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Friday, September 30, 2005
Game Preview: Packer (0-3) at Panthers (1-2)
by Thomas Pyc
After three disappointing games the Green Bay Packers have a total of ZERO rushing touchdowns. To add to the underachieving statistics that the Packers have generated to this point is the amount of interceptions the defense has mustered, one. If you cannot run the ball or create turnovers then winning football games is not easy to come by. A total of three points is the difference between a winless team and being above .500 in Green Bay. For the Packers to have success this season they need to execute efficiently. No more driving ending penalties, drive extending penalties (for the opposition), more ball control, more defensive playmaking and some sustainable offensive drives are all areas that this team has to improve in order to turn their season around. Impossible? No. Will this happen sooner than later? Let’s hope.
The Panthers’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense
Last week the 5’9” receiver Steve Smith racked up 170 yards and three touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins. Smith shredded the Dolphins’ secondary before and after the catch. Smith’s favorite defense is press coverage, something that the Packers frequently use. After Smith the receiving corps are performing at a mediocre level. Newly acquired Rod Gardner and second year man, Keary Colbert, have the potential to take their game up a notch but have not done so to this point. Quarterback Jake Delhomme is definitely feeling the departure of Mushin Muhammed (Chicago) and appears to be somewhat in a lull. The running back situation has been solid so far this season. Old pro Stephen Davis runs in tandem with DeShaun Foster which brings a thunder and lightning attack to the field. Davis has lost some speed but Foster’s continued development makes up for that. Former Packer, Mike Wahle, will face off against his old teammates and there is little doubt that the Panther’s coaching staff did not pick his brain for the Packers’ offensive tendencies.
Last week, the Packers’ defense held up very well for three and a half quarters versus the Bucs. But in the end the defense wore down and the Cadillac rolled his team to victory. This defense is going to keep getting better with time. Building a cohesive group takes time and practice and Jim Bates has the knowledge and experience to do it. You can see the improvement by Ahmad Carroll and Kenny Peterson. Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett have raised their play level as well. Offenses are throwing away from Al Harris and noticing that they cannot run through KGB’s side anymore. This week is Na’il Diggs second week back on the field. Both Diggs and fellow outside linebacker Robert Thomas should be working at full speed soon and really start-wreaking havoc on the opposition. Unfortunately for this growing group there are several individuals showing up on the injury report. Carroll, Hawkins, Kampman, Manning, Roman and Thomas are all currently listed.
The Packers’ Offense vs. The Panthers’ Defense
For the second week in a row Favre and Co. will get to face off against a Cover 2 defense. Led by defensive end Julius Peppers this group has playmakers at every level. Middle linebacker Dan Morgan has been healthy and making a difference and in the secondary veteran free safety Mike Minter keeps the group in line and on task. Linebacker Will Weatherspoon is currently listed as questionable but he can also make a difference if the medical staff allows him onto the field. But with as many playmakers as this group has they have surrendered over 22 points in each of their losses. Last week they were lit up for 27 points by the Dolphins who are far from an offensive juggernaut.
If rookie running back Ronnie Brown and journeyman Gus Frerotte can light up the scoreboard on this Panthers’ defense than both Brett Favre and Ahman Green have to be licking their chops at the chance. But with Mike Wahle spilling the beans on the Packer offense it is going to be on Sherman and Rosselly to inject some new twists into the gameplan that will render Wahle’s expertise worthless. The Packers offensive line out weighs the Panthers’ defensive line without their all-pro Kris Jenkins and should have the muscle to open some holes for the running game but the difference is going to be whether or not tight end Bubba Franks and fullback William Henderson are playing well. Those two gentlemen are going to be expected to get to the linebacker level and take them out of the play. For the second week in a row Packer receivers will face cornerbacks without top speed. Hopefully they worked more on the deep ball with Brett this week.
The Bottom Line
An 0-4 start would be traumatic to this team’s ego. Right now, there is still time for the Packers to rebound and make a run at the division. If Favre can stretch the field with Fergie and Driver the running room should improve for Ahman. On the other side of the ball it is all about stopping Steve Smith. Al Harris typically takes the opposition’s number one receiver but Ahmad Carroll matches up better against Smith physically. The game might feature two teams that are under .500 but it has the makings of a great matchup. The Packers can win this game simply by playing mistake free football, something that is easier said than done.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Favre isn't the problem!
Last year I read where one writer chastised the Packers for not bringing in better talent to support Favre. I took offense at the remark, and thought to myself: we have players.
*This year, we lost JWalk in the first game - our only legitimate premier receiver.
*Our remaining starting receivers are legitimate 2nds and 3rds; one of them rapidly putting to rest any doubts about why his greatest value to the team has been on special teams - not at flanker.
*We have a rookie, a born-again never-was and a recovering member of the hot tub club keeping guard on the O-line. It appears that they are improving. Or is it that Favre has given up on 7-step drops, in favor of keeping his tusch off the ground? (Bevell has been seen timing Favre's releases; wants to get them down from 1.3 seconds to 1.2....)
*Perhaps, because of the aforementioned O-line studs, our running game has no punch; without Rivera and Wahle, it appears to have no wiggle, either.
*Yesterday, Ben "hands of" Steele was our best option at TE (excluding the great pretender, #71, of course.) Need I say more?
I look at this team and think, "I finally understand what that writer meant. We have no players."
Yet the offense took on one of the best defenses in the NFL Sunday and somehow managed enough scoring opportunities to win. Sure, they missed some, too. But Favre, Fergy, Donald, Chatman, Murphy, Green and Hendu didn't leave 4 pts on the field. Special Teams did.
Favre hurting this team?
Get real. Go watch some other games. Find another QB who will score 6 points by hitting his #2 (formerly special teams standout) receiver with a perfectly thrown 39-yd pass on 4th-and-4. It surely makes the ESPN highlight reel when it happens.
"Oh, but if he would just manage the game and quit making those risky decisions......"
He'd manage 6 or 7 possessions per game, with exactly 3 plays each. And the highlight of GB football would be watching B J Sander do his thing in the Pro-Bowl.
This team has no margin for error. But that is not Favre's fault. He is a victim of his own success: he lead the team to such success that GB has only had one high draft pick in 10 years; propped up a marginal coach who has ridden him to respectable regular season records, but had his inadequacies exposed in post-season competition; and spoiled a generation of GB fans into believing that there is nothing extraordinary about making the playoffs year after year. In fact, it's Super Bowl or bust.
Favre isn't perfect, so he isn't blameless. But he surely isn't the biggest reason this team is 0-3. Unfortunately, until Ahmad Carroll manages to run into the end zone with his booty, Favre's willingness to try to make something out of nothing may be the only hope that this team won't go 0-16.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Game Review: Bucs 17 Packers 16
by Mark Lawrence
Tampa Bay, a 2-0 team on the rise, came to play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field. Tampa Bay was favored by 3 points - an insult the Packers have not faced at home in several years, and very few times in the past decade.
Tampa Bay is a team that had been in free fall since their SB win three years ago. However, just before hitting the ground they drafted a rather extrordinary RB, Cadillac Williams. This young man has seemingly single handedly turned the Bucs around.
The Packers are a team that has been an offensive juggernaut for a decade, and struggled on defense for several years. This too has been turned around. The Packers, having hired a new DC and drafted several defensive players, are now playing respectable if not dominating defense. Today, the Packers defense held the Buccs offense to 20-24 points (making allowances for the Bucs shutting down with a two minutes to go at the Packers 20 yards line). More to the point, the Bucs were held to 17 points until the last 5 minutes of the game.
Green Bay's offense is starting a rookie at right guard, a rather pedestrian FA at left guard, and a far less then 100% and possible over the hill veteran at center. There are few things in the NFL that are tolerated less than being soft up the center. Javon Walker, the Packer's pro-bowl WR is lost for the year to an ACL injury. Ahman Green, the Packer's pro-bowl RB, was held to 58 yards on 20 carries, a bit under 3 yards per carry. Traditionally the Packers have handled the Bucs defense with a healthy dose of running. Why so few carries this day?
24 carries, 24 passes for Green Bay, 38 carries, 26 passes for Tampa Bay. Numbers like these make you wonder immediately about time of possession and turnovers. As well they should. Green Bay's 11 possessions resulted in a fumble, TD, 3&out, int, TD, 3&out, bad FG, 6&out, int, FG, int. Two of the three interceptions were off the hands of Green Bay WRs who neither caught the ball nor batted it down. One cannot survive long on offensive performances like this.
Defensively, Green Bay help up well for most of the game, holding Tampa Bay scoreless for a bit over two quarters and holding Cadillac to 80 yards on 24 carries, a very respectable 3.3 yards per rush average. However, in the 4th quarter with the game on the line, the Green bay defense having been on the field for 29 minutes finally folded up, yielding 92 yards in 11 carries to Cadillac for a rather crushing average of 8.3 yards per carry.
What is holding up the 0-3 Packers? There is no long runs to force the safeties up into the box. Green had a long run on the day of 13 yards, and indeed that 13 yard run was his longest of the season to date. Since losing Walker, defenses have had no particular reason to honor the Green Bay long passing game. Playing without a threat of a big offensive play has choked Green Bay's opportunities down to nearly nothing.
The defense continues to improve each game - this game they held the opponent scoreless for a bit over half the game, there were only two plays of over 20 yards given up and both those in the 4th quarter, and the defense committed only 4 penalties, none of which were committed by the defensive backs. Indeed, Ahman Carrol redeamed himself with a very impressive interception.
