2011 September : Packers Insider

J-Mike took the hard road back from injury

September 28, 2011 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – When Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley scored his third and final touchdown of the game Sunday, there weren’t nearly as many people thinking about how he got to the end zone as those who were just happy he was there.

But up in Minneapolis, where Finley’s other “team” resides – the one that helped him get through the darkest of days the off-season – they were celebrating how far the young star had come since tearing up his knee against Washington in Week 5 last year.

With a healthy Jermichael Finley, the Packers offense is as good as their offensive line plays.

Sunday against the Chicago Bears, just two weeks shy of the moment that changed his life, Finley was back.

“It’s so fun to see him, he’s so motivated,” said Josh Sandell, the sports medicine specialist who directed Finley’s rehabilitation. “He’s on such a mission. For four months, he was completely focused on rehab and training. He was a consummate professional.”

Finley may be best known for his touchdown catches and tweets – both of which are often eye-catching – but the back story to the 24-year-old phenom’s return from cartilage repair in his right knee is about the steps Finley took toward getting his life in order.

With the help of his agent, Blake Baratz, who not only befriended Finley but frankly told him all the things others wouldn’t, the immensely talented tight end embraced the concept of teamwork, trained like never before and overcame a debilitating injury.

“I would say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Finley said. “I’ve never had a death in the family or anything like that. I never had to push myself so hard. People don’t know how hard I worked.”

Since arriving as a third-round draft choice in 2008, Finley often has been portrayed as a loose cannon whose self-confidence and unedited comments sometimes make the organization cringe, especially given the conservative tone general manager Ted Thompson has set.

Finley criticized quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the throws he made to him in the end zone as a rookie. He talked candidly about blowing curfew before the Arizona playoff game in ’09, got involved in the Super Bowl team photo flap, called Chad Ochocinco a “clown” and tweeted that he wished the Packers played Philadelphia this year because all this “dream team talk is killing me.”

This year, the Packers frequently have a public relations employee hanging around Finley during the locker room sessions open to the media.

Baratz said he understands that Finley needs to censor himself more, but he also pointed out that nothing Finley has said has been malicious or incendiary.

“People focus on why did he say this or that,” Baratz said. “A lot of those things are him growing up. Sometimes he doesn’t realize how big of a star he is. He only played two years at Texas and they blanketed him from talking. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with it.

“People are misunderstanding who he is. He wants everyone to like him.”

Repairing the meniscus

After Finley went down with the injury early in the first quarter against Washington, team physician Pat McKenzie repaired the torn meniscus. He could have trimmed and removed part of it and gotten Finley back on the field in a matter of weeks, but he did what was in the best interest of Finley’s long-term future.

The downside of it was Finley had to miss the entire season. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was playing on a Super Bowl team and would miss all of the thrills that came with it.

Worse yet, he developed a staph infection in the knee, which required him to have a stent placed in his chest so high doses of antibiotics could be pumped into him. The infection slowed his rehab and left Finley helpless to feed his competitive hunger.

Players on injured reserve come in for treatment before the rest of the team and usually leave before the others come back. Finley came and went before the others came in and had limited contact with the team.

“Green Bay in winter is cold and he’s coming off an injury, and he wasn’t around the team all the time,” Baratz said. “It was very difficult. It’s very difficult to go out there in great shape and your season ends in Week 5.”

Back home in Diboli, Texas, where Finley was raised by his grandmother, the atmosphere was not conducive to rehab. Baratz said in the recession-struck town Finley is a target for every person who once knew him and wants a handout.

Finley isn’t estranged from his family, but he’s careful with whom he associates and relies on his wife, Courtney, and his son, Kayden, for his family support. Baratz is one of the few others Finley trusted before embarking on a seven-month rehab frenzy.

Off to Arizona

Once the infection cleared, Baratz sent Finley to train in Arizona, where he could get around-the-clock attention so his rehab wouldn’t be neglected.

The knee didn’t respond the way Finley hoped and, with the lockout in full bloom, Baratz contacted Sandell, who employs a program that the U.S. Olympic training center uses. It includes several layers of treatment, including nutritional, physical and psychological.

When Sandell saw Finley, he was amazed at how little flexibility he had in the knee.

“He was very limited,” Sandell said. “I bent the knee and the two bones would bump together. There are a lot of compressive forces working there. It was serious.”

According to Sandell, the septic arthritis (the infection) led to arthrofibrosis, which is a condition where scar tissue forms and the ligaments and tendons tighten. If left untreated, the only remedy is more surgery.

Sandell said he was determined to get Finley healthy without surgery, so he formed a team that would treat Finley over a four-month period. It included respected personal trainer Bill Welle and performance coach Shaun Goodsell.

And then Minneapolis

All three operate out of Minneapolis, which meant Finley would have to spend a significant amount of time there. He surprised everyone when he moved his wife and son there so he could train daily.

“That was my question to Blake, ‘How long is he going to be here?’ ” Welle said. “He said, ‘Bill, he’s moving here. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he was like, ‘I said he’s moving here to work with you and Josh.’ ”

As Welle went to work on Finley’s body, Goodsell began counseling him on rehab, stress, trust and life in general. The two met regularly and talked about all the things going on in Finley’s life and how to deal with difficulties when they arose.

