• In case you missed them…

MVP – a Mighty Vexing Proposition


Rodgers and Peterson

@BreakTheHuddle

Excerpt:

“In the interest of full disclosure (and before I lose my Minnesota-centric audience) let me insist that I’m doing my best to speak as an unbiased observer, and not merely a (spiteful) Packer fan. If you stick around, you’ll find I am just as critical of the award Rodgers won in 2011 as I am of the Peterson/Manning dual candidacy of 2012. The fact that Rodgers isn’t even in the discussion as a viable candidate says a lot about how sportswriters and other prominent NFL pundits think, and trying to peel back the layers can teach us a thing or two about the problems with the process.”

Link to full article:

http://breakthehuddle.com/?p=1648

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2010 All Over Again?


Superficially, it feels a lot like two years ago for the Green and Gold – but is it?

@BreakTheHuddle

February 6, 2011, was the day the Green Bay Packers capped off their terrific 2010-11 NFL season by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Beset by injuries, the resilient squad went on a remarkable six week run, spanning the final two weeks of the regular season (at home) and four playoff games (all on the road) en route to the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy. It was a magical, unexpected and thrilling march to a championship, made all the more incredible in light of the maladies the Packers had to overcome to get there.

Injuries, inconsistency and a brutal schedule down the stretch couldn’t stop Mike McCarthy’s bunch. Sound familiar? For some Packer fans, the similarities between the current Packer incarnation and the World Champion 2010 version are uncanny, unmistakable and even cause for optimism. But so much has changed in 21 months – gas back then was $3.17 per gallon. Now? It’s all the way up to $3.22! Milk was $0.13 cheaper in those halcyon days – and technology misappropriated for sexual purposes was felling quarterbacks rather than four-star generals.

All kidding (and veiled references to Brett Favre’s sexting scandal) aside, the similarities between the fortunes, and play, of the 2010 Packers to the 2012 team are superficial and misleading. The schedule, the offensive line, and the injury issues all appear familiar, but a closer examination reveals the truth – what we are watching in 2012 is very different than two years ago. In some ways better, in some ways worse – but certainly not the same.

The Schedule

Superficial similarities:

YEAR

Record Win Streak Point differential OPP 1-9total win% OPP 10-16 total win%
2010

6-3

3

+78

.465

.589

2012

6-3

4

+52

.549

.552

By this chart, things seem pretty similar – this year looks even more impressive, considering the Packers played a much more difficult schedule in the early part of the season than the 2010 team did. The only teams the Packers have lost to this year – the Colts, 49ers and Seahawks – are possible playoff teams. In 2010, Green Bay dropped games to Washington (on the road) Miami (at home), two postseason nonfactors. So don’t the similar results against stiffer competition bode well for the green and gold?

The reality:

Wins over the Texans (on the road) and the Bears (at home) stand out, but the 2012 schedule is much tougher than 2010. Why? Chicago is only divisional foe the Packers have faced, and the rest of the division is much better than they were in 2010. That season, Green Bay went 4-2 in the NFC North – aided by a bad Vikings team and the scuffling Detroit Lions.

This season, Detroit (though still flawed) is much better than they were two seasons ago. Minnesota is a matchup issue for the Packers and possesses offensive weapons that keep them in any game. Chicago still gets to host Green Bay in the Windy City. It’s not a division of cupcakes in 2012 – rather, the NFC North might be the best division in football. It’ll be a slugfest to the end.

If ten wins is the benchmark to reach for a postseason berth, head-to-head victories mean everything, as several teams (the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Vikings, Packers, maybe even the Saints and Cowboys) have a shot at getting to double digit victories. While the Packers lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks (a nightmare scenario, should it play out that way), they control their own destiny with the Saints. The other teams (who don’t face Green Bay)- the Buccaneers (4),  and Cowboys (4) –  already have more intra-conference losses than the Pack do.

All that leaves us with is this reality: the ‘Border Battle’ games with the Vikings will be bigger than they have been the past couple of years. It’s always a rivalry game, sure – but this year, postseason berths will be on the line – and this Vikings team is proud, motivated, and talented. Ditto for the Lions – except their coaching is far inferior – and the Bears’ only losses in 2012 have come to the best team in the AFC (the Houston Texans) and, of course, on the road in Lambeau Field.

 

He hasn’t exactly been a Pro Bowler, but Bulaga’s consistency on the right side of the line will be missed.

The Offensive Line

Superficial similarities:

The core of the offensive line remains the same – the two guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and tackle Bryan Bulaga. Add veteran center Jeff Saturday, and progressing youngster Marshall Newhouse rather than the aging Chad Clifton, and this line should be about the same as the one two seasons ago… right?

The reality:

Jeff Saturday, brought in due in large part because of his deft ability to communicate in pass protection, has been abysmal in run blocking – at any rate, he’s been a downgrade from Scott Wells, who departed in free agency. Clifton held on as long as he could, and should go down as one of the most underappreciated Packers of the past decade. His replacement at left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, has been beaten on numerous occasions. Green Bay allows more than 3 sacks per game, a much higher rate than either of the past two seasons.

