Monday, November 29, 2010

Aneurism in Atlanta

OK… maybe the Falcons are pretty good.  Sunday’s game easily could have gone either way, and a lot of the post-game analysis has focused on three particular plays – Rodgers’ fumble in the end zone, McCarthy’s non-challenge of Gonzales’ non-catch, and Matt Wilhelm’s flagrant facemask on the final kick return that set up the game-winning field goal for the Falcons (adding insult to injury, Wilhelm’s promo shot on still has him in his 49ers uniform).  Any of those three plays could have easily changed the outcome of the game.  All of them made the veins in the side of my head bulge.  As they lined up for the final kick at the end, my son warned me, “Now, dad, don’t freak out if the Falcons make this field goal.”  When your 8-year old is providing the steady voice of reason, you realize you need to calm down a bit.

Not wanting to dwell on my negative initial reaction and spiral into a tirade, I decided to sleep on it before writing my analysis.  With the benefit of some distance, here are the observations I would make about the game and the Packers’ season at this point:

First, it was, as I anticipated, a very winnable game – they just didn’t quite get it done.  To lose on the road against the #1 team in the NFC by 3 points on a last-second field goal is nothing to be ashamed of, in spite of how disappointing it may be.  And, it says to me, that should the Packers make it to the playoffs, they can hold their own on the road against the best in the league – which, it’s now evident, they will almost certainly have to do.

Second, I must admit that the full implications of losing that game didn’t hit me until the Bears beat the Eagles – something I entirely did not expect.  Now, suddenly, we’ve gone from vying for a playoff bye to fighting just to get into the playoffs.  The Packers are currently the #8 seed, with only 6 seats at the table.  If they can’t gain ground on the Bears (that final game of the season is now, of course, critical), they will need to beat out some pretty good teams (most likely the Saints, Eagles or Giants) to get a wild card spot.  But I’m going to try to be glass-is-half-full about this as well – being the #5 seed and playing whoever wins the horrendous NFC West on the road isn’t such a bad path!

Third, as I’ve harped on all year, the Packers’ lack of a running game is a serious problem – one that will most likely cost them any significant playoff run this year.  My take on this Achilles heel is a little different than most people.  I actually believe the era of the dominant running game is over.  The teams that have won Super Bowls the last several years are built like the Packers – centered around a stud quarterback, who is complemented with a deep set of quality receivers (including a physical tight end) and positional backs who specialize in certain strengths.  The Patriots, Colts, Steelers and Saints all exemplify that model, and almost the entire NFL is going that way.  So I don’t expect to see big rushing numbers or a dominant running back.  The problem is really when you cannot run the ball when you need to – around the goal line, to burn clock in close games, etc.  When you are so un-certain about your running game that you, just for example, go with back-to-back QB sneaks inside the 5-yard line, that says something – even if one was an audible.

So, where do we go from here?

Obviously, the Packers’ running game isn’t going to get fixed this season.  That boat has sailed.  Maybe next year, with Ryan Grant and James Starks healthy and possibly a draft pick, we’ll have a credible threat at running back again.  But we need to play the hand dealt, and I think that’s exactly what McCarthy is doing.  Interesting fact (shared by a TriggPack reader): the Packers ran a five-receiver set 14 times Sunday.  Why?  Largely because it worked.  From that formation, they gained 104 yards, 5 first downs and 2 touchdowns.  Bottom line: the Packers simply have a personnel gap right now at running back, so they will need to remain pass-heavy and rely on Rodgers’ scrambling as their lead rushing threat.

As for the playoffs, even though we statistically don’t control our own destiny, effectively, we probably do.  If the Packers win out (a very hard task, no doubt), they will end up 12-4, which I still believe could be enough to win the NFC North.  Even if they lose another game and end up 11-5, it’s hard to believe that wouldn’t be good enough for a Wild Card. And once you’re in, anything can happen – as the Giants in 2007 and Cardinals in 2008 demonstrated.

If we don’t make the playoffs, it will be a massive disappointment.  Although I’ve heard some fans clamoring for McCarthy’s and Thompson’s heads already after the Falcons loss, I submit that firing a coach or GM is never a “solution” – particularly at mid-season.  It’s an admission of defeat.  It’s pressing the panic button.  It’s what you do if you’re the Cowboys or the Vikings, or possibly the 49ers if they don’t win tonight.  What we have in Green Bay isn’t broken, it just hasn’t quite gotten over the edge yet.  There will be a good discussion at the end of the season, as there should be every year.  And Mike and Ted don’t have unlimited redo’s before the fans lose their patience.  But there’s still a lot of football to play this season first.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Are the Falcons Really that Good?

Blatant attempt to get readers via hot Falcons cheerleader.
The Atlanta Falcons are 2.5-point favorites against the Packers this Sunday.  Seven out of ten ESPN experts are predicting a Falcons victory.  And with good reason.  The Falcons have the best record in the NFC at 8-2 and are 5-0 in the Georgia Dome this season.  I myself picked the Falcons to win this game a couple weeks ago.

But as I think back to the start of the season, few people would have had this game circled on the schedule as a tough one for the Packers.  And few people probably would have expected the Packers to go 3-0 against their previous three opponents – the Jets, Cowboys and Vikings.  So I found myself wondering, is Atlanta really that good?  Don’t get me wrong – they’re a good team, and they will be tough to beat on Sunday.  But are they great?  Are they intimidating?  After looking at the stats, I’m not so sure.

First, let’s look at their offense.  The Falcons rank sixth in the NFL in total offensive yards.  Sounds pretty good, right?  But a large reason for that is they’ve run 708 offensive plays, the most in the NFL.  If you rank them by yards per play, they are only 19th in the NFL at 5.2 yards/play.  The Packers are sixth by that measure, at 5.7 yards/play.  By points scored, the Falcons are sixth in the NFL at 256 points, but the Packers are only 4 points behind them at 252 (eighth in the league).

The stat that sticks out for the Falcons (and which has certainly contributed to that league-leading 708 plays) is their third-down conversion.  Atlanta has converted 49% of their third downs this season, second best in the NFL.  So getting stops on third down is going to be key this Sunday.

Defensively, Atlanta is pretty mediocre.  By yards allowed, they rank right in the middle – 17th in the NFL compared to a #12 ranking for the Packers.  By points allowed they’ve fared slightly better -- 7th in the NFL at 192 points.  But this has been a forte of the Packers, who are tied with the Bears for #1 in the league at 146.

Even more interesting is to look at point differential (points scored minus points allowed).  The Packers lead the NFL in this measure at +106 – significantly ahead of the #2 team, the Steelers, at +70 (see chart to right).  The Falcons have fared pretty well in this statistic as well – coming in fourth at +64.  But that really just puts them in a clump of teams.  Two fewer touchdowns for the Falcons and they'd rank 10th in this category.  Fiver fewer touchdowns for the Packers and they'd still rank #1.  Last time I checked, you win games if you score more points than your opponent, so this statistic is pretty meaningful.

Next, let’s take a quick look at the Falcons’ win/loss record.  They’ve had two impressive wins – 27-24 over the division-rival Saints on the road, and 26-21 over Baltimore.  Their 27-21 win over Tampa Bay is important, since they are in their division, but I wouldn’t call it impressive – particularly since the Buccaneers should have won that game, and since they are… the Buccaneers.  Their other 5 wins were all games they should have won – a blowout of Arizona (a train wreck who is second only to the Panthers in getting blown out), a 16-14 squeaker over the 49ers (who, I can attest first hand from living in the Bay Area, are awful), a 20-10 victory over the talentless 3-10 Browns, a narrow 39-32 win against the 2-9 Bengals, and a 34-17 romp over the rookie-led Rams.  Their two losses came against the Steelers (without Ben Roethlisberger on opening day) and Eagles (with Kevin Kolb rather than Michael Vick at QB).