“He’s a young man that functions and strives and thrives under structure,” Goodsell said. “His finely tuned nature of athleticism is a byproduct of structured life and a very determined personality. He put his all into what he does.

“That’s even why the rehab process is so difficult, because when that’s stripped away you have to internally reorganize yourself. He did a pretty darn good job of that.”

The player who showed up late to meetings in ’09 never missed a day of rehab, training or counseling, according to all three members of his team. He attacked the rehab with such vigor that he was running in June, two months before expected.

Building stamina

With Welle, Finley would come in four or five days a week, twice a day. He’d do speed work and resistance running, upper- and lower-body weightlifting, cone drills and intense conditioning. It was a process, though, because when Finley arrived he was as out of shape as the couch potatoes who watch him on Sundays.

“The very first time we did 12 warm-up drills and he just had to jog out and catch the ball,” Welle said. “He was done. He was just fatigued.”

By the time they were finished rebuilding his body, Finley was able to run the 10-route “receiver tree” four times with only a 2-minute rest between sets. He ran the first two sets with a 20-pound weight vest on.

“I think he knew he needed to get back on the field and prove something to everybody, including himself,” Welle said. “He definitely put the time in and the work and he had a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it.

“He’s definitely reaping the benefits now.”

The last part of the process was preparing Finley to play full-contact football again. The psychological part reigns above all because any finely tuned athlete needs to know all his parts are working the way they always have.

Goodsell helped prepare Finley for that day, which has since come and gone. Finley has advanced to catching touchdown passes, a trifecta on Sunday that will be hard to duplicate.

Finley hasn’t forgotten how he got there.

“The cuts I was making, I felt so light out there,” Finley said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve never felt like this.’ I thought back to all those two-a-day workouts and not taking a single one off. Every day was a serious grind.

“But now I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Full story HERE

Packers are perfect only in record

September 27, 2011 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Not under Mike Sherman, Mike Holmgren or legendary Vince Lombardi have the Green Bay Packers gotten off to a better start through three games than Mike McCarthy’s 2011 team.

Oh, Sherman was 3-0 in ’01, Holmgren 3-0 in ’98 and ’96 and Lombardi 3-0 in ’62, ’65 and ’66. But none of those 3-0 starts included two road victories and three within the conference.

McCarthy: "We're 3-0. It's a good place to be in, to know you've won all your games, but you know that you're not really scratching the surface of how good you can be as a team."

By that measure, the Packers are off to the best start in the National Football League following their 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field. Heading into the Monday night game, the other 3-0 teams – Detroit and Buffalo – either don’t have two road or three conference victories.

Considering that 75.9% of the teams that started 3-0 since 1990 have made the playoffs – the number jumps to 85% for 4-0 – the Packers have accomplished a lot, especially for a team that is traditionally slow out of the blocks.

The part that makes it all kind of peculiar, however, are some other numbers.

Like 29, which is where the team ranks in total defense, or 21, where it ranks in scoring defense, or 2, where it ranks in allowing the most plays of 20 or more yards, or 16, where it ranks in opponent’s passer rating.

Or how about 19, which is where the club ranks in penalties committed or 32, where it ranks in net punting average.

Yes, the Packers are 3-0, but they don’t always look like a 3-0 team.

“Our quality of play needs to improve,” McCarthy said Monday. “Everybody’s fully aware of that. We have a lot of work to do.

“We’re 3-0. It’s a good place to be in, to know you’ve won all your games, but you know that you’re not really scratching the surface of how good you can be as a team.”

When asked what was the single biggest factor in the Packers starting 3-0, McCarthy referenced adversity football. In other words, making the best of a bad situation.

“We’re getting some yards, no question about it,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has the least to be concerned about given the offense’s rankings of eighth in yards and fifth in points. “We had 24 first downs, 390 yards (against Chicago).

“But I think when you watch the film, you notice there are things we’re not doing very well and things we have to straighten out in quick fashion. On a piece of paper, I think we did some good things. I’m not discounting that our guys played hard and all that good stuff, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Given quarterback Aaron Rodgers ranks No. 1 in the NFL in passer rating (120.9), the rushing offense ranks a respectable 11th and the red-zone offense is tied for sixth in touchdown percentage, you’d have to dig pretty hard to find something bad to say about Philbin’s group.

But there were a half dozen pre-snap penalties, a lost fumble, an interception and a few botched assignments that have to be addressed.

On defense, coordinator Dom Capers has much more tangible evidence of his unit’s shortcomings. Until this season, his unit had never been ranked any lower than 18th and it prided itself on not giving up big plays.

This year, offenses are having their way throwing the ball.

The anchor: Ryan Pickett has stonewalled opposing runningbacks so far this season as the Packers defense ranks #1 in rushing defense three weeks in.

“I just see the elements there, starting with the run defense,” Capers said of returning to normalcy. “The areas that we have to continue to improve in is we have to tackle better and we have got to eliminate the big plays.

