2011 February : Packers Insider

What’s not to like about Green Bay?

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Doug Robinson, Deseret News, Salt Lake City

~Seriously, America, what’s not to like about the Green Bay Packers?

What’s not to like about a small-town team that is not only surviving, but thriving in the billion-dollar business of professional football.

There is nothing like them in professional sports. Think about what an oddity they are. Teams have come and gone in the NFL in a continuous game of musical chairs — the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis, the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the Oakland Raiders to L.A. and back to Oakland, the St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix, the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis.

Lambeau Field Lovefest: Charles Woodson

But the Packers have stayed in tiny Green Bay, Wis., since their birth in 1919. Los Angeles, with a population of 4 million, doesn’t even have a franchise, but Green Bay, with a population of 101,000, does. It’s like plunking down a team in the middle of Sandy, Utah.

They are the smallest market in pro sports. Green Bay’s metro area — if you stretch the definition of “metro” — is 283,000. Buffalo, the next smallest, has 1.1 million. New York City has 8.5 million in the city limits alone, 19 million in the metro area.

What’s not to like about a team that was dreamed up during a street-corner conversation one day. Curly Lambeau, a former Green Bay prep star and Notre Dame player, hatched the idea and convinced his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to buy uniforms and provide a practice field. In turn, the team called itself the Packers. Lambeau was the team’s first star player (for 11 years) and its first coach (for 30 years) and — you’ve got to like this — he pioneered the forward pass in the NFL.

What’s not to like about the last small-town survivor of the National Football League? In the early ’20s, the fledgling NFL consisted almost entirely of small-town teams like Green Bay — the Decatur Staleys, Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Muncie Flyers, Rochester Jeffersons, Rock Island Independents. But as the league turned fully to professionalism, those teams either folded or moved to big cities for bigger profits. Green Bay found a way to keep the Packers — the community bought them.

What’s not to like about a team that is owned by fans? The Packers are the only publicly owned team in professional sports. The other teams have one owner; the Packers by 12,000 shareholders — or 12,000 Monday-morning quarterbacks. They’ve rescued the team from financial hardship four times — in 1923, ’35, ’50 and ’97.

What’s not to like about this team? Apparently, not much. Despite their small-town roots — or perhaps because of it — they have courted a world-wide following. According to a 2010 Harris poll, the Packers are still the third most popular team in the country, 40 years after their glory years. Someone once asked the late former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to name the best football city in America. “Green Bay,” he replied. “A small town. People owning their own football team. Rabid supporters.”

The Packers have one of the longest waiting lists for season tickets in pro sports, some 80,000 deep (Lambeau Field seats only 78,000). The average wait for season tickets is estimated to be 30 years, but if you added your name to the list now you probably wouldn’t get tickets in your lifetime. Packer fans are known to leave season tickets in their wills or to place newborn babies on the waiting list. Packer games have been sold out since 1960.

“I’m a ‘green and gold’ season ticket holder and have some voting stock in the team,” explains Walt Mehr, a Sandy resident who grew up in Eagle River, Wis., just north of Green Bay. “It took me 23 years to get season tickets. We have a big shareholders meeting in July and vote. We were involved with remodeling of the stadium. As season-ticket holders we had to put up money for that — $5,000. My tickets are in my will.”

It’s every fan’s dream — they get to help run the team. You’ve got to like that.

What’s not to like about a team that has been an almost mythical force since joining the NFL in 1921? They’ve won 12 championships — nine NFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era, and three Super Bowls — and no one else is close to matching them. They won the first two Super Bowls. They won five championships in seven years during the ’60s. The city’s nickname is “Titletown.” Their coach’s name is on the Super Bowl Trophy. They have 21 Hall of Famers, second only to the Chicago Bears. They are a team of legends — Starr, Nitschke, Taylor, Lombardi, Davis, Hornung, Kramer, Gregg, Hutson, Lambeau.

What’s not to like about a team that is so entrenched in the community in such a personal way? It’s big-time football in a small-town way that has been lost as the NFL has grown. This is the town that spawned the Lambeau Leap — players leaping into the arms of fans behind the end zone after a touchdown, a routine that has since been adopted throughout the league. It symbolizes the close connection between the team and the fans, like so many other things. Green Bay’s stadium is bordered by the back yards of middle-class neighborhoods. The players live in regular neighborhoods, with the fans.

“Unlike the other NFL cities, where players can live in mansions away from the masses, Green Bay has no real ‘affluent’ suburbs,” says Vai Sikahema, a former Packer and BYU player. “And because of the frigid weather, everyone had second homes in warmer places. So the players lived in modest homes in regular neighborhoods.

The Donald

“Playing for the Packers and living in Green Bay is generally the way it was in the ’60’s when Vince Lombardi lived there. The house we rented was rented by a host of former Packers, dating back to the great running back Jim Taylor.

“Another player rented a home once lived in by Bart Starr. That creates this extra unique bond with the fan base. On Tuesdays, our day off, we’d walk our children to the bus stop and all the dads would go in late so they could walk their own kids and talk football with us at the bus stop. My wife had play dates with regular moms on our street, as opposed to the closed, elitist ‘wives club’ on other teams.”

There is a tradition in Green Bay that has received considerable publicity over the years. Kids wait for Packer players outside the locker room and often use their bikes to ride to the practice field. The kids hold the players’ helmets and jog alongside the players as they ride the kids’ bikes to practice. Who couldn’t like that?

“I was one of those kids who ran next to a player while he rode my bike to the practice field from the locker room,” says Mark Stimpson, a Salt Lake resident who grew up in Green Bay. “We did it every day during the summer. I had a metallic green stingray bike. I’d wait by the locker room. The player would hand me his helmet. The players wouldn’t pedal the bikes. They were too big. They’d just stick their legs out and coast because it’s a down-hill walk to the field. We’d talk to them while we walked beside them. Then, during practice we’d watch the guy who rode our bike. It was a fun time. The players were great to us.”

Sikahema remembers the bike routine, as well. “The bikes are one of those unique things in Green Bay that allow fans, especially kids, to get to know the players in a personal way,” he says. “I stayed in touch with the kid whose bike I used through his college years and his wedding. He’s now in his mid-30s. His name is Aaron Smet. When I was there, a bunch of poor kids didn’t have bikes to lend to the players and (teammate) Sterling Sharpe had Wal-Mart deliver to the complex a tractor trailer full of bikes that he gave away to less fortunate kids.”

Stimpson recalls seeing Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Elijah Pitts and Bart Starr around town when he was a kid. The Packers were one of them. His sister, Mary Nelson, babysat for reserve quarterback Zeke Bratkowski.

“Zeke lived around the corner from us,” says Nelson. “After the games some of the players would come over to Zeke’s house. I got to meet Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and Max MaGee and their wives. Every time I babysat Zeke’s kids he would walk me home.”

What’s not to like about a town that is all about its team? Green Bay businesses are Packer themed. The streets are named after Packers — Lombardi, Ray Nitschke, Brett Favre, Mike Holmgren, Don Hutson, Reggie White, Bart Starr, Tony Canadeo. Even the official Green Bay website is all about the local football team.

The town shuts down during games; churches schedule around the Packers, then open their parking lots for Packer fans. “The streets are empty during the games,” says Stimpson. “When I was a boy I could ride my bike down the middle of the street because there was no traffic.”

What’s not to like about a team that won the Ice Bowl, one of the greatest games ever played? It was the 1967 NFL Championship game in Green Bay, and the temperature was minus-13 degrees, with a windchill hovering around 50 below.

Rick Delacenserie, who grew up in the Green Bay area and now lives in Park City, watched the Packer practices as a boy and witnessed the Ice Bowl from the same end zone where Starr scored the game-winning touchdown.

“I spent most of the third quarter in the bathroom,” he recalls. “It was packed in there. Everyone was trying to get warm. Someone brought a hacksaw and cut up the goal posts. All I got was some of the foam they wrapped around the post.”

