2011 November : Packers Insider

Rodgers learns 52 ways to motivate teammates

November 27, 2011 by  
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By Lori Nickel, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Donald Driver was getting dressed for the game at St. Louis two years ago when Aaron Rodgers came over and handed him the game program.

“Read this,” Rodgers said.

The article referred to Green Bay’s veteran receiver being past his prime and too old to make any impact.

Driver, who has made a 13-year NFL career out of proving his detractors wrong, felt his blood boil. And then he caught four passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

"When you think you've got it figured out, you stop being attentive to what your teammates need, because we're a locker room that's changing," Rodgers said. "Guys change. Their priorities change. Their off-the-field lives change. Guys have kids, get married, guys may have something in their life that's happened that is traumatic."

“That’s something that I love about Aaron – he knows how much I love criticism,” Driver said. “People tell me I can’t do it; I prove them wrong. Soon after that at Detroit, I ended up winning the Gobbler. Pam Oliver said after the game something like, ‘The old man does it again.’

“That was very, very motivating for Aaron to walk up to me and show me that. It was motivation to go out there and play at a high level. And he continues to push me now.”

The Packers’ elite quarterback is familiar with the power of motivation.

From the kids on the high school bus who said he’d never make it to the colleges and their rejection letters to the teams that passed on draft day to the boo-birds on Family Night. People said he couldn’t run, was made of glass, couldn’t rally in the fourth quarter and couldn’t live up to the legacy of you-know-who.

He’s used every one.

And now he finds ways to motivate his teammates.

With a look, or a word or a simple show of support, Rodgers prods his teammates to give more. There is no one formula for reaching 52 other guys. And that’s the secret. Rodgers studies his teammates to come up with the best method to push them.

“That’s why he has so much success,” backup quarterback Graham Harrell said. “It’s not just how well he plays but how he can get other guys to play around him.”

The Look

Rodgers is playful with the defensive linemen in practice, but if you play with him on offense, you do not want The Look.

It’s practice, and tight end Tom Crabtree makes a rare mistake. He looks up. Rodgers has zeroed in.

“It’s a pretty good look. It’s pretty constructive,” Crabtree said. “But it’s good to make those (mistakes) in practice, because then you definitely don’t make it in a game.”

"You can't talk to a guy the same when he's had those experiences. You have to be sensitive to them and their needs and maybe their situation."

A drop in practice. A mental error. A half-effort. Those will get the icy cobalt blue stare just long enough to make the receiver feel a little guilty, but most important – aware.

“We can’t run a route at 75% in practice because we’re not feeling it,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Then the timing is all off and then he looks bad and he gets mad at us – and that will keep me moving forward.

“You don’t want to get on the bad side.”

The Look is much better than more demonstrative signs of disapproval. Rodgers keeps it low-key with The Look while still conveying his message: You can do better.

“Sometimes you can see it on his face, you know: ‘Hey, come on, guys,’ ” right guard Josh Sitton said. “He’s not the type of guy that’s going to yell at you or put you down. He’s a real positive guy. Everybody respects him.

“But when things are happening wrong, he kind of gives you that look, and when he gives you that look, you know.”

Lessons learned

But The Look is nothing compared to being called out by Rodgers.

Rodgers motivates tight end Jermichael Finley by asking him to do everything the right way instead of just relying on his elite talent.

“He did jump me a couple of times, but nothing too brutal. Nothing I can’t handle,” Finley said. “Like if you didn’t get your depth on running a route, he’ll jump you for that.

“He’s the quarterback, and if you want to get the ball, you’ve got to do it right.”

But then as quickly as Rodgers pushes Finley, he praises him with something he noticed.

“He does a good job adapting to each guy, like someone like Jermichael, who is a little more wired than most guys, or Jordy and Greg Jennings, who are more laid-back,” Harrell said. “He knows how to get to each one of them personally.”

But Rodgers’ attempts at motivation don’t always work. Last year, when rookie running back James Starks came off the physically unable to perform list, Rodgers nudged him to work harder in practice.

Well, it was more like a scolding.

And Rodgers now believes he was wrong.

“He is probably the nicest guy in the locker room. And I felt bad because I kind of ripped him a couple of times,” Rodgers said. “So I had to go to him and apologize. It took me a little to figure out he was out for nine weeks and kind of how he’s best motivated.

“He just needs that constant encouragement. Reminders – but in a way that’s uplifting.”

The history behind it

Rodgers realized 10 years ago at Butte College that it helped to understand his teammates in order to ask them to play their best.

“I was 18, just out of high school,” Rodgers said. “Our center was 25 from Canada, our left tackle had been in the Army, one of my best friends on the team had been in prison – he was our free safety. I really learned the difference between leading a bunch of high schoolers – you’re all about the same age – and leading guys who come from all different backgrounds.”

Rodgers takes the time to educate himself on his teammates by being observant and making the effort to get to know them.

Tim Masthay had been in Green Bay less than 48 hours. He was thrown immediately in to a two-man fight for the punting job. He was a number. Totally anonymous.

And yet someone kept messing with him.

Masthay was working out with the special-teams unit. The quarterbacks were in the middle of a March practice. Masthay did a triple-take to realize it was Rodgers, whom he had never met, joking around with him. Still feeling like a guest, Masthay was floored.

“He called me by my first name,” Masthay said. “Me – a rookie free agent, new off the street, a punter, frankly bottom of the totem pole. Yet he immediately made me feel welcome and a part of the team.”

Rodgers does his research: Where is the player from, his college and what other parts of his background are relatable or interesting.

“I wanted to talk to Diyral Briggs right away and get his story, to Erik Walden and Howard Green and get his story, because that can only make us better,” Rodgers said. “The chemistry of the team is often under-appreciated or overlooked when you talk about success. When you know the guy next to you – when you can count on him, you’ve hung out with him, you know what kind of person he is, know how he’s motivated – then you can figure out the buttons to push.”

