Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Brewers

Right, right, so it's great that the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. (Can anyone explain to me how they never made the playoffs for the rest of the 80s, even with Molitor and Yount on the team?) Hooray for the Brewers, even if their success is entirely temporary, as the team lacks the pockets to keep Sabathia and he's a free agent in a matter of weeks.

Whatever. My personal suspicion is that the Brewers finally getting their act together in the last few games of the season and making the playoffs directly led to the Packers and, especially, the Badgers eating it last weekend. Think about it. Two game winning homeruns by Ryan Braun? A complete one-run game by Sabathia on reduced rest? Gallardo coming back in the nick of time and being effective? There's only so much good karma to go around, and the Brewers hogged it all last weekend.

I know, I know, what about Boston last season. Well, (A) look what's happened to the Pats this season, (B) the Bruins were poor last year, (C) going undefeated in the regular season, being the highest scoring team of all time, and then losing in the Super Bowl may be worse than not even making the playoffs, and (D) I think they built up a reservoir of good karma by being the first state to legalize gay marriage, and then failing to amend their constitution to prohibit the practice. Let's see if my latter theory plays with California this year. The Lakers did make the finals. Maybe Angels win the World Series, San Diego makes the Super Bowl, and USC wins the BCS championship? Ha.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Fault

I just realized that last week was the first time I started Rodgers in my fantasy league. I apologize for the jinx. He'll be on my bench for the rest of the season, I promise.

Pyrrhic Loss?

That's my feeling on the Packers' horrid showing down in Tampa. Losing at Tampa in September, playing in dark jerseys, that's not so bad. Tampa's a decent team, especially on defense. But the injuries-- Rouse with his knee, Jenkins who has been the team's best defensive lineman doing something to his chest or shoulder, and Rodgers, slamming the ground with all his weight on his throwing shoulder. That led to the words no Packer fan ever wanted to hear this season-- "Matt Flynn, now at quarterback."

Not that Rodgers was playing like a champ. He seemed to be confused, his reads were slow, and his accuracy was on and off. But man, Flynn and/or Brohm? If Rodgers is seriously hurt, the season is over. And, of course, that's the case with most offensively centered teams. But still.

Now Chuckie Woodson's continued brilliance (despite all of his penalties) was encouraging, as was the play of Nick Collins. (Wasn't it bizarre to see him make a great, difficult interception and drop an easy pick that a 15-year-old JV second-stringer would have snagged?) I don't want to jinx him, but it looks like Collins has finally blossomed. And not a moment too soon, because the rest of the defense, especially without Jenkins, has not performed particularly well. Although to be fair, they are a "bend, not break" style of D, Woodson kept giving the Bucs first downs on penalties, and the Packers' offense continued to put them in terrible spots.

Speaking of that, what's with the offense? How are the Bears, using a washout like Brandon Lloyd, able to pass all over the Bucs, but the Packers can't? And what happened to the running game? I was really hoping that with Wells back at center and Moll out of the lineup, and Grant reportedly healthy, we'd see some solid stuff on the ground. But after that first drive, the run game disappeared completely. Maybe the Bucs adjusted and the Packers failed to? I don't know. It certainly seemed like Clifton and Tauscher got beat several times. What's happened to those guys? What's happened to the line generally? Obviously, Rodgers is not as fast making reads as Favre, and so holds onto the ball longer. And obviously, although he's pretty mobile, Rodgers lacks Favre's uncanny ability to shrug off tacklers (though from watching a few Jets games this season, it looks like that ability's diminished), but it's not all QB play. Clifton and Tauscher have both just been getting beat this season. And what the hell was with that last free shot on the Rodgers' last offensive play? The TEs and the line let a defensive end run straight at an already injured Rodgers and splatter him. Rushed pick, game over. Ugh.

And all of this woudn't be so bad if it weren't for all the injuries. Harris, Harrell, Bigby, Jones, Rouse, Jenkins, now Rodgers. The Packers injury luck has definitely run out. When's the bye week?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Someday I Might Watch That Game

Yesterday afternoon I went to an outdoor wedding. I had the Wisconsin-Michigan game set to record, was able to watch the first quarter, and left the house feeling pretty confident, even with Welsh missing that first field goal and the Badgers offense not making it into the end zone. I mean, hell, Michigan wasn't doing crap on offense, and UW was consistently moving the ball. Then I got home around midnight (if you ever go to a Hindu wedding, be forewarned--- they are long), checked my cell and saw a couple of generally positive messages from friends. (Apparently those were sent at halftime.) Figuring Wisconsin won, I went downstairs, put on the TV, and waited for the scores to scroll by. I was definitely not prepared for "lost by two," "missed tying two-point conversion due to offensive penalty," and blew "19-0 halftime lead." I thought I was going to be sick. What a friggin' terrible way to cap an otherwise pretty good day.

Now I can't decide whether to watch the whole debacle. I saw a bunch of highlights on the stupid Lou Holtz, mouth-full-of-spit show. Do I really want to subject myself to that and ruin Sunday as well? Ugh. Anyhow, here's the following somewhat uninformed commentary:

- I second the complete and total disappointment in the outcome of this game. Wisconsin was likely not solid or dynamic enough to be a national title aspirant, and their number 8/9 ranking was undoubtedly a little too high. But it looked like they had a very good shot at winning the Big Ten. Now, the road is looking really tough. Help will probably be needed, and silly things like tiebreakers could come into play Plus, the margin for error becomes very, very small. As Badger fans, we better hope this team keeps improving, and that Beckum finally gets the back of his leg straightened out.

- If the loss serves to galvanize the team into getting its crap together, then good. But I'm concerned that the disappointment and anxiety is going to carry over into next week's game against Ohio State, and potentially into the night game against Penn State. Crap.

- Best case scenario is this game becomes like the Cincinnati loss in 1999 or the Michigan loss in 2006. Something that motivates the team, helps them learn and improve. But it seems like it's hard to take anything away from a game that you had in your hands and pissed away except loads of frustration and disappointment in yourself.