Sitton and Lang are their usual, reliable, selves – but an injury to Bryan Bulaga, quietly placed on IR this week due to a non-contact injury suffered in the Packers’ victory over the Cardinals, shifts Lang to right tackle and promotes Evan Dietrich-Smith from the bench to left guard. Such shuffling was commonplace on the 2009 offensive front – and results were disastrous, as Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-leading 50 times that year. Keeping Rodgers healthy the rest of the season is a tall order for a left side of the line as inexperienced as Newhouse and Dietrich-Smith. Speaking of health…

 

All the Injuries

Superficial similarities:

Year # Players on I.R. Starters on I.R. # Players on PUP list
2010

14

7

3

2012

8

4

3

Suffering a rash of cataclysmic injuries, the 2010 Packers, thanks to their organizational depth and savvy moves by General Manager Ted Thompson, stayed afloat. In 2012, pretty much the same thing has happened, right?

The reality:

The six most important people on the 2010 team were, in no particular order, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, and Charles Woodson. They missed a total of 2 games that season. Combined.

The six most important people on the 2012 team are, in no particular order, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. They have missed a total of 12 games already – only Rodgers and Matthews have been active for every game this season, and after Sunday, it’ll be just #12 (Matthews is likely to miss the game with a hamstring injury).

While nearly a third of the starters from the 2010 team were lost for the year, the core six were very durable, as was the offensive line. This season, there are injuries to the team’s blue-chippers, and the young players normally expected to fill their shoes (Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy) are also dinged up.

The depth of the team, particularly at receiver, is notable, but eventually injuries to the stars and the guys in charge of keeping Rodgers clean will catch up to Green Bay. While there are plenty of injuries, yes, these are different – in 2012, game-changers have been missing time, rather than placeholders.

Superficially…

The Packers will rely on their depth and coaching savvy, not to mention the arm (and feet) of Aaron Rodgers, to a playoff berth, where anything can happen. This is the optimist’s outlook as Week 11 approaches.

In reality…

Important people are hurt. The offensive line is in disarray – one more injury, and the team will be forced to use guys who were undrafted free agents this year (Andrew Datko and Don Barclay). The division is tougher, and five divisional games remain. I’m not saying the Packers won’t make it to the postseason; what I am saying, is, they’ve got a tougher road than many people think. They can’t afford any more injuries, especially on the offensive front. Realists have a grip on the obstacles in front of this team.

One thing both sides can agree on – all that’s important is making it to the postseason, because once it starts, anything can happen. That’s where optimism and realism collides.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Appease the Football Gods


How the Packers can get back in the good graces of the pigskin pantheon

@BreakTheHuddle

It just seemed as though the Colts were destined to win Sunday’s game – and this miraculous catch by Reggie Wayne was one of the signs.

Last Sunday, before kickoff, I channeled my usual doom-and-gloom pessimism and made a-not-so-unique proclamation to my friend, Bernard. As the Packers took the field against the Indianapolis Colts, whose coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia during the previous week, I turned to Bernard and said:

“This feels like a bad karma game. Indy’s going to be playing for the coach. I have a bad feeling about this.”

Naturally, I (and every other Negative Nancy who said something similar) looked silly during the first half. Aaron Rodgers put on a clinic, the defense was stifling, and the Packers carried a 21-3 lead into the locker room with them, with the second half kick coming their way. Green Bay was finally showing glimpses of last season’s form – they were blowing out an inferior team, scoring at will, and controlling the tempo of the game.

The second half, as we all know, told a different story. Without Cedric Benson, who’d compiled 41 total yards through 17 minutes of game play before he was injured, the offense lost its rhythm. The defense, pesky and suffocating in the first 30 minutes, went soft, the pass rush totally ineffective the final 30. No one could cover Reggie Wayne. Andrew Luck showed his athleticism, breaking away from sacks and rushing for first downs. And no one could stop the momentum shift – Indianapolis outscored the Packers 27-6 in the second half, sealing the victory when Mason Crosby’s 52 yard field goal attempt sailed so far left that Michael Moore would’ve been proud of it.

Lame political jokes aside, the second half of the Colts game was a microcosm of the Packers’ 2012 season to this point. Though it’s possible the football gods punished me Sunday for my appalling lack of faith, I’d hazard to say there are other reasons for Green Bay’s struggles.

 

First of all, the Packers need call more running plays – a LOT more running plays.

Cedric Benson is carted off the field during Sunday’s loss; he’s out at least 8 weeks with a lisfranc injury.

If you watch the Packers closely, I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. In Sunday’s game, McCarthy called for 10 pass plays and 8 rushes before Benson left with an injury early in the second quarter. Afteward? A whopping 35-to-9. Despite the fact that Green Bay opened the second half with an 18 point lead, 13 of their first 16 offensive plays were called passes, one of which was intercepted, setting up the Colts for an easy score.

Adjusted for sacks and scrambles, the Packers have the fifth highest called pass-to-run ratio in the NFL, at 72%-to-28%. Nearly half the league (14 teams) pass the ball 60% of the time. But of those 14, only the Ravens (4.9 yards/carry) and the Giants (4.8) are more successful when they do run than the Packers, who average 4.3 yards per rush. Some of that figure is skewed by Rodgers, who is averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, but still, Packer running backs average 4.2 yards per rush – not an elite figure, to be sure, but far from terrible. The run game certainly deserves more attention than Mike McCarthy has given it.

