Green Bay Packers fans shouldn’t worry about Ryan Grant’s replacement

Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant

If Green Bay Packer fans are fretting over the loss of starting running back Ryan Grant for the season, take a look at what a few recent Super Bowl-caliber teams have done in the absence of a marquee runner.

By Jake McCormick [Read more…]

Seriously? The DEFENSE won a game for the PACKERS?

Cowboys Packers Football

By Jake McCormick

Typically, sports rivalries between states are cyclical, and right now, Minnesota is making me glad I’m still not going to college an hour and a half from their border. But this past weekend gave me a little needed confidence in Wisconsin sports.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin is stockpiling money like Bazooka Joe comics to cash in on some pitching, Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings (to which I was a witness) became the youngest player in NBA history to tally 50+ points in a game, and Wisconsin football is a step closer to double digits wins and a January bowl. Of course, this state lives and dies by the green and gold, and the Packers’ win would’ve been all it took to get Wisconsin’s blood pressure back to stable levels.

It was a win in arguably the most important game of the 2009 season for the entire organization, against a Cowboy team that had rattled off four straight wins and was beginning to put a season of relevancy back together. But as significant as this win might be for the rest of the season, it is almost as confusing as the loss to the Buccaneers.

Until the 17-7 win against the Cowboys on Sunday, the Packer defense had been doing its best Carrie Prejean impression of increasing ineptness against the Vikings and Buccaneers. Just when you thought she couldn’t make herself look even dumber, she opens her mouth on national television and makes Sarah Palin look like a MENSA member. Interesting the maverick of hockey moms is her idol, too. Back to football.

Was the Buccaneer game really the big slap in the face to get the Packer defense to trust their skills and the scheme? The (mostly Chuck Woodson) defensive-led win was the first of its kind since last year against the Colts. All things considered, the players should have some increased confidence now that they know what can happen when they play within their roles. The most interesting tid-bit to come out of this win was the fact that the Packers registered five sacks. Without Aaron Kampman.

Of course, you could make the assumption that rookie Brad Jones was a better option anyways because he is naturally an outside linebacker, and more than a few Packer fans have done so since Sunday. Plus, Kampman is a free agent after this season, and quietly was not happy about switching positions in a contract year. With that said, I find it hard to believe that Kampman’s absence was the catalyst for the defense to pull together and carry the offense.

Cowboys Packers FootballClay Matthews is becoming comfortable as the monster playmaker AJ Hawk was supposed to be, but Hawk made his fair share of big play hits against Dallas. My guess is they must’ve shared the same Muscle Milk regimen and hair stylist leading up to the game. Nick Barnett also looked more comfortable than he has all year. With three natural linebackers flying around and making plays like they were expected to, wouldn’t that free up Kampman to do the same? He very well may walk this year, but Kampman is still a more complete player than anyone the Packers could inject into his spot.

After following up an unexpected loss with an unexpected win, the Packers are only a game out of the Wild Card and very much alive in the playoff race. That makes every game from here on out a must win, much like Sunday’s against Dallas. This is the time of the year where Wild Card teams fizzle or get hot, and Green Bay can still go either way. However, the win against the Cowboys was a step in the right direction and Packer fans can only hope the team understands that they have seven more Dallas games to play if they want to reach the postseason. I think I’ll just close my eyes and hope for the best against Mr. Bugeye Singletary this Sunday.

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.