- Man, it would have been excellent to win this game. Not that it would have been all that impressive a victory. Hell, Utah won at Michigan this year, pretty handily. But UW hasn't won in the dirty whore that is Ann Arbor for 14 years. Now that stretch is going to be at least 16. And as pathetic as it sounds, this was likely their best bet for a victory for years--- a talented senior laden team with experienced lines going against a struggling young team in transition. It would have been really nice to not have to think about Touchdown Tony Simmons when thinking of the last UW victory at Michigan.

- What does it say about the coaching staff when UW has had two high-profile games in a row where the opponent has totally outcoached them from halftime on? Fresno State and Michigan both had huge offensive second halves. And after halftime at Fresno, Wisconsin scored one field goal. After halftime at Michigan, Wisconsin scored one last-gasp touchdown, and had a dropped pass returned for a touchdown. What's happening here?

- That the passing game was apparently crap without Graham and Beckum is actually not super surprising. If you had told me that both those guys would miss the game, I would have predicted that the offense struggles. The WRs are just not good enough and Evridge isn't consistently accurate or mobile enough to take pressure of the run game without those two in the game. We all better hope they're healthy for Ohio State. Also, how much does this season suck for Beckum? He works all offseason to become a legit pro prospect and have his best season ever, and he's hardly played.

- UW wasn't alone in totally blowing a game yesterday. Iowa was up 17-3 at home against Northwestern, and lost. That's more embarrassing for sure, though definitely not more frustrating.

- Who hates Michael Phelps now? I do.

- The second worse thing about this loss is that it may have finally started the RichRod era at Michigan. That is, Wisconsin let Michigan wake up from its season-long funk. They don't run up 200 plus yards in the second half without getting their act together offensively, at long last. That's too bad honestly, as it would have been good for the collective egos of Michigan and its self-entitled fanbase to miss a bowl game this year, and gain some humility. Ugh.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The 3rd Worst Loss of my fanhood

Up 19-0 at half against an inferior team. We should win that game. Losing it is tough to take. 

My first thought is that this is the 3rd worst loss I've ever watched. I think the recent, often underrated, game against Iowa for a trip to the Rose Bowl is a bigger loss. Yet, this game is a serious downer too. 

We had a great 2008 lined up. This kills it. We avoided a bad start on the road against the MI, and should have won. What went wrong? We can discuss the reasons later this week, but they will all be unfulfilling. 

You play to WIN THE GAME. The Badgers did not win the game.

Coach B will have acorn dick for awhile and for good reason. He just bonered that game.

Friday, September 26, 2008

RichRod, Upper Midwest Style

Though tomorrow will be the first game Wisconsin will play against Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez in his current digs, recall that Wisconsin has played against West Virginia twice this decade. (And won both matchups.) Thus, we're dealing with RichRod, Part III-- Meeechigan style "Square Peg-Round Hole." Awww, yeah.

I don't know if folks have watched any of Michigan's three game so far this season. By many reports, Rich Rod has brought his rough-and-tumble, lots of curse words, in-your-face-fat-boy style of coaching to the Wolverines, along with his patented spread offense that Steve Slaton and Pat White used to dethrone Georgia in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago. Unfortunately for fans of the Big Blue, Michigan wasn't a spread team last year, and lost a colossal amount of talent in Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, lineback Shawn Crable, and wideout Adrian Arrington (remember his great diving catch in Madison last year?)-- all of whom went drafted. Plus, Rich Rod and the rest of his salty-talking staff have allegedly driven off several offensive linemen, many of whom were set to be starters.

Thus, their offense, to be blunt, has struggled. High profile recruit Sam McGuffie looks like an excellent running threat, with great speed, agility and burst, though he doesn't break a lot of tackles. Threet, the QB, and a transfer from Georgia Tech is kind of all over the place. He's not a spread option QB really, because he can't run all that well. He doesn't have a bad arm, it just doesn't seem like everyone is on the same page offensively. So, at times, they can get a bit repetive, and are prone to some screw ups. Thus, the realtively weak offensive performances against Notre Dame, Miami of Ohio and Utah.

Similarly, the defense has been up and down. A lot of the points against ND were due to Michigan's own miscues, and they played excellent D in the second half, but ND's highly touted wideouts were also making a lot of plays. Thus, the strength seems to be up front for UM, which is somewhat unfortunate, because that's where Wisconsin's strength is offensively. Will the strengths cancel each other out, and will Wisco have a hard time running the ball? I hope not. Because until I see more from Evridge, Gilreath, and Jefferson, I'm not going to feel great about the passing game, even with the awesomeness of Graham and Beckum.

Anyhow, so Michigan is in a bit of an odd place, a place they're not accustomed to-- struggling to adapt and to keep their heads above water. The worry as a Wisconsin fan though is that they're going to snap out of it and be much improved. RichRod is definitely a good coach. (You'd have to be to have consistent success at a hell hole like West Virginia.) You expect improvement over the course of the year, even if they don't have the perfect pieces for the system right now. We just have to hope that the two weeks off didn't advance them that much. We should expect them to be better though, and they seem to be realizing McGuffie's potential, and that much is concerning.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is Why We Drafted Harrell

That was my thought on Sunday night, while I watched Marion Barber, barreling out of holes cleaved by Dallas's mammoth offensive line. The NFL is a passing league. I've said it before, and I'll say it until things change. But we all basically know how it goes, right? If a team can run, it runs. If a team can't run, it passes. I'm generalizing, I know. But still, most non-West Coast offense teams would prefer to run effectively most of the time, and then use the pass play on long downs and to hit big plays.

