Detroit Lions: A Case of Good News and Bad News

suh

The Detroit Lions held the lead heading into the fourth quarter once again this week, but (as expected) lost it. Despite their two and ten record through twelve games, the Lions were able to attract over fifty eight thousand fans out to Ford Field Sunday for their intra-divisional matchup with the geographically attractive Chicago Bears. The latter’s fans were out in full force; partially due to their current position atop the NFC North. And partially due to the ASTRONOMICAL cost of all tickets in their home stadium.

Michigan State product Drew Stanton filled in admirably for the two men above him on the depth chart even though he must have been fuming that his Spartans were left out of the BCS shuffle even though they were Big Ten champions.

By Patrick Herbert

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Did the Packers seriously win a close game?

Greg Jennings

By Jake McCormick

Thanks to the preseason, the Green Bay Packers have suddenly turned into the Gonzaga of the NFL. Thanks to guys like Skip Bayless and Bill Simmons, both of which I am about as big a fan as gun-touting, toothless Wal-Mart patrons are to President Barack Obama, the Packers seem to be gaining steam as an underdog pick for the playoffs and Super Bowl. I don’t claim to be an expert of wordplay and semantics, but doesn’t that make you a favorite if everyone is talking about you?

There were plenty of these subliminal message at Lambeau.

There were plenty of these subliminal message at Lambeau.

Anyways, Green Bay’s 21-15 win over the Chicago Bears was a bigger game than just the continuation of sports’ longest rivalry if the Packers are going to even come close to those expectations. Although it was pretty sloppy throughout the first 50 minutes for both teams, the game certainly ended in a way we have not seen, as Packer fans, since before Terrell Owens’ illegitimate touchdown in the playoffs as time expired. I say illegitimate because Jerry Rice clearly fumbled a few plays earlier and instant replay was not adopted until the year after. It sounds like I’m harboring some sort of resentment, and I am. But I digress.

Now the Packers have to face the Cincinnati Bungals and St. Louis Hams before heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams should be 3-0 at that point, and the NFL will count its cash after the most watched regular season game in league history. That is, until Week 8. And given the reactions to Viking highlights during the game, there will be blood.

Instead of doing a weekly generic analysis of why the Packers won or lost, I’m going to grade out each side of the ball by individual unit and give the key plays that contributed to that grade.

Offense
Quarterback

He just looks like a kid out there!!

He just looks like a kid out there!!

Aaron Rodgers was tap dancing for most of the game from the surprisingly strong Bears pass rush. Although he was sacked for a safety, Rodgers had no turnovers and was generally on target. But whatever failures he did have, he TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF by carrying the team when they needed it the most. Congratulations A-Rod; you’ve cemented yourself as the best overall quarterback in the NFC North by answering people’s biggest question about your game. But I did love the graphic that said his only two comeback wins were against the 0-16 Detroit Lions. What a confidence boost that was.

Grade – A-

Running Back
At least no one got hurt. That’s really the only big positive I can draw from this unit. Ryan Grant had a few flashes of his 2007 season, and was definitely impressive when he pushed the pile for his first touchdown of 2009. The Bears defense was an overall solid unit against the run throughout the game, and the Packers will have a much better opportunity to develop the ground game against the lesser Bengal defense this Sunday.

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
For a receiving corps that is considered one of the best in the league, they must’ve forgot to wash their hands after all those McDonald’s angus burgers before the game. But the receivers came through when they had to, especially Greg Jennings, whose jersey sales should spike nationally by midseason. A funny sidenote to his game-winning 50-yard grab on the 3rd and 1 audible: after the play, he didn’t realize the team was going for two and Donald Driver had to grab him out of the stands to get into the huddle, only so he could catch the successful conversion attempt. The guy is a pure stud.

Grade: B

Offensive Line
I know Mark Tauscher, and you Allen Barbre, are no Mark Tauscher. The O-line was sloppy all game, giving up four sacks to the Bears and causing Rodgers to hurry his progressions. Even his game-winning pass to Jennings was a blown assignment. Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that the line play was the biggest problem throughout the game, although Barbre did improve in the second half after giving up two free fantasy point plays to Adewale Ogunleye.

