Monday, October 31, 2005

The bottom-feeder cycle.

1992. 1998. 1999. 2005.

It's the law of gravity. What goes up must come down. It also seems to be the bottom-feeder cycle. Teams that win three division championships in a row eventually have a down year. Other than the 1998 and 1999 season, it seems like that cycle runs about once every six years.

So our lowly 1-6 record -- tied with only the Houston Texans for futility -- seems to be somewhat a law of nature, so to speak. In that context, it makes it a bit easier to take. Of course, the reasons for the collapse are not so easy to take. The plethora of injuries to key skill players leaves Brett Favre with no one to rely on to help him carry the load; Donald Driver is about as close as it gets...and that's pretty darn good most of the time. But other than that? Not much there.

And that's the maddening part. The lack of team depth arising from bad drafts and personnel decisions by then-GM Mike Sherman, as has been noted here before, is really at the heart of the current situation. He's not responsible for injuries. He is responsible for not building a team with depth beyond the starting lineup. He is responsible for not giving the best quarterback in football the supporting players on offense and defense to not merely win division championships but win playoff games and Super Bowls.

We're now left with a quarterback who is questioning whether he still has the ability to make the plays necessary to help his team win. There's no question that he still does. In yesterday's game against the Bengals, Favre practically willed the team to a win...that's the only way you can describe it.

According to the online Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Chuck Bresnahan, the Bengals' defensive coordinator, still thinks the Packers have a legitimate chance to win the NFC North despite being three games behind Chicago." And Vince Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens' assistant director of pro personnel, called the Pack, "one of the scariest 1-6 clubs you're ever going to see." All because of Number 4, Brett Favre.

Pittsburgh comes to Lambeau next weekend. Then the Pack travels to Atlanta. Chalk up two more losses. Two too many good teams ahead, and too few good players and too little head coaching ability to overcome those other teams.

Look to next year. Look to a high draft pick. Look to a new head coach, most likely the current defensive coordinator, Jim Bates. And look for ol' Number 4 to return for what might be his last year. Fans of the Packers -- and fans of pro football -- should savor the losses as much as the wins while we have the chance. "People will look back and say, 'I remember when this guy, Brett Favre, was playing,'" Vince Newsome said. "Their backs were against the wall today and everybody thought they were going to get blown out. Favre ignited them. He makes the other guys good. He never gave up." That's what we have to take heart in right now.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Still can't do it.

OK, let's just admit that this year is a write-off. The Pack falls to 1-6 after another mediocre effort. Just enough penalties at crucial times, and 5 interceptions against a Bengals defense that was just waiting to be had. But the obvious impact of the injuries has so depleted the Pack that mistakes like that just can't be overcome, late game heroics aside.

It's sad. But, hey, there's always next year! Guess it's time to start evaluating the early draft pick candidates because the Pack will be drafting high this year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This just in...roster moves.

From the Packers official website, this news just in:

"The Green Bay Packers Tuesday made three additions to return their roster to 53-man strength. Ted Thompson, Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations, made the announcement.

On Tuesday, the team made five moves on its active roster:

- Signed wide receiver Taco Wallace;
- Re-signed running back Walt Williams;
- Claimed on waivers from Tennessee wide receiver Andrae Thurman;
- Placed running back Ahman Green on injured reserve; and
- Released wide receiver Jamal Jones.

In addition Tuesday, the club replaced offensive lineman Joe Hayes on its practice squad with tight end Lyonel Anderson."

Obviously the Pack was not satisfied with the progress they were seeing from Jamal Jones. Andrae Thurman returns to the Pack and Taco Wallace rejoins Packers GM Ted Thompson from his days in Seattle. Walt Williams...welcome back!

Rock, paper, scissors?

OK, perhaps the title is not a precise metaphor for what the Packers are facing in terms of personnel issues at the moment. But it is almost that much of a game. Pick one unsigned receiver, take a flyer on that running back...or maybe that guy that's on the practice squad...what difference will it make? The Pack is going nowhere this year.

Today, just about anyone that could have walked into the Pack's practice facility probably could have gotten a tryout.

