2010 November : Packers Insider

Rodgers, Packers KO Favre, Vikings 31-3

November 21, 2010 by  
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Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Dave Campbell, AP Sports

~Minneapolis — If this was indeed Brett Favre’s final Packers-Vikings game, Aaron Rodgers sure made it clear who’s in charge of this rivalry right now.

Rodgers threw for 301 yards, with three of his four touchdown passes going to Greg Jennings. He beat Favre for the second time this season and sent Green Bay to a 31-3 victory over melting-down Minnesota on Sunday.

The Packers (7-3) emerged fresh from their bye week and kept pace in the NFC North race with the Chicago Bears (7-3), ruining any realistic hope the Vikings (3-7) had left to give Favre another shot at a playoff run in his 20th NFL season.

Coming & Going: Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre exchange quick pleasantries after the Packers finished crushing the Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Instead, this 100th meeting between these border-state rivals, likely the last for the 41-year-old Favre, was marked by costly turnovers, untimely penalties and even some sideline shouting by the frustrated Vikings to cast further doubt on coach Brad Childress’s future with the team.

Tramon Williams intercepted Favre to stop a long Vikings drive, and Rodgers took the Packers the other way for a touchdown to James Jones in the final minute of the first half to give the visitors a 17-3 lead. Favre and close friend Darrell Bevell, the offensive coordinator, were seen on TV snapping at each other on the sideline after the interception.

The “Go Pack Go!” cry from the Wisconsin transplants and travelers grew louder as the game went on, with Vikings fans getting in a few “Fire Childress!” chants for good measure.

Wide receiver Sidney Rice made his season debut for the Vikings after missing the first nine games following hip surgery, finishing with three catches for 56 yards. But his return hardly gave Favre and the offense a spark. Favre finished 17 for 38 for 208 yards, sailing several passes over the heads of his receivers and facing heavy pressure most of the game.

He gave Packers coach Mike McCarthy a quick hug and walked off the field to several more handshakes.

Favre, who threw a career-low seven interceptions last season, has 17 of them this year. Opponents have taken his 22 turnovers and turned them into 71 points over 10 games, and the Vikings — who entered the weekend last in the NFL in giveaway-takeaway ratio — watched their turnover differential fall to minus-13.

WR's Greg Jennings and James Jones celebrate one of their 4-combined touchdown catches Sunday against the Vikings. Jennings had a hat trick on the day.

With 10 players and five starters lost for the season on injured reserve, plus a stiff second-half schedule featuring a trip to NFC-leading Atlanta next week, McCarthy and the Packers have plenty of work in front of them.

But the steam and swagger they regained in their 28-24 win over the Vikings on Oct. 24 is making them look more like the Super Bowl contender they were purported to be this summer. The Dom Capers defense has yielded just 10 points in three games since beating the Vikings the first time.

The Vikings pressured Rodgers early the way they needed to, the way they did last season, after failing to take him down at all in last month’s loss. But he found a rhythm once the strong rush forced him from the pocket and delivered at just the right times.

Rookie cornerback Chris Cook had a rough game, getting beat for a 39-yard reception by Jones on third-and-10 from midfield. Safety Husain Abdullah had trouble, too, dropping a must-have interception at the goal line and then letting Jennings get in front of him on the next play for an 11-yard touchdown catch after Rodgers ran left to flee the rush to make it 10-3.

Then after the interception by Williams and the response from Rodgers right before the half, it took less than three minutes after halftime for the Packers to put the game away. Rodgers found Jennings wide open up the sideline, and he jogged in for a 46-yard pass and a three-touchdown lead. The Vikings defense was a mess, with Cook seen shouting at Ray Edwards and Ben Leber on the bench.

The Vikings couldn’t do anything right at that point. Jim Kleinsasser’s holding penalty wiped out Ryan Longwell’s 51-yard field goal on the next possession, and they punted instead.

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/109616444.html

10 things to watch in the Packers-Vikings game

November 21, 2010 by  
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Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Tom Silverstein, Journal Sentinel

~1. The big three: This should be the debut of the jumbo front on defense. That’s 340-pound end Ryan Pickett, 340-pound nose B.J. Raji and 360-pound end Howard Green. It will be a first-down defense most likely used when the Vikings go with two receivers or double tight ends. It’s one way to clog things up for running back Adrian Peterson.

The Packers may have Ryan Pickett back to help anchor the Big Beef Defensive Line in an effort to clog up the running lanes for Adrian Peterson. Still, backside linebackers need to be aware of Peterson with the cutbacks.

2. The return of the screen: The Packers had a lot of success with that play against the hard-charging Vikings in the first meeting. This time around, watch for one of the Vikings linemen to soft rush or drop off into coverage to combat the screen. If that happens, the Packers need to run the ball where it looks like they are going to throw the screen.

3. Short and shorter: Kicker Ryan Longwell’s kickoffs aren’t very long, which is one of the reasons the Vikings are one of the worst teams in the NFL in average drive start. Longwell will place the ball in the corners and try to pin down new returner Sam Shields, but if there are low line drives, Shields has to make use of them.