Grade: C

Defense
Defensive Line

Who ever said Purple Drank and Vicodin slowed hand-eye coordination?

Who ever said Purple Drank and Vicodin slowed hand-eye coordination?

Good golly, Mr. Jolly, you made the second best defensive lineman interception in Packer history, only behind Gabe Wilkins’ 1996 pick and leap over Buccaneer quarterback Trent Dilfer for a touchdown. Cullen Jenkins was an absolute force throughout the game, and this unit that was inept in the 4-3 in 2008 helped catalyst Jay Cutler’s career-worst four interceptions. This was the biggest defensive question mark going into the game, and they straightened that punctuation mark out real quickly.

Grade: A

Linebackers
The best play from this unit came from a backup. Brandon Chillar leaping over running back Garrett Wolfe for a sack was “Chill”ingly awesome. LOL…get it? Aaron Kampman turned in a very good performance for his first stand-up start since college, and the rest of the corps did a great job shutting down a premier running back that was used far too sparingly. Then again, Matt Forte hasn’t played well since Week 12 of last year, but overall the Packer linebackers lived up to expectations.

Grade: A-

Secondary
Al HarrisThey had three interceptions, including Al Harris’ finger pointing clincher, but they gave too many big plays to guys that can run but are still learning how to catch a football. They finally shut down a good tight end in Greg Olsen, but they got some help from guys like Desmond Clark, who stopped running a few routes that could’ve resulted in Bear scores. They must not be used to having a quarterback that isn’t forced to throw the ball in the first three seconds of the snap. Big plays can be nullified by big turnovers, so I’m not going to complain about a unit riddled with playmakers.

Grade: B

Special Teams
Returners/Coverage
Jordy Nelson did a good job filling in for an injured Will Blackmon and gives me confidence in their depth. It wasn’t extremely flashy, but if you get at least one 40+ yard return in a game, you’ll get a touchdown every once in a while. The coverage and return units, led by rising linebacker Desmond Bishop, held Devin Hester in check, thwarted that bone-headed fake punt, and had some big hits to spring Nelson. But here’s a quick memo to Jordy: when defenders are five yards away, please fair catch the ball. Thank you.

Grade: B+

Kicker/Punter
Mason Crosby can kick the ball a mile, but has problems with his accuracy. He missed a 49-yard kick, but more than made up for it by booting a 52 yarder in the second quarter and 39-yard field goal that put the Packers ahead in the fourth. Punting was a real adventure in 2008, but Jason Kapinos did a good job, averaging 44.7 yards in six kicks, including a 58 yard jack. You can’t ask for much more out of both in a low-scoring, defense-dominated game.

Grade: B+

Coaching
Offense
The Packer offensive game plan was pretty stagnant, but once again a Dumb and Dumber reference applies here. I didn’t have any objections to the play-calling because the Bear defense definitely exceeded expectations and made some good plays, and I typically judge a coach’s ability in crunch time. In this case, Mike McCarthy outcoached Lovie Smith and called the right plays at the right times.

Grade: B+

Defense
Have I already spent too much time mentally masturbating Dom Capers? After Sunday night, no. The Packers executed more blitzes in the first two quarters than all of last year. They were physical, aggressive, and unpredictable. And this came from a unit that didn’t have the right personnel for the 3-4 system. As Terry Boers from 670 The Score out of Chicago put it: A team doesn’t need the right personnel for the 3-4 if they are smart enough for the scheme. I already called Capers the MVP move of the offseason, and even though it’s Week 1, the change in attitude is already apparent.

Grade: A

If the Packers can contain Chad Ochocinco, get the offense rolling early and defense playing just as aggressive against a Bengal team that couldn’t score against a lesser Denver defense that is also converting to the 3-4, Green Bay will be sitting in a much better position a week from today.

Possible NFC North Reality Shows

brentfavre

By the TSB Staff

Since the NFC North in 2009 seems to be the ultimate reality series in professional sports right now. I asked my staff to  analogize the players and coaches in the division with some of the tv show “characters” currently dotting the reality show landscape.

