Archive for December, 2008

TT to continue to over-emphasize draft?

December 31, 2008

I think TT relies too much on the draft. He needs to consider modifying his approach somewhat to include more free agent acquisitions. TT hasn’t totally ignored free agency as some contend and obtaining players via the draft is an important part of building and maintaining a quality team no doubt. But I think he is a bit off-balance w/re to his approach and free agency needs more attention this off-season. It’s interesting because when you look back at TT’s history of acquiring free agents, it makes a compelling argument for doing it more often. It could even be said that the percentage chance that a free agent will perform well for the Packers is greater than the percentage chance a draft pick will. Consider Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Atari Bigby (sort of), Chillar, Tramon Williams, Ryan Grant. (Al Harris wasn’t a TT acquisition, but he’s been a great free agent pick-up).

But my concern is that TT will not look into free agency much and that the Packers will continue to be a losing team under his watch, using his philosophy. We’re 32-34 under TT . While I give him a bit of leeway for 2005 when Sherman was still around, and I understand implementing a new philosophy takes some time, the fact is that this team has only made the playoffs once in his 4 years – and this is in stark contrast to the success the team enjoyed prior to his arrival. Read below from a Tom Silverstein article this morning quoting TT  – this is why I don’t think he will change much of anything this off-season (thanks to reader Scott W for bringing this to my attention):

“We’re going to try to improve this team like we always do,” Thompson said. “People talk about free agency, draft. We’ll use whatever avenues we can to try to improve this team. But again, I’m still going to preach the thing we’ve always preached: The best way to get better, the most consistent way to get better, is to improve from within.”

TT, please take a look at some quality free agents out there. You’ve done nicely to give us the cap room we enjoy and I’ll even say tentatively that you’ve built a good nucleus of young players. But we’re not winning. So modify your approach. Complement these young guys now with some quality veterans. Other teams have done this more than we have recently and have enjoyed more success (the Patriots for example). Consider the fact that veteran leadership has value and that players who have already played in the NFL at a high level are more likely to contribute immediately than drafted rookies.

Cowher not a Favre fan?

December 31, 2008

Thanks to CindyV for pointing out this article over at sportsillustrated.com. They reference a rumor from the New York Post claiming Cowher’s reluctance to sign on with the Jets has to do with Favre possibly playing there in the future. While it may be just what the rumor indicates – that Cowher doesn’t like Favre and/or think he’s any good. It could also be that Cowher is a run-first Pittsburgh guy who is not a fan of the offenses Favre has played in – and also that perhaps Cowher doesn’t believe that Favre is a good enough game manager for what Cowher would like to do. It’s hard to say but read below for more:

Cowher didn’t want to coach Favre There will be no Cowher Power for the Jets. Bill Cowher informed the team last night he is not interested in their head-coaching job, and it could be because he doesn’t want to coach Brett Favre. The former Steeler coach was the clear-cut favorite to replace Eric Mangini among Jets fans, and the team’s ownership. Now, Woody Johnson must move on to Plan B. Talks between the Jets and Cowher never advanced past the preliminary stage. Sources close to Cowher said he did not want to have Favre as his quarterback, and that he also wanted to bring in people he was familiar with to handle personnel. A source familiar with Cowher’s thinking said before last night’s decision came down that the former Steeler boss would have to receive assurances from the Jets that the 39-year-old Favre no longer was in the picture before agreeing to take control.
(New York Post)

What are your thoughts on this?

The root of the Poppinga problem = Winston Moss

December 31, 2008

I used to think Moss was a quality coach and one with a future. I thought that mostly because that was what we were told by everyone, especially Mike McCarthy. But after reading this from Greg Bedard at jsonline this morning, I’m almost wondering if he should be canned:

And then there’s Poppinga, who had 68 tackles after posting 70 and 76 the previous two seasons. Not only did Moss not back down from his earlier statement that Poppinga was in the midst of a “very good” season, he indicated that Poppinga was the unit’s top performer. “He’s maxing himself out,” Moss said. “Is there room to get better? I believe he can from a pass-rush standpoint, from an impact standpoint. I still think that he is always going to evolve and continue to get better as long as he’s on that football field. But this year, I thought he was one of the bright spots in our unit.”  That Moss thought that highly of Poppinga’s season – which was solid overall but characterized by some crucial missed tackles – might illustrate just how poorly the linebackers performed.

