Thursday, September 30, 2010

Preparing for Our Packer Pilgrimage

We leave tomorrow for a trip that has been in the works for almost a year: I'm taking the boys to their first Packer game at Lambeau Field.  This is our annual "boys' trip" with me, my two sons, and my dad.  Past years have included cross country train trips, visits to national parks, and an RV adventure accompanied by the Lindsey Buckingham theme song Holiday Road (from the movie Vacation, for you non Chevy Chase fans).  What better boys' trip than a Packer pilgrimage to the not-yet-Frozen Tundra???

To say my kids are psyched about this trip would be a gross understatement.  Though the game is still 3 days away, my oldest already has his wardrobe for the day picked out -- including a long-sleeve Packers t-shirt (though he's considering layering that with one of his Packers game jerseys), his Packers jacket, a Packers knit hat, and, of course, his Packers football.  This is all perfectly displayed on his bed, which features a Packers bedspread and a picture of Donald Driver celebrating a touchdown on his headboard (upper left).

The brainwashing, so far, has been a resounding success.  But this weekend we'll be kicking it up to the next level with a visit to the Packer Pro Shop, Packers Hall of Fame, Lambeau Field tour and lunch at Curley's Pub on Saturday, followed by the Tundra Tailgate Zone and, oh yeah, the actual game itself on Sunday.  It's going to be epic.  My kids will be able to recite the starting line-ups of the Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II Packers teams by Monday morning.

The selection of the game vs. the Lions was deliberate.  The criteria included: home game, against a team we're likely to beat, before it's so damn cold my kids will get hypothermia.  There are few teams the Packers have dominated as thoroughly as the Detroit Lions.  Lifetime, the Packers hold a decided 90-64-7 edge, but recent history has been even more lopsided, with Green Bay riding a nine-game winning streak.  And at home, the Packers have been an even bigger lock -- winning the last 19 games against the Lions on Wisconsin soil.  Several Lions players weren't born yet the last time their franchise won a game in our state.

Of course, the downside risk of playing a team we're supposed to beat is the horrifying prospect that we'll pull a game like we did against Tampa Bay last year.  After last week's atrocious penalty palooza, the Packers demonstrated they can hand a game over to just about anyone in the NFL.  So, in an effort to reverse jinx this thing, I am erasing all memory of the aforementioned streak of dominance and predicting the Lions will pull off an upset.  If they do, I'll at least be able to console my heart-broken kids with more Packer paraphernalia at the Pro Shop.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Open Letter to Ted Thompson: GET US A F*CKING RUNNING BACK!!!

This is a family-friendly blog.  I try to keep it PG-13.  But sometimes nothing does the job quite like dropping a few f-bombs.  And the complete inaction and evident complacency from the Packers front office about their running back situation leaves me no option.  Packer nation is collectively asking, when are we going to get a f*cking running back!?  So far, the response has been chirping crickets.

It’s one thing to not comment on the situation.  That might lead me to believe, hope -- in spite of all past behavior to the contrary -- that they are working some trade behind the scenes and they don’t want to disrupt the negotiations.  But comments this week by Mike McCarthy seem to suggest they are un-concerned with our complete lack of a rushing attack.  After the Chicago game, McCarthy stated (and this is a real quote, not the made-up ones I usually do), “I thought the running back production was a positive in the game.”

A positive in the game???  Were we watching the same game?  Brandon Jackson, our alleged feature back, had seven carries for 12 yards.  12 yards!!  More shocking, if you take out his long carry of 11 yards, he had six carries for 1 yard!  How can you regard a 0.16 average yards per carry as a positive?  John Kuhn’s underwhelming six carries for 31 yards looked like an MVP performance by comparison.  What I would consider a “positive in the game” is the 62-yard burst for a touchdown that Ryan Grant had on the first offensive series when we played Chicago at Soldier Field last year, on his way to a 137-yard day.  We don’t have anyone who can do that, and yet there’s no indication that this glaringly obvious gap is a concern.

McCarthy stated, when asked if he’s satisfied with Jackson and Kuhn specifically, “You ask me that every week.  I like our running backs.”  I like them too.  They’re nice guys.  And they are productive and useful players in their regular roles – Jackson as a third-down back who can catch passes and pick up blitzes, and Kuhn as a fullback with versatility and good hands.  That doesn’t make them featured backs.  Jackson’s 2.27 yards per carry in the last two games simply is not sufficient.  And the lack of touches indicates the Packers have no confidence in him either.

But the lack of rushing yards only tells half the story.  The Packers have long been a pass first team, so they don’t need gaudy rushing stats to log wins.  However, their inability to run the ball affects the team in other ways:

  • No big play threat – with a season long run so far of only 18 yards (25th in the NFL), opposing defenses can cheat and crowd the line and our receivers since they don’t need to worry about an explosive back.
  • Ineffective play-action – with nobody biting on play fakes, it will be harder for Rodgers to find open receivers particularly for big plays downfield (which you saw none of against Chicago).
  • Lack of quarterback protection – nothing makes a defense lick their chops more than an offense they know only passes, enabling them to run blitzes and pressure the quarterback relentlessly.
  • Prone to penalties – it’s never easy for an offensive lineman to play back on his heels when he knows the defense can just pin their ears back every play.  It leads to false starts, illegal formations and holding penalties, which we saw plenty of Monday night.
  • Inability to finish out games – nothing is more crucial to finishing out a tight game than an effective running attack.  When you’re forced to pass late, errors happen -- again, to wit, Monday night.

Half the sports prognosticators out there are clamoring for a trade for Marshawn Lynch, with some speculating that he could be had for a third-round pick.  If that’s the case, Thompson would be stupid not to pull the trigger and rectify what is quickly becoming as glaring a deficiency for the Packers as atrocious pass protection was last season.  Unlike last year with the offensive line, though, there’s nobody coming back from injury this season who will help us.  A trade is the only chance we have of getting an impact player.  I just hope Mike and Ted see that.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brat Coma

The worst part of losing to the Bears Monday night was my gluttonous performance in the kitchen. Wanting to do something special for such a big game (and get my children’s digestive tracks conditioned for our trip to Lambeau Field next weekend), I prepared an at-home, family tailgate party.  Naturally, I turned to the Holy Trinity of Wisconsin cuisine: cheese, beer and brats.  (Of course, I didn’t serve my kids the PBR.  They got Heileman’s Old Style® NAs instead.  What kind of parent do you think I am??)
The Holy Trinity of Wisconsin Cuisine

After a pre-game par-boiling (see below for secret family recipe), I fired up the grill and cracked a cold one.  Close your eyes and you would have thought we were on Lombardi Avenue.   Now, if you look at the Nutritional Information on the back panel of a package of Johnsonville® Brats (something I don’t recommend doing, by the way), you’ll see very clearly that the serving size is “1 grilled link.”  But one just didn’t seem like enough, particularly after the Bears pulled to 10-7 with a touchdown right before the half.  So, in a perverse fit of superstition, I opted to take down brat #2 – or what I referred to at the time as “my lucky brat.”

You’d think after years of testing this theory that I would know that my personal brat consumption has no bearing on the outcome of a Packer game.  And my lucky brat – I even considered giving him a German name, like Dieter or something – wasn’t lucky enough to pull out the win last night.  The reality is I would have eaten the same amount of food regardless of the outcome of the game.  Somehow though when you gorge yourself during a win it feels like celebrating, but when you do it during a loss it just feels like gluttony.

After watching Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal sail through the uprights I started cursing Dieter the Lucky Brat.  Do you know how many fat grams are in a brat!?!?  22g or 34% of your recommended daily allowance.  If the Packers don’t get back to their winning ways, I could put on some serious LBs.  Maybe I could switch to something lighter, like Brat Crustini.