You’ve got to love a team that inspires fans to brave sub-zero weather.

After the Ice Bowl, the Packers went into decline for 25 years until the Favre years arrived in the early ’90s, but the Packers still inspired fierce loyalty and love.

“The only thing you can see on the horizon is Lambeau Field,” says Mehr, who pauses to choke back tears before continuing. “I get chills when I see it. On a beautiful clear day, omigosh.”

The Mecca of Sports

For his part, Stimpson left home decades ago to attend BYU and settle in Utah. He doesn’t follow sports as he once did, and the game has changed, and yet he says this: “(The Packers) are so much a part of you. The Packers still have a certain pull.”

The Packers return to the Super Bowl today. You’ve got to like that.

Full story from Super Bowl Sunday HERE

Packers are set up to rule the NFC

February 17, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

~ARLINGTON, Texas — Reggie McKenzie, the Green Bay Packers’ director of football operations and right-hand man to general manager Ted Thompson, had a terribly busy but remarkably productive season.

When the Packers were putting players on the injured reserve list at an alarming rate, it was up to McKenzie and his staff to find replacements. In all, the Packers placed a league-high 15 players on injured reserve, and eight of those had started at least one game.

Partly because they will get some of those talented players back, partly because most key players are under contract and partly because they are the second youngest team (27.4 years old) in the NFL, the Packers appear set to compete for the NFC title for years to come.

McKenzie, who was a finalist for the Falcons‘ general manager job in 2008, just hopes that the injury bug doesn’t hit the team so heavily again.

McKenzie also was a finalist for the Houston general manager job that went to Rick Smith in 2006 and at Tennessee, which went to Mike Reinfeldt in 2007. A former player at Tennessee (1981-85) and a seven-year NFL veteran with stints with the Raiders and 49ers, McKenzie has been with the Packers since joining Ron Wolf’s staff in 1994.

He now has a second Super Bowl trophy to place in front of the next owner that wants to interview him. In some ways, he was the team’s MVP.

One of the replacement players that McKenzie lined up was safety Charlie Peprah, who played in two games for the Falcons in 2009. He started out as the Packers’ third string safety and then took over after rookie Morgan Burnett, a former Georgia Tech standout, was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL in October. The No. 2 safety, Atari Bigby, appeared in just four games because of ankle, groin and hamstring injuries.

"The road that I took to get here was definitely much harder," Peprah said. "But if you don't face adversity, you're not going anywhere."

Peprah, who played at Alabama and bounced around the league since being drafted in the fifth round by the New York Giants in 2006, knows that he’ll have to fight to retain his roster spot.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” Peprah said. “Some guys were saying, ‘We’ve got one, let’s go get another one.'”

Clay Matthews, Green Bay’s relentless outside linebacker, believes the 48-21 win over the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs propelled the Packers to the title.

“The way in which we beat them, the manner in which we did it, offensively and defensively, helped us a lot,” Matthews said.

He contended that the Packers also learned a valuable playoff lesson from a 51-45 playoff loss to Arizona that eliminated them last season.

“It just goes to show you that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is granted,” said Matthews, whose father, Clay Matthews Jr., played for the Falcons from 1994-96. “We had to take this.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, is just 27. Matthews, the anchor of the defense, is just 24. Their supporting cast will only improve next fall.

Rodgers should get back his favorite target in tight end Jermichael Finley (knee, injured reserve). Also, running back Ryan Grant (ankle, injured reserve) was lost in the season opener. On defense, the Packers will get back Burnett and linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist, injured reserve).

“We like to think that we can do this for years to come,” Matthews said. “We’ve got the same cast and crew coming back next year. I’m sure there will be a few changes. We have a few injured guys coming back so we feel good about where we are at.”

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers sees a bright future for the franchise, but doesn’t want to start counting Super Bowl rings.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players,” Capers said. “But these teams change a lot, one year to the next. I like the foundation that we have. Hopefully, it will give us a chance to be a good team.”

The Packers fought through their injuries, but were 8-6 and staring down playoff elimination late in the season. They won their final two games to qualify for the postseason and then steamrolled through the playoffs.

"It was just the relentless pursuit of perfection, and we found greatness," linebacker Desmond Bishop said.

For all their returning talent, recent history suggests that the Packers will have a difficult time repeating. The New England Patriots in 2003 and ‘04 were the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

The last NFC team to reach back-to-back Super Bowls was the Brett Favre-led Packers after the 1996 and 1997 seasons and they won only one.

“We’ve talked about this, and it depends on what goes on here over the next couple of months,” defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “That would decide a lot. Depending on who stays and who goes, we definitely have the nucleus for a great dynasty team.”

Full story HERE

With Super Bowl win, Aaron Rodgers finds place in NFL lore

February 17, 2011 by  
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By Jim Corbett, USA Today

~It seemed fitting that Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews placed a golden heavyweight belt over quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ right shoulder as Rodgers cradled the Lombardi Trophy on the Cowboys Stadium presentation platform Sunday night.

Moments earlier, the Super Bowl XLV MVP took down the Pittsburgh Steelers while knocking out the sizable shadow of his Packers predecessor, Brett Favre.

Rodgers was the shining star of the Lone Star State Super Bowl. He passed for 304 yards and threw three touchdown passes to bring a fourth Super Bowl crown to Titletown, USA, with a legacy-stamping 31-25 victory.

Imagine: What if the Vikings didn't pass on Rodgers in the 2005 Draft, as they did not once but twice. They took WR Troy Williamson and DE Erasmus James with their two picks before Rodgers.

“It’s a special honor,” Rodgers said. “Individually, it’s the top of the mountain. It’s something you dream about as a kid.”

Rodgers had spent three long years shadow-boxing the memory of Favre, never saying a disparaging word. When he got his title shot, Rodgers showed the best way to replace a legend is to create your own.

“Aaron definitely knocked out the shadow of Brett Favre,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “Everybody was talking about our lack of Super Bowl experience compared to the Steelers coming into this game.

“But Aaron looked pretty experienced to me. The Steelers were the ones who looked confused in their final two-minute drill.

“Now we’re going to the White House. Tell the haters they can kiss our Lombardi Trophy.”

Rodgers, 27, joins Bart Starr and Favre as Packers quarterbacks to win Super Bowls. And he follows Starr as the second Packers quarterback to be selected Super Bowl MVP, a feat Favre didn’t accomplish.

“He won the prize, and he won it during a very tough season when he lost some of the great weapons around him,” said Bob Harlan, the Packers’ chairman emeritus, referring to the team’s rash of injuries.

Said Starr: “I like Aaron for many reasons. He’s a super gentleman. You get that two minutes into chatting with him. He’s got a solid foundation and is a quality person. He’s committed to being great.

“Then you have his enthusiasm, his knowledge, his preparation for an opponent; the time he puts forth for that challenge each week is wonderful. When you have that, you can do great things.”

The kid from small-town Chico, Calif., has always dreamt big, hoping to emulate his San Francisco 49ers heroes, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Now Rodgers stands with them in Super Bowl lore.

The Packers have obviously hit a home run with their pick of Rodgers in 2005.

Rodgers more than justified the faith of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy that he was ready to take the reins from Favre.

“I never felt there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. “The organization stood behind me, believed in me.

“I told Ted back in 2005, he wouldn’t be sorry with this (draft) pick. I told him in 2008 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”

Bold move

McCarthy conveyed belief in his team by channeling his inner Vince Lombardi and having his players sized for their Super Bowl rings the night before they faced the Steelers.

“No disrespect to the Pittsburgh Steelers,” McCarthy said. “But we fully expected to win this game. This is our time.”

And the Packers are Rodgers’ team.

Favre won one Super Bowl in his 16 seasons in Green Bay. Rodgers has one after three seasons as a starter.

“Everybody in Green Bay and Wisconsin can exhale and say, ‘We’re really past Brett Favre,’ ” former Packers running back Dorsey Levens said. “Aaron won’t have to deal with the questions about Brett Favre anymore.