“We can have a big quarter and next thing you know we give up a play. The way you score points in this league is through making big plays. I just feel like if people don’t make many big plays against us, they’ll have a hard time scoring points.”

The red-zone defense has been stingy. Only two teams have allowed the opposition to drive inside the 20-yard line more times than the Packers (13), but only three teams in the league have done a better job keeping them out of the end zone (30.8%).

“I like the improvement we’re making,” Capers said. “This is the first week I’ve really seen elements of what we want our defense to look like. The encouraging thing to me is, when you see it, then it just becomes a matter of consistency.”

On special teams, the Packers rank in the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage and near the top in kickoff returns. Kicker Mason Crosby is 5 for 5 on field goals and tied for eighth in touchbacks.

Coordinator Shawn Slocum feels good about the continuity he has had in his lineups.

“I think we are in much better shape,” he said, comparing things to last season. “I think the group has really good energy right now. You see the way we cover kickoffs – that’s the way it’s supposed to look.”

Yep, the way a 3-0 team would do it.

Full story HERE

Bears get little right in loss to Packers

September 26, 2011 by  
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By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune

~If the Bears were looking for something to hang their hats on Sunday, the Packers locker room was full of players saying the 89-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnny Knox was the greatest play they’ve ever witnessed.

Too bad a holding penalty against Corey Graham will prevent it from being remembered for the ages.

It beats what the Packers could have been saying about the Bears after they rolled to a 27-17 victory at Soldier Field in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. Now, talk this week will center on how once again Mike Martz’s offense came close to entering the franchise’s record books for futility.

The Bears couldn't cover Jennings or Finley, and they let Ryan Grant gash them on runs.

At 1-2, the Bears are searching for an offensive identity and they’re two games back of the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and upstart Lions in the NFC North.

A week after there were just 12 rushes and 11 running plays called in a beat down at New Orleans, the Bears had 12 rushes and called only nine running plays. They managed only 13 yards rushing, the fewest in franchise history since at least 1960, and 12 more than they had on Oct. 26, 1952, against the Los Angeles Rams. The 12 carries tied for the second-fewest ever.

Have you seen this game plan before?

“I don’t audible,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who propped up the running totals with three scrambles for 11 yards. “You’re going to have to ask someone else about that. I don’t do the game plan.”

OK. Can it work?

“We are 0-2 doing this,” Cutler said. “So, it’s not looking very good.”

Matt Forte carried nine times for 2 yards. He was stopped in the backfield for a loss on six of the carries behind the makeshift offensive line general manager Jerry Angelo said he went to all lengths to upgrade.

“We took a step back,” Forte said. “When we first came out the first week, I felt like we made a couple strides forward in where we are going. Last week, I think we took a little step back and this week we took a major step back.”

Martz explained that he went into 2-minute mode too early against the Saints, a story that didn’t necessarily fit game circumstances. This time, the Bears struggled with the run early, got behind 17-7 in the second quarter and never got going.

“We didn’t run the ball because we weren’t able to,” said Forte, who was limited to 80 yards on seven receptions. “We just played bad out there. Obviously, when they’re shutting the run down, we’re going to try to throw the ball a little more. It just didn’t happen.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (28-for-38, 297 yards) threw three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant gained 92 yards on 17 carries. Green Bay went up and down the field with ease from the start, reminiscent of the NFC championship game in January, gaining an early 14-0 lead.

While Rodgers patiently picked apart the secondary and the Cover-2 scheme with Greg Jennings, who caught nine passes for 119 yards, the Bears only got a few big plays. Johnny Knox caught four passes for 84 yards and Devin Hester had three for 62 yards.

There were some shots downfield here and there, including a 32-yard touchdown strike to Kellen Davis to bring the Bears within 10 with 11:46 to play, but Martz’s crew was out of sync. The Bears converted only 3 of 12 third downs and didn’t get it right against a defense that Panthers rookie Cam Newton had shredded a week earlier. Two passes targeted for Roy Williams were picked off by safety Morgan Burnett.

Martz, in the final year of his contract, is an easy target, but he works for Lovie Smith, who is on his third offensive coordinator. Cutler had time to throw and didn’t deliver. Blame can be cast to all corners of Halas Hall.

“Offensively, we had opportunities,” Smith said.

They even had a chance to make it a game when Knox and Hester orchestrated a brilliant play designed by special teams coordinator Dave Toub.

Knox lined up to jam a gunner at the line and then sprinted back. He fielded Tim Masthay’s punt in the corner while Hester pretended to be catching the ball on the other side of the field. Green Bay’s coverage team converged on Hester while Knox had an easy 89-yard run for a touchdown, wiped out by a holding call against Graham way away from the play.

If the touchdown had counted, the Bears would have been an onside kick and a field goal away from overtime.

“That was the most incredible play I’ve ever seen,” Rodgers said.

Too bad the Packers were marveling over a play that didn’t count.

Full story HERE

Green Bay Packers expect to be better than ‘good enough’

September 26, 2011 by  
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By Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette

~CHICAGO — Don’t misunderstand, the Green Bay Packers are thrilled with their 3-0 start. They are happy with their 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field. They are pleased they could pick apart a fierce division rival in a hostile environment with a balanced offense and gritty, playmaking defense.