A year and a half later, Masthay wants to perform his best, naturally, but part of that is because he doesn’t want to let anyone down, most of all Rodgers.

“We were playing Detroit at home. The week before I hit the ball pretty decent, but Devin Hester had returned one,” Masthay said. “There was all this pressure on the punting and on me. I started out the Detroit game with a bad punt; I just kind of shanked one out of bounds. The crowd is booing here at home.

“I come to the sideline and a couple of teammates talk to me, but he pulled me off to the side – and he’s getting ready to start an offensive series – and just settled me down. ‘Just do your stuff.’ ”

A calming presence

For all the competitive nature of Rodgers, his calming effect on the team can be seen most often in his receivers.

“You know what he does that other quarterbacks don’t? It’s in the huddle: ‘Let’s just take one throw at a time,’ ” Driver said. “That motivates everyone in the huddle – even if you are nervous, like, ‘Man, I’ve got to make every play count. This may be my one opportunity.’ He makes you forget that.

“He motivates the guys to say, ‘Let’s not worry about how many balls we’ve got. Let’s just play.’ Because when it’s all said and done, no one is going to care about you having a 1,000-yard season – everyone is going to care about us winning the whole thing.”

That’s an entirely different kind of motivation, unique to a 2011 Packers squad that is so deep at receiver and tight end. Rodgers has to find a way to keep everyone content when things can’t always be fair.

The Packers won the season opener against New Orleans, but not everyone was happy. James Jones had one reception. This was not what he had hoped. Though Jones knew the Packers had depth at receiver, he had waited for his time. He had signed a new contract. His moment was now.

Rodgers didn’t want to let that issue fester, so he talked with Jones right away.

“I wanted him to know – one, I have confidence in him,” Rodgers said. “Two, I agree with him. He should get more opportunities. And three, when he’s in there, to run every route as if he’s going to get the ball.

“I don’t think that’s going to directly correlate to him playing well the next couple of weeks or anything. But I just hope he understood that I had confidence in him and I was agreeing with him.”

Jennings, Nelson, Finley and even Starks have had more catches than Jones, who had a surreal performance at Detroit on Thursday with three catches including a 65-yard touchdown. He’s shown he could be a starter. It’s got to be a challenge for the 27-year-old in his prime, but he hasn’t vented since.

One mission, one heartbeat, one team. Case closed.

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Undefeated status doesn’t distract Packers

November 26, 2011 by  
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By Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~Can they do it?

Can the Green Bay Packers become the first team in National Football League history to go 19-0, and only the second team besides the 1972 Miami Dolphins to complete an entire season undefeated?

With the Packers sporting a franchise best 11-0 record, that question is becoming more and more prevalent.

But at least one former player from the Packers’ Glory Years in the 1960s is sounding the voice of caution.

When asked about the Packers going unbeaten this season, Jerry Kramer said: “I’m not sure I want them to.”

Packer Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer wants another Super Bowl title for the Packers as much as any fan does. But he feels going into the playoffs undefeated could possibly add, buiild too much pressure to win three more in a row in the playoffs.

Those weren’t the words of an embittered ex-player hoping to see the current team fail. Quite the contrary, Kramer still bleeds green and gold and is the biggest Packers fan on the planet. He was the starting right guard under coach Vince Lombardi and played on five championship teams. The closest he came to a perfect season was the Packers’ 14-1 finish in 1962.

But like Lombardi, Kramer covets a championship more than a perfect season.

“I am afraid that if we get down to 13-0, 14-0, 15-0, that the emotional hype and the media attention will be so overwhelming, it might take our eye off the championship and the playoffs,” said Kramer. “If we go 16-0 I can hear the sigh at the end of the season, ‘We did it.’ And then, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, we have a playoff game here and we have a Super Bowl to go to.’ ”

The New England Patriots famously went 16-0 in 2007, rolled into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record and promptly lost to the New York Giants in the title game. Maybe the pressure to produce a perfect season cost the Patriots a championship.

“I don’t feel any pressure by it,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy after the Packers manhandled the Lions on Thursday. “It’s a great place to be. It’s nice to be undefeated and to be part of those conversations."

Kramer would gladly accept a regular-season loss if it meant the Packers had a better shot at winning another Super Bowl.

That seemed to be Lombardi’s philosophy in 1962 when the Packers started 10-0 before losing to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Lombardi was anything but livid after that loss.

“That is the object — not to win ‘em all but to stay in first place,” Lombardi told the Green Bay Press-Gazette following the game.

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Little-used backups deliver for Packers

November 24, 2011 by  
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By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~DetroitThese were the two investments the Green Bay Packers could not afford to lose. On crutches, Desmond Bishop hobbled through players, equipment and a surge of media. In his shadow was A.J. Hawk – the other mainstay – dumbfounded.

Both inside linebackers suffered calf injuries and did not finish Green Bay’s 27-15 win over the Detroit Lions on Thursday.

“I just took off to run,” Hawk said, “and it kind of popped on me.”

A lot was pinned on Bishop and Hawk this season, nearly $54 million in combined contracts. Green Bay cut loose two reliable veterans at their position. And midway through the Thanksgiving bar fight at Detroit, Bishop and Hawk were gone. The extent of both injuries is unknown.

At Ford Field, it could have been a worst-case, code-red, brace-yourself scenario. Instead, at least for one day, rookie D.J. Smith and Robert Francois assimilated almost flawlessly.

Smith was active in the run game with four solo tackles, Francois grabbed a momentum-changing interception and the Packers’ chokehold on the Lions never loosened.

"From the instant they came in, they were making plays," defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. "Those guys are very smart. They've been preparing like that every week. With limited reps, they needed to be ready if their number was called."