4. Low and lower: Don’t expect the Packers to kick away much to returner Percy Harvin. I wouldn’t be surprised if they squib-kicked every time. They have to keep him from dominating the game with his returns. He had a 48-yarder in the last meeting and he’s even more dangerous on turf.

5. Clifton and Bulaga won’t be as good as they were at Lambeau Field: If the pair of offensive tackles hold Jared Allen and Ray Edwards to no sacks at the Metrodome then you can start anointing them. The get-offs are so quick it’s next to impossible to keep the two ends in check, especially for a passing team like the Packers. They will get pressure on Aaron Rodgers.

6. To blitz or not to blitz: That is the question facing defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Vikings did a great job getting the ball to Peterson in the passing game during the last meeting and he was able to get some yards because the Packers were blitzing. Capers wants pressure on Brett Favre, but can he afford to let Peterson run wild?

7. Expect Shields to be tested: The Vikings saw how Dallas’ Dez Bryant used his height advantage against the 5-10 Shields and they’ll try to get the 6-4 Sydney Rice matched up on him. If Bernard Berrian plays, he’ll be another option. If Rice lines up outside all day, expect Tramon Williams to match up against him as much as possible

8. Tight end vs. tight end: The Vikings have Visanthe Shiancoe, who has developed a tight relationship with Favre and should have had a touchdown catch in the last meeting (replay wrongly reversed it). Aside from Harvin, he’s the best option the Vikings have had of late. By contrast, the Packers’ tight ends have been virtually invisible the last four games. If rookie Andrew Quarless is going to be a player, now would be a good time to show it.

9. The right stuff: It makes sense for the Packers to run the ball at Allen, who sells out on the pass rush and can be moved in the running game, but the strength of the offensive line is the right side where Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga reside. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Crabtree lines up next to Bulaga and the Packers attack that side.

10. Hole in the backfield: It’s likely fullback Korey Hall won’t play because of a back injury and it could affect the way the Packers run the ball up the middle. Hall functions better against speed than Quinn Johnson or John Kuhn. He’s best at picking off linebackers on the second level. It will be interesting to see how his absence affects the run game.

Recent first-round draft picks have saved the Green Bay Packers

November 21, 2010 by  
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GM Ted Thompson's track record with first-rounders is pretty good with Raji, Matthews and Bulaga added to Rodgers and linebacker A.J. Hawk

Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel

~Ted Thompson’s first-round decisions in the last two drafts have already paid off.

The Green Bay Packers general manager took defensive lineman B.J. Raji early in the first round of the 2009 draft.

He then traded up to get Clay Matthews in the same first round, taking the third-round pick he got for trading Brett Favre and using it to deal with New England.

A year later, Thompson drafted tackle Bryan Bulaga in the first round.

As the Packers have managed a 6-3 record, the question has been how, especially with season-ending injuries to 11 players, five of them starters.

Perhaps the question now: Where would the 6-3 Packers be without these most recent first-round draft picks?

“Phew,” said defensive end Ryan Pickett. “We probably wouldn’t be far. Big-time players. All three of them.”Since switching from defensive end to nose, Raji has been an every-down, run-stuffing, pocket-crushing, 337-pound pest on the defensive line. He might be playing Pro Bowl-caliber football.

Since overcoming hamstring issues, Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5, even though he missed a game. He has become a nightmare for tackles and quarterbacks and might be the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

Since impressing everyone in camp with his fundamentals and maturity, Bulaga has moved to the right side for the first time in his life, has played right tackle since Week 5 and generally keeps pass rushers away from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Bulaga has been pretty good as of late,” said defensive end Cullen Jenkins. “Shut down some pretty big-time players. B.J. and Clay – they’ve been two of the top players on defense this year. B.J. has been there every game playing high reps, playing really stout. I mean, our defense is built around those two up front.”

All three have important roles to fill Sunday as the Packers take on the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.

Green Bay’s run defense held the Cowboys to 39 rushing yards in Week 9. The week before that it neutralized the top-five rush offense of the New York Jets.

Having faced Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson three times now, Raji said the goal is to keep him in front.

“The key is keeping his 2-yard gains to 2-yard gains,” said Raji. “Instead of two turning into nine. He’s capable of breaking anything.”

After that, he has to push the pocket, whether he is going one-on-one with the Vikings center or absorbing a double-team. If John Sullivan can’t go because of a calf injury, he’ll face Jon Cooper.

“I look at it as, any one-on-one with a center, I like my chances,” said Raji. “It doesn’t matter who it is. But Sullivan is great player.”

Matthews missed some practice time with a shin injury. If he’s healthy, his pass rush could force the immobile Brett Favre to get that ball out in a hurry. In the last two years, Matthews has more sacks – 20.5 – than anyone else. He set a rookie record with 10 a year ago.

“We wanted to get Clay Matthews,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “It has obviously been a huge benefit to our football team. Clay has made a big impact.”

Technically, Bulaga would be a senior in college right now. But when he was drafted seven months ago as the 23rd overall pick, he was to be the future left tackle. The hope was that Chad Clifton would hold up well enough for another year to give Bulaga time. Well, Clifton is having one of his best seasons.

