2010 December : Packers Insider

Packers quarterback Rodgers awes even the Giants

December 27, 2010 by  
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By Gary D’Amato, Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — He froze safeties with play-action fakes, beat blitzes with audibles, extended plays with his feet, threw the ball with pinpoint accuracy and even remembered to slide at the end of a scramble.

Aaron Rodgers was a video game come to life Sunday, pushing all the right buttons in the Green Bay Packers’ 45-17 dismantling of the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In the biggest regular-season game of his career – the Packers had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive – Rodgers completed 25 of 37 passes (67.6%) for 404 yards, four touchdowns and a 139.9 rating.

Aaron Rodgers celebrates the final touchdown by Packers running back John Kuhn on Sunday. Rodgers had the biggest regular-season game of his career - throwing for 404 yards, four touchdowns and a 139.9 passer rating.

His 404 yards were the most by a Packers quarterback in the regular season since Lynn Dickey threw for 418 against Tampa Bay on Oct. 12, 1980.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” said Packers guard Daryn Colledge. “It’s hard to critique a guy like that.”

Given good protection from his offensive line and enough production from the run game to make play-action effective, Rodgers shredded the NFL’s second-ranked passing defense.

He completed passes of 80 and 38 yards to Jordy Nelson; 36, 26 and 24 yards to Greg Jennings; 33 yards to Donald Driver, and 21 yards to Tom Crabtree. He spread the love to nine receivers, and Jennings (142) and Nelson (124) both topped 100 yards.

Heck, most quarterbacks can’t even dream that good.

“Yeah, this was without a doubt my best performance,” Rodgers said.

He got no argument from the Giants, whose own playoff hopes were put on life support by Air Rodgers.

“He is a great quarterback all around,” said safety Deon Grant. “He can run. He has a great arm, and he has one of the fastest releases you can get, so he wasn’t allowing our defensive line to get there. He has a great coaching staff, and he has weapons.”

Anything else? “That guy is just a lot of fun to play with,” said Packers rookie tackle Bryan Bulaga.

All but forgotten was the fact that Rodgers’ streak of 45 consecutive starts ended last week because of lingering effects from his second concussion of the season. He was inactive and watched from the sideline as backup Matt Flynn played well in a 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots.

“I was teasing Matt that I had to get my job back,” Rodgers said. “He played so well last week.”

He said the time off might have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think the positive thing is it was like a week off late in the season,” he said. “I had a lot of energy. My arm felt like it was live. I felt good in practice, so I had a lot of confidence I could perform this way.”

On the first play of the Packers’ second possession, Rodgers threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, who ran past safety Antrel Rolle on a seam route and outraced the Giants’ secondary.

“That was a good call, something we work on a lot with the play-action,” Rodgers said. “I felt like it was going to be some kind of two-high (coverage) look. I just wanted to make a decent fake. We pulled Antrel just enough to get a good throwing lane there and Jordy took off.”

On the next possession, when all his receivers were covered, Rodgers tucked the ball and ran. He apparently learned from the concussion he suffered Dec. 12, when he neglected to slide and was slammed to the turf at Ford Field in Detroit. This time he slid after gaining 15 to the Giants’ 6-yard line, then got up and gave baseball’s “safe” sign.

“I got a lot of texts the last two weeks from friends and family: ‘Slide,’ ” Rodgers said. “I basically was teasing Dr. (John) Gray. We talked about being smart outside the pocket, so I slid and kind of did the ‘safe’ thing and pointed at Dr. Gray. I was thinking about what he told me.”

Three plays later, he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to James Jones.

And he was just warming up.

In the second half, Rodgers showed how devastatingly effective he can be when an opponent chooses to blitz and the Packers pick it up.

A 33-yard completion to Donald Driver made it first and 10 on the Giants’ 37. New York brought pressure, and Rodgers knew Jennings was matched with cornerback Corey Webster on the outside. He waited for Jennings to get a step on Webster and just before being knocked to the ground threw a beautiful ball; Jennings made a fingertip grab and was tackled at the 1.

On the next play, Rodgers connected with tight end Donald Lee for a touchdown.

“He did a good job getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “We knew coming in that they were going to try everything in their power to not let us hit him.

“We had some good rushes against him, but a lot of credit goes to him for reading our coverages and getting the ball out of his hands.”

Rodgers’ fourth touchdown pass, a 5-yarder to running back John Kuhn, made it 38-17 with 6:58 left.

“First of all, I had a good week of preparation,” Rodgers said. “That’s kind of where it started. I felt good throwing the ball all week. I liked the game plan; I liked the things we were trying to do.

“Once we got into the game, I liked the rhythm (coach) Mike (McCarthy) got our offense in. The offensive line gave me a lot of time, and I think that kind of frustrated them a little bit.”

Rodgers wore a shock-absorbing helmet to reduce the risk of concussion but otherwise, his teammates said, there was nothing different.