Two backups rendered to the inactive list and/or special teams all season delivered on a national stage.

“In my mind, you never know,” Smith said. “It’s next man up. You have to keep that going – ‘you never know, you never know.’ So with the defense, I try to take every rep like it’s my last.”

Smith replaced Bishop at the end of the first quarter. Francois replaced Hawk midway through the third. Side by side, they manned the cockpit of a game very much in doubt. The Packers held a 14-0 lead but the Lions were in Green Bay territory.

Francois isn’t naive. At that precise moment, he knew what Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was thinking. The ball continued to sail his direction.

Maurice Morris out of the backfield for 8 yards. Brandon Pettigrew over the middle for 7.

“You could see that they were probably trying to tag me, just being the new guy in there,” Francois said. “Any team would do that.”

After those back-to-back completions, Francois had enough. Stafford tried lofting a pass over Francois’ head to Pettigrew down the middle and the quarterback either underestimated the linebacker’s vertical leap or flat-out didn’t see him.

Francois trampolined into the air to snare the interception. One play later, Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones for a 65-yard Packers touchdown. Happy Thanksgiving.

Backup Robert Francois is congratulated by teammates Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, after Francois leaped high to pick off a Matthew Stafford pass.

“For me, it’s expected,” said Francois, who was inactive the previous five games. “I go out there to make plays. I don’t just go out there to be a nobody. It’s just a great feeling to make a play like that.”

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Packers’ offense cashes in during second half

November 24, 2011 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~Detroit – When it went into the cramped locker room inside Ford Field at halftime Thursday afternoon, the prolific Green Bay Packers offense looked like a unit that had lost its change in a vending machine.

It had paid accordingly, running a no-huddle offense against the Detroit Lions that had bought them victories numerous times before. But coming away with just 86 yards and seven points made it seem like an empty exchange.

The only time this season the Packers had scored less in the first half was at Atlanta on Nov. 9, and that had as much to do with the defense getting torched as it did with the offense failing to get into the end zone.

This time, it was just an agonizingly slow start. Three third downs went unconverted and the only score came on a two-play, 13-yard drive that followed linebacker Clay Matthews’ interception.

“We just needed to get ourselves in better down-and-distance situations and maybe get more of a run-pass option,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who completed 22 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite facing a tough Lions defensive line, with starting left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton out, Aaron Rodgers still carved up the Lions like a turkey on Thanksgiving.

“In the first half, we had a lot of three-receiver sets and wanted to throw the football and didn’t run the ball as effectively or as much as we wanted to.

“The second half, we got back to more under-center stuff and giving at least the threat of a run.”

The Packers ran into a somewhat similar situation two weeks ago against Minnesota when the pass rush was teeing off on Rodgers and the offense needed some stability. Coach Mike McCarthy inserted tight end Andrew Quarless into the lineup to start the second half and the blocking improved.

McCarthy did the same thing Thursday, bringing in Quarless to team with starting tight end Jermichael Finley and going with more true run-formation looks. The result was a more balanced offense and a 20-point second-half barrage that helped lift the Packers to a 27-15 victory.

“They do a very good job on third down,” McCarthy said of the Lions. “So I went to more of a multipersonnel format in the second half and we were very productive. We ran our offense.”

The difference between the halves was considerable.

Rodgers threw for 242 of his 307 passing yards and a 65-yard touchdown strike to James Jones in the second half. He completed 13 of 17 passes after going 9 of 15 in the first half and posted a passer rating of 137.5 in the final 30 minutes.

After rushing just five times in the first half, the Packers ran 13 times in the second.

“We came in and felt we had to make adjustments and we did,” receiver Donald Driver said. “We changed what we felt (would work) with what they were doing. We still want three wide receivers, but sometimes we went to our base package.

“We had to get things rolling first. That was our main focus. Once we were able to get rolling a little bit we were able to put all kinds of personnel out there and they couldn’t stop us.”

On the opening drive of the second half, McCarthy went with Quarless and Finley together and, after running once for no gain, split both tight ends out in passing formation. The Lions, who stayed in their base defense to protect against two tight ends on the line of scrimmage, were forced to put a linebacker on Quarless and a safety on Finley.

Rodgers immediately went to Finley, who beat safety Amari Spievey for a 26-yard gain down the left sideline. A short time later, Rodgers hit Driver for 15 and then Greg Jennings for 19 as the Packers drove 77 yards for a touchdown.

“It was just about giving them different looks,” Quarless said. “We were thinking no-huddle coming into the game, but it kind of slowed down. One of the great things about this offense is we can put tight ends out on the field that are athletic.

Packers' safety Charlie Peprah makes a tackle Thursday in Detroit.

“It’s hard for them to game-plan to that. With me and Finley on the field we were able to run the ball a little bit and also pass it.”

Having tight ends and running backs on the field didn’t necessarily help the Packers run the ball better, but it gave the illusion that they were going to do it. And when Rodgers went play-action and got Spievey to bite up on it, he hit Jones for the long touchdown that put them ahead, 21-0.

All told, the Packers scored on their first three series of the second half and when Detroit scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it 24-8, Rodgers drove the offense 53 yards on 10 plays for a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Six runs during the series helped the Packers take 5 minutes 42 seconds off the clock and leave Detroit with a little more than 2 minutes to pull off a miracle.

“We went a little more under center in the second half and had some success, at least just kind of keeping those drives going, putting us in third-and-manageable situations,” Rodgers said. “We converted those better in the second half.”

It didn’t hurt matters that the Lions lost three members of their secondary to injury – eventually having to use wide receiver Rashied Davis at cornerback – and dominating defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to ejection. Rodgers took advantage of what he could and most important didn’t throw an interception for the seventh game this season.

