So the Pro Bowl announcements are in! What's that? There are two games (one/eighth of the season) remaining! What does that matter? They've been voting since the first month of the season. Two Packers made the cut-- Donald Driver at WR and Aaron Kampman at DE. Congratulations to them both.
It's time for some blunt analysis about what being in the a "Pro Bowl Player" really means. My theory is it comes down to two factors--either (1) you are having an outstanding statistical year or (2) you have an excellent reputation. Our selections made it as a reward for having excellent stats. DD leads the NFC in receiving yards, and Kampman is tied for 2nd in the NFL in sacks. Selections based on reputations are evident from other choices-- Tony Romo, for example, starter of only 8 games, made it because of his new reputation as "rejuvenator of the Cowboys."
Sometimes reputations for excellence are deserved, and sometimes they are far more the product of a merely good player being placed in the middle of a good team or a player coasting off of previous accomplishments. Lets consider Romo more closely. Apparently everyone ignored the fact that he stepped into the middle of a loaded offense (two good young RBs, two excellent veteran wideouts, a solid line and an excellent TE), and was merely less terrible than 34 year-old statue Drew Bledsoe. I do think he's a good player--but choosing him over Michael Vick is absurd. Vick will rush for over 1,000 yards this season (at 990 with two games left) and has already broken the season record for rushing yards by a QB. He has 19 TD passes to 11 INTs. Romo has 16 to 10. Hmm... those passing stats aren't comparable at all, are they? I know Romo's completion percentage is higher. But he has far better wideouts (Michael Jenkins vs. TO), and plays on a more talented team. Romo would look terrible if he were the Falcons' starting quarterback. I don't condone people wantonly spreading herpes either, but Romo's selection over Vick is silly.
Simiar to that is the selection of DeAngelo Hall. He's a talented young-ish cornerback, but he cannot shut down receivers like Al Harris. Hell, he's not even having that great a season. TO beat him for TDs twice on Saturday night. He's tied for 14th in the league in interceptions, well behind Charles Woodson. Even comparing Hall to Al via raw stats, Al has one fewer interception but more passes defended. Hall made his reputation last year when he had 6 interceptions, reinforcing his rep as a first-round draft pick, and seems to be coasting off it this season. Al and Vick got screwed, as did many other deserving players, like Roy Williams (the one remaining great player on a terrible Detroit team) and Terrell Owens (who's reputation actually worked against him). Hopefully, someone will get mildly injured, and Al will make it as an alternate.
In addition, I love our guys and I think DD and Kampman are good players and fine teammates, but raw statistics are overrated. DD is our only good receiver (Jennings was getting there until he got hurt), and we don't have a very good running game, so he should catch a lot of passes. Plus, we played a lot of teams, like Detroit and Minnesota, that run mostly zone, allowing players to avoid tough man-to-man or bump and run coverage, but preventing big gains. Hence his high number of receptions (80), but limited number of TDs (7). DD's biggest plays have come against blown zone coverage, when he's been able to take a short pass, find a hole in the zone and blow past safeties. It's these highlight, catch-and-run plays that propelled him into the Pro Bowl. He has not made many big plays when matched up one-on-one against decent cornerbacks. He has good stats beause he's our one solid wideout and we've been forced to throw a lot against teams that play zone. Plus, he's broken a few big plays. Is he as good as TO, or Roy Williams, or even Plaxico Burress? I doubt it.
I'm also dubious about Kampman's stats, although I'd have to go back and see how many came on linebacker blitzs or plays when he chased down a QB flushed by another player, and how many were the product of his individual effort against an offensive tackle. Kampman's got a great "motor"-- meaning he rarely gives up on a play (he may lead all defensive lineman in tackles made 5 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, in the wrong direction)-- but I think he lacks the raw talent to beat a good right tackle on most passing downs.
The bottom line is this: would I trade DD and/or Kampman for players that did not make the NFC Pro Bowl team? In regard to DD, hell yes; Kampman, probably. And if you can say or wonder about that with your own "Pro Bowl players" something's fishy. Now I love DD, especially for his quickness, resilency, and energy. But I'd trade DD for Roy Williams or Larry Fitzgerald in a heartbeat. I'd probably even trade him for Plaxico Burress or Darryl Jackson. And I think I'd trade Kampman for Mike Rucker, Osi Umenyiora, or Patrick Kerney. Those are just guys who didn't make the NFC team, and this is a year when everyone agrees the AFC is the stronger league.
So what I'm saying is, this whole process is flawed. They start soliciting votes far too early, and don't base it on the entire season. Injured players who have great first halves and miss later portions of the season (paging Donovan McSchnabb), get left out, while players who are fresh in people's memory (Romo) get rewarded. Players who are in small markets and don't put up big stats (that's you Al!), similarly get hosed. And unweighed statistics are unreliable.
I guess this is what happens when you get a bunch of players, who only watch tape of their opponents or Sportscenter, and coaches, who ONLY watch tape of their opponents, voting on this stuff. Maybe the NFL could take the additional advertising money it makes from stringing out replay challenges (turning them into intensely inefficient, momentum-sapping commercial breaks-- hey guys, you ever watch college replay? It takes half the time and is just as effective!) and use it to hire a dozen retired scouts to watch every game and select the teams.
I'm hoping the All-Pro team is a better indicator of who the great players in the league are.
The other Packer related news, besides the impending Thursday show-down with the ViQueens that much of Wisconsin will have to go to a bar to watch, is that our offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, has been hired to be the head coach at Boston College. It's tough to know what to think about this. The general coverage has been he-was-brought-in-to-teach-zone-blocking-all-that-matters-is-whether-someone-can-take-over-that-role. I guess that makes sense given that McCarthy is an offensive coach who calls the plays, and seems very involved in the offense. And if you consider the output on the field to be indicative of someone's job performance, our offense has not been stellar this year. Football Outsiders ranks our offense 21st overall, and our rushing attack 22nd (the run game appears to be largely Jagodzinski's responsibility). This doesn't take into account lack of talent or experience, or injuries, however. And we're having issues with all three of those categories this season. Also, from my subjective evaluation, I did miss the Arizona game, where we allegedly ran wild. Thus, it's hard to gauge his effectiveness this season or determine what the loss to the team will be. I feel comfortable saying that if we develop into an excellent zone-blocking team in future seasons, Jagodzinski can probably take some credit for providing the foundation.
On an intra-coaching staff level, it was nice that McCarthy supported and encouraged Jagodzinski's career advancement. Specifically, when asked on his TV show about Jagodzinski interviewing for the BC job, McCarthy said "Personally, it's exciting for him. But professionally, I think it's a great opportunity. We wish him luck and we'll help him out any way we can." That's an incredibly supportive stance for a boss to take when one of his key assistants is interviewing for another job. Working for a person like that, who encourages you to follow your professional aspirations even if it means losing your service, is a neat thing. Hopefully, establishing a reputation as a coach who promotes his assistants will help McCarthy attract good coaching talent.
I know this-- I'll be pissed if Jagodzinski starts outrecruiting Wisconsin (Matthew Shaughnessy was down to UW and BC, for example). Back off the Bucky recruits, Coach Jagodzinski.