“It didn’t even seem like he got nicked up a couple weeks ago,” Bulaga said. “Still running the ball when he sees opportunities to run it. At least he slid today. He played a great game. One of the best.”

Full story HERE

With playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Packers steamroll past Giants

December 26, 2010 by  
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By Chris Jenkins, AP

~Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers returned from a concussion to turn in his sharpest performance of the season, keeping the Green Bay Packers on a path toward the playoffs with 404 yards and four touchdowns.

It all came at the expense of the New York Giants, whose season is spinning out of control after the Packers blew them out 45-17 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

John Kuhn ran for two touchdowns and caught a pass for a score for the Packers. The unheralded fullback is embracing his growing folk-hero status with Packers fans, who chant "Kuuuuuuuuuhn!" when he touches the ball. "It's pretty funny," Kuhn said. "It's nice. I don't want to let them down. They call for you ahead of time, so I've got to try and come through."

Rodgers was back, and so was his sense of humor. Backup Matt Flynn played well when Rodgers sat out last week with his second concussion of the season, so Rodgers joked that he had something to prove Sunday.

“I had to get my job back,” Rodgers said.

There wasn’t much to smile about for the Giants (9-6), who are clinging to fading playoff hopes and certainly appeared to still be in a daze after the previous week’s collapse against Philadelphia.

“There’s no denying what took place,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Facts are facts. We’re responsible for it. I’m responsible for it. So we have to live with it. And as we say in this game, the only chance you have is to turn around and line up the next week.”

QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates one of John Kuhn's 3 touchdowns on the day. Rodgers passes for 4 TDs and over 400 yards.

The Giants couldn’t stop Rodgers and couldn’t hold onto the ball, as one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams lost two fumbles and watched Eli Manning throw four interceptions.

As if that wasn’t enough misery for one team to handle, the Giants were stuck in Wisconsin on Sunday night because of a major snowstorm on the East Coast.

At this point, they might not want to go home.

“I don’t care where we’re at, it’s going to be a long night regardless,” safety Deon Grant said. “If we’d go back to New York, it’d probably be a worse night. I know they’re not going to be happy. I looked up, the Jets lost, we lost, it’s not a good look.”

Green Bay (9-6) came into Sunday’s game needing to win their final two games to make the playoffs. The Packers host division-rival Chicago in their final regular-season game next Sunday.

Safety Nick Collins said it felt like a playoff game.

“That’s how it’s going to be next week, too,” Collins said.

John Kuhn ran for two touchdowns and caught a pass for a score for the Packers. The unheralded fullback is embracing his growing folk-hero status with Packers fans, who chant “Kuuuuuuuuuhn!” when he touches the ball.

“It’s pretty funny,” Kuhn said. “It’s nice. I don’t want to let them down. They call for you ahead of time, so I’ve got to try and come through.”

Greg Jennings caught seven passes for 142 yards for Green Bay, while Jordy Nelson had four catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

Rodgers was sacked twice, but wasn’t under much pressure otherwise as his offensive line delivered one of its best pass protection efforts of the year.

“Those guys were ready to play,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “They were sick and tired of hearing about how tough the Giants were all week.”

Rodgers was anything but tentative after sustaining two concussions this season, but he definitely had safety on his mind when he took off running. Rodgers made a baseball umpire’s “safe” sign with his arms after sliding instead of taking a big hit after an early scramble — a salute, he said, to a team doctor who is reminding him to be more careful when he runs.

“I got a lot of texts in the last two weeks from friends and family,” Rodgers said. “‘Slide’ was the main subject.”

Manning threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and the four interceptions.

“If you have interceptions, it’s my fault and we had four today,” Manning said. “There’s not one that wasn’t my fault, so I’ve got to be smarter with the ball and toward the end of the game, you’re in desperate mode, you try to force some things and it didn’t go our way.”

Already trailing 21-14, the Giants began the second half with yet another major mistake. On a third-down play in Packers territory, Charles Woodson stripped the ball from Ahmad Bradshaw and the Packers recovered at the 50. The Packers drove but had to settle for a field goal, taking a 24-14 lead.

The Giants answered with a drive for a field goal, but Rodgers was at his absolute best on the Packers’ next possession. Taking over at the Green Bay 30, Rodgers threw for big gains on back-to-back plays — Donald Driver for 33 yards and Jennings for 36 — then threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Donald Lee two plays later to give the Packers a 31-17 lead with 4:44 left in the third quarter.

Packers WR Jordy Nelson opens the game with an 80-yard touchdown, running right past Giants high-priced free agent, safety Antrel Rolle. Nelson would later cough one up which allowed the Giants to rally and tie the game up at 14. After that, it was all Packers.

Hakeem Nicks appeared to fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but Coughlin challenged the play and New York kept the ball. Brandon Jacobs then broke free for a long run — but Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews punched the ball, it popped into the air and the Packers recovered.