The Offense continues to sputter due to poor blocking, poor protection, lack of downfield threat, and lack of breakaway speed. The offensive line seems to be slowly improving. However, the loss of playmaker Javon Walker and the poor performance of playmaker Ahman Green have hamstrung this offense. The outlook for improvement is mixed: as the temperature comes down, one can hope that Green's asthma eases up and that his performance improves. As rookie Terrance Murphy improves, one can hope that he can provide a much needed downfield threat. The outlook for winning a game soon is not completely hopeless.
Next up, the Carolina Panthers on MNF. Both teams desperately need a win, the Packers so that they have some hope of salvaging their season, and the Panthers to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Panthers will no doubt be motivated to avenge their rather embarassing home loss to the Packers on MNF a year ago. One must expect that the Las Vegas line will favor the Panthers by about 5 points. However, Packers HC Mike Sherman has a long proven record of winning difficult games in difficult circumstances, especially on the road.
The Future, 2006 and beyond
We do not have the personnel to do anything this season. Thirteen years of winning football have finally caught up to us. At best we win a very weak division and lose our first playoff game.
I don't care what anyone says, we are rebuilding, and have been doing so since TT came on board. The lack of FA moves, and the moves to fix the cap, along with keeping young ball players instead of veterans for depth confirms that to me. It will take at least another couple of drafts to challenge for a divisional title (assuming we aren't the weakest division in the NFL).
Reckless is right about our personnel. We need players every where. We are going to need a completely new backfield, anywhere from 1-3 new starters on the OL, and a couple of quality DL. We may need another quality DB, as I don't think Harris will be around when ever this team regains it competiveness. The thing about a 3-4 is that it is easier to find LBs than quality DL, and you have a lot of potential special teams players. Even so, you've still got to have good ball players. And the secret to that is simply you have got to draft well. NE had a down year before its SB run and selected Seymour, who anchors the DL. I'd suggest that without him NE wouldn't have won three SBs and maybe not one. We are going to need a couple of drafts and hopefully hit on one.
To me, the key to MS is not the number of wins this year. It is how well he develops the young ball players on the team. If the young guys come along and play well at the end of the year, and seem to be developing, then TT I think will keep him. If the young guys are not developing we need some one else.
I'd like to see Rodgers start to play some, perhaps a series a half, and in any situation in which we are way behind or way ahead.
The Patriots vs. the Packers, Similarities and Differences
Numbers-wise, the 2005 Patriots don’t look all that much different than the Packers in several categories. The Patriots have committed 29 penalties for 250 yards. The Packers have committed 28 penalties for 206 yards. The Patriots rank 10th in total defense and 18th in scoring defense, while the Packers rank 16th and 15th respectively. The Patriots have just 1 interception on defense. The Packers have 1 interception on defense. The Patriots’ defense has allowed a 3.4 yards per carry rushing average. The Packers’ run defense has held opponents to 3.3 yards per carry. The Patriots have turned the ball over 6 times. The Packers have turned it over 9 times. The Patriots have one of the NFL’s worst ranked running games, with 64 rushing yards a game and 2.5 yards a carry. The Packers have rushed for 79 yards a game and 3.3 yards per carry. The Patriots have run the ball 25.7 times a game. The Packers have run the ball 24 times a game. Corey Dillon has 160 yards rushing through 3 games. Ahman Green has 170.
Those are quite a few similarities. The primary differences can probably be narrowed down to two factors: The Packers have allowed Joey Harrington, Trent Dilfer, and Brian Griese---three mediocre-at-best quarterbacks---to compile a combined 105.8 passer rating in 3 games, while the Patriots have held Collins, Delhomme, and Roethelisberger to a combined 78.3 passer rating.
The other difference is, of course, the performance of the quarterbacks. Yesterday, for example, Brady went 12 for 12 for 168 yards and no interceptions in the 4th quarter against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Favre was 2 for 6 for 10 yards and 2 interceptions in the 4th quarter against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Brady played brilliantly in the first game against the Raiders. The Patriots lost their only game when Brady played poorly in the 4th quarter of the game against the Panthers (8 of 16 for 62 yards and a lost fumble). But that’s what usually happens: Games usually come down to how well or poorly the quarterbacks play. Especially in crunch time.
And it’s been Brady, the AFC’s current passing yards leader, who has made Belichick look like a genius for 4 years now.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Football 101-Three Jet Toledo
Three Jet Toledo
This week’s Play of the Week is Driver’s TD vs. the Browns. Zebra (three WRs, TE and one RB) 3 Jet “which is a term protection”, trips left (formation).
CLE had shown a tendency to play a “two man coverage” on third down, meaning CB was “manning up” (covering) Terrence Murphy (85), N was “manning up” Donald Driver (80) and C was “manning up” Robert Ferguson (89). Also, M was “locked up on” David Martin (87) and W was 'locked up on" Ahman Green (30). In other words, the five receivers were all covered one-on-one by the CBs and the LBs. The two safeties “expanded” to play “half safeties” (on the diagram, Sherman showed the safeties going deeper and toward their respective sidelines in order to play two deep zone.
Sherman, “On this play we pushed 87 through here”. He then drew an arrow going straight up the field. 80 ran what we used to call a “square in”. He “pushed it up” to where N lined up – about 4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage (LOS) - and made a sharp cut to his right. 85 ran a deeper square in – cutting to his right at about the level of where S1 lined up, about 14 yards beyond the LOS. 30 ran a “check wide” to his left (Sherman drew an arrow showing Green going to his left), which drew W to the offense’s left. 89 ran a go route.
Sherman said if Brett sees a single safety defense instead of the 2-deep they anticipate, he can go to 89 who is single covered. Otherwise, they are working the combination on the left side of the formation. He referred to the routes as “levels” 80 runs a route at the first level and 85’s route is at the second level. What happened, Sherman explained, is 87 actually ran a pick (Sherman said he “ran interference”). As N tried to cover 80, he was “rubbed off” and unable to cover 80. Against this defense, 80 is Brett's first read and 85 is his second read. Sherman made the point that something they did well during the game was coverting 3rd downs: They were 10 for 14 on 3rd down including, of course, this play.
The tape showed a couple of discrepancies. First, Sherman said Bubba Franks was the TE when it was Martin. Also, Green didn’t go directly to his left as the diagram showed but stepped forward, angling to his left a little and then came back to help Clifton as E1 got by Clifton’s outside shoulder. The tape showed a big gap open between Clifton (LT) and Klemm (LG) which gave W a clear path to Favre. But he followed Green as he went to block E1. The threat of Green going to the left flat kept him from rushing Brett.
The play took longer to develop than the diagram indicated. Brett took a 5-step drop. The ball was placed on the left hash mark and Driver lined up more than 10 yards to the left of that hash mark. He caught the ball about 5-yards to the right of the right hash mark. The tape did show that the two defenders almost ran into each other and M definitely got in N’s way. It also showed 87’s route – he kind of worked his way up field but to the inside a little. It wasn’t a “clean” route.
The play worked because of the pick (which certainly was legal by the way) but it turned into a TD because Robert Ferguson sustained his block downfield for a very long period of time.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Game Preview: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Packers (0-2)
by Thomas Pyc
The Battle of the Bays is back again for the first time since November 2003. The two teams enter this game with opposite momentum but obviously similar goals, winning this game. Winning games in Packer country is the only acceptable way to play (or coach) in Green Bay and unfortunately that’s not the way the season has started. Down in Tampa, people are talking about getting back to the Super Bowl. A sound football philosopher would tell you that you need to run the ball and play good defense to win on Sundays, the Bucs are definitely doing both those things very well. But no game in the NFL is a foregone conclusion in these days of parity and that’s why they play on Sunday.
The Buccaneers’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense
Tampa Bay’s offense has been running as smooth as a Cadillac this season, one they got right off the NFL Draft lot. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has been a solid contributor to their attack and currently leads the NFL in rushing. The kid runs hard, fast and without regard for anyone’s health including his own. Head coach, John Gruden, used plenty of beef last week and grounded out a victory against the Buffalo Bills. The Bucs do have some threats in the passing game with second-year man Michael Clayton, speedy vet Joey Galloway and surprising rookie tight-end Alex Smith but quarterback Brian Griese has not been put into two many tough situations. Between Griese and an overachieving offensive line there is room for error on the offensive side of the ball.
Jim Bates’ defense followed up a pleasant performance with one bad enough to give Packer fans a migraine. Shoddy tackling, miscommunication and a lack of playmaking caused this group’s progress to stop. Another shaky performance might send them directly into reverse. Na’il Diggs will be on the field for the first time this season and his contributions are definitely needed.
The entire Packers front seven will need to be on top of their game and ready to get physical if they want to slow the Buccaneer running attack. The importance of group tackling in order to slow down Williams was hopefully stressed early and often this week and practice. An important key to putting themselves in a position to take on Williams as a team will be coping with the heavy dose of motion and shifting the Bucs’ offense uses. Rookie safety Nick Collins and fellow safety Mark Roman have to work to alleviate the communication problems that put the Packers at a disadvantage last week.
The Packers’ Offense vs. the Buccaneers’ Defense
Brett Favre is not talking like he cares about the history he is currently making but if the Packers offense cannot put together some clock-consuming scoring drives those historical records might be the only positive thing fans have to talk about after this year.