JAKE MCCORMICK

This is an easy one. Despite my vocal criticisms of VH1 and their mind-numbing switch from “Behind the Music” type programming to mindless trapclap like “Brooke Knows Best” marathons, I must admit I watch a lot of their reality dating shows. I love the creatures that come out of their holes in the ground to proclaim their love for aging rock/rap stars. But the best analogy I can give involves the Vikings, Brett Favre, and Daisy of Love.

Daisy is (obviously) looking for love, but was shunned from her “true love” Bret Michaels in “Rock of Love 2,” and finished second to a mature girl with less baggage and much more potential. She didn’t get along with everyone on the show, and was very shady when talking about her living situations (she lived with her “ex” boyfriend). She was the Brett Favre to Bret Michaels (or Ted Thompson’s) Aaron Rodgers (Winner Ambre Lake).

Fast forward to the fourth episode of “Daisy of Love.” She has really taken a liking to a guy named London, who is a flashy rock star-type, but is also a big flake and whines for no apparent reason other than he isn’t getting his way. As a result, he leaves before elimination, leaving Daisy bawling in her room and unable to give out her Rock Star chains. This obviously upsets the house, since none of the other guys liked London because he was a cocky but waffling douche to her. As the show goes on, we get hints that Daisy is still hurt by London’s premature departure, and her chemistry isn’t as strong with the other guys. So, with four guys remaining in the competition, Daisy’s sidekick Riki reaches out to London and persuades him to come back and resolve the issues between him and Daisy.

urlacherwithfakeboobschick

Obviously the rest of the guys hate his guts, and he knows it all too well. But he gradually makes it to the finale episode, and when faced with a decision between Flex, a guy that is much better for her and different than her usual drama-loving boyfriends, and London, who is like every other immature guy she has dated, Daisy says the following: “I need Flex, but I want London.” Thus, she chooses the guy everyone loved to hate, and they all learn to live with it even though everyone involved with the show (including Riki) thinks she made a mistake. I’ll leave you to fill in who is who between the Vikings organization, Favre, and the players. This analogy makes too much sense to me.
bearstailgating


SOXMAN

Cheaters staring Brett Favre.

When Green Packer Packer fans suspect their long-time boyfriend is cheating on them with another team, our cameras are there when the confrontation takes place.  Will Brett score with another team?  Don’t miss another great season on the NFC.

Flavor of Lovie.

Lovie Smith is in search of a wide receiver for his bachelor quarterback.  Will Lovie’s idea of ball romance agree with Jay’s desire to command an offense?  The balls will fly and players will run all season long in the most offensive show to come out of Chicago in years.

Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.

Starring Aaron Rogers who teaches people it’s ok to be second despite the speedy deliveries of passes to Greg Jennings.  In the end, you will go to the land of make believe to see what life would have been like if Brett Favre was never born.

The Girls Next Door.

Starring the Detroit Lions offensive line.  Only Mathew Stafford will not be pillow fighting cuties.  He’ll be participating in the “Amazing Race,” trying to escape linemen out for his head.cedricbensonjersye

PAUL M. BANKS

“Elimidate” starring Brian Urlacher

He’s a man known to reap the “strange” out there in the Chicago nightlife; on a level even more intense than Kyle Farnsworth or Mark Grace. Everyone has an Urlacher story. Some even have a paternity suit.

“The Shark Tank” starring Matthew Stafford

ABC’s Sunday night series is probably the only reality series I actually like these days, but this show isn’t about aspiring entrepreneurs pitching panels of venture capitalists, it’s Stafford being put into open water surrounded by blood and chum (his 0-16 Lions teammates) as the sharks, opposing defenses circle around.

“Blind Date” starring Brett Favre

I always loved the little drawings, graphics and thought bubbles that comprise each episode of this series. My dream job is to be the person who gets to write the funny observations and insults of those who participate on this game show. Actually my dream job is any job where I get to rip on people. But what if John Madden who has the biggest man-crush in the history on man-crushes on Favre, also came out of retirement just to cover a few games featuring the man who complete him? He’d no doubt manipulate the telecast to draw hearts and write amorous sayings all over the screen, and somehow the show ends with Madden and Favre in a hot tub…ugh….