Poppinga is “maxing himself out”???? If he followed that statement by saying Poppinga just couldn’t play worse, then I’d agree. But as it is, Winston Moss must be on crack.

Barnett, though he was playing badly, played better than Poppinga. Chillar played better than Poppinga. Bishop played better than Poppinga. Spencer Havner played better than Poppinga. I have to admit – after reading this article this morning, I had one of the moments where I thought “maybe it’s me – maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about and my observations are way off”. After all, how can the LB coach, D-Coordinator, head coach and others believe that Poppinga is good – and yet I continue to think he is not only not good, but awful??? Even Bedard states that Poppinga was “solid overall”. Bedard is usually on top of stuff like this but he and the coaching staff just seem off here. I honestly do wonder if everyone just likes Poppinga so much because he does seem like a neat guy – and it interferes with their objectivity.

I’m not so rigid here that I can’t admit Poppinga had a few nice tackles this season. He did. But he was mostly so ABSENT on game days that I find the lack of criticism shocking. If Winston Moss is back for 2009, it’s not going to be the open competition at least at strong-side LB that Bedard claims it will be in his article. Poppinga will have his spot. And I’ve said this before, for those who say it’s the scheme and Poppinga plays well within the scheme – what kind of scheme asks a player to do virtually nothing?

Serious changes need to happen at LB. We know from this year that Barnett, Hawk and Poppinga were a weak unit. We know that Hawk, contrary to what the article says, was not too effective in the middle. We know that Chillar, as the article stated, was moved around so much that it affected his play negatively – like I wrote a few posts ago, I think he too was a victim of the coaching staff’s over-emphasis on versatility. It’s hard to know how Barnett will be once he’s back. And it’s also hard to say what effect having an improved D-Line may have on this unit. But if I were coach, I would strongly consider starting Barnett, Bishop and either Chillar or Hawk, and dropping Poppinga. Or, better yet, finding a stud LB in free agency or through the draft.

Vikings forfeit playoff spot due to having crappy fans

December 30, 2008

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided it would be “in the best interests of the NFL” to have the Packers host Philadelphia instead of Minnesota. As word spreads about the chance that the scheduled playoff game this weekend pitting Minnesota against Philadelphia may not sell out, because 45% of Vikings season ticket holders have not purchased their tickets yet, Goodell determined action needed to be taken.

“The Vikings have earned their playoff berth technically by winning the most games in the NFC North. But I’d be lying if I said the NFL was excited to see the Vikings make it instead of the Packers. The Packers have much better fans. In fact, the Packers sell out pre-season games, not to mention regular season games and of course, they’d sell out a playoff game before the tickets even went on sale. In any event, the NFL has decided that it would be in the best interests of the NFL to have the Packers host Philadelphia instead this weekend. We believe it would be a better game and bring more money to our pockets ultimately, which is really all we’re after”.

(Goodell also reportedly muttered under his breath after making this decision that not allowing Minnesota to play would spare viewers from having to see Jared Allen’s unbelievably bad mullet).

Over-emphasis on versatility?

December 30, 2008

Throughout the 2008 season, I heard Mike McCarthy laud the versatility of his players on many occasions – especially those guys on the O-Line. I can see the value, to some extent, of players being versatile and filling other roles when needed – especially because of injuries. But as this season played out, I really began to wonder if there may be too much emphasis on versatility – to the point where the over-emphasis damaged our team.

