Monday, October 24, 2011

Tebow’s Glorious Debut Overshadows Packers 7-0 Start

The Green Bay Packers held off a fourth quarter rally by the Minnesota Vikings in the dilapidated Mall of America Field (or, as it’s known by locals “Lambeau West”) to remain undefeated on the season.  But the accomplishment was overshadowed Sunday by the first career start of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

“There’s really not much to say about our game when today marked the start of the Tebow era,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy in his post-game press conference.  Of Aaron Rodgers’ 335-yard, 3-TD performance, McCarthy said, “Yeah, I guess it was alright, but did you see Tebow make that one scramble?!?”

“We didn’t really want to come out of the tunnel to start the game,” acknowledged a star-struck Rodgers.  “I mean… Tebow was about to lead a come-from-behind victory over the [winless] Dolphins.  We were all just glued to the TV!”
Part of's 30-day series on Tim Tebow., which understandably led with the gripping story of two teams with a combined total of one victory coming into Sunday’s contest, breathlessly applauded Tebow’s “late game heroics” complete with a montage of photos of Tebow’s life accompanied by Queen’s We Are the Champions.  “Just remember where you were today, so you can tell your grandchildren you saw Tim Tebow’s first victory,” said a visibly shaken columnist with tears streaming down his face.

Media and public officials around the world rejoiced at the news of the Broncos victory.  A sampling of headlines:

  • “Dolphins Salvage Season with Loss to Tebow” – Miami Herald
  • “Tebow Awarded Honorary Heisman Trophy and Third National Championship After Sunday's Win” – Gainesville Sun
  • “Suck It, Merrill Hodge!” – Denver Post
  • “Sun Life Stadium to Be Re-named Sea of Galilee Stadium After Tebow Walks Over It” – International Herald Tribune
  • “If Only Tebow Were President, He’d Know What to Do” – Washington Post
  • “God Admits: It Should Have Been 'Tim 3:16'” – Christian Science Monitor
Could the Packers go undefeated this year?  Sure, maybe.  But with Tim Tebow on TV, who cares?!?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rams Invoke Mercy Rule, Scrimmage for Second Half

St. Louis Rams Fans Showing Their Colors at a Lambeau Tailgate
The St. Louis Rams exercised a rarely-used clause of the new NFL collective bargaining agreement on Sunday, allowing teams to invoke a "Mercy Rule" if they have absolutely no hope of winning at half time.  Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo threw his white mercy flag, which all NFL coaches are issued along with their red challenge flag, after the teams took the field in the second half -- turning the remaining two quarters into a scrimmage by NFL rules.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do at that juncture in the ball game," said Spagnuolo of his first, though not likely his last, mercy flag of the season.

"We wanted to control the tempo of the game and see if we could force an early mercy flag," commented Packers coach Mike McCarthy in the post-game press conference.  "Our guys told me in the locker room that the last thing they wanted was any more highlights on ESPN in their throwback uniforms.  So I was proud of our guys that they got up 21 points and forced Spags to throw the mercy flag."

Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk helped draw the first mercy flag of the year by flipping "the bird" to the Rams bench in the second quarter.  "I just wanted to send a message that I might end up on SportsCenter wearing those ridiculous khaki pants," said Hawk.  "I just think they [the Rams] could have thrown the mercy flag sooner and we all could have gotten out of there with some dignity."

Speaking of exiting with dignity, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz showed us how it's done Sunday.

In the words of Ron Burgundy, "You stay classy, Detroit."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Packers Express Concerns over "Throwback" Uniforms

Packers Brad Jones and Jordy Nelson... looking ridiculous.
Green Bay Packers players and coaches expressed concerns going into Sunday's match-up against the winless St. Louis Rams.  The furrowed brows around the locker room after Friday's practice had nothing to do with the game plan, player assignments or injury report, instead it was dismay over having to again wear their "historic third jerseys."

