Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good or bad? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

So the latest from the Packers' practice field is that CBs Joey Thomas and Ahmad Carroll sat out practice on Wednesday and may be out again today with injuries. Thomas apparently got a head injury in Sunday's game vs. Cleveland (perhaps when he dove to make the tackle on TE Heiden and wound up hitting nothing but the ground?), while Carroll came up with a groin pull early in practice.

So, both these young cornerbacks may be unavailable for this week's game vs. the Bucs. The question then for today, kids, is this: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Discuss among yourselves.

Second-year guy Jason Horton and rookie Michael Hawkins both practiced with the #1 defensive unit. If Thomas and Carroll are unable to go Sunday Horton will probably get the nod given one more year's experience than Hawkins. Given that the Bucs will likely be running Cadillac Williams like a mule on Sunday one can only hope that an already questionable defensive backfield can at least perform no worse than it did on Sunday...which isn't saying much of anything at all, I realize.

Continuing with the injury theme, which seems to be ongoing for the team so far this year, the Pack re-signed Ben "Hands of" Steele to replace Bubba Franks if Bubba is unable to play because of the bruised knee suffered in last Sunday's game. Javon Walker was finally officially placed on injured reserve to open up the roster slot for Steele.

On the positive side, there is a good possibility LB Na'il Diggs will return for the game vs. Tampa Bay, replacing Paris Lenon. He is greatly needed, both as a player and a leader on the defensive side of the ball...hey, somebody's got to do it!!!

Monday, September 19, 2005

0-2! Oh no!!!

Say it ain't so, Joe, say it ain't so.

Sorry, kid. The Pack drops it's second straight game of this season and its third consecutive home a team that consensus holds is one of the worst in the NFL...on a day when the team retires Reggie White's number. Go figure.

What are we to make of this? Well, consider this sad stat: in the last 20 home games the Pack is 10-10, 4-6 in the last 10 games, a far cry from that run in the 90's where the Pack had the longest consecutive home winning streak in the league. Lambeau is no longer the intimidating place it once was. In the last several years, it's even seen its first two playoff losses. But a playoff game is at this point even a long shot: only two teams have ever started 0-2 and made it to the playoffs.

An analysis of all the problem areas right now could fill a novel. Let's just list a few:
  • Horrible defense with absolutely no impact players. Can't cover. Can't tackle. Can't put pressure on the quarterback. Can't generate turnovers. Even if uber-D Coordinator Jim Bates was Svengali he would have a hard time transforming this defense into a competitive unit. The legacy of bad personnel judgments, free agent signings, and drafts by then GM Mike Sherman is finally coming home to roost. This is not even a rebuilding's still part of the slide.
  • Special teams that can't cover. Giving the other team starting field position from the 30-50 yard line each and every time -- albeit partially because of Ryan Longwell's well-known short kickoffs typically to the 10 -- means that an already weak defense is at an even greater disadvantage before it even takes the field.
  • A depleted offense. Losing Javon Walker was a huge loss. But losing Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera were perhaps even greater losses in many ways. The woeful line play shows more than just a group that hasn't gelled; it shows a line that just isn't very good. Center Mike Flanagan continues to look rusty and is likely on the downside of his career. Clifton and Tauscher are holding their own. Klemm and Whittacker...the verdict is still out, but it doesn't look like they will be close to providing the level of protection for Favre or the holes for Green that Wahle and Rivera did. Green and the other backs seemed to be stuck, no bursts, which again may be a result of just not being able to find any holes in the line. The receivers are serviceable but there doesn't appear to be anyone to provide the downfield threat that Walker did. And now the unidentified injury to Bubba Franks puts one of Favre's most trusted receivers in question for at least the near future.
  • Play calling on offense shows either no confidence in the O-line to protect Favre or no confidence in the receivers to be able to get separation downfield. Yesterday, judging from replays, it seemed that receivers were not able to get separation consistently. As a result, the ol' dink 'n dunk pass game came into play and did little but eat clock at a time when the Pack needed to gobble up big yards quickly. On the defensive side of the ball, the non-existence of a pass rush or blitz that gets the opposing team guessing about what's coming is indicative of two things in particular: no defensive line and no coverage ability in the secondary, both of which are required to make consistent line/blitz packages effective.
  • Coach Sherman's ongoing inability to raise the level of play of his team. Ultimately, the players are the ones who are getting paid to play and to make plays. But the coach has a responsibility to put players in a position to make plays and to get them to play beyond the mere level of their talent. While Sherman has one of the best winning percentages of all active coaches, it could be argued that a great deal of that was initially built on the talent he inherited. The talent he himself selected as GM has not sustained that early surge of wins. If the slide continues this year, expect new GM Ted Thompson -- despite Sherman's contract extension -- to cut bait and bring in his own man. Some pundits contend that that could be the return of Mike Holmgren. Whether that would be good for Holmgren or for the Pack...we'll have to wait to see.
  • Penalties. 'Nuff said.
That's the stark reality of the current situation. On the positive side of things...ummm...hmmm...well...the NFC North is the weakest division in all of football and we still have Favre. As one ESPN talking head said on its Cold Pizza show, "The Pack could start 0-5 and still win the division." Let's hope he's only right on the last part of that statement.