But as they left the locker room and walked into the Chicago night for their trip home, the Packers couldn’t help but wonder how much better they are capable of playing.

“It’s an interesting feeling in that locker room,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns, but his awful interception right to Urlacher took points off the board and obviously left a very sour taste in Aaron's mouth as it was his first interception of the season.

“We just won a big division game against a rival on the road, and I think there’s a feeling of, we could have played a little bit better. It’s fun to be 3-0. It’s exciting coming to work with these guys. And we got, I think our best football is still in front of us.”

If the Packers ever put it all together, their opponents might need to run for cover. As it is, the Packers are doing more than enough to get by. With some tweaking here and cleaning up there, they might be unstoppable.

“No doubt about it, we felt like that since Day 1,” said cornerback Tramon Williams. “To be 3-0, with that much room for improvement, is exciting. We’re going to get those things cleared up.”

Those things include the Packers’ inability to bury their opponents when they have the chance.

“We have a ton of room for improvement,” said McCarthy. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Against New Orleans and Carolina in their first two games, the Packers held double-digit leads but needed late-game onside kick recoveries to help secure victories. Against Chicago, they led by 17 points in the fourth quarter before getting sloppy and giving the Bears some hope.

But not even a series of Packers blunders in the final 12 minutes — a fumble, interception, blown punt coverage and secondary breakdown — could save the Bears.

In the end, it was all good for the Packers. But there’s a strong feeling that they want more and won’t stop until they get it.

“If we’re going to do the things that we want to do this season, we’ve got to get better,” said cornerback Charles Woodson. “We’re nowhere near hitting our stride as a team. But we have gutted out some tough wins, made some big plays when we needed to, to win those games, so we feel good about that but we definitely got to get better.”

Full story HERE

J-Mike unstoppable in Chicago, hat trick leads Packers to win

September 26, 2011 by  
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By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel

~Chicago – As linebacker Clay Matthews headed out of the locker room Sunday, he nodded in approval at Green Bay Packers teammate Jermichael Finley.

“J-Mike’s on my fantasy team. Probably got me 30 points today!” Matthews hollered.

It was truly that kind of breakout day for the 24-year-old, fourth-year tight end.

Jermichael Finley celebrates his second touchdown in the Packers’ 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Finley collected three touchdown catches for the first time in his life at any level, and his efforts helped lead the Packers past the Bears, 27-17, to push the defending Super Bowl champions to a 3-0 start.

Finley is only the second tight end in team history to score three times in a game; the other was Keith Jackson on Sept. 1, 1996, at Tampa Bay.

But what was so impressive was that Finley sometimes made it look ridiculously easy, towering over the Chicago secondary and diving at the goal line to scoop up passes with his large hands.

For Finley, this was less about a comeback story after missing most of last year with a knee injury and a lot more about living up to his increasingly high standards. He talks about it all the time with his popular YOTTO claim on Twitter – Year of the Take Over – and worked toward it every day through his rehabilitation and the lockout.

“I’m proud of him, I really am,” said receiver Greg Jennings. “He’s gone through a maturation process. We know what he can do. It’s been all about him, putting it all together.”

Finley’s touchdown receptions Sunday were solid and sure-handed. A 6-yard grab from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter. A 7-yard haul in the second. A 10-yard grab in the fourth. By then Bears fans could only shake their heads and grimace at the carnage that was left of their defense.

"You have to get a corner on him," said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. "You've got to get a guy that can run with him. He's got to be a physical guy as well - if not, Jermichael will pretty much have his way with just about anybody."

Finley said the best way to attack the Bears’ Cover 2 zone defense was to go to the middle of the field, and that’s pretty much an area where no one can match up with the 6-foot-5 Finley.

And when they tried – like on the last touchdown – it still didn’t work.

“They ran a cloud defense, where they had a guy over me, bumping me, and then they had a guy over the top, capping,” said Finley. “So I went inside of them and A-Rod just lobbed it up. I just tried to get it at the highest point.”

Spending so much of 2010 on injured reserve changed Finley, made him grateful for every game. When asked if he’s unstoppable, Finley wouldn’t take the bait and brag about himself.

“You see as well as I do out there,” he said. “The film answers the question for itself.

“My goal was to go out there and catch every ball thrown at me.”

One change Finley has made this year is trying to temper his pregame energy level.

“I was just trying to be cool because usually in pregame I come out wired up, ready to go,” said Finley. “And then I come in here after the pregame and just be tired. I just tried to be calm.”

And with that calm, he expected a game like this.

“I’ve never done this in my career,” he said. “Little league, Pop Warner, anything, it’s my first three-touchdown game. Pretty awesome.”

It should be noted that Finley also appeared to block well for running back Ryan Grant’s 92-yard day. There was some doubt from outsiders about Finley’s ability to block after he showed up this season leaner. But he didn’t shy away from locking up with Chicago’s linebackers.

“I feel like I had a good all-around game,” said Finley. “My blocking – it’s there. I actually love to block and get my nose dirty a little and everybody don’t know that. And now I’m telling them. I love to block.”