As I pondered how this loss was possible (besides the penalty bonanza), I suddenly had a horrifying realization.  Many of these venerable foods were no longer from Wisconsin.  Pabst Brewing Company, despite marketing itself under such wholesome Wisconsin brands as Old Style®, Old Milwaukee® and Pabst Blue Ribbon®, is actually based in San Antonio, Texas... Texas!!!  But it gets worse.  Kaukana® Cheese is owned by Bel Brands USA a subsidiary of a French company based in ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILLINOIS!!!  Not only do they own Kaukana, but they own Merkts® cheese (my personal favorite) and WisPride® too!  If that’s not false advertising, I don’t know what is!  WisPride… what about being owned by an Illinois company would make a Wisconsinite proud!?!?   No wonder these foods have lost their good luck power.  They’ve been co-opted by FIBs.  Even though the lucky brat didn’t come through for me, at least Johnsonville is still in Sheboygan Falls.  And here's how to cook them the right way.

Trigg’s Brat Recipe

Par-boiling Johnsonville's
This is a family recipe, passed down to me by my dad who, though he grew up in Michigan, has lived his adult life in Wisconsin and cooks a mean brat.  The first question of any brat connoisseur is whether or not to par-boil.  I’m a par-boiler.  Reasonable minds can disagree about par-boiling.  It’s just that the non par-boilers are wrong.


  • One 5-pack of Johnsonville Brats… per person
  • Two 12-oz cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (or a Miller®, Point® or Leinenkugels® if you want to keep it pure Wisconsin)
  • One medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 8 hot dog buns (because the conspiracy between the brat guys and bun guys forces you to buy superfluous buns)
  • High quality sauerkraut, preferably Great Lakes brand


Prepare grill.  Place brats in a medium pot just large enough to accommodate links in a single layer.  Cover brats with the beer and chopped onions.  Gradually bring to a simmer over low heat.  Do not boil or the skins will split and you’ll lose a few of those 22 grams of delicious pig fat.  Par-boil brats for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until gray and barely cooked through.  Brats should plump as they take on the beer.

Brats on the Weber
Remove brats from par-boil liquid and place on grill over low heat.  Gently brown the exterior of the brat.  Do not over-cook or you’ll start a grease fire.  Again, the objective is to keep all those tasty juices inside the brat where they belong.  Turn brats until brown on all sides -- approximately 5 minutes per side.  Remove from grill.  Toast buns on grill (optional) and serve with brats, sauerkraut, and your favorite condiments (ketchup and mustard only for the purists).  Enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

You Say Sloppy, I Say Record-Setting

Though the Packers didn’t come away with a win Monday night at Soldier Field, there was one accomplishment that head coach Mike McCarthy and his squad should be very proud of: setting a franchise record in penalties.

“It’s one thing to set that kind of mark if you’re a lame-ass expansion team like the Jacksonville Jaguars,” said a glowing McCarthy in the post-game press conference.  “It’s quite another to do it when you’re a 91-year old franchise going against our oldest rival.  That’s something I'll be proud to have my name next to in the record books.”

After logging 18 penalties for 152 yards – a mark not seen since 1945 – the Packers locker room was electric after the game.  “To reach this milestone, we needed contributions from every guy on the field,” said Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who particularly called out the play of right tackle Mark Tauscher.  “Tausch played out of his mind tonight.  Not only did he get a touchdown called back for holding, but he followed it up the next series with two false starts in a row.  It was awesome!”

Not to be outdone by the offensive miscues, the defense came up big when it mattered – propelling the Bears to a tying field goal in the fourth quarter in a drive that featured personal fouls by Frank Zombo and Nick Collins, then nullifying an interception with a Morgan Burnett pass interference penalty to set up the winning field goal.

“I’m just so proud of our guys,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers.  “You practice and you practice, but you just can’t teach some of the plays we saw tonight.  Personal fouls, facemasks, pass interference calls – we were really firing on all cylinders.”

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” said Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler of the record-setting penalties.  “I threw at least two balls that would have gone the other way if the guys in green and gold hadn’t bailed me out.”

The penalties weren’t the only impressive aspect of the Packers’ performance.  Punter Tim Masthay shanked numerous line-drive punts.  The coverage unit allowed a punt return for a touchdown.  And the field goal unit had a kick blocked.   “We pride ourselves on execution in all three phases of the game,” remarked special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.  “There are guys like long snapper Brett Goode that don’t get enough recognition.  That was a phenomenal arm tackle that Hester easily broke for a touchdown.”

Coach McCarthy led by example tonight by demonstrating his own questionable decision-making – electing to challenge the James Jones fumble, a play that had no ambiguity whatsoever, but not challenge an apparent Packer interception that was ruled incomplete on the next play.  That decision cost the Packers a time out, which enabled them to more efficiently run out the clock at the end of the game – giving themselves no time whatsoever to stage a final drive.

“I just hope we can build on what we demonstrated tonight,” said McCarthy.  “That’s Packer football.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Favorite Game of the Year

There's an old Packer maxim (or is it an adage?  or, perhaps, an axiom?) that says, "The Packers can go 2-14, but if they beat the Bears the season is a success."  Or maybe it's, "You can go 14-2, but if you lose to the Bears the season is a failure."  Or maybe there actually isn't an old adage, and I made this up.

The point is the Packers-Bears rivalry is the oldest and greatest in the NFL... actually, in all of sports, period.  Monday night's showdown will be the 180th meeting between the teams.  Although the Bears lead the lifetime series 91-82-6, some of those early games shouldn't count because the Bears then went by the name Chicago Staleys -- a name that was deemed so pathetic at the time that the Packers organization didn't bother to actually field a team.  Continuing in my NFL team mascot obsession, the Staleys were named after a sponsor -- the A. E. Staley food starch company ("staley" being a somewhat unfortunate name for a food company).  The club was indoctrinated into Canton in the late 30's for having the lamest name in NFL history.

The Packers-Bears rivalry has had three distinct eras of Packers success:
  • The Lambeau era -- actually wasn't really that successful vs. the Bears but he played them 60 times during his coaching tenure from 1921-1949 and had a record of 21-34-5.
  • The Lombardi era -- Vince's reign from 1959 to 1967 was one of our more dominant stretches against the Bears, with a record of 13-5.
  • The Favre era -- Brett always knew how to beat the Bears.  As a Packer, his lifetime record against them was 22-10, but through 2003 he was an astonishing 20-4.
Acknowledgment must also be given to Don Majkowski, whose 14-13 victory over the Bears in 1989 in an infamous last-second instant replay review marked the start of what many Packers fans would regard as the modern era in Green Bay football -- the end of a long, dark streak of losing seasons dating back to the Lombardi era that has been largely rectified since.  I still remember that win as if it were a playoff game, partly because I watched it in Chicago surrounded by Bears fans.  Majkowski's two wins against the Bears in 1989 were virtually the only bright spot in a nearly decade-long stretch that saw us go 3-15 against Mike Ditka's Bears.

You have to also respect what Don Majkowski did for the mullet.  Majkowski's golden locks were a harbinger of the flowing manes that adorn today's team.  Although he was born in upstate New York, Don was Wisconsin through and through -- the blue collar determination, the Def Leppard-esque hairdo, the name that sounds like a car dealership in Ashwaubenon.  He's a favorite son if I ever saw one, and occupies a well-deserved seat in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

Rodgers is starting to work on a little streak of Bear dominance himself, having gone 3-1 in his 4 games against Chicago since he took over the starting role.  Hopefully, he understands the maxim/adage/axiom well and will continue on his winning streak Monday night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We Need a Running Back

It's now 10 days since Ryan Grant blew out his ankle and went on IR, and the silence from the Packers' front office about making any sort of trade at running back is deafening.  Last Sunday, for me, confirmed that our running game is going to be anemic at best relying on Brandon Jackson to carry the load.  It's not that I have anything against Jackson -- I just think he's a better third-down, change-of-pace guy rather than a work-horse kind of guy.  Is Dimitri Nance really all Ted Thompson intends to do to try to back fill our backfield?

