A Moral Victory of Sorts

In a 16-game schedule, moral victories are usually worthless or reserved for average to below-average teams. But, for this Packers team, Sunday’s performance was a moral victory.

The Packers were shorthanded (as they always seem to be) without Burnett and Hayward, and were starting a rookie LT and second-year, undrafted RT against arguably the best front-seven in football. Yet, despite a minus-2 turnover differential and a really poor day in the return game that left the offense in precarious starting field positions, the Packers held a lead at the halfway point of the 4th Quarter. They were just hanging ’round – alligator blood.

It was a resilient effort – which explains the moral victory. The Packers absolutely shut down the 49ers rushing offense, which was the 4th best last season. The front-seven played with tenacity and energy that has been sorely lacking in recent years. Claymaker was playing with reckless abandon (which ultimately proved costly with the late hit), Raji and Pickett were plugging the middle and making plays down the line, and Nick Perry was setting a hard edge. And I’d be remiss not to mention Jolly’s presence and solid play. It’s hard not to notice the energy he brings not only on the field, but also being a leader on the sideline.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers got nothing going in the run game – which, frankly, wasn’t all that shocking against that defense. But, I’d still call it a successful day for the young line. The biggest indicator of this is the fact that MM did not have to devote another blocker or two to help the young tackles. As a result, the offense was allowed to run their normal offense with multiple receivers sets and not worry about Rodgers getting blasted. And, let’s be honest, for the most part, Rodgers had time to make plays. With that being said, it was disappointing seeing that Sitton proved to be the biggest downfall at times – three penalties from him is unacceptable.

Ultimately, the downfall was our secondary – which, ironically enough, was hailed as our deepest position group coming out of the preseason. I’ll be the first to admit, this onslaught caught me off guard. Boldin is a nice player, but he’s not a 200-yard WR type. He absolutely killed us in the slot, abusing McMillian, Hyde, and Jennings. We simply did not have an answer.

Post-game comments suggest it could have been the result of our game plan to contain the read-option. Maybe. But, I think it had more to do with our inexperience in the back-end and he/them taking full advantage. The losses of Burnett and Hayward proved to be the difference. And unfortunately, both have hammy issues that seem to be the multiple-week variety.

So, the Packers start the season 0-1 again. But, Packers fans have to feel pretty good coming out of this loss. The Packers showed an intensity and resiliency that have been missing. A finesse team showed grit and toughness. And that bodes well going forward.

Vikings Training Camp Primer – The Youth Movement

If you had asked most sober Vikings fans, prior to the start of last season, to predict the squad’s record for the upcoming season, most fans would have been thrilled with an 8-8 finish. I have friends with so little faith in Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder that a 6-10 finish would have been considered a victory.

Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder has done Bob Stevenson's original text proud. Vikings fans almost never know who is going to show up.

Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder has done Bob Stevenson’s original text proud. Vikings fans almost never know who is going to show up.

We all know what happened: some of the Vikings young bucks exceeded expectations (Messers Kalil, Smith, and Walsh), All Day quite literally turned in a performance for the ages, and Dr. Christian showed up just often enough for the Vikings to cobble together 10 wins. Unfortunately, an injury to Dr. Christian left the Vikings starting Joe “Wait, I Am Starting A Playoff Game?” Webb against the Packers in Lamblow Field.

That pitiful performance left all Vikings fans asking the same questions: so, now what?

And unfortunately, that question just led to more questions: Will this year’s squad be able to take the proverbial next step? Can last year’s stellar rookie class continue to get better? Will this year’s rookie class be able to contribute as quickly as last year’s class did? Which version of Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop did the Vikings get? 

We will get to the young bucks and free agents in a bit, but whether the Vikings take the proverbial next step this season hinges almost entirely on the play of 3rd year QB Christian Ponder. We covered his erratic play at length last year. One positive update to that analysis is that, in Ponder’s last 4 games, all Vikings wins, Ponder played reasonably well. He almost gave the game away against Da Bears, but he played well against the Rams, Texans, and rival Packers. In fact, his QB rating in those games was more than 90. However, before we give him a lei and send him to Hawaii, it is important to point out that in those same 4 games, All Day averaged a foolish 163 yards/game.

If Ponder’s successful play is tied to that kind of production from All Day, we might be in trouble. Not that All Day cannot deliver, it is just silly to doubt him at this point, but it would be nice if he did not have to deliver other-worldly stats in every game for the Vikings to have a chance.

So that is what this season boils down to: can Christian Ponder show us that he can win a game without All Day threatening the record books?

Jarius Wright will try to do his best to replace Cheech, though, rookie playmaker might be a better candidate for the job.

Jarius Wright will do his best to replace Cheech, though, rookie playmaker might be a better candidate for the job.

He does have some new toys…hey there Greg, Cordarrelle…to replace some old ones…see you Cheech…Juice…get out of here…fine, fine, fine, you can stay. Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph is looking to build on a solid rookie campaign. Even Jarius Wright flashed a little promise last season. The pieces are there. The potential is great. 

Heck, Ponder even demonstrated that he has it in him. On 3rd down and more than 6 yards, Dr. Christian completed nearly 70% of his passes for just a tick more than 7 yards. He actually struggled most on 1st and 2nd down, completing a far less impressive 60% of his passes. Mr. Ponder also struggled to complete intermediate passes of more than 10 yards and less than 40 yards. He completed those throws with Tavarius-like precision, finding the target 38% of the time.

Quite frankly, that is unacceptable. If he cannot improve on that number, this team is going to need another all-universe performance from All Day; Pro-Bowl seasons from The Golden Fundamental, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph; and some favorable bounces in the schedule to be a playoff threat. Could that happen? Sure. But is it likely? I, for one, am not so sure. Unfortunately, regression might be the more likely outcome. It all rests on Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder’s inconsistent right arm. I think that means that, based on what we know, that gives us a 38% chance of pulling it off.   