And that's why Thompson drafted Justin Harrell. The young man is a mountain. He's the kind of kid built to hold the middle and quash running games. The idea was-- draft the next John Henderson, the enormous (both tall and big) DT for Jacksonville. Use a rotation of him, Jolly and Pickett to stop the run. Get pressure with KGB, Jenkins and Kampman, and have Hawk, Barnett, Woodson and Harris cover the field. Force teams into doing something they don't like to do, and create lots of bad throws and punts. It all makes sense. The problem is Harrell hasn't been able to stay healthy. (And, apparently wasn't dedicated enough in the offseason to stay in excellent shape.) And that's a serious issue for a DT. It's one of the most physically bruising positions in the league. Every play you're full on running into another 300 pound man or two. Hopefully, Harrell's injury issues will subside, and he'll learn the value of taking care of himself. Though if there's something to the "soft tissue" theory (that broken bones are likely one-offs, but a pattern of "soft tissue" injuries will likely continue ad nauseum) we could be in big trouble.

Anyhow, the point is that the last game was proof of the value of excellent defensive tackles, and that there was reasonable method behind TT's first-round madness 18 months ago.

Now, I'm not saying that stopping the run is the end-all be-all of defense in the NFL. Actually, passing in the NFL is so advanced that even if you can't run a lick, you still have a chance to win a game. Hell, the Vikings defense has been proving that ever since they picked up Pat Williams. Or take a look at this Sunday's opponent Tampa Bay. Last week they had Brian Griese pass the ball 67 times because their running game was so pathetic, but they still managed to win. Of course, that's largely because the Bears' D ran out of gas, and kept retaliating against the Bucs' dirty tricks and getting flagged for it, but I digress.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It Pours . . .

Al "Personal Foul" Harris has apparently ruptured his spleen, and may very well miss the rest of the season. While we all complain about Harris's, ummm, liberal interpretation of the illegal contact and defensive holding rules, he is a great fit for the Packers bump and run style coverage and a pro's pro, in addition to being one of the team's veteran leaders. Losing Al for the season would be a terrible blow to the defense. Trammon Williams has talent, but he's definitely still a work in progress, as demonstrated by friggin' Myles Austin's long touchdown last night. As some Packer beat writers have noted, the team was remarkably lucky with injuries last season, as are most teams that have excellent seasons. That luck could be running out.

p.s. Apparently UW running back John Clay isn't that badly hurt. Phew. Alas, Wisconsin cornerback Aaron Henry may miss the year as his surgicially repaired leg is still giving him trouble. I now officially hate Mondays. Especially ones following a Packers' loss.

When it Rains . . .

Not only did the Packers fail to stop the run, have Al "Personal Foul" Harris get injured thus leaving the Cowboys' third-string wideout running free, and look incapable of scoring actual touchdowns, but now we get this news about the Badgers--- Johnnie Clay is apparently injured. Ugh.

More on the Packer-Dallas debacle later.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Place for Ribs

Tomorrow night, we Packer fans will find some things out. The main thing being-- are the Packers a legitimate team? With barbecue rib kingpin and Wisconsin native Tony Romo manning the helm, TO dominating defensive backs, Marion Barber the XLVIIth steamrolling safeties, and DeMarcus Ware terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, this year's Dallas Cowboys look like the class of the NFC, if not the entire Tom Brady-less league.

Last season, the 'Boys made the Packers, sans Woodson and KGB of course, look like pretenders-- a winner of a bad division, whose double digit wins were merely the product of a weak schedule. Favre reverted to Sherman era stupidity, and Al Harris flopped like some diva with the world's worst case of stage fright. Of course, the Packers still might have been able to do something in that game had they been able to do something to slow down the Cowboys' passing, like get some heat on Romo. But they couldn't. The pride of Watertown had plenty of time to take a five or seven step drop, daydream of playing motorboat in Jessica Simpson's bosoms, snap back to reality, and hit TO or Patrick Crayton or Witten for a big gain.

What I think will determine the outcome of this game is whether that happens again-- will the Packers be able to get heat on Romo? Under pressure, he's a pretty mediocre QB, prone to iffy decisions. With lots of time, he's very accurate and throws a nice catchable ball. Though the Pack lacked KGB last time around, I really think that they'll have to blitz to get around the 'Boys' mammoth O-line. So it boils down to-- can the Packers blitzers get home enough? And I just don't know.

After watching the Philly game, I think the Pack will be able to do some things offensively, though I'm a bit worried about the team protecting Rodgers, and I wish Grant would heal up already. And I'm pretty confident that Barber the CMLVIIth will not be able to go off on us, even with the mere three-man DT rotation. So I really think it will come down to the Packers' pass D versus the Cowboys' pass offense. And within that, I think it comes down to applying pressure. This is a big challenge for Bob Sanders, and the entire defense. Let's hope they step up.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sanity Wins Out In the End

So even though it turned out not to matter, the most controversial moment of UW's victory over Fresno State last weekend was the replay official bizarrely overturning the call on the field of a fumble (forced by Shane Carter and recovered by DeAndre Levy) and declaring it to be an incomplete pass. Every ESPN announcer disagreed, as did sane people everywhere. The cry of "Shenanigans!" resounded throughout the State of Wisconsin, echoing into the night.

And not that it would have changed anything, had Casillas not caught the FSU back from behind on the screen play that immediately followed and UW gone on to lose the game, but, thankfully, the WAC has confirmed what we already knew and officially ruled that the call on the field of a fumble should have stood. Of course, there was no "incontrovertible video evidence" of a fumble. Duh. Score one for sanity, and subtract one for rampant homerism. The reviewing ref should be canned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Now that Favre's gone, and with the emergence of Greg Jennings as perhaps the team's most dynamic player, Jennings seems to have become a go-to guy for the media. Jennings is only a third-year guy, so I think he's still learning what is and is not appropriate to discuss with the press. For an example of the latter category (in my opinion), Peter King, asking Jennings about the differences between playing with Rodgers and Favre, relayed the following quote on Monday---

"Brett's a little more loose in there. You know, not that Aaron's tight; he's fine. But Brett was passing gas in the huddle.''