Most Overlooked NFC North Storylines

staffordgrinding

By the TSB Staff

The NFC North will undoubtedly be a reality series this fall with the Brett Favre-Minnesota Vikings story likely to be “the lead” all year in most NFL content-producing mediums. #1 overall draft pick Matt Stafford helping rebuild the Detroit Lions, Jay Cutler bringing the Chicago Bears solid quarterback play for the first time since the Industrial Revolution will be huge as well.  But what about under-the-radar NFC North storylines? What interesting developments have been under-reported?

SAM SVOBODA

The Bears’ loss of safety Mike Brown.

Even though he’s had injury problems, I was shocked at how little I heard about the Bears letting him go. I thought maybe it was because I was in California at the time, but it turned out my brother (who’s been in Chicago the whole year) didn’t even know about it until seeing that Brown signed with the Chiefs in June. Yes, Brown has lost a step with his injuries and age, but he played 15 games last year and proved that he can still make plays. More importantly, he brought leadership and experience- Brian Urlacher has always gotten more press, but I really believe that Brown was the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense.

Perhaps the main reason that I think Brown’s departure is a big story though, is because of the safeties that the Bears kept. If the Bears had some great, established safeties then I would have had an easier time understanding letting Brown go. But the team’s current list of safeties reads like this: Kevin Payne, Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Josh Bullocks, Al Afalava. I really hope some of the above guys can prove themselves as consistent NFL starters, but if the Bears’ safeties are repeatedly beaten this season, you have to wonder about the decision to let Brown go.


JAKE MCCORMICK

What’s missing? The answer is anything about the Green Bay Packers. As we’ve seen from even just the past week, ESPN will report every time Brett Favre involuntarily farts when he gets under center for the Vikings. It’s like a politician, where everyone is giving him advice on how to act, what he needs to do to gain his teammates trust, and the best way to overcome the doubts.

The Lions are a story because they are a team with a new image, the biggest being the new badass Lion on the helmet. The worst team in the league from the previous year always gets obligatory press coverage because it’s interesting to see how they change their approach on Sundays.

The Bears have a mini-Favre in Jay Cutler, who is a great talent but already a prima donna. And he doesn’t even have a winning record as a starter. How he responds to moving from a team with good receivers, a banged up running game, and a terrible defense to a team with a good running back, bad receivers, and an aging defense will be something to watch.bearstrainingcamp2

That leaves us with the Packers, and the biggest storyline that anyone can pick up will be the transition to the 3-4 and how Aaron Rodgers responds as a second-year starter. But honestly, name one story about the Packers that has made any sort of noise on ESPN or anywhere outside of Wisconsin. And no, the team’s reaction to Favre’s return doesn’t count. Green Bay has the talent and depth to be much better than last year’s 6-10 record indicates, and although Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy build the team through the draft, the fact that they only kept one coach from 2008 on the defensive side of the ball this season says something about the team’s sense of urgency. The whole Packer organization is an underreported and under-the-radar story, which is funny considering it is one of the top three most popular teams around the world. For proof, I offer this: My girlfriend spent a semester in Spain and her host brothers knew nothing about football, but they all had Green Bay Packer bobble-heads.

SOXMAN

The coverage of the Favre signing was to the sports world what the death of Michael Jackson was to the pop culture masses.

I’m actually more curious to see if rookie WR Percy Harvin can unseat Devin Hester as the next American Idol of the return game.  The kid can fly and actually might end up being a decent wide receiver as well.  Did you hear that #23?

What ever happened to Devin Hester’s return game anyway?  He is the Rueben Studdard of the NFL- minus about 200 lbs.bearstrainingcamp1

Other NFC North storylines- “My Tight End” sounds like the name of an alternative lifestyle reality show, but actually it’s a question.  With the exception of “the Packers,” (again, minds out of the gutter), all North division QBs have a new tight end.  Who will be the first TE to establish that “till free agency do we part” chemistry with their ball hurler?  Cutler and Olsen, who have already established chemistry on the Chicago nightclub scene?  Stafford and Pettigrew?  Both are NFL “first timers,” who only have each other in a world of potential pass rushers?  Or old man Favre and Visanthe Shiancoe?  Given Favre’s love of men who can go long, anything is possible.