This time, Coughlin’s replay review was unsuccessful and Green Bay kept the ball.

“We came out and we played like we didn’t have anything to play for,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.

Notes: It was a rematch of the Giants’ overtime victory in the NFC title game in below-zero conditions at Lambeau nearly three years ago. Sunday’s conditions weren’t nearly as challenging, with 25-degree temperatures and little wind at kickoff. … The Packers have won 10 of their last 11 home games. … The Giants’ Mario Manningham caught four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Full story HERE

Slocum’s pathetic, soft special teams costs Packers’ another game

December 20, 2010 by  
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By Michael Hunt, Journal Sentinel

~Foxborough, Mass. — Everything seemed to be going the Green Bay Packers’ way against New England, at least until late in the first half Sunday night.

The Packers had stunned the Patriots from the start, catching the home team by surprise by beginning the game with a successful onside kick.

Backup quarterback Matt Flynn was rolling along. The defense was keeping the future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady, in check.

They nearly even broke his pregame string of 268 attempts without an interception early on, but Charles Woodson dropped a sure pick.

It looked really good for the Packers at Gillette Stadium after Flynn led them on a 14-play, 82-yard drive. With a little more than 2 minutes left in the second quarter, they had a 10-point lead.

Then things turned on two big plays in what resulted in the 31-27 victory for New England and just another close loss for the Packers.

In attempting to squib the ensuing kickoff, Mason Crosby got it to the right guy – wedge blocker Don Connolly, a 313-pound offensive lineman. It was just that the result went horribly wrong for the Packers.

Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly rumbles for 71 yards on a kickoff return right before halftime.

Rumbling and stumbling with both arms wrapped securely around the ball, Connolly set an NFL record with an improbable 71-yard kickoff return by a lineman. Taking the ball all the way to the 4-yard line, Connolly made it too easy for Brady to get New England within three points at half with a short touchdown pass.

“I tried to kick it on the ground,” Crosby said. “After it hits the ground, I can’t control it.

“It was a game-changer. Give him credit for bouncing around. It’s unacceptable, something we can’t let happen.”

Said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, “That should be a positive for a kick-coverage team. It was poor tackling by us. It was a huge play in the game.

“We really don’t practice tackling offensive linemen on kickoffs.”

Fortunately for the Packers, they didn’t have to worry about not kicking to Connolly anymore, as he later left the game with a head injury.

“I tried to go for the ball thinking he was a big man without ball skills,” said Packers safety Charlie Peprah. “I should have just made the tackle and just you saw a big dude rumbling down the field.”

On the Packers’ first possession of the third quarter, Flynn’s encouraging play for the injured Aaron Rodgers, who had suffered a concussion the week before in the loss at Detroit, took a sudden U-turn.

On third and 3 from his 30, Flynn again went to James Jones. Earlier in the game, the two had hooked up on a 66-yard bomb to shock the Patriots. This time, Flynn missed Jones and instead found New England cornerback Kyle Arrington.

Arrington broke four tackles past a lunging Jones, Flynn, Jordy Nelson and Brett Swain to score from 36 yards and give the Patriots a 21-17 lead.

“They were in man coverage,” Flynn said. “James said he ran into the guy who was covering (Greg) Jennings and it knocked him off his route.”

Flynn nearly rallied the Packers back in the game. But early in the fourth quarter with a 24-21 lead, the Packers had first and goal on the 2. They ran John Kuhn twice, misfired on a pass and settled for a field goal. It came back to bite them as Brady, the runaway leader for league MVP, again rallied the Patriots to victory.

It was the Packers’ sixth loss this season by four points or fewer, but they still control their playoff destiny.

“We had a chance, but we fell short,” said Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett. “I thought we fought hard. We didn’t buy the hype that their offense was unstoppable. We gave up some plays at the end, but if we play with the same passion for the rest of the season, things will fall our way.”

Once Again: Close but a Loss

December 20, 2010 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Journal Sentinel

~Foxborough, Mass. — From afar, the final play of the Green Bay Packers’ 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots looked like an unorganized, self-imploding bundle of ineptitude.

One play, one chance. All that stood between the Packers pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season was 15 yards of Field Turf and a running clock.

Matt Flynn fumbles the ball after being sacked by Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain on the final play.

At least that’s how it turned out.

In retrospect, the Packers might have had two plays if they had recognized right away that they were short of the first down after receiver Donald Driver’s 10-yard reception on third and 11. There were 23 seconds left when Driver got up and began looking for the officials to signal a first down.

“The first thing I thought was that it was a first down,” Driver said. “I looked to the other side and it was fourth and 1.”

Quarterback Matt Flynn might have been able to run up to the line, take a snap, dive for a first down and then clock the ball, giving the Packers, who were out of timeouts, time to huddle before the final play. But unsure of the spot right away, Flynn used the remaining time to get the offense set and take one shot at the end zone.

