Archive for December, 2008

Packergeek reader Cindy with great question

December 15, 2008

Read below for Cindy’s appropriate comparison of Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. I was in the middle of writing a post on the topic of Rodgers’ leadership when I read this question so I put all of my thoughts into this response.  Here is the great question:

I agree with most of what’s inyour article. But I am wondering about Rodgers as a leader. I look at what Matt Ryan is doing in Atlanta. The rookie comes in and becomes team leader. Why is Rodgers not coming in and taking over? Is it his personality? Is he being hampered by management? Would a come-from-behind victory “make” him a leader? I would be interested to hear your take on this.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Expectations. The circumstances the two QBs stepped into were quite different. While both may have had fairly high expectations put upon them for this year (Ryan because he was the #1 pick, and we know why for Rodgers), there were different expectations for each team. The Packers were still expected to be good and the Falcons weren’t. So, I think it can be a bit easier to win over teammates/fans/coaches when the expectations aren’t so high.
  • Fractured team. Rodgers inherited a team that had been freshly fractured by an ugly split with Favre. We don’t know probably half of what really went on, but think it’s safe to say it had the effect of disrupting at least a little bit, the cohesion of the team moving forward. Ryan inherited a very bad team that was excited about getting a fresh start with a new coach, an exciting new RB and some new players.
  • Coaches. Right now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Mike McCarthy has had an off year. Whether it be play-calling, personnel decisions he does have some control over or managing his players effectively (for example, teaching how not to get penalized) – Mike McCarthy hasn’t been very good. He was very good last year, not this year. Mike Smith has out-coached McCarthy and most other coaches this year (could win coach of the year). I would argue that Smith’s quality coaching and his quality game planning week in and week out have set Ryan up to succeed which helps him to step more credibly into his leadership role.
  • Winning. This seems basic, but winning helps a lot in terms of establishing credibility as a leader. Frankly, it is a major reason why I was bothered by the Favre split. He had credibility as a winner because he’d won more games than anyone in NFL history. When a QB wins frequently, they have the luxury of being given perhaps more credit than is fair thrown their way. And this has the effect of the QB building confidence in himself, but also builds the team’s confidence in him.
  • Running game. Ryan Grant has been only OK this year and our O-Line has been weak. Michael Turner has dominated and has won me many fantasy games. Having such a consistent and powerful running game takes a lot of pressure off the QB – especially in the clutch. For example, Ryan didn’t have to do much in OT yesterday because Turner was running wild.
  • Rest of the team. Rodgers has had to battle his own defense and special teams this year. They have set Rodgers up in several games to fail. While Atlanta’s D and special teams aren’t phenomenal, they are at least competent. This also takes pressure off a QB, leading to more victories and therefore, more credibility as the team leader.
  • Winning in the clutch. Cindy hits on a key reason why Rodgers doesn’t appear now to be the leader that Ryan is. Ryan has won I believe several games down the stretch with some good throws. I saw him beat Chicago when he completed a very clutch sideline pass with almost no time left that set up the winning field goal. His team knows that there is precedent now for him to lead them to victory when things get tense. This is a precedent Rodgers has not yet set. Rodgers has had 7 chances to do so this season and hasn’t delivered yet. He needs to do this to establish precedent.

I like Aaron Rodgers and think he’s very good. And, I think teammates and others actually do regard him as a good young leader (albeit a developing young leader). I have been impressed by what he’s done this year and believe it’s mostly just a matter of time before he leads comebacks and becomes that mentally tough QB that opposing teams will worry about…especially in crunch time. But it’s imperative that he win a close game, by making a great play or two at a critical time, soon. Either this year or early next year. If he doesn’t do it soon, it could become an ugly mental obstacle for him and potentially affect his ability to be viewed as a credible leader. Ultimately, I expect Rodgers to be a good leader and as this team evolves and hopefully becomes better, I actually think people will start talking about how good of a leader he is.