Comrade Dimitri
I'll admit I'm abnormally hung up on the Dimitri thing.  Particularly his name -- it's just not a football name.  If I want to hack a computer mainframe, give me a Dimitri.  If I'm casting villains for the next Iron Man movie, double down on Dimitri and throw in a Boris.  If I need to invade a failed state in Central Asia to take over their oil reserves, give me an army of Dimitris.  If I'm setting up a Brezhnev-era puppet dictatorship a la Cuba, Comrade Dimitri would make perfect sense.  But I'm having a hard time getting comfortable with a Dimitri as our running back.  I am secretly hoping that by mercilessly satirizing the guy that he will make me eat crow and turn out to be a stud, just like Ryan Grant turned out to be when we picked him up off the Giants' practice squad.  But the likelihood of that is low.

Even if the guy eventually develops into a great player, we need someone who can make an impact now.  Hasn't Thompson read the newspapers?  It's the Packers manifest destiny to go to the Super Bowl this season, and he's going to let it slip away because he won't pony up for a legit running back??  Thompson is great at scouting young talent, but he is obviously inept at doing trades.  In his 5 years as GM, Thompson has been crazy stingy with the trades.  Besides Ryan Grant (acquired in a trade with the Giants for a 6th-round pick in 2007) the only player Thompson has traded for who is still on the Packers' roster is safety Derrick Martin, who, by the way, is riding the bench.

Greg Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted a recent column about former Packers official Andrew Brandt's account of the organization's attempts to sign Randy Moss back in 2007.  It gives a pretty interesting window into Thompson's mindset, and makes me less optimistic about him engineering a trade than a box of Krispy Kremes at a Weight Watchers meeting.  Thompson seems to just myopically focus on building the team through youth -- the more raw and inexperienced the better.  He's probably at a Texas junior high right now scouting players for the 2018 team.

The Packers' front office has also been stingy on salaries.  Last year, the Packers had the fourth-lowest median salary in the league.  This is, in part, because of the team's proclivity for young players, who don't cost much.  We draft them, we develop them, and then they sign with the Vikings.  Let's break out some of that stock-piled cash and sign ourselves a legitimate running back!

Meanwhile, in terms of trade bait, the two names I've heard suggested most are A.J. Hawk, particularly after his public disgruntlement over not playing last week, and Donald Lee.  The Buffalo News speculated about a possible Hawk-Lynch deal now that the teams have faced each other.  I happen to like both those guys a lot, but we have depth at both linebacker and tight end.  So I would probably deal either of them for an impact guy at running back.  My preference would be to do a deal in exchange for future draft picks, but Ted holds onto those tighter than a Vikings fan gripping a deep-fried Twinkie.  So I don't see that happening.

My best guess is that Thompson is taking a "wait and see" approach -- hoping that the Jackson-Kuhn tandem will be effective enough, or, perhaps, gambling that injured rookie James Starks will make a difference when he returns from the PUP on October 18.  The risk in that philosophy is that any running back worth trading for will already be gone.  As happens most seasons, the injuries are mounting around the league, and a lot of teams will be shopping for running backs.  Consider:

  • Saints have lost Reggie Bush for at least 6 weeks and are reportedly working out free-agent running back Ladell Betts.
  • Patriots' Kevin Faulk tore his ACL and will likely be put on IR.
  • Falcons' back-up running back Jerious Norwood has a torn ACL and is on IR.
  • Giants' Brandon Jacobs is throwing temper tantrums and throwing his helmet into the stands.  Wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants look for a new back.

These teams and more who are just underwhelmed with their starters or are looking to add depth will all be on the market for any potential trade at running back.  Regardless, the clock is ticking, with the October 19 trade deadline looming.  Bottom line, I hope someone at Packers' headquarters has something up their sleeve, or we could look back at this season as the one that got away.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Allegiances of Our Offspring

As a father of two young boys, the sports allegiances of my children is a topic upon which I've spent quite a bit of thought.  Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, my kids have naturally developed early loyalties for local teams -- the San Jose Earthquakes for soccer, the San Francisco Giants to the extent they care about baseball (which is minimal), the Golden State Warriors and/or Los Angeles Lakers for basketball (though more often the latter since the former is so consistently underwhelming), and Cal for college football.  That's all fine.  I'm not a big enough Brewers or Bucks fan to care.

However, as a native Wisconsinite living in California, professional football is the one area I cannot afford to passively sit back and allow geographic proximity to determine their fan loyalty.  Fortunately, both my boys have been natural Packers fans from their earliest days -- as evidenced by this triumphant presentation of Clay Matthews' rookie card by my youngest.  I'm a proud dad.  But, let's face it, it's obvious where this kind of fan devotion comes from.  What possibly could have turned a couple of California kids into Packer fans?  What influences are they exposed to that would steer them that way?  It's not from their friends, who mostly like other teams.  It's not from attending the games (though both will go to their first game at Lambeau in two weeks).  It's not because they see Packer paraphernalia at every Shopko and Copps in town.  No, there's only one un-deniable influence that has clearly shaped their allegiance to the Packers: the LIBERAL MEDIA!!!

Although I might be pleased with the outcome, I'm sick of bureaucrats in Washington DC telling my children who they should root for on Sundays.  This conspiracy has reached the highest levels of the sports media establishment.  The Packers are veritable media darlings.  Commentators from Fox to CBS slather praise on Green Bay.  Sports Illustrated puts Aaron Rodgers on the cover.  ESPN has 7 of 7 analysts predicting the Packers will go to the Super Bowl.  Are we supposed to believe these things are coincidences!?  There's no telling how far this thing goes.

Imagery of Packers on kids' bikes like this one perpetuate a left-wing stereotype that Green Bay is a wholesome, Norman Rockwell-esque small town to be emulated.  Subtly, subliminally, big media is shoving the Packers down America's collective throats!  Our kids are losing their own free will.  Sure, I might not mind it when this communist media machine is cranking out Packers fans.  But what happens when they point their hype-meisters and spin doctors at another team!?  What if they started brainwashing our kids into rooting for the Dallas Cowboys?  Or the Chicago Bears?  Or, heaven forbid, the Minnesota Vikings!?

If we don't fight this big media conspiracy now, it will be too late.  A nation of Vikings fans is a risk we can't afford to take.  That is why I, for one, am taking the establishment head-on by indoctrinating my kids early and often with good old-fashioned football values.  I'm not going to let the liberal media decide my kids' football loyalties... I'm going to decide their football loyalties!  There is no Packers jersey I won't buy.  There is no green and gold accoutrement I won't acquire.  There is no cheese-shaped foam object I won't don.  I won't rest until I'm certain that the depth of my childrens' loyalty to the Packers can endure the here-today-gone-tomorrow vagaries of the media establishment.  I hope you do the same.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Buffalo Rolls

Sunday Special: Trent Edwards Buffalo Rolls

Mmmmm.... wings.  Or more like rolls -- as in rolling the Buffaloes.  The first half wasn't quite the beat down we all expected, but three touchdowns in the second half was exactly the smorgasbord the Lambeau home field crowd was craving, with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing on the side.

There's one Buffalo Roll for each of Clay Matthews' sacks.  That guy is a certifiable beast.  The player my youngest son still refers to as "the Rookie Matthews" is on pace for a 48-sack season -- double the current single-season record of 22.5 logged by the Giants' Michael Strahan in a gimme sack allowed by our very own Brett Favre back in 2001.