Yeah Greg, we really don't need to know that. Anyhow, read the rest of the Jennings discussion with King here (about two-thirds down the page), and see some strong Peter King praise for Aaron Rodgers here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Upon Further Review--- UW v. Fresno State

Yeah, so I woke up at 6 this morning and watched the UW-Fresno game. A close contest, and one that UW deserved to win, especially because of their defensive effort. The reports out of the San Joaquin Valley that Fresno State had the game in hand and blew it are hometown baloney. Given that the WAC refs stole a huge turnover from UW, that Nortman bobbled the ball and had a punt blocked, that Levy drobbled an easy interception that could have gone all the way back, that Evridge was so crampy he was moving around like an octagenarian, and that the Badgers blew it by being unoriginal on the goalline on their first drive, I'd say UW's own troubles were a big reason the game was close. Anyhow, other thoughts---

- I completely agree with U-65's comment that Fresno got duped into a contest of manliness. That was an odd aspect of the game, especially because I kept hearing about all their receiving weapons and how their Qb was so talented he was a solid NFL prospect. If they were that talented, we didn't get much of a chance to see it. One of the broadcasters said that the FSU offensive coordinator was in his first year as a coordinator at FSU and had never called plays before. That may explain it.

- Jason Chapman is back in a big, big way. He looked excellent nearly all game-- strong, quick and heady. Welcome back to the big time, Chappie.

- It was excellent to have Casillas back. He was around the ball far more than his replacement, Blake Sorensen, was in the first two games. And I totally appreciate his touchdown-saving hustle plays, both in this game and throughout his career. But you could tell he wasn't all the way back. On FSU's lone touchdown, Casillas was close to the slot receiver, but was slow reacting to him and whiffed. A fully mobile Casillas makes at least some contact with the WR, and slows him down enough so that other guys can come help. I hope he's even healthier with two weeks off until the next game.

- Garrett Graham remains the effing man. We have the best group of tight ends in the nation.

- The heavily-prolonged review and reversal of the fumble that Carter forced and Levy recovered was utter shenanigans. If they had called it incomplete initially, then maybe, but no way there was enough evidence that the receiver was bobbling the ball to reverse the call on the field. When all of the broadcast guys disagree with the reviewing refs, you know something's amiss. What a crock of rotten baloney.

- Really liked some of the tackles Jay Valai made in the game. The defense seemed to get a ton of tackles for loss. (UWBadgers.com says the D had 9 TFLs.) Valai did have trouble on some plays in space, although those are the hardest tackles to make. And boy, it just doesn't look like Shane Carter will ever be an instinctive tackler, though I admit he made an excellent play to force the reversed fumble. He waits around a little too much, and just doesn't seem to like contact. I hope their partnership works though, and Valai can be the physical guy and Carter can be the ballhawk.

- It was pretty clear early on to me that this was not going to be Zach Brown's game. Nearly all of the rushing yards were coming after contact, and Zach's more of a vision, acceleration guy, not as much of a tackle-breaker. Thus, I was completely confused about using him on the goalline on the first drive. Questionable decision there, and I would have liked to generally seen a bit less of Zach in running situations, and a little more Clay. Zach will have his big games though.

- I think Evridge's hammie must have been cramping up all game. It was quite hot there, and he was simply not moving well. That Qb draw they ran at the goalline would have worked easily if he had been himself. But man, he looked awful on that play. Hell, I could have run that faster. And there were several other rollout type plays wehre he really should have tucked it and ran, and instead threw a bad or incomplete pass. Like the back half of the Shaughnesillas, I hope he heals up in the next two weeks. We really need his mobility.

- The last real play call in the game was brilliant. If you don't recall, UW had the ball at their own one with about two and a half minutes left and with FSU having two timeouts. They ran a sneak with Scherer for about two yards to get some room. Then, in an obvious running situation, they gave the ball to fullback Bill Rentmeester on a quick hit up the middle. This was the first FB carry of the game, and seemed to catch FSU completely by surprise. Rentmeester got hit almost immediately, but kept churning and, with the help of the line, pushed forward 8 yards, landing right on top of the first down line. Game over. A wonderful and hyper-effective play call on that last real down.

- Not that Fresno State fans realized that the signal of a first down after that play meant that the game was over. Their band was still playing fight songs, and their student section was belting out cheers, even while the Badgers were kneeling on the ball. I mean, hello? FSU is definitely not the best state school in California, and that was further proof.

Badger Football

The Badgers played strong and tough, and showed they were made of stern stuff.

It was GREAT to have Jonathan Casillas back on the field. He made numerous plays and was very active. He also exhibited one of his greatest abilities: chasing down streaking players. Ever since he was a freshman Mr. Casillas could turn and run towards his end zone, gain on everybody, and tackle a breakaway runner from behind. He has shown this animal instinct countless times in his UW career. Even with a knee brace #2 was able to track down a fleeing Bulldog and stop him before he reached the endzone. Loser Fresno kicker proceeded to wank the FG.

It seems both teams were trying to win the manly battle. WI is often a victim of its own blue-collar mantra. We are determined to run it up the gut at the goal line and on 4th downs because we preach all summer long in workouts that we are going to do just that. So even though play action always works, we still try to stuff it at them. I think Fresno got a little caught up in that as well. They continued to run it right at us even when it wasn't working. Our secondary has holes, but they didn't try to find them too often. Fresno manned-up and got a 13-10 slugfest loss. Thanks for having us!

Bret Bielema has a sterling record when leading at halftime. This must be at the forefront of your brain when you start second guessing the play-calling. We went away from the TEs. We pressed on with slow developing running plays, when the quick-hitters were the ones working. We didn't run enough play-action. And yet, we didn't make any terrible turnovers with the lead on the road, and we won the game. It's not terribly frustrating underachieving offense, its game management people!