Because the team calls so many passing plays, the Packers are just 21st in time of possession. It’s currently en vogue to eschew time of possession as a statistic. Many pundits now consider your number of plays to be the key factor – this, more than time of possession, is indicative of whether or not you are wearing out the opposing defense. In this department, the Packers are 14th, at 64 offensive plays per game – about league average. What’s troubling is, despite the ability to hold onto the ball and run a lot of plays, the Packers are a paltry 24th in yards-per-play, down there with teams such as Tennessee, Tampa Bay, the New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns.

The love for the passing attack has gone unrewarded; once adjusted to include sacks, the Packers average 5.74 yards per pass attempt, good for 28th in the league. Many stat sheets do not factor sacks into this equation – indeed, simply looking up “yards per pass attempt” reveals the Packers average 7 yards every time they throw the ball, which is about league average.

Many fans are quick to point out that Aaron Rodgers seems “off” so far in 2012. Actually, he’s on pace for 4,182 yards, 32 TDs and 13 INTs with a 97.0 QB rating – not a bad statistical season. His averages from 2008-10 were a comparable 4,131 yards, 29 TDs and 10 INTs with a 99.4 QB rating. It’s possible we were spoiled by his otherworldly 2011 campaign… it’s also possible he’s holding onto the ball too long, a criticism made of him early in his career. He’s taking a lot of sacks – on pace for 67 of them, which would be the most in the NFL since 2005.

Sacks need to be included when assessing the overall health of a passing attack – if you can’t protect, and the quarterback has to scramble or give himself up for a sack, what good is passing the ball so much? On many occasions this season, Rodgers finds himself in the pocket, with time, unable to find a suitable target downfield. Green Bay insists on running the play-action bootleg, which is fine, but opposing defenses aren’t biting – nor should they.

Taking the time to establish the running game needs to be high on McCarthy’s priority list. For all the talk of the NFL as a passing league, the top offense in terms of total yards is the New England Patriots, third overall in rushing. The league’s leader in yards per play, the New York Giants, are 12th in this category. As fate would have it, Green Bay averages 4.34 yards per rush, while the vaunted New England attack gains 4.33 yards per carry. The difference between the two? The Hoodie sticks with the run, and the Packers abandon it for long periods of time. Making this adjustment will be key to the Packers’ success moving forward… speaking of which…

 

The coaching staff needs to make better in-game adjustments.

Of the nine sacks against Seattle, this one looked the most painful.

Truth be told, they’ve been embarrassed in this department. The most exquisite example of this was in the Seahawks game – Seattle pass rushers got to Aaron Rodgers nine- NINE- times in the first thirty minutes. Despite this, Cedric Benson was handed the ball twice in 27 first half plays. The other 25 times, Rodgers dropped back to pass – and better than a third of those times, he was sacked.

Such a playcalling discrepancy would have been understandable (though not excusable) if the Packers were down by 20 points early in the game – but they weren’t. Seattle finally got on the board with 6:22 left in the second quarter, and by this time, much of the damage had been done. McCarthy’s stunning inability to veer from the gameplan hindered the offense’s ability to be effective and put the quarterback in harm’s way. To be fair, McCarthy acknowledged as much – and came out in the second half running the football.

The team seems to take off entire halves of football and lacks the consistency one would expect from a squad full of veteran leaders. Indeed, the team is young, but experience is sprinkled throughout the roster – Woodson, Matthews and Raji on the defense, Rodgers, Saturday and Nelson on the offense. All of those guys have plenty of game reps, and should know what to expect, yet somehow the team still comes out flat – be it in the first half of the Seattle and Chicago games (for the offense) or the second half of the Colts game (for the defense).

Any way you slice it, the Colts’ coaching staff saw something at halftime and made adjustments – McCarthy had a better game plan going in, and the Colts managed themselves better on the fly. Becoming a better in-game strategist is vital to the Packers’ hopes this season – because while the team is talented, they aren’t talented enough to play brain-dead football for 30 minutes at a time and expect to win games.

 

Defensively, the Packers have to play tougher – and with more consistency.

The measurable statistics on the Green Bay defense are as follows: 16th against the pass, 17th against the run, 14th in opponents’ points per game. Pretty mediocre, right? Tied for first in the NFL with 18 sacks… pretty good, right? Only 7 defenses in the NFL have fewer takeaways, and four of them (Oakland, Detroit, Indianapolis and Dallas) have played in one less game due to bye weeks… pretty bad, right?

Such is the story of the 2012 Green Bay defense. At times transcendent and tough, other times porous and soft, it’s a group that gives fans fits. They were manhandled against a physical 49ers team, they beat up and embarrassed the Bears, they shut down the Seahawks and only allowed 7 verifiable* points, they were mediocre against a high-powered Saints team and they were both great (first half) and lousy (second half) against a rookie quarterback last Sunday in Indianapolis.

On a positive note, at least there are flashes of good play from the defense; after last year’s atrocity, any improvement must be noted and expounded upon. Nick Perry seems like he’ll be a decent complementary pass rusher to Clay Matthews, who has been very good. Tramon Williams is healthy again (and performing well) and Sam Shields, who had a very trying 2011 season, has rebounded nicely in 2012.

On the other hand, Charles Woodson is a step slower (and very hands-y, drawing many penalties), the defensive line has been nothing to write home about, and D.J. Smith has been underwhelming trying to fill the shoes of the injured Desmond Bishop.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a proven track record in the NFL, and fans have no choice but to trust that he’ll get the issues ironed out as the season progresses. The star power is there, the pass rush is there – it’s just a matter of generating more takeaways, something they’ve excelled at in the past, to give the offense more opportunities to possess the ball.

