be integral to the team’s success overall.

From a pitching perspective, the Crew did not make any significant moves in the off-season.  They will rely, for the most part, on the same stable of arms that they had last year.  That stable is headlined by Zach Greinke (pitching in a contract year), Yovani Gallardo, and Shawn Marcum.  When healthy, and that is the critical distinction, these three starters are probably as good, or better, than any other 3 starters in the NL. Only the Phillies can run out a set of 1-3 starters that can match up with the Crew. But, health is the wild card with all three guys.  Marcum is already on the shelf with shoulder issues. Both Gallardo and Greinke have had their own injury issues in the past. If those three guys can remain relatively healthy, they will keep the Crew in most games.

The bullpen is still anchored by All-Stars John Axford and K-Rod.  Both men were steady performers in the late innings for the Crew.  If the starters can get the Crew to the late innings, these horses will take it from there.

Ultimately, the Crew’s success this season is going to hinge on the squad’s ability to ignore the outside distraction (Braun’s FedEx miracle, Fielder’s absence, K-Rod’s age, Gamel’s boom-or-bust label, etc.)  and focus on the business of playing baseball.  If they can limit the outside distractions, this team can make a push to win the NL Central crown.  And, if they can find their way into the playoffs, they have the staff to match-up with anyone in the National League.

Prediction:     91 wins.  NL Wild Card.

The Twins Are Seriously Interested In Pursuing Free Agent X

How did that ole Tom Jones diddy go…hope is in the air??

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Fort Meyers, FL for the start of the 2012 Minnesota Twins spring training camp.  Leading the way were marquee free agent acquisitions C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt.  They are the power arms signed to bolster one of the more battered staffs in the American League.

Santana never pitched at the Twins new palace, though, neither has any other first rate starter for the home squad.

Not only were Twins pitchers some of the most fragile in league, when they did pitch, they did their best to disprove the notion that Target Field is a “pitchers” park.  Wilson and Oswalt should anchor a Twins staff that is in desperate need of the type of stopper that can pick the ball up every fifth day and inspire a squad.  The Twins have not had a guy like that since two-time Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, toed the rubber for the home nine.  Fortunately, a new stadium and increased payroll flexibility, have allowed the Twins keep their promise to their fans and put a competitive squad on the field, year in and year out.

All right, hold on, hold on, hold on.  Don’t get your Homer Hankey in a knot.  I know what you are thinking, “You chucklehead, the Twins did not sign any of those players.”  If you read the previous couple paragraphs with a bittersweet regret, welcome to the 2012 Twins fan club.  It is cold.  I hope you brought a coat.  At the very least, you are going to need layers.

Not once, during the entire offseason, were the Twins ever reported to be in the discussions for a marquee free agent.  Some of the lists of interested teams for the players referenced above grew to more than half the league, but, never once were the Twins included.  As a contributor (not exactly voluntarily) to the architectural wonder that is Target Field, this is frustrating.

We, as citizens, were told that building a new stadium would allow the Twins to remain competitive with other “big” spending teams.  And, at first, it seemed like that might be true.  Homegrown talent, turned superstars, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer were all paid considerably well.  To borrow from another 60s legend, the times, they were a-changin’.

Unfortunately, a series of freak injuries (I mean, bi-lateral leg weakness, seriously?!?!) and a 99 loss season have precipitated a shift to that approach.  In fact, the mastermind behind the Twins run in the late 90s and early 00s, Terry Ryan, was rehired to do the task his self-appointed mentee, one Bill Smith, could not complete: build a championship team.

When you have players in your starting line-up that were draft by the Expos, that should be a warning sign.

The return of Messer Ryan also meant the return of his penny pinching approach.  Cue the Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Willingham signings.  That is right, the expectations for this year’s squad are tied to a 39 year-old journeyman shortstop, a reclamation project at C and P, and a well-traveled slugger that may or may not be capable of slugging.

Just one time, it would be nice to pick up the local newspaper (okay, who I am kidding), click on the sports section for one of the local papers, peruse the headlines for the day, and see that the Twins were seriously interested in pursuing big name, Free Agent X.

Unfortunately, this year, all the “headlines” were “made” by the signing of undervalued free agent veterans.  More succinctly put, there no marquee signings, only Marquis signings.  Here is hoping that Sean Bourroughs really is the next Josh Hamilton.  Personally, I am going to hold off on getting my Bourroughs All-Star jersey until after training camp breaks.