“When you play a team like this, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” said Lions and former Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy. “We made too many dumb penalties, bad errors throwing the ball (and) we didn’t get any turnovers. When you’re going against a good team, it’s hard to win when you do those things.”

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Delusion and reality for Ndamukong Suh

November 24, 2011 by  
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By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com

~DETROIT — Thursday will go down as the day Ndamukong Suh lost his innocence. No longer can there be a reasonable debate about the style and intent of his play, much less his comprehension of its consequences, not after his game ejection and subsequent explanation after the Detroit Lions’ 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

"It was an accident." Ndamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection helped turn a close game into a rout.

The entire nation watched Suh pound the head of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith into the ground three times and then stomp on him as the two were separated. Many of you saw his postgame comments, a scary mix of manic sentences and paranoid conspiracy theories that suggested the gulf between Suh and the NFL’s accepted way of life is widening rather than closing here at the end of his second season.

Even Lions coach Jim Schwartz, one of Suh’s most reliable defenders, offered a measured response. “Regardless of our intent,” Schwartz said, “we can’t put ourselves in that position.”

It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, for Suh to shed the stigma of such a visible incident. If you didn’t think he was a dirty player before, you’re going to have a much more difficult time not believing it now.

Don’t take it from me. Multiple NFL observers and Packers players were angered and/or incredulous by the totality of Suh’s actions and words. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson called it “a dirty play.” Retired NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now a Fox Sports analyst, tweeted: “He feels he did nothing wrong! What are we dealing with here?”

Meanwhile, Packers guard T.J. Lang, who was a couple of feet away from Suh during the scrum, suggested a suspension might be in order.

“There’s no doubt that he’s known for playing hard and getting chippy and getting after guys,” Lang said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t just want to beat you. He wants to hurt you if he can.

“He’s going to learn sooner or later that he can’t play football that way in this league. He keeps playing that way, sooner or later they’re going to have to make a move to show them that’s not the way you play football in this league.”

As recorded in our Verbatim post earlier, Suh said he pushed Dietrich-Smith’s head because he was “being pulled down” and he was trying to get off the ground. Replays show that the players’ arms were locked in a wrestling position, and neither was letting go as Suh flipped on top of the scrum. So Dietrich-Smith isn’t totally innocent here. I get that.

Dietrich-Smith didn’t have much to say about it — “Just two football players out there playing hard,” he said — but Lang had a first-hand account that cast doubt on Suh’s version.

“Uh, no,” Lang said of Suh’s explanation. “That’s [expletive]. Because I saw [it] when I was walking over to see what was going on. He clearly had Evan by the face mask, pinned to the ground. His explanation is crap. I saw it when I was walking over there.

“I saw him on top of him with both hands clenched on his face mask looking like he was trying to turn his face mask or rip his helmet off. There was no pushing off and trying to stand up. He was going at his face.

Packers left guard T.J. Lang: "When you go for a guy's head, it's personal. There's no room in the game for that. You could get a career-ending injury if somebody twists your neck the wrong way. I don't have any doubt in my mind that he was trying to hurt him."

The only person who truly knows Suh’s intent is Suh himself. So let’s put it this way: If Suh didn’t intend to do what he did Thursday, he needs to be examined for involuntary leg and arm movement. There has been room for debate in many of Suh’s other questionable plays, but it’s hard to imagine a reasonable person looking at the replay of Thursday’s episode and not seeing an out-of-control player acting well beyond the scope and rules of the game.

Perhaps most bewildering is that Suh continues to believe that his now-cemented reputation has been foisted on him, rather than something he was responsible for creating.

“A lot of people are going to interpret it as, or create their own storylines for seeing what they want to interpret it,” Suh said. “But I know what I did, and the man upstairs knows what I did.”

Yes, we all do. The replay offers irrefutable evidence. And it was an excellent illustration of why the Lions are now 7-4 and facing a tough road to the playoffs. One of the Packers’ primary talking points during the short practice week was, essentially, to sit back and wait for Suh and/or another Lions player to make a mistake of aggression.

Or, as Lang put it: “He’s been getting dumb penalties all year. That’s something we talked about all week: They were probably going to do something stupid along the way. They’ve done it in almost every game.”

Suh said he is not concerned with his public reputation, implying that God’s reaction is the only one he cares about. That’s a good thing, because there will be no going back on it now. Ndamukong Suh has a chance to be one of the best and most marketable defensive linemen to ever play this game, and the Lions should be a good team for several years to come. But in his first two seasons, Suh has cared more about beating people up than beating them. That’s too bad.

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Green Bay Packers defeat Detroit Lions 27-15, remain undefeated at 11-0

November 24, 2011 by  
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By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazzette

~DETROIT — So much for the up-and-coming Detroit Lions finding Thanksgiving Day magic at Ford Field.

The Lions had plenty going for them in this holiday showdown, including the chance to get back in the NFC North Division race and hand their rival its first loss of the season.

But intangibles are no substitute for talent and ruthless execution. The Green Bay Packers demonstrated that Thursday by shutting down game-breaking receiver Calvin Johnson and wearing down the Lions’ defense with superior playmaking talent in a 27-15 game that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.

“They’re a good team as well, but we’re a better team,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “That’s all it says.”

After an athletic deflection by Big Grease Ryan Pickett, Clay Matthews beats Charles Woodson for the interception of Lions' QB Matthew Stafford Thursday.

The win was a major step toward the Packers joining the elite group of NFL teams that were unbeaten and untied in the regular season, which for now consists only of the 1972 Miami Dolphins and 2007 New England Patriots.

The Lions (7-4) probably were the best opponent remaining on the Packers’ schedule. The table was set for a repeat of 1962, when another 10-0 Packers team came to Detroit on Thanksgiving and was hammered by a good Lions team, 26-14.