I’m not saying the Falcons aren’t good – in the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.”  I’m just saying that if the Packers play like they are capable of playing, it’s a very winnable game.  And if they do win, they just might find themselves on the inside track for a playoff bye.

Why does football go so well with Thanksgiving?

I've decided that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It hit me yesterday as we were preparing to host another Thanksgiving dinner -- our 7th in a row, 13 people this year, 9 courses.  If I were to engineer my ideal holiday, Thanksgiving would be pretty close.  On paper, it's almost perfect.  Take a look at the facts:
  • Time to spend with your family and friends.
  • Not just an acceptance but an expectation that you will stuff your face with food until you need to unbutton your pants.  (The average American takes down 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, which means the average Minnesotan breaks the 10,000 barrier.)
  • A rare two-day holiday that always falls on a Thursday.  Ingenious.
  • No obligatory church service during which you need to keep your squeamish kids patient.
  • An opportunity to reflect on what you are thankful for in your life.
  • An entire day devoted to buying crap you don't need.
  • And, perhaps most of all, a 4-day marathon of football -- both watching and playing.
This is a holiday that only could have been invented in America.  The rest of the world doesn't know what they're missing.  It's everything a holiday should be -- the 4 F's: family, friends, food and football.  Not to mention the 4 G's: gratefulness, gluttony, greed, and gastric cramps.

For some, the prospect of cooking dinner can make the day a daunting one.  I love to cook, so I not only don't mind doing it, I relish it.  But it's not every day you cook a bird as large as your child.  Even smaller so-called "young turkeys" yield enough meat to feed a boat full of scurvy-inflicted Protestants and their geographically misnomered native friends (and later football mascots).

For long-time TriggPack readers, you may remember my turkey escapades from last year.  I felt like Ed Gein trying to get rid of the remains of that thing.  I just threw out the last batch of frozen "Turkey noodle soup" last week (one year is my limit).  I wasn't about to let that turkey get the best of me this year, so I got all George W. on it with a pre-emptive strike.  One might even say I got medieval on it -- tearing the beast limb-by-limb into its composite parts to create roasted turkey breasts, turkey leg confit, turkey stock and turkey skin crackling. By Thanksgiving morning, all that was left was a pile of dry bones.  It was like the basement of some South American dictators' presidential mansion.

The final dish was turkey parmentier -- a riff on a classic French dish typically served with duck.  Mashed potatoes, topped with shredded turkey leg confit, sliced turkey breast, turkey demi glace and foie gras.  Amazing.  My deconstructed turkey meant no dramatic unveil of the full roasted bird on Thanksgiving day, but that always tastes pretty crappy anyway.  I still have some left overs, but overall it was a success.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tramon Williams Deserves a Pro Bowl trip

Almost exactly a year ago, on Sunday, November 22, 2010, Al Harris blew out his knee against the 49ers.  At the time, it felt like a disastrous injury for the Packers.  Nobody harbored much confidence in Tramon Williams or the other cornerback back-ups.  Everyone feared the exploitation of our defensive secondary that eventually came true in the wild card playoff game, giving up 51 points against the Cardinals to end our season.

Kevin Will.A.ims
A year later, if you had to point to one thing that has been most improved and perhaps most responsible for our success so far on defense, you’d have to say Tramon Williams.  And we even know how to spell his last name correctly, unlike Kevin Williams.  You expected Woodson, Collins and Matthews to have stand-out seasons, but Williams was probably seen more as a stop-gap replacement coming into the season.  Not only has he been a reliable player at his position, he’s become one of the Packers key play-makers.

Williams has 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and two fumble recoveries so far this season.  More impressive, he’s tied for second in the entire NFL with 18 passes defended – same mark as DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins and only one behind Asante Samuel of the Eagles.  Not bad company.  Williams’ outstanding play has been a key enabler for the rest of the defense.  They don’t need to help him with double teams.  They can let Williams cover the opposing teams’ top receivers one-on-one, freeing up Woodson to float, blitz and create havoc.

He is certainly having a Pro-Bowl-caliber season, and, hopefully, his game-changing performance on Sunday will help earn him the nod.  His interception against Favre with just over a minute to go in the first half was a huge momentum swing in the game – it took at least a field goal off the board for Minnesota, turned into 7 points and a two-score lead for the Packers just before the half, and was followed by a second-half opening drive for another touchdown that put the game out of reach.

Listening to Williams’ post-game interview, I realized that what he did on that play was a microcosm of how he’s developed as a player in the last year.  Both that particular play and his season overall are impressive at multiple levels:

  • First, recognition.  He immediately spotted the formation, and anticipated what was coming.  As soon as he saw Visanthe Shiancoe run an out route, he knew the slant was going to Percy Harvin.  There are hours of game film that go into that kind of play recognition, but then to be able to implement it on the field during a key play in a divisional opponents’ stadium shows amazing maturity.
  • Second, baiting.  An over-eager player, upon recognizing the route, would have immediately moved to disrupt it.  But, of course, if he had been too close to Harvin, Favre never would have thrown the ball.  By sitting back 5-10 yards, Williams baited a 20-year veteran quarterback into making a throw he shouldn’t have made.
  • Third, athleticism.  Williams’ movement from the point of release to the point of interception is unbelievably fast.  To have the speed and strength to make that play against one of the league’s most physically gifted receivers in Harvin is a testament to Williams’ conditioning.   I half expected him to take it to the house on the return.  As it turned out, he didn’t need to – the offense took care of that for him.

Williams quote summarizes all this simply (and much more succinctly than I): “I read the No. 2 receiver.  He did an out route, so I knew the slant was coming.  I was just playing off and not going too fast ... but when he threw it I just broke on it.”  Easy.  Keep it up, Tramon!  A few more plays like that and you’ll be going to Hawaii.

Minnesota Meltdown: Childress Fired

Oh... OK, I will!
Looks like Zygi Wolf finally took the advice of his fans.  No, he didn’t change his name to something normal.  He fired Brad Childress.  Despite the fact that the Packers beat the Vikings convincingly Sunday, it will now be headlines like mine above that will dominate the media coverage this week.  It won’t be about Green Bay winning and simply being the better team.  It will be about Minnesota imploding, Childress getting the ax and Favre “re-evaluating” his future.  The only team generating more melodrama this year is the Cowboys – the last team the Packers catalyzed into firing their head coach.  The Giants have knocked out 5 opposing quarterbacks, but the Packers have done it to two opposing head coaches.  Impressive.

Still – it’s frustrating that in the aftermath of this meltdown, the Packers won’t get the recognition they deserve for a big, divisional road win.  No matter.  Frankly, it’s probably for the best.  The Packers got plenty of hype in the pre-season.  Despite their four-game winning streak, they still seem to be flying under the pundits’ radar as a favorite out of the NFC.  Everyone is so enamored of Michael Vick that the Eagles have become the new darlings.  Dallas and Minnesota, although they were on many people’s short lists for the Super Bowl at the start of the season, are now regarded as dysfunctional train wrecks.  The sports media is clustered on the sidelines like a bunch of ambulance chasers.  They are too busy documenting the mushroom cloud to even notice what the Packers have been doing to trigger the destruction.