Obviously Bills Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris didn't study enough game film in preparation for this week, because leaving Matthews un-blocked, as his unit did several times Sunday, is a recipe for getting your quarterback's head ripped off.  Given Trent Edwards' performance, it's possible the Buffalo coaches hoped Matthews would do what he did to Kevin Kolb last week.  You can bet your ass D'Alessandris knows who #52 is now -- as does every other offensive coach the Packers will face this season.  Buffalo team doctors reported after the game that D'Alessandris may require season-ending plastic surgery to remove this expression of shock and awe off his face after Matthews recorded his third sack today.  Facing unrelenting pressure, Edwards passed for only 102 yards, two interceptions, and a QB rating of 37.0.  Those are Jay Cutler-esque numbers.

No doubt much of the Packers' success on defense so far this season stems from Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers' creative schemes.  He has been able to move Matthews around, confusing quarterbacks with a variety of looks and blitzes.  My favorite is the "Psycho Package," which features only one defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs.  It's incredibly difficult for opposing offenses to handle because they aren't sure who is rushing and who is dropping back into coverage -- that, and it typically culminates in Clay Matthews bursting towards the quarterback with a hacking motion worthy of Norman Bates.  I love the Psycho Package.

On the offensive side of the ball, everyone was watching to see how Brandon Jackson would do in place of Ryan Grant.  The initial verdict is... "meh."  Jackson only rushed for 29 yards on 11 attempts, or 2.6 yards per carry, although he did have a touchdown.  But when your QB has almost as many rushing yards (20) as your starting RB, that's not a good sign.  More important than his stats, he doesn't look confident.  He frequently paused at the point of attack.  And his body language in the post-game interview looked dejected.  The Bills could do nothing to exploit it, but we will need more out of our running game.  Of note, Chad Clifton left the game with about six minutes left in the first half.  Not clear if it was due to injury (as asserted) or just mediocre play, but rookie Bryan Bulaga held his own as a replacement, except for one false start penalty.  The offensive line didn't give up a single sack on the day.

Other positives from the day:
  • No turn-overs, although Kuhn put it on the ground once.
  • Morgan Burnett got his first NFL INT with a big-time hit and pick-pocket on Roscoe Parrish.
  • Sam Shields continues to quietly hold his own and had a great stop on third down just before the half.
  • Special teams also played well in all aspects, with some nice returns by Jordy Nelson and no mistakes covering C.J. Spiller on kick/punt coverage.
  • Buffalo made the unusual decision to feature Marshawn Lynch, despite his official status as their #3 back -- giving him 17 carries for 64 yards.  Whether they were riding the hot hand or trying to bid up his trade value remains to be seen.

Really, the only blemish on the day was Aaron Rodgers' Lambeau Leap.  Of the half-hearted attempt, Rodgers commented, “The guys were giving me a hard time on the sidelines, but I told them, ‘Look, I saw this asshole holding a beer in the front row and knew I was going to get doused.'"  Rodgers has to recognize, that's part of playing in Lambeau.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's a Bill?

The Buffalo Bills “stampede” into Lambeau this weekend, and, as I touched on in my earlier post, I have no idea what a “Bill” is.  So I did some research to find out where the name Bills came from, and it’s a scintillating history exemplifying the proud American tradition of not knowing what the hell we’re talking about.  This is just the kind of knowledge you’re looking for when you come to TriggPack.

At first, it’s easy to forget that the name “Bills” doesn’t make any sense.  You assume from their name and logo that their mascot is actually a buffalo.  Well, sort of.  But the “Buffalo” part of their name actually refers to the city of Buffalo, not the mascot.  Although the mascot looks like a Buffalo, it’s actually a Bill.  So how did a small town in upstate New York come to be named after a majestic North American animal, that largely lived 2,000 miles away.  Turns out the term originally referred to an animal the immigrants to that area called a “Canadian Buffalo” which zoologists later identified has the same DNA footprint as a Guernsey cow.  The town elders, not wanting to admit their town was named after a dairy-producing bovine, insisted the animal was a buffalo and that eventually stuck as the name of the town.

Years later as football was gaining in popularity, the task of naming the local team was put to the descendents who named the town.  My assumption, not having given much thought to the team since the futility of the Jim Kelly years, was that “Bills” – like the Cleveland Browns – referred to some original founder, owner, or sponsor named Bill who, in the charming self-promotional vanity of the 1960's, named his newly founded club after himself.  (As an aside, I hate it when people name things, like books… or blogs, after themselves!)  Turns out, however, nobody named Bill had anything to do with the formation of the team.  The founder, Ralph Wilson, briefly considered the Buffalo Ralphs, but that name already had an unfortunate connotation from hung-over Niagara falls wedding parties.

Original Buffalo Bills Team Logo
The other logical name that was considered was the Buffalo Buffaloes, which sounds a bit like ordering chicken wings at Little Caesars.  But Wilson, who suffered from a stutter, was unable to pronounce the name, so it was rejected as well.  Later, the team historian who was always eager to point out that a Canadian Buffalo was actually a dairy cow, proposed the Buffalo Guernseys, and even came up with a logo.   But management rejected it as not having the necessary intimidation factor, and he was tragically beaten with soap and stuffed in a locker by the towel boys.  Wilson also lobbied his front office to name the team after his father, Richard Wilson – known to all as “Dick.”  But after several snickering meetings, the idea was shelved.  The team remained un-named.

Wilson, trusting in the collective wisdom of the largely un-educated backwater that is Upstate New York, put the task of naming the team to the people.  He organized a local contest allowing fans to submit suggestions and vote on a name for the club.  Some of the more colorful entries included the Buffalo Dance, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buffalo Shuffle Offs, Buffalo Skin Rugs, Buffalo Joes, and just “The Buffalo.”  All were rejected.

In an example of the stupidity of crowds that would bring a smile to Malcolm Gladwell’s face, the greater Buffalo community finally turned to plagiarism – naming the team after... the Buffalo Bills, a team in the long-since-defunct All-America Football Conference.  I believe that was the sister league of basketball’s Flint Michigan Tropics, masterfully portrayed by Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro.

The question remains, however, where did the name “Bills” come from?  Wasn’t there some guy named Bill involved at some point?  Yes, in fact, it was William Frederick Cody, popularly known as "Buffalo Bill", who was the inspiration for the name.  Naming the team after this prominent historical figure made perfect sense, since Cody was born in Iowa, lived in Kansas, and was apparently never within a 1,000 mile radius of the Buffalo, NY area.

But the misnomer and malapropisms didn’t stop there.  When asked to design a mascot for the team, they actually used a bison.  Some of you may remember back to your tours of the natural history museum that a buffalo and a bison are entirely different animals.  Though both are of the species bovidae, true buffaloes actually only live in Africa and parts of Asia.  Lesson to Mr. Wilson: don't let a bunch of drunks drive your naming and branding strategy.  At least the name has some alliteration.  And over the years, most people, like me until I did a little research, forgot that the name didn't make any sense.

This season, the Bills have added a motto to their name and logo: “Return to Mediocrity!”  With that rich history and rallying cry, the Bills will take the field on Sunday against the Packers.  Hopefully, Marshawn Lynch will stay behind and change jerseys.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"What's a Packer?"