_______________________________________________________             

Packers’ Roob Take

The Vikings hope to avoid being this year's version of the 2012 Lions. All promise and potential, no results.

The Vikings hope to avoid being this year’s version of the 2012 Lions. All promise and potential, no results.

PA, is that you? Joking aside, there is no doubt that Vikings nation is abuzz following last season’s breakthrough. But, to me, the Vikings are at a crossroads. Is it a team on the rise that’s ready to take the next step in becoming perennial division-contenders and a playoff team? Or, is it this year’s Lions – you know, a team that makes the playoffs with a young roster only to fall flat with newer and higher expectations and a tougher schedule?

We will know after two weeks what this team is made of because the Vikes open on the road at both the Lions and Bears. Both are winnable games, but both are losable. The Lions are seeking redemption after last season’s abomination and Da Bears simply have the Vikes’ number at Solider Field. It is critical, in my opinion, for the Vikings to win both games in order to gain the ever-important momentum and prove to themselves that they can battle division foes on the road. If, however, the Vikes lose both, watch out. The bottom will fall out.

The NFL is a parity-driven league. Almost every year there is a team that is supposed to be on the rise that falls well short of the new lofty expectations. And this year, I think the Vikings are that team. Ponder is too inconsistent and the loss of Percy will prove crucial. I don’t buy that Jennings – and his recent injury history – and Cordarelle Patterson are the answer. And there is still the matter of a leaky secondary, even with newcomers Rhodes and The Golden Fundamental. It’ll be a fitting end to the Metrodome era – disappointment.

Your 2013 Green Bay Packers – It Starts Up Front

Finally! The dog days of summer are about to cede to the official start of football season! In a matter of days, the 2013 Green Bay Packers will begin its march to Meadowlands in February – hopefully.

Packers' training camp starts this week!

Packers’ training camp starts this week!

With the dawn of training camp, eyes will be fixated on a number of position battles that will prove both intriguing and crucial to the Packers success this season. Who will start opposite newly-extended Morgan Burnett at safety? Who will fill out the roster after the Big-3 at WR? Who the heck is going to emerge as the lead-horse, or will play a major role in a back-by-committee? And of course, who is going to be this year’s Dezman Moses or Sam Shields - the undrafted free agent to make a name for himself?

But, to me, the key to the Packers success this season is the play up front on both sides of the ball. The Packers made big moves this offseason to address their play up front. And it is those moves that fans should pay most attention to during training camp.

To start with, the Packers offensive line play has been nothing to write home about, to say the least. Rodgers was sacked a whopping 51 times last year. Sure, some of that may fall on his propensity to hang onto the ball longer than most QBs. But, that’d be just excusing the line. It has to get better, starting with the play at LT.

After Newhouse again showed that he’s just not capable of being a full-time LT in this league, MM made a drastic move this offseason by announcing that they are flipping the line – moving both Bulaga and Sitton from the right to the left side and Lang and whomever to the right. The logic is simple – at least in his mind – put the best two linemen on Rodgers’ blind side. Whether the transition is that simple is something to watch for this training camp.

In addition to the transition of Bulaga, Sitton, and Lang, it is going to be a battle for the RT position. Newhouse – despite his less-than-stellar play at LT – is probably the favorite going into camp. He has the most experience and may simply be better suited for the right side of the line. After Newhouse, there is the enigma that is Derek Sherrod, the rookie David Bakhtiari, second-year player Andrew Datko, and the incumbent RT from last year – Don Barclay.

My bet is Barclay emerges from this crowd. He’s not graceful, doesn’t necessarily look the part, and doesn’t have the ideal size. But he’s a feisty SOB and he’ll give it his all. Whereas Newhouse is a finesse player, Barclay is a smashmouth player. There is no doubt that he wasn’t great last year. But, at the same time, he battled and held his own. If he takes that jump between Y1 and Y2 that MM always raves about, Barclay may be just what we need at RT – a tough, hard-nosed guy that’s better suited in run blocking than pass blocking.

On the other side of the ball, it is no secret the Packers have struggled replacing Cullen Jenkins. Yes, the Packers amassed the fourth-most sacks last season (which is shocking if you think about the amount of injuries to key players the Packers battled through). Still, though, the Packers down linemen have been average at best since Jenkins’ departure.  Mike Neal was tabbed to be that guy. But injuries and inconsistency have plagued his brief career – to the point that he’s flirting with a position change. And Jerel Worthy certainly did little to give us hope last year. Enter Datone Jones.

Jones is part of the new wave of defensive linemen that are strong and athletic enough to be able to get after the QB from either the end or tackle spot. He will be particularly important when battling the new age of QBs that are just as effective scrambling as they are throwing. I don’t think I need to remind you what happened the last time the Packers faced such a QB.

In addition to Jones’ arrival, the Packers front-seven should get a boost from the return of Nick Perry. Perry’s first year was nothing special. He had a few sacks, but didn’t make that instant impact people had hoped. He was a liability in coverage – which you’d expect with a position change – and he only had one move: the bull rush. But, despite this, he showed promise – see here and here. And there is simply no doubt that the Packers missed his presence as both Dezman Moses and Erik Walden did little to help Clay last year – Walden, in particular, has ranked as the worst OLB in the last couple of years according to PFF.

And much like Jones, Perry has the athleticism to go with great size to combat the  new breed at QB – as demonstrated in the first link showing him sacking Russell Wilson, chasing him down from behind. If he makes that Y2 jump, too, he may finally be the compliment on the other side that Claymaker has missed since his arrival.