Seven total receptions, 85 yards, 12.1 yards per catch, blocking and healthy – is there any limitation to what Finley aspires to do this season?

His quarterback thinks Finley could get even better.

“His best ball is still in front of him,” said Rodgers. “A couple of those plays he might not have been doing the right thing – but we made it work. He’s a big-time player and incredible athlete and the more he studies the more he is going to get the ball.”

Packers’ Defense pulls out all the stops

September 26, 2011 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Chicago – One game could be written off as an exception, two a statistical anomaly.

But three games, against a Dom Capers-run defense? That would have been a trend, and if there’s one thing Capers and his players were determined to end, it was a string of 400-yard passing games against them.

The unit that came into the game ranked dead last in passing defense with an average of exactly four football fields allowed per game finally put a stop to a streak that was about as welcome as the turf beneath them Sunday afternoon.

The Packers finally played defense worthy of a champion.

“We’ll get better in the back end,” cornerback Tramon Williams said of a normally spill-proof pass defense. “We still have to clean up some things. The first two weeks we had a lot of mental errors. We just figured it couldn’t get any worse; it’s only going to get better.”

In a 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, it did get better, in part because of Williams’ return to the starting lineup after a week off due to a shoulder injury.

But it also got better because second-year safety Morgan Burnett took over injured Nick Collins’ play-making role and pulled in two interceptions, and because Capers backed off the blitz in the second half and made Bears quarterback Jay Cutler try to fit the ball in his crowded zone coverage.

Cutler completed 21 of 37 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked three times for minus-24 yards and intercepted twice. He was limited to 122 yards passing in the second half and led the Bears to just one score.

Packers' defensive lineman Jarius Wynn mauls Jay Cutler for one of his two sacks Sunday in Chicago.

“The first couple of weeks, we left a lot of holes and people were able to get through those holes,” said cornerback Charles Woodson, who also lined up at safety a half dozen times or more in the first half. “We did a very poor job of tackling.

“Today we minimized those mistakes and flew around and hit hard.”

The day wasn’t without its share of mistakes, and Collins’ replacement, Charlie Peprah, was responsible for a number of them. Peprah did not look like the reliable player he was last year when he filled in for Burnett and will have to be better if the Packers are going to start shutting down offenses.

Peprah gave up a handful of big completions, including tight end Kellen Davis’ 32-yard catch and run that cut Green Bay’s lead to 27-17 with 11 minutes 46 seconds left in the game.

“I definitely didn’t feel like I played as well as I would have liked, especially for the first one out of the gate,” Peprah said of his first start this year. “That’s football. You have next week. I just need to bounce back and get better.”

The pass defense might not have had the day it did if not for the big guys upfront, who threw a blanket on Chicago’s running game and put all of the pressure on Cutler to move the Bears down the field.

Running back Matt Forte came into the game averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but three of his first four carries were for negative yards and by the end of the first half he had six carries for 2 yards. He carried three more times without gaining another net yard.

“It just makes them one-dimensional,” Woodson said. “For us, I thought it was big that they were in second and long and third and long most of the game.”

The Bears’ 13 yards rushing tied the third-lowest total for a Packers opponent in franchise history, matching the number Carolina gained on Dec. 12, 1999. The other games were played in the 1940s.

The Packers went into the game ranked sixth in the league in run defense, and while they played against a Bears offensive line that was missing starters at right tackle and right guard, it was not a fluke that they were able to contain Forte.

“We’ve been doing a good job all year, and I didn’t think it would change today,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We knew that if we shut down the run early, we would have a good chance to win.

“We’ve been doing a good job all year, as far as shutting down running backs, and I didn’t think that would change much today.”

Early on, it looked like Cutler might have a better day than he did, completing 10 of his first 17 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He completed a 40-yard pass to receiver Johnny Knox that Peprah was slow to cover and connected with receiver Devin Hester on a 37-yarder that set up the Bears’ first touchdown.

Silent but effective. A.J. Hawk was a beast Sunday, doing his job quietly. Often unnoticed by the fans, and announcers, his good work doesn't go unnoticed by coaches and teammates.

One of the schemes Capers threw at the Bears was a three-cornerback base unit that featured Woodson at safety. The idea was to get Woodson matched up against tight ends and Forte and keep those completions to a minimum.

In the second half, however, the Bears started to spread out with three receivers and it required Capers to go to his nickel package with Woodson in the slot and Peprah and Burnett deep. It wasn’t until Cutler’s connection with Davis across the middle that the Packers showed weakness.

“That’s me,” Peprah said. “I broke on the ball and I didn’t secure the tackle. We were in a zone and I broke and I got there at the same time as the ball and I didn’t knock it out of his hands. I didn’t make the play.”

The Packers survived that touchdown and left the stadium holding Cutler to a 78.9 passer rating and the Bears to 291 total yards.

It’s a start.

Full story HERE

Packers maul Bears ground game, win 27-17

September 26, 2011 by  
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By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Chicago – Stout doesn’t even begin to describe what the Green Bay Packers’ front seven did to the running game of the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Utter domination would be the best way to put it.