If we are going to run up the gut in short yard situations, how about we hand the ball to Johnny Clay! His vision is nowhere near as good as PJ Hill's, but good golly ain't nobody stopping him short of a yard. I would love to see the inverted wishbone with our two FBs and Mr. Clay back there.

Lastly, hating on the BigTen is so overplayed its should be a suited connector. It's become dogma already. The Big 12 and the SEC appear stronger this season than every other conference. But the BigTen at the bottom? Huh? I would LOVE to stack up 10 v. 10 against Pac-10 teams. Southern Cal is dominant, Michigan is terrible and Purdue choked at home. Other than those 3 points, what have you? MSU lost a close game at Cal? If you think I'm being ridiculous, check the standings. Look at all those garbage Pac-10 squads. Also, apparently all the Pac-10 teams are too skeered to play at Fresno.

Anyway, the facts are that USC has dominated 3 Big Ten teams over the last 2+ years in Southern Cal. Also, OSU has gotten demolished in 2 straight Title games. From this the media has gleaned that everybody in the BigTen is slow and overrated. Color me not buying it.

Big Ten Gets Owned

Well, Saturday the 13th wasn't unlucky for the Badgers (although I have yet to finish watching the Fresno State game that I tivo'd last night), but man, the rest of the Big Ten looked bad. The Beanie-less Ohio A&M gets completely owned by USC on national broadcast TV, after looking decent at the start of the game. Purude blows a 17 point lead at home to lose to Oregon, and still hasn't beat a ranked team since 2003. Michigan, largely due to its own errors, gets its butt kicked by a Notre Dame team that most sane people were hoping was going to be horrible again this year. Illinois beats the Ragin' Cajuns by only 3 points, in a game at Memorial Stadium. Not good.

Yes, Penn State stomped Syracuse, but the formerly interesting and talented teams the 'Cuse used to put out are no longer. The Orange may be the worst BCS conference team in the country. And yes, Iowa beat in-state rival Iowa State, but the Cyclones aren't expected to do much this year, and the game was quite close until the last few minutes. I also refuse to argue that Sparty, Northwestern, and Minnesota beating patsies at home does much of anything for the Big Ten's reputation. Be prepared for the league to get ripped this next week, regardless of Wisconsin's tough achievement out there in the agricultural hinterlands. We've still got to be ahead of the Big East and the ACC, but right now it's looking like the Pac-10, SEC and Big 12 have far more street cred. (Even though the Pac-10 looks very top heavy-- UCLA, Washington, Cal and Arizona State all had bad losses yesterday, and PSU killed Oregon State last weekend.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Young Pack

A Viking fan who reads Camp Lambeau called me up before the Monday Night game. What did the Packers have going for them? Heck, even Mr. Man seemed to be downplaying expectations. What was going on? Were the Packers going up or down? Now, forecasting the NFL is famously difficult, so I went with my only true feeling about these Packers: The team is young. Young in a good way. 

The Packers have been the youngest team in the league going on 3 years now. Good teams with aging players have a lot to worry about. Bad teams with young players have a lot to worry about. But, good teams with young players? Less to worry about. The Packers returned basically the same team as last year (sans Brett and Corey). That team went 13-3. Did the Packers get old? Nope. They gained experience. 

That opener on Monday night looked familiar to me. Aggressive press coverage on defense (Love watching that). Winning play from D-Linemen and LBs. Stiff defense. If TarvJax couldn't run with the ball, the Vikes wouldn't have done much at all.  On offense we protected the QB and got the ball to our WRs in an efficient manner. Our youth and depth showed up on special teams. 

Also, the Packers coaching staff seems to be well above-average. Our play-calling is effective, and the team corrects mistakes as the game goes along. This adds my confidence, and to the players' as well.

It's a long season, and things change fast in the NFL. But these 2008 Packers may just be who we thought they were. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Who Knew?

After attending last night's game, it's become very clear. According to Minnesota Viking fans, their team consists of only one player-- Adrian Peterson. Seriously, a ton of Viking fans at the game were wearing jerseys, but they were all Peterson jerseys. Everywhere you looked, you were surrounded by atrociously purple # 28s. Peterson is undoubtedly a great player, but this sort of bandwagoning superficial fandom really irritated me.

Packer-Vikings Observations

I'm still exhausted after getting home at 1:30 last night, so here are some bleary-eyed observations from last night's triumph over the Vikings---

- The block that Jason Hunter laid on Chad Greenway to seal Blackmon's TD return was just an excellent play. He hustled and got himself in just legal position (his head was just to the front of Greenway's shoulders) then knocked that former Iowa Hawkeye on his behind. Everyone around us was freaking out more about that block than the return itself when they showed the replays. Incidentally, they replayed that return about seven times. I think it's a new record.

- Thank goodness the weather mostly held. I was worried it was going to be a slogging downpour the entire time. There was about ten minutes of light rain in the fourth quarter and that was it.

- I don't know what Greg Bedard over at the Journal-Sentinel is smoking when he claims that the Packers were able to run the ball effectively. The team's rushing average was decent because of Grant's one long run and Rodgers' scrambling. On pretty much every other rushing play, the Packers didn't do squat. Let's look at the numbers-- without Grant's 57 yard run and Rodgers' scrambles, the Packers ran 19 times for 47 yards. That's pathetic. Consider all the goalline stands where the Packers couldn't move the ball more than a yard without sneaking or passing. Consider the Packers' last offensive possession where they couldn't come close to getting a first down rushing the ball. Bedard is deluded-- calling the battle of the lines a "mismatch" in favor of the Packers' offensive line is ludicrous. In short, the Packers' run blocking was poor, though you expected that with the Vikes' defense, few carries for Grant, and Moll starting. The pass blocking was surprisingly decent though, even with Rodgers making quick dump passes on blitzes.