On paper, the offering of Clay, Jones, Perry, Raji, and Neal can develop into a very good front-seven – one that can get after the QB and also play strong against the run.

Every training camp brings intrigue. And this year is no different. But, the key to the team’s success hinges on the needed improvement from the big men. The Packers offensive line must gel immediately after the position changes and a RT must emerge from a crowded battle. And the front-seven on defense needs impact from the team’s last two first-round picks. There’s reason for optimism that this canhappen and that the Packers can battle up-front against the likes of the 49ers – which is key if the Packers wish to return to glory.

Flip’s Preemptive Strike

It was announced in the Twittersphere last night that Wolves GM Flip Saunders has landed his first (and likely last) big get of the off-season: Kevin “Don’t Call Me Kenyon” Martin.

Martin represents a solid signing for Flip and the Wolves. He was someone the Wolves have targeted for years. Marc Stein of ESPN.com is reporting that the deal is for 4 years and $28 million.

Flip's first big move of the off season might be exactly what the Wolves needed.

Flip’s first big move of the off season might be exactly what the Wolves needed.

Flip’s decision to go get Martin is kind of like the back-up quarterback who, in September, decides to ask the gal in his league or the league below him if she will go to the prom with him. By being one the first guys to ask and going after a gal definitely in his league, there is a very good chance he gets his prom date. He also avoided the stress of going around and around with gals out of his league and who have no intentions on going with him.

And no, let me save you the e-mail, I was not the back-up quarterback in high school.

When you think about the best available, free agent choices at the two position, O.J. Helmann’s, Tyreke Evans, J.J. Reddick, Martin, and J.R. Smith, Martin is the gal the Wolves thought would say yes so Flip went and got his prom date.  Flip’s preemptive strike ensured that he avoided the run around that the Wolves may have been subjected to while chasing a J.R. Smith, J.J. Reddick, or O.J. Helmann’s, when none of those guys were coming to Minnesota.

So what does Martin bring to the Wolves:

Pros

Familiarity. Martin knows Rick Adelman’s system. Wait…what…the first thing we are talking about is familiarity with Adelman’s system?? You got that right!! Last year, the Wolves’ two guards looked lost. Both Barrea and Schved did not seem to understand where they were supposed to be. And I get that Schved was in his rookie season, but he seemed to get more lost as the season wore on. Ridnour knew the system, but lacked the ability to effectively play the position. Martin came into the league under Adelman’s tutelage, first in Sacramento and later in Houston. He gets it. Adelman’s system is complex and it takes a heady player to excel in it. Martin is that kind of player. He has a blazing quick release and a sneaky good left hand for finishing in the lane. He will have no problem utilizing those skills in Adelman’s motion offense.

Martin's signing also means Barrea can go back to coming off the bench, where he is most effective. Think a Puerto Rican Ben Gordon.

Martin’s signing also means Barrea can go back to coming off the bench, where he is most effective. Think a Puerto Rican Ben Gordon.

Shooting. Okay…here we go…the important stuff, right? The Wolves have not had a capable two guard since Troy “Never Met A Shot I Did Not Like” Hudson. As a team, the Wolves were the 2nd worst three point shooting team in the last ten years. Martin shoots nearly 39% from deep. To give you some sense of how good that is, the Wolves best shooter from deep last was Juan Jose Barrea, tipping the scales at nearly 35%. After that, it got considerable worse with Ridnour at 31% and Buddinger at 33%. Not great. Martin is a definite upgrade here.

Getting to the stripe. The Wolves were the 5th worst team in the league at getting to the stripe. For a little, waifish dude, Martin is surprisingly adept at earning trips to the line, averaging a tick more than 6 attempts a game throughout his career. And get this, he even converts when he gets there, shooting nearly 88%. Even though his aggressiveness dipped a bit while with OKC, he played a different role in that offense, acting as more of a spot up shooter. He should be a far more integral part of the Wolves offense.

Cons

Defense. Martin does not play defense. At all. Even a little. If this year’s playoffs taught us anything, teams that play defense (San Antonio, Indiana, Miami, and Memphis) are the league’s elite. The Wolves, as currently structured, are not a sound defensive squad. Martin will not help in that regard. Even a little. At all.

Injury history. From 2008 to 2010, Martin missed significant parts of each season. The good news is he did play a full season last year. So, perhaps his injury woes are behind him. Though, considering his build, the injury risks will likely always haunt him.

Overall, Flip did well. Martin is a great fit for the Wolves. The contract terms are not particularly unfriendly, though he is by no means a bargain. Martin can knock down open 3s and, with Rubio running point, he should get plenty of chances. Then, after he knocks a few down, he can pump fake and use he solid left hand to knock down shots in the lane. Flip did well to lock up his date, the mystery is what will happen when they get to the dance.

NFC Post-Draft Power Rankings

Following the NFL Draft, the Mothership released its post-draft power rankings. You’d think the most visible sports conglomerate in the country would hire writers that don’t get swept up in off-season moves like an average rube and offer a power rankings based off more objective facts. Alas, that is not the case. The Seahawks have suddenly become top-dog because of their off-season signings and drafting depth at DT and another RB (who will likely be third-string behind Lynch and last year’s mid-round draft “steal”). Does it add up? Not quite. Here’s our own “objective” NFC Post-Draft Power Rankings:

1. San Francisco – Best defense in the league. The loss of Dashon Gholdson is mitigated by their selection of Eric Reed. The addition of Boldin is a good move in giving Kaepernick a veteran that runs the right routes, goes up and gets the ball, and is tough as nails – i.e. everything that Randy Moss is not. The rube rule is: until they are unseated, the 49ers are the best in the conference. But, it actually applies in this case.