PAUL SCHMIDT

I know, the Jay Cutler talk and the love affair with him is ridiculous right now, and it’s getting just as tiresome as the Brett Favre story.  Well…maybe not that bad…but it’s getting old.  The thing people need to be talking about with the Bears is what happens if they are bad?  I mean, there’s a lot of speculation about the receivers, and maybe it’s founded, but it would seem to me that there isn’t enough speculation about the defense.
What happens if Tommy Harris isn’t ok?  What happens if Brian Urlacher continues to slide as he ages? What happens if Lance Briggs’ ego continues to grow and it gets in the way of his performance?  What happens if Peanut Tillman isn’t ok, and doesn’t heal properly?  What happens if Danieal Manning doesn’t get better?  What if Nathan “The Interceptor” Vasher sucks again this season?  What if no one steps up in the secondary?  What if the defensive line STILL can’t get pressure on an opposing QB this season?vikingsheadshadow

See?  There’s a ton of questions.  The defense isn’t a sure thing to be great.  The offense BETTER score a lot of points, because the defense just might be giving up quite a few…

The point is, if the Bears aren’t a playoff team, and end up .500 or worse, is Lovie Smith’s job on the line?  Jerry Angelo’s? Both have really put their necks on the line with the Cutler deal yet not bringing in any top WR (like Anquan Boldin). Shouldn’t they be on the hot seat just because of that?

SHAYMUS MCLAUGHLIN

In my opinion, it has to be Aaron Rodgers coming into his own as an elite QB in the NFL. He put up pretty ridiculous stats last year, especially for a first year starter (4,038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, and a 63.6% completion percentage). He managed to do it with the whole Brett Favre thing weighing down on him, which makes the feat even more impressive. While the mainstream media will be keeping an eye on Favre’s follies in Minnesota, Cutler’s conquest of Soldier Field, and Stafford’s starting gig in the Motor City, Aaron Rodgers will be quietly be amassing elite numbers for the green and gold at Lambeau Field.

Packer preseason predictions and awards: From 6-10 to 11-5

Browns Packers Football

By Jake McCormick

I was originally going to devote a full article to the Packers’ special teams units, but I think I can sum them in one sentence. Kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the league, Will Blackmon is a great return man, and the punter battle between Jason Kapinos and Durant Brooks needs to be solved soon because I feel like I could try out for the position. Now with that condensed to simple explanations, here’s my list of preseason award prediction for the 2009 Green Bay Packers.

2009 record – 11-5 (4-2 in the North)

Getting the Cowboys at home helps, and they will split the series with the Vikings and Bears, with the home team winning each battle. I don’t trust Favre in cold weather, and the Bears won’t win at Lambeau in Week 1 on national television. The team’s toughest games come at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore at home, and at Arizona the last week of the season. Otherwise, the Packers have a very winnable schedule until the last five weeks of the season, and there’s no game that is considered a guaranteed loss.

Offensive MVP – QB Aaron Rodgers

Aaron RodgersThis is a big duh. Rodgers won’t have to put up the numbers he did last year that basically carried my fantasy football season (I drafted him again this year as a thank you to my autodraft a year ago). Given the overwhelming pressure on Rodgers last year for the obvious reasons, it’s safe to say he exceeded all expectations mentally and statistically. Now without the ESPN interrogation light shining directly in his eyes, Rodgers can improve his clutch decision making and leadership abilities during pressure situations. Both of those were really his only flaws, and I’ll trade fantasy points for more heroics any day.

Defensive MVP – MLB Nick Barnett

Nick BarnettI could easily pick a defensive back here, but I have a feeling Barnett will be the glue in the 3-4 defense similar to James Harrison’s role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s obviously not the same player, nor is he as dumb (not visiting the White House because he didn’t like the fact that the Cardinals would’ve been invited if they had won? C’mon…). But Barnett will provide a spark in emotional leadership that was all too sparse in 2008.