The Pack was bringing in Fred Ex, Freddie Mitchell, for a workout. He of the infamous 4th and 26 catch and the loud mouth. Donald Driver, quoted in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel today, said Mitchell was probably the best of the available receivers out there on the street right now. Former Philly teammate, Packer cornerback Al Harris, said he didn't think Mitchell would be a disruption in the locker room. Maybe a disruption in the locker room would actually be a good thing. Remember that similar comments were made when the Packers signed Andre Rison. All he did was help the Packers win their first Super Bowl in three decades. With Mitchell, the Pack would get a receiver who is capable of big plays, would take some of the pressure off likely double teams on Donald Driver, and knows the West Coast offense.

If the Pack decides that they don't want to deal with Mitchell, however, it may be they decide to stick with a wide receiver rotation of Driver, Antonio Chatman and rookie Jamal Jones along with more frequent multiple tight end sets to help stretch the defense.

As for the running back situation, the Pack is even more desperate for help. With only Tony Fisher and Rashard Lee available, someone is needed to provide a legitimate occasional breakaway threat. Former Packer Walt Williams and former Seattle Seahawk Kerry Carter are in for workouts today. Both know the system, with Williams having been a bubble player with the Packers for the last several years. The online Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted Packer fullback William Henderson (speaking of Walter Williams): "I would hope they look at him. Conditioning-wise and knowledge of the offense, it's a natural fit for a guy like Walter. We love the guy in the locker room. I hope everything works out for him."

For what it's worth, I do too.

Stay tuned as the personnel wheel slowly turns...

Monday, October 24, 2005

From bad to worse.

News just in: Ahman Green is out for the rest of the season with a tendon tear in his thigh. Robert Ferguson is out at least 2-4 weeks.

So...let's review: 3 out of the Pack's top 4 receivers are out (2 of them for the year) and the Packers top 2 running backs are out for the season. Can you say, "Ouch!"?

How in the world Brett Favre will be able to carry the team on his back perhaps more than ever before remains to be seen. Given the weaknesses in the defensive backfield (i.e, Ahmad Carroll), the offense needs to be able to score points. With virtually no running game and only Donald Driver as a reliable downfield receiver, it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to do that.

The "easy" part of the Pack's schedule has now passed. The team is 1-5, tied with only San Francisco in the NFC for futility, and one game ahead of the winless Houston Texans in the entire league. Given the schedule over the next few weeks -- at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh at home, at Atlanta -- the Pack could, and likely will, go into its Nov. 21 Monday Night Football rematch against the ViQueens at 1-8.

It may very well be that if the Pack had stayed healthy there was talent enough to win the division and get to the playoffs. That was my prediction at the beginning of the season: winning the division at 9-7. Is it still possible? Sure. Is it probable? No. Given the rash of injuries, questionable personnel decisions going into and during the season, and mediocre play-calling from Coach Sherman, the Pack will be lucky to perhaps win 4 more games all year.

Still, it is a shame that our last memory of Ahman Green in a Packers uniform is of him being carted off the field following his injury. With free agency pending after this season, this injury, his declining production, and age, the Pack will likely move in a different direction next season for a starting a RB. Green deserved a better exit.

Of course, fans deserve better memories than we are being left with this year. After all, we haven't had to say, "Well, there's always next year" so early in a season for a long, long time.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Stick a fork in.

Unbelievable. Loosing to the ViQueens. Pain and misery fill the air.

Stick a fork in the Pack. This year is down the drain. Too many injuries. Too many penalties. Too few fundamentals. Poor play calling from the coach.

So...we should have what...the #1 draft pick by the time this season is done? At least we have that going for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Keep it simple.

It turns out that, along with all the personnel changes on the O-line, things might have just been a bit too complicated for a few of the lineman, particularly first-year Guard Will Whitticker. The Pack ranks 28th in the league in rushing. Abysmal. However, in the game against the Saints -- prior to Davenport going down -- they were actually having some success running for the first time this season.