2. Green Bay Packers – Bias aside, this ranking is justified. The best QB in the game, paired with a deep and talented WR-core that will survive Jennings’ departure, now has the protection offered by what should be a legitimate rushing attack. A top offense just got more dangerous. The return of Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry – to a lesser extent – are significant upgrades for the defense. And the addition of Datone Jones has the potential of finally giving the Packers some inside rush. Remember, the Packers had the fourth-most sacks last season without Bishop and Perry, and Claymaker missed time. And, the Packers already sport one of the deepest and most talented CB-core in Williams, Hayward, Shields, and House. They have gone 26-6 over the last two seasons for a reason and their two playoff losses were to the eventual Conference champs.

3. Seattle Seahawks – Let’s hold off on the Super Bowl parade route just a bit here. There is no doubt that getting Cheech was a huge coup for them. He is probably the most electric player in the game with the versatility he brings to offense and special teams. And they already sport a great defense – one that can challenge SF for supremacy. But, the additions of Avril and Bennett cannot replace Chris Clemmons who is likely lost for most, if not all, of next season after suffering an ACL injury in the playoffs. So, the Avril and Bennett additions don’t make the defense better. In fact, neither are as good as Clemmons – so they either make the defense a little worse or they only barely replace the hole left by Clemmons’ injury – which probably explains why both were signed to short-term deals. So, the real difference between last season’s team that nearly got blown out by the Falcons (until the Falcons went into prevent-the-win mode) and the 2013 team is the addition of Cheech. I don’t think he is the difference between a second-round playoff loss and a Super Bowl.

4. Atlanta Falcons – Call me when Matty Ice earns that nickname and wins more than one playoff game. A 1-4 playoff record (including two losses at home as the no. 1 seed) with a 9:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 85.2 quarterback ranking earns this power ranking. And if we want to get deeper into the analysis, the Falcons already sported a leaky secondary and now lost both Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes in free agency, leaving them with Asante Samuel (known more for his gambling ways than true coverage skills) and two rookies: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In fact, this might be a little high for them considering the Giants potential re-boot and the early returns that RGIII is seeing in his rehabilitation.

5. New York Giants – No matter the missed playoffs last year. This is a team that is always dangerous with that defensive line and the potential for Eli Manning to play like a two-time Super Bowl MVP when it matters most.

6. Washington Redskins – This ranking is purely contingent upon the return to health of RGIII. Shanahan should be sued for his level of “care” for RGIII in that playoff game! One thing to keep in mind about this team, they get Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan back, making what was becoming a good defense even better.

7. New Orleans Saints – Sorry, cannot help it. Brees will welcome back Sean Payton with open arms. There’s been a lot of turnover since their SB win. But, with Rob Ryan now running the defense, this is a team that could improve quickly and challenge ATL for the top-spot in the NFC South.

8. Chicago Bears – There are a lot of questions surrounding this team. There is new leadership everywhere – front office, coaches, and the loss of Urlacher. Still, there is talent on this team with Quitler, Marshall, Forte, Peppers, Briggs, Tillman, et al. The addition of Bushrod – though overrated – is still an upgrade for the line and Martellus Bennett is a nice addition. The real key will be for this aging defense to hang on for another year. My prediction: they are perilously close to going through a rebuild, and need to start strong next year or else things could turn ugly, quickly.

9. Minnesota Vikings – Vikes’ unlikely playoff run was due, in large part, to AP’s superhuman efforts. The key is the play of Christian Ponder. He needs to further develop and become consistent. The jekyll-and-hyde play cannot continue. In the offseason, the Vikes did a tremendous job of filling critical holes in getting Jennings, Floyd, Rhodes, and Patterson. But, after the excitement wears down from sniping three first-rounders, these players all need to produce immediately for the Vikes to build off last year’s playoff run. If they don’t and Ponder is still inconsistent, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Vikes are this year’s Lions – i.e. make a surprise playoffs run only to finish with a poor record when facing a tougher schedule and facing higher expectations in the next season.

Packers Roob: I won’t get into my thoughts on Patterson. But, the following stats are interesting considering Patterson is known mostly for his athleticism rather than route-running:

Patterson – 6’2″, 216 lbs, 4.33 40-yard dash, 37″ vertical, 10’6″ broad jump

Charles Johnson (Pack’s 7th Rd. Selection) – 6’2″, 215 lbs., 4.38 40-yard dash, 39.5″ vertical, and 11’1″ broad jump.

Vikings Rube: I am glad you are not getting into your thoughts on Patterson. Also, it is a damn good thing that they do not play the game at the NFL Combine using lame tests like that. How boring?! Though, if they did, Player A: 6’3″, 223 lbs., 4.46 40-yard dash, 42.5″ vertical, and 11’5″ broad jump, might be a Hall of Fame quarterback. Instead, Joe Webb sold me a McMuffin this morning. Charles Johnson went in the 7th round because most draftniks did not see him being an NFL starter. The same cannot be said of potential superstar Cordarrelle Patterson. That is enough of that nonsense, back to the rankings.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Lots of noise made this offseason. Should improve the secondary dramatically with the arrivals of Gholdson and Revis. And, they already have a good defensive line. If Freeman stops doing his best Ponder impression and reverts back to his sophomore year form, this offense should be able to produce with Freeman, Doug Martin, and Mike Williams.

11. Dallas Cowboys – Tony Romo. The reason why the Cowboys will forever be the bridesmaids and finish 8-8 or 9-7. Good, but always one-game out of the playoffs.

12. Detroit Lions – The Lions are one-year removed from a playoff run. They still have Stafford and, of course, Megatron is Megatron. IF Reggie Bush stays healthy, the line somehow improves dramatically, their terrible first round selection is actually good, and the rag-tag group of mutts in the secondary plays well, they can be a good team. Lot of IFs though.

13. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton has to bounce back, right?

14. St. Louis – A sneaky good, bad-team – if that makes sense.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – The Dream Team!

16. Arizona Cardinals – You have to feel bad for Fitz.

Let us know what you think. Which rankings did we get right and which ones are we way off on?

The Packers Have a Running Game!?!

It’s a wrap. The 2013 NFL Draft is over. And the Packers made significant strides on offense, may have found Cullen Jenkins’ replacement, and added quality (hopefully) depth to the offensive line and a number of positions on defense.

But, perhaps the most important improvement from this draft will come from the Packers’ selections of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. For the first time since Ahman Green (and, yes, I’m overlooking Ryan’s Grant’s short stint), the Packers should field a dangerous rushing attack. After falling into the consensus top-RB in Eddie Lacy in the second round, the Packers traded back into the end of the fourth to grab Johnathan Franklin.

Franklin's selection was surprising, but also very smart by TT. Now, the Packers have a legitimate running game that goes three-deep.

Franklin’s selection was surprising, but also very smart by TT. Now, the Packers have a legitimate running game that goes three-deep.

Out of UCLA, Franklin is 5’10″ and 210 lbs. Powerful in his own right, Franklin is more the elusive, scat-back type. He’s a capable receiver out of the backfield and has just enough speed to break a long one. And he’s a high-character individual, aspiring to be the Mayor of Los Angeles after his playing career.

So, heading into training camp, the Packers will field three-headed backfield that should finally force teams to honor the run game. Eddie Lacy should be the starter and player to get most of the carriers. He’s built for delivering punishment and getting the hard yards; yet, he’s quick and blessed with a devastating spin-move. Franklin should ascend to the third-down role because he’s a good pass-catcher, can pick up the blitz, and good in the open field. And, we can’t forget DuJuan Harris, the breakout player over the last several games. He’s a bowling ball that runs as hard as he can every time he touches the ball. He showed burst, vision, and some good moves in limited playing time.

The importance of fielding a legitimate run game cannot be understated. It’s been 43 games since the Packers last had a 100-yard rusher. In the last three years, Packers’ running backs have 12-total rushing touchdowns and averaged the lowest yards-per-carry in the league.

Because a run game was nonexistent, teams regularly played some form of a cover-2, taking away the big-play threat that defined the 2011 season. The once-dangerous play-action game became nonexistent. And, as you might expect, the Packers offense was stagnant throughout the season. It is just too difficult to sustain long drives relying almost solely on the passing game. This leads to short drives – meaning the defense is on the field more – and inconsistent production on offense.

With all the excitement about Lacy and Franklin, we can't forget about DuJuan. He's the wild-card in this three-headed backfield.

With all the excitement about Lacy and Franklin, we can’t forget about DuJuan. He’s the wild-card in this three-headed backfield.

But now, the three-headed backfield will force teams to honor a run game. This brings the defenders closer to the box and the defensive line has to consider the run game before getting after the passer. To put it differently, guys like Jared Allen, Peppers, and Suh can’t just pin their ears back and get after it. A legitimate run games makes them play honest. In turn, that provides more time for Rodgers, opens up the field for the deep ball, and reinvigorates the play-action game. So, in a roundabout way, TT did protect his $110M man.

Of course, the key a successful run game is an offensive line that can open up holes. Not exactly our line’s strong point. Remember, though, the Packers will get back Bulaga at RT (or LT) and Lang will be fully healthy. EDS is an upgrade over Saturday. And it appears evident that the Packers are going to do whatever it takes to get better production out of the LT spot. So there is hope that the line-play will be better next season. And you can’t overlook the fact that talented running backs can take advantage of what the line does give them with better vision than the hesitant Starks and Green.

By all accounts, Datone Jones appears to be a great fit for the DE spot – a critical piece to the success of our defense. But, the additions of Lacy and Franklin should excite Packers Nation. An already dangerous offense just got significantly better. September 8 can’t get here soon enough!

No Time To Bask In First Round Glory: Vikings Day 3 Preview

Vikings management had a very quiet Friday evening. Ordered take out, caught up on Mad Men and Walking Dead episodes, and enjoyed the spoils from their Thursday night coup. However, this is not a group that will sit back and coast through the rest of the draft.

There is a still a lot of work to do.

But, news flash, the final day of the NFL draft is rarely the day where a team hurts its chances in the upcoming season. Picks in rounds 4 through 7 are almost meant to be wasted. I am talking like Amanda Bynes-shaving half her head wasted. Especially considering their success of their first round, the Vikings can get flat our reckless with their remaining picks and it will likely not impact their upcoming season.

Getting an inside linebacker would hopefully prevent the Vikings from doing something silly like signing Urlacher.

Getting an inside linebacker would hopefully prevent the Vikings from doing something silly like signing Urlacher.

That freedom to take a risk and make the pick they want, could help them. Right now, there are still a couple needs that would be nice to fill: ILB, S, and maybe a little project back-up for the offensive line. Here are a few names to keep an eye out for:

Kevin Reddick (ILB) – This senior out of UNC has all the physical attributes of a solid middle linebacker. He has had a few injury issues in college, but nothing systemic or concerning to the point where it should affect his draft stock. He occasionally fails to read the gap properly on runs, but in today’s NFL, that is not as serious of a shortcoming. What he does incredibly well is recognize routes in zone coverage. He would be a perfect fit in the Vikings Cover 2. The Vikings could use another linebacker who could cover and Reddick would be a perfect fit in that regard.

