Packers head into training camp with few answers to Defenses weakness up the middle.

For the last 3 years the Packer’s defense has been bad overall, but especially bad up the middle. Where other contending teams in the NFC are stocked with talent the Packer’s have mediocre players and did little during the offseason to upgrade these glaring weaknesses.

B.J. Raji is back and will be counted on heavily. If Raji’s stats were not enough to convince you how bad he has been over the last 2 seasons, then the fact that he received no interest in free agency should. Can he be better playing Nose Tackle than Defensive End? Perhaps, but he will have to be substantially better, simply to rise to the level of average.

Brad Jones and AJ Hawk: Hawk is assignment sure and durable but not an impact player (outside of tackling golfers apparently). Jones has to be one of the worst starting inside linebackers in the league. Really hoping that Barrington or Lattimore step up and contribute inside.

Morgan Burnett: Regardless of who is starting alongside him he is just not good enough. It’s a very bad sign when people are talking about adding a rookie to improve the performance of a veteran. At this stage in his career it should be Burnett, picking up the play of a rookie, not the other way around.

Micah Hyde and/or Clinton-Dix: Might be talent here, but if we have learned anything from Caper’s schemes over the last 3 years it is that they are exceptionally capable of confusing young defensive backs. This off season McCarthy has all but admitted this much with his constant talk of “less schemes, more personnel”.

From a personnel standpoint it is hard to see where the improvement will come from.

Bakhtiari and the Packers pay a heavy price in Cincinnati

The Packer’s are typically one of the youngest teams in the league, and that is no accident. It is firmly based on their draft and develop strategy. This ties in closely with their cap strategy of paying premium dollars to lock up their stars and build the surrounding cast with team members playing out their cap friendly rookie and first year contracts.

This strategy does have a price, and that is the cost associated with the growing pains of playing young, inexperienced players, particularly early in the season.
This week David Bakhtiari produced a perfect demonstration of how expensive those early growing pains can be. On 4th and 5 with 1:25 remaining and the game on the line, Bakhtiari was badly beaten when he made an extremely poor attempt at a cut block. It is not an exaggeration to say that the only thing he made contact with, in his attempt to cut block Michael Johnson of the Bengals, was the artificial turf. That was until he tried to use a leg whip to trip Johnson, but that also came up short. The result was that Johnson easily blocked Aaron Rodgers pass attempt and the rest is history.

I have been impressed with Bakhtiari so far this season, and overall he has been a pleasant surprise, but nothing comes for free in the NFL and starting a rookie left tackle is no exception. With only 16 regular season games this was a painful and expensive lesson. We can only hope we will see a return on this costly investment come December and January.

Packer’s are Struggling and One Reason is Clear

Packer’s are a draft and develop team and through the first three weeks of the season they have gotten next to nothing from their last four first round draft picks.

Bryan Bulaga (2010) and Derek Sherrod (2011) were drafted with the intention of adding a more physical nature to a finesse based offensive line.  Bulaga has clearly demonstrated first round talent and would have been a huge upgrade on this offensive line (at either offensive tackle spot).  However following his injury shortened 2012 season he is not able to contribute at all to the 2013 Packers.  Sherrod has been a not factor since his devastating leg injury during his rookie season.  In theory Sherrod could provide some contribution later in the year (he is available to come of the PUP list after the 6th game of the season), but given the significance of the injury and the difficulty of the recovery that seems unlikely.    The net result is the Packer’s are starting 2 undersized and inexperienced offensive tackles and are simply not capable of consistently winning one on one matchup’s vs. a quality defensive front seven.

Ted Thompson went back to the USC well to draft Nick Perry (2012).  The hope was investing a high round draft pick could provide a much needed bookend to Clay Matthews.  One injury shortened season and three games later the Packer’s have little to show for their investment.  Although it is still early Perry has not demonstrated the ability to do anything particularly well.   As a pass rusher he can be best described as an undersized bull rusher.  In pass coverage he looks like a defensive end, which he was at USC.  His best attribute is setting the edge on running plays, however even in that phase he is not a significant upgrade over last year’s Desmond Moses and  Erik Walden (two “street” free agent pickups).    At this point I am beginning to agree with a growing consensus that Perry’s best hope would be to add weight and move to defensive line.  Either way, the odds look long for him meeting the promise expected of a first round pick.

Datone Jones  (2013) – 3 games in is certainly not enough time to give any sort of long range projection on the eventual contributions of a rookie.  However one thing that can be said is that Jones has not provided a significant contribution thus far.  In fact outside of blocking an extra point you would be hard pressed to even notice Jones on the field.    We can only hope the reason for his slow start has been due to his recovery from a sprained ankle, because in spite of all the training camp hype Jones has simply not delivered in a game.

