From our old buddy, former PackersNews beat reporter Tommy Pelissero, from USA Today
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t click immediately, but with each passing day during the Green Bay Packers’ practices this past spring, Aaron Rodgers grew more suspicious.
Ever since Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave up offensive play-calling duties, Green Bay’s defense was communicating in ways Rodgers hadn’t heard before, showing increased awareness to the reigning NFL MVP’s checks and signals at the line of scrimmage.
“I started thinking, ‘Somebody must’ve told them something, because there’s no way that they would say anything like that unless somebody told them,’” Rodgers said in an interview last week with USA TODAY Sports at his locker inside Lambeau Field. “Deductive reasoning told me that Mike probably went over there and gave away some of our secrets.”
About two weeks later, McCarthy revealed his secret to the offense: He’d gone into a defensive meeting and presented a list of clues, so to speak, that would help the unit understand and compete with Rodgers and company on a more level playing field in practice.
It wasn’t just a ploy to challenge the best QB on the planet, though that’s certainly a byproduct – one that makes Rodgers flash a bemused smirk and say he feels like McCarthy is “a little bit of a double agent.”
This was part of a broad re-envisioning of the program McCarthy has built over nearly a decade in Green Bay that would start with raising every player’s football IQ, at a time many would have looked at the results – six straight playoff trips, one title, a collapse in Seattle away from another Super Bowl trip in January – and said things were just fine the way they were.
“And you’re ignorant, foolish, dumb as a rock to think that,” McCarthy said. “If you don’t continue to try to get better, improve yourself, you’re going to get your ass kicked.
“The driving force is – like we talked about all through the spring in the defensive meetings – hey, we compete against the best in the league in pre-snap and things that go on in the course of a drive and adjustments. (Rodgers is) the best I’ve ever been around – the volume and his ability to see so many things. We need to learn from that.”
Reshaping the Pack
McCarthy’s outlook was influenced heavily by a stint on staff with Marty Schottenheimer’s Kansas Chiefs, who made no major changes after going 13-3, earning the No. 1 AFC playoff seed and losing in the divisional playoffs in 1997. The next year, they went 7-9 and everybody got fired.
In Green Bay, there seems to be one significant change every year, such as the revamped practice schedule McCarthy credits with helping the team stay healthy in 2014. And those changes tend to be proactive, rather than reactive.
McCarthy, 51, says he’d resolved to give up play-calling – a time-consuming process he found harder and harder to fit into his routine last season – as part of a staff shakeup long before a 16-0 lead slipped away and the offense went three-and-out on two key fourth-quarter drives in the NFC championship loss to the Seahawks.
“I’ve taken this offseason as a chance to take a Year 1 mode of questioning every job responsibility we have, questioning every computer report, every presentation method, playbook entries,” said McCarthy, who already has Phase 2 of the transition planned for after this season as he continues to narrow the focus of his job.
Among the questions McCarthy wanted to tackle this year: How could coaches improve the defense’s communication to match the offense’s superior level?
The answer began with letting the defense tap into the Packers’ greatest resource. McCarthy began spending the bulk of his time with Green Bay’s defensive players, whom he not only questioned on Rodgers’ operation at the line of scrimmage – “Why’s he doing this? Why do you think he’s doing that?” – but gave some answers, too.
“What’s really good is when you have a guy that’s as efficient in offensive football as Mike, for him to be able to share with the defense sometimes an offensive perspective and how they look at it,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “When Mike says that, they’re going to absorb it, listen to it and hopefully, there’s tips in there that can help us perform better.”
That some of those tips may have mitigated the advantage Rodgers had in practice on a defense he knows so well may not be a bad thing either.
“We all have tendencies, so it’s good to try to break some of those and we do it with dummy signals and dummy words,” Rodgers said. “We all have our little idiosyncrasies that we can’t help sometimes, and Mike obviously went over them and shared a lot of them with the defense.
“It’s fun. You try not to get bored hitting check-downs or hitting the same progressions you’ve been through in the last 10 years. But you’re only human sometimes.”
Green Bay’s challenge
It’s impossible to replace a player the caliber of Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson, who was lost to a major knee injury in last weekend’s exhibition at Pittsburgh. But that’s part of why the Packers have put so much time into accelerating the awareness of young players such as receivers Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and rookie Ty Montgomery.