First-round rookie BRyan Bulaga has settled in since his struggles in Washington and vs Miami helped cost the Packers those two ball games. The rookie is now playing like a solid veteran at right tackle.

Right tackle Mark Tauscher, on the other hand, has been out since hurting his shoulder in Week 4 and Bulaga took over.

Given that the Packers gave up more sacks than anyone else last year and had a struggling running game, Bulaga had no time to develop. He had to produce.

“At first when Bryan got out there, you worry,” said right guard Josh Sitton. “I came in young, too, and you’re kind of out there scrambling all day. So I would be out there trying to make his call for him.

“We saw how talented he was starting back in OTAs. You could see that. But he’s been a real professional, which is surprising for a real young guy like that. He studies the game. He’s in there watching extra film every day. He works hard every day, takes coaching, he really has been a true professional. It’s real nice to see that.”

Defenses have thrown their best pass rushers at Bulaga. And he’s responded.

“It was a great pick for the Packers because they got great value to get him in the 20s,” said Bulaga’s college coach, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. “I really think if Bryan had stayed another year with us he would have been a top-10 pick. He only played three years of college football. For running back or receiver that might not be a big deal. For a lineman, that’s really significant.

“His best football is clearly ahead of him. He played pretty well for us. He takes a lot of pride in how he plays and as a result he’ll do the work that he has to do to be good.”

Thompson’s track record with first-rounders is pretty good with Raji, Matthews and Bulaga added to Rodgers and linebacker A.J. Hawk, who is having a good season. Justin Harrell is the only one who hasn’t worked out at all due to chronic injuries.

If the Packers didn’t have Matthews, Raji and Bulaga, they might be struggling at right tackle, as they did a year ago when Tauscher was out and Allen Barbre gave up too many pressures.

They would not have Raji to make up for the loss of Pickett, who has had an ankle injury for more than a month.

And they might not have a pass rush coming from the linebackers, since Brad Jones is hurt, too.

“Well, where would we be without the other 50?” said Thompson. “We need ’em all. We have to have all our guys contributing and that’s what we tell them all the time. It’s not fantasy football. People are going to miss some time and you’re going to have to have young men step up and take their place. So you need them all.”

Thompson’s reputation is that he generally builds the Packers through the draft with a few select free agent signings and by doing so, he is in pretty good position looking down the road. Compare that to Minnesota.

The Vikings have had a win-now mentality, pushing their payroll to $150 million by trading for players like Jared Allen or signing big-name free agents like Favre, Steve Hutchinson and Randy Moss (since released).

That win-now strategy worked in 2009. The Vikings got to the NFC Championship Game but fell short of a Super Bowl, losing to New Orleans.

Now the aging Vikings are holding on and hoping for a great run to save their season. If they endure a disappointing season, it is possible they’ll have a major roster overhaul.

Thompson said he hasn’t defined exactly how soon he expects first-round players to make an impact.

“I think it’s more an investment in the future. You hope they have a long and healthy and happy career,” said Thompson. “They’re just getting started. Sometimes we want to anoint things before we finish them. I think they’re going to have long, good careers and that’s what we hope for. It isn’t necessarily focused on what happened yesterday. It’s looking down to the future with your guys, especially with your guys you picked pretty highly, to have long healthy careers.”

Still, it’s not a bad story. Bulaga changes positions and holds up. Raji moves from end to tackle and stars. Matthews is the toast of the NFL. Despite their youth and inexperience, they’re helping this team.

“Mike and his staff have always been unafraid of going with younger guys if the younger guys are the best option at the time,” said Thompson. “There are some staffs that are a little more hesitant. I think credit goes to the players first – they’re the ones out there doing it.”

Green Bay Packers’ Josh Sitton earns teammates’, coaches’ notice

November 21, 2010 by  
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Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Kareem Copeland, Press-Gazette

~Coaches and teammates use the same adjective to describe Packers right guard Josh Sitton – sound.

Being dependable is great and all, but “sound” isn’t exactly a rave endorsement.

Leave it to quarterback Aaron Rodgers to take charge.

“Josh is a Pro Bowl caliber player,” Rodgers said. “I hope that he starts getting the type of respect he deserves. He’s a talented player. He may be our most underrated offensive lineman. But year-in, year-out, game-in and game-out he plays his butt off.

Who says White Men Can't Jump? In addition to blocking well, Sitton has shown the rare ability for an offensive lineman to get up and do the body-bump celebrations with Aaron Rodgers.

“I really think, if not this year, definitely in the future he has got to be a guy who’s going to go to many Pro Bowls.”

That’s heavy praise from a 2009 Pro Bowler considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Especially when it’s centered on a guy that is rarely mentioned in conversations.

Sitton has started 25 consecutive games for the Packers and was set to start as a rookie in 2008 before sustaining a preseason knee injury. The 6-foot-3, 318-pounder, however, has been virtually invisible for a man his size – a good thing for an offensive lineman.

“His name doesn’t come up an awful lot on Mondays,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “He’s playing very effectively. He’s very sound. He doesn’t make mental mistakes so you can always count on him doing the right things.”