In summary…

No matter how mad you get at Marshall Newhouse, Jerry Kramer (64, above) would not be an improvement. After all, he’s 76 years old!

I’m  not one to get wistful for the days of yore – mostly because I am 25 years old and I don’t remember them. I’m not going to suggest the Packers bring back Jerry Kramer to run the power sweep 45 times per game, a la Lombardi. I would, however, venture a guess: the Packers will find a way to get Alex Green, Brandon Saine, and James Starks (once he’s healthy) more involved in the offensive game plan.

Many of Green Bay’s misfortunes in 2012 have to do with poor luck and bad timing. It’s been a trying first third of the season, but there are elixirs for the Packer maladies. Rather than omnipotent, all-powerful deities, the football gods seem to be more fickle, prone to the passion and inconsistency of human beings.

In Greek mythology, humans can make their own luck by making the right choices. While it may seem as though the 2012 Packers are cursed, destined to play tragic figures, there’s still time to turn it around – provided they correct their ways and appease the football gods. Balance, intelligence, toughness – these are the hallmarks of a great team. With some adjustments, this underachieving bunch can become a great team – and continue their remarkable run of success.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Monday Night Catharsis


Purging leftover thoughts from the fiasco in Seattle

@BreakTheHuddle

Reading his lips, it’s clear Yahoo’s Mike Silver asked Rodgers “What the f*** just happened?” seconds after the game was over. None of us are sure, yet, Mike…

The traditional connotation for the word “catharsis” has to do with purification or purgation. To put it in layman’s terms, it is “to blow off some steam.” The mood I am aiming for in this morning’s short post, however, is Aristotle’s original usage of the word: “It is the human soul that is purged of its excessive passions.”

Assuredly, football shouldn’t cause a person to purge his or her soul of its “excessive passions”, and the definition might be overdramatic, but it fits. Packer fans can’t carry the weight of Monday’s officiating clusterf*** around any longer. It’s not as if putting ourselves in the proper mindset will help the team – they, after all, are the ones who really need to forget about it and move on. But for our collective sake, we should let it go.

If you’re anything like me, you went to work on Tuesday in a daze. It was as though I had a hangover (and considering the two stiff drinks I poured myself after the final result, in my case, it may have actually been a hangover). It was difficult to escape reminders of The Play in Question, much like the nauseating whiffs of alcohol the morning after you’ve had too many.

By Thursday, I’d discussed the Fail Mary pass with people whose opinions I care for (my friends, my parents), people whose opinions I don’t care for (my Viking fan in-laws, two of my customers, people on Twitter) and digested countless articles and sports radio segments about the Packer loss. I’ve come to a few conclusions that need to be vented before I lay them to rest.

Okay. Let’s get cathartic up in here.

As the week went on, something weird happened. The few Viking and Bear fans I associate with, as well as local radio hosts, turned from empathetic to aggressive, offering various riffs on the sentiment that “it’s about time the Packers got screwed.” I’ve chosen three quotes, because they spur catharsis, and because they seem to encapsulate much of the backlash to the backlash about Golden-gate.

Quote: “I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy… Just hard to feel too bad for the team that gets to play at Lambeau 8 times or more a year… You guys have the greatest home field advantage in sports, mostly due to officiating.”

Catharsis: The crux of this argument is that the Packers routinely receive preferential treatment from the officials, especially at home. I suppose people consider Green Bay to be the NFL’s darling, and they resent this idea. Fact is, dismay at the officiating during the final Seahawks drive, and the game’s ultimate play, ought to need no qualifiers. It could have happened to any team. The correct response is unmitigated disappointment – period. If you’re a fan of the NFL, if you have money invested in fantasy football, or if you bet on the games themselves, you ought to be angry that such colossal incompetence could influence on-field happenings and cost a team – ANY TEAM – a victory. End. Of. Story.

Quote: ”I’ll be happy when you Packer fans move on. It was a bad call in a week 3 game. They also had one of the most atrocious o-line performances ever. Stop blame-placing and move on.”

Catharsis: While it’s true the Packers’ offensive showing in the first half was despicable, and Mike McCarthy’s stunning inability to adjust his play calling (two called running plays in the face of an incredible four man rush) during the first half was particularly troubling, the problem with this argument is that despite all this, the Packers deserved to win the game anyway. Why? The defense was fantastic. Other than the first Golden Tate touchdown reception, they were air tight all night long. One of the hallmarks of a good team is resiliency, of one unit picking up the other when they’re having an off night, and clearly, the Packers did that.

Quote:

Well, that was uncalled for.

Catharsis: I’m not sure examining these quotes one-by-one will help my standing as a “whiny b****”  in this person’s eyes, but I’ll close with this: It’s okay to be a little shocked and upset when something stupid happens to your favorite football team. The fact that the Packers were already 1-1 and not living up to lofty preseason expectations probably heightened the importance of the game in many fans’ eyes. While it’s true that the regular officials are back, and that even the real ones make bonehead calls, that doesn’t mitigate the reality that the Packers had a win stolen from them due to officials’ incompetence.