He was sacked with no time on the clock, ending the game.

“It was either first down or fourth down,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The clock was running. There were 20, 21 seconds let. You have to see at that point if it’s a first down. It wasn’t clear right away. So on fourth and 1, you take a shot.

“Matt operated it properly.”

There was confusion all around Flynn, but the players got to the line and ran the play Flynn called at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots dropped seven players into coverage and Flynn held the ball looking for something to come open.

“They knew it was fourth down,” receiver James Jones said. “They played the end zone. They knew it was the last play. They weren’t going to let us score.”

Driver said the play turned into a scramble drill, similar to what happened against Atlanta when quarterback Aaron Rodgers bought time and hit receiver Jordy Nelson for a game-tying touchdown on fourth down. This time, Flynn didn’t have enough time.

“It was fourth down and we just had to go,” Flynn said.

He stepped up and slid slightly to the right, but right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s man, linebacker Tully BantaCain, came all the way back from his upfield rush and hit Flynn, causing him to fumble. There wasn’t much Bulaga could do after driving Banta-Cain wide.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said he could tell from his spot in the coach’s box that Driver had not gotten the first down. He said it’s possible the Packers could have gotten the first down on the next play and lived to fight another day.

“You might be able to clock it,” he said. “If it’s not fourth and 1, you could have clocked it and maybe taken two or three shots. But we were a yard short.”

The play that really killed the Packers’ chances, after they had driven from their own 43 to the New England 24 with 1 minute 5 seconds left, was a sack that cost the Packers 8 yards. Philbin had no explanation how the Packers blew an assignment that should have picked up blitzing linebacker Dane Fletcher.

Bulaga blocked down on the end and probably should have picked up Fletcher. Right guard Josh Sitton fanned out to try to take Fletcher, but he was late and Flynn got sacked. Philbin said it never should have happened that way.

“There was nothing exotic about that (blitz),” Philbin said. “I would think (it should be picked up) or else we’re not very (smart).”

Stopped cold: The Packers were still in good shape in the fourth quarter even after they had settled for a field goal on first and goal from the 2 and then allowed the Patriots to drive for a field goal to make it 27-24.

At that point, the Packers were running all over the Patriots and should have been able to respond.

But on first and 10 at their own 21 with 10:59 left, McCarthy called for Flynn to throw a fade route down the field. Flynn got sacked for minus-4 and the Packers never ran a called running play on the series.

It was a point in the game where they had a chance to force their will on the Patriots, but McCarthy went for it all on first down.

“That was a play based on how we were running the ball earlier,” McCarthy said.

Run Dan run: The Packers will be the butt of many a joke this week as coaches and players around the league watch film of 313-pound guard Dan Connolly running a kickoff back 71 yards just before the 2-minute warning in the first half.

Flynn had just completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings to give the Packers a 17-7 lead, when kicker Mason Crosby was ordered to squib kick down the middle of the field. He hit a bouncing ball that Connolly picked up at the 25 and returned all the way to the Packers’ 4-yard line, making it the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman in NFL history.

“I’m disappointed with the way it bounced straight to him,” Crosby said. “The guy made a great play, but it’s something you never want to see happen.”

Wrong move: Flynn’s worst play may not have been his own fault.

On the opening series of the third quarter, Flynn was facing a third and 3 at his own 30 when he threw a slant route to Jones. Cornerback Kyle Arrington stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception 36 yards for a touchdown.

Jones said he was impeded from finishing his route because of a safety coming down to cover fellow receiver Jordy Nelson.

Injury report: Safety Nick Collins left the game just before halftime with a rib injury, but X-rays were negative. He did not return and Atari Bigby wound up playing with Charlie Peprah at safety.

Tight end Tom Crabtree injured his knee but came back. Linebacker Diyral Briggs reinjured an ankle he hurt earlier last week.

No offense, but Jennings, Quarless may have handed playoffs away

December 13, 2010 by  
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior writer

~The Green Bay Packers offense put on a pathetic display in Motown Sunday, in front of almost as many Packer fans as Lion fans, and lost the game 7-3 and lost control of their playoff destiny as a result.

The Packers White Wall offensive line was bullied and battered in Detroit, and as a result, Aaron Rodgers was forced to take matters into his own feet, scrambling for a key first down, but getting his head smashed into the turf my one of the Lion linebackers. Rodgers suffered his second concussion in two months, and was removed from the game in the second quarter.

Left guard Daryn Colledge hurt his knee on the play that rookie tight end Andrew Quarless fumbled the ball away. That play is very reminiscent of the play where Donald Lee fumbled in Washington, causing Jermichael Finley to have to make a tackle and getting his knee injured, ending his season.

Jason Spitz took the place of Colledge, and coach McCarthy thought he was so bad, that he eventually took Spitz out and tried another member of the White Wall, TJ Lang. It didn’t make any difference as Flynn put up goose eggs no matter who was blocking poorly.