"I look freakin' ridiculous in this thing," said offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga, who hopes to return from injury this week.  As he pulled on his dirt-brown helmet, a nearby Packers' PR person explained it was designed to look like leather.  "It looks more like a turd," Bulaga quipped.

"The jersey is kinda cool, I guess," remarked wide receiver Jordy Nelson, "But khaki pants?  I feel like I'm wearing Dockers.  I'm going to the gridiron, not casual Friday in an office park."

Players weren't the only ones expressing concern.  "We had a great week of practice getting the young guys ready to step up," observed offensive line coach James Campen.  "Then we got back to find these things hanging up in our lockers.  It just really breaks your concentration.  I don't know how my guys are supposed to stay focused on their assignments when it looks like they were dressed by their mamas."

Seeking a bright side, some players felt the uniforms could provide an edge on Sunday.  "I ran a cut-back at practice today and B.J. [Raji] just fell to the turf laughing," said Packers running back James Starks.  "These jerseys provide a distraction that will give us an advantage.  Just look at the touchdown run Double D was able to break last year -- the 49ers couldn't tackle him because they were laughing so hard."

Driver himself wasn't so sure.  "I'm not sure I can step out of the locker room wearing this thing again.  It was humiliating last year," said the veteran receiver.  "If anything can make us lose to an 0-4 team, it's looking ridiculous."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The ABCs of the Packers’ Perfect Start

How we learned the ABCs in the Trigg household.

Through 5 games and the Packers’ perfect season remains intact.  It wasn’t the blowout we witnessed the last time McCarthy and company visited Atlanta, and moments in that first quarter were downright tense.  But they emerged victorious and are off to their best start since 1965.  The Packers have started 5-0 six previous times in team history, and each of those previous years culminated in a championship.

The win got my gears spinning about why the Packers have been on an 11-game winning streak dating back to last season.  There are the obvious factors – a stud franchise QB, multiple Pro-bowlers on both sides of the line, and an excellent coaching staff.  But many NFL teams have those factors.  There is a deeper set of less tangible attributes that combined to catalyze last year’s Super Bowl run and have carried over into this year’s quick start, and they were on display Sunday night.  Because I can’t resist a mildly clever little hook, I shall call these the “ABCs of the Packers’ Perfect Start.”

A is for Adjustments – Nobody, with a nod to Bill Belichick and the Patriots, is better at in-game adjustments than the Packers.  Sunday against the Falcons was a classic example – the Falcons came out strong with two long drives that resulted in touchdowns.  Rather than panicking, the Packers’ coaching staff immediately switched into strategy mode on the sidelines.  Players got their new assignments – most notably switching to bump-and-run coverage on the corners (Williams and Shields shut down Roddy White and Julio Jones) and freeing up the inside linebackers to slash into gaps and eliminate the Falcon’s running game.  The Falcons didn’t score again.

B is for Back-ups – The Packers’ story last year couldn’t have been written without their bench, and the Packers’ back-ups are already playing just as important a role this year.  This goes beyond having capable players behind the starters.  This is the NFL, after all – everyone is good or they wouldn’t be in the league.  The Packers not only scout great talent, but they fit that talent into their system – allowing them to continue the same game plan with the “next man up.”  Packer back-ups are not just prepared to play, they prepare as if they are the starter every week.  When Clifton went down Sunday, in came Derek Sherrod at right tackle and Marshall Newhouse shifted to left tackle.  After a hiccup or two, the offense clicked right back into gear and continued their march.

C is for Composure – This is probably the most impossible attribute to teach, and very difficult to identify in a prospective player until he is in game-time circumstances.  Composure is even more elusive in a team sport, where the emotional dynamics of players, incidents, and situations intermingle in very unpredictable ways.  But the Packers have captured it.  They know that they will get every team’s best shot this year – particularly the Falcons, who wanted revenge in what B.J. Raji described as “their Super Bowl.”  To go down 14-0 on the road in a raucous dome on a national stage is not an easy place to be.  But the Packers took the Falcons’ best punch and didn’t flinch.  At no point in that game did the Packers show any crack in their confidence.  They didn’t get flustered.  They didn’t get scared.  They simply made their adjustments, made their plays, and made up for their slow start with 25 unanswered points.