Next up: Tampa Bay. It doesn't get any easier from here on out.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's Thomas Time!

Packer fans will finally get a chance to see whether Joey Thomas can bring it as the starting left cornerback. Taking over from the perpetually handy (as in number of hand penalties) Ahmad Carroll, Thomas can claim the position as his own with a good showing Sunday against the Browns. Thomas claims to be ready and confident, two things you definitely need in a starting CB. A secondary benefit may be that with this demotion Carroll will finally get the idea that until and unless he relies on his speed to cover rather than his hands he will be relegated to a back up position at best.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Who's the new wide receiver?

Now that Javon Walker is lost for the season -- and perhaps along with him, the Packers' chances for making the playoffs -- who will the Packers pick up to replace him? Right now, they will rotate Donald Driver at flanker and Robert Ferguson at split end. Antonio Chatman and rookie Terrence Murphy will battle it out for the number 3 spot.

BUT...the Pack will today be working out 7-yr. veteran, Jerome Pathon, recently released by Seattle. Pathon is one of the best free agent wide receivers available. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, other receivers who are available include Scottie Vines, Kelvin Kight, P.K. Sam and Nate Poole. Jacksonville cut Troy Edwards -- the 13th overall pick in the '99 draft -- just before game time on Sunday. He has not been mentioned as a possibility so far, despite being the Jags 2nd leading receiver last year. The Packers also were interested in Koren Robinson, but he just signed a 1-yr. deal with the Viqueens.

If Pathon's workout goes well, the Packers would likely sign him to provide added quality talent, experience, and depth to the receiving corps. He is a proven receiver, a down-field threat, and someone who could help the Packers immediately. The Pack is high on rookie Murphy, but he is coming off injury and will likely only see limited duty this week as he gets his game legs. Murphy needs time to develop. Having another experienced receiver such as Pathon, along with Driver, can perhaps help accelerate the physical talent Murphy possesses into a real gamer.

Will there be a drop off without Walker? Undoubtedly. But how well Pathon or other pick ups, as well as the existing receivers, step up to fill the void will determine in large measure whether the season hopes can be fulfilled. Given the dismal performance in the first game, the offense can only get better.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Walker out for season???


The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that preliminary indications are that Javon Walker has a torn ACL in his right knee and, if so, will be out for the season.

Maybe I will have to re-think that 9-7 season record prediction after all.

First Game Summary: D - OK, O - Not

That about sums it up. Everyone, including yours truly, was concerned about the defense going into this game. Aside from the ubiquitous penalties against -- guess who? -- Ahmad Carroll, the defense actually performed well. Players were flying to the ball.

But the offense was offensive! The O-line...oh my! Flanagan was at least a step slow and the guys charged with replacing Wahle and Rivera...need lots of work. Things looked terribly out of sync. And of course losing Walker early in the second half and also Ferguson for a while didn't exactly create a strong situation for the air game.

I'm still sticking with my call for a 9-7 season...just wasn't figuring this to be one of those losses. Will have to make it up with an unexpected win later on. Hey...the Viqueens lost...duhBears lost...and Detroit is undefeated in the know that this bizarro world won't last long...OK, except for duhBears part! :-)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Season Prediction

Heading into the opening weekend of the season, it's time for some predictions. Hey, everyone else is doing it, so what the heck. I've listened to and read sports pundits who project the Packers to finish the season anywhere from 5-11 to 11-5. That's quite a difference. Eye of the beholder type thing. ESPN commentator, Tom Jackson, actually suggested that the Pack is the "most overrated" team going into the season, declaring that the team's slide is about to begin as Brett enters the latter years of his career. I've also listened to and read many of those same pundits who declare that the Viqueens will at long last not fade down the stretch and will save lame duck coach Mike Tice's job by actually winning the division. Have to see it to believe it. Troy Aikman, lead game analyst for Fox Sports (and someone who knows a bit about winning), did not join in this bandwagon movement to crown the 'Queens. "I just have a hard time going against a team like Green Bay," Aikman said. You can read the rest of his comments here.

With all this as prelude, my call for the season record -- for what that's worth -- is 9-7 which could still be enough to win the weak NFC North or at least qualify for a wildcard spot in the playoffs.

The first win is this Sunday in Detroit. While domes haven't always been the best of the places for the Pack to play, it seems as if Detroit is usually the exception to the rule. Despite some personnel upgrades for the Lions, QB Harrington's play will be characteristically erratic enough to give our defense enough of an assist to notch a win.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Leach & Lee Added, Luchey & Steele Cut

See, I told you they liked Leach!

Who knows how these things work? Only NFL GMs and personnel guys, I guess. A day or so after clearing waivers and being placed on the practice squad, the Packers promoted FB Vonta Leach to the regular roster and released FB Nick Luchey. The Pack also cut TE Ben "Hands of" Steele and replaced him with TE Donald Lee, a third-year player from Mississippi State who started 15 games for the Dolphins.