Veteran tackle Chad Clifton was bad, so was rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga. In the middle, center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton were also ineffective.

In addition to Quarless fumbling one ball away on the first drive, Greg Jennings took this perfect pass from Rodgers which would have been a 77 yard touchdown, and instead let it slip through his fingers, bounce off his helmet, and then be a gift of interception to the Lions, ending Rodgers’ career-long streak of no interceptions, and costing the Packers the one touchdown they needed that would have won the game. At least no Packer tore their knee on that play.

Backup QB Matt Flynn, who had been given praise by certain journalists this pre-season, was able to engineer zero points in his first meaningful action of his career. Flynn did help engineer a nice drive in the third quarter, only to throw a terrible interception in the end zone, on 1st down no less.

Another Packers linebacker, Frank Zombo, was injured, the old knee “sprain” as coach McCarthy calls everything.  Apparently Rodgers has a head “sprain” too.

Because of the loss, a crucial divisional loss and conference loss, the Packers pretty much have no chance at all at getting one of the two wildcard spots. Their only hope of making it to the post-season is to beat the Bears for the division. And for that to happen, the Packers need to have the Vikings beat the Bears next Monday night, and then the Packers themselves will need to beat the Bears on the final day, January 2nd.

One more storm cloud: this week the Packers must travel to New England and play the best team in the NFL, the Patriots. They hammered the Bears yesterday in Chicago, two weeks after they scored 45 points against these same Lions who held the Packers to 3.

Clay Matthews’ pain is opponents’ gain

December 11, 2010 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPNmilwaukee

~GREEN BAY – The pain in Clay Matthews’ shin is getting worse, which might explain why the Green Bay Packers star outside linebacker hasn’t been the pain in the neck for opposing quarterbacks that he was during the first half of the season.

Dom Capers: "I know he’s getting a lot of attention, and it’s coming from a wide variety of people. It comes with the territory. He just has to be relentless and it’ll come around. The reality is, other guys are seeing the benefits of having a guy like Clay Matthews as a teammate."

Matthews said Friday that he’s not sure when he first injured his shin, but it got bad enough in the week after the Packers’ Oct. 31 victory over the New York Jets that he hasn’t been able to fully participate in practice since. Coincidentally or not, Matthews recorded an NFL-leading 9.5 sacks through those first eight weeks – despite missing the team’s Oct. 17 loss to Miami after aggravating his troublesome hamstring – but has managed just two sacks since the victory over the Jets: One against Dallas on Nov. 7, and one when Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre slid short of the line of scrimmage in the Packers’ Nov. 21 triumph over the Vikings. He was shut out in the past two games.

Whether it’s the injury itself or the lack of practice time he’s getting – Matthews’ work has generally been limited to the jog-through portions of practice – Matthews disputes the notion that he hasn’t been as productive, even though he enters Sunday’s game against Detroit at Ford Field not leading the NFL in sacks. That’s the first time this season that he hasn’t been on top, having fallen a half-sack behind Miami’s Cameron Wake.

“I do wish I was practicing more. It’s a myth that you’re getting out of practice and, ‘Oh, he just shows up on game days.’ You want to be practicing,” Matthews said as he sat at his locker Friday. “In a sense, you are more fresh for the game in that you’re not beating yourself down, but you have to make sure you keep yourself sharp mentally and physically. I’d like to be out there, but at the same time, what’s smart right now is to try to have me as close to 100 percent as we can come Sunday.”

Against San Francisco last Sunday, Matthews came close to sacking quarterback Troy Smith twice. On one play, he beat running back Brian Westbrook and had his arms around Smith but the quarterback was able to get the ball to tight end Vernon Davis for a 25-yard gain; on the other, he was on the ground and had Smith around the ankles, only to see Smith dump the ball to running back Anthony Dixon for a 4-yard gain.

According to a breakdown done by blogger Al Bracco, Matthews rushed quarterback Troy Smith on 17 of San Francisco’s 25 passing plays last week, and on 10 of 17, Matthews was double-teamed in some form. And when he wasn’t double-teamed, the play-call was generally for a quick pass that got the ball out of Smith’s hand before Matthews would have a chance to get to him.

While Matthews has been shut out the last two games, the Packers as a team have registered six sacks: Three by defensive end Cullen Jenkins, two by outside linebacker Frank Zombo and one by nose tackle B.J. Raji.

“Some people may look at it like, ‘Oh, well, he’s hurt, so he’s not making plays.’ But you’ve got to look at the teams we’ve been playing and the concepts around getting pressure,” Matthews explained. “Last week was a different game from the simple fact that we knew we had this mobile quarterback, we were going to challenge him to beat us with his arm. That’s exactly what we did. We didn’t have to put too much pressure on him as far as bringing the house. I thought we did a fantastic job on our rushes when we had our opportunities.