Hopefully, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers recognize the importance of the win, even if the highlight reels are all about Chilly’s and Favre’s press conferences.  The monkey is not only off their backs, it’s road kill.  It would obviously be ironic if it was a loss to his former team (and understudy) that triggered Favre’s retirement.  As good a game as Rodgers had (over 300 yard passing, 4 TDs, no INTs), it has been the defense, against all odds given the string of injuries, that continues to rise to the occasion and shut teams down.  The Packers have allowed 10 points in their last three games – two of them on the road.  They are tied with the Bears for fewest points allowed in the NFL at 146 – 14.6 per game.  There are very few teams that the Packers’ offense can’t put up at least 14.6 points against, despite the fact that there’s no 1.6 point conversion.

If the Packers manage to go to Atlanta next week and win another road game, then the hype machine should rev back up into full roar.  That could prove to be a crucial game in terms of playoff seeding.  The focus now needs to be not only on winning the division but getting a first-round bye.  A head-to-head win against the Eagles should help with that, and a head-to-head win against the Falcons would be a nice bonus as well.  There’s no question that the best path to the Super Bowl is to get a bye and some home field advantage.

But let’s keep taking it one week at a time.  Let the NFL intelligentsia forget about the Packers for another week.  Let the players continue to build up confidence and momentum.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy watching the circus in Eden Prairie.  As the Packers racked up the points Sunday, I almost felt a twinge of guilt for my rant last week about Vikings fans.  But they must have known this was coming.  You can only mortgage your future for so long before it catches up with you.  And if Favre does decide to retire this week, with a broken foot, fired coach and likely fractured marriage, I, for one, would be glad to take him back for a day and let him retire as a Packer – and get his number up there on the sky boxes at Lambeau where it belongs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Can’t Trust Minnesotans

There are two things I can’t stand: people who are intolerant of other people, and Minnesotans.  Heading into this Sunday’s showdown at Mall of America Field, I’m reminded that I’m going to have to endure about 50 cut-away camera shots of this a-hole in his fur vest and beard blowing on a horn.

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for Vikings fans and their eating habits over the years, but as I prepare mentally for what I think we all hope will, mercifully, be the final match-up between Favre and his former team, I realize that it’s not just Vikings fans that get under my skin – it’s really all Minnesotans.  They’re just so… different from Wisconsinites.

Now, I need to disclose that I’m actually one-quarter Minnesotan – my grandparents on my mom’s side are from Long Prairie, MN.  So I’m not being prejudiced when I say that Minnesotans are, by and large, conceited back-stabbers.  Really, I’m just speaking from experience.  I mean, after all, who hasn’t had a Minnesotan talk down to them?  Once, I was in the Minneapolis airport and a woman at a fast-food restaurant told me to “have a nice day.”  I know what she was really saying – “F*#k off, cheesehead!”

What is it with Minnesotans?  They’re always like that.  They act all friendly with their smiles and their enthusiastic “oh, yahs!”  But underneath they’d just as soon kick you in the balls as look at you.  They’re so devious, with their ostentatious Volvo station wagons and their holier-than-thou Lutheranism.  I don’t want to sound Norsist or anything, but everyone knows that you can’t trust Scandinavians – particularly ones who wear fake blond ponytails.

Ready to tailgate like it's 1999?
When you reflect on it, what has the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (a dubious claim, by the way – there are definitely some ponds included in that count) ever done for the rest of the country besides skew our obesity statistics?  No one ever talks about listening to some sweet “Minnesota Blues” music, or enjoying some “Minneapolis-style” spare ribs.  The only worthwhile cultural contribution to come out of the entire state is Prince – and that’s just because of his urban rhythms and raw masculinity.  He’s also, apparently, a big Vikings fan.  Here he is sporting his typical Viking purple tailgate attire.  "Purple Rain?"  We all know what he was talking about.  He even had a Viking horn designed into his name when he was in his "the Artist Formerly Known as..." phase.

We see your subliminal Viking horn, Prince!
I mean, what kind of state elects a former pro wrestler as governor?  Don’t they know pro wrestling is fake?  Weren’t they worried he would fake being governor as well?  Do they care?  Does it matter?  What decisions does the Minnesota governor need to make anyway, besides when to put the storm windows on the governor’s mansion and what type of fried food to serve in the cafeteria.  Why would anyone want to elect a shallow, body-building celebrity as their leader?  Twice.  It’s typical of the duplicitous nature of Minnesotans though.  They’re all flannel shirts and polar fleece on the outside, but pink jackets and yellow boas on the inside.

Jesse "the Governor" Ventura 
You don’t think every Viking fan at that game Sunday is going to be plotting who the next Packer they steal is?  First, it was Darren Sharper.  Then it was Ryan Longwell.  And then, of course, Favre.  Zigi Wolf has never met a former Packer he didn’t sign.  (And what’s with the name “Zigi” anyway?  Unless your last name is “Marley” you’ve got to change that.)  Here, unveiled for the first time at TriggPack, is proof of the conniving nature of Minnesotans – annoying vest guy imploring Favre, when he was a Packer, to join the purple and yellow.  Who’s the next Packer who will succumb to their brainwashing?

Maybe after this game and this season Favre will finally retire, and the blood feud between our states can at least return to the pre-2008 level.  But until then, I’ll remain vigilant in preserving the purity of Packer nation against this menace to the West.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Lucrative World of Sports Blogging

I was reading a post on Cheesehead TV, an excellent Packer blog written by fellow Appletonian Aaron Nagler, in which he published an email from a disgruntled reader who accused him of doing the site purely as “another way to make money.”  The suggestion that anyone would write a sports blog as a way to make money caused an audible guffaw.  Or, in e-speak, a ROTFL.  Maybe even a ROTFLMAO.

I used to be under a similar na├»ve impression.  Just build up a community of loyal readers, and I’d be printing the Benjamins.  But I’ve since learned the cruel reality that the world of sports blogging is far from the glamorous images you see on TV.  There are no paparazzi-lined red carpets, super models pouring Cristal or solid gold urinals here.  Just you, your bare knuckles and a keyboard.  This was quite a dispiriting realization for me, particularly since I’d already burned through a $100K marker at Bellagio and made a down payment on a yacht when I launched TriggPack two years ago.

The TriggPack yacht.  Since Re-possessed.
For those of you still hanging on to your romanticized ideal of the sports blogga's life, let me hit you with a little e-math.  (Note: this used to be called “new math” until some marketing genius discovered everything’s better with an “e” in front of it.  Now they teach things called "number bonds" in grade school, which are part of a liberal Teachers' Union conspiracy to make all parents appear to be complete idiots when assisting their kids with homework.)  I do this as a community service to my fellow Packer fans out there in the blogosphere.  I don’t want young bloggers on the streets to make the same mistakes as me.

If you’ve never worked for a consumer internet company, let me elucidate some of the inner mechanics of how the business works.  For any ad-supported web site, as TriggPack and most other blogs are, there are two main factors that determine how much revenue you make:

  1. How many times people view your blog (referred to in the biz as “Page Views”)
  2. How much money you get for the ads on that page (referred to as an “Ad Rate”)

Revenue = Page Views x Ad Rate


On the first variable, Page Views, I’m pleased to say that TriggPack has been experiencing some healthy growth lately.  Last year, most TriggPack articles were read by approximately 3-4 people, including me.  This year has seen strong month-over-month increases in readership – with many articles now generating over 1,000 Page Views.  Good stuff -- just look at that growth chart!  I’m psyched that a population nearly as big as my high school might be reading what I have to say.  Either that or they were trying to surf porn and accidentally stumbled upon my site.