Three years ago, Sitton didn’t even know if he could play in the NFL, let alone have his name brought up in a Pro Bowl conversation. Playing in the league was a goal, but he didn’t play football until seventh grade and wasn’t highly touted coming out of Central Florida. Sitton wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine and Sports Illustrated predicted he wouldn’t be drafted.

“In college it was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really know until my senior year, probably after,” Sitton said. “I didn’t have a clue if I was going to get drafted. I didn’t know if I was good enough to play.

“So, really, maybe even Pro Day is when I was like, all right, cool. I dominated pro day, maybe I’ll get a shot at this.”

Sitton has gotten more than just a shot.

At 318 pounds, Sitton is a bully in the run game. He plays with technique leverage and gains ground on his second step, not just on the snap of the ball. In the pass game, Sitton keeps a solid base and has a strong punch. And he’s smart enough to adjust to different defenses on the fly.

“It really started for him in the offseason,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “He really dedicated himself. He came in lighter. More lean muscle mass. He’s a big guy that dropped about eight pounds and kept his weight where it needs to be.
“He’s always been very bright. Doesn’t get fooled by a lot of looks. The offseason allowed him to accelerate his performance.”

“He eats a lot, that helps,” center Scott Wells said with a laugh. “He’s a mauler in the run game. He’s a big guy and knows how to use the weight and he understands leverage.

“That mixed in with how he’s developed in the pass game – really getting his footwork down and his hand with his punches, he’s developing into an all-around player.”

Part of Sitton’s and the line’s success this season comes, in part, from the fact the same quintet has started together since Week 5 against the Washington Redskins. The continuity has allowed Rodgers to stay upright as opponents have a combined four sacks in the last three games. Sitton’s experience helped Bryan Bulaga work through his first few NFL starts at right tackle until the rookie got up to speed.

“Whenever you get a rhythm with another guy,” Campen said, “he’s going to set this way on this type of look. Or he’s going to set that way. Or he’s going to double-team with me. Or combination block on a run play.

“Certainly, when you have more reps with the same person next to you, you know what his strengths are and what his deficiencies are. You get a good feel of communication, body language, feel on blocks.”

Sitton, who described himself as a hard-hat, lunch-pail type, is on the verge of the most critical stretch of his young career. He’s playing on a Super Bowl contender in a pass-first offense that depends on the line to give Rodgers time. Slowly, Pro Bowl aspirations are becoming a possibility and his rookie contract expires after the 2011 season. Sitton said he doesn’t think much about either, and there have been no contract extension talks as of yet, but both are important.

The last Packers offensive lineman to reach the Pro Bowl was tackle Chad Clifton in 2007. The last guard was Marco Rivera in 2004.

“I’d be lying if I said (the Pro Bowl) wasn’t (a goal),” Sitton said. “I’ve always been a big believer in team goals first and personal goals come with it. Obviously, with winning comes the individual accolades.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t ever thought about (the contract). Of course I have. … Those things, just like the Pro Bowls and accolades, worry about the team first and those things will come with it. We go win some games and make a playoff run and we’ll worry about that later.”

Full story HERE

Green Bay Packers face tough road ahead

November 21, 2010 by  
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Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Rom Demovsky, Press-Gazette

~It was at about this same point in the 2007 season that the Green Bay Packers faced the type of schedule they’re looking at over the next month or so.

It was at about this same point in the 2007 season that the Green Bay Packers faced the type of schedule they’re looking at over the next month or so. 

Beginning with a Thanksgiving game at Detroit, the Packers began a stretch in which they played four out of five games on the road. They managed to go 3-2 to help close out a 13-3 regular season and win the NFC North title on the way to a berth in the NFC championship game.

The 6-3 Packers begin their first such stretch since then on Sunday at Minnesota and almost certainly will need at least as good a showing. Games follow at NFC South division leader Atlanta (7-2), home against San Francisco (3-6) on Dec. 5, at Detroit (2-7) on Dec. 12 and at AFC East co-leader New England (7-2) on Dec. 19.

The Packers opened their 2010 season in the city of Brotherly Love with an impressive win over the Eagles. Their season rests on how their Road Tour will fare over the next 5 weeks with tough trips to Minnesota, Atlanta, and New England.

At least the Packers go into that stretch riding a winning streak. Much like they did in 2007, when they had a five-game winning streak going into Thanksgiving, the Packers have played their best football, especially on defense and special teams, during their current three-game winning streak. And given the Packers’ inconsistency on offense, their defense and special teams might have to carry them through this part of the schedule.

The Packers had their bye last week to prepare for this arduous stretch that leads into consecutive home games against the NFC East co-leading New York Giants (6-3) and NFC North leader Chicago (7-3) to finish the season.

“The bye week came at a great time for us as far as the ability to reset, kind of reboot everything that we’ve done physically, mentally and in some matters emotionally,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. “I feel like we’ve been able to do that.”

What might make the upcoming stretch more manageable than it was in 2007 is that all five games are on Sundays. The 2007 stretch included a pair of Thursday games — the Thanksgiving game at Detroit and a week later at Dallas, which beat the Packers 37-27.

“I think that’s important,” McCarthy said. “You get to work in those seven-day windows. We’ve come off the bye week, and I feel like we’re back on our routine.”