Game Thoughts- Jax

December 15, 2008
  • Our defense is as clutch as Scott Hoch or Greg Norman at the Masters or the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls, or Andy Roddich in any tennis major, etc, etc.
  • Ryan Grant has had a sub-par season. I still don’t think he’s terrible, but he just has not been that good. It is interesting that whenever Jackson gets the ball on 2nd downs or is in for a full series that he does better. Jackson does of course get most of his work on easy-yardage downs like 3rd downs. But the curious thing to me is that when he’s in on other downs, he does get more yardage than Grant.
  • I have been watching other games frequently due to fantasy stuff (and I hate to admit this, but due to the Packers predictable games being somewhat dull) and I have noticed that we are really one of the only NFL teams I have watched who seems incapable of opening up a giant hole for our RB at least a couple times a game. I watched Thomas Jones scoot through 3-4 enormous holes yesterday, Willie Parker, LeRon McClain and even Derrick Ward against a solid Dallas D. I feel like I could count on 2 hands the number of times there has been a gaping hole created by our O-Line. My point here is that I think our O-Line is nowhere close to mediocre right now – it’s piss poor and I suspect it’s both a talent issue and a scheme issue.
  • Grant has had a few nice screens lately. I like that they are using him this way and I hope it continues in the future. He is their lead back and prior to the last couple weeks, he’s had very few receptions. He has decent hands and the screens they ran yesterday worked really really well – actually, really good blocking even by our poor O-Line helped too.
  • Oh – Poppinga still sucks. Doesn’t do anything at all. Why Bishop didn’t get a chance after the previous week I’ll never know. I know Bishop made a couple mistakes against Houston, but I would start the guy based on his 2 forced fumbles alone – even if he’d made 50 other mistakes.
  • Charles Woodson continues to make incredible plays. I can’t pretend to know exactly how well he’s helping with coverage etc and doing other safety-like things, but I’ve noticed this year in particular that he is a very tough tackler. He had a high tackle on Jones-Drew at one point that would have resulted in 4 extra yards against anyone else, but Woodson stood him straight up and threw him down. Never thought strength was one of his qualities, but maybe it is. Anyway, he is fantastic.
  • We’re seeing pretty quickly how the absence of James Jones may have hurt this team. He has unreal hands and if we could ever get into a good game flow, he could help us create huge match-up problems all over the field.
  • Kapinos is good. It is really true that return guys struggle to adjust to the different spin from a lefty- it looked like a couple of those fair catches yesterday were almost lucky because the guy looked unsure of how it would come to him.
  • There seems to be this sense of resignation about this team. Not only has the defense made huge errors to essentially end games, but there seems to be almost a mental fatigue that sets in with everyone. One criticism I did have of Favre, especially the 2 seasons before last year’s 13-3, was that he’d get this loser face look sometimes, even in close games – a look of resignation like “I know we’re going to lose, what’s the use?” I feel like this team kind of gets this look – sometimes even when we’re ahead! It’s hard to describe and obviously quite a subjective thought, but it’s something I’ve seen. Last year, I actually had some confidence that if we fell behind, we’d figure out a way to get back in the lead. Now, I have zero confidence that will happen. I sort of feel like once we fall behind, the game is over. That’s not good. Of course, the only way to reverse this is to reverse the end result, and pull out one of these close games.
  • Tramon Williams has fallen off some since playing so well for Harris earlier. He still can blanket receivers mostly because of his unreal closing speed, but I wonder sometimes if he’s just too small to contend with some of th bigger stronger receivers – can’t seem to get around them so well. Still, he hasn’t been terrible and I still am excited by his potential.
  • This team doesn’t seem to have a leader. I think the coach was seriously distracted this off-season (Favre, having a baby, getting married recently , etc – not really stuff I blame him for), I think Rodgers is too new to be a great leader (more on this in a coming post), and the defense doesn’t seem to be a cohesive unit perhaps because of questions re its coordinator and ongoing defensive scheme-communications problems.

Winston Moss, Too?

December 15, 2008

Does he have to go, too?

Winston Moss to Greg Bedard this week: “Brady is still having an extremely solid season. Brady has been very, very quiet but Brady has done very well this season.”

Hard to know how to respond.

McCarthy

December 14, 2008

It wasn’t “pad level” today, apparently.  And I’m not sure Mike McCarthy said anything about “leverage.”  But we are back to “communication,” which was what McCarthy used to cite frequently in his first season when the defense struggled.  There were a couple of places where the communications was clearly bad.  But it feels like McCarthy’s way of no answering questions he’d like to ignore.  So you have exchanges like these — the first about the confusion on a 3rd and 5 near the end zone shortly before the half and the second about a shouting match between Al Harris and Brady Poppinga.

(What happened on the 3rd-and-goal at the 5 in the first half…screen pass where Finley and Rodgers got into it a little?)

That’s what I’m referring to is the communication as far as the huddle call was following a time out, there’s no need for that. We should be set and ready to go there. The quarterback had, it’s a two-way play that we refer to as far as his options, what’s going to occur on that play. And frankly the formation, not being lined up initially factored into the play so…And that’s why we’re kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns on that particular play.

(Did Jermichael lined up on the wrong side?)

I don’t want to get into that. It’s all of our faults. We should not have problems lining up after a timeout. That’s what happened.