- Really, what turned the game for the Packers were the three big plays-- Blackmon's return, Grant's run, and Jennings' great play on that bomb-- and Childress/Bevell being complete idiots.
Whenever Peterson didn't get the ball, or the Vikes didn't run a playaction pass, we were confused. Jackson passed 35 times and completed 16 of them. Peterson touched the ball 20 times, 19 carries and one pass. He averaged 5.7 yards each time he touched the ball. Those numbers of touches should be reversed, even if you're losing, and even with the Packers were doing a better job on Peterson in the second half. Peterson is a great player. He has got to touch the ball at least 25 times every game. Bevell and Childress occasionally make excellent calls (the fourth down playaction for a touchdown being one), but this stuff is just so basic, it's mindboggling.

- The three big plays were great, but the Packers have to be more consistent offensively. A nice long slow drive at some point late in the third or in the fourth would have iced the game. Maybe when they're able to run with some consistency (when Grant's all the way back and they're playing against worse run defenses), and thus create a little more room for the wideouts to run, they'll be able to have those kinds of drives.

- Rodgers played well, for sure. As far as room for improvement goes, the one thing I want to see in coming weeks is better accuracy on short throws. In order for the West Coast stuff to work well, Rodgers has got to get the ball to guys in stride, so they can immediately cut upfield. He did that some of the time last night. Other times, he made his receivers lunge for the ball, thus forcing them to slow down and get themselves together before running. When he was slightly off target on those throws, those plays generally didn't do much. Just a handful of yards at time. I specifically remember one pass to Driver, one to Jennings out wide, and one to Lee in the flat. All completed, but all awkward catches, and all getting minimal gains.

- Rodgers' deep pass to Jennings was fine, but not great. I thought Driver was more open than Jennings on that play. Rodgers' running was excellent though. He looks like Favre back in '93. Good stuff to see. And that goalline pass to Korey Hall was simply marvelous. A wonderful play and a brilliantly accurate ball, thrown while he was torquing his body to the side, trying to dodge the rush. Encouraging stuff.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Heading North

Yes, the woman, a close friend (Senor Busch), and myself are heading up to Green Bay this afternoon for the Packers' season opener against the Vikings, rendevouzing with the Pops at the gas station where the Packer mini-bus parks. This is surely a game the ViQueens have had circled since Favre retired (and after the Packers whipped them and injured Adrian Peterson last November). After Thompson's refusal to release Favre and let him sign with the 'Queens, and the team's justified filing of tampering charges against the 'Queens after old UW compadres Bevell and Childress kissed his ass out of retirement, the Minnesota brass must have double and triple circled this game.

If you're looking to heighten the foreboding, consider the injury situations at defensive line, a strength going into last season, the shuffling and injuries of the O-line, A-Rodg's very likely jitters, Grant having played one snap all preseason, AJ Hawk and James Jones likely being out, and finally, Favre's face being on the tickets. (Not joking-- I'll have to take a picture of the tickets themselves tomorrow.)

Plus, it's supposed to rain tonight, and the wind is coming straight out of the North from Canada-- the same stupid wind that brought us the subarctic temperatures resulting in Ice Bowl II 8 months ago, which, in my estimation, deprived the Packers of a trip to the Super Bowl.

Anyhow, the signs are pointing against a Packers' victory in this one. But there are reasons for hope. Despite the addition of drunk-driving NFL-sacks leader Jared Allen to their D-line, the Vikings secondary hasn't really changed. They paid big bucks to a safety from the Bengals (?) to run tandem with Darren Sharper, but he's injured. Rodgers will likely not be last season's Favre. But the receivers, even without Jones, are still the receivers, perhaps the deepest group in the league. They should be able to get open and make some plays.

Plus, the 'Queens left tackle, Mt. McKinnie, is suspended. He's a solid pass protector and, with Steve Hutchinson at guard, half of a formidable run-blocking duo. His absence should make Adrian Peterson a bit less effective, at least when running to that side. And KGB, if he's good to go, should be schooling McKinni'e back-up and putting heat on Tavaris Jackson on passing downs.

What will likely decide the game is the performance of the lines. The Packers 3-man run-down DT rotation needs to be able to prevent Hutchinson and Birk from cleaving big holes for Peterson. Then Kampman, Jolly, KGB, Monty, Hunter, Poppinga and Jenkins need to put heat on Jackson when the Packers force passing downs. The reshuffled interior O-line will only need to hold the fort for a few seconds when the Packers throw the ball, as I'm sure McCarthy will emphasize short passing routes. On run downs, the Pack linemen need to cut-block Pat Williams like crazy. If they can get his fat, but surprisingly nimble, behind on the ground, and Grant should find some room to run. You know the 'Queens safeties won't be crowding the box.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Packers will win the majority of these battles. Thus, I agree with the conclusion of the J-S panel, that the Pack will likely lose. If the weather turns messy, I predict the game will get messier for Green Bay-- more holes for Peterson, slippery hands for the Pack's wideouts. It could get ugly. Come the fourth quarter tonight, I fear I'll be shivering in a rain-soaked poncho, staring at a double-digit deficit on the scoreboard, trying to pretend I didn't hear my wife's demands to leave early. Boy, I hope I'm wrong though. At least my friend agreed to drive on the way back from the game--that way, if they do lose, I can try to get some sleep and forget about the debacle.

Uh Oh

Last season, longtime Journal-Sentinel writer Bob McGinn wrote a prescient column, calling the Packers an ascending team, and surprisingly picking them to beat out the Super Bowl runner-up bears for the division title. McGinn looked like a legit prophet as the season rolled along, and the Packers cruised to the division title, tying the Cowboys for the best record in the NFC.

Alas, McGinn has recently published another column (Packer Insider subscribers only), one that calls for a severe drop-off this season. The main reason is what attentive Packer fans already knew-- the team's best/most important players (Clifton, Tauscher, Driver, Woodson, Harris, Kampman) are old and getting older. The only truly dynamic young player on the team appears to be Greg Jennings. McGinn claims other possibilities for emergence, like Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins, appear to have plateaued or regressed. As he makes clear, none of the team's recent draft picks appear ready to make big contributions this season. He also notes that the Packers were quite lucky dodging serious injuries the past two seasons, and that the bug is bound to catch up with the team sooner or later. Thus, he predicts a significantly worse season this year-- perhaps below .500.