“On those two (near-sacks), Vernon had a heck of a catch on one, and the other I don’t remember, I was on the ground holding on. But Jenks got two sacks, Zombo, B.J (got one each). There was pressure all around. We’re getting it done, and if it’s not me, it’s somebody else.”

Indeed, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and Zombo, Matthews’ running-mate on the opposite side, all swore that Matthews’ lack of sacks are the result of attention he’s getting from opponents, not from his injury or lack of practice reps.

“Everyone’s talking about Clay’s numbers being down, but he’s taking so much attention,” Zombo said. “That’s why a lot of us other guys are able to make some plays. Clay’s an animal and it’s going to take a few guys to block him.”

Greene pointed to Matthews’ back-to-back three-sack games to start the season, which made him a marked man.

“I can tell you this: With the name that he developed early in the year, when you game plan, you say, ‘OK, we cannot let this guy have an impact. So we’re going to put one, two, three guys on him,’” Greene said. “To get a sack, a lot of (stuff) has to line up. The moon has to come together. You need time to work your move, you hopefully don’t get held. I don’t see any dip in Clay’s play at all, whatsoever.

“I know he’s getting a lot of attention, and it’s coming from a wide variety of people. It comes with the territory. He just has to be relentless and it’ll come around. The reality is, other guys are seeing the benefits of having a guy like Clay Matthews as a teammate.”

That said, Capers did acknowledge that he wishes Matthews could practice more. But Capers said Matthews has the mental acuity to play well with limited work during the week, a la cornerback Charles Woodson, whose practice snaps have been limited all season because of a toe injury, age and the sprained ankle he suffered Wednesday in practice.

“Clay’s a bright guy, and I think he’s a lot like Charles in terms of being able to picture things and see ’em. He picks things up well,” Capers said. “But, there’s no question, he’s still a young player and not being able to go out and work on your skills and techniques every day, it’s going to affect you. Now, he’s a guy that I think because of a lot of the other things he has, (he) can go out and play at a high level for us. But, would he be just as sharp as he’d be if he was out there taking every one of those reps? Probably not.”

Matthews said he couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he injured his shin, but said it started to hurt against the Jets and has gotten worse ever since. He wouldn’t say exactly what the injury is but said it wouldn’t heal until after the season.

“It was constantly getting irritated and getting pain,” Matthews said. “It started earlier in the season, so I think the more it continued to get aggravated, it was to the point after that Jets game where I was coming out at practice and just noticeably not moving as well. So we took some time off and I was ready for the Dallas game and have been on that (limited practice) schedule ever since.”

Full story HERE

Mike Vandermause column: It’s not worth risking Williams on punt returns

December 10, 2010 by  
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From the Mouse, Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette

~Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is taking a huge risk every time he sends Tramon Williams on the field to return punts.

The Packers recently gave Williams a lucrative new contract that will pay him more than $8 million per season because he is a superb cornerback, not for his punt-return abilities.

It flies in the face of common sense to put a Pro Bowl-caliber defender like Williams in harm’s way on special teams. If anything happens to Williams, the Packers’ defense would take a major hit.

When asked recently if he would consider re-evaluating his use of Williams on punt returns, McCarthy gave no indication he was willing to budge on the issue.

“That’s really a roster structure question that I think I’ve answered back in training camp,” said McCarthy. “I’m not going to change now.”

It would be one thing if Williams was a game-breaker, but his 7.7-yard average ranks 27th in the NFL among players with at least 10 punt returns this season.

The reward for Williams’ return skills isn’t worth the risk. He has emerged as a top-flight cornerback and is too valuable to lose to a needless injury.

“I understand the risk involved,” said McCarthy.

That’s easy to say as long as Williams stays healthy. But if something were to happen to Williams, McCarthy would have some explaining to do.

Williams isn’t the only key NFL starter that serves as a return man, but just because other teams are willing to roll the dice doesn’t make it right.

The list of starters who also return kickoffs or punts includes DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, Percy Harvin in Minnesota, Eddie Royal in Denver, Danny Amendola in St. Louis and Devin Hester in Chicago. Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys also performed double duty until he broke his ankle last week returning a kickoff.

It’s telling that among that group of returners, Williams is the only one that plays defense. More often than not defensive players are used as stopgap returners and not for their dazzling play-making ability.

Williams is generally sure-handed and has one career touchdown return in 2007, although it came on a punt out of field-goal formation, meaning he didn’t do it against a punt coverage unit.

McCarthy’s dilemma is that he has few other options. Greg Jennings is listed as the top backup on the Packers’ depth chart, but risking an injury to the team’s best receiver is a crazy notion. No. 4 receiver Jordy Nelson is another possibility but he’s more of a straight-line runner and has been prone to fumble.

The Packers’ biggest problem is that in General Manager Ted Thompson’s six years on the job he has been unable to produce a true return specialist. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf made that a priority in the mid-1990s with Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard, and later with the very capable Roell Preston and Allen Rossum.