Were Packer drives kept alive by questionable calls earlier in the fourth quarter? Absolutely. But the phantom pass interference on Sam Shields, the uncalled offensive pass interference on Golden Tate in the end zone, and the botched communication between officials on the game’s final play… all of it, together, is something we Packer fans had the right to complain about this week.

The real problem with the above quote: it fails to recognize that every other fan base in the country would’ve reacted more or less the same way. There’s nothing unique about Packer fans that made our reaction more or less egregious than, say, a hypothetical Vikings, Bears or Cowboys reaction. To think otherwise is absurd.

Maybe asking for empathy is too much, but it is, after all, just a game. The above quotes go beyond good-natured ribbing – they’re reflective of general attitudes that “a fan of a different team is inherently different than I am.” Which is also absurd. But what’s done is done.

Concerns about the Packers’ playoff prospects, potential tie-breaker scenarios, etc – all of that is too abstract to get worked up over. Green Bay will have plenty of opportunities to atone for this.

I guess I’m burying all of it. When broached with the subject, I’ll defend the notion that the Packers were screwed, but I won’t get animated. I already feel more like a crazed fan (which is what I loathe) than an intelligent, level-headed observer (which is what I aspire to be) just by writing this article… but if you can’t let a little of the “angry fan” out after a loss like that, when can you?

In about five and a half hours, the “Martyr Bowl” (as Yahoo’s Mike Silver cleverly calls it) between the Packers and the Saints begins. And when it does, the road to the day we all look back at this and laugh about it begins to be built.

I look forward to the day we get there.

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Fifty Shades of Rage


The many homicidal faces of San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh

@BreakTheHuddle

“The sad reality is that the reason most serial killers are successful is because they blend into society.  They look and act much like everyone else except when they are satisfying their predatory appetite.” – Mark E. Safarik, M.D.

Packer fans: Remember the first, oh, seven to ten minutes of the game on Sunday? That was fun, wasn’t it? The three or so hours afterwards were gloomy and full of despair, but the opening act was delightful. It had less to do with the players than it did with the referees; there were two colossally stupid early penalties that each went in the Packers’ favor.

The first was during a punt return. The Packers forced a three-and-out on the Niners’ first possession (capped by a Clay Matthews sack) and Randall Cobb went back to receive the kick. While the ball was in the air, #37 of the Packers (Sam Shields) blocked #27 of the Niners (C.J. Spillman) in the back, which is a common penalty on punt returns.

A flag was promptly thrown, but for some reason, either due to confusion about the numbers of the players involved or because the referees on the field had never seen a football game before, the lead official got on the microphone and called an “Illegal block in the back” on the kicking team. This was ironic because the kicking team has no interest in blocking on punts, only tackling, which anyone, anywhere who knows anything about football should know. The officials marked off the yardage in the Packers’ favor and we got back to business.

Three plays later, the referees screwed up again. This time,  Aldon Smith of the Niners ran down Aaron Rodgers for a sack and a ten yard loss at the Green Bay 30. As he tripped Rodgers, the quarterback’s foot clipped Smith’s face mask, loosening his helmet in the process. As Smith stood up, he tried to adjust his helmet and it fell off, so he picked it up and began trotting back to his own huddle. No showboating, no big celebration, just business.

Smith’s helmet coming off was purely an accident.

Only one of the referees didn’t see it that way and flagged Smith for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, another 15 yards marked off for the Packers. Ripping off your own helmet in celebration is against the rules, an automatic personal foul penalty. This was, obviously, far from that. If you’re keeping track, that’s two egregious penalties resulting in a 25 yard swing in field position within the first three minutes and ten seconds of the game.

Turns out, it didn’t help the Packers much, as they didn’t do anything on that drive (nor did they in the entire first half) and the terrific advantages afforded them by replacement official bumbling went to waste. The Packers may not have gotten anything out of the crap-show that unfolded early on at Lambeau Field, but we viewers sure as hell did.

FOX’s television cameras spent a good deal of time during the morass transfixed on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who looked as though he was going to bury every man in a black-and-white striped shirt underneath the midfield ‘G’ once the game was over. We were granted passage into the man’s soul and saw him as he is: a dark, seething, maniacal creature with little or no regard for human (well, at least officials’) well-being.

Before the game, I had two images of Harbaugh: one was the prickish, passive-aggressive handshake he gave to Jim Schwartz after his Niners beat the Lions last season, which prompted an even prickier-ish, actually-aggressive response from the Detroit head coach. The other was this: he’s one heck of a football coach. San Francisco plays a physical, aggressive and intelligent brand of football, and became the second team in a row (dating back to last year’s loss against the Giants) to walk into Green Bay and push the Packers around on their home field.

That said, he makes the kinds of faces towards officials only serial killers make towards their victims. (See Morgan, Dexter and Bateman, Patrick of “American Psycho.”) Don’t believe me? Take the following quiz. Try to guess what emotions Harbaugh is displaying in each one. When you’re done, do something happy. Go to YouTube and find uplifting videos. Hug your kid. Call your mother.

Let’s begin. I now present, “The A–hole Coach Rorschach Test.”

 

1.In the following photograph, Jim Harbaugh is:

A) Happy, because the 49ers have just won the game.

B) Joyful, because an official on the field was trapped beneath B.J. Raji.

C) Exuberant, because it was completely obvious from the opening kick that the 49ers were tougher, smarter, and prepared to totally outclass a team that went 15-1 last season.