Most Improved Defensive Player – Justin Harrell…just kidding! It’ll be the Jeremy Thompson/Clay Matthews LB platoon

Jeremy ThompsonI’d love to think that Harrell’s back, which has roughly the toughness of a 79-year-old man, would be healthy enough for him to contribute the way a semi-bust first round pick should. The Packers need all the help they can get from the defensive line, but the player that will get everybody turning their heads in a “who the hell is this guy?” fashion will be converted linebacker Jeremy Thompson. He is the overlooked 3-4 DE-to-LB conversion project, as Aaron Kampman grabs most of the questions and spotlight, but Thompson has played well enough to pass rookie Clay Matthews on the depth chart.

I think they’ll eventually be splitting time, but for now Thompson looks like he’s on his way to a successful 2009 after being drafted in the fourth round last year. Of course, this is all contingent on both players staying healthy, as neither will play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo. Another successful late round selection acts as a good tranquilizer when I start thinking about the bust that is Justin Harrell.

Most Improved Offensive Player – RB Ryan Grant

Ryan GrantGrant’s career high 1,200 rushing yards in 2008 shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking he had a good season. He averaged 3.9 ypc, only scored four touchdowns, and elicited an always-hilarious sarcastic remark from my roommate because of his lack of fantasy value. But now that Grant has his precious contract and has been through his first full training camp as a Packer, he will return to his 2007 form and take a lot of pressure off of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.

Brandon Jackson outplayed Grant towards the end of the year and DeShawn Wynn is reportedly becoming a confident runner. They won’t take too many carries away from Grant, but it allows the Packers to be flexible and will wear defenses down so Grant can execute the Shake N Bake to finish them off. This is the year that Grant will become a consistent runner, which means I might not get so pissed at Mike McCarthy for his run-run-pass play-calling.

Defensive Comeback Player – DE Cullen Jenkins

Cullen JenkinsBefore he was injured in Week 4, Jenkins was looking like a great compliment to Aaron Kampman. The Packer pass rush noticeably suffered without him, and Jenkins’ health is crucial if this defense is going to fulfill its potential. Although the 3-4 system will ask him to do more hole-plugging than pass rushing, Jenkins can be an absolute beast and has experience playing as a DT/DE hybrid. Jenkins had 2.5 sacks before going down for the season last year, and with the other starting defensive end position still unknown, he will be counted on as a consistent and experienced player. You may not hear his name called every play, but Jenkins’ versatility will elevate the play of everyone around him.

Rookie of the Year – DE/DT B.J. Raji

BJ RajiRaji will see playing time at both the nose tackle and defensive end positions, and he has the body and power to do it. The Packers went almost purely defensive in the 2009 draft, and with Clay Matthews’ development slowed by a hamstring injury, Raji wins this award almost by default. He will contribute right away and I can guarantee he won’t be another Justin Harrell. Raji, Jenkins, and nose tackle Ryan Pickett have the talent to make volleyball-like rotations around the entire line. As long as he stays healthy, the Ewok-looking Raji will fulfill every expectation the organization and fan base has for him. I’m definitely looking forward to his debut against the Bills on Saturday.

Biggest Improvement Needed – Finish the game!!!

If we look at the Packers’ 2008 season by quarter, you’d swear Mike Packers loseMcCarthy prefers to let his car warm up a bit before putting it into drive, as they were shut out in the first quarter in six games. Green Bay was only shut out seven times combined in the second and third quarters. When it came to closing the game out Trevor Hoffman-style, the Packers opted for a much more acceptable Derrick Turnbow/Eric Gagne impersonation. In the two overtime games against the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears, the Packer offense didn’t even sniff the ball. Likewise, Green Bay threw up a big o-fer in games decided by four points or less in 2008, going 0-7. A Bleacher Report article does a good job of breaking down their late game deficiencies.

The bottom line here is that the offense, defense, and special teams need to pull their weight in crunch time. If the Packers prove they can play football after the 6:00 mark in the fourth quarter, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll finish at the top of the division, or at least take a wild card spot.