“Imagine what he had to overcome. The Packers drafted a guy to replace a legend who’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Packers fans didn’t want Brett to leave. The only guys who had Aaron’s back were Ted and Mike.

“For Aaron to succeed in that environment is just incredible.”

McCarthy put the game on Rodgers’ shoulders, asking him to throw it 42 times (Rodgers was sacked three times) compared with 13 called runs against the Steelers’ No. 1-ranked run defense.

“Aaron Rodgers is our quarterback, and I’m glad he’s our quarterback,” McCarthy said. “Brett Favre is a great quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He’ll be a great Packer for the rest of his life.

“But this is about passing the torch from one quarterback to the next.”

What a season. What an improbable postseason run.

The Packers were a chic preseason NFC Super Bowl pick but stumbled to a 3-3 start amid various injuries. After suffering his second concussion of the season, Rodgers missed a Week 15 loss at the New England Patriots, leaving the Packers at 8-6 and needing to win their last two regular-season games to qualify for the postseason.

They did that and more, kicking off a six-game winning streak that culminated with a victorious Super Sunday, making the Packers the NFC’s first No. 6 seed to turn the trick.

Green Bay jumped to a 21-3 lead on the Steelers but lost veteran cornerback Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone and wideout Donald Driver to a badly sprained left ankle before halftime.

"Everybody in Green Bay and Wisconsin can exhale and say, 'We're really past Brett Favre,' " former Packers running back Dorsey Levens said. "Aaron won't have to deal with the questions about Brett Favre anymore. "Imagine what he had to overcome. The Packers drafted a guy to replace a legend who's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Packers fans didn't want Brett to leave. The only guys who had Aaron's back were Ted and Mike.

“This is like our season: We faced a lot of adversity, and guys stepped up,” Rodgers said of those final hurdles.

Lombardi goes home

It had been 14 years since the Packers, one of the league’s oldest, proudest franchises (founded in 1920), last won a Super Bowl.

“It’s time to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home,” McCarthy said.

They did it with a gritty team that overcame losing 15 starters to injured reserve. Green Bay starters missed a league-high 91 games to injuries.

“No one blinked,” McCarthy said.

It seemed perfect symmetry, in this year of an HBO documentary dedicated to the memory of Lombardi and a Broadway play celebrating the NFL coaching legend, that the Packers are bringing the 7-pound sterling silver trophy named in his honor back to Wisconsin.

“It’ll be fun driving down Lombardi Avenue with the Lombardi Trophy,” said wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught a career-best nine passes for a game-high 140 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh.

These Packers honored Lombardi in every sense.

“Lombardi would have loved coaching this team,” David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY.

“These Packers are balanced offensively and defensively, as Lombardi’s teams always were. It is a deep team with many good and great players but no outsized superstar, just like the old Packers.

“They are led by a brainy quarterback who was underrated or overshadowed at first and has a quiet determination.

“Aaron Rodgers is a more talented and nimble Bart Starr.”

The league’s only community-owned team is a celebration of NFL parity, showing how a franchise from a hamlet whose capacity is smaller than Cowboys Stadium’s can bring home the ultimate prize through shrewd drafting, belief and playing for each other.

“Whenever the team from the smallest city in professional sports does well, whenever a team that is owned by the people and not some wealthy megalomaniac does well, it is good for the soul,” Maraniss said.

“The beauty of the Packers is that they have all the mythology and symbolism of a dynasty. Yet they are different from other dynasties … so unlike the corporate super-rich Yankees or the glitzy glamour Cowboys and Lakers.

“So they don’t engender jealousies the way other dynasties do, excepting Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings fans from that equation. And you so often hear fans from other cities say the Packers are their second-favorite team.

“These Packers resemble the old Packers more than any Green Bay team since the 1960s.”

But instead of relying on Lombardi’s famed sweep featuring the punishing running of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung and led by guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, these Packers have built their foundation on the passing of Rodgers to Driver, Nelson, Greg Jennings and James Jones and a defense that limited playoff opponents — the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Bears and Steelers — to an average of 19 points in four postseason games.

The last time the Packers and Steelers met — a 37-36 Pittsburgh win in Week 15 of the 2009 season — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger marched Pittsburgh 86 yards in 11 plays, capping the win with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace after the Packers had gone up 36-30 with 2:06 to play.

This time, with the Steelers down six points with 87 yards to go and 2:07 remaining, the Green Bay defense held.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to lose,” Roethlisberger said after throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. “For me, it’s even more disappointing because you feel like you let a lot of people down.”

In 20 games this season, the Packers did not allow a single touchdown in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, a testament to their defense’s will.

“I didn’t think we were getting respect as a defense,” Matthews said. “Defense wins championships. And here we are world champions. I like to think we etched our names as an all-time defense.”

And maybe as a new-age dynasty, returning a core of players who seem far from peaking.

“(Former general manager) Ron Wolf and I felt the team that won Super Bowl XXXI was really good enough to win two, maybe three Super Bowls,” Harlan said. “We didn’t get it done. But I think this team has the same potential.

“Ted Thompson knows how to build a football team. … He said he was going to build through the draft and build a deep roster. We’ve got a team with a great quarterback that can win for a long time.”

People in Green Bay weren’t saying that about Thompson or Rodgers three years ago when Thompson and McCarthy moved on from Favre after he abruptly unretired, leading to his 2008 trade to the New York Jets.

“I remember being up there the year when Ted traded Brett to the Jets, and I was on the field pregame at Lambeau Field,” Levens said. “I said, ‘Ted, I want to stand here and talk to you for a little while. But I’m a little nervous about standing next to you. … There’s a lot of hunters up here in Wisconsin, a lot of guys with orange vests.

Leader of the Pack.

” ‘I’m going to step over here and get away from you because you’re not the most popular guy up here.’ ”

Thompson has been validated as much as Rodgers, who threw nine postseason touchdown passes and found closure from Favre as the new king of Titletown with the symbolic championship title belt honoring his transformative performance.

“Aaron’s got that monkey off his back,” Driver said. “He’s a superstar quarterback in his own right. He’s on top of the football world. He has the ring and the Super Bowl MVP to prove it.

“We’re glad we’re coming back to Green Bay with the Lombardi Trophy, where it belongs.”

Full story HERE

2011 Packers positional analysis: Quarterbacks

February 17, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Dan Arkush, Pro Football Weekly

~

This is the first in a series of position-by-position looks at the Packers’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason. We begin with an analysis of Green Bay’s QB situation.

Overview: Provided starter Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, it’s safe to say there isn’t a team in the NFL in better shape at the all-important QB position than the Packers. Overcoming an uneven start and a pair of concussions — the last of which forced him to miss the Week 15 game at New England — Rodgers was in great part responsible for propelling the Packers to their fourth Super Bowl title in five appearances and league-high 13th NFL championship.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the quarterbacks on the roster:

Aaron Rodgers: The Packers’ 2005 first-round draft pick established himself as one of the league’s elite signalcallers, emphatically emerging from the massive shadow of Packers legend Brett Favre. Utilizing his arm, legs and brain with maximum effectiveness, Rodgers posted an NFC-high 101.2 passer rating before excelling in the postseason on the way to a Super Bowl MVP award with a picture-perfect performance in the NFL’s showcase event.

As long as injuries don't become a factor, the Packers are obviously set at QB for years to come with Aaron Rodgers.

Operating like a coach on the field with his total grasp of the Packers’ multifaceted offensive system, Rodgers possesses pinpoint accuracy and flawless mechanics that kept on improving as the season wore on. He also has an uncanny knack for buying time and escaping pressure and provides an extra-special dimension with his running ability, ranking third among QBs in rushing yards behind Michael Vick and Josh Freeman while gaining 5.6 yards per carry.

Matt Flynn: Flynn proved his worth with a stellar starting effort in place of Rodgers against the Patriots, posting a 100.2 passer rating in a near-upset of one of the league’s best teams. Flynn’s arm strength has steadily improved, and he also possesses excellent poise, toughness and mobility.