With the return this week of Ahman Green -- who coaches say appears to be 100 percent -- and a simplified blocking scheme that the linemen can execute, there is an opportunity for the Pack to run. And they need to. When the team runs in the HumpDome effectively, results have been good. Green may have to carry the ball a lot more than he's used to so far this season. And with Davenport out for the year, the spot duty devolves to third-down back Tony Fisher and the new and unknown Rashard Lee. The coaches are anxious to see what Lee can do. But they and the fans would be more interested in seeing Green rush for 100 yards or more for the first time in a looooooonnnnngggg time.

If the Pack can shred the 'Queens the way the lowly Bears offense did last weekend, both through the ground and the air, the Pack comes away with a much needed and critical division win. With all the distractions around the 'Queens thanks to their "Love Boat" excursion, they are ripe for the picking if the Pack gets on them early. If not, the 'Queens could play like a cornered critter and give the Pack fits. Let's hope that the team that we saw play the Saints is the team that comes out to play this Sunday.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A bye? Oh my!

So what to do on a day without any football? Well, there are games, of course, but if the Pack isn't playing does it really matter? It does, a bit. In the big scheme of things -- i.e., the NFC North -- we find ourselves in that horribly conflicted place of deciding whether to root for daBearz or the ViQueens. I think this one's easy: gotta root for much as that goes against everything in nature.

Why? Because the Pack stands a greater chance of beating the daBearz twice than they do the ViQueens. I know, daBearz -- as I write this -- are thoroughly outplaying the Purple People. The ViQueens are coming off a week or so filled with the turmoil over their ill-advised "Love Boat" escapade, so were apt to be a bit distracted. One can only hope that malaise carries over to next week's game with the Pack in the HumpDome. But we all know the Pack's record in that place: not encouraging. That's why I still say daBearz are the team to root for today. Because come December, and the Pack's two games versus Chicago in that month, we are more apt to sweep them than the ViQueens.

As for the Lions...who cares?

With these thoughts for this bye day, I bid you bye-bye.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Miscellaneous Meanderings

OK, Packer fans, we now remember what it feels like to win. Change that, not only win but blow out another team! that international man of mystery, Austin Powers, would say, "Yeah, baby!"

Turns out that the Packers' 52 points are the most scored in their first win of the season by a team starting 0-4...EVER! That's kind of a record with a dark underside to it, but still, we'll take it.

The main question for Packer fans, of course, is how this win will translate to the games after the bye week and particularly the game against the ViQueens in the HumpDome. The string of Packer injuries continues on. Losing Najeh Davenport, especially with the questions regarding Ahman Green's condition, was a blow to the running game. But the Packers think they may have found at least a stop-gap runner in ReShard Lee, who the Pack picked up on Oct. 6. Packer GM, Ted Thompson, and coaches were impressed by Lee during the joint scrimmage this August with Buffalo, for whom Lee previously played. They felt he was a tough runner between the tackles, can catch the ball (always a plus), and perhaps be enough to provide at least spot duty and maybe more. Sherman said in his Tuesday press conference that he was anxious to see what he can do. Lee is getting a crash course in the Packers offense from running backs coach, Edgar Bennett. (If anyone can show a young running back what it takes to excel in this offense it's Edgar.) In the meantime, if Green can't go, Tony Fisher will get the start. While a capable back, Fisher is best suited to third down play coming out of the backfield rather than being the every-down back. If Lee can get up to speed -- and the coaches and media say he is working hard at absorbing as much of the offense as possible -- it's possible we may see split time among the backs, at least for the Oct. 23 game.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online, Lee "only has played running back for three years. At Middle Tennessee State University -- where he earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors -- he served as quarterback, receiver, running back and kickoff returner before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior year." Let's hope -- going against the Packers string of luck this year -- that Lee might turn out to be a diamond in the rough. We could sure use it. But only time will tell.


OK, enough of the (potentially) positive. Let's get back to things which, even when gone, continue to fester. That would be, oh I dunno, maybe...Cletidus Hunt?