Looks like GM Thompson is continuing to tweak the team. We'll have to wait until after the Detroit game to find out how many more tweaks might be needed. The biggest question marks, of course, are on the defensive side of the ball. There is a lot of potential with all the young players, but whether they can make that potential reality will be one of the big keys to the season.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Practice Squad Picks

GM Ted Thompson announced the signing of 6 players to the Packers practice squad. Five of the players were in the 2005 training camp. Here are the players:
  • WR/KR Craig Bragg (6-1, 195, rookie, UCLA)
  • CB Patrick Dendy (6-0, 190, rookie, Rice)
  • CB Therrian Fontenot (5-11, 187, rookie, Fresno State)
  • FB Vonta Leach (6-0, 250, second year, East Carolina)
  • WR Chad Lucas (6-1, 201, first year, Alabama State)
  • LB Zac Woodfin (6-1, 234, rookie, Alabama-Birmingham)
The Packers have really liked Vonta Leach these last 2 years and, of all the players, he is the one they are probably most happy to have passed waivers and been able to re-sign. Bragg, who holds UCLA receiving records, showed flashes at times but ultimately was a victim of numbers at the receiving position.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Packers to Hunt: Bye-Bye Now...

The Pack finally bit the bullet and dumped malcontent DT Cletidus Hunt as part of its cuts to the 53-man roster. Rewarded by then-GM Mike Sherman with an overly generous contract after one performance year, Hunt never again reached that same level of effort. Fans have known that for a couple years now. New GM Ted Thompson -- perhaps with the grudging consent of Sherman and willing consent of new Defensive Cooordinator, Jim Bates -- was apparently willing to eat part of the contract this year and next year to make room for players who are more interested in playing football than in taking time off. The reaction, one would suspect, from most of it not all Packer fans to this cut is, "It's about time!".

As a matter of fact, one of the polls the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel did during the Packers' last mini-camp -- another one that Hunt missed -- basically said it all, and was very prescient:

Now that Cletidus Hunt is missing minicamp again, do you think he'll still be on the Packers' roster when the regular season begins?
No (73.6%)
Yes (26.4%)
Total votes: 4,633

In another good move, the Packers traded oft-injured CB Chris Johnson to the St. Louis Rams for LB Robert Thomas, a fourth-year veteran out of UCLA. The Packers also traded T/G Steve Morley to the New York Jets for a future undisclosed draft choice. The following players were placed on injured reserve: S Todd Franz and RB Joey Harris.

Here is the official release list from the Packers:
  • T/G Brad Bedell
  • WR Craig Bragg
  • WR Sam Breeden
  • CB Chris Day
  • T/G Joe Hayes
  • DT Cletidus Hunt
  • LB Corey Jenkins
  • WR Jamal Jones
  • FB Vonta Leach
  • DT James Lee
  • TE Sean McHugh
  • LB Nick McNeil
  • QB J.T. O'Sullivan
  • LB Ray Thompson
  • WR Andrae Thurman
  • CB Leigh Torrence
  • DE R-Kal Truluck
  • DE Seante Williams
  • RB Walt Williams
It will no doubt be the case that Thompson and his crew will be scouring the cut lists for possible upgrades and backups at a number of positions.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Last pre-season game? More of the same.

While the minds of some players might have been elsewhere given the effects of Hurricane Katrina, that certainly wasn't the case in the first 3 games. Yet, it was more of the same for the final game: inconsistent play (which could be attributed to the player rotations...or not), excessive penalties, and mediocre special teams play. The offensive line -- no matter which variation on the theme -- failed to open running lanes and, worse, failed to protect the quarterback. The starting defensive line, even with the return of DTs Jackson and Hunt, didn't do much. Linebackers, so-so. Defensive backs...will Ahmad Carroll EVER stop holding? If he is on the bench, yes. Joey Thompson deserves the starting nod. Several bright starts emerged among those fighting to make the final roster cuts. Brady Poppinga at LB seemed to be around the ball whenever he was in action, as did new pick up from Miami, Corey Jenkins. Rookie DE Michael Montgomery played aggressively, and Kenny Peterson showed flashes of power and quickness. CB Mike Hawkins was once again always where he needed to be to at least be in a position to make plays. On the other hand, CB Chris Johnson may have played himself out of a roster spot with blown coverage and a very stupid penalty on punt coverage. On offense, was it just me or did WR/KR Jamal Jone (#2) blow past the defensive back trying to cover him? All he needed to do was keep his feet in bounds for the best offensive play of the night. Speed though...speed...something for the Packer brass to keep in mind. And where has TE Sean McHugh been? Lining him up in his old college FB position as well as using him at TE instead of looking to perennially disappointing David Martin might be a better option for the future.

Decisions, decisions. The Pack needs to make 20+ roster cuts by the Sunday deadline. There will be some hard choices, which on the one hand is a good position to be in. On the other hand, some of those choices are not between great and great, but adequate and adequate. And if the wrong coin flip happens on those choices the overall result could just be the difference between making the playoffs and not...or worse, a winning season or not. It seems to be that kind of roster situation this year.