The Green Bay offense looks exactly like an offense that has two new guards and is missing their top wide receiver should look like, impotent. Now tight end Bubba Franks is listed and questionable (has yet to practiced this week) and disappointing veteran David Martin will be expected to help the Packers’ rushing attack improve. Speaking of disappointing veterans, wide receiver Robert Ferguson needs to help keep the opposition from cheating up on the running game. Ferguson has lacked any sort of consistent contribution that is going to be necessary for the Packers’ offense to give opposing defenses unfavorable matchups.
In Tampa, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has his group leading the NFL in defense. The unit as a whole has been fast and physical. Former Vikings’ defensive lineman Chris Hovan has reinvented himself as a threat to offenses in Kiffin’s defense. The front four of the Buccaneers is playing better than any other defensive line in the NFL. The linebackers (lead by Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks) are filling accordingly and creating turnovers and using the Cover 2 approach Kiffin has solidified a slow-than-average secondary. Well-timed pressure and playing with an attitude is what gives this unit its identity. From defensive end Simeon Rice to Super Bowl MVP safety Dexter Jackson this unit appears to be ready to make Tampa Bay a serious contender early in the 2005 season.
The Bottom Line
The Packers’ rushing attack has to have a great game to pull up Tampa’s safeties and allow for Donald Driver and friends to give Favre an opportunity to attack down the field. On defense, the Packers obligation to the run might put them in a position to give up plays in the passing game. They cannot afford to give Brian Griese the time that Trent Dilfer had last week to pick apart the secondary. The defensive line has to have a stellar performance.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Football 101-Three Jet Double Go Zebra Arrow
Three Jet Double Go Zebra Arrow
This is the first “play of the week” from a regular season game. Unfortunately it didn’t result in a TD and even more unfortunate, this is the play on which Javon Walker was injured. It was called on third down. This is the play call: East Right (formation) Minus (RB is in “minus” position) Three Jet (personnel) Double Go (two “go” routes) Zebra Arrow (83’s route).
Mike Sherman did not put any of these numbers on the board, I have included them in an attempt to make it easier to describe the play. I could not identify the player who lined up at the “??” position. It may have been Robert Ferguson or more likely a fullback, since "three jets", 80, 83, and 84 were already on the field but I just couldn’t tell.
Detroit had shown a tendency to play “middle safety” (one deep safety) on 3rd and medium and Sherman called this play anticipating that would be the defense on this play. Detroit lined up in “two shell” (two safeties deep, or cover two) but at the snap they brought S1 “down weak” (came toward the line of scrimmage (LOS) on the weak side of the formation) to “marry up” (cover) the RB and S went to the deep middle (deep behind T). The CBs were “locked up in man coverage” so Sherman got the defense he was anticipating.
B and N “banjo” the routes of 83 (Chatman) and ??. This coverage is like a “switch” in basketball where two defenders simultaneously switch to cover the other’s man. It’s man-to-man coverage with B covering the “inside” route (of either ?? or 83) and N covering the outside route of either. This coverage is designed to prevent the defenders from being “picked”. Again, a “pick” in basketball is a good analogy: If B was supposed to cover ?? and N was supposed to cover 83 no matter what and ?? and 83 did a cross, the defenders might run into one another. Switching allows them to avoid hitting each other and the “other” receiver.
Sherman said Detroit ran a “spinner” defense with E1, B1, T, E*, and E all rushing the passer on this play. By the way, E* is a rush end lined up as a linebacker. RB (Green) picked up B1 and although T got some penetration, Favre had time to throw.
80 (Driver) and 84 (Walker) each ran “go” routes and run straight down the field. ?? ran a basic crossing route: He looped behind where 83 lined up and ran to whereS lined up and then cut toward the middle of the field (to his left), about 10 yards beyond the LOS. 83 ran a "zebra arrow" route. He makes it look like he’s running a “drive route” by looping toward where E* lined up. By “looping” I mean 83 doesn’t make a “square”, 90 degree, cut as ?? does on his cut where S was lined up. Instead he ran a “rounded” route. His job is to sell the defenders on the idea that he’s going to continue to his left. When he gets to about where E* lined up he stopped and went to his right, parallel to the LOS and just a couple of yards beyond the LOS. By faking an inside route and then going toward the right flat, he “gains leverage” on B.
84 (Walker) is single-covered and he “presses” the CB, “stacked him” and went right by him. By “stacked him” I believe Sherman is referring to a fake Walker made - as if he was going to break to the inside. Sherman comments that he didn’t see Walker commit the penalty he was called for. He saw the CB reach out for Walker and Walker just pushed his hands away. Walker beat the one-on-one coverage and caught the pass and was forced out of bounds inside Detroit's 5-yard line.
The Sharper Analogy, For those who feel Favre hurts us
I did some thinking lately. The latest barrage of Favre-is-bad really made me sit and think about the arguments. As usual, I can only express myself intelligently in analogy, so allow me to go...
Last season, the argument was presented that Favre threw too many interceptions for us to win, and we needed a more efficient, safe passer, like Tom Brady.
This argument suddenly hit the skids when it was pointed out that Tom Brady finished with 14 interceptions (which was above the magic interception total, which was then raised slightly).
Then, the argument switched to Favre threw too many interceptions in the POST-season (not to be confused with the regular season, where it apparently now was okay to throw interceptions).
Now, it being the regular season, the argument has come back, except what we hear now is that Favre shouldn't throw ANY interceptions. Why? Because he is a highly-paid leader that eats up too much salary cap room to throw interceptions.
I gave this some thought.
True, he is a leader, and should be expected to live up to his pay. After all, every player for the Packers who has signed a lucrative contract in the past several seasons has lived up to that contract, with the exception of Favre, of course.
Interceptions are an accepted part of the game. Even the most thrifty of passers must still expect to throw one at least every other game, and most nearly one a game, if not more.
Last year, Brett Favre finished fifth in interceptions in the league (17). However, he finished 14th in interception percentage (3.1%). That's about middle of the pack, and goes to prove that Brett is again throwing the ball too often. By the way, his percentage was better than Matt Hasselback's, Ben Rothlisburger's, and Michael Vick's, and Tom Brady's was 3.0%.
In addition, he was 10th in passer rating (92.4), 5th in yardage, and 4th in touchdowns.
Yes, yes, yes...the anti-Favre excuse-o-meter kicks in. He had a great o-line, he had all-pros all around him, the sun was in all the other quarterbacks' eyes.
His one bugaboo, however, seemed to have some positive balance. Towanda made the comment earlier today that 2 goods for 1 bad isn't good enough. Luckily for Brett, with an interception percentage of 3.0%, his percentage of goods/bads is much better than that.
Anyway, I digress. The Sharper analogy.
Last season, the Packers ranked 15th in giveaways (27). About middle of the pack.
Last season, the Packers ranked LAST in takeaways (15). That's LAST, if you missed it.
So, let's do the Favre analogy on last year's defense.
It is suggested that, because Favre is an overpaid leader, that his interceptions make us a worse team.
So, let's look at last year's miserable defense, which, if interceptions and turnovers are the end-all, be-all, should be just as important to us winning games as making other teams lose.
(Of course, this isn't actually true. Turnovers only affect Brett Favre and the Packers.)
So, we had an overpaid defensive leader last season, who did not produce many turnovers. Yep, Darren Sharper, a former all-pro, a former team leader and playmaker, had 4 only interceptions. Sure, two were returned for touchdowns, but screw it...he didn't make enough of them.
He's an overpriced player making too many dumb plays and not enough turnovers.
And remember, turnovers make the world go round.
So, what do we do? We get rid of him. Ha ha! That will show him, that overpriced leader, that if you don't get enough turnovers, we will use that money elsewhere!! Ha ha! We win!
We now have 0 takeaways in two games. If you are an expert mathmatician, you can calculate we are on pace to have 0 takeaways for the year. More math: that is less than the 15 we had last season.
BUT...at least we're not overpaying the person to NOT make interceptions!!!!
Yes, sir, Nick Collins will drop interceptions that fall into his lap! But, he's not being overpaid to do it, so it's okay.
Mark Roman will fall on his face being faked out by a tight end still 10 yards away, but at least we're not overpaying for it!!!
In other words, we're happier with low-priced mediocrity. Right?
This is the odd disease I fear with Brett Favre. People are on some sort of agenda to prove his four interceptions this year make him such a liability to the team, that they are unwilling to take into account the positives that he contributes.
But, we can also get rid of Favre. And Rodgers or Nall can come into the starting role and throw 14-17 interceptions themselves.
BUT...at least we wouldn't be overpaying for the interceptions!!!
Good grief! Are we shopping for our players at Wal-Mart???
Do you honestly think that Nall is going to be able to do any better if asked to pass 44 times a game? Do you honestly think Rodgers is going to not throw interceptions when the running game is abandoned, and defenses can sit back and wait for the ball? Do you honestly think either guy can truly lead the team in a better way than Favre?
Do you honestly think that Brett's two interceptions were the sole reason we lost last week?
This latest argument from the Favre Hate Agenda is simply ludicrous, and as soon as this is read, the agenda will switch to something else to paint a black mustache on the face of #4.
Does he take up a good chunk of salary cap room? Absolutely.
Did the Minnesota Vikings prove that if you go out and spend $15 million dollars on defensive free agents, your team is instantly better? Well, in the offseason, sure, but funny how money doesn't buy a good team when you actually get on the field. Or leaders.