The one-time overpaid, undermotivated poster child for taking the money and running is -- surprise, surprise -- continuing to haunt the Pack. Turns out he got a rotator cuff tear while still with the team in August. It was not discovered until recent tests confirmed the problem. So now, in addition to the salary cap hit he was already going to exert on the team this year and next, he now also receives a $1.25 million injury settlement...which gets applied to the salary cap. Combined with other smaller settlements which might be paid to Brennan Curtin and Matt O'Dwyer, the Pack's available salary cap is shriking quickly. Ten days ago, the Pack had a reasonable cap of approximately $4.1 million; with these hits to the cap, the team now has an available surplus of somewhere in the $2.5 million range. This obviously impacts available funds for re-signing free agents and giving contract extensions.

Obviously, the Packers had to do the right thing and compensate Hunt. It is unfortunate, however, that during his time with the team Hunt failed to do right by the Packers and play in the manner he was paid to do. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Pack Wins! Pack Wins!! Pack Wins!!!

I think this victory can be summed up with one word: aaaaahhhhhhhhh.

More later...have to savor the taste of this one for a while. It's been a long time coming.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Time for a fresh start...or at least a couple new starters.

So with the Packers roster resembling more of a MASH triage unit, the team has little choice but to go with some new starters. As of Friday, it sounded as if the starting offensive line could be any number of possible combinations. So put the names up on the dart board, close your eyes and -- fffttt, fffttt, fffttt -- there's your starters. Truth be told, it almost seemed as if the replacements played at least well if not better than the starters Monday night at Carolina.

Najeh Davenport will be getting a rare start in place of Ahman Green. Given that he will be a free agent next year this is an opportunity for him to show what he can do. Let's hope it's gain some know, more than 50 or 60 yards for the entire game.

Defensively, undrafted rookie Roy Manning will get his first start in place of the injured Na'il Diggs. Paris Lenon, who started last week, apparently failed to impress. The coaches have been impressed with Manning ever since training camp. Apparently they figure they don't have much to lose at this point by seeing what he can do.

Will all these new and untried starters help lead the Pack to its first win of the season against a vagabond Saints team? Going into the bye week at 1-4 would be a lot more preferable than 0-5.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Repeat after me: "It's only a game. It's only a game."

What can a Packer fan say after a game like last night? I actually don't feel as bad as I did after last week's loss. Perhaps that's just the numbness starting to set in. The realization that this is going to be a long year. The acceptance of the fact that this team just does not have much talent. The toll and roll injuries continue to play in depleting that already lean talent pool.

Or...despite all this, the fact remains that the combined point loss of the last 3 games is just 6 points. So close. But still no wins. We now share the title of worst team in the league with Houston, which is 0-3.

Listening to callers on the day-after call-in shows, you hear the whole range of emotions and predictions. Everything from the team going 0-16 to going on a run and finishing out at 8-8 and possibly winning the division title. At this point -- OK, mainly since they haven't lost 7 games yet -- my initial prediction of a 9-7 finish is still viable. Likely? Probably not. But possible. On the other hand, Packers' radio guy Wayne Larrivee was quick to point out that when the Pack has been able to dig themselves out of their slow starts the past few years they had a veteran team, not one with 11 rookies some of whom are in starting roles, and that they remained relatively injury free. There was also greater depth than there appears to be now. Larrivee noted that everything in the NFL is cyclical and it is very difficult for a team to maintain a winning record like the Packers have had for the past 13 years. As I noted in an earlier post, Sherman's personnel mistakes as GM are coming home to roost this season. As one caller noted, the Pack still has one of the best QBs in the game but he has no supporting cast. As much as he did to win the game last evening, he can't play the defensive backfield, he can't catch -- and hang on to -- his own passes, he can't block for the running backs.

The comeback in the fourth quarter offered a glimmer of hope. Depleted offensively and defensively, the team arguably gave the best effort of the year. That was good to see. Rather than the dazed "deer in the headlights" look that the players had for much of the game, we finally saw some emotion. Perhaps that will carry into the game this Sunday at Lambeau vs. the 2-2 Saints.