As we all know Ted Thomson and Mike McCarthy are firmly committed to building their team with a draft (plus sign undrafted rookies) and develop philosophy and they have an excellent track record to demonstrate the effectiveness of that approach. However one of the critical components of this approach is to find new difference makers with your early draft picks.  When those top picks, particularly first round picks, do not develop and contribute it creates a large hole that can be difficult to overcome.

Pre-season really means nothing. But…

Thought on preseason game 3

  • The Packers offensive line needs work on run blocking, and perhaps more importantly they need to gain some confidence going into the regular season.  This really makes McCarthy’s play calling when Rodgers was in the game especially puzzling.  With Rodgers the Seahawks must respect the pass and cannot stack 8 men in the box. This would have been the perfect time to run, instead McCarthy goes back to his pass-all-the time play calling.  This was a chance to for the O-line to shake off the dreaded “soft” label and demonstrate some level of success against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.  Instead McCarthy waited until Harrell entered the game to try to establish the run, when the odds of success had been greatly reduced.  The end result was obvious, the run blocking was ineffectual and the opportunity to experience success and gain confidence was lost.
  • Injuries, injuries, injuries…  I have been watching a lot of football this preseason (thanks to the NFL preseason online) and I know it is subjective and most likely wrong but I just can’t shake the feeling that Packers players are more susceptible to injuries than others.   It just seems we can’t go through a drive without someone limping off (and not returning for weeks).  Really makes me wonder how we will get through a tough 60 minute game once the regular season starts.
  • Finely – First off I am not a Finley hater.  I like Finley and I think I represent the majority of Packer fans who have been optimistically waiting for him to “break out” and become a game changing weapon.  Sadly last night, at least for me, that cloud of optimism started to clear.    The reason has nothing to do with Finley’s attitude or lack of effort; I truly believe Finley competes just as hard as any player.  I just don’t think he is capable of being consistent enough to be a special player.  He seems to lack the “rise to the occasion” quality that signifies great players.  I hope to be proven wrong, but I expect this will be another year of promise mixed with disappointment, good not great play from Finley.
  • Final notes – It was obvious that this was not McCarthy’s typical 3rd preseason game plan.  I know it is probably well down on his list of priorities, as it should be, but he didn’t do much to inspire confidence in the fan base that this team is anywhere close to being ready for the brutal start of the regular season.   I know fan base’s confidence has no impact on the success or failure of the team; it is the confidence of the players that I am concerned about.

Thoughts after Packer’s preseason game 2

The good

  • Eddie Lacy looks as good as advertised.  He showed a great combination of power and quickness and as a bonus he even showcased his signature spin move.   Barring significant injury, and by the way I think he has already proven concerns about his toe fusion surgery where highly overrated, he has demonstrated all the tools to be a top flight running back in this league.
  • Johnny Jolly is a naturally gifted football player and a 3 year layoff has done nothing to change that.  Last night he demonstrated the power, quick twitch and football IQ that we have been hoping to see again.  I know keeping him on the roster is still a risk, after all another off the field slip-up would result in a lifetime ban from the NFL, but I just don’t see how the Packer’s could let him go.
  •  Backup QBs Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman –  I thought Harrell had one of the best games I have ever seen him play.  He ran the offense with confidence and threw the ball with surprising velocity and good accuracy.  Unfortunately his stats did not correctly reflect how well he played based on several drops.  Harrell had the look of a competent NFL backup.  Coleman also had his best performance, he showed a lot of natural ability and made me think he is still a guy the Packers should continue to develop on the practice squad.
  • Tight end depth was clearly on display.  If there were any remaining question why the Packers did not match the offer for Tom Crabtree they were certainly answered last night.  Both  Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner showed enough talent to make an NFL roster.  Add Mathew Mulligan, Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor to the mix and it is clear the Packers are going to have some very tough decisions to make in the cut down to 53.
  • Micah Hyde – Sure he got burned on the long pass…. It happens, every corner back in the NFL will get burned occasionally.  However, Hyde displayed a short memory and followed up with an outstanding game.  The thing that really impressed me  last nigh was he seemed much bigger and powerful than I expected.

The Bad

  • Special Teams –  Although the kickers had a good night the blocking on both punts and kicks was terrible.  One kick was partially blocked and several others, including one punt, were very close to being blocked.  I know the preseason is not the time to panic, since many players are being shuffled in and out on special teams, but this is an area that must improve for the regular season.
  • Mike Neal at OLB.  I thought Neal showed good quickness and power as an inside pass rusher, however his time as an OLB brought back memories of watching Aaron Kampman struggle at the position.    Yes Neal can occasionally line up at OLB, but if he has to drop into coverage he is a liability.
  • Overall staring defense –  Capers defense is all about scheming and creating mismatches so I know not to expect too much during the preseason, but I was still disappointed in how easily the Rams moved the ball up and down the field.   Although the defense should be commended for keeping the Rams starting offense out of the end zone, it appeared the Rams incompetence (missed passes and fumbled snap) had more to do with that than the Packers defense.