Before Nelson’s injury, McCarthy said he intends to keep spending as much time as possible with the defense, as well as special teams. He still watches the offensive tape every day, but his input there will be upstairs with coaches – the opposite of past years. He calls himself the self-scout, charged with “looking at everything we do from as many different angles as possible.”
By next spring, perhaps McCarthy will have secrets to share with Rodgers about the defense, too.
“It was really interesting,” McCarthy said, “because when we broke the meeting, walking out, Clay (Matthews) was like, ‘Gosh dang, all this time, Aaron’s so frustrating to compete against. I know he’s a great player, but he knows every call, he knows everything we’re doing.’
“Then he goes – classic Clay – ‘Well, what do you have on me?’ I said, ‘That’ll come later.’”
From Rob Demovsky, ESPN.com
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Green Bay Packers took stock of their remaining receivers after Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury, here’s what they found:
- In Randall Cobb, they have a proven, Pro Bowl-caliber slot receiver who will become Aaron Rodgers new No. 1 target.
- In Davante Adams, they have an athletic, second-year perimeter receiver who should do nothing but improve on his 38-catch rookie season from 2014.
- And then they have a bunch of unknowns.
When the Packers practiced on Tuesday for the first time since Nelson was declared lost for the season, rookie Ty Montgomery opened with the Cobb and Adams in a three-receiver set. That was a change from the first post-injury snaps on Sunday at Pittsburgh, where Jeff Janis served as Nelson’s immediate replacement.
And we haven’t even seen much of Myles White, Jared Abbrederis or the team’s group of undrafted rookies.
“We’re going to make things work,” Cobb said. “We’re going to find a way. I know our coaching staff I trust in them to come up with a game plan and scheme. It’s on us to go out and make the plays and be able to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.”
From a purely physical standpoint, the 6-foot-3, 219-pound Janis best resembles Nelson (6-3, 217). Janis tested even better than Nelson did when both came into the league.
At the 2014 NFL scouting combine, Janis ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and jumped 37.5 inches in the vertical test. Nelson’s numbers in 2008 were 4.51 seconds and 31 inches.
That might be where the similarities end, however. Janis was a seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State and Nelson a second-rounder from Kansas State. Nelson was NFL-ready. Janis was not. Nelson caught 33 passes as a rookie. Janis caught two.
“Obviously he’s a tough guy to replace,” Janis said. “I’m not going to try to step in and be Jordy Nelson. I’m just going to try to be me and help the team in any way that I can.”
Still, there’s potential in Janis, who has three career preseason touchdown catches (34, 33 and 25 yards), but his ability to mesh with quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains a question mark.
“I think just being on the same page with Aaron,” Janis said. “I’m getting there. I’m not there yet. That’s going to come along with now hopefully I can get some more reps with him and be in the same room and just listen to the things he has to say.”
Montgomery (6-0, 216) looks like the most versatile of the group. He lined up mostly in the slot in college at Stanford but has practiced more on the outside since the Packers picked him in the third round this year. In the first post-Nelson practice, Montgomery was split out to the right with Adams wide left and Cobb in the slot left.
“I feel like I’ve mostly been in the slot,” he said. “Mentally, it doesn’t feel like that, though. I feel like I’ve played both outside and inside and I can do either one.”
Montgomery looks — and perhaps plays — more like Cobb, and his teammates have raved about his versatility and ability to grasp the offense.
The fifth receiver spot looks at once wide open and muddled. White has been a two-time loser, getting cut at the end of training camp in both 2013 and 2014 only to return to the practice squad (and a short roster stint two years ago). Abbrederis has yet to even play in a preseason game, let alone a regular-season game, since he was picked in the fifth round more than 15 months ago. He missed all of his rookie season because of an early training camp knee injury and hasn’t practiced this camp since he sustained a concussion on the first day.
Perhaps Rodgers summed up that group best when asked after Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh how he felt about the receiver depth.
“Not sure yet,” he said.
Original story here
“It’s get through healthy,” Nelson said. “That’s everyone’s goal. Some of that you can control. Some of it you can’t.”
As it turned out, Nelson couldn’t control it. On the sixth offensive play of the Packers’ 24-19 preseason loss at Pittsburgh, Nelson’s right knee torqued awkwardly, and he crumpled to the turf without contact. At the time, the injury appeared minor.