This was the question posed to me by my 4-year old son recently.  My head whipped around, my eye twitched and after a long pause I gripped him by both shoulders and explained:

"A Packer is the pure, un-adulterated essence of football.  A Packer is what every boy who has ever tossed a pigskin aspires to become.  A Packer is the gridiron guardian of the hallowed halls of Lambeau Field.  A Packer is the embodiment of a proud tradition, carried through generations, that consummated and defined the entire sport of football.  A Packer is inextricably intertwined with the community, not only the city of Green Bay but the entire state of Wisconsin -- nay, the nation!  A Packer walks under the banners of 12 world championships and 3 Super Bowls.  A Packer is the beating heart of a champion with a commitment to excellence that doesn't accept anything less for his dedication than the triumphant placement of the Lombardi Trophy in its namesake's home!  A Packer is FOOTBALL!!!"

Snapping back to reality, I suddenly realized my voice had crescendoed to a decibel level that caused the entire family to stop what they were doing.  A neighbor's dog barked in the distance during the pregnant pause that followed.  Birds took flight in panic.  As I stared into my son's unblinking and slightly terrified eyes, he persisted with his inquiry, "Yeah... but what is a Packer?"

Ahh... the beautiful innocence of youth.  Of course, what he meant was what, physically speaking, is a "Packer."  A perfectly reasonable question, but an answer that requires more than a little explanation.  For a four-year-old, the team names that make most sense are animals.  They know what a Lion or Bear is.  As I pondered his question, it struck me that simply naming your NFL team after some fierce animal (e.g. Bengals, Jaguars, Panthers) or, worse, not-so-fierce animal (Dolphins, Rams) was a cop-out.  Animals are what you go with when you can't think of a better mascot.  Horses (Colts and Broncos) and, for some perplexing reason, birds (Cardinals, Ravens, Falcons, Eagles, Seahawks) are other species in the animal kingdom that somehow portray, at least in the mind of the namers, toughness, speed or determination.  I think they reflect a lack of creativity.

How about thinking outside the fauna box a little?  Large men (Giants and Titans) sound like good mascots.  Better yet, how about large men who beat the crap out of people?!?  Marauders are, in many ways, the perfect metaphor for an NFL team, embraced by the Raiders, Buccaneers and Vikings.  The Norse-ist undertones of the Minnesota mascot aside (c'mon, does every Scandinavian have blond hair and long mustaches?), these names convey a cool, take-no-prisoners, ass-kicking toughness that is exactly the intimidation factor you're looking for on the field and in the stands.  How can you get any cooler than these Raiders fans?  What's not to like about death, dismemberment and stuffed animals?  It's the perfect NFL mascot.

Trying to emulate the Raiders look when the team entered the league in 1976, the Buccaneers' marketing execs were slightly off the mark initially -- not only in their unfortunate choice of tangerine as the primary team color, but also in the off-putting eye wink of their original mascot (top).  After convening a focus group at Disneyland, the front office came up with their current Pirates of the Caribbean emblem (middle), but they recently decided to abandon that look too because players were being asked where the "It's a Small World After All" ride was.  So, unveiled for the first time here at TriggPack is the new Buccaneers logo (bottom) which they will be sporting in the 2011 season.

During a press conference previewing the new logo, team president Malcolm Glazer stated, "We're tired of being out-marauded by Raiders fans.  This new mascot will give meatheads across the state of Florida something they can dress up like on Sunday and feel cool about themselves until they pass out in a pool of their own vomit."

Close cousins of the marauder genre is the time-honored exploitation of Native Americans, with the Chiefs and Redskins.  Let's just say I'd feel a tad awkward wandering into the Oneida Casino up the road from Lambeau Field sporting a Redskins jersey.  Fortunately our game against them this year is away.  Maybe Washington could take a cue from the Buccaneers and revamp their mascot to something a little more contemporary that doesn't look like an artist's rendition of the Trail of Tears.  Leave it to D.C. to be politically incorrect.

Occupations have also been a popular inspiration for NFL teams.  The Steelers (blue collar heroes), Patriots (who doesn't want to fight for their country?), Cowboys (tamed the West), 49ers (opportunistic gold-diggers), and Saints (forgive me, Father) were all named after venerable professions.  And, finally, there are the out-dated and just non-sensical names, including the Bills (what the hell is a "Bill" anyway?), Jets (probably sounded cool when airplane flight was a novel concept), Browns (fortunately for Cleveland fans, Paul Brown's surname wasn't Steamer), Chargers (isn't a lightening bolt a dis-charge?), and Texans (your state really isn't that cool -- we could have been the Green Bay Wisconsinites).

Which brings me back to the Packers.  Fortunately, for the purposes of answering my son's question, I am in the midst of reading a mostly interesting (though at times tiresome) book called The Packer Legend: An Inside Look by John Torinus, who worked for George Calhoun -- the sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette who collaborated with Curly Lambeau to found the team, served as its original manager, and was an ardent publicist for years.

The name "Packers", as any Wisconsin kid knows from countless WPNE Saturday afternoon replays of NFL films from the Lombardi years, is from the Indian Packing Company, a meat-packing company in Green Bay.  Lambeau himself worked there and convinced them to be the original sponsor of the team -- for $250 per month (about the cost of my DirecTV subscription to watch them today).  Why the company didn't insist on the Green Bay Indians (we could have used the Redskins' logo), instead going with the rather generic Green Bay Packers, is not documented.  The Indian Packing Company was acquired by the Acme Packing Company, of Wile E. Coyote fame, in 1921.

Meat packing doesn't exactly spring to mind as a major Northeastern Wisconsin industry these days, apart from bratwurst or venison.  I guess we should consider ourselves fortunate that the original sponsor wasn't a paper mill (the Green Bay Pulpers), insurance company (the Green Bay Auditors), or Hillshire Farms (the Green Bay Kielbasas).  It's also quite fortunate that, in the absence of a logical visual embodiment of a Packer, Green Bay fans adopted the cheesehead.  It's a little known fact that in addition to the now ubiquitous yellow foam cheesehead, early prototypes of fan headgear included the Packer meathead, shown here.  That design was ultimately rejected because fans would barbecue it at their tailgate parties before ever entering the stadium.  Strapping raw meat to your head was also identified as a health risk by the FDA, otherwise these things would be adorning the Packer Pro Shop.

The name Packers, though technically referring to some dude stuffing animal meat into a can, stuck, and over the years lost its connection to its long defunct sponsor and took on the deeper emotional significance every fan feels.  The word Packer doesn't refer to something else.  It has no significance outside of the context Green Bay has given it.  And that is why it is a perfect mascot.

So there you go, son.  That is a Packer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rodgers Likes My Marshawn Lynch Idea

Greg Bedard on the JSOnline Packers blog is reporting that Aaron Rodgers responded "Bring him on!" in response to a question about a possible trade with the Bills for running back Marshawn Lynch, a suggestion broken on TriggPack yesterday. :-)

Yahoo! Sports writer Michael Silver makes a very compelling case for why a Lynch deal makes sense for both sides.  Definitely worth a read.  In it, he asserts that Buffalo has already turned down an offer of a third-round pick + another player for Lynch.  Not sure how much more than that I'd offer if I were Thompson, but this deal would be so sweet.  Bedard estimates the likelihood of a Lynch deal at 1%, but at least there's a chance.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Replace Ryan Grant, Packers Sign... Dimitri Nance???

New Packers RB Dimitri Nance (FKA Yakov Smirnov)
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the Packers have signed (drum roll please!)... Dimitri Nance!  This is such a typical Thompson move.  Why go out and get a proven running back -- like Willie Parker, who the Packers allegedly considered, or my speculation on Marshawn Lynch?  Ted might actually have to pay those guys more than the league minimum in salary.

Who the hell is this Dimitri of which you speak, you might ask?  Well, he is a non-drafted free agent from ASU who was on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad.  I don't know anything about the guy, but signing Falcons cast-offs doesn't get me excited (though I guess it worked with Favre).  Furthermore, what's with "Dimitri"?  I can't name very many dudes with Russian names (and dreadlocks) that have made it big in the NFL.  It's like we picked up Yakov Smirnov off waivers.