D) Spiteful, because the above photograph is one of him laughing hysterically as he verbally assaults the official, some poor s.o.b. who was working as a deli clerk in Sioux Falls, SD two weeks ago and is now making calls on national television.

Answer: D. Rage level: 3.5

 

2. In the following photograph, Jim Harbaugh is:

A) Disappointed, because the officials rejected his request to be able to play some quarterback in the game.

B) Worried, because he isn’t sure if he brought his “kill kit.”

C) Incensed, because the officials have just announced the Aldon Smith penalty.

D) Nervous, because a police officer has told him to spread his legs and keep his hands where he can see them, meaning Harbaugh is likely under arrest.

Answer: C. Rage level: 8.0

 

3. Below, the tiny specks flying out of Harbaugh’s mouth are:

A) The flesh of lead official, Dave Smith.*

B) The bones of line judge, Jim Davis.*

C) The heart of back judge, John Johnson.*

D) The spittle generated by crazy, mouth-foaming fury, which Jim is currently producing voluminously.

Answer: D. Rage level: 10.0

 

4. In the next picture, Jim Harbaugh is:

A) Asking one of the side judges to play “patty cake.”

B) Wildly demonstrating that it was Packers’ receiver James Jones who had committed pass interference, not the 49er defender.

C) Attempting to cop a feel from a lucky lady in the front row.

D) Displaying his “jazz hands” technique.

Answer: B. Rage level: 4.5

 

5. Jim Harbaugh is all the way onto the field because:

A) He is politely asking the official if he can cover “that slow-ass white boy, Jordy Nelson”, just for one play.

B) All of the other referees were avoiding him, so he had to come all the way to midfield to chew one of them out.

C) Nature’s calling and he has no idea where the bathroom is.

D) He’s a borderline psychopath.

Answer: B, although D is also an acceptable answer. Rage level: 8.5

 

6. What is Jim Harbaugh cleaning out of his teeth?

A) The flesh of lead official, Dave Smith.*

B) The bones of line judge, Jim Davis.*

C) The heart of back judge, John Johnson.*

D) Nothing. He is actually chewing his nails, waiting for the clock to run down to the 2-minute warning.

Answer: D. Rage level: 1.0

 

7. Complete the sentence: Jim looks shocked because _________.

A) Randall Cobb has just returned a punt for a touchdown.

B) A referee saw a clear ‘block in the back’ on the play.

C) A different referee came running in and overruled the first referee.

D) The Packers have somehow turned this into a close contest despite the fact that they have no business being in the game.

E) The new $12 million High-Definition replay board at Lambeau Field showed the missed call very clearly.

F) All of the above.

Answer: F. Rage level: 5.0

 

8. True or False: This is how a normal person smiles when they are happy:

A. True

B. False

Answer: B. Rage level: 0

————————————————————————

How’d you do? More importantly, how do you feel? The correct response is, “Happy, because that was kind of amusing.” The incorrect response is, “Angry, and now I’m going to choke a puppy.”

This wasn’t really meant to insult Harbaugh… okay, you got me, it was… but that doesn’t mean I’m not cognizant of what happened on Sunday. He had his team ready to go on the road and take the fight right to the Packers. I’m not sure the 49er defense missed a single tackle; and since the Green Bay offense is so dependent upon YAC (receivers making something happen with the ball after they catch it) they never got into a rhythm. All it took to generate pressure, at times, were three or four pass rushers.

The 49er offense also performed well but the Packer defense makes a lot of offenses look good. Frank Gore looked 5 years younger. Randy Moss looked 10 years younger. It was only the first week, and it’s tempting to say “it’s still early”, but Sunday’s game was troubling because it appeared to be a continuation of everything we saw last season out of the Packer defense. There’s no edge, no physical element – it’s almost as if they are conditioned to playing with a big lead and take that blase attitude into every defensive series, even when they’re tied, trailing or the game is close.

The bright side: Dom Capers and Mike McCarthy act like civilized human beings in the booth and on the sideline, respectively. We’ll never have to explain to our children that “throwing tantrums doesn’t work” while a man in a green hat goes ballistic on the television in front of them. I’m jealous of the way San Francisco plays, but I don’t think I could watch Harbaugh 16-20 weeks per year. I mean, look at this guy.

I can’t leave you with that. Here’s a picture of puppies.

There. Be happy, and go about the rest of your day.

*Names were changed to protect the identities of potential victims.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

 

Packers Training Camp, Week Six Quick Hits


Discussing cuts, the practice squad, the “final” 53 and much more from the past week in Title Town.

@BreakTheHuddle

In Ted We Trust

This is the final installment in my weekly series about the preseason happenings around Green Bay. I hope it’s been a quick, informal way to keep tabs on the team. The Packers open their 2012 season with a Sunday showdown against the San Francisco 49ers at 3:25 CST. Without further ado, here are the Week Six Quick Hits.

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Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn)

-Former Packer defensive end Jarius Wynn cleared waivers last Tuesday, as he was the first of the Packers’ remaining cuts. The timing of the move contributed to the lack of interest: Almost all the teams still wanted to see “their guys” in the exhibition finales. As of Monday he was in Tennessee for an audition / potential signing.

-Sam Shields gave the coaching staff plenty to think about with smart and physical play in the Kansas City game. It was easily his best outing of the preseason.