  • The O-Line: over and over we’ve heard about how many of our O-Line guys were rotated in at different positions. I understand that injuries took their toll on the line and some of this was done out of desperation. And, I recognize that in some instances, poor play by certain players (like Moll) required certain changes. But I believe that basically, it makes the most sense to have back-ups for each position and insert them as needed instead of rotating everyone around. Colledge talked about this in an interview the other day – not blaming anyone really, but just saying that when you practice all week (or all season) at one position but then need to shift to another, the transition can be difficult.
  • Linebacker: To me, it would have made the most sense to insert Desmond Bishop, THE back-up middle linebacker, into the line-up when Barnett went down. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Hawk did not flourish at MLB like the team assumed he would. It is another example of needlessly imposing versatility when we had a seemingly competent back-up for that position who had practiced all year as the back-up for that position.
  • Safety: Charles Woodson is very talented. I am not entirely sure transitioning him to safety someday is a bad idea. He could probably learn that position well. However, the experiment with him at safety this year didn’t work out too well and again, I wonder if going with the true back-up safeties would have been smarter. I know Rouse/Bigby/Peprah have all been injured here and there but I don’t think all at the same time (could be wrong there). But especially after Woodson’s first game at safety didn’t go well (I believe the New Orleans game), I would have quickly gone to someone who is designated as a back-up safety.

Coaching in the moment

December 30, 2008

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been wanting to write something on this idea of “coaching in the moment” for a while now. What do I mean by “coaching in the moment”? Well, to start, it is something some coaches can do while others can’t. Coaches who can “coach in the moment” have a keen pulse for the game, a sense of flow, they are able to react immediately to a player error or an error by the officials or a new/changing circumstance and mostly, these coaches have the ability to be with their players in the moment.

When I think about which coaches have this ability, I think of the following:

  • Bill Belichick
  • Mike Tomlin
  • Jeff Fisher
  • Mike Holmgren (of past years, not 2008)
  • Tony Sparano
  • Mike Smith
  • John Harbaugh
  • Jeff Fisher
  • Ken Whisenhunt (except when he plays the Patriots)
  • John Fox
  • Sean Payton
  • Tom Coughlin (now, Coughlin does get an occasional clueless look, but erases it fast in favor of finding answers).
  • Mike Shanahan (usually)
  • Andy Reid
  • Mike McCarthy (2007)

These coaches have an ability to mentally search their brains for answers quickly. And if they can’t come up with an answer themselves, they know who to talk to and what to do to at least try something different. They won’t settle for the blank stare, the deer in the headlights look. There are some coaches who resort to this look way too often and these are the coaches who simply aren’t in the moment…they aren’t on top of things. Below are some of the coaches more prone to this glossed over stare:

  • Mike Sherman (king of this)
  • Lovie Smith (just behind Sherman here)
  • Brad Childress
  • Rod Marinelli
  • Wade Phillips (rarely has a look OTHER than deer in the headlights)
  • Romeo Crennel
  • Marvin Lewis
  • Norv Turner
  • Herm Edwards
  • Dick Jauron
  • Mike McCarthy (2008)

When I look at the above 2 lists, I would say that I mostly wouldn’t have a problem if any of the coaches from the first list coached my team. Conversely, I wouldn’t want any of the guys on the second list as head coach of my team. I recognize that most of the coaches on the 2nd list have losing records but I’d say that their inability to coach in the moment contributes at least in part to their team not winning enough. One thing about the first list of coaches is that with each of these guys, if there are player errors, you know heads will roll and the players will be held accountable. With the second list, there is a good chance accountability is less of a coaching priority.