If you're going to sign someone off a practice squad, you'd theoretically pick up a back from your own practice squad.  Isn't that why you have a practice squad?  So you've got guys you can quickly sign who already know the playbook and are less likely to screw something up or be ineffective for weeks while they figure out where the toilets are???  The Packers have a back, James Johnson, on their practice squad.  Or why not re-sign Kregg Lumpkin who looked pretty good in the pre-season before the Packers cut him?  Oh, wait -- that's right.  He signed with the Bucs, while we kept 2 RBs on our roster and 4 TEs!

Presumably the Packers are betting that sixth-round draft pick James Starks, who is currently on the PUP list, will be able to contribute after he returns, hopefully in week 7.  But I'm not sure I put much more faith in him than Yakov.  He didn't show much in pre-season, and rookies who are struggling with injuries typically struggle on the field as well -- if they ever get on it.  I truly hope that the Packers management doesn't feel like this is an "answer" to the loss of Grant, but rather just a stop-gap measure until they figure out a longer term solution.  Given Thompson's proclivity for un-drafted rookie free agents, I'm not holding out a lot of hope.

I'm far from an expert in trades, contracts, or free agency, but there are several other teams and players I'd be talking to if I were Thompson.  Beyond my likely futile hope for Marshawn, the Broncos have quite a bit of depth at RB -- could see making a move for a LenDale White or Justin Fargas.  The Patriots also have a glut of serviceable backs, with Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris as theoretical possibilities.  Seattle has a crowded backfield as well, with Julius Jones evidently relegated to the third-string position they might be willing to deal him.  Former Packer flash-in-the-pan Samkon Gado is playing for the Titans, and could be worth a look.  Other possibilities to consider include Mike Bell in Philly (though he probably became more valuable to them after Leonard Weaver was lost for the season), Jerious Norwood in Atlanta (with Turner getting most of the touches), and even un-signed guys like the aforementioned Willie Parker, or even a Rudi Johnson or Jamal Lewis.  These guys might be a reach, but could bring some spark and seniority like Ahman Green did last year.  Again, I haven't really taken the time to research which of these potential moves are actually feasible -- more just a "top of mind" list.  Please post any other ideas in the comments below.

The other move the Packers announced today was to re-sign DE Jarius Wynn.  Wynn played for the Packers last year as a rookie but was cut this pre-season.  This move makes more sense to me.  At least Wynn comes in with some experience with the Packers defense.  Keeping my fingers crossed that these are the last free agent signings we hear about.

Could Marshawn Lynch Be Our Answer?

So the blogosphere speculation is rapidly heating up about the Packers potentially trading for Buffalo running back Marshawn Lynch.  It's a very interesting possibility for several reasons.

First, the Bills have already expressed a desire to trade him.  He was a hold-out at camp this year, disgruntled over the fact the Bills selected C.J. Spiller in the first round and the back-up role went to Fred Jackson.  His off-the-field problems have been a headache and he clearly doesn't click with the coaching staff.  There was speculation they may move him before the season started, and Green Bay was mentioned as a possibility even before Grant's injury.  There's no reason for the Bills to have so much depth at RB when they have so many holes to fill elsewhere.

Second, Lynch knows Aaron Rodgers from their Cal days.  So if any person and organization can turn the guy's career around, it's Rodgers and Green Bay.  A rapid fail as Lynch experienced in Buffalo is both humbling, but also motivating.  You often see guys come back from an experience like that with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove on the field.

Third, he's clearly a talented guy.  He was a serious stud in college -- many considered him a Heisman candidate.  In his first season or two in Buffalo, it seemed he would have the same success in the pros.  His off-field problems and overall attitude have been the bigger deterrents to his success, not a lack of talent.  In the right situation, he could quickly re-emerge as a dominant player.

I have no idea what the Bills would want in return.  Trading him for a future draft pick would be ideal, but the Bills likely want someone who can help them now.  The intriguing wrinkle to all this is that the Packers play the Bills this Sunday.  It would be quite a kick if he came onto the field in green and gold!  If nothing else, it's a convenient chance for the two clubs to talk trade in person.  I personally would love to see this move.

Grant and Herrell Both Out for Season

Injuries are part of the game, but, as we were reminded last year when Al Harris went down, it's always a bummer to suffer them at positions where we lack depth.  Unfortunately, that happened twice on Sunday with Ryan Grant and Justin Herrell going down -- key losses at the running back and defensive line positions where we are already thin, not only in terms of talent but in actual headcount on the roster.

First, running back.  It was not a good feeling to see Grant leave the game after a nasty ankle twist and return to the field with a boot on it.  McCarthy confirmed yesterday that the injury was “significant” and may have included ligament damage.  They will be conducting "further tests" to determine the extent of the damage.  I hate to sound pessimistic, but that all sounds like code for a potentially season-ending injury.  "Further tests" typically means an MRI to determine if the ligament damage is bad enough to require surgery.  And, in fact, Jay Glazer from Fox Sports is tweeting this morning that Grant is done for the season.  Brandon Jackson will have to step up, but I also think the Packers need to get another legitimate running back on the roster.  John Kuhn will now shift to back-up at halfback, but we need more depth here if nothing else.

Second, defensive line.  Justin Herrell is gone for the season with a torn ACL, an injury he suffered during a field goal attempt of all things.  It's time to accept that the guy has been a complete bust since the Packers selected him with their top pick in the 2007 draft.  One could easily have speculated Herrell would suffer from the injury bug as a pro.  He missed significant portions of his college career due to various injuries, including a torn biceps, broken ankle, leg surgery and back problems.  As a Packer, he has only played 13 games in four seasons, he missed all of last year, and now he's done for this year as well -- probably done for his career.  With Jolly out for the season on suspension and Mike Neal as a rookie struggling with injuries himself, the lack of depth on the defensive line is concerning.  The only silver lining of this injury could be Thompson finally becoming willing to give up on the guy and pick up a free agent.  Not sure who this would be.  Albert Haynesworth is disgruntled, but also out of shape and doesn't want to play in a 3-4.  Leonard Little is also a free-agent, but he's a little long in the tooth.

Bottom line, I hope Thompson and the personnel team in Green Bay is furiously working the phones and combing the practice squads of other teams because we need players.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Must Win, Won

Kevin Kolb, as played by Marky Mark.
That game was just as squirrelly as I expected, but a win is a win and I'll take it.  In fact, that's the first win the Packers have managed to get in the City of Brotherly Love since 1962.  Something about Philadelphia seems trapped in a time warp and those throw-back uniforms the Eagles were sporting didn't help.  I half expected Mark Wahlberg from Invincible to step onto the field in his kelly greens.  Some throw-back uniforms are cool.  Those are not.  Neither is that hairdo.  I know you're trying to be all Vince Papale and stay authentic to the period, but you look like... Tom Brady.

As a former Green Bay coach, Andy Reid knows the Packers extremely well and his game planning was superb.  Start with pressure on Rodgers -- which included multiple hurries, collapsed pockets, and 3 sacks in the first 15 minutes.  Follow it up by taking Finley out of his comfort zone -- which they again did early on with Stewart Bradley keying on him.  And then shut down the other bread-and-butter plays the Packers love -- cheating on quick slants, sniffing out the screens, swarming draws, etc.  It was pretty effective, holding the Packers to 13 points in the first half and 27 on the game.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, Kevin Kolb looked like Marky Mark might have been pretending to be him in the first half.  Kolb was 5 of 10 for 24 yards before Clay Matthews hoed the ground with his head, sending him to the bench with a concussion and 6 square feet of Lincoln Financial Field in his face mask.  Marky probably could have done better.  Ironically, the worst thing the Packers could have done was knock the Eagles starting quarterback out of the game.  For the rest of the game, Michael Vick gashed our defense like a... well, like rottweiler.  Presumably the Packers D didn't game plan against Vick much, but they should have.  The guy put up 175 yards in the air and another 103 on the ground during 3 scoring drives in the second half.  Thank God Vick didn't start!