Jarrett Boykin

-The sixth wideout to stick with the team was a bit of a surprise – undrafted free agent Jarrett Boykin of Virginia Tech, who outlasted Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley (both of whom had a year on the practice squad under their belts). The reason? Size. Borel was 6’0, 194 (too little), Gurley 6’4 232 (too bulky), and Boykin is 6’2 218 (just right).

*BTH Note: Borel is on the practice squad again, and Gurley caught on with the Minnesota Vikings (also with the practice squad). Boykin was a bit of a surprise, but apparently he runs great routes and is a very intelligent player. Both traits likely scored big points among coaches and the quarterback.

Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod)

-Ted Thompson said before the final preseason game that he prefers his practice squad to contain the 8 best players regardless of position, but obviously, a balance must be struck.

-Offensive lineman Don Barclay’s versatility along the line (he can play three of the five positions) contributed to him making the roster.

-Anthony Levine, at one time the reputed starter at safety, was among the Packers’ final cuts. He wound up signing with the Ravens’ practice squad.

-Two of Hodkiewicz’s favorites, defensive lineman Daniel Muir and receiver Currenski Gilleylen, were also among the cuts.

Moses has made it to the promised land

-The Packers kept three undrafted rookies on the roster in 2011 and four more in 2012: Sean Richardson, Don Barclay, Jarrett Boykin, and the legendary Dezman Moses.

-After an up-and-down camp (and preseason) performance, Graham Harrell’s passer rating in the Kansas City game was a perfect 158.3.

*BTH Note: That factoid doesn’t really change a thing – if you can show me a single NFL team going into the season with a more unproven backup, let me know. It sounds obvious, and it is obvious, but if #12 misses any period of time, the team goes from contender for the postseason to a contender for a top-5 draft choice in a hurry.

Tom Silverstein (@tomsilverstein)

-The team’s tight ends were so beaten up during the final week of camp that Erik Walden, Vic So’oto and other linebackers got to catch a few passes from Rodgers during drills.

-Despite the missed time by Jennings and Finley this preseason, Mike McCarthy is happy with their conditioning.

-Andrew Quarless was placed on reserve/PUP, meaning a decision will have to be made with him around the fifth/sixth week of the season. The glut of talent at tight ends will make that an interesting conundrum.

-Silverstein also missed on Muir, who he thought was a lock for the team, as well as defensive back Otis Merrill, who was among the final cuts.

-A total of ten rookies are on the Packers’ initial 53 man roster, including the four (mentioned above) undrafted first-year players.

-The Packers’ practice squad is set, and will include: QB B.J. Coleman, RB Marc Tyler, WR Diondre Borel, TE Brandon Bostick, T Andrew Datko, G Greg Van Roten, G/T Chris Scott, and DE Lawrence Guy.

*BTH Note: The split of the active roster (at least, of those who are uninjured) are 24 offense/ 26 defense/ 3 specialists. The practice squad discrepancy is much starker, with seven offensive players lining the reserve unit. It’s not surprising to see three offensive lineman among the bunch considering the team kept just 7 (SEVEN!) on the 53-man roster. It appears Thompson kept to his word: despite having a loaded offense, the team kept the 8 best players for the practice squad, and it didn’t matter which side of the ball they were on.

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky)

-Jon Kuhn gave Aaron Rodgers a shaving cream pie to the face during a post-practice interview… and the quarterback didn’t seem thrilled with it.

-Former first-round pick Derrek Sherrod was not placed on the PUP list as many expected him to be. He could be poised for a return sooner rather than later.

-Just an FYI: Practice squad salaries DO count against the cap. Also, there are no “official” parameters in place for what a practice squad guy should make. Technically, you can pay them whatever they’ll agree to.

-No more live tweeting from the practice field. Beat writers can’t even relay who is starting with the 1st team in practice reps, meaning regular season mode has officially begun.

*BTH Note: Alleluia and Amen.

The Packers’ Roster:

Offense (24)

QB – Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell.

RB – Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Brandon Saine

FB – John Kuhn.

WR – Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin.

TE – Jermichael Finley, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor.

T – Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay.

G – Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang.

C – Jeff Saturday, Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Defense (26)

DE – Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Phillip Merling.

NT – B.J. Raji.

OLB – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses, Brad Jones.

ILB – D.J. Smith, A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore, Rob Francois, Terrell Manning.

CB – Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Brandian Ross, Davon House.

S – Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings, Sean Richardson.

Specialists (3)

K – Mason Crosby.

P – Tim Masthay.

LS – Brett Goode.

PUP (4)

OLB – Frank Zombo, TE – Andrew Quarless, T – Derek Sherrod, G – Jaymes Brooks.

Injured Reserve (6)

ILB – Desmond Bishop, OLB – Vic So’oto, TE – Eric Lair, T – Mike McCabe, RB – Du’ane Bennett, DE – Johnny Jones.

Suspended (3)

DE – Mike Neal (four games), Johnny Jolly, OLB – Erik Walden (one game).

Until next time…

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Packers Training Camp: Week Five Quick Hits


Covering the week of practice and the all-important third preseason game.

@BreakTheHuddle

Cedric Benson looked good, albeit in limited action, against his former team.

Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn)

-Mike McCarthy keeps saying Cedric Benson looks like a natural in the Packers’ backfield. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. In last Thursday’s preseason win over the Bengals, Benson twice read the back side and slipped past the pursuit for extra yardage. He looks like a real halfback – something noone’s said about a Packer in quite awhile.