Over the bye, the Packers assumed the No. 1 ranking in scoring defense, allowing a league-low 15.9 points per game. A shutout of the Jets and a 45-7 victory over the Cowboys immediately before the bye helped. (The Bears took over the No. 1 spot after shutting out Miami Thursday night).

But there are other reasons to think the defense can carry the Packers through this stretch even though they’re facing some of the league’s top running backs (Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and San Francisco’s Frank Gore) and most dangerous quarterbacks (Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and New England’s Tom Brady).

“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We’ve got some of the best in the league (coming up).”

The addition of defensive lineman Howard Green, claimed off waivers the week of the Jets game, should help the run defense, which has slipped to 20th in the league. The health of linebacker Clay Matthews, who has a league-high 10½ sacks despite missing one game because of a hamstring injury, appears to be much improved.

What’s more, the defense appears to have gained a degree of confidence in part because it has shown the ability to endure — and perhaps even improve — in the face of injuries to several starters. Capers believes that confidence stems from how his unit has performed in what he calls “adversity situations,” those in which the defense must take the field after a turnover by the offense. Last year in the regular season, the offense committed 16 turnovers, and the defense allowed 10 touchdowns on the ensuing possessions. This year, the defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown following the offense’s 13 turnovers.

“They’ve kicked six field goals, and that’s an example of the confidence in our defense when we get into those situations,” Capers said. “When you aren’t confident, everyone goes out and panics and feels like they’ve got to make a play and then they go outside the scheme. Now, I think we’re responding more with technique than emotion.”

On special teams, the Packers are rolling, too. Punter Tim Masthay has found his groove and now gets the chance to play three out of the next four games indoors. The coverage units and return units have had the luxury of having fewer substitutions in recent games because of the stabilizing injury situation.

“We’ve got to make something happen on special teams, some kind of impact play,” kicker Mason Crosby said. “Obviously our defense these last two games has been lights out. We’ll get our offense rolling.”

That’s been the biggest head-scratcher. Despite an explosive performance against the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers and the passing game have been inconsistent. Rodgers ranks a pedestrian 15th in passer rating (90.6) this season and has two more interceptions (nine) than he had all of last year. Surely, Rodgers misses the big-play ability of tight end Jermichael Finley and the lack of a threat of a running game without Ryan Grant — both of whom are on season-ending injured reserve — but offensive coordinator Joe Philbin spent the bye week searching for a way to boost the offense.

“We’ve got to display some consistency,” Philbin said. “That’s one thing we haven’t quite mastered at this point in time so far in this journey, so that’s something we’re interested to see. We’ve got to be opportunistic. We haven’t been a super explosive offense. We’ve made some plays, but we’ve got to be opportunistic. We’ve got to hold onto the ball and see if we can get a roll going.

“Our kicking game has been better. Our defense has been better. I think we’ll be a tough team to beat if we can hold onto the football.”

Full story HERE

Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop’s play prompts contract negotiations

November 21, 2010 by  
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Nov 20, 2010 ~ by Rob Demovsky

~The next Green Bay Packers player to get a contract extension might not be Cullen Jenkins or Tramon Williams.

It could be Desmond Bishop.

The fourth-year inside linebacker has gone from forgotten man to key contributor in a span of five weeks. Bishop hardly played on defense in his first three-plus NFL seasons but has been as good — or better — than longtime starter Nick Barnett since Barnett went down with a season-ending wrist injury Oct. 3 against Detroit.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback John Kitna, forcing a fumble during the third quarter of their Nov. 7 game at Lambeau Field.

Bishop has started the last five games in place of Barnett and his play has prompted the Packers to begin negotiations with him on a new contract.

“There’s been preliminary talks, and we’ve kept the lines of communication open,” Bishop’s agent, Blake Baratz, said on Friday. “It’s kind of an ever-changing landscape, but they’ve made it clear they want him back, and Desmond would like to be back. Each week is kind of an audition for him, and they probably feel more and more comfortable.”

Bishop ranks third on the team in tackles, has a career-high two sacks and returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown Oct. 24 against Minnesota. Perhaps more importantly, Bishop has been more assignment-sure than he was in the past, when he’d follow a spectacular play with a blown play in his few opportunities in a reserve role his first three seasons.

“He’s been in a situation where he’s been wanting to get on the field and get his opportunity, and he’s taken the approach that this is my opportunity and my chance to show that I deserve to be out there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Certainly by what he’s done, he’s proven that. He’s made big plays in every game, and I think he’s been fairly consistent.”

♦ Packers statistics  |   Other NFL statistics  |  Standings  |  Matchups/Odds

The course of Bishop’s career with the Packers has changed this season. He began the season by complaining about a lack of playing time and suggested he’d be open to a trade. Now, he’s on the verge of getting a raise.

Complicating the negotiations are the uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement and the 30 percent rule that says a player’s new deal on a contract extension or renegotiation cannot be increased by more than 30 percent of the 2009 base salary. Bishop, who is playing under the rookie contract he signed after he was a sixth-round pick in 2007, had a base salary of $460,000 last season. The 30 percent rule does not include signing bonus, so any deal Bishop did before his contract expired would have to include a sizable signing bonus.