The good news of the game is that Rodgers can have a bad game on the road and we still win.  Rodgers looked out-of-sync all day.  He was off-target on his first three passes of the game, all incompletions.  He threw two interceptions, both on badly thrown balls.  And he was clearly rattled by the push up the middle and stunts that the Eagles threw at him, resulting in 3 sacks.  But very few coaches will know how to get inside his head better than Reid.  So, hopefully, Aaron will be back to his usual swagger in week 2.

The defense, in spite of letting the Eagles back into the game, looked pretty good.  Clay Matthews showed his Pro-bowl selection was no fluke.  He was dominant, leading the team with 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble.  He is un-believably athletic for his size and will be a disruptive force opposing offenses will have to deal with all season.  Charles Woodson also had a stellar day, flying all over the field as usual and forcing a fumble.  It was also great to see our un-drafted rookies mixing it up.  Frank Zombo got a key sack and Sam Shields held his own for the most part.

Finally, special teams had a solid day too.  Mason Crosby was money, hitting two long kicks including a 56-yarder right before the half.  Punt and kick coverage was reliable.  And Jordy Nelson proved to be a huge momentum changer with three consecutive long kick-off returns after Philadelphia scores.

It wasn't pretty, but it was a win.  And it sets us up for a good start to the season.  So you can take your Greg Kinear Philly fans.  We'll take our W.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Favre on the Ground

I really don't harbor any ill will against Favre.  I harbor ill will against the Vikings.  Favre just happens to be their quarterback.  If he was still a Jet, I wouldn't care.  But as the QB of our arch nemesis, I am compelled to revel in his failures and the failures of his team.

This hit by the Saints' Roman Harper on Thursday night was a thing of absolute beauty.  Favre left his feet as if he was hit by a car.  I was a little surprised his shoes didn't come off in the process.  The result of this wobbling pass was an interception.  Just like in the NFC Championship game, the formula for beating any Favre-led team remains putting hits on him and forcing him into stupid mistakes.

So the Vikings season begins this year as it ended last year -- on the turf of the Super Dome watching an interception replay on the jumbotron.  The Vikings offense will be challenged to be as potent as it was last year.  Favre missed training camp again, but that's no surprise.  His offensive line has had some shuffling due to injuries.  Guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera both had shoulder injuries last season.  Center John Sullivan has struggled with a calf injury in the pre-season.  And left tackle Bryant McKinnie had to leave the game Thursday due to a dislocated finger.  Like the Packers last season, the Vikings offensive line hasn't had good playing time together and it could affect their consistency.

More widely publicized have been their issues at receiver.  Last year's star Sidney Rice is out at least half the season due to hip surgery which he bizarrely neglected to do at the end of last season.  Guess he just didn't make it that far down his to-do list.  Percy Harvin, who had an impressive rookie season last year, has suffered from intense migraines and collapsed at practice a few weeks ago requiring a trip to the hospital in an ambulance.  Bernard Berrian has never been a go-to guy, and he showed it again Thursday catching only one pass for three yards in addition to a key drop.  Visanthe Shiancoe had a nice game and clearly is the guy Favre trusts most.  But he had back-to-back bone-headed penalties Thursday, and the Saints demonstrated in the second half that Shiancoe can be easily shut down when there are so few other receiving weapons on the field.  Adrian Peterson looked great, but the absence of a dangerous passing threat is the best way to keep Peterson contained.  Plus, Favre is too impatient to stick with the run.

As good as the Vikings defense looked, if their offense can't put up more than 9 points, they are going to have a hard time winning with any consistency.  And more hits like this could mean this season is finally Favre's last.  Like a lot of Packers fans, though, I have too much respect for Favre to trash talk him directly.  So I'll leave the trash talking (and child exploitation) to the Saints fans:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Sunday is a "Must Win"

I feel a little odd declaring that the opening game of the season is a "must win."  But at the end of the season, every win is worth the same amount.  If the Packers don't come out and set the tone with a convincing win against the Eagles on Sunday, I will be worried about their season.  Aside from the fact that my kids are rabid Green Bay Packers fans who will be heartbroken if we lose our opening game of the season, there are three reasons I see this as a must win game.

First, the Vikings lost.  We all know that any viable playoff run must first start with winning the NFC North.  With the Vikings losing in the Bayou tonight, Green Bay can take an immediate lead in the division if they win Sunday.  Getting out of the gate early will be critical in setting the pace and establishing themselves as the team to beat.

Second, the Eagles could be testy.  I'm not sure why, but the Eagles feel like a sleeper team to me.  Especially on opening day at home.  New QB Kevin Kolb seems like a budding star, and DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek are legit receiving options that could test the Packers thin secondary.  This is the kind of game on the road that you need to be able to win to be a contender.

Third, if they win this game the Packers have a legitimate shot at being 6-0 by the time they face the Vikings.  Beating Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Miami all feel very do-able.  If the Packers are able to get off to that kind of start, they will turn their pre-season hype into regular season intimidation.  They will switch from the team that everyone wants to knock off their pedestal, to the team everyone is afraid to confront.  And they will have the confidence and swagger necessary to take down the Vikings in week 7 and, hopefully, put themselves in a 2-3 game lead in the NFC North.

If Green Bay loses Sunday, all these things run the risk of unraveling the other way.  They will be fighting game-by-game with the Vikings for first place.  Other teams will have tape on how to beat them.  And the media will start rampantly speculating about the whether they were over-hyped.  We don't want that to happen.  So... it's a must win.  Get it done!

Under Pressure

The NFL regular season starts Thursday, and expectations around Packer nation, and the actual nation for that matter, are at a fever pitch.  Green Bay hasn't been under this much pressure to win the Super Bowl since Bart Star was under center.  The hype has reached such a level that I almost feel sorry for Vikings fans who have to listen to everyone predict Packer dominance in the NFC North despite their status as defending divisional champs.  Then I think about north woods face-painters like this dude and remember that I should never feel sorry for Vikings fans.  Lions fans, maybe, after generations of suffering under Packer oppression, but never Vikings fans.

At first, I thought the high expectations were just among us.  Those who saw the development of the team last year.  Witnessed the maturation of Aaron Rodgers into an MVP-level player.  Could attest to the strength of the run-stuffing defense.  But as the pre-season prognosticators across the myriad media outlets started pontificating their predictions, the persistent premonitions of Packer prowess were perceptible.

Interestingly, probably the most muted expectations were from the sports writers at the Green Bay Press-Gazette.  Although 3 of the 4 predicted the Packers will win the NFC North, only one (Mike Vandermause) had them going to the Super Bowl and losing to the Ravens.  I think they're sand bagging -- either that or trying to invoke some superstitious reverse jinx or something.  The national media has been much more bullish on the Packers' prospects.  This ESPN article providing the predictions of 7 of their top football analysts was particularly striking.  Among their predictions:
  • 4 of 7 have Rodgers as Offensive Player of the Year, 3 of 7 have him as MVP
  • 6 of 7 predict the Packers will win the NFC North
  • 7 of 7 predict they will go to the NFC Championship game
  • 7 of 7 predict they will win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl
  • 4 of 7 predict they will win the Super Bowl
Of course, one of these guys predicted the Bengals will also go to the Super Bowl, so what the hell do they know.  But those are some seriously high expectations, and it doesn't stop there.  I heard Adam Schein and Rich Gannon on NFL Network radio both predict the Packers in the Super Bowl.  And none other than our own Aaron Rodgers' mug just graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Cue Queen (with David Bowie)...