Duke Williams (S) – Another senior, this time from Nevada. Williams has had a few “personality” problems and that is one of the reasons he has dropped. The physical intangibles are definitely there. He is a very disciplined safety, something the Vikings could really use considering the recently-paid Aaron Rodgers abuses players who are not disciplined…oh…hey A.J. Jefferson…I did not see you there. Williams is not really a ball-hawk, but that is not something the Vikings have ever expected from their safeties. He does an excellent job laying wood to receivers down field and, in Allan Williams’s system, he would get plenty of opportunities.

Earl Watford (OG) – A three starter at James Madison, Watford is the perfect kind of high upside project that the Vikings can afford to take in the later rounds. His skill set grades out fairly well, though he is not the largest guard in the world. He is a fast player and does an excellent job getting to the right spot. Under the tutelage of what is a fairly veteran offensive line, think a little help from Charlie Johnson, Watford could turn into a very good football player down the road.

Those are just a few of the names you might heard called for the Vikings today. There are plenty of names to choose from and, considering how well Thursday went, any success today should be the gravy.

2013 Draft – TT Just Can’t Help Himself

Heading into day 2, the Packers were in good position to add a couple players that would help fill areas of need. Armed with 7 picks, the Packers had the resources to trade up to get a player they coveted, or sit back and let the value fall to them. Instead, TT reverted to his old self, trading back three times to amass a whopping 10 overall selections tomorrow. We’ll get to that later. Let’s deal with the good news first.

Lacy hoisting both arms in the air. An image Packers fans will hopefully get used to seeing!

Lacy hoisting both arms in the air. An image Packers fans will hopefully get used to seeing!

At the bottom of the second round, the Packers may have struck gold in getting the running back they have been so sorely missing since Ahman Green left town. Heading into the draft, most pundits had Eddie Lacy as the top overall running back – and for good reason. Lacy has great size at 5’11″ and 230-pounds, but also has deceptive speed, capable of housing it when he breaks through.

For the very reasons I coveted Steven Jackson in free agency, Eddie Lacy will be a great fit for the Packers offense. He’s a tough runner that breaks through arm tackles and will finish runs hard. He’s a capable receiver out of the backfield and he’ll stick his nose in their in pass protection. And despite the tough and physical nature in which he runs it, he’s nimble on his feet, evidenced by his trademark spin-move that is video-game worthy. You know Rodgers is smiling with this selection (or maybe it’s the $40M he just pocketed today. Probably a draw.)

An area Lacy will immediately upgrade is short-yardage situations. For the past several years, the Packers have been pathetic in short-yardage situations. The result is that they will often spread the field out. Or, the alternative play-call, is the predictable, and less-and-less successful, quick draw to Kuhn – easily, my least favorite play. Now, with Lacy, the Packers have a power runner that’s talented enough to move laterally to find the hole, fast enough to get there, and tough enough to get the yardage – basically, all of which John Kuhn isn’t. This will be a welcome sight for Packers fans.

Lacy is also a running back that can wear defenses down in the fourth-quarter. Instead of relying upon Rodgers to pick up first-down after first-down through the air, the Packers have a back they can hammer an opponent to ice the game.

So, with all these attributes, what the heck caused him to fall? It’s a great question and certainly one that can give you cause for concern. The rumors during draft coverage were that many thought he was damaged goods, likely a byproduct of his inability to fully test out at the combine and the ‘Bama pro day because of a bum hammy. But, Lacy played through any injury he may have had.

What makes this injury concern more curious is that Lacy was always in a time-share at Alabama, which led to only 390 combined rushes and receptions in three years. This fact cannot be overlooked. Most running backs have short shelf lives. Getting a talented back like Lacy with such little wear and tear is a coup for the Packers. And this is part of the Alabama system, who recruits its back on this premise – namely, they will have reduced workloads in college by sharing carries so they can preserve their legs for the pros. Packers are the beneficiaries.

Finally, for those Sconnie alumnus clamoring for Monte Ball – Lacy was a great pick by the Packers. Lacy was the unanimous top back in pre-draft rankings by most scouts and pundits. He is a bigger and, frankly, more talented back than Ball. He has 390 combined touches to Ball’s 1,000+ combined touches. This fact cannot be overlooked. And they are different backs in that Ball is the shifty, elusive back, whereas Lacy is the powerful, yet still nimble back. The latter is a better fit for what this team needs. We have shifty, elusive backs in DuJuan Harris and Alex Green.

Now, to the bad news. Last year’s Evil-TT where he traded up twice in the second round was apparently a one-hit wonder. In typical TT fashion, he traded back three times, collecting four more picks, leaving the Packers with 10 selections in rounds 4-7 – specifically 2 fourth-rounders, 3 fifth-rounders, 2 sixths, and 3 sevenths. As Vince Lombardi said – what the hell is going on out there?!

The Packers are a deep team with young talent. The last thing we need are ten more late round picks to battle for the last roster spots. We need players to fill areas of need that can compete now. By continually trading down, the talent likewise goes down. This was already a shallow draft to begin with, so trading down to amass extra late round selections makes little sense. And the fact the Packers traded out of the 3rd round immediately after Stedman Bailey (a WR often linked to the Packers) went, you have to wonder if TT got burned. I guess TT just can’t help himself come draft weekend. SMH.

Day 3 Preview -

So, now we have 10, count them, TEN, picks tomorrow. What the hell he does with them is anyone’s guess. I’m hoping the Packers trade up in the fourth to get a guy they covet and somehow trade some of these picks for picks in next year’s draft so we then have the assets to move up in next year’s draft – in the event Evil-TT wants to reappear.

There are several players leftover that would fill areas of need and offer good value. The best value in the fourth round appears to be on the offensive side of the ball. Barrett Jones is the guy I would love to see the Packers target. He’s a guy that started at every position on the line for three national championships at Alabama. He’d immediately challenge EDS for the starting C gig, and offer flexibility in the event of injury that Packers seem to like for their linemen.