Will Blackmon was the closest the Packers came to having a full-fledged returner under Thompson, but he couldn’t stay healthy (in fact, it was a punt return vs Minnesota that was the play that Williams tore his ACL).

So once again that has put the onus on McCarthy to scour his roster for someone capable of return duty. At best, it’s an adequate approach. At worst, a very valuable Packers’ starter could get hurt.

Full story HERE

Cold calls: Packers need playoff run

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under News

By Wayne Larrivee, Packer Insider

~Many NFL clichés come to mind during this time of year.

December on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field is what the Packers are all about.

Vince Lombardi implored his Packers in December of 1967 to “run to win!”

Conventional NFL wisdom has it that outdoor teams in the North must run to win in December and January.

In December/January games over the past three years, the Packers are 8-5, which includes a 1-3 mark during the 6-10 season of 2008.

There is no question the Packers have missed Ryan Grant and his 1,200 rushing yards per season ever since he went down in the opener at Philadelphia.

In terms of headlines, Grant’s contribution to this offense over the years has taken a back seat to the passing attack.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Larrivee last week that Grant was the type of performer people outside the team don't appreciate - until he's gone.

Especially during this time of the season, when the weather gets cold, the turf is slick and the wind kicks up. In these conditions it helps to have a workhorse like Grant.

In the last three seasons, Grant gave the Packers an effective ground game in the cold weather months. In 13 December/January games, he rushed 224 times for 1,058 yards and 11 touchdowns.Grant averaged 17.23 carries per game. 4.7 yards per carry, 81.3 yards per game with nine touchdowns. Now that’s what I call an effective ground game.

In outdoor games, he was even better. In 11 games, he rushed for 952 yards on 195 carries with nine touchdowns. That averages out to 17.7 attempts, 4.9 yards a carry and 86.5 yards per game.

Those numbers will be hard to replace for a club that went into the 49ers game with starter Brandon Jackson averaging 12 carries a game for averages of 46.7 yards per game and 3.9 per carry, and totaling just three touchdowns. John Kuhn gets 5.6 carries a game for 20.4 yards a contest.

In the controlled environment of a dome you can compensate for a less than exemplary running game with the short passing attack, as the Packers did in Atlanta.

They rolled up 418 yards of offense while getting just 26 yards from running backs. It is harder to do that this time of year outside.

It is true, unless you play in a dome, that December and January are when you must run the football effectively to win in the NFL, especially outside and in the postseason.

Against the 49ers, the Packers got a lift from an unexpected source. Rookie sixth-round draft pick James Starks carried the ball 18 times for 73 yards and a 4.1 average.

The Packers as a team rushed for 136 yards on a cold, breezy day at Lambeau Field. They put together an impressive 17-play, 74-yard drive that took 8 minutes, 35 seconds off the fourth quarter clock and helped seal the 34-16 win.

Of the 13 rushing plays for 56 yards, Starks had 35 yards on nine carries.

Can the Packers, given their challenges in the running game, make it to the playoffs? Of course they can, and the precedent has been set.

Back in 2006, Indianapolis won a Super Bowl with the 18th-ranked rushing attack in the league.

Two years ago, Arizona ……

Full story HERE

Packers receiver Jennings comes out of the dark

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — When the Green Bay Packers spent the off-season tailoring their offense to highlight tight end Jermichael Finley, they didn’t think it would leave wide receiver Greg Jennings running routes on a bridge to nowhere.

But if you compare Jennings’ first five games with his last seven – games in which Finley has not appeared – it’s as if he has emerged from a total eclipse.

First five games: 14 catches for 183 yards (13.1 average) and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings has been red hot in the past two months. Here he is burning the New England Patriots, who are next week's opponent.

Last seven games: 43 catches for 761 yards (17.7) and eight touchdowns.

It just so happens that the start of that seven-game tear – six catches for 133 yards and a touchdown against Miami – coincides with the first game Finley was not in the lineup due to a knee injury. Finley was eventually put on injured reserve and Jennings’ numbers immediately skyrocketed.

Asked what’s been the reason for the sudden increase of catches, Jennings said: “Probably a little bit more eyeballing from the head guy over there, (No.) 12, trying to get the ball to me a little bit more.”

It’s not surprising the Packers became obsessed with the prospect of highlighting a player as talented as Finley, who if he had remained on his pace through his first four full games would have finished with 84 catches for 1,204 yards and four touchdowns.

The league knows what the Packers have in the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Finley.

In his defense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ obsession with throwing to Finley was borne of the coaches’ desire to maximize the tight end’s talents. By the end of four games, Finley and Jennings had been targeted the same number of times (26), but Finley was the one being moved around to create better matchups.

Now that pendulum has swung back to Jennings.

“I think Mike (McCarthy) had (made it so) Jermichael was not a tight end, he was a receiver and we can use him in a four-receiver set,” receiver Donald Driver said. “We didn’t have to add another receiver. Now that he’s gone, we’re able to move to Big Five and Big Four.