I've always said that Favre shoulders a good share of blame in a loss. He takes some blame for two throws he'd like to have back against the Browns.
But to classify what he did in the second half as "garbage time" is biased and unfair.
To say his interceptions are hurting the team is true. To say they are the biggest reason this team is losing is complete and utter bias.
I have no problem with people stating opinions about Brett, suggesting that he's washed up, too old or crippled, too distracted to lead the team. Who knows, you might be right. I just wish this team had half his fight in them.
But you better be prepared to place Aaron Rodgers under the same intense microscope that Favre is under. I know I will place the same expectations on Rodgers that people do on Favre, counting his every misread and dumb throw, keeping a tally of his interceptions, and posting his efficiency rating in my signature.
I really don't care how much salary cap room he takes up. If a quarterback is to blame for the entire loss if he throws an interception, then that is the expectation for the heir apparent, too.
If that sounds unfair and immature, you're absolutely right.
Game Review: Browns @ Packers
by Mark Lawrence
The lowly Browns (30-66 since rejoining the NFL) came to Lambeau field, in what looked like a good tune-up game for the Packers. The Browns, quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer (0-7 in Lambeau field), are perhaps the least talented team in pro football. Their only noteworthy assets would be new wide receiver Braylon Edwards and new coach Romeo Crennel.
Meanwhile, the Packer, coming off a very painful loss in Detroit, were misfiring on all eight cylinders. The part-new secondary continued with their well established inability to play an effective zone coverage. The new linebackers are also having assignment troubles. The new o-line is having problems with pass protection, with run blocking that involves pulling, and with the Packers signature U-71 package. In addition, the Packers are effectively playing without two of their three play makers: wide receiver Javon Walker is out for the year with a torn ACL, and running back Ahman Green is apparently struggling with asthma and is unable to play more than a couple quarters of football.
Romeo Crennel, previously the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, has well established tendencies and put these to good use against the Packers. The Patriots believe in defending run downs and passing downs very differently. For running downs, they favor the 3-4 alignment with seven DLs and LBs in the box. For passing downs, they favor either a 4-3 alignment with 4 DLs rushing the passer, or a quarter package where they rush three, put a linebacker into close coverage, and drop seven into a cover-two zone defense. Crennel's philosophy is clearly that top NFL quarterbacks are rarely phased by the blitz anymore, so he rarely blitzes. Instead, he doubles every receiver and waits for the Bledsoes, Mannings, Roethlisbergers and Favres of this world to make their inevitable mistakes.
The listless Packers continued their offensive ineffectiveness left over from the Detroit game for three quarters. With Green unable to shoulder more than a half load, and Walker unavailable to stretch the field, Crennel's job was to stop the run, bull rush Favre, and drop so many men into zones that where ever Favre looked there were two defenders salivating over the prospects of an interception.
The Packers OL continued their poor run blocking, limiting Green to 54 yards on 16 carries, a very pedestrian 3.4 yards per carry average with a long run of 10 yards. This kind of running game will never pull a safety up into the box and free up the middle of the field. One could hope that in time the Packers running game would take its toll on the defenders; unfortunately Green ran out of breath before the defense. So much for a dominating running game.
In pass protection, the Browns said they found looking at tape that the Packers center and guards could be bull rushed. The Packers OL was considerably better in pass protection than against Detroit, but still Favre was hurried and moderately harassed by the 3 or 4 man rush, and his receivers proved completely unable to beat the 7 and 8 man zones for three full quarters.
On defense, the Packers held up reasonably well. On the last play of the Browns first drive, Packers DC Jim Bates grew frustrated by his DLs inability to reach Dilfer. This frustration was a bit difficult to understand - in the previous week the Browns faced the far stronger defense of the Ravens, and did not yield a single sack. None the less, Bates called for a blitz. The Packers DBs spend essentially all their practice time working on press and man coverage, and seem completely clueless in a zone. Sure enough, when called upon to play a zone behind a blitz, they promptly lost track of the Browns TE and gave up an easy TD. However, that mistake was not repeated for a long time - for the next 40 minutes of football, the Packers defense was able to keep the Browns out of the end zone, and keep the game to a one score difference.
The Packers all but lifeless offense, however, was completely unable to produce points. Their next 6 possessions ended in an interception, a false start / punt, a bull rush sack and punt, 3 and out, an interception in the end zone, and a botched snap and pair of incompletions followed by a field goal,
Most of this time, the Packers bend but don't break defense bent but didn't break, holding the score to a very manageable 13 to 7. Unfortunately, in spite of the earlier lesson, a blitz was called in the late third quarter, and 12 year veteran Trent Dilfer was inexplicably able to pick it up and exploit the Packers zone confusion, resulting in an 80 yard score and a lead of 19 to 7 (extra point blocked).
The Packers offense, after some 8 quarters of near complete ineffectiveness, finally found a rhythm and managed to score a field goal and a touchdowns - doubly impressive when you figure in that they had to eliminate the false start penalties, stop the Browns bull rush, and work with no running back (Ahman was all but completely unavailable in the second half apparently due to the aforementioned asthma) and no deep threat WR. In the middle of the fourth quarter, the score was a very competitive 19 to 17, and the game was suddenly looking very winnable.
Then another blitz. They say in the NFL "Live by the blitz, die by the blitz." My response is that for the last 18 games, the Packers blitzing is the football equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with Dirty Harry's .44 magnum. The Packers third blitz on the day resulted in a third Browns TD on the day, another quick pass to the TE outlet receiver and a 57 yard TD. This time we were treated to the sight of 355 pound Grady Jackson being the only Packer trying to chase down the TE. Although Favre was able to marshall up the troupes for another touchdown, it was a case of too little too late.
Absent the three poorly thought out and ill-fated blitzes, the Packers defense held the Browns to 50 yards on 20 carries, and 18/21 for about 200 yards. These are perfectly reasonable numbers. But three big mistakes, three big plays, one painful loss.
The Packers have proven completely inept at playing zone, which means they are completely unable to blitz. I don't see this as a major problem: it's very difficult to rattle experienced NFL quarterbacks with a blitz package, but the Patriots have shown clearly that it's very to stop even Payton Manning with 8 men in coverage. The Packers have more than enough man power to implement this strategy: CBs Carroll, Harris, Thomas, and Horton are quite accomplished at playing the press front end of such a package, and safeties Roman, Little, and Collins should be very adequate to back them up, leaving Barnett to roam the middle of the field for quick runs or outlet passes. It's completely beyond me why a bend but don't break defense doesn't fall back on this very tried and true defense against top notch passers.
Next week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of their post-SB self destruction, come to Green Bay. The Bucs are excellent at playing the cover-2 zones that have historically given Favre so much trouble, and with Green most likely unavailable for 25+ carries the Packers will not be able to wear down the undersized Bucs front four. The outlook for the Packers scoring more than 17 points is poor. Fortunately, the Bucs have a below average passing game, and the Packers are not too bad at stopping the run. If we manage to make it through a game without feeling lucky and blowing our defensive heads clean off, it should be very possible to limit the Bucs offense to 13 to 17 points. The Packers have all the tools it takes to win this game, if they play smart and stay patient.
The Packers also have all the tools they need to lose this game, if they force passes and call blitzes in an artificial panic.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Most of us expected the D to be problematic. It won’t get better overnight.
So Bates is off the hook because he’s the new DC, and expecting immediate results with limited talent is expecting too much. I completely agree.
But the O? The one unit on the team that most thought would have the fewest issues, has performed lousy against two of the poorest Ds in the league (you see, your argument works both ways). There’s NO excuse for the poor O play. I don’t care if we’re missing 2 Pro bowl guards - that’s no excuse.
So Larry Beightol has no excuse for failing to immediately remake Klemm and Whitticker into Pro Bowl caliber guards? Why doesn’t your “it won’t get better overnight” approach apply with Beightol and his ability to “coach up” our new guards?
By the way, I, for one, expected the offense to regress this year without Wahle and Rivera. Now that we’ve lost Walker, our 2nd best playmaker on the team, my expectations for the offense have taken another huge hit.
We lost Taylor and Timmerman before and it didn’t kill us.
In 1998, after we lost Taylor, the Packers’ rushing attack averaged 3.4 yards per carry, 29th in the league, 95 rushing yards a game (25th), and Brett threw 23 interceptions. In 1999, after we lost Timmerman too, our rushing attack averaged 94.9 rushing yards a game and Brett threw 23 interceptions. But back in 1997, with both Taylor and Timmerman as our guards, the Packers finished 12th (119.3 yards per game) in rushing yards and 11th (4.2) in yards per attempt, and Brett threw 16 interceptions. The Packers also allowed only 26 sacks in 1997. They allowed 39 and 36 in ’98 and ’99. While losing Timmerman and Taylor didn’t “kill us,” I think there’s chance that breaking in two new guards in two years probably disrupted the chemistry on that line. But now we’re breaking in two new guards in the SAME year, with one being a journeyman and the other a rookie. And the guys they’re replacing were, unlike Timmerman and Taylor, some of the best regarded in the NFL at their positions. Already Brett’s been sacked 6 times in 2 games, and he’s been knocked down 10 other times, and our running game has petered out by the second half of each game. I think it’s quite possible there’s a connection.
Fact of the matter is, this offense is REGRESSING under Mike Sherman’s "leadership".