But the 2011 Packers responded with one of their best defensive performances of the season. They turned a tight game into a comfortable second-half win that showed how difficult it is to defeat a quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who refuses to even flirt with interceptions and has as deep a receiving corps as there is in the NFL.

“A lot of people picked against us this week and thought this was the week that we were going to go down,” Rodgers said. “I still don’t think there’s a specific recipe to beat us. Our defense is playing better. They played very well today and got three turnovers, and the offense, when we’re not turning the ball over, we’re tough to beat.”

QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates on the sideline during the waning moments of the win in Detroit.

Thus, the 2011 Packers become Green Bay’s first 11-0 team. The players surely can smell a 16-0 season, but coach Mike McCarthy must have addressed the issue with them after the game, because they were on message afterward.

“I can smell 12-0, that’s as far as I can see,” defensive end B.J. Raji said. “These games aren’t going to get any easier. I’m going to enjoy this the next couple days then we’ll get on to (the) New York (Giants).”

For much of Thursday, this matchup of the NFL’s first- and third-ranked scoring teams was a defensive and physical battle that took a toll on both teams.

By the second half, the Packers were playing without three injured starters (right guard Josh Sitton and linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk) and a special-teams player lost to ejection (Pat Lee).

The Lions, in the meantime, had lost their best defensive player, tackle Ndamukong Suh, ejected in the third quarter for stomping on guard Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm; lost injured starting halfback Kevin Smith; and were so low on defensive backs in the fourth quarter that receiver Rashied Davis was playing cornerback.

Regardless of injuries, the Packers kept the Lions’ best players from beating them, in this case shutting down Johnson, and the Lions didn’t have the depth to make up the difference.

Cornerback Tramon Williams shadowed Johnson whenever he lined up outside and Woodson did so when the receiver was in the slot. The two often had help from a safety over the top, but not always. Johnson finished with only four catches for 49 yards, and his day wasn’t as good as those numbers suggest. Two of his receptions were in the fourth quarter with the Packers ahead by three scores, including his lone touchdown in garbage time on a 3-yard catch with a 11 seconds left.

Johnson’s size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds), wingspan (6-10) and jumping ability (42½-inch vertical) make him good for a couple field-tilting plays in most games. But on the Lions’ lone deep shot to him on Thursday, a third-and-2 from the Packers’ 29 late in the first half, Williams beat him to the end zone and comfortably broke up the pass.

“Against a guy like that you don’t want him to always know if you’re in a one-high (safety), so we mixed up things,” Tramon Williams said.

“Against a guy like that you don’t want him to always know if you’re in a one-high (safety), so we mixed up things,” Williams said. “It was unpredictable, really. I’m thinking once they cross midfield, they’re ready to take a shot to their guy. I kind of had a feeling that was what they were going to do, and that’s what they did.”

The Lions outgained the Packers 409 yards to 349 yards, but those numbers deceive. They gained 153 of those yards after falling behind 24-0 late in the third quarter. Even when they were picking up yardage early — it was mainly on dump-off routes — they averaged only 8.6 yards a catch. Their halfbacks (Maurice Morris, Smith, and Keiland Williams) and tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler) combined for 22 of their 32 receptions.

“That’s our formula for success on defense,” Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said, “make you drive all the way downfield, make you dink and dunk and get yards, but pretty soon you’ll make a mistake, make a bad pass or somebody (on defense) will make a play.”

When turnovers are decisive, things usually go the Packers’ way. They came into the game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-12 because they play the ball well on defense and have a quarterback who almost never turns it over.

On Thursday, they intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, leaving him with a passer rating of 66.5 points.

Pickett was part of the game’s biggest play when he sniffed out a short pass and made a leaping tip that outside linebacker Clay Matthews caught at the Lions’ 13 in the second quarter. That set up Rodgers’ 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings for the only score of the first half.

Linebacker Robert Francois is congratulated by Sam Shields after he intercepted a seam route to Brandon Pettigrew thrown by Matthew Stafford. Francois was in because both starting ILBers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk were out injured in the game.

In the third quarter, replacement linebacker Robert Francois intercepted a slightly underthrown seam route to Pettigrew to end one Lions drive, and Woodson jumped a quick route to Pettigrew to end another.

Rodgers, in the meantime, threw no interceptions on his way to topping the 110-point mark in passer rating for the 12th time in 12 games this season. He finished at 120.2 on Thursday. He almost lost a fumble in the third quarter on a strip sack by Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, but beaten right tackle Bryan Bulaga recovered the ball.

“We take the football away and we take care of it,” McCarthy said. “Everybody preaches it, everybody practices it, but we do as good or better than anybody in the league and that was evident today.”

Full story here

Why the Packers Streak Will Stop in Detroit

November 21, 2011 by  
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Retired football Coach Madden joined Brian in a debate over who will win this Thursday’s key NFC North game in Detroit.

~WHY THE PACKERS WILL MOTOR THRU DETROIT STILL UNDEFEATED

By Christopher Madden, Packers Insider Analyst

1- Aaron Rodgers
He is the unquestioned MVP of the NFL so far in 2011 and will be the best player on the field.  He has shown the ability to get anyone and everyone involved in the game and prevents any defense from being able to shut down the pass because he simply has too many weapons and knows how to use them all to beat any defense.

The Lions are potent and have talent everywhere on their D-Line. But they've lost at home already this season to Alex Smith and Matt Ryan. Rodgers is a league above those two guys. Advantage Packers.

2- Aaron Rodgers
He is so good he deserves another comment.  He is a winner.  Having won the Super Bowl this February and battling for weeks of must-win games makes a game like this just another game for him. This game won’t phase Rodgers and he actually thrives in moments like this.
He has won and played at an extremely high level in the highest of stages in last year’s Super Bowl so this will be just another game for him unlike the QB who will be taking the snaps for the Lions.