Matt Forte, one of the outstanding running backs in the National Football League, carried nine times for 2 yards.

Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk tackle Matt Forte for a 2-yard loss. Forte was held to two yards rushing on the day as Dom Capers had the defense focused on stopping #22.

Coupled with Jay Cutler’s three scrambles for 11 yards, the Bears finished 12 for 13 on the ground.

“Seriously?” defensive end Jarius Wynn asked when told of Forte’s statistics. “Wow.”

The Packers’ run defense had been solid against New Orleans and Carolina, but not like this. An 11-year veteran, defensive end Ryan Pickett said he had never been a part of a more overwhelming performance against the run.

“In my 11 years it’s the best,” said Pickett. “I played (five years) for the Rams. C’mon. Back in the day it was like a track meet.”

There was little indication something like this was coming.

In seven appearances against the Packers, Forte’s average game had been 17 carries for 63 yards. Last season, the Bears averaged 20.7 carries for 90 yards and a 4.4 average in three meetings with the Green Bay.

“Let me tell you something,” said Reggie McKenzie, the Packers’ director of football operations. “That Forte is a good player. Is he great? Well, he’s got to stack seasons back-to-back like some of the great ones do. But he’s got all the tools to be that.”

Ripped all week for giving Forte just 10 attempts in the drubbing at New Orleans, offensive coordinator Mike Martz opened with a counter play off the right side. Forte was tackled by Clay Matthews for minus-1.

“I think Clay knew it was coming and he just made a play,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “Clay is just one of those players you get every couple years. He’s just that guy. He can do anything.”

Four plays later, Martz tried a draw up the middle on second and 15 but Bishop read it, came clean and stopped him for another minus-1.

“Bishop just has really good instincts, he really does,” McKenzie said.

Martz opened up another possession late in the first quarter with Forte and he pounded off the right side for 5. When he tried Forte again on that same game-opening counter play, pulling guard Chris Williams couldn’t get there and Matthews sliced in to tackle him for minus-4.

“I still think he’s a good back,” said Bishop. “We just did a stellar job against the run today. No running back, as soon as he gets the ball he’s hit twice by Clay and twice by me, will get many yards.”

In the second quarter, Forte powered off right guard for 4. A few plays later, Bishop ran through and stopped him for minus-1.

“I think our D-line did such a fantastic job up front of stopping the run,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “The only thing up to us linebackers was to make sure that he didn’t get anything after the catch.”

With the Bears behind the entire game, Forte had three rushes in the third quarter and none in the fourth.

Outside linebacker Erik Walden played through a block by tight end Matt Spaeth and piled up Forte for minus-1. Then Pickett destroyed the attempt by center Roberto Garza to reach-block him and engulfed Forte for minus-2.

So the final accounting showed Forte with negative yardage on six of his nine rushes. Four of those six carries came against the nickel defense and just two against the base 3-4.

With Pickett and B.J. Raji anchoring inside and Matthews and Walden playing physically on the outside, the Packers have been more than willing to take on opponents’ ground games regardless of formation in their nickel defense.

Because they’ve had success doing it, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has the tremendous advantage of being able to have an extra defensive back on the field.

The Packers ranked 18th against the run a year ago, allowing 114.9 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. In the playoffs, their yields were down to 83.8 and 4.1.

With Mike Martz unwisely getting rid of former Packer-killer, tight end Greg Olsen this offseason, Capers realized Forte was the only offensive player who could beat the Packers Sunday. As a result, the Packers made sure that didn't happen.

“That’s one thing we’re trying to focus on from last year is tightening up on the run,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “For whatever reason, that was the stigma, that you could run on the Packers. And I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

The Packers could not have been more impressive Sunday.

Full story from McGinn found HERE

Devastating: Underrated Nick Collins season over

September 19, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~The full extent of safety Nick Collins’ neck injury might not be known for several days or even weeks, but the Green Bay Packers knew enough to end his season on Monday.

The Packers most underrrated player Nick Collins is wheeled off Sunday in Carolina. The end of his season, hopefully the great man will be able to return next season and resume his Hall of Fame career.

A day after the Pro Bowl safety was wheeled off the field at Bank of America Stadium and then spent the night in a Charlotte, N.C. hospital, the Packers announced that Collins would miss the rest of the season.

Whether his career is in jeopardy remains to be seen.

The team declined to reveal any specifics about Collins’ injury, but one of his agents, Alan Herman, told the Press-Gazette that the 28-year-old did not sustain any broken bones or have any damage to his spinal cord.

“We know he didn’t break his back, he didn’t break his neck and he has full feeling in all of his limbs,” Herman said on Monday. “He can run around and do whatever he wants to do right now. There’s no lingering effect from the impact yesterday. He’s got a headache, but he’s physically able to go.

“The MRI supposedly tells a different story, but we haven’t seen the MRI. We haven’t seen the report of the MRI, but they felt from the doctors that saw him in Carolina and obviously the team doctor, the best thing for him to do for this year is to shut him down and protect him. But there’s nothing there; there’s no break. I’m assuming there’s some kind of disc involvement, but we don’t know that for a fact, either.”