Backup QB Matt Flynn performed well in his one start, at New England, despite choking a bit at the end.

Graham Harrell: As third-string quarterbacks go, Harrell, who was promoted from the practice squad after Rodgers’ second concussion, would appear to fill the bill sufficiently enough. But he remains totally unproven and is far from a lock to return next season.

Bottom line: With Rodgers entrenched under center, the Packers’ QB situation is as good as it gets. But with more than a few teams possibly considering a trade for Flynn as a starter, it would not be a shock at all if the team drafts a quarterback in late April.

Full story HERE

Some people believe that 3rd string QB Graham Harrell has a chance to develop into a solid NFL QB under QB-coach Tom Clements and Mike McCarthy. Both Rodgers and Flynn improved their arm strength and technique, and Harrell has already shown some signs of improvement.

Why Aaron Rodgers is better than Brett Favre

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider Senior Editor

~Fifteen years ago, the Green Bay Packers were celebrating a glorious Super Bowl Championship after a 35-21 win over Bill Parcells’ New England Patriots.

Those Packers were led by quarterback Brett Favre, who was in the middle of being named the league’s MVP three times in a row (one tied with Barry Sanders).

In just his 3rd year starting, Aaron Rodgers has now matched Favre and his 20 years, and Peyton Manning and his 14 years with 1 Super Bowl Ring. Like Manning, Rodgers was the Super Bowl MVP in his title.

Those Super Bowl winning Packers also were led by the NFL’s #1-ranked defense, anchored by Hall of Famer Reggie White on the front line, and Packer Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler on the back line.

They also had the league’s best return specialist in Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard. Favre was okay in his Super Bowl win, going 14/27, just over 50%, but his two touchdowns and zero interceptions were enough.

The following year, when the team made it back to the Super Bowl, against Denver, the Packers were a 13-point favorite to win that game and repeat. However, the defense was atrocious against the Broncos rushing attack, and Favre made mistakes, including throwing a key interception. Without that one mistake, the Packers probably would have won the game and repeated.

Now fast forward to 2011. Aaron Rodgers just had a playoff run as good as any ever seen in the NFL. He also played a near-flawless game in the Super Bowl, carrying the whole offense while throwing three touchdowns and over 300 yards passing.

Coincidentally, he also is 27 years old as Favre was when he won his first Super Bowl.

But here’s what makes Rodgers better than Favre: he’s smarter and less risky with his play. With a good supporting cast and good defense, as both that team had and this team has, it doesn’t take high-risk, forced passes to win games. It takes good, solid play, with few mistakes.

Think more Tom Brady than Brett Favre. Think more Joe Montana than Brett Favre. Favre may have racked up more stats of all categories, but he only was part of the one Super Bowl title, and all Packer fans still have the emotional scars of why that is the case.

See playoff games in: Philadelphia (horrible overtime interception); St Louis (record 6 Ints, including two or three returned for touchdowns); vs Atlanta (Michael Vick) and vs Minnesota (Daunte Culpepper), with those two home losses being the first playoff losses ever at home. Then remember his final pass as a Packer in the NFL title game at home versus the NY Giants. What people often forget is that interceptions are often fatal.

Ask Ben Roethlisberger and Steeler Nation.

Now, Aaron Rodgers isn’t perfect and he also will throw the occasional interception, as we witnessed in the NFC title game in Chicago when he threw one right to Bears LB Brian Urlacher (admit it, you thought that was Favre for a minute).

But Rodgers, at this point in his career, his a lot surer with the football and as the stats show, he doesn’t force as many passes as Favre did. Or as Favre still does. Remember, Favre’s risks drove then-coach Mike Holmgren crazy, and this past season, he helped drive then-coach Brad Childress to the unemployment line.

For now going forward, the Packers have a better chance of becoming like the early 2000 Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, than they do of being the one-and-done title winning Packers of the mid 1990’s.

From ESPN, 52 games, including a few playoff seasons for each guy. Edge: Rodgers

Doubters of Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy relegated to silence

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Demovsky, Press-Gazette

~Those who doubted whether General Manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy had what it took to win it all — and there were plenty of them — have been relegated to silence.

McCarthy took a roster built by Thompson, overcame a slew of injuries and triumphed in two must-win games just to make the playoffs.

Then, instilled with a dose of confidence from |McCarthy, the wild-card Packers won three road playoff games to reach Super Bowl XLV, where Thompson’s hand-picked quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and a playmaking defense led them to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers for the team’s first title since Super Bowl XXXI.

So it should come as no surprise that in the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s annual postseason report card, the Packers earned high marks in both coaching and personnel. In fact, both |McCarthy and his coaching staff and Thompson and his personnel staff received straight As.

There were more high grades for the players, too. Six players received a grade in the “A” range — double the total from last season, when only cornerback Charles Woodson (A), safety Nick Collins (A-minus) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (A-minus) were in that category. This year, there were two straight As — Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews; and four A-minuses — Woodson, cornerback Tramon Williams, right guard Josh Sitton and receiver Greg Jennings.

Sustaining greatness in the NFL is just as hard as — if not harder than — achieving it. Ten teams have represented the NFC in the last 10 Super Bowls. But with Thompson and McCarthy at the helm, the Packers appear to be built for long-term success.

Coaching grades

Fifteen players, including six starters, went from the active roster to the injured|reserve list during the season.

Opening-day starters missed 86 regular-season games to injuries. Key reserves missed another 74 games because of injuries. Still, coach Mike McCarthy and his staff managed to find the right combinations and by season’s end had the best team in the NFL.

Although there were many bumps along the road, and it took a late December win by the Lions at Tampa Bay just to help get the Packers into the playoffs, Ted and Mike earn straight 'A's in 2010-11.

McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements directed the league’s fifth-ranked passing game. Early-season struggles were erased after a meeting of the minds between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers.

Adjusted to the loss of Jermichael Finley by going back to receiver Greg Jennings. Got just enough out of the running game in the playoffs to keep teams honest but exploited mismatches in the passing game, especially in the divisional playoff win at Atlanta and in the Super Bowl against the Steelers.

On defense, coordinator Dom Capers didn’t blink in the face of injuries and got enough out of the rotation at right outside linebacker to keep productivity up. Capers’ usual variety of packages and blitzes kept opposing offenses guessing.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt developed Sam Shields into one of the top nickel corners in the league, while Darren Perry dealt with the loss of two starting safeties (Atari Bigby and Morgan Burnett) and got Charlie Peprah to play well in their place.

On special teams, coach Shawn Slocum overhauled his schemes, turned Tim Masthay into one of the league’s more productive punters and helped cut penalties nearly in half.

Personnel moves

Six seasons into his tenure as general manager, Ted Thompson put together a Super Bowl champion while assembling a team that’s built for sustained success.

His latest draft class produced four players who started at various points this season (tackle Bryan Bulaga, safety Morgan Burnett, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back James Starks) plus a contributor in defensive end C.J. Wilson. Hit home runs with rookie free agents like Sam Shields and Frank Zombo.

In-season pickups of defensive end Howard Green (from waivers) and linebacker Erik Walden (off the street) held together a battered defensive front seven. Gambled by not trading for running back Marshawn Lynch but had the foresight to see that a running game wasn’t crucial.

Wisely extended the contracts of young, playmaking defensive starters Desmond Bishop and Tramon Williams during the season. Roster depth could be at all-time high when next season begins.

Bob McGinn’s Final Report Card: 2010-2011

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~TEAM GRADES

PASS OFFENSE (A)

At midseason, Aaron Rodgers was idling along ranked 16th in passer rating at 85.3 before he and the passing attack exploded. Over the remainder of the regular season, his play was so extraordinary (122.1 rating, 71.4% completion rate) that he vaulted to third at 101.2, trailing only Tom Brady (111.0) and Philip Rivers (101.8). Coupled with his postseason mark of 109.8, Rodgers’ 19-game rating was 103.1.