Quick Detroit/NFL thoughts

December 29, 2008
  • Glad we won that game. While some did make the point (Brother Steve included) that a loss might have lit a hotter fire under the management of the Packers to make something happen in the off-season, I think ultimately it was important that we didn’t lose that game. We have some young guys (including a young head coach) with football egos still developing and a loss yesterday could have done major damage.
  • Rodgers was awesome yesterday. Watching and reading interviews, I know that Aaron Rodgers cares about his stats. He pays attention to them carefully. And, I wouldn’t doubt that when he threw the bomb to Driver he knew it put him over 4000 yards. And you know what? I don’t care if he tracks his own stats. Doesn’t bother me at all. If it helps motivate him to play well and it doesn’t interfere with him trying to win games, I could care less. I’ve been very pleased with Rodgers. Quality guy, quality player.
  • Grant finished the season with over 1200 yards – putting him at #9 overall in the NFL. Our expectations were certainly higher for him than what he produced, and I do have concerns about his role in not breaking the big gainers – but overall, not terrible. I also was very impressed with our back-up RBs: Jackson and Wynn. Both found ways to contribute significantly whenever they had a chance this year.
  • Defense was OK yesterday, but should have been better against lowly Detroit. I do really like this 2008 trend of interceptions. Collins and Woodson have to scare opposing QBs quite a bit not only because of the picks but because of their return abilities afterward. Tramon Williams has added nicely to the interception threat too.
  • I do wonder re Sanders’ job security. Replacing Sanders with Mangini would be a quick improvement as Bucky, Trav and others have pointed out if Mangini were willing.
  • Favre should retire. He didn’t look good yesterday. It’s too bad he had to go out like that. Despite being an important part of getting the team to 8-3 (yes the RBs were good as was the D and the O-line, but Favre was passing well and importantly giving the team needed leadership), he really faded down the stretch when the Jets needed him most (though their run game also faded big-time it seemed). It’s just time for him to go.
  • Good for Miami and Chad Pennington. I wonder what Brother Steve thinks now of my man-crush on Pennington.
  • Nice effort by Detroit as Ace said in a comment. They came to play and they played hard. They’re very bad, so they didn’t win. But they tried hard.
  • Anyone see Rian Lindell’s FG attempt in Buffalo? Hilarious. Wind blew it 40 yards to the right. Unreal.
  • Hard to watch that Philly/Dallas game not just because of the blowout but because I can’t stand either team.
  • Anyone watch Tarvaris drive the Vikes down the field for the winning FG? Nice. He and the Vikes face a big test this week against Philly.
  • Not sure how Wade Phillips still has a job. I would have fired him earlier this year. That guy is terrible. Talk about having a glazed over look on the sidelines! He just doesn’t look like he knows what’s going on or what to do next. He doesn’t have a big enough personality to deal with being the Dallas head coach. Holmgren would fit well there and he could help make Romo a complete player…perhaps one who can eventually win a big game.
  • Did Arizona switch back to starting E James again? I think so. Interesting.
  • I’m not sure Orlovsky is terrible. He has had moments this year that have been impressive (along with Detroit-like moments). Their QB situation will be interesting to follow this coming off-season – as will all the other drama.
  • Steve said the other day that he and I should apply for Detroit’s GM position. He said that it would be impossible not to do a better job than Millen and co. Impossible. He wasn’t being arrogant, he was being accurate. I would submit that anybody who has heard of the NFL could do a better job than those tools.

Game Keys – Detroit

December 28, 2008
  • Don’t lose.

Special teams – not so special

December 26, 2008

(CindyV wanted to know what Packergeeks thinks of the Tom Silverstein article at jsonline.com this morning).

It’s funny because I was talking to a coworker (Scott W) about special teams and defense and whether or not the zone blocking scheme works earlier this morning. We hadn’t yet read the article (or I hadn’t anyway). I agree with what seems like Silverstein’s main point – even though Stock’s group was good in 2007, his entire body of work should be considered and he’s had 2 very bad seasons and only one really good one. These are my thoughts on the ST issue:

  • Kicking – last year our kickers were above average, some have argued that Crosby was just plain excellent. I’d say Crosby was very good and Ryan was decent.  I do think that cutting Ryan was a mistake (as we said at the time). It was a move most people questioned at the time because Ryan’s skills and potential were apparent to most. Ryan contends that he didn’t get along with Stock because Stock wanted him to change his punting approach. Ryan didn’t necessarily dispute that but just wanted to go to a punting teacher in Arizona who has worked with punters for years for extra help. Stock didn’t want him to – he wanted Ryan to do it Stock’s way. Ryan was pissed and I think it became somewhat of a personal matter. (I read an interview with Ryan after he left when he was in Seattle and I came away with the sure impression he and Stock just didn’t get along ultimately). So getting rid of Ryan was a mistake. And, one other possibility – has changing holders affected Crosby? It is very possible. He seemed to thrive with Ryan and struggle with the others. Maybe Matt Flynn should be the permanent holder – just having him out there would also keep teams even slightly on edge because of fake possibilities.
  • Coverage units – I do wonder a bit how much of a difference the loss of Tracy White makes. (White was picked up right away by the Eagles, so we didn’t have a chance to get him back). One of the concerns I have about TT is that I’m not sure he believes in the value of veteran leadership. I do. If Stock is right, that White was the clear leader of the unit, my thought would be “don’t cut a veteran leader who is good at what he does on the youngest team in the sport”. He was very good on special teams and from my understanding, a threat from another team to sign Lansanah off our practice squad is what led to the decision to drop White, just like that, so we could keep Lansanah. If he wanted to keep Lansanah so badly, maybe cutting Jarrett Bush would have been smarter, or putting Jermichael Finley on the practice squad.
  • This year, I was also bothered quite a bit by the automatic block in the back penalties and what looked like guys over-pursuing and over-committing a lot. This would be an area where a coach should help by reviewing plays and teaching players both why they screwed up and how to fix it.
  • So, do I think Stock should be fired? I would probably say yes. I’d say yes because of 1) the Ryan situation, 2) the terrible coverage  units (the play of the return units was a bit better) and 3) completing a second crappy year out of 3.
  • Going forward either with Stock or not, I do sense that communication between the ST coach, McCarthy and TT needs to improve. I still suspect that the Ryan move was a move made largely because Stock just didn’t like Ryan. TT probably went along with Stock because Stock probably pushed hard for it, but I’m guessing TT may not have had all his weight behind that move. On the other hand, I’m guessing TT is the one who made the White decision because he loves this Lansanah kid. And, I think it was a decision TT felt he had to make asap or we could have lost Lansanah.  I’m guessing Stock was not too pleased with that move at all and I wonder even if he had a say in it.

One question I do have re our 2008 ST performance and the ST personnel moves is this (and it’s similar to questions I have re our defense): where was Mike McCarthy when this was all going on? I’m sure McCarthy saw shanked punt after shanked punt by Frost. Couldn’t he have stepped in and told TT to get a new punter asap? I’m sure he saw the decline of the ST coverage units. Did he say anything or offer any assistance or guidance for Stock or the ST players? .

No way Packers lose

December 26, 2008

I have heard radio callers and others express concern about the Packers dropping this one to the Lions. I realize that the set-up is perfect: fading team that keeps finding new ways to lose meets the 0-15 team that nearly took it to Indy on the road a couple weeks ago (before getting smoked by the Saints). I know Rod Marinelli will give as passionate a speech as he can to get his players fired up because it will likely be his last pre-game speech not just as the Lion’s head coach, but as a head coach anywhere. I know that the NFL and many fans would love to see the Packers puke it so that it could become this big story and some Fox reporter could do a ridiculous post-game piece about triumph in the face of adversity trying to make us cry for some reason – of course it would be called “The Heart of a Lion”.

Fact is folks, the Packers, who are favored by 10.5, will likely win by 28 points, maybe 31. This is going to be an unfortunate game for Detroit and anyone pulling for the upset. Yes, Kevin Smith will have some scary runs early on and Calvin Johnson will have a few “how did he do that” moments. But outside of those fleeting displays of talent, Woodson will take at least one to the house, Grant will have 4 TDs, Jennings will have a couple TDs, Jeremy Kapinos will have a 74 yard punt, Rodgers will have 320 yards passing by early 3rd quarter when he’s pulled out and Matt Flynn will throw his first NFL TD. It will end the season for the Pack in a positive way and it will leave us appropriately remembering that while there are definitely some issues that need to be addressed in the off-season, this team hung in there against some really good teams and is not far away from being a winning team.

Now, you may want to take what I say with a pound of salt because it was 6 short weeks ago that I wrote this fateful post…a post that may have in fact ruined the season for the Packers. In it, I essentially contended that the final 6 games weren’t too bad and I expected them to win most of them. I also intentionally stated that I was getting ahead of myself by intentionally NOT taking it one game at a time because I can’t stand that cliche. For those still searching for people to blame this season on, feel free to point at me for very clearly jinxing the team.


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