Today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online poll, however, seems to reveal that Packer fans are taking off the green-n- gold colored glasses: 60 percent of more than 2,000 persons responding to the online poll agree with the statement that "this Packers season is a total loss."

Sadly, we seem to have to tell ourselves this year that "It's only a game."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Are You Ready for Some Football? It's Wavy Gravy Time!!!

OK, Packer fans...the Monday night game vs. Carolina is only hours away. Center Mike Flanagan was quoted on last evening's "Packers Blitz" show on WITI-TV6 as saying that the Pack had a very good week of practice. "You play like you practice," he noted. Let's hope it was a REALLY good week of practice.

Coach Mike Sherman's teams are notorious for their slow starts the last few years -- there's the subject of a whole other PFU blog entry! -- but a loss tonight would take this team places it hasn't been to in a long, long, long time.

So, looking at what we've seen from this team so far this year, and what we've been seeing from the coaching staff for several years now, I think it's time we break out what I like to call the "Wavy Gravy" invocation (did that Woodstock reference date me???). It goes like this (paraphrasing): "No loss. No loss. No loss." Got it? Good! All together now on three. One, two, three: "No loss. No loss. No loss." Repeat up to and through the entirety of the game. I believe it will be just as effective as a "very good" week of team practice.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"If I only had a brain..."

You're going to get a kick out of this one, Packer fans.

My buddy, Steve (you know who you are!), forwarded on to me this story from the Oct. 1 edition of The Green Bay Press-Gazette. Seems that illustrious bastion of factoids, The Wall Street Journal, compiled the available Wonderlic intelligence test scores for each NFL team. Turns out, every time you've shouted "Stupid Packers", "Boneheads," "Dumb *$#^%" you've been exactly right! The Packers have the lowest team composite Wonderlic score in the NFL!

Granted, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to throw a block or make a tackle...although judging by the lack of both of these from much of the Packs' play this year you'd think it does. But a certain level of intelligence is required to problem solve. You know, as in "OK, who has the ball?".

Despite the fact that most of us know that tests are a moment-in-time type of thing, that the test writers write tests to test things that they do well at, that some individuals do better on certain measures of intelligence than others, etc., it still gives one pause to reflect on how this does affect team play. Although as the article points out, they don't make the coaches take any similar test now do they? Hmmm? Hmmmm? Of course not. And judging from some play calling and personnel fiascoes over the last 4-5 years...well let's leave it at that, shall we.

Here's the article for your own perusal.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

0-3. Oy!!!

Now that I've emerged from my PPLD (Post Packer Loss Depression), I have a few things to say:
  • I actually had posted a fairly thorough review of the Bay of Pigs game the day after. It got dispersed into the blogosphere junk pile without me knowing how or why. After spending so much time in the cathartic writing process only to see it vanish in the blink of an eye...I then not only had to deal with the effects of PPLD, but also PBLS (Post Blog Loss Syndrome). You can see how the combination of these two would just send a poor soul right into a week-long tailspin.
  • My trusty laptop computer, on which I write this blog, may have seen its better days. I am now in a frequent pattern of BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). So toss in the BSOD with my PPLD and PBLS and it doesn't make for a good week for blogging.
OK...last week's game. Do we really want to go there? Again, let's keep it brief:
  • Missed extra point early in the game -- always an omen of doom...and it was.
  • Missed field goal...unexpected...but fell into the pattern established early by the missed PAT.
  • Penalties...again.
  • No rushing game...again...oh, will someone tell Sherman to run Green more than 20 times a game, please?!
  • Turnovers...again. OK, we finally got one too but did that really make any difference? Nah.
If the Pack loses at Carolina Monday night, Sherman's fate might be sealed. The Packers' administration is too genteel to pull the trigger and yank him mid-season. But does anyone doubt that Jim Bates came to GB just to be Defensive Coordinator? On the other hand, ESPN's Christ Mortenson this week claimed that the next coach of the Pack will be Philly's Offensive Coordinator, Brad Childress. When asked about this, Sherman said that that just guaranteed him another 10 years because Mortenson's never right about his predictions. Ya gotta love gallows humor.

More later...if technology cooperates.