Variable number two is where things get dicey.  Following the practice of the newspaper industry, Ad Rates for internet sites are typically quoted as “CPM”, which stands for cost per mille – where “mille” equals one thousand impressions (i.e. Page Views).  CPMs on the internet are quite… low.  If you use a partner like, say, Google to serve your ads, you might expect a CPM of around $0.25.  That’s 25 CENTS!  In other words, each time you view an ad on TriggPack, I’m banking 0.025 of a penny.  Cha-ching!!!  If you’re smart, you team up with a vertical ad network, like YardBarker which aggregates sports blogs sites (you may have noticed their ads here at TriggPack), who pays much better – about a $0.79 CPM last time I checked.

Now, you don’t need to be John Nash to figure out that the math of this equation is unfavorable to the blogger.  My 1,000-impression articles I mentioned earlier earn me… about $0.79.  So far this month, I’ve banked $6.83 for the 12 articles I’ve written – about $0.57 per post on average.  Given each article probably takes 2 hours to write, I’m taking in just under $0.30/hour.  Who wouldn’t quit their day job?!?  And you wonder why newspapers are going out of business.

You'll find yourself reaching for the Vicodin if you start contemplating the kind of audience numbers you need to make this a sustainable business.  If I filled Lambeau Field to capacity every day with readers, I’d only bring in $57.77 per day, or $21,086 per year – just below the poverty line for a family of four.  To make this a million-dollar annual business, I’d need to reach 1.26 billion impressions per year.  That’s billion.  With a “B.”  That’s a shitload of Packer fans.

So my realization is that I can’t reach my dream of covering the Packers full-time on advertising revenue alone.  I need to devise some additional revenue models.  Here’s the top 10 list of ideas I have so far:

10) Merchandising – the Packer Pro Shop probably rakes in more on Sunday home games than the ticket booth.  Who wouldn’t want “TriggPack” emblazoned on their hat or shirt?  Check out the new TriggPack online store today!

9) Book deal – I’m already working on a manuscript titled, “My Rise to Blogging Obscurity: The Untold True Story of TriggPack.

8) Billboard sponsorships – I think I can just barely fit a Jumbotron in my front yard, which I can then use to sell placements to big-name advertisers like Shopko and Hillshire Farms.

TriggPack Action Figure in the Mouse Grip
7) Pose-able action figures – What kid doesn’t want to pretend he’s a famous sports blogger??  I've prototyped this version that comes with a patented "mouse grip."

6) Naming rights – If the Redskins can have FedEx Field and the Chargers can have Qualcomm Stadium, why can’t I have the "Bank of America TriggPack blog?"  The URL is available

5) Obscure blogger awareness day – I’m tired of all the diseases, campaigns and causes I’m supposed to be “aware” of.  How about showing your bloggers a little love??  Maybe players could wear swatches of green for the money they’re going to donate to bloggers.

TriggPack Worldwide Headquarters Fan Tour
4) Fan tours – If people will shell out $20/person to tour Lambeau Field, why not a tour of TriggPack headquarters?  See where all the magic happens.  Maybe we could encase particularly noteworthy artifacts.  “Kids – that’s the keyboard that Trigg typed his “What’s a Packer” post on!”

3) Cookbook – For the TriggPack fan who has everything, give him a book of his favorite TriggPack recipes.  From brats to Buffalo rolls, even Thanksgiving turkey it’s all here!

2) Sex scandal – As Brett Favre can attest, nothing gets you publicity like a good old fashioned sex scandal.  I just need to crash my SUV while sending suggestive text messages to Kim Kardashian and I’ll be on TMZ in no time.  I can then parlay that into selling "leaked" photos to Us Magazine.  Does anyone have Kim's cell number?

1) Movie rights – if they can make “The Social Network” then there’s got to be someone champing at the bit to make “The Packer Blog.”  The rights alone should be worth $2-3 million.

If you have other revenue-generating ideas, please post them in the comments below.  Who knows?  Maybe a little more cash flow from some of these, and I’ll discover dreams really can come true.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Clay Matthews has to do to be NFL MVP

After another impressive performance against the Cowboys on national TV last week, chatter has started, mostly among Packer fans, about whether Clay Matthews is a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.  He is almost certainly the Packers MVP at the mid-season point.  The Packers are a different team without him (as we saw in the end of the Redskins game and the Dolphins game, both of which they lost), and he has arguably made key plays that have won at least two games for Green Bay.

Winning the Associated Press’s league MVP is quite a different story – particularly if you’re a defensive player.  The award has been given to a defensive player only twice since it started in 1957.  So right off the bat, you’re talking about something that only has less than a 4% likelihood of going to any defender.  But he’s at least in the discussion.  Here’s the 10 things I think need to happen for Matthews to have a legitimate shot at MVP.
  1. Keep his sacks up.  Right now, Matthews is getting noticed beyond Green Bay for his league-leading 10.5 sacks, and back-to-back 3-sack games to start the season.  But it will be a challenge to continue getting sacks as the year goes on and he draws more double teams.   He might need to do something eye-popping, like break Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5, to have a real shot at MVP – though that accomplishment wasn't enough to win the award for Strahan in 2001.
  2. Get help from his friends.  Matthews has benefitted enormously from his ability to run creative stunts and blitzes adjacent to Charles Woodson this year.  He also needs Ryan Pickett back and healthy, to draw some attention from opposing offensive linemen.  Overall defensive performance will mean a lot.
  3. Be on a good team.  If the Packers don’t win their division, and ideally earn a playoff bye, there’s almost no chance Matthews will get the nod.   That is always the case, but especially so for a defensive player.  Of the two previous defensive players who’ve won the MVP award, both were on dominant teams – defensive tackle Alan Page on the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings in 1971 (who had gone to Super Bowl IV in 1970) and linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the 14-2 and eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in 1986.
  4. Let the locks flow.  NBC caught Matthews strummin’ out some sweet air guitar during a break Sunday night.  Nothing gets you noticed like a little rocker attitude with the look to go with it.  And Matthews’ hair is definitely MVP material.  Not only does it make him easy to spot on the field, but it makes him easy to remember.  Hair is important.  What would Troy Polamalu be without his hair?
  5. Bulk up his other defensive stats.  While Matthews’ overall impact is undeniable, it needs to show up in other stat lines besides sacks.  The good news is Capers uses him in enough different ways that he’s putting up stats in every category.  Just not enough of them.  So far he’s only had one forced fumble and one interception (though it was returned for a touchdown).  He’s had some key run stuffs, but those don’t really show up on the stat sheet.  He’ll need to keep logging defensive stats across the board to really get noticed.
  6. Hope other contenders choke.  Let’s face it, if there is a quarterback or running back who is playing lights-out, he will probably win the MVP.  The fact that no skill position offensive player is having a huge season so far is a good sign.  If that continues, the door could open for someone like Matthews.  See below for my quick appraisal of the competition.
  7. Stay healthy.  It’s hard to win the MVP if you’re on the bench recovering from a hamstring injury.  Matthews has already had to miss a game and a half due to his hammy.  And he wasn’t 100% in his first game back against the Vikings – logging only one tackle and no sacks.  He needs to stay healthy to put up the numbers he needs to have a shot.
  8. Don’t even say the s-word.  I hate to even mention it, but a cloud briefly swirled around Matthews back in May when his former USC teammate and good friend, Houston Texans' linebacker Brian Cushing, tested positive for the s-word (I told you, I'm not going to say it).  This isn’t the first time such aspersions via association have arisen – rumors about Matthews and Cushing’s performance-enhancements came up during the 2009 NFL Combine as well.  Maybe I'm just paranoid having lived in a city that endured Barry Bonds.  This is all totally circumstantial, Matthews has adamantly denied it, and I have never heard any credible allegations against him (nor am I making one to be clear).  But any time someone from a program with such a sterling reputation as USC has a growth spurt from 6'1", 165 lbs in high school to 6'3", 255 lbs a few years later, there are going to be some eyebrows raised.  Even just the suggestion wrapped in an insinuation waved over an allegation could be enough to hurt his chances.  Nobody wants to vote for someone as MVP who is going to pull a Shawne Merriman.
  9. Get some lobbying.  As only a second-year player, Matthews will need some credible cheerleaders to get more votes.  It doesn’t hurt to have the NFL’s single-season sack leader Michael Strahan singing your praises.  Packers’ linebacker coach Kevin Greene could certainly be a credible lobby.  Woodson has been going out of his way to give Matthews props as well, calling him the “Clay Maker” after the Dallas game.  The more guys like this that speak up, the better his chances.
  10. Do it again next year.  The reality is, as much as we love him, it’s going to be a long shot for Matthews to win the NFL MVP this year.  He’s a more likely candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, following in Woodson’s footsteps from last year.  But he’s put his name into the ballot box, and if he comes out next year and performs at the same or better level, he could quickly become a leading contender.
Regardless of the awards and accolades, Matthews has been awesome to watch.  He brings an energy and enthusiasm that is downright infectious to both his fellow players and his fans.  My kids love him.  Regardless of what the AP’s assessment is, he’s an MVP to us.