The hope

  • The Packers demonstrated significant improvement from game 1 and have a lot to build on for the remainder of the preseason.

Things I think I think after preseason game 1

The good

  • Aaron Rodgers and James Jones seem to be in mid-season form.  I really liked seeing them connect on the deep ball.  Last year Aaron seemed to be just a touch off on quite a few long balls.
  • David Bakhtiari aquitted himself quite well.  I know its the first pre-season game, but he looked the part. With the loss of Brian Bulaga the Packers really need him to step up.
  • Tyrone Walker looks like he has potential in what appears to be a wide open race for the 4th an 5th WR spots.  In fact I think he was the only receiver that stood out for those spots.  We may be deep, but outside of Walker there was not much quality displayed by the backup wider receivers.  I was disappointed in Boykin and Ross last night.  Too many drops and missed assignments.
  • Johnny Jolly – It was just great to see Johnny back on the field last night.  I could tell he was rusty and still working himself back into football shape, but he did get a good push up the middle on several pass rush attempts and stood his ground against the run.  Given the quality of depth on our defensive line I am convinced he has a good shot at making the team.

The bad

  • Datone Jones – An ankle injury.. seriously!  Haven’t we been snake bit enough during this camp!  I remember how BJ Raji’s first season was seriously hampered by an ankle injury.  All the push and strength those big guys generate goes through the legs and a bad ankle can take it all away.  Here is hoping Datone’s injury is not a serious one (especially not the dreaded high ankle sprain) – however with the Packers luck I am pessimistic.
  • Marshall Newhouse – in one play he clearly demonstrated why he is no longer a serious contender for left tackle.  He just seems to get stuck in his stance and looks like he is standing still against speed rushers.  I am  willing to give him a bit of a break since it was his first game on the right side.  However, at this point I think Barclay has a solid shot to emerge as the starting right tackle.
  • Jerron McMillian – McCarthy and Thomson always say to look for second year players to make a jump from their rookie seasons.  If  there was any jump from McMillian last night I sure didn’t see it.  He seemed often out of position and looked like he was playing slow (probably still thinking too much — no doubt about why he is out of position).  At this point, even with all of his physical ability, it looks like MD Jennings is still a better option.
  • Backup OLBs – Mulumba and Palmer did not show anything in terms of getting a pass rush.  Mulumba at least seemed to be able to set the edge on running plays, something that Palmer did not do.  Even Dezman Moses had a very poor night (no visible second year jump for him either),  In fact the backups looked so poor that at this point Mike Neal may be our third best option at OLB.
  • Overall depth – Just seemed bad, we kept hearing about how deep this team was a DB, DL, WR and it just was not on display last night.  At this point it appears Thompson will need to be heavily working the waiver wire as teams cut down to strengthen several positions.

The hope

  • Davon House -  Even with limited opportunities to watch him play (given his injury history) I know he can play better than he did last night.  I also thought he had good coverage most of the night and just a little better ball skills would go along way,
  • The offense will be solid as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy.  The starting offense looked very sharp on their long drive and, maybe I am just being optimistic, but I think if  you substitute Eddie Lacy for Starks that 4th and goal run would have been a TD.
  • Defensive reinforcements – Help is on the way.  Mike Neal, Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams should all be available by the regular season — and it was clear last night that we need them!

Is Packer’s medical/training staff to blame for injuries?

Hard to see how the staff could be responsible for a Bulaga’s torn ACL.  I am not sure any amount of training could impact when a knee ligament gives out.  The only way they could be faulted in this instance is they might be too thorough and noticed a small tear that other doctors might have overlooked.  I suspect it’s possible that other teams would have missed this, see Robert Griffin last year, and the end result would be a more severe injuries.

Jordy Nelson’s surgery is another issue.  If it is true that this is something he has been dealing with since college why wasn’t surgery performed in the off-season?  Of course we will never know the details.  The medical staff might have recommended surgery and Jordy rejected it.

Just my opinion, but if the Packers truly have been leading the league in terms of injuries (as it seems) I think it can be chalked up to two things:

  1. The Packers medical staff is very cautious when it comes to injuries and consistently defers to ensure the safety of the player.
  2. The Packers organization next man up philosophy which I suspect reinforces the impact of the medical staff.  I believe the Packers would rather have a backup playing at full speed then a starter playing at 75% speed, especially when combined with the risk of further injury to a player.  This has been reinforced over the years based on the team getting very solid play out of backups when they are forced into duty.