If Rodgers could handle the Steelers with Harrison, Woodley, Polamalu, and coach Dick LeBeau with ease in a loud dome, he can handle the Lions defense in a dome.

3- Charles Woodson
He loves the spotlight, and coming back to Michigan seems to always bring out his best.  Two years ago he took back an INT for a touchdown in a Packers Slaughter on Turkey Day and he will be looking to do it again Thursday. Yes, he will get beat a few times but the risk seems to always be worth the reward every time number 21 lines up in the game so Matthew Stafford better be careful.

Former Michigan Wolverine Charles Woodson loves to return to Detroit. While he has had problems with Calvin Johnson (what CB hasn't), he's also feasted a bit on Stafford. Here, Thanksgiving 2009, Woodson pick-6'd Stafford. Will we see another one this week?

4- Clay Matthews
Points will be plenty in this game, but having a guy with his motor will be an added bonus when looking for that key sack to stop a drive.  Clay seems to thrive in big games and having the national spotlight on him this day will be just what he needs.  I would expect two sacks for him in this game.

5- Packers Experience
Having so many guys that have won a Super Bowl, Playoff games on the road, and every team gearing up for them each week has only made this team tougher.  This has nothing to do with what they will face in Detroit but Green Bay has become the New England of the NFL, the team that everyone aspires to be.

Expect Coach McCarthy and Rodgers to exit Ford Field Thursday at 11-0, and to enjoy a team Turkey dinner later that night.

Prediction
Green Bay 37
Detroit
24

Detroit will get their points. Green Bay will get theirs. This is a game for men. The home crowd will be louder then ever before at Ford Field. It will work until the middle of the third quarter. That is when the thoroughbreds will make their move. It will come quick. It will take a close game and bring it out of reach.

WHY THE PACKERS STREAK WILL STOP IN DETROIT
By Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior Editor

#1- The Packers defense has made lesser QB’s and offenses look great this year
Matthew Stafford and the Lions are coming off a 35-point second half at home vs. Carolina en route to a 49-35 win over the Panthers. Stafford threw 5 touchdown passes in the game. And none went to Calvin Johnson.
The Packers have made numerous quarterbacks look Hall of Famish at times this year, from great ones like Drew Brees, to struggling Philip Rivers, rookie Cam Newton, and bottom-10 Josh Freeman this past week.

If Rivers and the Chargers can roll up 38 points, on grass, against the Packers defense, these Lions could put up 49 on these Packers as they did to Carolina on Sunday.

Sadly for Packer fans, expect Lions QB Matthew Stafford to receive the "Galloping Gobbler" Thursday after handing the Packers their first loss of the season.

This is Stafford coming off a 5-touchdown game and his total of 20 touchdown passes this year is 4th in the NFL, behind only Rodgers, Brees, and Brady.

Remember, the Packers only scored 30 on Carolina in week two. Detroit just scored 49 on them over the final three quarters.

#2- The Lions beat the Packers last year once, and almost beat them in Green Bay as well. Both times with backup QB’s
Make no mistake about it. Believing you can beat a team can give a team the confidence that’s necessary to win. These guys know they can beat the Packers because they did it the past time Green Bay visited Ford Field. And they beat the Packers with their 3rd string QB, Drew Stanton. And they did it in a year they went 6-10. Now the Lions are 7-3, and have their franchise QB Stafford starting, as well as a healthy group of WR’s and TE’s.

#3- Megatron
Calvin Johnson has given Charles Woodson and the Packers fits since he entered the league. He’s beaten Woodson high and low, inside and outside, for touchdowns. And that was a younger Woodson.

While Woodson has had an interception for a touchdown each of the past two seasons against the Lions, Calvin Johnson has found the end zone quite a few times.

The Packers best bet will be to put the taller and faster Tramon Williams on Johnson. However, Packer fans might remember Mike Williams this past week having his best game of the season, with a touchdown and other big catches against Williams. Also, Tramon was victimized repeatedly in San Diego three weeks ago by Vincent Jackson, who had been struggling all year until that game.

Megatron torches Woodson, Tramon, Collins

Johnson is in a league of his own as far as talent and size go. He’s a mismatch for whoever the Packers put on him, as history shows.

#4- The Scheffler Factor
It’s no secret the Packers linebackers always have trouble with good tight ends. From Greg Olsen to Vernon Davis to Antonio Gates and now Kellen Winslow, opposing tight ends often have season highs against the heavy feet and slow hips of AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop.

The Lions have Brandon Pettigrew starting at tight end, but it’s the dancing machine Tony Scheffler, Greg Jennings former teammate at Western Michigan, who find the end zone.

A sight for sore eyes? It is for Packer fans. Lions tight end Tony Scheffler has had plenty of touchdown dances this season.

All he does is catch touchdowns. And then do his creative John Travolta-esque dancing afterwards. Scheffler is happy to be out of Denver.

#5- The Lions Defensive Line
They’re talented and mean, and they take pride taking out quarterbacks. It was a seemingly harmless scramble last year that got Aaron Rodgers concussed and knocked out of the game, and it was a linebacker, DeAndre Levy. But the Lions D-Line will be getting after Rodgers and they have a relentless cast.

It starts with the dirty, but dominating Ndamukong Suh. But there’s also the relentless DE’s Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril off the edges, and former Packer Corey Williams and this year’s first rounder Nick Fairley in the middle. Fairley has also been fined for dirty hits, as Suh has repeatedly.