On Monday, the Packers made official what Nelson’s teammates and coaches feared: The injury was season-ending. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that while Nelson did tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the rest of the knee ligaments weren’t affected.
Which is something of a metaphor for the Packers’ offense right now – with one of its vital components damaged but with the other key parts still intact.
“It’s a big boy world out there. … Things happen. There’s no rationale behind it,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said during an appearance on WTAQ-AM radio in Green Bay with Mark Daniels. “You can’t understand how something like that can happen on a play as simple as it was, but that’s life in the NFL sometimes.
“Certainly, we’re not in any position where we think we can necessarily replace Jordy. Jordy is a wonderful player, wonderful person in the community and everything else. He’ll continue to do that, but maybe we find two or three guys who can fill the role that he played.
“The NFL is about adapting and changing and even during the course of the game. Your opponent will start playing the game in a Sunday afternoon and by the second quarter they will change and morph into something else. The beauty about the NFL is the players’ ability to learn and adjust on the fly. And that’s what we’ll have to do.”
While that approach is required, it’s not easy when you consider that the Packers went into training camp with the makings of a potentially historic offense: The reigning NFL MVP at quarterback (Aaron Rodgers); two wide receivers who made the Pro Bowl (Nelson and Randall Cobb); one of the NFL’s best offensive lines; a bruising running back seeking his third straight 1,100-yard season (Eddie Lacy); and a pair of second-year pass-catchers who were clearly ascending (wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Richard Rodgers).
Now, with the receiver deck reshuffled, the Packers will have to adjust their identity on offense. When he looked at the unit’s potential recently, Nelson pointed out that it was unlikely that he and Cobb would each crack the 90-reception mark this season because of all the other weapons the team had in the passing game. Nelson recalled Rodgers’ first MVP season in 2011, when Nelson led the team with 68 receptions, followed by Greg Jennings (67), Jermichael Finley (55), James Jones (38), Donald Driver (37) and Cobb (25).
“If you’re taking catches away from us and they’re going to someone else, that’s great,” Nelson said. “If you look back to 2011 with Greg, Donald, James and myself and what everyone is doing. Straight across the board if everyone is even and performing, I think it’s great.”
“I’ve heard people try to say it looks like it could be 2011 again, but I don’t think it can because of what we have with Eddie and what we need out of Eddie. We don’t want to be like 2011 because we want to be able to run the ball and be balanced.”
Nelson’s injury certainly accentuates Lacy’s importance because Nelson’s absence dramatically alters the look of the Packers’ three-, four- and five-receiver sets. With Nelson healthy, rookie Ty Montgomery or second-year receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis would have been, at best, the No. 4, 5 and 6 receivers with Nelson healthy and Adams serving as the ultra-important No. 3 guy.
“The receiver depth just allows us to be more diverse in what we do,” Nelson said before the injury. “We’ve always believed the more DBs we can get on the field, we feel that our third, fourth and fifth receivers are going to be better than their third, fourth or fifth DB.
“That’s where we want to get to. Then you create matchup problems. We’ve had that in the past. The past couple years, we haven’t been as deep. I think this year there’s a chance to get back to it.”
Now, the Packers might not be deep enough, and they’re going to have to play an inexperienced player at the No. 3 spot before that player might be fully ready.
“Receiver depth obviously would take pressure off of Nelson and Cobb, and now you’re talking about coverage. How do you cover? Are you going to double Jordy and double Randall? How are you going to disperse it?” quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said before Nelson went down. “That’s a good problem.
“But football seasons are like farming. Every season’s different, you never know what happens. It could be a flood one year and a drought the next, and you just adjust and adapt. If we’re still in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50 having fun after the game, then whatever it takes. We’ll adjust and adapt.”
Just not in the way they were figuring they’d need to.
It’ll be interesting to see when the Packers return to practice Tuesday how the receiver reps are distributed among the starters, and whether Montgomery or Janis’ snap counts spike most. Thompson must also decide whether losing Nelson merits signing a veteran wide receiver of the street who could offer immediate help.