Herman said he was still awaiting copies of the MRI and doctors’ reports and would have those sent to specialists at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, where Herman is based.

“We’ll have him evaluated by those guys, and then we’ll be able to make a decision in terms of what lies ahead for him future wise,” Herman said.

If Collins does indeed have a disc injury, he may need surgery that could pose long-term problems. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is currently dealing with a herniated disc that has left him out indefinitely.

Working in Collins’ favor is he doesn’t have the pre-existing condition stenosis, according to Herman. Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that protects the spinal cord. Three former Packers players — Gary Berry, Terrence Murphy and Jeremy Thompson — all were forced to retire after sustaining neck injuries because they also had stenosis.

“You never take it lightly, that’s for sure,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said when asked if Collins’ injury is career-threatening. “I think it’s really too early in the evaluation process to make those kinds of statements. It’s something he’s definitely going to miss the season over.”

Collins’ injury didn’t appear to be a violent one. It happened early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 30-23 win at Carolina. Collins dove to tackle running back Jonathan Stewart, who tried to leap over Collins. In the process, the top of Collins’ helmet hit Stewart’s leg, and Collins appeared to jam his neck. He spent several minutes face down on the field until he was rolled over, placed on a board and then taken off on a stretcher with wheels.

Collins never lost feeling or movement, giving the Packers reason initially to be optimistic that he would be able to play again this season. But after more tests were done in Charlotte, their concerns grew.

When he returned to Green Bay on Monday afternoon, he briefly met with some of his teammates to inform them he would be lost for the season.

“He has a neck brace on, he’s in dress clothes and he’s walking around now,” McCarthy said. “You would never know he has a serious injury.”

The free safety spot now will be handed over to sixth-year veteran Charlie Peprah, who started most of last season after Morgan Burnett sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Now, Peprah will team with Burnett in the back end of the defense.

Moving veteran cornerback Charles Woodson to safety is unlikely. The Packers tried it for three games in 2008, when injuries hit, but they prefer his versatility at corner, where he can both cover on the perimeter and blitz from the slot. To do that, they need cornerback Tramon Williams back. He missed the Panthers’ game because of a bruised shoulder and isn’t a lock to play Sunday at Chicago.

Peprah held up well last season. He received praise for being assignment sure and helping with the defensive calls.

“Just take the same approach I did last year,” Peprah said. “I’m going to try to do the best that I can, and hopefully that will be more than enough to get back to where we were last year.”

On Sunday, Peprah was partially responsible for the 62-yard completion to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter that set up the Panthers’ final touchdown. Peprah was supposed to be Woodson’s deep help, but didn’t play deep enough.

“(Smith) ran through our coverage and Cam (Newton), with his arm strength, he made a heck of a throw,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “But you’d like to stay over the top with both defenders.”

The Packers also will have to sign another safety. Rookie M.D. Jennings, an undrafted free agent, is the only other safety on the roster, and he played exclusively on special teams against Carolina. Perhaps the best candidate is Brandon Underwood, who was released by the Packers on Sept. 3, but there was no word as of Monday evening whether the Packers had reached out to him.

Story HERE

Packers rally, defense stiffens to beat Panthers

September 19, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Charlotte, N.C. – Defense in the National Football League really is about points and takeaways, not yards.

It’s also about how a defense performs when the opponents have penetrated to its 20-yard line and beyond.

On 26 plays Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, the Dom Capers-coordinated defense of the Green Bay Packers lined up in the so-called “red zone” against the Carolina Panthers. The fact that the Panthers scored touchdowns on just two of their six red-zone trips loomed large in Green Bay’s 30-23 victory.

All-Pro Clay Matthews III brings down Cam Newton on 4th down

“Two weeks in a row our defense has stood up big in adversity situations,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Red zone, fourth down. As long as we do that, we’re going to be fine. The other things are correctable.”

Ten days ago against New Orleans, the Saints were inside the Green Bay 20 five times and scored merely one touchdown. When the Packers turned back Mark Ingram at the 1 on the final play of the game, they survived, 42-34.

Carolina made it to the red zone six times. In fact, the Panthers made it all the way inside the 5 on all six of those possessions.

Thus, the Packers have allowed three touchdowns in 11 red-zone opportunities, or merely 27.3%.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, a defensive coordinator by trade. “They’re a hell of a football team, and they’re a very well-coached football team. You look at the red zone, and their play was outstanding as a defense. That speaks very well of what they did as a defensive staff.”

After scoring early on a 3-yard fade to Brandon LaFell against Jarrett Bush, the Panthers were back at the Green Bay 11 just a moment later. Morgan Burnett defended a high pass from Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen, and then Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson wrestled down Jonathan Stewart just short of a first down.

Instead of trailing, 14-0, the Packers were down by 10 after Olindo Mare’s field goal.

“You’ve got to play your defense and your responsibility,” Burnett said. “But any time a team gets close to the goal line you’ve got to sell out. You basically do about anything, by any means necessary, to try to stop them from crossing your line.”

Later in the first quarter, the Panthers had a first down at the Green Bay 3. After a holding penalty on tackle Jordan Gross, Clay Matthews tackled Stewart for minus-2 and then Newton threw two incompletions against what appeared to be zone coverage.