Bishop will have four accrued seasons after this year, but it’s unknown if that will be enough to qualify as an unrestricted free agent. It would under the old CBA, but when the owners opted out of that, players needed six seasons to be unrestricted.

Still, a source on Friday said Bishop is high on the Packers’ list of players they want to re-sign, behind perhaps only Williams.

“I think the Packers really value me, and they’ve talked a little bit about keeping me here,” Bishop said. “Now we’ve just got to figure out all the nuts and bolts of it.”

Injury report

Bishop was added to the injury report Friday with a hip injury, and although he was limited in practice, he was listed as probable and is expected to play Sunday at Minnesota.

Bishop said the injury first occurred before the bye week. During the break, he underwent a procedure to drain blood that had pooled in his hip.

“It just kind of flared up on him, so we wanted to be smart with him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He went through the jog-through. I fully expect him to play.”

For the second straight game week, linebacker Clay Matthews was limited to the jog-through period all week. This time, it was because of a sore shin, not the nagging hamstring injury.

“There’s just general soreness and pain, but I’ll be fine for the game,” said Matthews, who was listed as probable. “It’s one of those things that the more you practice on it, the worse it’s going to get, so we’re just being smart about it. It’s the same preparation I did for the Cowboys game.”

Donald Driver has had a great career against the Vikings, but don't expect him to be ready to go yet for this game. Donald needs to fully heal and be ready for the final stretch drive healthy.

The Packers listed receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) as questionable for Sunday’s game. Both were limited in practice, and McCarthy said how they felt Saturday would determine whether they play against the Vikings.

“I’ll be very curious when Dr. (Pat) McKenzie has the opportunity to visit with Ryan and Donald both (Saturday) and on game day,” McCarthy said.

The only player held completely out of practice was fullback Korey Hall, whose back tightened up on him during Thursday’s practice. Hall was listed as questionable.

No club

For the first time since he broke his left hand in the second quarter of the season opener at Philadelphia, defensive end Cullen Jenkins will play without the restrictive club cast.

He will have to wear a protective pad on the top of his hand, but he no longer will have a cast on it. He said his fingers will not be covered and he will have full use of his hand. Jenkins has 22 tackles and four sacks but believes his numbers would have been better if not for the cast.

“Hopefully it helps a lot, being able to grab and maintain leverage a little better,” Jenkins said. “I’ll be anxious to get out there with both hands.”

Full story HERE

Rodgers’ mobility has Vikings on guard

November 20, 2010 by  
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Nov 20, 2010 ~ by Judd Zulgad, Star Tribune

~The success Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had against the Vikings last Sunday was due in part to his ability to escape pressure, buy time with his feet and locate receivers who had come open.

“He definitely had way too much time,” Vikings cornerback Chris Cook said.

A repeat this Sunday at Mall of America Field could prove damaging to the 3-6 Vikings, whose season is on life support as they face NFC North rival Green Bay (6-3).

The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is an athletic quarterback who is far more adept at getting away from pressure than Cutler and has cut down on his propensity for holding the ball too long. Sacked 14 times in two losses against the Vikings last season, Rodgers escaped unscathed during the Packers’ 28-24 victory on Oct. 24 at Lambeau Field.

“He did a tremendous job of buying time,” Vikings safety Madieu Williams said.

In two-plus seasons as the Packers starting quarterback, Rodgers has played in 15 games in which he has been sacked once or not at all. The Packers are 12-3 and Rodgers has completed 346 of 495 passes for 4,046 yards with 31 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating.

“Those guys up front were getting good rushes but he’s so athletic, and I think a lot of people don’t give him a lot of credit for his mobility and his arm strength throwing on the move. He did a heck of a job in terms of buying time for his guys and throwing the ball on the move.”

If the Vikings front four isn’t able to get to Rodgers, how long can the defensive backs hold up in coverage? Cutler used this to his advantage. “It puts a lot of pressure on your defense when that happens,” Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “We have to have a good plan to keep him in the pocket and try to contain him. That will be the challenge for us.”

Frazier prefers to stay away from having to blitz, but there is a possibility he could mix in a few different looks in order to keep Rodgers guessing. In two-plus seasons as the Packers starting quarterback, Rodgers has played in 15 games in which he has been sacked once or not at all. The Packers are 12-3 and Rodgers has completed 346 of 495 passes for 4,046 yards with 31 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating.

Rodgers is third on the Packers in rushing with 173 yards on 34 carries and three touchdowns. Last season, Rodgers passed for 384 yards in a 30-23 loss to the Vikings in Minneapolis — that was the highest yardage total of his career in the regular season — but was sacked eight times by a team that led the NFL in that category.

This year the Vikings are tied for 25th in the league with 14 sacks in nine games. They have been better of late, with eight quarterback takedowns in the past two games, including 4.5 by Jared Allen, who was blanked by Packers left tackle Chad Clifton in the first meeting with Green Bay.