It's hard to disagree with many of McGinn's points, and his prescience last season makes his view especially worrying. And I know McGinn watches practice, unlike most of us fans, so he has a better sense of the team's development and performanc. But I think he may be a little overly pessimisstic. I have some hope.

My reason for hope is something that McGinn doesn't mention-- the development of players. McCarthy and Thompson appear to be strong believers in player development and drafting for potential. They expect players to grow and blossom as they mature. (Hell, they've even referred to players as "freshmen" and "sophomores.") McGinn doesn't mention any of these rising sophomores or juniors, as it were, that we should perhaps hope will emerge as good to excellent players. I'm thinking of players like James Jones, Jason Spitz, Darryn Colledge, Trammon Williams, Will Blackmon, Atari Bigby, AJ Hawk, Brandon Jackson. Guys that have demonstrable talent, talent that you see in flashes, but are still young and learning. Is it too much to hope that some of these guys will step forward this season, will emerge into very good players? And what about Rodgers? Can't we have some hope that he'll be an improvement over Favre in at least some facets of the game?

More Marshall Thoughts

It should be noted that Paul Chryst is a tremendous asset for the program. You know that terrible feeling you had after the Badgers' first two drives on Saturday? That miserable anger? It comes from those years of watching your Badgers getting stuffed on slow developing running plays until the game ended. But friends, let those worries go.  Chrsyt is a great game planner and is able to adapt to what the defense was giving him. Badger coaches expected Marshall to over play the run. But Marshall not only had 8 and 9 in the box, those 8 and 9 were leaning forward on the snap and barreling forward. Very Aggressive. No worries. Chryst runs vertical routes with the TEs and deep outs with the WR. From my seats at the Camp everybody was open. Enjoy Mr. Chryst, and his stress relieving abilities, while he is here. He is among the best at his profession.

Coaches are very high on Lance Kendricks and expect to use him as they use TravB. Kendricks may have lost a little top-end speed bulking up to play TE in the BigTen, but still presents terrible matchup problems for LBs and even Safeties.

I thought the secondary played only marginally better against Marshall than they did against Akron despite the 3 picks. Marshall WRs were getting open and the QB was hitting them easily in the beginning. (Plus that unbelievably perfectly timed roll-left throw back right to the TE when we uncharacteristically decided to blitz all of our linebackers. Unreal.) What altered the game was our consistent pass rush. Our D Line dominated the last 3 quarters. We knocked down their QB on pretty much every passing play during that time, and the starter got so sick of that he started winging it around so he wouldn't get hit. Then they brought in the backup and we gave him the rag doll treatment as well. Then the starter comes back in and really starts throwing it wherever just don't hit me again!

Very good to get consistent D Line pressure. It got our secondary some interception opportunities and they delivered, except on that one play that Carter will keep thinking about. I know from post-game interviews that the secondary gained a lot of confidence from their performance. Niles Brinkley is feeling the good vibes. We all know about DBs and their need of confidence and bravado. Hopefully this helps us cope with the Valley kids.

I am obligated to talk about Johnny Clay. Damn Johnny Clay actually did mishandle his first hand-off after almost fumbling last week's first hand-off. He needs to get over those first play jitters. But good golly when he gets four steps of steam look out! Let's hope for their sake that Marshall defenders were just tired, because the Racine Freight Train was running express. Johnny Clay ran threw arm tackles like he didn't feel them and delivered incredible blows to approaching Safeties and CBs. On his TD, there was a defender at the goal line who is still wondering what the hell happened. Johnny Clay! looked really good on Saturday.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Random UW-Marshall Observations...

The title speaks for itself, so here goes---

- Josh Oglesby absolutely demolished his man on that first UW touchdown. He moved him at least five yards back and to the left. Impressive stuff. This makes me want to see more of the jumbo package.

- As others have noted (specifically Tappa at Badgercentric) Brady Ewing's touchdown in the fourth was not a touchdown. When his knee went down, the ball was at about the one, with his momentum afterwards carrying him into the red zone. I really don't know what the ref on that side was thinking (maybe he was cut up in the unadulterated joy of the back-ups) or what the Marshall coach was thinking. The Herd would have definitely won a challenge there. It was also odd that the commentators didn't mention it. Thus, it was only fitting that the following extra point attempt was blocked.

- Jefferson's 40 yard catch could have gone all the way had the throw been a little more aggressive. He had his man beat to the inside and there was no safety help ahead. Regardless, Kyle made an excellent adjustment to slow down, use his height and make the catch.

- Marshall was very very aware of the interior tight end screen play that Chryst loves so much. He's been running that play for at least three years now, usually with the team's less dynamic tight end (Crooks, then Graham the last two years). If the Herd coaches have caught on, I don't think it's going to catch anyone by surprise anymore.

- No sacks this game, which seemed a little odd given that UW was getting decent pressure. Part of that might have been due to the team getting burned with some screen-type plays early, and perhaps being overly cautious after that. One on play, Shaughnessy pulled up on what at least would have been a QB pressure becuase he wanted to cover the running back in the flat. However, part of it was the Marshall QBs seemed a little trigger happy. Nearly all of their three interceptions came off on pressured throws, where they apparently were just trying to get rid of the ball. Also, there were plenty of tackles for loss, though I've yet to find the actual stats on that for the game. Finally, did anyone else notice that Shaughnessy seemed to be the inside rusher in the 3-3-5 package several times? And he seemed pretty effective . . .

- The throws to Maurice Moore were interesting. All three were, I believe, wide receiver screens or quasi-laterals. I guess the coaches wanted to see what he could do with the ball in his hands in space. Sounds a lot like the principles of the spread offense, huh? Moore was a high school option QB.