Bonus TriggPack Coverage

Here’s my assessment of the other candidates for NFL MVP (Note: stats below do not include yesterday's games):
  • Philip Rivers – could be the front-runner in my opinion.  He has been putting up gaudy numbers with nearly 3,000 yards after 9 games, 19 TDs, only 8 interceptions, and a passer rating of 102.9.  And he’s doing it with virtually no supporting cast – no LaDainian Tomlinson, no Vincent Jackson, no problem.  What could scuttle him is if the Chargers can’t dig their way out of mediocrity.
  • Tom Brady – the Patriots surprising run has earned Brady his usual posse of somewhat annoying ass-kissers.  At least he’s somewhat more likeable doing it without Randy Moss.  His stats are modest, however, so I only see him as a threat if the Patriots run away with the AFC East, which will be tough.
  • Drew Brees and Peyton Manning – these guys are always on the list, but their stats are both below their norm and neither of their teams have been as impressive as last year.  That seems to be dampening enthusiasm for them as MVP choices.  Unless they really start to rack up some stats and wins, it feels like they will be on the outside looking in.
  • Other QBs – I don’t see any other quarterbacks making a run at the MVP award.  Our own Aaron Rodgers hasn't had the numbers.  Similar for Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco -- good but don’t yet have the stats to make them viable MVP choices.  Michael Vick has the highest QB rating right now, but his other stats are lackluster and it's hard to imagine a convicted dog beater winning MVP.  More like "Comeback Player of the Year."
  • Arian Foster – the Houston running back is having a huge season, leading the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns.  But he’s not a well-known name (except to me, since I selected him in the first round for my fantasy team!).  Like Chris Johnson last year, who rushed for over 2,000 yards but didn’t get a single MVP vote, Foster could get over-looked.  For his part, Johnson’s stats are down this year (ranks only 6th in the league), so he's not in the running this year either.
  • Adrian Peterson – the only other running back with a real viable chance at the half-way point of the season is Peterson, who is second only to Foster with 857 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.  But the Vikings are struggling, and if they finish below .500 he’s not likely to get many votes.
  • Other RBs – no one else on the running back front has done much to set himself apart.  So many teams are going with a “running back by committee” approach that it’s hard for guys to get eye-popping stats, and hard for fantasy owners to field a viable team.
Overall, despite the fact the MVP award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back, nobody is running away with the award this year, and many of the usual suspects are having under-whelming seasons.  So it could open the door for someone like Matthews.  It would be an incredible achievement if it happened, but I still consider it a long, long, long shot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Packers Predictions after the Bye Week

I hate the bye week.  I know it’s good for the players – particularly our battered squad this year.  And it comes at a good time of the season for us – just after the midway point and right before a big game in Minnesota.  But I have to confess, Sundays just aren’t the same without a Packer game to watch or look forward to.

This is the time of year when the NFL really yanks the hook in the mouth of all football fans.  Thursday Night football starts, so that’s one additional game per week that I’m compelled to watch.  Plus, particularly on a bye week, I end up with NFL Red Zone on from 10 AM to 4 PM – followed up by Sunday Night Football.  Then, of course, there’s the Monday Night game.  By any measure, that’s a lot of football – 5 full games worth, over one-third of all the games played.  Luckily, the NFL hasn’t yet figured out a way to schedule games sequentially, or I’d watch every single one.  I’m ashamed to admit, I caught some of the Lions-Bills game today in a desperate attempt to fill the void in my life left by the Packers' bye week.

As I pawed pathetically at the remote control in the fits of heavy withdrawal symptoms, I realized there was at least a silver lining to this week’s bye: the Vikings lost.  At first, I couldn’t decide who to root for in the Vikings-Bears game.  A Bears win would pull them even with the Packers for first in the NFC North.  But I just can’t get enough of the miserable melt-down that is the Vikings season.  Favre’s three interceptions today may have deep-sixed any chance the Vikings had at making the playoffs.  And their injury situation got worse, with Bernard Berrian pulling his groin before the game and Percy Harvin spraining an ankle.  Sidney Rice is still on the PUP as well.  The Packers have the chance to almost certainly eliminate the Vikings from the post-season with a win next weekend.

The bye week went well in other ways as well.  The resurgent Cowboys beat the Giants – which could help in terms of playoff seeding.  It would be great if the Cowboys can do some late-season damage to the NFC East.  Right now, the Falcons are the only NFC team standing at 7-2, although they almost lost to the Ravens today.

In addition to watching other games and organizing my sock drawer today, I had time to think about the remaining 7 games of the season.  The Packers return from the bye with a very tough stretch of 4 out of the next 5 games on the road.  Here are my prognostications for the remainder of the regular season:

  • @ Minnesota – always a very tough game.  The Vikings have been reeling, but they’ll be fighting for their lives next weekend.  Plus, they will be in the dome and we’ll need to listen to that God-forsaken horn the entire time.  A win could put a fork in the Vikings, and I think we’re going to get it in a close one.  Prediction: Win 24-21.
  • @ Atlanta – the Falcons are playing well, and we always seem to crap the bed in domes.  This could be a showdown for a first-round bye in the playoffs.  If the Packers can win it, they will be in the driver’s seat.  But I think it just escapes them in a shootout.  Prediction: Lose 35-28.
  • San Francisco – the 49ers got a scrappy win today, but they just aren’t that good.  Should be a relatively easy win at home.  Prediction: Win 31-14. 
  • @ Detroit – I keep thinking Detroit is better than their record indicates, and then they go and lose to the Bills.  Their will should be largely sapped by this point in the season, if it’s not already.  Got to believe we roll them up pretty good, even on their home court.  Prediction: Win 27-17.
  • @ New England – after handily beating the Steelers tonight, I’m starting to believe the Patriots are actually as good as their record.  Tom Brady is riding a 24-game home winning streak, and they will be very hard to beat in Foxborough.  Prediction: Lose 17-14.  
  • New York Giants – seem to be a very streaky team.  They may have a lot to play for in the tight NFC East, and can roll with anyone when they’re hot.  I hope we get them on a day like they played today against the Cowboys, and I’m betting we manage to pull this one out against Eli and company.  Prediction: Win 28-20
  • Chicago – I keep waiting for Jay Cutler to lead the Bears on an epic, multi-game meltdown, but they demonstrated today that they could stick around.  Still, my guess is that this game won’t matter in the outcome of the NFC North.  The Bears have a very tough schedule, with games against Miami, Philadelphia, New England, Minnesota, and NY Jets between now and then.  Even if this game does decide the NFC North, I expect the Packers to get it done at home in the final game of the regular season.  Prediction: Win 20-14.