“We played just a little zone coverage in the red zone,” cornerback Sam Shields said. “In the red zone, you’ve got to buckle down and stop that from being a touchdown.”

Early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers marched to first down at the Green Bay 8. On second and 5, Legedu Naanee was wide open on a pivot route against Shields but Newton’s pass missed badly. It helps to be lucky, too.

“Bad eyes to the quarterback,” Shields said. “I was looking inside. He came in quick, then went out. Just a technique thing. That’s something I’ve got to work on starting Wednesday.”

When Shields had strong coverage on a third-down misfire to Naanee, Mare had to kick another field goal.

Behind by a touchdown at 23-16, Newton completed three passes in a row for 68 yards and a first down at the Green Bay 12. Disdaining a field goal, Rivera and coordinator Rob Chudzinski tried four passes in a row.

On two of them, Matthews and Burnett chased Newton out of bounds for minimal sacks sandwiched around a 9-yard completion to LaFell. On fourth down from the 6, Newton couldn’t pull the trigger and was dragged down by Matthews at the 3.

“Everything happens a little bit faster in the red zone,” said Bush. “Holes close a little bit faster. The reactions have to be faster. The ball’s coming quick. The rush needs to get in there. A great defense has to be able to respond when your back is to the wall.”

Newton’s inexperience played into the Packers’ hands in the red zone. With the field compressed and the threat of a go route mute, it fell on the rookie to find a tight window for a score. He never did.

“Red-zone offense is about timing . . . about technique,” Rivera said. “Unfortunately, we just have not had an opportunity to develop that.

“We got field goals when we could have had touchdowns. That was great (for the Packers) because their defense kept them in position until their offense was able to make a few plays.”

Capers wasn’t quoted because McCarthy isn’t allowing his coordinators to be interviewed after games this season.

Story HERE

Rodgers’ postgame remarks show he is the right kind of cocky

September 10, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Mike Freeman, CBS Sports

~GREEN BAY — There are times when Aaron Rodgers gets that look. The look. It’s a precursor to the smartass about to follow.

This isn’t a negative thing. The look, the smartass, it’s one of several reasons Rodgers is one of my favorite players to cover, and the look is a symptom of his confidence, a confidence that has made him maybe the best quarterback in football.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up before taking on the New Orleans Saints in the season opening game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Some of you missed this and it’s a perfect example of what I mean: Rodgers had tired of the lockout narrative about the Packers not participating in organized workouts. They were snidely chided by some in the media who hinted that the Packers were fat, dumb and happy after their Super Bowl win.

Privately, the Packers steamed at this portrayal. They felt it was disrespectful and, to them, showed a lack of understanding of just exactly who the Packers are. The team had proven by winning all of its playoffs games on the road that it was mentally tough and wouldn’t be prone to bouts of laziness. They thought: How could the national media not see this?

Then came Thursday night against New Orleans and Rodgers annihilating the Saints defense, which last season was one of the best in the NFC.

After the game, when meeting with the media, there was the Rodgers look. He was waiting for us. Ready to pounce.

Rodgers was asked about the Packers’ fast start that produced touchdowns on the first three drives.

“It was a good start for us,” he said. “I’ve got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?'”

You knew Rodgers had been waiting to use that line.

But wait. He wasn’t done.

Rodgers was next asked about the spectacular kick return for a score by rookie Randall Cobb, who also had a receiving touchdown.

“Randall did a great job,” Rodgers said. “It’s exciting watching him with the ball in his hands. The kickoff return was incredible. The catch and run, he actually ran the wrong route but I was able to read, surprisingly. We didn’t have offseason workouts but surprisingly I was able to read his body language there and he made a nice catch and run for a touchdown.”

Now, I thought that was funny, and we in the media deserved it. Rodgers had proved many of us wrong. In a big way. In a really big way. The Packers were right all along.

But some in the media weren’t happy. They portrayed Rodgers as whiny and arrogant. Some of us need to lighten the hell up.

In the locker room after his press conference, Rodgers was still making cracks and I still thought it was funny.

This is Rodgers. This is who he is and it’s hard not to like because Rodgers backs up his attitude with spectacular action. He isn’t a ring-less Terrell Owens mouthing off.

Is Rodgers arrogant? Sure. He had better be. All quarterbacks — in fact, all NFL players — need to have some degree of arrogance to survive in the sport. The great ones like Rodgers have an excessive amount.

Rodgers isn’t the kind of arrogant that’s a problem. He’s not nasty arrogant or un-coachable. He’s just the right amount of arrogant.

Rodgers on Cobb's first touchdown catch: "He actually ran the wrong route but I was able to read, surprisingly. We didn't have offseason workouts but surprisingly I was able to read his body language there."

I’ve always gotten the feeling Rodgers doesn’t take himself as seriously as some people think he does. I think Rodgers enjoys toying with writers and that doesn’t bother me one bit.

We’re going to see more of this from Rodgers. There are some who will worry he’s getting too cocky. Not me. I think Rodgers has just the perfect amount of confidence and arrogance. So we’re going to see more of The Look.

Good.

Full story HERE

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