- While Kendricks looks like a very fluid athlete, I'd like to see (and expected to see) a little more explosion out of him, as a former high level track guy, especially in his moves after the catch. But he has to be very encouraged after yesterday. Two years of waiting have paid off.

- Apparently Goins was bothered by a bruised heel that he suffered last week. Weird. Well, I hope he heals up this week, but it's encouraging that even with a nagging injury he didn't play that bad. He got beat by that hilariously named receiver-- Passmore-- but he wasn't totally out of position. He also made a nice tackle on that big tight end of Marshall's for no gain.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fitty-One Straight, Homie

Right. So if you're reading this, you may have been with me in the first quarter of Wisconsin's 51-14 victory of the Marshall Thundering Herd. That is, cursing at the television, cursing at the team, cursing at the world. Thinking, "Wisconsin is just a bad team. They can't really run the ball. Their receivers are all neophytes. Their defenders are modestly talented nincompoops. Hello, 6 and 6!"
But then, the worm turned. Wisconsin started playing with some gnards. Allan Evridge finally showed why we were so psyched when he transferred two years ago, and why UW was supremely lucky to have Evridge agree to pay his own way his first semester. Garrett Graham remembered that he's a stud. The receivers realized that they could get open, especially with 9 guys crowding the box. The pass blocking actually started, umm, blocking. The defense began bending less and less. Then the big gains commenced. Big pass yards in chunks. To Graham, to Kendricks, to Gilreath, to Jeferson. Some continuing decent gains on the ground, though nothing spectacular.

And the march was on. Then in the second half, the interception barrage began, adding serious logs to the fire. Niles Brinkley showed his former wideout ball skills with two nice picks, though one was a gift. Carter did his center field action on badly two terrible balls, though he dropped one. The short field led to easier points as the rolling continued.

Really, from the first quarter on, the only negatives were the fumbles. PJ fumbled once on fourth down, with Mickey Turner thankfully recovering. But then he and Evridge couldn't get their act together on a simple handoff, which Marshall jumped on. For some reason, Brown's quick-hitter style was working better in this game anyway, so even though PJ sat after the last fumble, the team didn't really suffer.

So it was a weird experience really-- furious anger and frustration, to slight redemption, to the defense actually doing something, to more points, and further points, and more yards, and then you look up and every non-redshirting running back on the roster has scored a touchdown. The second-string offensive line, with the second-string QB and receivers and third-string tailback has paved a touchdown drive. And the back-up defenders don't even allow a scoring drive. In the end, a remarkable game and a dominating performance. It just cam about in bizarre way-- via a fourteen point deficit, erased largely through the air. Wild stuff.

I don't know what it means for Fresno State next week, an intensely worrying game. It looks like Wisconsin can throw the ball, even without their best offensive player, at least against iffy pass defenses. Last week proved the Badgers can run the ball on undersized front sevens. The defense hasn't really proved much of anything, except that it can switch back and forth from looking excellent to looking mediocre. But, hell, 51 straight points? That's enough to feel pretty good for today.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Akron/UW -- Upon Further Review

Due to my attendance at a wedding in Colorado, I was unable to see Wisconsin's first football game of the season live. Thanks to the miraculous nature of DVRs and the Big Ten Network however, I was able to watch the game on delay last night. Here are some random thoughts---

- I know that it's very early, but boy does John Moffit look like a dramatic improvement at center. That one running play where he pulled hard to the left, and Zach Brown followed him, eventually hurdling over him for a gain of 9, was impressive stuff and pretty typical of his performance. Plus, he can snap the ball properly in the shotgun. (I still cannot believe that Coleman was unable to perform a shotgun snap. Ridiculous.)

- Clay looks like the real deal. Big, good vision, fast, strong. And he should only get better. Brown looks a bit quicker than last season and has excellent vision. I'd like to see him shake off a few more ankle tackles though.

- So everyone's been complaining about Gilreath's drop in the end zone. And verily, that was a bad blunder. A good route, a solid throw, a nice touch play for a score. And then he craps the bed by juggling the ball. Ugh. Shape up, Dave. You know as well as the rest of us that you have yet to score a collegiate touchdown. End that drought already.

- Newkirk's one sack was all Jason Chapman-- Chappie made his trademark quick first step, beating the guard trying to block him, and nearly grabbing the QB. Regardless he flushed him forward, right into the arms of Newkirk. A good sign for Chapman's health.

- Randy called me on Saturday, assuming I had watched the game and demanded to know how Wisconsin had given up 17 points. Of course, I hadn't seen the game then. But after watching the entire game, I think it should have been 7. One touchdown was on a legit drive by Akron. Then a field goal after that horrible Evridge pass and long return, which he has admitted he should have thrown out of the end zone. (Or ran for it.) Then the final touchdown against the back-ups, which came with less than a minute left, on a screen where a Badger second-stringer had the ball carrier perfectly set up for a vicious hit, but totally whiffed. The Akron player jogged into the end zone from 15 yards out. I think the UW defender makes that tackle, the game ends without a second Akron touch.

- Another common source of complaint is Evridge's interception. Yes, that was a poor throw and decision, especially in the red zone. But what confused me was the previous play, where Evridge scrambled to the one. On that play, he looks around, rolls slightly left, and then runs straight ahead (just left of the left hash), getting sandwiched between two defenders after gaining about 8 yards. But what was bizarre was that had he kept going left he could have scored easily. Kyle Jefferson had outside position on his defender, the only guy near that area, and even with some half-hearted blocking, Evridge could have gone right to the pylon and scored easily. That's the kind of running read Tyler Donovan would have made instinctively. Plus, on that run Evridge never really seemed to put his foot on the throttle. Had he floored it, I think he could have scored, even taking that contested route to the end zone. Now I know it's been more than two years since he last played a college snap. He's going to be rusty. But that was a clear mental error that ended up costing the team a touchdown. I hope as the season progresses, we see him shaking off the rust, and playing more naturally.