-Since Jermichael Finley missed the third preseason game (due to the birth of his second child), the coaching staff faces a tough choice: play him in the finale versus the Chiefs (he needs the reps) or sit him and risk going into the season with a rusty starting tight end.

-The best player on the field in the Packer-Bengal game? Possibly Dezman Moses. His intensity, speed and strength really stick out on game film. He’s got the team made.

*BTH Note: By now, if you’ve read these training camp dispatches, you know about the Dezman Moses phenomena. He’s an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, where he played two seasons following his transfer from the University of Iowa. A second-team All-Conference USA selection his senior year, he accumulated 9.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011-12.

Listen: I know it sounds foolish, but literally every Packer writer rants and raves about the guy – and from what I’ve seen in the preseason, it’s for a good reason. He seems to be where the ball is at all times, and has found his way to the backfield on numerous occassions. He’s one reason to be (at least) cautiously optimistic about an improvement for the Packers on defense in 2012.

 

Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod)

– Linebacker Vic So’oto, who has stuck on the roster despite injury and inconsistency issues, is having a decent camp (despite battling injuries, again) and has been especially impressive in the weight room.

-The secondary is very unsettled, but for the time being, Anthony Levine may be the Packers’ starting safety.

-Former Packers’ great Jerry Kramer was snubbed, again, from recieving a Hall of Fame nomination from the Senior Committee.

-The Bengals’ first two offensive series garnered them five total yards. Dalton finished the night 5-for-17 for 40 yards. Suffice it to say, the defense looked good.

-Expect a decision Monday or Tuesday on Desmond Bishop regarding whether or not he ends up on the Injured Reserve.

-The Packers made five cuts Friday, two of whom were notable: Herb Taylor, who saw time with the starters at left tackle this preseason, and former Saint Anthony Hargrove, who was suspended for the first eight games of the season anyway. The team’s roster now sits at 85.

-Wes believes tight end Tom Crabtree, who is believed to be on the roster bubble, is more than likely to make the team. He’s an exceptional blocker, reliable, and has shown improved hands during camp.

*BTH Note: The Packer tight end situation is fascinating. Finley’s the clear starter, but he’s missed a bunch of time this preseason. D.J. Williams, a mid-round pick a year ago, draws rave reviews for his athleticism and hands and will surely make the team. Then, things get interesting.

Andrew Quarless (another former mid-round pick who’s been around a little while) has been hurt almost all of training camp and is a possibility to get cut. Ryan Taylor is a young, unheralded player known prrimarily for his blocking, but is a favorite of the coaching staff (and Aaron Rodgers). Tom Crabtree is an older, wiser, more consistent (though undoubtedly more expensive) version of Ryan Taylor.

How many tight ends will the team keep, exactly? With the offensive line and secondary injuries, there’s not a ton of roster flexibility. At this point, Quarless seems like he could be a victim of cutdown day, ditto for one of either Crabtree or Taylor. My money’s on Taylor.

 

Tom Silverstein (@tomsilverstein)

-Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson has shown a lot of growth from his rookie season and fits well in the Packers’ substitution packages. A solid guy to have on the defensive line rotation.

-Robert Francois has made the most of his time in camp. The linebacker has a chance to see the field in dime sets this season and has been a terrific special teams performer.

Hargrove

-Anthony Hargrove was just not a good fit in Green Bay. Due to his impending 8 game suspension, he got few practice reps and even fewer game reps. Teammates really loved having him around, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone take a flier on him, especially mid-season. (Note – his 8 game suspension will be served the first 8 games of the 2012 season regardless of whether or not he’s on an NFL roster.)

-According to Mike McCarthy, rookie first round pick Nick Perry was good against the Chargers, took a step back against the Browns and came on strong against the Bengals.

*BTH Note: It’s hard to expect too much from rookies, but Perry’s importance to the Packer defense cannot be understated. If he can be a pass-rusher opposing offenses have to respect, Clay Matthews might face a few one-on-one matchups as opposed to constant double and triple teams.

 

Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky)

-Dezman Moses was inserted onto the punt coverage team. He’s also on kick coverage and seems entrenched as the backup to Clay Matthews at OLB.

-Benson has been shadowing McCarthy and Rodgers since he signed with the Packers, even joining them in quarterback meetings in an attempt to absorb as much as he can about the offense.

-Marshall Newhouse had a rough night against Cincinnati, allowing pressure and getting flagged for holding and a false start.

-Defensive back Davon House will play the season with a harness on his injured shoulder and says he won’t need surgery unless it pops out again.

-All the juggling in the secondary is a cause for concern, as the team has clearly not settled nickel corner and safety spots, among others. Jarret Bush and Anthony Levine saw primary time at those respective positions against the Bengals.

*BTH Note: While no one has grabbed a hold of the open starting spots in the secondary, there shouldn’t be as much concern as you may think. Tramon Williams has been an aggressive tackler this preseason and appears to finally be healthy, something he wasn’t (at all) in 2011-12. Sure, Sam Shields’ inconsistency is maddening, but the rookies (Casey Hayward, especially) provide talented if inexperienced options should the need arise.

At least Charlie Peprah is gone. Apparently, the Bears are giving him a look. Good luck with that.

Until next time…

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!