Rodgers was simply phenomenal over the Packers 2nd half of the season as well as the playoff run. Next year, he'll travel to his off-season hometown of San Diego and face-off against the other best young QB in the NFL, Philip Rivers of the Chargers.

The Packers were fifth in passing yards (257.8) before averaging 260.3 in the playoffs. Green Bay wasn’t a prolific deep-ball team, evidenced by the average distance of its TD passes (19.5) compared with 24.0 in ’09 as well as its total of 17 completions for more than 35 yards, down from 24 in ’09, 19 in ’08 and 23 in ’07. Certainly, Rodgers often looked to throw down the field, but the main thrust was spreading the ball around in short to intermediate zones. When cornerbacks played soft, Rodgers turned 30 called runs into one-step hitches with easy 5- to 8-yard gains. In the first four games, TE Jermichael Finley averaged 75.3 yards and played 25 more snaps (196) than any of the wide receivers. In Finley’s five games, Greg Jennings averaged 36.6. Following Finley’s exit with a blown knee, Jennings averaged 92.3 yards and had his greatest impact. There were 46 dropped passes, down from 50 in ’09 but still too many. James Jones and Jordy Nelson each dropped 10. Jones led the team in average gain after the catch (5.16 yards). The Packers ranked 20th in percentage of sacks allowed. Rodgers was charged with 13½ sacks, down three from ’09, Chad Clifton was responsible for 8 and Bryan Bulaga for 6½.

RUSH OFFENSE (C-minus)

This part of the attack was irrevocably altered when an ankle-leg injury ended Ryan Grant’s season on the 27th offensive snap of the season (his 18th play). Gone was the downhill style of zone running the Packers had employed since mid-2007. Instead, the Packers opted to operate by committee, basically passing to set up the run. Many of the more successful runs came from spread formations against reduced boxes. Counting all games, the four-headed RB menagerie included Brandon Jackson (196-731-3.7), James Starks (110-416-3.8), John Kuhn (90-289-3.2) and Dimitri Nance (36-95-2.6). The Packers’ third-leading rusher was Rodgers (76-412-5.4), who also ranked third among QBs during the regular season with 356 yards behind Michael Vick (676) and Josh Freeman (364). Mike McCarthy seldom abandoned the run, reflected by his 20-game run rate of 42.4% (the NFL regular-season average was 43.1%). He also kept at least one FB on the field for 42.9% of the plays, up from 42.1% in ’09. Without Grant, Green Bay slipped to 24th in yards (100.4) and 25th in yards per rush (3.82). The Packers tied Cincinnati for last with merely three runs of 20 yards or more. On third- and fourth-and-1 rushing, they tied for 19th at 66.7%. The high-water mark was the 12-play, 73-yard march that closed out the 28-26 victory against Detroit. The Packers had 142 “bad” runs, their highest total since 149 in 18 games in ’03. For the second straight season, Daryn Colledge allowed the most “bad” runs (25); Josh Sitton allowed the fewest (nine).

PASS DEFENSE (A)

Green Bay ranked third in pass average (net yards divided by attempts and sacks), its best finish since 2002, and ranked fifth in yards (194.2). Neither of those categories accounts for interceptions, but opponents’ passer rating does. Improving from fourth (68.8) in ’09, the Packers led the NFL at 67.2. Pittsburgh was a distant second at 73.1. Then, in four playoff games, Vick, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger could muster just 67.8. With 24 picks, the Packers trailed just one team, New England, which led with 25. They intercepted eight more in the playoffs, all electrifying plays made by Tramon Williams (three), Sam Shields (two), B.J. Raji, Jarrett Bush and Nick Collins. The stellar Williams had nine of the 32 picks. The linebacking corps intercepted six, its highest total since ’94. The 32 interceptions directly led to a whopping 122 points. Collins dropped five interceptions, the team’s highest total by an individual in more than a decade. Dom Capers grew ever bolder with the blitz as Shields developed into a second legitimate outside cover man in nickel. After rushing five or more on just 28.5% of dropbacks in the first six games, Capers blitzed 36.8% in the last seven as the Packers vaulted from 12th last year to third in sack percentage. In 20 games, Clay Matthews led in sacks (17) and “pressures” (55). Shields gave up the most passes of 20 yards or more (10), followed by Charles Woodson with 9½. Woodson allowed the most TD passes (five). Of the four 100-yard receiving games, the 132 yards by the Giants’ Mario Manningham was tops. After the 49ers’ Vernon Davis exploded for 126 yards in Week 12, the final eight starting TEs caught only 16 for 142 (no TDs).

RUSH DEFENSE (B)

On paper, the grade might seem high. The Packers ranked 18th in yards (114.9) and 28th in yards per carry (4.65), a sharp decline from first in yards (83.3) and second in yards per carry (3.59) in ’09. But other than the first Atlanta game when Michael Turner controlled play with 23 carries for 110 yards, the run defense was seldom an issue. In the playoffs, upper-echelon RBs LeSean McCoy, Turner, Matt Forte and Rashard Mendenhall averaged a more-than-manageable 54.5 per game and 4.1 per carry. In all, the postseason yield was 83.8. The inability to contain scrambling QBs was the Packers’ worst sin. In 20 games, opposing passers carried 55 times for 415 yards (7.6). Vick led with 103 yards in Week 1, followed by Detroit’s Shaun Hill (53) in Week 4 and Detroit’s Drew Stanton (44) in Week 13. In 2009, opposing QBs finished with more typical totals of 31 carries for 136 yards. Woodson’s willingness to throw his body around charging from the slot as if he were a 23-year-old LB instead of a 34-year-old CB helped Capers stop the pass because he could use his nickel defense 75% of the time. When Capers elected to hunker down, he felt confident wheeling out wide-bodies Ryan Pickett (340 pounds), B.J. Raji (337) and Howard Green (360). Three days after the defense allowed a season-high 196 on the ground to the Vikings, Green arrived on waivers from the Jets. Adrian Peterson’s 131 yards in Week 7 was the most against Capers’ unit since Week 2 of 2009. A.J. Hawk (157), Desmond Bishop (151) and Woodson (124) were the leading 20-game tacklers; Woodson had the most missed tackles (20), four more than runner-up Charlie Peprah. Matthews and Woodson shared the lead in tackles for loss with seven.

SPECIAL TEAMS (D)

In the Dallas Morning News’ annual statistical analysis, the Packers ranked 29th, which paired them with the 2009 Saints as having the lowest-ranked special teams of any Super Bowl champion. Green Bay had ranked 31st in ’09. Three long returns led to three close losses: Chicago Devin Hester (62-yard TD) in Week 3, Atlanta’s Eric Weems (40, plus Matt Wilhelm’s face-mask penalty) in overtime in Week 11 and New England G Dan Connolly (71) in Week 14. In the playoffs, Weems raced 102 for a TD. Mason Crosby also had a chance to win the Washington game at the end of regulation but missed from 53 yards off the left upright. Certainly the Packers were better disciplined and organized than they had been in coach Shawn Slocum’s first season as coordinator in ’09. They trimmed their horrendous penalty total of 32 in 17 games to 22 in 20 games, which was their best penalty rate since ’06. Slocum’s yearlong battle to curb holding penalties succeeded (three this season compared with 14 in ’09). The Packers found a capable punter in Tim Masthay, who had three phenomenal games. Despite not having a legitimate return man, the Packers did tie for 10th in average starting position (27.6). On the other hand, they ranked 31st in opponents’ starting position (29.8). Thanks largely to two fumbles by Jordy Nelson in one game (home against Detroit), the units had their poorest turnover differential (minus-1) since ’06. Tramon Williams, who didn’t lose any of his five fumbles, swung the Week 16 struggle against Chicago toward the Packers with a 41-yard punt return. The best core player was enthusiastic, tough Jarrett Bush.