The Vikings are hoping noise will force the Packers into a silent count that could cause false start penalties and assist the defense in applying pressure. Rodgers knows it isn’t easy operating in such an environment, having gone 0-2 in his career at Mall of America Field.

“Any time you play Minnesota, you know what kind of game you’re in for,” he said. “Their defense, I think, plays better at home, being able to have that extra half step because of the crowd noise, having to do some silent counts so that gives them a little bit of an advantage.”

Rodgers’ goal will be to come out early and silence the fans by again going at the Vikings cornerbacks like Cook and Asher Allen, who is expected to return after missing last Sunday’s game because of a concussion. Cook had his most difficult game of the season at Lambeau; he struggled in coverage in his first game back from a knee injury and was benched in the first half.

If Rodgers is able to buy time by avoiding the rush, the Vikings know he would end up having similar success against the secondary.

Full story HERE

Quarless, Havner aim to produce at tight end

November 19, 2010 by  
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Nov 19, 2010 ~ by Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — There’s little question that the Green Bay Packers have gone from feast to famine at the tight end position.

In their first four games, the ultra-talented Jermichael Finley caught 21 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. Following his season-ending injury early in the Washington game Oct. 10, the remaining tight ends have combined for 14 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

Not really: Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless catches a nine-yard touchdown pass in front of Minnesota Vikings' Tyrell Johnson (25) and E.J. Henderson (56) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Green Bay, Wis.

Of the group, rookie Andrew Quarless has shown the most ability in the passing game, but a shoulder injury knocked him out against the New York Jets and forced him to miss the Dallas game. In the meantime, the Packers brought back an old friend in Spencer Havner, who had five touchdown catches among his 21 receptions last year and averaged 14.2 yards per reception.

Quarless practiced in pads Thursday for the first time in three weeks and reported that his shoulder felt good. He’s going to be first in line to return the tight end position to respectability.

“He looked good today,” tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. “He did quite a bit of our stuff. Did some ‘look (team)’ stuff. He got some blocking in. We’ll see how he feels. I think he’s chomping at the bit. He wants to get out there. He was coming along quite nicely before the injury.”

If Quarless can play, it will allow coach Mike McCarthy another option at receiver because the rookie can play in the slot and out wide. If he can’t, he might have a problem because there’s a chance Havner won’t be active this Sunday.

He was signed this week after missing more than a month with a severe hamstring pull and he’s working to get back into football shape.

“Spencer hasn’t played in a few weeks,” McCarthy said. “You can see his conditioning has picked up throughout the week. But he has a very good understanding of what we do on offense. He’s not having any issues mentally, and even more so on special teams. I’d be comfortable playing with Spencer.”

"Spencer is a savvy guy," McAdoo said. "He adds some confidence. He adds some playmaking ability. He has a good feel for what's going on on the defensive side of the ball obviously, so he has a niche for making plays. "He has soft hands, catches the ball pretty clean and makes things happen after the catch."

That doesn’t mean he will risk putting him out there if he thinks he needs another week of conditioning, although his pass-catching talents are needed. McAdoo said Havner, a former linebacker, brings a skill set to the Packers that they can definitely use.

Full story HERE

Unclutch: Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby doesn’t get hung up on numbers

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 19, 2010 ~ by Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette

~Green Bay Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum swears by Mason Crosby, calling him an excellent place-kicker.

But you would never know that by looking at Crosby’s statistics. He ranks 28th in the NFL in field-goal accuracy and has gotten progressively worse during his four-year career — he started at 79.5 percent and 79.4 percent his first two seasons, fell to 75.0 percent last season and stands at 72.2 percent this year.

Holder Tim Masthay grimaces in pain after seeing kicker Mason Crosby hook his game-winning FG attempt into the left post in a game at Washington. The kick would have won the game, instead the Packers would lose in overtime, costing the Packers a key NFC win back in week 5.

But neither Slocum nor coach Mike McCarthy has wavered in their support of Crosby.

In an interesting twist this week, Crosby received a major shout-out from Ryan Longwell, the former Packer who kicks for the Minnesota Vikings.

“I think Mason has done an outstanding job,” said Longwell, who spent nine years as the Packers’ place-kicker. “I really think, percentage-wise, he’s the victim of his strong leg in that if you kind of take away his 50-plus-yard misses, his percentage is not as bad as people think.

“I think he’s actually done a really good job and probably a better job than he gets credit for.”

Maybe Longwell felt obligated to remain loyal to a member of the kicking fraternity, or maybe based on firsthand experience he can empathize with the swirling winds and cold temperatures Crosby faces at Lambeau Field, a kicker’s graveyard.

“He kicks in a very tough place,” Longwell said.

It gets even tougher when Crosby tries so many long kicks. Only Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski has more field-goal attempts from 50 yards or longer since 2007. Toss out Crosby’s 10-for-21 accuracy on career 50-plus field goals and his overall percentage rises from 77.2 percent to 83 percent.

He never has missed a field goal inside 30 yards (36-for-36) and is 168 for 169 on extra points.

In nine years as a Packer, Longwell (81.6 percent) displayed better overall accuracy than Crosby has. But inside 50 yards, Longwell and Crosby have almost identical numbers.