There are two possible outcomes when the hype circling your team reaches this decibel level.  Either:
  1. You embrace it and confidently start delivering the goods, turning that pre-season hype into regular season intimidation and domination on your way to Super Bowl glory, or
  2. You don't live up to it, start losing, trigger a wave of nay-sayers whose ripple effect spawns a wave of self-doubt causing your entire season to implode and all the coaching staff to lose their jobs.

My hope is for scenario 1.

Against that backdrop, I wouldn't be a self-respecting blogger if I didn't publicly lay out my predictions for the Packers' 2010 season.  So without further delay, here goes:

Sun., Sept. 12 @ Philadelphia Eagles -- Win, but a tight tester game.  Very nervous they will overlook the Eagles in their yard.  Just the thought of playing there still makes me twitch with PTSD flashbacks to our 2003 playoff loss against them.

Sun., Sept. 19 Buffalo Bills -- Win.  Bills may be the worst team in football this year, and should be a cake walk of a home opener.  A loss here is too horrifying to contemplate, so I won't.

Mon., Sept. 27 @ Chicago Bears -- Win.  First and only Monday night appearance this year (apparently the MNF producers didn't get the "Packers to dominate" memo).  Jay Cutler and Mike Martz already struggling to keep their jobs at this early stage in the season.

Sun., Oct. 3 Detroit Lions -- Win.  I will be at this game, and can't wait!  Lions make me a little nervous as I think they will be dramatically improved this year... to a record of 3-13.

Sun., Oct. 10 @ Washington Redskins -- Loss.  I'm not necessarily buying into the excitement about an improved Redskin team.  Lots of dysfunction in that locker room, and they still have a mascot that looks like it was pulled from a Mississippi high school in the 1950s.  But I expect us to drop at least one game early on and this or the Eagles game feel like the most likely candidates.

Sun., Oct. 17 Miami Dolphins -- Win.  Parcells' recent departure (vying with Brett for the most fake retirements) shows he knows what's coming in Miami.  Mediocrity. Your wild cat doesn't scare me.

Sun., Oct. 24 Minnesota Vikings -- Win.  Like last year, this match-up could determine the division.  We get them in our house, and, if we've taken care of business the first 6 weeks, we should have a good record and the inside track for NFC Norris bragging rights.

Sun., Oct. 31 @ New York Jets -- Loss.  Another favorite pick of the NFL gurus, probably because of all the f-bombs Rex Ryan drops on Hard Knocks.  I actually think we match up pretty well against their vertically-challenged offense, but winning at the New Meadowlands on Halloween will not be easy.

Sun., Nov. 7 Dallas Cowboys -- Win.  I'm short-selling the Cowboys, even if Jerry did get the Super Bowl.  The defense is porous, the receivers are prima donnas, Romo is a choker, and all will be on display in this Sunday night game at home.

Sun., Nov. 14 -- I predict they will have a bye week.  Record: 7-2.

Sun., Nov. 21 @ Minnesota Vikings -- Loss.  Always a tough game for us to win in that God-forsaken dome.

Sun., Nov. 28 @ Atlanta Falcons -- Win.  Another dome against another popular pick for a break-out team this year.  I, frankly, don't see it.  Matt Ryan is great, but nothing else about the Falcons generates any excitement.

Sun., Dec. 5 San Francisco 49ers -- Win.  Welcome to Lambeau in December, gentlemen.  Alex Smith sets league record with 17 interceptions.

Sun., Dec. 12 @ Detroit Lions -- Win.  Detroit already posturing for first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by this point.

Sun., Dec. 19 @ New England Patriots -- Loss.  Another very win-able game for us, but anticipate we can't quite get over the hump against them thanks to a Brady dismantling of our secondary.

Sun., Dec. 26 New York Giants -- Win.  Eli is actually another quarterback with the capacity to expose our weak secondary, but I think we get the job done at home as we gear up for the playoffs.

Sun., Jan. 2 Chicago Bears -- Win.  Bears are working out Caleb Hanie at QB by this point, desperately seeking some answer for next season.

Overall record: 12-4
Win NFC North and get first-round bye
Lose to Saints in NFC Championship game in a shoot out.

There you go.  I desperately hope I'm wrong and they bring home another Lombardi, but I just think the failure to shore up the defensive secondary and pass rush is going to be too much to overcome against the elite quarterbacks.  We shall soon find out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Final Roster Set

The final cuts were announced yesterday, trimming the Packers down to the required 53-man roster.  Frankly, there were some surprises on the chop list, particularly: RB Kregg Lumpkin, O-linemen Evan Dietrich-Smith, Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbre, TE Spencer Havner, and WR Jason Chery.  Let me elaborate.

With the cut of Lumpkin, the Packers now have two running backs on the entire roster, including the practice squad.  Unless Thompson intends to pick someone up off waivers from another club, this strikes me as a borderline reckless move.  Ryan Grant has had some injuries in the pre-season, and Brandon Jackson is no stranger to the treatment room.  To have no depth behind these guys scares me.  And Lumpkin actually looked serviceable in the pre-season game against the Chiefs.  Really would like to see them sign someone here.

Our offensive line woes are well-documented.  Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spitz and T.J. Lang are essentially our only three back-ups.  Nick McDonald and Marshall Newhouse are listed as well, but Dietrich-Smith and Giacomini seemed to be ahead of both those guys in the pre-season rotation.  The Vikings apparently made an immediate move for Giacomini, but it sounds like the Packers were able to retain him for the practice squad.  Dietrich-Smith was picked up by the Seahawks.  I would have expected the Packers to retain some depth and experience on the offensive line.  Right now, nobody is listed on the depth chart behind 33-year old Mark Tauscher.  Not sure what their plan is in the event he goes down -- probably moving Bulaga over to the right side of the line I imagine.

Losing Spencer Havner, who is now a Detroit Lion, was also a bummer.  I loved Havner's energy, and he was productive -- catching 4 TDs last season.  He also was versatile, contributing on special teams as well as some playing time at linebacker.  Presumably this was a cut of necessity.  The Packers are stacked at tight end and still have 4 remaining on their roster -- Finley and Lee, of course, as well as 5th-round pick Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree.  The decision to draft a TE in the 5th round this year not withstanding (I probably would have gone defensive back or end), Quarless I can kind of understand -- he looks like Finley at times and could be an upgrade from Lee when it's time for him to move on.  I know little about Crabtree other than the fact he was a second-year undrafted free agent originally signed by Kansas City.  Not the team I want to be taking cast-offs from.  I would have kept Havner for the spirit if nothing else.

Finally, Jason Chery was the only glimmer in an otherwise depressing kick/punt return team this pre-season.  One TD return does not a career make, but it seemed slightly surprising to see McCarthy elevate Chery to a role of returning all punts and kicks in the Kansas City game, only to see him cut two days later.  Did he need another return to pay dirt to save his job?  It looks like they'll be using Brandon Jackson for kick returns and Tramon Williams for punt returns.  Why would you put your second and only back-up running back in a position he's likely to get injured?  Wish the Packers had someone here like a Desmond Howard -- an impact player.  I'm not saying Chery was that guy, but at least he ran with something to prove.  These other guys will just be trying to avoid getting hurt.  Seems like we're settling on a position that can be one of the biggest X-factors in the game.

I hope Thompson is working the phones right now to try to get us another RB and a returner, possibly another offensive lineman.  But I'm not optimistic.  We made no notable free agency moves this off-season, and I don't expect any now.  Have to just trust they know what they're doing.