PERSONNEL MOVES (A)

What an off-season GM Ted Thompson and his staff had. By season’s end, three members of their seven-man draft class (Bryan Bulaga, James Starks, Andrew Quarless) were starting, one was contributing (C.J. Wilson), one had started (Morgan Burnett), one might have started (Mike Neal) and one apprenticed for a year (Marshall Newhouse). Furthermore, two college free agents (Sam Shields, Frank Zombo) played key roles on defense, and G Nick McDonald stamped himself as a player to watch. The free-agent signing of Masthay 13 months ago appears to have stopped the revolving door at punter. Charlie Peprah, the only free-agent signing with regular-season experience, started the last 16 games. Thompson turned his nose up at the tepid unrestricted market. He didn’t try to re-sign Aaron Kampman, who landed in Jacksonville and played well before blowing out his knee after eight games. Although the Packers will receive a high compensatory draft choice, his pass-rush value opposite Matthews would have been significant. By and large, the wholesale re-signing of eight starters since February has worked. In early October, Thompson was wise to ignore the hue and cry for RB Marshawn Lynch and not offer more than a fourth-round pick. He also was wise to move beyond P Jeremy Kapinos in March and CB Al Harris, 36, in November. Harris lasted three games as Miami’s nickel back before pulling a hamstring. RB Ryan Torain, who was available when Dimitri Nance was signed Sept. 14, led the Redskins in rushing (742). Thompson’s refusal even to consider one of the small return specialists that have taken the league by storm left Slocum high and dry looking for a returner. Forced to add 13 players after opening day, pro scouting chief Reggie McKenzie and his staff made two wonderful choices in Erik Walden and Howard Green.

COACHING (A)

If The Associated Press had waited until after the season to poll its voters on NFL coach of the year, it probably would have been McCarthy by acclamation. The award went to Bill Belichick. To be sure, McCarthy must take his share of the blame for losing six of the eight games that were decided by four or fewer points. His team lost four times as a favorite (at Chicago, at Washington, Miami, at Detroit) and went just 9-7 against the spread in the regular season (they were 4-0 in the playoffs). Special teams, an area that McCarthy pledged to fix, haunted the Packers in four of the defeats. After six games, the injury-riddled Packers found themselves 3-3 with Brett Favre coming to town followed by a road game against the Jets and a home date with Dallas. But McCarthy rallied the troops and shockingly won all three. Acknowledging the team’s shortage of leadership, he strove to establish Woodson and Rodgers in front of the team. More importantly, he found his stride in his fifth season. He did it by formulating a calculated message of hope that he delivered incessantly in a powerful voice. His uber-confidence played exceedingly well on all fronts, most importantly in the locker room. Some backups pressed into service started believing they were all-pros. As the most penalized team from 2007-’09, McCarthy rebounded from the record-setting 18-for-152 embarrassment at Soldier Field to rank third in penalty yards (617), a totally unexpected turnaround. Coordinators Joe Philbin and Dom Capers are among the best, and McCarthy’s seasoned, unified staff is rife with prized position coaches. McCarthy is better conceiving an offense and calling the plays than he is managing the game. Every coach needs something to work on.

OVERALL (A)

When the season started, the Packers had the fifth youngest roster in the NFL (25.92 years) and were a popular pick to win it all. Then Grant went down in the first half of the opener, the first of a wave of injuries that would have brought a weaker team with a lesser roster to its knees. Counting the regular season only, 12 starters missed 86 games, and 19 backups missed 94 games. Among the 31 players who missed 180 games were 15 who went on injured reserve, including nine from the opening-day 53 by Oct. 27. No NFL team this season and no Packers team since 1979 was buffeted quite like this. At 3-3, the Packers were tied for the ninth-best record in the NFC. After sweeping Minnesota and Favre, the Packers lost two straight in mid-December when Rodgers went down with a concussion. The surprising Bears clinched the NFC North title with two games remaining. Then Green Bay (10-6) emerged from the pack, subduing the Giants and Bears to claim the second wild-card playoff berth over Tampa Bay (10-6) and New York (10-6) based on the fourth tiebreaker (strength-of-victory). The Packers’ six losses were by 20 points; privately, players talked about just how close they had been to an undefeated season. Their point-differential of plus-148 was second to New England’s plus-205 but their 10-6 record was tied for eighth best in the league. Green Bay’s schedule included six games against playoff teams and opponents with a composite record of 133-123 (.520) that included four foes each from the powerful AFC East and the NFC East. Emulating the sixth-seeded Steelers of 2005, the Packers swept three road playoff games before demonstrating their ability to get physical in a gritty Super Bowl triumph over Pittsburgh. It was Green Bay’s record 13th NFL championship.

Full story HERE

2010 Packer Plus Team Grades

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Reischel, Journal-Sentinel

~Packer Plus writer Rob Reischel gives his team grades for the 2010-’11 season:

PASS OFFENSE (A-minus)

Green Bay was fifth in passing yards per game (257.8) but third in yards per completion (8.0). The Packers tied for fourth in touchdown passes (31) and were third in overall passer rating (98.9). Green Bay also was sixth in passing plays of at least 20 yards (57) and sixth in plays of at least 40 yards (11). Quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a colossal step in his development by winning MVP honors in his first Super Bowl.

Except for this unbelievable drop = int in Detroit that helped lead to that upset loss, Greg Jennings was sensational in 2010 all the way through to his two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. And he's as quality of a person as he is a football player.

Wideout Greg Jennings moved into the upper tier of football’s pass catchers, and James Jones and Jordy Nelson both showed growth. The tight-end position was a problem after the loss of potential Pro Bowl player Jermichael Finley in Week 5.

RUSH OFFENSE (D-plus)

The Packers lost starting running back Ryan Grant in the season opener and were forced to adjust on the fly. It wasn’t easy. Green Bay finished 24th in rushing yards per game (100.4) and 25th in yards per carry (3.8). A year ago with Grant at the helm, the Packers ranked 14th in yards per game (117.8) and 11th in yards per carry (4.3). Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn did all they could, but both were pedestrian. Coach Mike McCarthy kept defenses honest by running 43.8% of the time, virtually the same percentage as 2009 (44.2%). The Packers gambled on James Starks and won. After playing in just three regular-season games, Starks was one of Green Bay’s postseason stars.

PASS DEFENSE (A)

Green Bay ranked first in opposing quarterback passer rating (67.2), the best showing since the 1997 Packers (59.0). The Packers finished second with 24 interceptions, fifth in passing yards per game (194.2) and seventh in yards per attempt (6.5).

Dandy Dom: his pass defense blossomed into the NFL's best, just a year after being torched by Kurt Warner to see the season end in the wildcard round.

The unit’s ability to cover for long stretches also helped the Packers tie for second in sacks (47). The brain trust of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. and safeties coach Darren Perry all excelled. CB Tramon Williams became a star, CB Sam Shields blossomed and SS Charlie Peprah turned into a player. Veterans Charles Woodson and Nick Collins held the unit together.

RUSH DEFENSE (C-minus)

The Packers slipped from first in rush defense in 2009 (83.3) to 18th (114.9). Green Bay’s average yield per rush also jumped from 3.6 in 2009 to 4.7 in 2010, a fall from third to 30th in the rankings. The Packers did a better job in the playoffs, allowing 83.8 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. With injuries across the board, Green Bay was all right playing a more bend but don’t break style and refused to sell out to stop the run. It’s hard to argue the results, as the Packers finished second in points allowed (15.0 per game).

SPECIAL TEAMS (D)

Green Bay’s return units remained inept. The Packers ranked just 26th in kick returns (20.1) and 22nd in punt returns (7.9).

Special teams coach Shawn Slocum might have one more year to get his team's performance up to at least par.

The Packers’ coverage units tied for 12th on kickoff returns (21.8) and was 25th on punt returns (11.0). Punter Tim Masthay showed steady improvement and could eventually end the revolving door Green Bay has had at that position. Kicker Mason Crosby made 78.6% of his kicks, just above his career average of 78.0%. Long snapper Brett Goode was as steady as it gets.