That’s why you won’t find members of the Packers’ front office lamenting the loss of Longwell five years ago in free agency.

“His work ethic, his technique, his execution, his professionalism, his ability to bounce back after a missed kick, I think all of that lends to my confidence in him,” said Slocum of Crosby. “We lean on him on long field-goal attempts. I think he’s an excellent kicker.”

The Packers appreciate that Crosby doesn’t point fingers when he misses. His aggressive mentality and enthusiastic approach is also admirable.

“Every year I’m going to try a lot of long field goals,” Crosby said. “It’s a weapon, it’s something that obviously coach has confidence, I have confidence.

Full story HERE

Green Bay Packers CB Sam Shields’ speed outweighs risk in return role

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 19, 2010 ~ by Rob Demovsky, Press-Gazette

~Sam Shields dropped, muffed or fumbled so many kickoffs and punts during training camp and the preseason that the legion of reporters who blog and tweet off every Green Bay Packers practice should have programmed a quick key for that text.

After the undrafted rookie dropped a kickoff in the end zone, then muffed a punt in the same preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, the experiment seemingly was over.

As long as he catches it: He has the skills to be one of those guys,” Crosby said. “Obviously, he showed his speed. I think he just needs more opportunities, but with our defense, who knows how many chances he’s going to get? It’s one of those things where you can’t really say too much until he repeats it. Guys like Hester, it’s repeated acts.”

Almost no one who observed those repeated scenes would have imagined that three months later coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum would have the nerve to stick Shields back on the goal line on Nov. 7 to receive the opening kickoff of the second half against the Dallas Cowboys. Then again, almost no one outside the organization knew Shields had been catching balls off the JUGS machines before practice, after practice and on his days off for three months.

When Shields cleanly fielded that kickoff 6 yards deep in his end zone against the Cowboys, many of the 70,913 at Lambeau Field probably let out a sigh of relief.

“I remember watching it from the sideline, and (Cowboys kicker David) Buehler crushed that kick with good hang time and 6 yards deep, and I was like, ‘Oh, too bad Sam will have to just kneel on this one,’” Packers punter Tim Masthay said.

But Slocum knew there was more to come. Sure enough, Shields turned on his speed — his 4.2-second, 40-yard-dash speed — and blew past the Cowboys’ coverage unit for a 49-yard return, the Packers’ second-longest kickoff return of the season.

“When he brought it out, I was like, ‘Oh crap,’” Masthay said. “The next thing I knew he was at the 45-(actually the 43-)yard line. His biggest upside is that he’s just lightning fast, and I mean fast to a different level. He’s probably one of the fastest guys in the league.”

When told return guys don’t normally take it from 6 yards deep, Slocum said: “Not normally, no. But he’s not normal.”

There was nothing special about the way the Packers blocked that return. Slocum said the Cowboys had some good tackling angles on Shields. He just outran them.

Forget for a moment Shields has settled into the third cornerback spot and has looked nothing like an undrafted free agent who played receiver for most of his college career at the University of Miami. That’s another success story.

This story is about the risk the Packers seemingly took by putting Shields on kickoff returns and the rewards they hope to see.

“I was hoping,” Shields said when asked this week whether he thought he’d get another opportunity after all the drops this summer. “I never gave up on it. It was just that they had other guys. At that time, I wasn’t catching it and wasn’t giving the coaches enough confidence in me to put me back there.”

They used receiver Jordy Nelson, who other than a 51-yard return in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, was ordinary. Nelson then lost two fumbles against Detroit on Oct. 3 and eventually lost the job to backup cornerback Pat Lee, who couldn’t keep it because he sustained an ankle injury against the Jets on Oct. 31.

Shields has only that lone return against the Cowboys on his NFL resume, but it was enough to convince McCarthy and Slocum to give him the job full time. Slocum on Thursday said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility Shields could go back to returning punts, a far more dangerous job considering he would have to catch the ball in heavy traffic, unlike on kickoff returns where the defenders are far away.

But the Packers are convinced Shields no longer has slippery fingers.

“He’s definitely improved with his hands,” said kicker Mason Crosby, who witnessed some of the extra work Shields put in during his free time. “It’s a learned skill. You just have to get used to catching it over and over and over again.”

Masthay, too, was on the practice field for much of Shields’ work with the JUGS machine and sees a different return man, a more confident one, than he watched over the summer.

“A lot of times that’s all it takes, one big play like that, and the sky’s the limit for him,” Masthay said. “That kickoff return he had against Dallas, that might have been all it took for him and it not be an issue at all.”

Every week, Crosby and Masthay have to prepare strategies they believe will limit returners’ opportunities for big plays. In their division, they have to face one of the most dangerous ones, Chicago’s Devin Hester, who returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown against the Packers on Sept. 27. Both Crosby and Masthay said this week that even after only one kickoff return, Minnesota Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell almost certainly will have to come up with a strategy for kicking to — or away from — Shields.

“He has such blazing speed that you don’t want him running right at you,” Crosby said. “You can almost lose him, too, because he’s fast and smaller (5-foot-11), and he can hide back there. Once a guy like that gets on the edge, he can be pretty dangerous.”

Full story HERE

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