If not Jones, then guys like Khaled Holmes (C – USC), David Quessenberry (OT – San Jose St.), Quinton Patton (WR – La. Tech), and Da’Rick Rogers (WR – Tenn. Tech) are players that could be targeted.

And for the defensive side of the ball, keep an eye out for the following players that may be one of the TEN selections the Packers have left: Joe Kruger (DE – Utah (brother of Paul Kruger)), Josh Boyd (DT – Miss. St.), Nico Johnson (ILB – Bama), Chase Thomas (OLB – Stanford), A.J. Klein (ILB – Ia. St.), Cornelius Washington (OLB – Georgia), Tony Jefferson (S – Oklahoma), and Earl Wolff (S – NC St.). Out of this group of players, I lean towards adding Boyd, Johnson, Thomas or Washington, and Wolff. They are good rotational players that would bring some good competition at all levels of the defense.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention that I would not be the least bit surprised if TT uses one of his TEN (still shaking my head) selections on a kicker. I don’t think I need to rehash the calamities of Crosby’s season. But, needless to say, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to bring in legitimate competition. Remember, the Vikes nailed a Pro Bowl kicker last year in the sixth round.

The top two kickers are from the state of Florida: Caleb Sturgis (Fla.) and Dustin Hopkins (FSU). Sturgis is compared to Phil Dawson – a longtime Cleveland Brown – whereas Hopkins is compared to Billy Cundiff. So we have a guy compared to someone from Cleveland – a sports town that God literally hates - or a guy that may have had the biggest choke job in recent kicking history. Give me the choker. Cleveland sucks. (You’re welcome for this sterling analysis.)

Packers fans will have lots to watch tomorrow thanks to those TEN selections. Enjoy and make sure to check back here after the draft for our recap.

2013 NFL Draft: Vikings Try Not To Over Think It

Thursday night in New York City the Minnesota Vikings made the most noise in what was billed as a pretty vanilla first round.

The Vikings brass got an unexpected surprise with their first pick, stuck with the script on a second pick, and made a big move for a third pick.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd was the big surprise of the evening. Mr. Floyd was supposed to be a top 5 pick. Then, after he did not go in the top 5, the draftniks were certain some team would get a great value in the middle of the first round. It was such a Pipe Dream that the Vikings would land him with their 23rd pick that we did not even think to include him in the Pipe Dream Category of our NFL Draft Preview. Somehow, the breaks went our way and he dropped all the way to us with the 23rd pick. You almost wonder if, when something like this happens, where a top pick starts to drop, if other GMs start to over think it. That crowd mentality where it is like, well, if they are not taking him, maybe there is something we missed in our evaluation. Supposedly, the knock on him is that he has short arms. Seriously, kid lost $10+ million last night because he has T-Rex arms. Talk about a bummer for him.

What is truly odd is that wingspan is really not that important of a measurable for a defensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman. It is more important that you have a strong base…check…quickness…check…and have strong hands…check. If you watch the highlights, Floyd does a great job of maintaining his gap presence and eating up blockers. Coming into college, he was a defensive end and that quickness is still there even though he plays inside now. Plus, he has a little nasty to him that all great defensive linemen need to have. And, that nastiness is only going to increase after more than two-thirds of the league passed on him in last night’s draft. Even though it was a bit of a no-brainer, the Vikings did not over think it and truly nailed this pick.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine's replacement on the edge.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine’s replacement on the edge.

With their second pick in the first round, the Vikings stuck to their script and selected Xavier Rhodes, a defensive back from Florida State who was also supposed to have been drafted. This former wide receiver plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is very strong against the run and should be a perfect fit in the Vikings Cover 2 system. With his size and ball skills, he should be a very good Antoine replacement, if not something more.

Rhodes is still a bit slow in recognizing routes and jumping plays, though the Vikings Cover 2 should help him in that regard. Plus, he is very strong against the run, can blitz off the corner with the best of them, and should only improve his coverage skills. Following Antoine’s departure, the Vikings’ foolishly thin secondary, I think Orlando Thomas was on the depth chart somewhere, needed a boost. So, it was not a shock that the Vikings selected Rhodes. And clearly the Vikings believed that corner back was a bigger position of need than ILB. Particularly with SEC stud and BR-favorite Alec Ogletree still on the board at 25, the move to get a corner back might be a little controversial. But, shoring up the secondary was deemed the greater priority, so that makes this the right choice.

It is the Vikings third pick of the first round that caused so much stir at the draft on Thursday night. For the second consecutive year, the Vikings traded back into the first round to take a player they wanted. Last year it Vikings moving back to draft All-Dude safety, Harrison Smith. The price for that move was their second and fourth round picks. This year, the big move was trading with New England and the Hoodie to take play maker Cordarelle Patterson. The price was the Vikings’ second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks.

Now, that may seem like a lot. In fact, it probably is a lot. But, the Vikings had 11 picks in this year’s draft. Trading four picks, even second and third round picks, for a guy that graded out as one of the top receivers in this draft, is not a bad deal. At worst, Patterson is a better than average return man and a change-of-pace wide receiver who makes explosive plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Think a Diet Percy Harvin. At best, he takes the role former played by Percy and runs with it. His height and jumping ability, which are ideal, make him more of a true wide receiver than Percy was, but he also has that burstability (patent pending) in small spaces.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The knock on Patterson is that he is not a great route-runner. This is where having a veteran like Greg Jennings is so critical. Jennings is one of the best in league at laying down tracks. And, he has already shown he is a solid teacher of that elite skill (see Cobb, Randall and Jones, James). If Patterson can learn from Jennings like Cobb and Jones did in Green Bay, watch out, this kid could be special.