Brett’s getting older, talking openly about retirement yet again. Henderson is nearly washed up. Walker is out for the year. Flanagan looks like his injuries have finally caught up with him, and he maybe on a downward spiral. We have two very mediocre guards who replaced two excellent ones. We have only one legitimate starting receiver. Those are some of the reasons why this offense is likely to continue to regress in 2005. Look, Minnesota lost Moss and Birk, and now see what’s happened over there (Culpepper has 10 turnovers, 0 TD passes). That’s the impact that even ONE player can make. I’d expect that Green will have trouble running all season. The fact that the Packers currently rank 9th in total offense and are tied for 3rd in 3rd down conversion percentage (50%) is astonishing considering how poorly they’ve played on offense.
The Packers have lost 4 Pro Bowl players since last season. Take away 4 Pro Bowlers from any team and you’re likely to see some regression. That’s because when you don’t have the players, when you don’t have the talent, it’s difficult to perform well or win. That applies to Bates and Beightol (whom you like, because they're high-energy types) as much as it applies to Sherman and Rossley (whom you don't, because they're not).
(Rick's response to a post in our Forums)
Friday, September 16, 2005
TACKLES in 2005, Defensive Analysis
In my limited experience, the players who make tackles can say a lot about the quality of the defensive effort as a team.
The best situation is when the Defensive Linemen make the tackles. The entire defense is usually designed so that the Linebackers amass the highest totals, and when they DON'T, it's easier to conclude there is a problem. If the LBs have the most tackles, IMO, the yards per carry stat can tell us whether they're making tackles facing the opponent's goaline, or chasing after a ball carrier downfield.
I think if the Free Safety is making more tackles than the Strong Safety, you've got a poor pass defense, meaning you're letting the receivers catch the ball versus "bringing someone up on running plays". I might be totally wrong about that.
Looking at last year's stats, we saw,
Nick Barnett total 123 tackles.
an average of 7.66 per game
Na'il Diggs total 80 tackles
an average of 5 per game
Mark Roman total 72 tackles
an average of 4.5 per game
Darren Sharper total 70 tackles
an average of 4.375 per game
Aaron Kampman total 67 tackles
an average of 4.1875 per game
Al Harris total 62 tackles
an average of 3.875 per game
Ahmad Carroll total 49 tackles
an average of 3.0625 per game
Michael Hawthorne total 49 tackles
an average of 3.0625 per game
Hannibal Navies total 47 tackles
an average of 2.975 per game
KGB total 47 tackles
an average of 2.975 per game
Bhawoh Jue total 42 tackles
an average of 2.625 per game
Cletidus Hunt total 32 tackles
an average of 2 per game
Paris Lenon total 28 tackles
an average of 1.75 per game
Corey Williams total 23 tackles
an average of 1.4375 per game
Grady Jackson total 23 tackles
an average of 1.4375 per game
Joey Thomas total 19 tackles
an average of 1.1875 per game
Jason Horton total 19 tackles
an average of 1.1875 per game
Cullen Jenkins total 18 tackles
an average of 1.125 per game
Ben Steele total 15 tackles
an average of less than 1 per game
R-Kal Truluck total 13 tackles
an average of less than 1 per game
William Henderson total 11 tackles
an average of less than 1 per game
So then we're definitively into the Special Teams' tackles.
We can see we had a back-up TE record more tackles (on special teams) than our back-up DE... supposedly a "pass rushing specialist".
We can see we had defensive backfield (Sharper, Roman, Harris, Carroll, Hawthorne, Jue) accounted for 342 tackles. That's just under 33% of the team total. Considering that we had the worst defense in terms of giving up the greatest number of long TD plays (which would plays that NO one tackled anyone), that tells me that they basically got worked, week in and week out.
Kampman (67) by himself was more productive than Hunt and Grady combined (55). If you consider that Hunt sat for 4 games, substituted by Corey Williams, we could add 50% of Williams' total to the mix (11.5) and Kampman STILL was more productive than both DTs...
KGB had 13.5 sacks, which means that 33.5 of his take-downs were NOT sacks.
That's more productive than either Hunt or Grady... and a little better than 50% of what Kampman does "against the run".
Our starting LBs combined for 250 tackles, less than 25% of the team total.
Ouch. That means that Barnett (one player) was about as productive as the other two LBs... combined.
If you consider that he plays on "all 3 downs", while the others play on 2-3 downs (Diggs) and 1 down (Navies), then it MIGHT make a little sense. When you consider that other teams were running outside (to avoid our "stout" interior in Hunt and Grady), then our outside LBs should have had more tackles last year, IMO.
Considering that the opponents' average per carry versus these guys was
I think that the low totals for our LBs denote a serious problem was afoot.
Considering that the opponents' average passing completion was for
I think that opponents were able to drive on the Packers at will.
Think about it...
If the opponent ran the ball three times... the average was a total of 14 yards and a new first down.
If the opponent threw the ball three times... the average was a completion 60% of the time (314 completions to 518 attempts). That's ALMOST two out of three, and it's DEFINITELY 3 out of 5.
That means that the average series for the opponents (if they ONLY threw the ball) was advancing about 23 yards every five plays. If they ONLY ran the ball, it was to advance about 23 yards every five plays... on average.
Looking at the first game against the Lions, we saw
Mark Roman total 10 tackles
Nick Barnett total 9 tackles
Aaron Kampman total 5 tackles
Robert Thomas total 5 tackles
Colin Cole total 5 tackles
Paris Lenon total 4 tackles
KGB total 4 tackles
Cullen Jenkins total 3 tackles
Al Harris total 3 tackles
Robert Ferguson total 3 tackles
Roy Manning total 2 tackles
Mike Montgomery total 2 tackles
Kenny Peterson total 2 tackles
Brady Poppinga total 2 tackles
Joey Thomas total 2 tackles
Corey Williams total 2 tackles
Ahmad Carroll total 1 tackle
Nick Collins total 1 tackle
Rob Davis total 1 tackle
Grady Jackson total 1 tackle
Earl Little total 1 tackle, and
William Whitticker total 1 tackle.
We punted 6 times, and kicked off twice. That's a total of 8 tackles on special teams, and 2 more from INTs... as well as 2 more from lost fumbles.
So, defensively, we had 59 tackles against the Lions.
The starting LBs accounted for 18, or just under 31%.
All the DBs accounted for 17, or just under 29%.
The entire D-line accounted for 25, or just under 43%.
I know it's MUCH too early to extend these totals or percentages into season-long averages.
I also know that averages do NOT tell the story completely.
I also know that statistics can be manipulated.
My thinking in posting this information (and my very simplistic reactions to it) is that my expectations for the 2005 defense are not to be the best in the NFL, the NFC, or necessarily our division, the hallowed NFC Norris.
I expect this defense to tackle better, to NOT give up as many disastrous long-play "just threw Brett Favre in a 'come-back' position" TDs, and to give up fewer first downs to our opponents.
I think the personnel that we have on defense is already better than last year, and I think they'll improve as the season progresses.
I think the D-line will get better, and that the secondary is ALREADY better than what we saw last year.
I'm anxious to see Robert Thomas play with more knowledge about his responsibilities, and to see how Diggs recovers from his injury.
I'll try to keep up with this info during the season, and hopefully it'll lead me to conclude that the defense is realistically helping our team to win.
Anybody else who's interested is more than welcome to intercede with defensive stats they think pertinent.
Game Preview: Browns @ Packers
by Thomas Pyc
The Cleveland Browns (0-1) at the Green Bay Packers (0-1)
After a disappointing opening weekend at Ford Field the Green Bay Packers might be getting just what the doctor ordered when the Cleveland Browns arrive at Lambeau Field. The Packers not only managed to not manufacture a single touchdown with a penalty prone attack they also lost their star wide-receiver, Javon Walker, for the year to a devastating ACL injury. Cleveland enters this game in full rebuilding mode complete with a new coaching staff, general manager, defensive scheme, defensive personnel, starting quarterback, and starting running back. The Browns’ enter this season with 26 new players on the roster in total.
The Packers’ Offense vs. The Browns’ Defense
The Browns’ have worked all summer to put new head coach Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defensive scheme (three defensive linemen and four linebackers) into place. The glaring problem with the Browns’ defense is the lack of talent it can put on the field. The three starting defensive linemen were very ineffective versus the Bengals mainly because they are undersized. Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye is arguably the Browns biggest defensive threat but with little else to worry about he will constantly be double-teamed this year. Behind the front three is a group of linebackers with some excellent athletic ability but have more working against them (the small front line and new scheme) than with them. A good combination of time, practice and better players in front of them will eventually allow this unit to thrive but probably not this week. In the secondary the only thing close to a household name is cornerback Gary Baxter (signed from Baltimore this offseason) but he remains questionable for Sunday after suffering a concussion during the preseason. A familiar foe for Packer fans is free safety Brian Russell (formerly a Viking) who is now starting for the Browns but has not quite cured the problem of missing tackles.
Without Javon Walker on the field for the Packers’ offense the two wide receivers out of Texas A&M are going to have to showcase the talent that got them drafted into the NFL in the second round. Fifth year veteran Robert Ferguson and rookie Terrence Murphy will get an excellent opportunity to start getting in tune with Brett Favre this Sunday. Ferguson made several comments this offseason regarding his readiness to become a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL. Now’s the time number eighty-nine!