For those of you still paying attention, that’s a 5-2 run to finish out the season at 11-5 – same record as last year.  But this year that should be enough to win the NFC North, and possibly even earn them a first-round bye in the playoffs.  Being first or second seed in the playoffs could prove essential, as the third and fourth seed will most likely have to host someone good like the Giants/Eagles or Falcons/Saints in the first-round game.  But there's a lot of work left before we worry too much about that.  It's a tough last seven games, but if they can really pull through with 5 or 6 wins, they will be battle tested against quality opponents and well-poised for a playoff run.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Real Reason the Vikings Cut Randy Moss

Much has been made about Randy Moss’s tirade over a catered lunch as a major reason for his release from the Vikings.  As deplorable as that behavior certainly was, it probably more of a symptom than a cause for the Vikings decision to cut the receiver.  If there’s one thing that Bill Belichick and Brad Childress share in common it’s that they will tolerate prima donnas as long as they can make big play contributions on the field.

So I submit the real reason Moss was cut from his second team in a month, and will likely be short-lived on the Titans – the only team that submitted a waiver claim for him, is that he no longer does make big play contributions on the field.  To wit, check out this photo from Moss’s last-play effort against the Packers.

When I watched this play in real-time, I thought it was a badly overthrown ball.  Uncatchable.  But from this angle, you can clearly see that it was actually a perfectly thrown ball – high enough to clear the defense but low enough that the receiver could make a play on it.  Unfortunately, that receiver was Moss, whose 6-inch vertical leap and dinosaur arms resulted in it sailing out of bounds.  It not only could have been caught, it probably should have been caught.  Especially by someone with Moss's physical talent.

Had Randy done what everyone knows he’s still perfectly capable of doing, that play would have gone the other way and it would have changed the season for both the Packers and the Vikings.  Minnesota would have been essentially a half game behind Green Bay and just a game behind the first place Bears, going against Chicago this weekend.  The Favre monkey would have still been on the back of Aaron Rodgers, the rest of the team, and every Packer fan.  The media swell of “Favre demons still haunt Packers” and “Rodgers can’t win close games” would be swirling intensely.  And who knows what would have happened to the Packers against the Jets and Cowboys.  That play could have unraveled us.

But luckily for Packer fans it was Randy in the back corner of that end zone.  Not Percy Harvin.  Not a healthy Sidney Rice.  And that is why Randy is no longer a Viking.  Hopefully, our good luck can continue against these same Vikings in week 11.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is James Starks as Good as Ted Thompson Thinks He Is?

James Starks must be pretty good.  Or, more specifically, it’s certainly apparent through the Packers’ recent personnel decisions that Ted Thompson at least thinks Starks is pretty good.

Despite being a rookie who hasn't played a down in the NFL, Starks was added to the Packers’ 53-man roster today.  Far be it for me to question Thompson’s personnel decisions.  He has shown an ability to pluck guys out of obscurity who have turned out to be studs (Ryan Grant being a prime example).  But, just for the record, I think it is noteworthy to mention just how much of a leap of faith Thompson is taking on Starks.

First, the fact Starks was selected in the first place was a bit of a reach.  He was a sixth round pick (193rd overall) last year out of the University at Buffalo.  Mind you, that’s the University at Buffalo, not of Buffalo.  When naming the institution, the school founders realized that as part of the “State University of New York” system that they needed to come up with a different preposition for the Buffalo part.  State University of New York of Buffalo sounded… well, dumb (like a lot of names out of Buffalo).  So it’s officially the State University of New York at Buffalo.  Starks was the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,140 yards in three seasons, however racking those stats up against such perennial powerhouses as Ball State and Rhode Island makes it a little less impressive.  Dampening the impressiveness even further is the fact Starks didn’t play his entire senior year due to a shoulder injury.  I guess grainy game tape from 2008 was enough for Ted.  After all, who wouldn’t take a flyer on a guy coming out of a SUNY school?

Second, Starks has been injured his entire NFL career so far with a hammy.  I’m not sure what Starks was doing in 2009 while his shoulder was recovering that would have made him prone to a hamstring injury – maybe too many abrupt reclines in the Barcalounger.  Anyway, before he saw his first NFL snap, he was put on the PUP list back in August and has been in his recliner ever since.  The draft class of 2010 has been particularly injury prone with Mike Neal (2nd) and Morgan Burnett (3rd) already both done for the season and Andrew Quarless (5th) nursing a shoulder.  Might want to have the team doctors take a little closer look on draft day.

Third, Thompson elected not to go out and sign another running back.  Despite Starks’s injury and a variety of viable backs available via trade or waivers, the decision was made to hang tight and wait for Starks to watch a few more episodes of "I Love Lucy" and get healthy.  That was quite a roll of the dice, since an injury to Brandon Jackson could have proven catastrophic.  John Kuhn can only get you 2 yards and a cloud of dust so many times.  Between his 2008 game film and trips to the physical therapist, Starks must have really been impressing the coaches.

Finally, Thompson elected to create a roster spot for Starks, but not for veteran Pro Bowler Al Harris or linebacker Robert Francois.  These were some tough cuts this week.  Well… Harris was a tough cut, at least.  Robert Francois sounds too much like a Canadian Prime Minister to make it in this league.

Bottom line, it’s a big bet on a back out of Buffalo that Thompson is making.  As I’ve bewailed numerous times, I would have put my chips on a different back out of Buffalo, but that’s why I’m writing a blog and Thompson is general manager of an NFL team.  At least he’s consistent in his decision-making – favoring theoretically promising young talent over veterans every time.  Word is Starks is at least out of the hot tub and practicing with the team.  So that’s a good sign, I guess.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

False Alarm Creates Chaos at Lambeau

A little reported incident during Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field occurred when fourth-string tight end Tom Crabtree came onto the field with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter.  Acting on a report from a confused fan, Brown County Sheriff’s deputies issued an Amber Alert when nobody could identify Crabtree as being a member of the Green Bay Packers.

The crowd of 70,913 went into mild panic as the jumbotron and PA system lit up with the news accompanied by Crabtree’s press photo, which was mistakenly assumed to be a mug shot.  Sheriff’s officials surrounded the Packers’ bench with weapons drawn and had to verify with tight end coach Ben McAdoo that Crabtree was, in fact, on the roster before the game could continue.

It was later confirmed that the fan who reported his child missing was so inebriated that he forgot he didn’t actually have children – at least none that had been verified though DNA testing.  When reminded by his friends that his child was not only not missing but non-existent, the unidentified man was quoted as saying, “Oh, yeah… my bad.”  At which point he was promptly placed under arrest, one of fifteen people arrested Sunday night.

Asked if his squad over-reacted to the situation, Brown County Sheriff Dennis Kocken stated, “You can never be too careful with that kind of incident.  There are a lot of kids at these games, and we try to keep it a family-friendly environment by only allowing 15 beers per person per quarter."  Of the arrested man, Gehring stated, "It's an easy mistake to make after you've had a few.  I feel bad for the guy.  I forgot my kids myself at a tailgate last weekend.  Lucky it wasn't December!"

The Packer personnel department reported that it’s not the first time Crabtree has been involved in such an incident.  During the traditional “ride a kid’s bike to practice” day at training camp, Crabtree was thrown off a Schwinn and pinned to the ground by security guards.  Fortunately fellow tight end Jermichael Finley was able to verify Crabtree’s identity just before the K-9 unit was released.  After the free publicity Sunday and a four-yard catch, not to mention his status as the Packers' only healthy tight end, Crabtree is about to get a lot more recognition in Green Bay.