Normally, this is the spot where we would preview the Day 2 action. However, because of the Vikings big move for Patterson, the Vikings do not currently possess a pick on Day 2. Though, as they have already shown, they are not afraid to make a move. Depending on what happens, I would not be surprised to see them package up their fourth, fifth, and a seventh round picks to get back into the 2nd or 3rd round. Particularly if they are as high on a guy like Te’o or the Honey Badger as the whispers around town suggest they are. Either way, if it is even half as fun as last night was, it should be a blast.

2013 NFL Draft: Ted Thompson Gets His Guy

In the 2013 NFL Draft, Ted Thompson did what Ted Thompson does – sit patiently and wait for the talent and value to fall to him. And value is what fell to him in the form of DE Datone Jones out of UCLA.

Datone Jones looks to finally fill that gap left by Cullen Jenkins.

Datone Jones looks to finally fill that gap left by Cullen Jenkins.

Heading into the draft, the most glaring need was reinforcements on the defensive line. With Pickett nearing the end, Raji’s contract set to expire, and Worthy’s knee injury likely costing him 2013, the Packers had to bring in more talented and physical players. Enter Datone Jones.

Jones is a chiseled 6’4″, 285-lbs. and has the frame to add some more good weight. He has great short-yardage speed and known for a great get-off – evidenced by the best 20-yard shuttle at the combine. And for what it’s worth, he ran a 4.8 40-yard dash.

Because of his size-speed combination, he brings some versatility that Dom Capers will exploit by playing him over the tackle on early downs before standing him up over the middle, or wherever for that matter, on passing downs. And what should endear him to Packers fans is his motor. Bringing an edge from his background growing up in Compton, he’s a guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder, trying to prove himself on every play. And despite this tough background, he was a proven leader for UCLA while learning from Jim Mora, a former NFL head coach.

The glaring cons with Jones are that he mostly relies upon that initial burst and, like a lot of young players, he needs to improve on keeping his pad level lower. My initial reaction to this: please don’t be another Jerel Worthy – a guy that relied singularly on his speed to get upfield. And when that failed most of the time, he was taken out of the play.

Additionally, I can’t help but be a bit concerned that he is a touch undersized at 285 lbs. Most 3-4 DE’s are 300 lbs because they need to take the tackle head-on in early downs to help set the edge and maintain gap integrity. The positive in this is that he’s a strong 285 lbs. and can add good weight if the coaches think its necessary, which dissipates this concern somewhat.

Overall, though, I am pleased with this pick. It was the guy TT clearly had rated highest amongst a strong crop of available players – and in Ted I Trust. Plus, some scouts have compared him to J.J. Watt, which is obviously quite lofty (and potentially blasphemy in Wisconsin). But, it’s that kind of potential and skill set that makes this such an appealing pick. Packers fans should be excited about this selection and happy the Packers addressed the DL in the first round.

Day 2 Preview - 

On day 2, the Packers hold the 23rd (55th overall) selection in round 2 and 26th (88th overall) selection in round 3. And as we discussed earlier this week, the Packers have plenty of needs to fill out its roster. With seven selections remaining, including 2 in the fifth round, I would not be surprised to see Evil-TT reappear to trade up in either round to nab a player TT covets.

I can make one guarantee about what will happen on day 2 – TT will select a WR or TE. It’s TT’s mantra: Jordy, Jennings, Terrance Murphy, and Cobb were round-2 selections, while Jones and JMike were round 3 selections. And with Jennings’ departure, looming contracts expiring with Jordy and Jones, and JMike’s future unknown, the Packers should bring in another weapon. Thankfully, day-2 should offer plenty of value at WR or TE.

Wideouts like Keenan Allen (Cal), Robert Woods (USC), Markus Wheaton (Ore. St.), and Quinton Patton (La. Tech) are viable options that would likely interest TT. Wheaton, in particular, is a guy to watch for in the third round. He’s got top-end speed with good hands and  toughness. He’s a bit undersized, but that’s never scared TT away. As for the TE’s,  Zach Ertz, the stud from Standford, remains, but he’ll be long gone before we can get him. Instead, I’m targeting Jordan Reed, the Aaron Hernandez clone, that can line up all over the field, literally: TE, slot, split out, H-back, and even RB. McCarthy would have some fun with him.

But, for round 2, I foresee the Packers sticking to the defense and continuing to target players that bring a level of toughness so desperately needed. In fact, my prediction is the Packers add another defensive lineman, probably a DT, in the second. With the likes of Tank Carradine (so much for that media hype I fell for) and Margus Hunt (SMU) offering terrific value at DE, and Jesse Williams (Alabama), John Jenkins (Georgia), Johnathan Hankins (OSU), and Kawann Short (Purdue) are still very quality DT’s, any of which would be great additions.

If the Packers look outside the DL, I still think they stick to the defensive side of the ball. With only two linebackers and three safeties taken, there are plenty of talent remaining that would fit the bill. Guys like Arthur Brown (KSU) and Kevin Minter (LSU) would challenge A.J. Hawk (or Brad Jones I guess) at ILB, and John Cyprien (Fla. Intl.), D.J. Swearinger (S. Car.), and J.J. Wilcox (Ga. Southern) would bring more competition to the starting safety spot opposite Burnett.

My fearless predictions: Round 2: John Jenkins and Round 3: Jordan Reed – TT trades up into early round 3 to get Reed.

Packers had a successful day 1, nabbing a talented and tough DE that should do well paired with Clay, Raji, and Perry. And if the Packers snag another defensive linemen, the Packers may start to develop a fearsome line that can create some havoc.

As always, enjoy the draft and be sure to check back here for our day 2 review and day 3 preview. Go Pack Go!