Of course, A is also for Aaron and A.J., B is for B.J. and Bishop, C is for Charles and Clay, and if we got to the J’s that would be Jones, Jennings and Jordy territory.  Every team is the sum of its players.  But this set of players, and the coaches who coach them, have a chemistry that is greater than the sum of the parts.  Like every great team, these players are great not only because of their individual talent, but because of the unique circumstances that enable them to succeed.

Not to get all schadenfreude-ish but to see the inverse of the example set by the Packers, look no further than the Eagles.  Dream teams are not automatic outcomes of a group of outstanding individuals, they are the result of outstanding individuals that fully embrace their role and play together as a team.  The Packers as a team continue their march.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Memo to "Dream Team": You're 1-3!

Some dude in West Chester, PA has a room full of these.
There was a lot of hype around the Philadelphia Eagles coming into this season.  With several key free agent signings and the frenzy around born-again media darling Michael Vick, Philly fans were practically booking their trips to the Super Bowl already.  Heck, even I had to acknowledge the Eagles were making some impressive moves to put themselves in contention.

Funny thing happened on the way to Indy.  After barely squeaking by the as-yet winless Rams on opening day, the Eagles are on a 3-game losing streak.  Evidently anointing oneselves the "Dream Team" does not make it so -- injuries, opponents, and just plain luck have something to do with it.  With the "character" that's been revealed under such adversity (including in-fighting, contract hold-outs, and accusations the refs are biased), this thing could get worse before it gets better.  So don't go buying your "Dream Team" t-shirts just yet, Philly fans!

Meanwhile, the Packers, despite plenty of blemishes of their own, are off to their first 4-0 start since 2007.  I like their tone though -- no swagger, no boasting, no premature t-shirt printing, just focus week after week on what they can improve on.  There's lots to like so far this season.  Some highlights:

  • The offense is ridiculous.  They are #5 by yards (429 per game), but, much more importantly, #1 by points at 37 points per game!
  • Rodgers is sharper than a laser-honed ginsu knife.  He's #1 in the NFL in QB rating at 124.6, he leads the league in plays over 40 yards, and he's #1 in completion percentage (73%!).  Plus, he doesn't appear to have lost any aerodynamics since shaving his handlebar mustache.
  • The receiving corps, as we all knew, is the best in the NFL.  Randall Cobb is making an impact despite a crowded field.  And it was great to see the Packers re-signed Jordy Nelson to a 3-year, $13 million deal.  Now they just need to secure Finley and they will be in great shape for years to come.

The areas for improvement have been mostly on defense.  It's really been a tale of two defenses.  Against the run, the Packers have dominated -- holding opponents to an NFL-second-best 71 yards per game.  But the pass defense has been shredded to the tune of 336 yards per game, 31st in the league.  They've also given up a lot of big plays -- 23 plays of 20+ yards so far this year, which is only topped by the Patriots.  Their take-aways (tied with the Bills for first in interceptions at 8) and red zone defense have enabled them to avoid hemorrhaging points -- their 24.2 allowed per game is 14th in the NFL.

The porous pass defense is a little perplexing, particularly given the strong secondary.  Losing Nick Collins hasn't helped, and Morgan Burnett needs to do a better job of not letting guys get behind him.  But that doesn't seem to be the problem.  A lack of pressure on opposing QBs is a contributing factor as well, although the Packers have logged a respectable 11 sacks so far this season.  So it's a little hard to put your finger on, but clearly Dom and company are on the case and hopefully it will get shored up.

If the offense keeps racking up 37 points per game though, it may not matter.  Even the "Dream Team" will have trouble keeping up with that kind of fire power.