(Players were yelling at each other during the game, is the frustration of the season starting to set in?)

That’s communication, that’s what I’m talking about. There’s play calls that come in from the sideline that need to be communicated and it goes from the communicator all the way out and it wasn’t as clean as it needed to be today.

(What happened with Harris and Poppinga?)

I just answered the question, same thing, three times. It’s a breakdown in communication. Certain coverages are called against the front and it needs to be communicated and that goes all the way out.

Maybe it’s not a good idea to call out someone like Jermichael Finley in public.  He’s a rookie, after all.  But “it’s all of our faults?”  If it’s everyone’s fault, it’s no one’s fault.  And that’s plainly not true.  I think it might be nice to see McCarthy calling some people out.

Here is a link to the transcript at JS Online.

Grim

December 14, 2008

Not much to say that hasn’t already been said.

Our defense is atrocious.  Our offensive line is very bad.  Our coaches seem lost.  Bob Sanders needs to go.  Mike Stock, too.  Aaron Rodgers is very good but can’t get important wins.

On the bright side, we may have found a punter.

big moment here for Rodgers

December 14, 2008

This will be a growing experience for Rodgers. Can he lead the team to a strong finish and win this game? He needs to start delivering in the clutch – maybe one of the only knocks on the guy this year.

That should have been picked off. Come on Rodgers – just do it.

More on LBs

December 13, 2008

Great thoughts on LBs — both from Andy and in the comments.  Another thing jumped out at me from the terrific Greg Bedard article on AJ Hawk.  Bedard writes: “Moss said Hawk can start by just playing the game. Too often, Hawk focuses solely on his own responsibility during each play, and doesn’t see some of the opponent’s weaknesses that would allow him to burst through the line and make a play.”

Then he quotes Moss: “He’s extremely focused on being assignment-correct at this time,” Moss said. “And that’s probably affecting his ability to let loose and make some plays. So as a coach, I’m obviously trying to find that medium between, ‘Hey, you need to get your assignment done, but you also have to be a football player. Your talent level and your ability and the positions we’re putting you in, go out there and make some plays.’ ”

I think Moss is struggling with one of the permanent dilemmas of coaching.  When do you force a player to fill a role in a scheme and when do you let his instincts take over?  With a player like Troy Polamalu, to take the most obvious example, it would be ridiculous for a coach to insist that he stick to the scheme.  Such strict adherence to a scheme can be far too restrictive and would doubtless keep Polamalu from making many of the incredible plays he makes by doing his own thing.

I think when you draft a player with the 5th overall pick — especially a linebacker — you do so with the assumption that he’s that kind of instinctive player.   I thought that of Hawk from watching him regularly when he was at Ohio State and many draft scouts used the word “instinctive” to describe him in their pre-draft assessments.

So was everyone wrong?  Is Hawk not the instinctive player we all thought?  Or is he, as Moss suggests, too worried about being “assignment correct?”

We don’t really know, of course.  But if Mike McCarthy’s private discussions with his players are anything like the comments he makes to reporters, we might have some hints.  Nearly every time McCarthy analyzes the defense he talks about assignments and players staying in gaps.  This is important, obviously, and in some ways gap control is the key to defensive football.  But I wonder — again based only on his public comments — if McCarthy might spend too much time talking about sticking to the scheme and finishing assignments.  (In his day-after press conference Monday, McCarthy was asked where his defensive game plan went awry.  The first thing he said?  Missed assignments and failure to close gaps.)

Or maybe he (and Bob Sanders) fails to tailor his coaching to individual players.  Brady Poppinga, if he continues to play, should be reminded before every play to keep his assignment.  He might blow assignments, fall for play action, overpursue and miss coverage more than anyone on the defense.  Hawk, on the other hand, usually seems to be in the right spot.  His problem is that he arrives there half a step late.  How many times can you remember plays when Hawk barely catches the jersey of a running back busting through the defensive line — just a half a beat too late.  That’s something that he might be able to improve upon if he “just plays”  — and worries less about sticking strictly to his assignments.

Anyway, I’d like to see more Desmond Bishop.  He seems very instinctive.  Lets’ see if he can make plays and avoid blown assignments.

Bob McGinn, you da man, Poppinga’s not

December 13, 2008

McGinn finally gets it – read this quality article on Brady Poppinga’s inadequate performance this year. Don’t have much to add. Just a good article that finally addresses the shortcomings of a player who seemed to have immunity from criticism – both from the media and the Packers organization. One comment I should make is that I do believe Poppinga may be a guy some have been afraid to criticize because he’s such a great guy. That is not lost on me – he seems to be a popular guy on the team, with coaches and especially with the media because he’s a great quote and he’s very bright. I should add that I really like Brady Poppinga. I have since he first made the team 4 years ago – he was a guy I was rooting hard for. But performance matters in this business and it’s time for us to root for someone else now.