Terrell Owens' Mime Celebration

I am no fan of Terrell Owens, but I took a chance on him this year on my fantasy team and he's paid off big time.  My thesis was that Cincinnati was going to be good -- which obviously hasn't been the case.  But it hasn't prevented him from putting up huge numbers.  And by most accounts he has been a surprisingly un-disruptive, if not stabilizing, force in the locker room.  Certainly no Randy Moss.  But if there's one thing I can't get behind in T.O.'s late career resurgence, it's this mime celebration after one of his touchdowns in Monday night's game.  The rope?  The glass wall?  Really???

Monday, November 8, 2010

Will the Vikings Pick Up Harris?

Speculation has already begun that Al Harris, released earlier today by the Packers, could sign with the Vikings.  A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article asked the veteran cornerback if he thought another NFC North team would go after him, to which he replied: "Yeah, I do. I probably can't say who."  And the Vikings, who never met a former Packer player they didn't sign, are the logical landing place.

Harris's comments in the article clearly indicate he feels slighted by Green Bay.  "I guess they feel I'm not good enough to play on their team.  That was shocking. They really caught me off guard with this one."  The Vikings have need at the position, having lost cornerback Cedric Griffin for the year.  Plus, there's the Favre and Longwell connection.

McCarthy, who was peppered with questions about the decision to let Harris go in his morning press conference today, defended the decision and contested the notion that Harris was caught off guard.  "Al Harris was told point blank all the options. I’m not going to sit here and get into he said, she said. I have no qualms at all about the professionalism that we’ve dealt with throughout this whole process. And I’ve been thanked numerous times by Al throughout this process,” said McCarthy.

I'm disappointed by the decision to release him.  By both McCarthy's and Harris's account, his rehab had gone well, so it doesn't seem to be an issue with his health (they would have put him on IR if he couldn't play).  Surely there's some business motivation -- Harris has a $2.5 million base salary this year.  But having a veteran presence like Harris is extremely valuable, even in a back-up position, which Harris had indicated he was willing to do.

I also question their depth at corner.  I'm willing to believe that Tramon Williams is their best option as the starter across from Woodson now.  The guy has been playing great.  Sam Shields has been playing well too, and had some big plays last night.  But he also got burned for some big plays and still has a lot to prove as an undrafted rookie.  Even if you accept Shields as the nickel back, are you really saying Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Jarrett Bush are all better options than Harris???

The other slightly surprising aspect of this move is why didn't they trade him a few weeks ago?  That would have helped ensure he didn't end up landing on a division rival.  Presumably they tested those waters before cutting him.  There probably isn't a ton of demand for a 36-year old recovering from major knee surgery, but the guy has amazing integrity and played with incredible heart.  I'd think there are a lot of teams (particularly the Vikings), looking for those personality traits right now.

In the not too distant future, this will be the right decision.  But I'm sorry to see Harris go.  His pick six against the Seahawks will forever be one of my favorite plays in Packer history.

Packer Offense Still Stuck in Fourth Gear

Green Bay’s offensive woes continued Sunday night against the lowly Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.  After a scoreless first quarter featuring a blocked 54-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby, the Packers went on to score only 31 points on offense.  Like last week against the Jets, the defense had to bail out the Packers’ offense again – contributing two touchdowns and enabling Green Bay to stymie a Dallas rally and hold on for a 45-7 win.

“That’s just not Packer football,” said a dejected Mike McCarthy in the post-game press conference.  “For Aaron to go 27/34 with seven incompletions and only a 131.5 passer rating!?  We need better execution than that.  Period.  I’m not taking any more questions.”

Once again, the Packers were held to under 500 yards of total offense.  Rodgers admitted after his lackluster performance of 289 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions, and 41 rushing yards, “I have to get better.  Plain and simple.  I gave up one sack tonight – that’s unacceptable.  And I wasn’t able to contribute any rushing touchdowns of my own.  I apologized to my teammates in the locker room after the game.”

“I mean c’mon – Rodgers has all the weapons,” commented NBC’s Cris Collinsworth during the broadcast.  “Well… except for Ryan Grant.  He doesn’t have that weapon.  Or Jermichael Finley – that weapon is also lost for the season.  And Donald Driver isn’t available as a weapon tonight.  But he still has one of his original four skill position starters as a weapon.  Plus, he has John Kuhn.  Well, he’s really more of a blunt object than an actual weapon.  But there are other, new weapons – guys like Bob Crabtree and Brent Schwain.  Another thing about Rodgers is he’s not Jerry Jones.  Speaking of Jerry Jones, let’s talk about him some more.”

Rodgers’ outing was so sub-par that offensive coordinator Joe Philbin opted to bench the third-year starter at a critical juncture in the fourth quarter in favor of back-up Matt Flynn.  “I felt Flynn just runs the two-minute offense better,” said Philbin after the game.  Unfortunately, Flynn’s night was over after the Packers offense failed to pick up a crucial 4th and 3 with 4:43 left in regulation.  “That play was a real turning point in the game and enabled us to recapture the momentum,” said Dallas head coach Wade Phillips, whose team rallied for a 12-play, 59-yard drive resulting in no score.  The defense came up with a big stop – sacking Kitna on the final play to preserve the victory.

“The defense had to come up big again on that last drive,” said linebacker Clay Matthews who added a sack and an interception return for a touchdown to his application for defensive player of the year.  “I’m not sure what would have happened if C.J. [Wilson] hadn’t come up with that last sack – that was huge.”

The Packers go into their bye week at 6-3, just a half game ahead of the Bears who got a huge 22-19 win over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Sunday.  “I just hope we can use the bye week to get our offense corrected,” Philbin said.  “We have a lot of work to do.”  Until then, there will be a lot of skeptics still asking what's wrong with the Packers' offense?

Packers Release Harris


Friday, November 5, 2010

What’s Wrong with the Packers’ Offense?

If I hear this question one more time, I’m going to throw my mouse at someone.  Half way through the Packers’ season, this question (complaint?) is a favorite hook of the sports media.  From the Green Bay Press Gazette to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, every sports writer who covers the Packers is “perplexed” by their “inconsistent offense.”

Unlike these other guys, I don’t make my living by covering the Packers… yet.  But is it really that complicated?  Or are they just trying to sell newspapers?  “What’s wrong with the Packers’ offense?”  Really???  Let me break it down for you.

First, in case you missed it, the offense has suffered two key, season-ending injuries in Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley.  Donald Driver will be sitting this week as well.  I know we’d all like to just gloss over that.  Pretend it didn’t happen.  But losing a multi-year 1,200+-yard rusher and a tight end who was emerging as a Pro Bowler is going to affect your offensive production.  The loss of both a running back and a tight end is particularly detrimental because it allows safeties to move into double coverage, cornerbacks to cheat slant routes, and linebackers to blitz.  Everything else the Packers like to do – short passes, screens, draws, etc. – stems from their talent at the RB and TE positions, and both the starters at those positions are gone for the season.  With those personnel changes, it just simply isn't the same offense it was last year.

Second, is the offense really struggling that much?  I know we all expect 50-point performances every week, and the Packers expect that of themselves.  But the offense right now ranks 7th in the NFL in total points at 176.  Not bad.  And Rodgers is 5th in the league in passing yards at 2,011 – putting him on pace for another 4,000-yard season.  The statistics that are the most “off” from last year are in three areas:

  1. Interceptions – Rodgers has thrown 9 already this year, compared to only 7 all of last season
  2. Lack of big plays – the Packers only have 4 plays of 40+ yards this year
  3. Poor 3rd-down conversion – the Packers rank 26th in 3rd-down conversions at just 35%

From my perspective, however, all these stats stem from the lack of a credible threat at running back and tight end.  When a defense can drop 8 into coverage without worrying about a run threat, they are going to come up with interceptions, shut down long gains, and stop you on third down.  These are consequences, not causes.