Aaron Rodgers helmet bounces into the Ford Field turf last year in the 2nd quarter. It would give Rodgers a concussion and end his game, and lead to the Packers losing the game, only scoring 3 points. The Lions, admit it or not, will be trying to put Rodgers on the sideline again Thursday. Rodgers has been too careless lately taking unnecessary hits and tackles. He has to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack, because on any tackle, a foot, ankle, or knee can be injured. Or a hand, as Jay Cutler found out Sunday.

These guys are capable of dominating the Packers offensive line, especially with Marshall Newhouse on one edge, and Bryan Bulaga on the other edge less-than-100% health-wise.

Rodgers has taken far too many hits the past few weeks, both in the pocket, out of the pocket, and running the ball.
Frightfully, his luck might run out this week, again in Detroit. We’ve just seen four other playoff-focused teams lose their quarterbacks for the season or a few games (Schaub in Houston, Vick in Philadelphia, Cassel in Kansas City, and Cutler in Chicago). Rodgers has been flirting with fire since the first time he faced Jared Allen back in week 7.

I don’t think the Packers offensive line can keep him clean enough in Detroit and I expect Rodgers to be battered in this game, clean or nor on the Lions part.

#6- The Ford Field Fanatics
Fair-weather fans or not, the place will be as loud as ever as they relish the opportunity to show they are contenders and knock off the defending champions in front of the rest of the league who will all be home watching it.

If you don’t think that crowd can be a factor against a superior Packers team, you might have forgotten a few Packers visits to Detroit during the Favre era. That team lost in Detroit even during their 1996 championship season, and much of it had to do with the crowd and crowd noise. Just like in Minnesota, the noise has an impact on the Packers offensive line. It gives the defense a slight head-start going after the quarterback.

Yes, the Packers still won at Minnesota despite Jared Allen sacking and chasing Rodgers all day. But that was only a 6-point win, and it was Christian Ponder’s first start ever at QB in the NFL. The crowd noise will be a factor on Thursday.

Ford Field will be rocking on Thanksgiving, and the fans and team will celebrate as if they had won the Super Bowl.

#7 Never-Say-Die
The Lions win over Carolina last week was the third time this season they have come back to win a game that they trailed by 17 or more points. These guys don’t mind falling behind. They never give up, and won’t be phased if Rodgers propels the Packers out to a 21-0 or 27-7 lead. The Lions have come back from more than that to beat the Cowboys and Vikings earlier this year.

Prediction:
Lions 45
Packers 35

As long as Rodgers and the other key guys exit Detroit relatively healthy, this loss will do more good than harm, as was the case the last time the Packers were 10-0 almost 50 years ago.

That was the 1962 season and those 10-0 Packers also lost in Detroit on Thanksgiving. That Packer team went on to win the NFL title. Will history repeat itself?

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: ‘I’ve got to play better’

November 21, 2011 by  
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By Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~Aaron Rodgers walked into the Green Bay Packers’ media auditorium on Sunday for his postgame press conference with a somber look on his face.

“I’m just frustrated,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t throw the ball very well.

“I’m not going to speak for anybody else, but personally I just didn’t play my best game, so I’ve got to look at myself first. I’ve got to play better.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts to a pass dropped by tight end Jermichael Finley against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette

This more than anything is an indication of how good the Packers have become. They put up five offensive touchdowns in a 35-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field and boosted their record to 10-0, yet Rodgers looked like he had just lost the game.

So what is his idea of an off day?

“The ball wasn’t coming off the way I wanted it to today,” he said. “(There’s) some throws I usually hit that I didn’t hit today.”

Despite his genuine disappointment, Rodgers completed 23 of 34 passes (68 percent) for 299 yards, three touchdowns and one interception with a passer rating of 112.3.

Many NFL quarterbacks would kill for a day like that. But Rodgers is no ordinary player.

“I think he’s kind of spoiled us a little bit with the way he’s been playing lately,” guard T.J. Lang said. “When he has one incompletion, he gets upset with himself.”

Rodgers was especially frustrated when the Packers sputtered in the second half. They were forced to punt on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, and Rodgers threw only his fourth interception of the season early in the fourth quarter.

That helped the Buccaneers rally from a 14-point first-half deficit to within two points on two occasions in the fourth quarter.

“It’s hard to be as sharp as he normally is when he’s completing 80 percent of his balls,” said receiver Jordy Nelson, who had six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Jordy Nelson gets behind the Bucs defense and scores the clinching touchdown on a 40-yard pass from Rodgers.

“If you’re a true competitor and want to get better and try to be the best like Aaron does, he’s going to take every play personal, good or bad, and move forward and learn from it.”

Rodgers had been exceptionally sharp of late. He completed a team-record 75 percent of his passes in each of his previous three games. He also posted a 140-plus passer rating during that stretch, which had been done only once in NFL history.

Full story here

Packers have three important things to do

November 21, 2011 by  
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By Gary D’Amato

~Green Bay – They have three days to apply ice and heat to aching body parts, address and fix the mistakes they made in an uneven performance Sunday and prepare for a division opponent on the road on Thanksgiving.

The Green Bay Packers will play their third game in 11 days when they travel to Detroit to face the Lions at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

A victory would all but wrap up the NFC North for the Packers, who improved to 10-0 with a 35-26 victory over Tampa Bay at Lambeau Field. But Detroit (7-3) is still hanging around after beating Carolina, 49-35.

Furthermore, the Lions seem to match up well with the Packers and split with them in 2010, losing, 28-26, at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3 and winning, 7-3, in Detroit on Dec. 12.

Ford Field will be rocking like never before, as the 7-3 Lions will try to beat the champions and end their undefeated aspirations in front of a worldwide audience.

“Those guys are home and can potentially knock us off in front of a national (TV) audience,” said Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji. “They will be pretty jacked up. They’re probably going to be confident. They beat us last year at home, and they almost beat us here.

“They believe they can win. It’s our job to convince them they can’t.”