The only thing that should restrict the Packers from getting a decent amount of work with the two Aggies is going to be the irresistible opportunity to control the ball (and clock) by running right at Cleveland’s defense. The standard way to attack a 3-4 defense is to run right at them. And with the lack of size on Cleveland’s front line it only makes sense to maintain that standard. In addition, Ahman Green averaged 4.8 yards per carry last week against Detroit before the running game was prematurely abandoned by the offensive playcallers.
The Browns’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense
Former Giants’ running back from the 80s, Maurice Carthon, has more to work with talent-wise than the other side of the his team’s depth chart. Of course, that’s including quarterback Trent Dilfer who has won as many Super Bowls as Brett Favre. Outside of that Super Bowl season Dilfer has never been more than a serviceable backup and has thrown more interceptions in his career than touchdowns (96 TDs to 107 INTs). New GM, Phil Savage, picked up two impact players in the offseason in running back Reuben Droughns (1,240 yards for Denver last year) and wide receiver Antonio Bryant who possesses solid receiving ability is starting to blossom. The Browns’ offensive line is adequate and consists of mostly veterans with the exception of second year center Jeff Faine who has not lived up to his first round stature. Last week the Browns tried to spread out the Bengals defense using three or more receivers which was a curveball from the two-back sets they had been using during the preseason. Who knows what’s in store for the Packers’ defense this week?
The bright spot (if you saw one) last week against the Lions’ last week for the Packers had to be the overall play of the defense. But do not start thinking that onlookers will see the same performance from this unit this week because last year’s ‘new’ defensive scheme also looked good during the first week of the season but failed miserably in the long run. If defensive coordinator, Jim Bates, wants to win over Packer nation he’s going to have to keep this unit performing on a consistent basis with the solid fundamentals he preaches. Both middle linebacker Nick Barnett and safety Mark Roman racked up 11 tackles last week and might have had their best games as Packers.
But to go along with the good is the bad. The unanimous decision is in and cornerback Ahmad Carroll was definitely the ‘bad’ last week. Whether you place the blame for his four-penalty performance on him or his reputation with the referees is your call but the Packers can ill afford to let that continue. The Packer depth chart still appears undecided between Carroll and fellow second year corner Joey Thomas. The logical choice is clear after Week 1. A couple other changes showed up on the defensive side of the depth chart this week, Cullen Jenkins is the other starting tackle next to Grady Jackson and recent acquisition, linebacker Robert Thomas, has moved into the starting role for the weakside linebacking position. Time for episode two of the Jim Bates’ experiment.
The Bottom Line
The Packers cannot afford to let the Browns think they can play with them at home, especially not this early in the season. The majority of the NFL analysts have went on record saying that Green Bay is in decline and after losing Javon Walker the chance of that being a legitimate claim only increases. Head coach Mike Sherman needs to realize that he abandoned the running game too early last week and he can control this game by sticking with it from start to finish. The aforementioned undersized defensive line of the Brown’s will only get worse as the game goes on and they start to wear down from the Packers front line (who could also use a confidence boost). Overall, there’s several ways Packers can outshine the Browns but the most beneficial way is going to be with Ahman Green’s legs
The Idealizing of Jim Bates and the Coaching Influence
Because I tend to be a glass-half-full fan when it comes to discussing the Packers, I generally try to shy away from a lot of naysaying. But while there seems to be quite a bit of optimism about the Packers’ defense that has swelled ever since Sherman hired Jim Bates, I am not convinced that it is his presence alone that will catapult the Packers’ defense from the shameful to the respectable. That is not to say that I think the Packers’ defense won’t improve this next year under his direction, even with many of the same players. I do. But if and when the defense does improve, I think giving all or even most of the credit to the influence of Jim Bates is probably overdoing it.
Defense as system
Why? First of all, it should be noted that the nature of defense is that each player is very dependent upon his teammates to do their jobs so that he can do his job. Defense is very system dependent---probably more so than offense. It's the nature of offense to find a weakness and attack it, so if even one defensive player can't cover well, doesn't tackle well, doesn't know his assignments, etc., it negatively affects the play of the rest of his defensive teammates, as they have to scramble to cover up the weaknesses rather than play their game.
That's probably what happened last year with Carroll (and Hawthorne) replacing the solid, well above average McKenzie as the team's top cornerback. Sharper and Roman had to not only play their positions, they had to keep an eye on their inexperienced, grabby teammate. Can one player make that kind of a difference in how well the rest of the defense performs? Yes. And the opposite can be true as well---when a good player is added, it can have ripple effect on the entire defense. Consider the example of Grady Jackson, a good, solid player at an important position for any defense. In 2003, the Packer defense had ranked 30th in total defense through the first 8 games of the season. Their run defense was abysmal, and their pass defense was worse. But then Grady Jackson was claimed off waivers in the middle of the season to replace the ailing Gilbert Brown, and the Packers jumped from 30th to 17th in total defense over the course of just the next 8 games. KGB played better. Cletidus Hunt played better. Harris and McKenzie played better. With the same coaches and same scheme, the Packers' defense went from allowing 117.3 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry without Jackson to 97.6 yards per game and 3.97 yards per carry with Jackson manning the middle.
Now, I realize that it’s not as simple as adding or subtracting a good player or two when explaining how well or poorly a team plays from one year to the next. Losing McKenzie and replacing him with unproven, inexperienced players wasn’t the sole reason the Packer defense was awful last year. Other factors, such as lingering injuries to Navies and Sharper and Jackson might explain some of the drop-off from 2003 to 2004 too. And Slowik’s questionable strategies and schemes were an important factor in the poor defensive showing. But sometimes I think the inter-dependent nature of playing good defense is underappreciated, as is the impact of a good player or two.
Besides what appears to be a modest upgrade in overall defensive talent/player hunger in 2005 as opposed to 2004 (the secondary already looks like it’s going to be manned better this year than last, and replacing Hunt with hungrier players could spur the line to play better), I think another of the main reasons the Packers’ defense is likely to improve this next year is not necessarily because of Bates, but because it will be very, very difficult for it to get worse. Now this may sound like a rather glib and trite explanation….and maybe it is. But this phenomenon, technically referred to as “regression towards the mean,” is likely to have a rather powerful effect on where the defense goes this next year---at least statistically.
Take the pass defense from 2004 as a for-instance. The Packers’ secondary allowed 33 touchdown passes (ranked 32nd), picked off just 8 passes (ranked 31st), allowed 3,663 passing yards (ranked 25th), and opposing QBs averaged about a 100 passer rating against them, the worst in Packers' history. (The previous worst passer rating allowed by a Packer defense was 86.1 back in 1958.) In my opinion, there just isn’t any way that the pass defense could get any worse than that. In other words, even if we were unfortunate enough to have Slowik as our defensive coordinator again in 2005, the likelihood that the Packer secondary would collect more than 8 interceptions, allow fewer than 33 TD passes, or even rank higher than 25th overall is very high. It’s also quite likely that the linebackers would be involved in more than merely one turnover play all season long even had Slowik remained our DC in 2005. Extreme statistical rankings/figures like that just have a way of eventually evening out, or winding up closer to the middle of the pack. And that isn’t necessarily all—or even most---of the coach’s doing.
What happened in Atlanta?
In my opinion, this regression-to-the mean phenomenon had something to do with what happened in Atlanta this past season. In 2003, Atlanta’s defense ranked 32nd in yards allowed (381.8 per game), 30th in points allowed (26.4 per game), 32nd in passing yards allowed (250.3 per game), and 30th in passing TDs allowed (28). Put simply, the 2003 Atlanta defense was atrocious. So I don’t think it’s all that surprising that the Atlanta pass defense jumped from 32nd to 22nd from ’03 to ’04, or that both the total defense and scoring defense leapt to a much more respectable 14th. It was highly unlikely it could have gotten any worse.
But weren’t Jim Mora and Ed Donatell the ones almost exclusively responsible for that turnaround? That’s what we’re led to believe anyway. But consider the Atlanta Falcons further. Back in 2001, the Falcons had Don Blackmon as their DC, and they ranked 30th in yards and 24th in points, which led to Blackmon’s ouster. Dan Reeves was able to recruit Wade Phillips to lead the defense in 2002, landing him despite great interest from many other teams (it also may have helped that Reeves made him the 2nd highest paid assistant coach at the time). By week 13 of 2002, the Falcons were ranked 4th in scoring defense, 4th in interceptions, and 2nd in sacks. Phillips, as the first year coordinator, was given much, if not all, of the credit for the dramatic turnaround.
But then 2003 and the dead-last-in-total-defense thing happened. Phillips was still the DC for that debacle, but he (like Bates) was made interim head coach near the end of the year (winning 2 of 3 for a 5-11 team) before being passed over for the head coaching job. Now what’s intriguing to me about this is that Phillips was given nearly all of the credit for the immediate defensive turnaround from ’01 to ’02, but he wasn’t given much of any blame for Atlanta’s shameful defensive performance in 2003. That seems to be the way it goes once a coach---especially a defensive coordinator---has established a reputation. If his team has a good year or two defensively, that’s considered his doing. If it doesn’t, it’s either considered a fluke, or other variables (injuries, less talent in the lineup) are thought to be responsible.
The 2004 Miami defense
That’s probably what happened with the 2004 Miami defense, which wasn’t nearly as good as it was made out to be. They lost too many good players to be all that good. The main reason why the Dolphins could even rank 8th in yards allowed defense in 2004 (but 20th in points allowed) is that they easily had the most rushing attempts against them in the NFL (539), and because they simultaneously had the fewest number of passes thrown against them (434). As would be expected given those disparities, the run defense ranked 31st, and the pass defense ranked 2nd. And because the average yards gained per rush attempt is always going to be almost half of the average yards gained per pass attempt, the number of total yards yielded is naturally going to be lower if there are far more rushing attempts than passing attempts. Thus, teams that play from behind a lot are probably going to be helped in the defensive rankings by the end of the year.