Third, the Packers have played some pretty solid defenses.  The Jets and the Bears, in particular, are the #2 and #3 defenses in the league, respectively, in fewest points allowed.  Of the eight teams the Packers have faced so far this season, three are top-10 defenses – the Bears (#6), Jets (#7), and Dolphins (#8) – and two are top-15 – the Vikings (#12) and Eagles (#13).  The only below-average defenses they have played are the Lions (#21), Bills (#29), and Redskins (#31), and they won two out of three of those games.  If you look at how many points the Packers have scored against each opponent and compare it to that team’s average points given up per game (see chart below), you can see they’ve performed better than average against pretty much every team except the Redskins, who they lost to in overtime, and the Jets, who they beat.

There was a time at the mid-point last season, after the loss to the Buccaneers in week 9, when everyone was asking the same question: “What’s wrong with the Packers’ offense?”  They gave up six sacks and three interceptions that day.  It felt unlikely, if not impossible, that they would beat the visiting Cowboys the next weekend.  Not only did they win that game, but they proceeded to go 7-1 for the second half of the season.

I’m not prepared to predict they will repeat that performance the second half of this season.  There are certainly tough games ahead – including 4 out of 5 games on the road after their bye, and contests against the Vikings, Falcons, Patriots, Giants, and Bears.  Not to mention a Dallas team this week that was predicted by many to be a Super Bowl contender.  But I hope they can replicate the mindset that got them those wins last year.  Quit the counter-productive self-doubt of asking “what’s wrong with us?” for underperforming the lofty expectations placed on them by fans and the media, and just play.  Despite the injuries, they still have the talent to answer the question decisively: "Nothing is wrong with us."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Randy Moss Experiment Over

I like this take on the disaster that is Randy Moss.  I had a glimmer of concern when the Vikings picked him up, but I figured there must be a good reason why Belichick and the Pats would let the guy go.  By all accounts, it looks like he has snapped mentally and is clearly a cancer in any locker room.  Even Favre, after pining away for him back in '07, realizes that now.  The fact that the Vikings wasted a third-round draft pick in exchange for four games from Randy Moss just makes me giggle.  Hard to rebuild with no draft choices.  These mistakes could haunt Minnesota for years to come.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Audacity of Optimism

This has been a year of international travel for me – 3 trips out of the US in the last 6 months.  With this latest trip, I find myself compelled to confront the inescapable observation that Americans are a bunch of complainers.  Maybe it's the flip side of our eternal optimism.  We not only want things to go right for us, we expect it.  And when everything doesn’t go perfectly, we complain about it.

I found myself falling into this rhetorical bad habit after a trip to Paris this summer.  When asked “how was it?” I was as apt to recount our kids getting food poisoning or the long wait to get into the Eiffel Tower as I was to share the countless wonderful memories of our time there.  I partly blame it on Seinfeld.  Bitching about stuff that goes wrong has become a favorite conversational tactic.  Our petty grievances have become what we feel most comfortable sharing, and what we find most interesting to hear from others.  It’s what elicits sympathy and shared understanding – “Wow, I can’t believe you had to wait 30 minutes for your massage.  That sucks!

These types of conversations break down, however, when you’re talking to someone from a country where they don’t expect things to go right.  When you’ve experienced triple-digit inflation, violent political coups, and suppression by your own government, you’re not as sympathetic about what a pain in the ass it must have been that the airline ran out of vegan meals in first class.  Frankly, it gets tiresome really fast.

No place is this cult of bitching more apparent than in politics.  On the eve of Tuesday’s mid-term elections, I’m bracing myself for a wave of pundits declaring a “sea change”, a “repudiation”, a “mandate.”  But really I think we’ve just honed the art of complaining to a sharp edge.  In the true spectrum of politics, modern Democrats and Republicans in America look virtually identical.  But you'd never know it from our rhetoric.  Our political discourse is no longer “pro” anything – it’s all just anti, anti, anti.  Anti-war, anti-abortion, anti-terrorism.  Any political wonk will tell you that going negative is the most effective way to move the poll numbers.  Just like in a one-to-one conversation, people get bored of hearing all the good, positive things you plan to do.  But tell them why the other guy is an evil asshole and they’ll start picketing in the streets.

Besides politics, sports is the other area that most demonstrates the American proclivity for complaining.  Listening to the string of callers on sports radio bitching about players, coaches, referees, etc. is practically intolerable.  Everyone expects their team to win, and, when they don’t, can’t wait to drag their fat ass off the couch and whine and moan to anyone who will listen about how their team is under-performing or getting screwed, or both.  I’ve certainly done my share of complaining on this blog, but overall I try not to just complain.  I try to be solution-oriented.  But, most of all, I try to keep it in perspective and make it humorous.  That, to me, is what makes sports fun.  It’s a game.

I think that’s why the San Francisco Giants were so compelling this season – nobody expected them to do anything.  The constant din of complaining was diminished because it was hard to find something to complain about.  First, many people couldn’t direct their complaints at anyone because they could barely name a member of the Giants roster at the start of the season.  Second, with no expectations, every win they got felt like it was already over-achieving.  And, third, they were just a likeable bunch of guys – unassuming, humble, fun-loving, respectful, self-deprecating, hard-working, accountable and accepting of their role.  In short, everything that most professional athletes are not.  As a fan, you could just sort of root for them with the unbridled optimism of a child.  If they won, you were happy.  If they lost, you didn’t have an aneurism.  And they played with a similar looseness that ultimately won them a World Series.

Maybe it’s my time abroad.  Maybe it’s the Giants victory.  Maybe it’s just this two-game winning streak.  But I’m feeling a renewed sense of optimism about the Packers.  They won a game Sunday in a style and score that I didn’t think they could do.  You can start to feel the team laying down the burden of the pre-season expectations, accepting the injuries, and gaining a sense of relief that many of the pundits had written them off.  It’s like the recalibrated expectations after the rash of injuries and two overtime losses caused the swirling cloud of complaints to die down – enabled players, coaches and fans to look at everything else this season as glass half-full.  Optimistically.

And Sunday’s game gave us a lot to be optimistic about.  The defense played lights-out.  The patchwork defensive line held up well against the second-best rushing attack in the league.  At linebacker, Brandon Chillar is healthy and got a key sack, and Desmond Bishop has really been stepping up (10 tackles Sunday and another near INT).  Our defensive secondary is playing great – Woodson and Collins are always solid, but Tramon Williams has really come into his own, and Charlie Peprah had a solid outing as well.  Plus, Harris and Bigby should be back soon.  On the offensive side, while a 237-yard, 9-point outing is nothing to brag about, they didn’t turn the ball over once and only had 3 penalties for 15 yards.  They certainly missed some big plays, and I could quibble over McCarthy’s decision to run three consecutive running plays with 4 minutes left in the game, but it turned out to be the right call – the defense held, and Tim Masthay had been punting great all day.

It was a scrappy win, but they did what they had to do to get it.  And I like the fact that a wide variety of guys on the team are stepping up to get these wins.  This is how it is in the NFL.  Any team can beat any other team.  And you need a lot of intestinal fortitude to win the close ones and bounce back from the heart-breakers.  To borrow a favorite phrase of Giants fans, watching them play was “torture.”  Their pitching-centric style of play meant a lot of one- or two-run wins, but they were all wins just the same.  And if the Packers can continue to play with that mindset, they just might surprise some people after all.