“When you lose a guy like Jermichael, you have to have guys step up. All our guys stepped up.”

Jennings’ frustration over not being highlighted boiled over at Washington, the same game in which Finley was injured. He apologized afterward, but his message may have been heard loud and clear by Rodgers, who decides where the ball goes.

Rodgers thinks things would have worked themselves out if Finley had remained healthy.

“At some point, we would have had to figure out what that balance was,” Rodgers said. “But I think we got back to some of the stuff we did last season. A lot more spread-out stuff, a lot more high-percentage stuff.

“Mike has given me a lot of opportunities to make some decisions and get us in good play situations. The no-huddle has been good for us. I think that stuff has helped me feel comfortable and play better, honestly.”

Since Finley went down, the Packers have completed just 21 passes to their tight end trio of Andrew Quarless, Donald Lee and Tom Crabtree. Since the Miami game, the three have combined for 14 catches for 156 yards and one touchdown.

Jennings, on the other hand, has had four 100-yard receiving games and jumped from unlisted to No. 22 in the NFL in receptions and No. 6 in yardage. He is No. 4 in average per catch among receivers with 40 or more receptions.

Other factors have contributed to Jennings’ success as well.

Driver’s thigh injury limited his output for a four-game stretch, although James Jones and Jordy Nelson picked up a great deal of that slack. Also, Jennings is just red-hot, much like an outside shooter in basketball.

“I think he’s in a groove,” receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. “I think he’s gotten a lot of opportunities in the last few weeks and he’s seeing it well, catching it well. It’s all kind of clicking offensively.

“We’re protecting Aaron and he’s playing at a high level, taking care of the ball and making accurate throws. It’s all working better than it was earlier.”

Jennings also is getting some of the favored treatment that Finley and Driver have gotten in group formations. Often, Jennings would be stuck alone on the weak side where he would be further down in Rodgers’ progression.

Finley was continually getting opportunities to line up in the slot and off the ball so he could have a free release and the middle of the field with which to work. Jennings is getting more of those opportunities now both because Finley isn’t there and the coaches decided this year Driver wouldn’t be the sole receiver in the slot.

The Packers also are using four- and five-receiver sets that spread out the defense and force it to play defensive backs who might not be as good as the receivers on the field. Jones and Nelson have both been factors lately and even Brett Swain has had a catch or two.

Against Detroit on Sunday, Jennings will be the featured receiver again. More will be known about whether teams will start rolling their coverage to him or the side he lines up on.

How this all shakes out when a healthy Finley returns next season will be something the coaches will have to spend time on in the off-season. As Rodgers said, there is a balance that can be reached.

“I don’t know,” Driver said. “Next year is next year. We got three more weeks before the year ends. Wait until next season comes. Then we’ll see if we can fit in all our receivers with Jermichael. That’s what it all boils down to. Right now, I think we’re doing well with the five we have.”

Atari Bigby carefully working his way back

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Ford Field might not be the best venue for safety Atari Bigby to make his return from a hamstring injury.

Two years ago, Bigby suffered a hamstring injury there  that shelved him for five games. Then, this year, he injured his hamstring at the Metrodome Nov. 21 and was forced to miss two games.

The common thread between those two places is their artificial surface.

With Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, and Hakeem Nicks all lurking in the next three games, the Packers could really use Atari Bigby's physical presence back in the secondary.

“You know what? You’re right,” Bigby said when reminded about that. “I didn’t even think about that. There might be something there. I don’t know. It could just be me.”

Bigby was back on the practice field Thursday for the first time since the Vikings game, taking part in a good portion of the full pads workout. He was officially listed as limited on the Packers’ injury report for Sunday’s Detroit game.

The medical staff passed Bigby on a running test Thursday morning, thus ending a 2 ½-week rehab that interrupted his return to the player he once was. Bigby missed the first eight games following ankle surgery in August, but was rotating with starter Charlie Peprah when he pulled the hamstring at Minnesota.

Bigby made a touchdown-saving tackle of Percy Harvin on a kickoff return and was starting to make a run for his old job at strong safety. He’s not exactly back at Square One, but he has to pick up where he left off if he’s going to be of any help to the club down the stretch.

“At that point,” Bigby said of the Minnesota game, “I was ready. I was ready for anything. I guess I wasn’t because I got hurt.”

This time around, the coaches have to decide whether to bring him back for an artificial turf game or wait another week for grass at New England. Bigby said he did not work any special teams in practice, which is usually a sign if a player is going to be active, but he said he was cleared so late in the morning that he didn’t have a chance to get into the rotation.

“Atari is making a lot of progress,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He was able to practice today. We just tried to control what segments of practice that he went through. But he looked good, particularly in the opponent scout reps that he was taking.

“It will be encouraging to see how he feels in the morning when he goes through the doctor’s evaluation.”

Full story HERE

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