PERSONNEL MOVES (A)

General manager Ted Thompson had a solid draft, highlighted by first-round pick Bryan Bulaga and sixth-rounder James Starks. Thompson then found street free agents Sam Shields, Frank Zombo and Tom Crabtree and all became solid contributors. Masthay was a great find and was discovered last January. The only veteran Thompson signed in unrestricted free agency was Charlie Peprah, and he started 11 games at strong safety.

Last season, Ted Thompson's pick-ups like Josh Bell proved fatal. This season, everything Thompson touched turned to gold. Well, other than the 2nd & 3rd round draft picks Neal and Burnett getting injured.

Veteran linebacker Aaron Kampman was allowed to leave in free agency and he lasted just eight games with Jacksonville before blowing out his knee. When the season began, Packers began dropping like flies, but Thompson always had a player waiting to help. From Erik Walden to Howard Green to Matt Wilhelm, Thompson had an answer. Thompson’s decision to part ways with Al Harris proved correct. Some will argue that had Thompson traded for RB Marshawn Lynch, Green Bay would have been the NFC’s No. 1 seed and given itself an easier postseason path. But almost everything Thompson touched turned to gold.

COACHING (A)

McCarthy still has occasional problems with clock management and when to use his challenges. For example, McCarthy electing not to challenge an apparent Week 5 touchdown by Nelson, which may have cost the Packers a win in Washington. But McCarthy’s steadiness, confidence and message have won him the locker room.

Isn't wasn't all smiles and laughs for coach McCarthy in 2010 as he battled injuries left and right.

McCarthy never panicked as players were going down, and therefore, neither did his team. McCarthy remains one of the game’s more creative offensive coaches. On one play, he can hit a defense with his “Big Five,” then counter with a full backfield. He’s been smart enough to turn the defense over to Dom Capers and get out of the way. And he’s had a hand in the gradual improvement of Green Bay’s special teams. He calls himself a “builder” who wants this to be his last job. But he might be intrigued if a general manager position was offered down the road.

OVERALL (A)

Green Bay not only survived the loss of 16 players to the injured reserve list, it flourished. The Packers showed mettle and resiliency most teams wouldn’t have to simply reach the postseason as a No. 6 seed. Green Bay then joined the 2007 New York Giants as the only NFC teams to ever win three straight road games to qualify for the Super Bowl. Almost par for the course, veteran leaders Charles Woodson and Donald Driver couldn’t finish the Super Bowl, but others stepped up. The result was a fourth Super Bowl win in five tries and a league-high 13th NFL championship.

Full story HERE

Like many teams, Packers face critical off-season

February 13, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — Nothing will change for coach Mike McCarthy and the 2010 Green Bay Packers, yet everything will be different from now on.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy smiles as he answers a question from the media during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis.

It’s what every Super Bowl champion faces after climbing to the top.

The plan, the schedule, the preparation and the prize are all the same. It’s the perception that changes, the way people look at you, the respect they give you, the determination they have to beat you.

After capturing Super Bowl XLV with a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Packers are the best team in football. They have the Vince Lombardi Trophy to prove it.

When training camp opens up for the 2011 season, they arguably will be the most talented team in the National Football League. The return of stalwarts such as tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Nick Barnett, running back Ryan Grant, safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Brad Jones and end Mike Neal, all of whom finished the season on injured reserve, will boost the ranks.

Nothing will change for this team, will it?

“The most important thing is we need to be the best football team again next year,” McCarthy said during his season-ending news conference Wednesday. “We can be maybe the most talented and best football team.

“But sometimes the most talented team doesn’t win.”

Part of McCarthy’s task heading into next season will be developing the same chemistry he had with this team, which won its final six games despite 12 starters missing a total of 86 games over the course of the season.

The 2010 Packers will be remembered for overcoming those losses, gaining steam at the end of the year and winning four straight away from Lambeau Field on the way to a championship. Even McCarthy knows it’s going to be hard to recapture that magic.

The injured Nick Barnett might have a battle on his hands to be brought back in 2011 because he's been he's missed most of two of the past three seasons, and with Biship and Hawk at ILB, the team's defense was better than ever. And Hawk is younger than Barnett and quieter off the field.

“There is plenty to improve on,” he said. “We’re not perfect as a football team by no means just because we won the world championship. There are things that go on during the course of the year that you write down that are already on the board for discussion for next off-season.

“We have done that every year since I have been here. We’ll just stay true to our mantra on offense and defense and special teams, and that’s less volume, more creativity.”

The changes that will occur on the roster due to free agency losses and draft additions are something McCarthy worries little about because he thinks he and general manager Ted Thompson have a system that fits the players and not the other way around.

The talent dictates what direction the offense and defense go, but the model for success has already been built and will be followed no matter who wears the uniform.

“We’re going to go about it like we always do,” McCarthy said of the off-season. “We’re going to focus on our scheme, focus on our system, how we can make it better.”

The element of uncertainty McCarthy can’t control and threatens to affect his plans is the expiring collective bargaining agreement. If the owners and players union can’t agree on a new deal before March 4, there will be a lockout and all player-related off-season activities will come to a screeching halt.

The only thing that will remain a certainty is the draft.

“This year we’re going to fully concentrate on the draft immediately with our coaching staff and make it a higher priority as far as their interaction with the personnel department, the reports that need to get done, because that’s an absolute,” McCarthy said. “That’s going to happen.”

The other part of his off-season will be evaluating the scheme with his assistant coaches and be prepared if a deal gets the off-season back on track. If no deal is struck he’ll have to outline the off-season based on how long the lockout lasts.

“Typically, in the staff meeting after the season concludes, I pretty much have the whole season laid out for our coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “That’s not the case this year.”

McCarthy said he has given his staff vacation time until the week of the scouting combine and plans to give it more time after that. Even if there is a CBA, the off-season will start later than normal because the season went so long.

3rd down-specialist Brandon Jackson is another guy who might not be back, but I hope he is and I can see him blossoming into a 3rd down fixture like Kevin Faulk was for New England when they were appearing in frequent Super Bowls. Jackson is a great person as well as reliable 3rd down blocker and receiver. He belongs in Green Bay.

He wouldn’t say if he thought he would lose any of his assistant coaches to other teams, but the Arizona Cardinals, who were rumored to be interested in inside linebackers coach Winston Moss, hired Pittsburgh Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton. A league source said Moss did not interview for the job and was unaware of the Cardinals asking for permission to speak with him.

The Oakland Raiders are the only team still looking for a defensive coordinator and reportedly have interest in Moss.

“If we have anything to report from our end, we’ll do that,” McCarthy said. “But I have nothing to report about any of our coaches today.”

As he looks ahead to next season, McCarthy understands that the Packers will be kings of the mountain and all others will be looking to knock them off. He plans to speak to other coaches about how they handled the year after a Super Bowl victory to help him set the course.

But the one thing he does know is that things will be different, especially with his Super Bowl MVP, Aaron Rodgers.

“People are going to study him even more now that they have three years of information on him,” McCarthy said. “There is going to be a plan to play Aaron Rodgers, just like everybody feels they have a plan to play the top quarterbacks. So he is going to have to answer that call every week.”

McCarthy said Rodgers got a taste of that from the Steelers, and the goal will be to make sure less of the responsibility for the team’s fortunes fall directly on his shoulders. McCarthy said he would like to do that with other assets he has on offense, and while he didn’t identify them, it’s obvious he was referring to a running game.

Whatever the case, both Rodgers and the rest of the team will face new challenges next year.

“Aaron’s challenge is going to be like everybody else’s,” McCarthy said. “He is going to have to handle the success. His life has already changed. He has been to Disney World and David Letterman in one day. He’s going to have a lot on his plate.”