Thanks again for picking up on this Bob McGinn – though I can’t help but wonder, have you been reading Packergeeks?

Man – even the worthy Jason Wilde misses it

December 12, 2008

Normally, the spot-on Jason Wilde from the WSJ is all over important Packer issues, making astute observations, giving valuable insight. If you don’t go to madison.com to read his Packer articles, start going there now. He is one of the best.

But even Wilde misses it here in his article on the Packer linebacker situation. Both Wilde and Bedard strongly imply in their respective articles on this situation that perhaps it’s AJ Hawk who should be benched. Actually, Wilde doesn’t “imply” this – he states it (or explies it, new word) when he says “might the coaches consider a lineup of Chillar, Bishop and Brady Poppinga?”. That now makes it 3 quality, sensible Packer writers (Wilde, Bedard and Silverstein) who haven’t thought to suggest that it should be Poppinga who should be benched. I’m very surprised by this.

As I’ve been posting ad nauseam, there is a right-in-front-of-your-face-logical solution to this mess: start Chillar, Bishop and Hawk – perhaps moving Hawk back to his more natural position of weak-side and having Bishop man the middle. It was this sentence, when Wilde paraphrased from Winston Moss, that I was most concerned about:

“He (Moss) just wants to see more evidence before recommending any bold moves.”

How about 3 years of nothing from Poppinga? That enough? How about the fact that Bishop contributed more in Sunday’s game than Hawk or Poopinga (typo?) have in a single game in their entire careers? And, why not make “bold moves” at this point. There is virtually zero playoff chance, the defense has been bad most of the season and the sooner we know what Bishop can do on the field (though any sensible Packer fan already knows he can play), the better off we will be for the off-season (knowing who to acquire/draft) and the better off we’ll be heading into next year.

STEVE ADDS: I’m with Andy.  Poppinga, as we’ve written here before, has the talent and enthusiasm to be a really good special teams player.  Very few of the men who wear an NFL uniform jump on the pile at the end of a play with the eagerness and ferocity of Poppinga.

Bishop needs more time.  Now is the time to give it to him.  His season so far has been marked by big plays and missed assignments.  That suggests to me that if he were to learn the scheme and get comfortable with his role, he could cut down on the missed assignments and make more big plays.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Let’s find out.  He seems to have the instincts of a difference-maker.


Nobody talking about benching Poppinga

December 12, 2008

Read more on all of our LB mess from Tom Silverstein this morning. I’m a little surprised Silverstein didn’t ask someone in the Packers organization about why Poppinga seems to get a free pass all the time – why Poppinga shouldn’t sit so that the 2 guys who are far more likely to make plays can play (Chillar/Bishop).

But it was this quote that to me was the most concerning – from Desmond Bishop talking about why he likely won’t start:

“I don’t think it’s about what you do,” Bishop said of getting the starting call. “I think it’s beyond that. It’s something else. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely something beyond what you do on the field.”

If there is any truth to Bishop’s comment here, and I am really beginning to worry there is, this is getting ridiculous and my concerns re player over-loyalty are increasing. Who makes the decision re starting LBs? Who is failing to see what seems so abundantly clear to so many fans? It’s got to be hard for Bishop to be told he needs to just keep waiting in the wings when the guys in front of him don’t do anything for 13 games with zero consequence. And, though I’m sure he wasn’t happy when Barnett got hurt, part of him had to be excited for the opportunity to play, after all, he was the back-up middle LB. Then, Hawk was thrown in front of him as the replacement at middle linebacker.  Silverstein is right, Bishop did blow the coverage on Owen Daniels and that was a costly mistake. The Chester Taylor miss in the Vikings game, however, had more context than Silverstein gave: Bishop just walked onto the field after replacing the injured Barnett and Taylor made an amazing move that Barnett, considering how he’d been playing this year, most likely would have fallen for too). But Bishop also made plays – important plays (as Silverstein points out). We haven’t had a LB do that for a while it seems.

I’m getting very frustrated with the Packers on this one. As reader Bucky asks: who is the stubborn one keeping Poppinga on the field? Is it Sanders, McCarthy, TT or a combination of all three? (I would throw Winston Moss into the mix because I think he was the one who determined earlier in the season that Brady outplayed Chillar for the starting spot). Whoever it is – PLEASE READ THIS POST AND BENCH POPPINGA NOW!!!


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