The Packers now face the dreaded “short week” of preparation. They have three days to correct the mistakes they made against the Buccaneers, install the game plan for Detroit and get their bodies ready for another 60 minutes of physical punishment.

“It can be really difficult physically and mentally, but I think the Lions are going on the same schedule,” said safety Charlie Peprah. “We’ll be all right. We’re professionals.”

The Packers might have to play without running back James Starks, who suffered a sprained right knee in the fourth quarter. Coach Mike McCarthy said he would know more about Starks’ status Monday.

Other players won’t have much time to get over minor injuries and general soreness. Linebacker Clay Matthews suffered a stinger but said he would be ready to go Thursday.

“I just jammed my neck back a little bit,” he said. “I’ll be fine. You suffer aches and pains in this game.”

Guard T.J. Lang said the quick turnaround would be more difficult on older players physically and tougher on younger players mentally.

“We’re going to have to push through it,” he said. “We’re just going to have to give it all we’ve got and try to get as healthy as we can within the next couple days.

“Usually, it takes one or two days, body-wise, to recover (after a game). There are things you’re going to have to do more often than you normally do. Hitting the hot tub, the cold tub, just trying to find any way you can to recover faster.”

The unbeaten Packers are not without some concerns on both sides of the ball.

The Lions have been beaten at home twice, first to Alex Smith and the 49ers, then the next week to Atlanta. A Packers win would essentially eliminate the Lions from any hopes of winning the division.

Six days after the defense turned in probably its finest performance of the season against Minnesota, it gave up 455 yards to the struggling Buccaneers, allowing quarterback Josh Freeman to throw for 342 yards and running back LeGarrette Blount to rush for 107.

“I don’t have any concerns,” said defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. “If we don’t give up the (54)-yard run (to Blount), they probably have 60 yards rushing and it’s like, ‘Wow, look at how the defense played today.’

“We did a lot of gambling and blitzing, and our cornerbacks were one on one. They made some plays.”

Offensively, quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t as razor-sharp as usual, misfiring on several passes and throwing an interception. The Packers also had trouble running the ball even before Starks went down.

“We definitely had our ups and downs,” Lang said. “I don’t think the rhythm was what it’s been the last few weeks. It was a little awkward. A lot of questions are going through your mind, like, ‘What’s going on? Why can’t we convert?’ ”

Of an even bigger concern were some communication issues.

“We’ve got to clean up a bit of the communication errors because that has seemed to bite us in the (expletive) the last few weeks,” Lang said. “We had one today where, I think, we got out of the huddle a little too late, and we had to snap the ball before we could make any adjustments and a couple guys were a little confused on the assignment, and we ended up getting Aaron sacked.”

Getting that fixed will be important because the Packers struggled against the Lions’ young and talented defensive line in Detroit last year; Rodgers went out with a concussion and missed the next game, a loss at New England.

“They’ve got a lot of talent over there with (Ndamukong) Suh and (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril has come on lately,” Lang said. “Corey Williams is playing good football, too. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Rest of story here

Packers defense exposed again, this time by Tampa Bay

November 20, 2011 by  
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor

~The Packers will head into the Thanksgiving Day showdown in Detroit still undefeated, but far from perfect.

A week after almost pitching a shutout on Monday night against the Vikings, the Packers defense welcomed into town Josh Freeman and his anemic Buccaneer offense.

Josh Freeman throws against the Packers on Sunday. Freeman threw for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But like the game in San Diego, the Packers defense helped an opposing quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end get out of season-long slumps and rack up big yardage and plenty of points on the scoreboard.

Two weeks ago, Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates had their best games of the season after really struggling.

Today, it was Freeman, Mike Williams, and tight end Kellen Winslow.

But for good measure, the Packers also handed runningback LeGarrete Blount his best game of the season, allowing the former Duck 107 yards and a touchdown. He also had three or four hurdles of Packer defenders.

All in all, the Bucs offense racked up 455 total yards, outgaining the Packers prolific offense by 77 yards. They also had a 31:21 to 28:39 advantage in time of possession.

However, as was the case in San Diego with Rivers, the Packers did come up with some interceptions. This time it was Packers cornerback Tramon Williams who had both of them. The first one came late in the first half and it most likely prevented the Bucs from getting at least a field goal before halftime.

In San Diego, he and Charlie Peprah had pick-sixes on back to back possessions to give the Packers a big lead early. This time, they weren’t returned for touchdowns, but they did prevent points by the opposing offense.

Numbers and stats aside, the Packers have legitimate reason for concern over the state of their defense.

The 54-yard touchdown run by Blount is evidence number one. On it, he broke about six or seven tackles, including both inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk.

Buccaneer runningback LeGarrete Blount breaks the last of his tackles on the way to the end zone, capping his longest touchdown run of the season.

As we saw with the weather today, and all remember back to the 2008 NFC Championship game loss in Green Bay to the Giants, the arctic weather of Green Bay in the winter tends to create more of a smash-mouth, run-the-ball type of football game.

The Packers will face the physical running games of the Giants and Raiders et this month, and welcome a resurgent Bears running game on Christmas Day.

The Lions will get two cracks at the Packers defense, and they showed a potent running game today beating Carolina with Lions back Kevin Smith churning out 140 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s the regular season.

In the playoffs, they most likely will have to face the physical running games of the 49ers, Giants, Bears, and/or perhaps Falcons again.

One would think that the Packers defense would rather face running teams as they have been torched by quarterbacks from Brees to Newton to Rivers and now Freeman.

But the way they tackled on the Blount touchdown run reminds all Packer fans of what Brandon Jacobs did to the Packers in that NFC Championship game four seasons ago.

The Packers won’t face any rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs like Christian Ponder.

Dom Capers will have a few more sleepless nights this week leading into a Detroit team that scored 49 points today.

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