Full story here

The dream comes true for Aaron Rodgers

February 10, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated

~ARLINGTON, Texas — In the happy child’s dream, of course, the pass is always complete. That’s how it works with kids playing football in the backyard. It’s always third-and-10, it’s the fourth quarter, it’s the Super Bowl. In the dream, every receiver is covered, but throwing the ball away is not an option, and taking a sack is not an option, and the sound of footsteps grows louder, they are getting closer, time runs out. In the dream — but wait! There’s an glimmer of something. A tiny opening. A receiver’s hand. Something to aim at. The throw will have to be perfect. But if it’s thrown just right …

In the dream, the pass is always completed. Success is so easy to imagine when you’re a kid. And maybe that was Aaron Rodgers’ secret Sunday night under the world’s largest television screen in America’s biggest game. Maybe even after everything that comes with being an adult and the Green Bay Packers quarterback — even after dealing with the absurd pressure of replacing the most popular man in the history of Wisconsin, even after Rodgers’ first dreadful season, after absorbing the thrashings of a league-high 50 sacks in the second season, after this wonderful and trying Packers season with two concussions, beat up teammates and a five-week series of must-win games — maybe even after all that he still had enough of that little kid in him to believe.

"We put the game on Aaron Rodgers shoulders," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said rather bluntly.

For a long night in Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers always seemed one great play away from finishing off Pittsburgh. There were all sorts of clashing theories going into the game, like always, but one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the game would be close. There did not seem a reasonable scenario for a blowout. Both teams came in with terrific quarterbacks and terrific defenses and a certain faith in their own team’s history. The Steelers have won six Super Bowl trophies, more than any other team, and those Super Bowl trophies are named for the Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Players on both teams are taught from their first day that winning is sewn into their uniforms.

Still … for a good while this game looked to be a Packers runaway. They built a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter, largely thanks to two Pittsburgh turnovers (an unforeseen development — the Steelers were plus-17 on turnovers during the season). At that moment, the Steelers seemed muddled; they looked uncertain how to attack the Packers defense (they came in with a game plan of quick outs to wide receivers but were being neutralized), and they looked even more uncertain on how to deal with Rodgers.

“He’s an incredibly accurate quarterback,” Steelers defensive back Troy Polamalu said, and Polamalu is right, and it seemed for much of the game the Steelers best plan of defense was to hope for Packers receivers to drop passes. Lucky for them, the Packers receivers often obliged. Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, also dropped at least two critical passes. James Jones dropped a pass over the middle at the beginning of the third quarter that might have turned into a 75-yard touchdown — there wasn’t a defender anywhere near him. Brett Swain dropped a critical third down pass late in the third quarter.

Well, it had to be that way: Winning just couldn’t be that easy, not for Green Bay, not after this crazy season when the Packers had all kinds of injuries and overtime losses. The Packers were 8-6 with two weeks left in the season, and at that point they knew that to get where they expected to go they would have to win every game for the rest of the season. This included a three-week playoff road trip, first to Michael Vick’s Philadelphia, then to Atlanta and the 13-3 Falcons, then finally to familiar Chicago. Of course, they won five in a row.

But none of it was easy (well, the Atlanta victory was surprisingly easy), and this wouldn’t be easy either. The Steelers scored a touchdown at the end of the first half, another at the start of the second, and the score was 21-17, and for the rest of the way the game was as tight and tense and violent and unpredictable as expected. The Steelers turned the ball over a third time, and the Packers scored another touchdown — Aaron Rodgers to a wide open Greg Jennings crossing the back of the end zone. Polamalu was the culprit there (“That was completely my fault. Earlier in the game they ran Jennings down the middle and I was anticipating the same play, and I guessed wrong.”)

Then, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger — who has already been quarterback on two Super Bowl winners — brought the Steelers back on a convincing seven-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. His 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace came with 7:34 left. The Steelers had to feel good about their chances. Their offense seemed to be humming, finally. Green Bay led by only three. The Packers don’t have the running game to run out the clock in the fourth quarter — it’s the one noticeable flaw in an almost complete team. The Packers and Rodgers had to keep throwing it, and everybody knew it.

“We put the game on Aaron Rodgers shoulders,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said rather bluntly.

On first down, Rodgers was sacked. On third down, the Packers were called for a false start. And so, that left the Aaron Rodgers in the happy child’s dream scenario — it was third-and-10, it was the fourth quarter, it was the Super Bowl. Rodgers dropped back and scanned the field and he saw that every receiver was covered. But throwing the ball away was not an option, taking a sack was not an option, not in this moment. The Packers could not give the ball back to the Steelers now. The sound of footsteps grew louder, the Steelers defenders were getting closer, time was running out. One of the Steelers’ plans to win was to hit Aaron Rodgers. They had hit him often throughout the game.

"He's an incredibly accurate quarterback," NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu said after the game.

Then Rodgers saw something — call it a glimmer. On replays, from any angle, it is actually hard to see what he saw. Greg Jennings was double covered — Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor was in front and the defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu was behind. From the camera angle behind the quarterback, Jennings looked to be completely hidden by Taylor. But Rodgers saw that little something. He has run this play a thousand times. He’s thought about it a million times. He grew up near San Francisco, where he watched Joe Montana and Steve Young fit passes into impossibly tight spaces when the moment was big. He spent countless hours in the backyard pretending to be them. Now, he wasn’t pretending. He pulled back and he unleashed a throw over the middle.

The ball skimmed an inch over Taylor’s hands, maybe less than an inch. And it zipped into Jennings’ hands. Jennings caught it ran forward and gained 31 yards, a first down, put the Packers in Pittsburgh territory.

“The ball just got over the top of [Taylor’s hands],” Jennings would say.

“He put the ball in a really tight space,” Polamalu said.

“I trust Greg there to make a play,” Rodgers said. “I’m just trying to give him a chance.”

The pass did not score a touchdown. It did not give Green Bay an insurmountable lead. It did not put away the Pittsburgh Steelers. But in many ways, it was the play of the game. In that moment, there was simply nothing Pittsburgh could do. After the game, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said what coaches say: “They made plays.” But he undoubtedly meant this play. The Steelers had the defense. They had the momentum. They had the quarterback in their sights. Aaron Rodgers made a play.

The rest is anticlimax. The Packers were able to run the clock down to almost two minutes, and they settled for a field goal to take a 31-25 lead (even with that Rodgers was furious that his team did not punch it into the end zone and finally close it out). Then the Steelers had one last hope — they got the ball at their own 13 with 1:59 left. Roethlisberger hit one pass for 15, but then the drive stalled. And when the Steelers faced fourth-and-five, well, this was not Big Ben’s day for childhood dreams. His throw was high. And the game was finally over.

Rodgers was the game’s MVP, of course. His numbers — 24 of 39, 304 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions — are impressive enough but would have been even better with more reliable pass catching. Anyway, with Rodgers it has always been about more than his impressive numbers.

When he came out of California, he was talked about as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Instead, he plummeted to No. 24 and Green Bay. When he went to the Packers, he found himself sitting behind the legend, Brett Favre. He was basically a nonentity. And then before the 2008 season, the Packers and Favre parted ways, and it wasn’t a clean departure, and it left a lot of anger and disappointment and disarray. And suddenly Aaron Rodgers was the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, and he was asked to pick up the pieces.

“I’ve never felt like there was a monkey on my back,” Rodgers would say after the game ended. “The organization stood behind me. They believed in me. That’s all I needed.” But it’s easy to say that when covered in confetti. Rodgers endured through a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication to the game, and by continuing to believe in himself even when it seemed crazy.

And that’s why it was so touching when on Sunday night, after winning the Super Bowl, he remembered being young. Players often talk about those childhood moments in the backyard pretending to hit home runs like Hank Aaron or hit long shots like Reggie Miller or throw touchdowns like Joe Montana. A choice few get their moment. But until they get that moment, they never know for sure if it’s real or still a dream.

“How do you feel?” someone asked Aaron Rodgers.

“I’m not sure,” he said, and he smiled. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.” You got the feeling that once it does sink in, he will feel pretty good.

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