The validity of defensive rankings
Which brings me to the validity of the defensive rankings themselves. Just pointing to position rank alone as measurement of defensive performance can sometimes be misleading. For example, the 2001 Dolphins' defense allowed 290 points, but ranked 11th in scoring defense. The next year, the Miami defense allowed 301 points, but ranked 4th in scoring defense. It would appear they substantially improved in '02 by looking at the ranking figures, but actually their defense gave up more points than they did the year before.
Also in 2001, there was a 53-points-allowed difference between the 3rd (212 points) and 4th (265 points) best scoring defenses. But there was only a 17-points-allowed difference between the 4th best defense (265 points) and the 9th best defense (282 points). Allow just one or two fewer touchdowns in a season and a team can move up 4 or 5 slots in the rankings.
Or consider the case of the 2004 Buccaneers. The offense had 5 turnovers returned for touchdowns this past season, resulting in an extra 35 points that the defense gets the blame for allowing. Instead of 304 points allowed in '04, the Buccaneers could have allowed only 269 points, which would have put them within 10 points of the #2 ranking instead of their actual #9 ranking.
The fragility of defensive rankings
Nose-dives in defensive rankings with the same defensive coordinator (and head coach) are probably rather common. We just don’t hear about them too often, as they don’t usually mesh with the perspective that it’s the coaches that make up most of the difference between the winners and losers. Consider that the Dallas Cowboys ranked 2nd in scoring defense in 2003. In 2004, after losing Darren Woodson and a few others (again, the loss of even one good player can make a big difference), they plummeted to 28th in scoring defense. This happened despite having the same head coach and the same defensive coordinator (Zimmer). Greg Blache was the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2001, when Chicago had the #1 scoring defense in the NFL. He was still the Bears’ DC in 2002, when they ranked 25th. The New York Giants ranked 3rd in scoring defense in 2002, only to drop to 29th in 2003 with the same coach and DC. Even the Miami Dolphins dropped from 3rd in scoring defense in 2003 down to 20th in 2004 with, yes, Jim Bates coordinating the defense.
Wade Phillips is a highly regarded defensive coordinator (and sometimes head coach) who probably would rival Jim Bates in terms of the respect he carries around the league as a defensive coach. But here's a statistical summary of his coaching career and the defenses he either coordinated or was a head coach of. Notice the leaps---sometimes giant leaps---from one year to the next in terms of defensive ranking during the last 15 years.
Denver (ranked 20th in scoring defense in 1988, the year before Phillips arrived; Phillips was head coach in '93 and '94)
1989: 1st 1990: 23rd 1991: 3rd 1992: 19th 1993: 10th 1994: 25th
Buffalo (ranked 22nd in scoring defense in 1994, the year before Phillips arrived; Phillips was head coach from '98-'00)
1995: 13th 1996: 6th 1997: 23rd 1998: 15th 1999: 2nd 2000: 18th
Atlanta (ranked 24th in scoring defense in 2001, the year before Phillips arrived)
2002: 8th 2003: 30th
San Diego (ranked 31st in scoring defense in 2003, the year before Phillips arrived)
To summarize with just the ranking numbers (with the first number being the ranking the year before Phillips arrived), here's an overview:
The average jump (up or down) in team defensive ranking during Wade Phillips' recent career as a DC or HC (including the season-before rankings) is a whopping 15.3 slots a year. While that may be more fluctuation than usual, I think that demonstrates just how fragile the defensive ranking statistics can be.
Why is this noteworthy? Because I think one has to wonder why it is that teams with the same defensive coordinator or head coach can have that extreme level of variance from one year to the next if the coaching factor means so much. Put simply, if the coaching factor, or how good your defensive coordinator is, makes that significant of an impact on how your team performs on the field, then I would think the defensive rankings would be much, much more stable than an average of 15.3 slot movements a year with the same coaches, wouldn't they?
Credit, not blame
When Wade Phillips took over the Denver defense in 1989 and helped it to land a #1 ranking (after having ranked 20th the season before), he was likely given much, if not most of the credit for that turnaround. Likewise in Buffalo from 1994 to 1995/1996 (22nd to 13th/6th), and in Atlanta from 2001 to 2002 (24th to 8th). The thing is, I highly doubt that Phillips was given much of the blame when his 1st ranked defense (Denver) plummeted to 23rd the following year, or his 6th ranked defense (Buffalo) plummeted to 23rd the following year, or when his 8th ranked defense (Atlanta) plummeted to 30th the following year. As I mentioned earlier, for some reason we give coordinators and head coaches most of the credit when the team's (defensive) performance improves, but when they play poorly, or when they fall in the rankings, we tend to look elsewhere (injuries, loss of talent, etc.) rather than point the finger at the DC or HC. This is especially true if the DC or HC has already established a solid reputation as a coach, as both Phillips and Bates have. To me this is an example of how we tend to overestimate the contribution of coaching to the winning equation.
Back to Bates. He sure does seem to be a solid coach, and his schemes, from all appearances, seem to be very effective. But there seems to be a perspective that he, through his vocal and demanding and Shurmur-like coaching style alone, can take average or worse players and turn them into above average players, or that he can take a shameful defense and turn it into a respected one. But that’s not usually how it works. While I realize there are exceptions, it is generally the case that a coach is either limited or aided by the talent he has to work with.
When Bates was the defensive coordinator for the Falcons in 1994, his defense ranked dead last (28th) in passing defense, 24th in yards per rushing attempt, dead last (28th) in total defense (6,058 yards allowed), and 24th in points allowed (24.1 points per game). He was fired after the season. Then he went 6 years before he got another shot as a defensive coordinator, when he was hired by Wannstadt in 2000 to be the DC for the Dolphins. Now, consider that the 1998 Dolphins defense led the NFL in interceptions and fewest rushing TDs allowed, and they finished 3rd in total defense. The 1999 Dolphins defense finished 4th in total defense. Bates and Wannstadt had not only inherited a top 5 defense when they arrived in 2000, they had inherited the following players: Trace Armstrong (18 total sacks in '98 and '99); Tim Bowens (Pro Bowler in '99); Sam Madison (8 INTs in '98, 7 INTs in '99 and Pro Bowl starter); Patrick Surtain (2 INTs, 48 tackles, and 9 passes defensed despite starting just 6 games in '99); Jason Taylor (9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 9 passes defensed in '98 ) ; Brock Marion (112 tackles in '98, 100 tackles in '99---tops among defensive backs); and Zach Thomas (160 tackles, 3 INTs in `98, 167 tackles in '99 and Pro Bowl starter). With that kind of lineup, it would have been difficult NOT to turn out some pretty good defenses in Miami in the last several years.
Two more examples: Johnson and Shurmur
Jimmy Johnson (Philly's DC) was the DC for Indianapolis in '96 and '97. The year before he was hired by Infante to be the DC (1995), Indianapolis had ranked an impressive 5th in scoring defense. By 1996 under Johnson, however, the Indy defense sunk to 18th. Then, in 1997, Johnson's defense ranked 26th, and he was fired as DC. But when Johnson was hired by Reid to be the DC in Philadelphia in '99, he had inherited Taylor, Vincent, Dawkins, Douglas, and Trotter on his team---all 5 Pro Bowlers. Since 2000, Johnson's scoring defense has ranked 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 7th, and 3rd.
Fritz Shurmur was a DC for 11 seasons before he came to Green Bay in '94. In those 11 previous seasons, his defenses ranked in the top 10 in total defense (yards) just 2 times. When he came to Green Bay in 1994, he inherited a Packer defense that had already jumped from 21st in total defense in 1992 to 2nd in total defense in 1993. A good chunk of the reason for the Packers’ acute rise to the #2 ranking in 1993 was probably related to the arrival of Reggie White that year. In the 5 seasons (’94-’98) Shurmur coordinated the defense in Green Bay, the Packers ranked in the top 10 in total defense 4 times. So Shurmur’s defense spent 4 of 5 years in the top 10 with Reggie White, and 2 of 11 years in the top 10 without Reggie White. I think it’s likely there’s a connection.
You can't make chicken salad....
There’s no denying that good coaching is important to good player performance. Even the most talented players can’t completely overcome inadequate preparation and rickety schemes. But having good players on the roster who have the capacity to consistently execute and limit their mistakes through effort and concentration is more important than coaching is when determining what contributes most to the winning equation. In other words, coaches are more limited or aided by the talent (or lack thereof) on the roster than players are aided or limited by poor coaching.
It’s always possible we’ll see an exception to this. For example, it’s possible that the Packers could have a defense that is above average or even well above average this season despite the apparent dearth of significant new talent this year. That’s possible, but it’s probably unlikely. I’d expect the Packers to be better defensively than they were last year, but not dramatically so. Some of their improvement may be due to coaching and schemes, some may be due to some slightly better or more experienced talent, some may be due to a better chemistry between certain players, some may be due to luck and happenstance (such as playing a larger share of weak offensive teams), and some may be due to the tenet that it’s not possible for them to get any worse. That said, it will be very tempting to give Bates all or most of the credit if the Packers play substantially better defensive football. I will be tempted to give him much of the credit too. But history has taught us that, for the most part, the notorious chicken salad principle is at work here, and therefore tempering our idealism about the impact that a new, energetic coach can have may be prudent.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Football 101-The 3-4 Defense
by Mark Lawrence
The Basic 3-4 Defensive Alignment
Another popular defensive alignment is the 3-4. This defense was used by Bill Parcels and his N.Y.Giants to win a couple of superbowls. From 2000 to 2004 it was also used by Bill Parcels' former defensive coordinator and now head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, to win three more superbowls. This defense is now becoming quite popular again. The NFL is very much a copy-cat league.
In the 4-3 defense, you need two very large and athletic defensive tackles and two somewhat large and very athletic defensive ends. These guys are very hard to find. It seems there's about one excellent defensive end prospect in each draft, which is not nearly enough to go around. If you can't find a couple of good defensive ends, you're in for a long season of living and dying by the blitz.
One reaction to this has been to develop the 3-4 defense. In this defense, you need one really large nose tackle. This NT has to be a real monster of a guy, 350 pounds or so, because his job is to take on the center and one of the guards simultaneously on every single play. Then you get two more defensive tackles at around 300 pounds each, and play them up against the offensive tackles. All three of the defensive tackles have what is called two-gap responsibility. They are expected to hit the offensive linemen head on, and watch the play to make sure the running back doesn't come through on either side of them. Also, they're expected to hold their block so that the offensive linemen can't get out and block a linebacker.
In the 3-4 system, the linebackers are expected to make most of the plays. In the 3-4 system, the DTs play a more physical game as they are taking on one or two offensive linemen directly, play after play. Unlike the DTs in the 4-3, the DTs in the 3-4 are responsible for every single gap in the offensive line. Although the DTs get relatively few chances to make tackles or sack the quarterback, anything bad that happens is still ultimately their fault.
In the 3-4, you have four linebackers. Two of these guys are inside linebackers, and are expected to weigh roughly 240 pounds and be quite athletic. You also have two outside linebackers. These guys are sometimes called "tweeners," as they are in between the normal size of defensive ends and linebackers. These guys should weigh perhaps 255-265 pounds and also be quite athletic. Because these are linebackers, they tend to be faster than the heavier defensive ends. Their presence makes it much more difficult for the quarterback to roll out, as he will be rolling out directly into the path of one of these linebackers.
In the NFL there are many running backs who are incredibly athletic. O.J.Simpson was perhaps the first of these, but today there are perhaps a dozen of them. These guys are very shifty and hard to chase down. Defensive linemen simply can't do it. So the solution was to remove one of the DL from the defense and substitute a fourth linebacker. These linebackers have the speed to chase down such running backs. The 3-4 defense was motivated by two factors: the difficulty in getting good defensive ends, and the need to stop very fast running backs. This is the strength of the 3-4. The DTs keep the offensive linemen off your linebackers, leaving them free to roam the field and bring down runners.
Unfortunately, the 3-4 has a weakness. Three DTs cannot reliably collapse the five offensive lineman pocket on the quarterback, so it becomes much harder to pressure the quarterback. Traditionally, the 3-4 has struggled against the pass. The modern solution to this problem was worked out by Dick LeBeau, and it's called the Zone Blitz. In a normal blitz package, you have five or six guys rushing the passer. The remaining linebackers and defensive backs often played man coverage, which is relatively dangerous. Wide receivers in the NFL tend to be taller than defensive backs, so they often win the one-on-one battles.
In the 3-4, you select your four linebackers for the speed to drop back and cover a zone. Since there are four linebackers, the quarterback cannot guess which one of the four will rush on any given play. Whichever linebacker rushes, it's relatively easy for the other three to shift around a bit and fill in the zones. Sometimes the defense will rush two linebackers on the same side, so there are two defensive tackles and two linebackers attacking three offensive linemen. The remaining two linebackers again can quickly shift over to fill in the gaps left by the two who are blitzing.
If the 3-4 defense finds itself late in a game protecting a lead, there is no need to switch to a prevent defense. Since all four linebackers are skilled in coverage, you can just drop all four of them into zones, playing eight men in zone coverage. It's next to impossible to do this with a 4-3 defense.
The 3-4 defense can have trouble matching up against a very fast offense. It's important for the success of the 3-4 in these cases for the defense to play an extremely physical game, jamming the receivers hard at the line of scrimmage. In the 2002 superbowl, the Patriots looked like their defense matched up poorly with the numerous fast receivers of the Rams, but by playing an intensely physical game the Patriots managed to slow the Rams enough to eke out a win. Similarly, in the 2004 playoffs the Patriots hosted the Colts, and again it looked like a bad match up for the Patriots. But by making the Colts play a more physical game than they were used to, the Patriots managed to almost completely shut down the Colts offense. Had this game been played indoors in Indianapolis on carpet instead of outdoors on grass in cold weather, it's quite plausible the Colts would have found a way to exploit the lack of speed in the Patriots secondary.
So in summary, the more traditional 4-3 defense seems better suited to the modern pass-friendly NFL rules, while the 3-4 defense seems more geared to stop the run based offenses of the 70s and 80s. However, by mixing up the rushers and zone coverages to confuse the quarterback and by forcing the receivers to play a far more physical game than they would wish, the 3-4 has been successful at the highest levels, in spite of it's apparent drawbacks.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Breakdown in Motor City
by Mark Quarderer
Prior to the season opener, I opined that this was going to be a very difficult game for us because I knew that historically speaking, Detroit is not a place where we generally play very well. Sunday was no exception. This was a game that I had us picked to lose when I predicted 9-7 so we're still on track and there's no reason for people to be jumping off of bridges. There were many areas of the team that performed in a postive manner but right now we can't see them very clearly because we're blinded by the glare of the turnovers, penalties, and mistakes that really made us look pretty inept at times.
The Offensive Line
Let's start here because it was one of the bigger question marks going into the game and because if the big eaters up front don't get the job done then nothing else is going to matter very much.
Although one of the prevailing schools of thought is that Favre was under pressure every time he passed, I'm afraid that I just can't go along with that. Favre was sacked four times including twice on the final drive and for the most part he enjoyed protection that was as good as what Harrington was getting. We've been spoiled the past couple of years with an outstanding line.....possibly the best in team history......that was able to keep anybody from getting close to Favre most of the time. That's not the case anymore, and Favre is going to get the same protection that quite a few other QBs in the league get, which means he's going to get sacked a couple times a game, he's going to get hit a couple of times a game, and he's going to be pressured on a number of his passes.
Although I expect the line to improve during the season, I didn't think they play that badly. People who are expecting Favre to never be sacked, hit, or pressured are going to need to revise their expectations.
The Running Game....
I'm very disappointed that we didn't stick with the run more. Green had 8 rushes for 45 yards in the first half...that's over 5 yards per carry...and we're only down 7-3 at the half. So why did he only get four more rushes in the second half? I generally try to not be critical of play calling, but if your opponent doesn't stop the run you keep running. That's Football 101. And Detroit wasn't stopping our run but we repeatedly let them off the hook by showing how balanced and unpredictable we can be on offense.
It is my opinion that to win at any level you have to establish that you can do something well enough that the defense has to adjust. We didn't do that, and we saw what happened.
Although Green ran well, Davenport and Fisher were ineffective. Fisher, in particular, had about the worst game I've ever seen him have. He dropped a pass and fumbled and he's normally a pretty sure-handed guy. The people who think that we could trade Green away and keep Davenport as a feature back are hallucinating. Even with a broken leg Green is a much more effective runner. Personally, I'm kind of wondering why we kept Davenport and cut Williams.
The Passing Game
201 yards on 44 attempts is less than 5 yards per attempt, or less than Ahman was averaging on the ground. I believe we only had four completions of over 10 yards and folks......this Detroit secondary is not the best secondary that we're going to face this year. We had a couple of costly drops....Ferguson kind of short armed the pass that was ruled an interception......a couple of guys got open deep but we couldn't connect.
All in all, the passing game was pretty ineffective. We never hurt them through the air at all and you had to think that going into this game that if there was one thing we could count on doing well it would have been moving the ball through the air.
Actually, overall the defense played a little better than I thought they would, and I thought they'd be improved over last year. They surrendered two passes over 20 yards and no big runs. In fact, they controlled the first down run better than I thought they would. They got some pretty decent pressure on Harrington and sacked him twice, but as usual they didn't do a real good job of keeping him in the pocket and he got loose and hurt us. As I've stated in the past, I think sacks are overrated and don't help you as much as QB scrambles hurt you but people really like and want those sacks.
Thomas is going to be fine for us although he looked like a guy who's only practiced a week. Lenon wasn't able to maintain coverage on the TE and Detroit exploited that for their first TD. Barnett......sadly, people, Barnett is starting to look more and more like just a guy to me. It doesn't appear that he's improved an iota since his rookie year and he just never causes fumbles or gets in the passing lanes. He had a bad penalty, too.
You didn't see Detroit receivers running free in the secondary for the most part. I though Ahmad Carroll got jobbed by the refs but he's probably offended them as badly as he's offended his teammates and now that he's made his bed he's going to have to lay in it. I believe I'd start Joey Thomas this week, activate Hawkins for the nickel, and play Carroll in the dime. He's plenty fast enough to cover receivers without using his hands. And he's going to have to keep his mouth shut. Going after refs with "Why you doin'me like that Dawg?" isn't going to endear him to them.