“All we do over there at 1265 Lombardi Ave. this time of the year is watch tape on other people and players and teams in the NFL. So we’re accumulating the knowledge of players at all different positions,” Thompson told Daniels on Monday night. “We’re not singling out the wide receiver position just because this has happened. We’re just going about our business the way we’ve always went about our business.”
From Fox Sports’ Ross Jones
~The Green Bay Packers may have sustained a devastating loss in Sunday’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team fears that wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL, FOX Sports 1’s NFL insider Mike Garafolo confirmed.
Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t expand on the news after the game, but said that the Packers are waiting to get back to Green Bay to get all of the information. Nelson will undergo an MRI on Monday to learn the extent of the injury.
The Packers, however, boast incredible depth at wide receiver. After re-signing Randall Cobb during free agency this offseason, they spent a third-round pick on Stanford product Ty Montgomery.
But second-year wide receiver Davante Adams figures to see his workload ramped up if Nelson misses an extended period of time (the whole season).
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound product from Fresno State has the potential to have a breakout season.
Before Nelson’s injury, Adams was already figuring to be a bigger part of this offense. In the first preseason game against the New England Patriots, Adams was targeted a team-high seven times through three series with the first-team offense. He finished the game with three receptions for 17 yards.
After playing in 16 games in 2014 in which he had 38 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns, Adams had his breakout game in the divisional round of the playoffs. He finished with seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys, a building block entering this offseason.
During the team’s OTAs and training camp, Adams has been praised by McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I never called out Davante by name last year. I was hoping that he would pick it up with his practice habits. But Davante is a very polished player, and he has an excellent demeanor for a guy who’s going to be a star,” Rodgers said in June, via ESPN Wisconsin. “I mean, he carries himself like a star – which is a very high compliment. There’s only been a few guys around here who’ve had that charisma: Charles (Woodson), Julius (Peppers), Greg (Jennings) always had it as a young player. But there’s very few guys that really ‘get it.’
“And he has supreme confidence, and it’s contagious. And I’m really proud of his approach and his attitude. It makes you want to get him the ball more. It makes you watch the film and have regrets about not giving him more opportunities. And that’s again, another compliment for him.”
Without an elite tight end, the Packers typically run a lot of their offense out of three- and four-wide-receiver sets.
While Adams wasn’t considered to be a premier playmaker in his rookie season like the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., Buccaneers’ Mike Evans or Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin, he could without a doubt become a sophomore standout with through-the-roof potential and an increasing workload.
Original story here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com Senior Editor
~The only thing that really matters in preseason are injuries.
Coach Mike McCarthy just learned that the hard way by playing Nelson in a totally meaningless game and seeing Nelson’s ACL snap, ending his season two three weeks before the opener against the Bears.
I said this week, that the Packers should sit Nelson, Eddie Lacy, and Randall Cobb until Chicago, and this is exactly the reason why.
With practices, they should be able to get the rust off, and the timing down well enough. We’ve seen the Packers offense in the past few preseasons seemingly in synch and ready to roll, then only to come out of the gates slow at 1-2 for the past three seasons.
Preseason means nothing. Except the injuries.
What does matter is who makes the team, and this Packers roster has three or four decent wide receivers who were battling for a roster spot. It was for the possible #5 spot, but now the #4 and #5 spots are open because of the loss of Jordy.
Nelson went up to make a catch during the first quarter of the preseason game and, despite making no contact with a defender, went down to the ground and clutched his leg. He ran to the sideline as he’s a guy who doesn’t want to stay down and draw all that negative attention to himself. But he knew it wasn’t good.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Packers’ “initial diagnosis” is a torn ACL. The team is “awaiting MRI results” in order to confirm the injury.
From Pistol Pete, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~FOXBORO, Mass. — The Green Bay Packers’ first live audition of their rookie cornerbacks was a good one and has to leave them feeling optimistic about their immediate and longer-term futures at that key position group.
That’s the position where the Packers took their biggest personnel hit in the offseason when general manager Ted Thompson determined he didn’t have the cap room and budget to retain Tramon Williams (Cleveland) and Davon House (Jacksonville), who left in free agency.
One of the players Thompson drafted to help replace them, first-round pick Damarious Randall, didn’t even make the trip to play against the New England Patriots on Thursday night because of a groin injury. But second-round pick Quinten Rollins and undrafted rookie Ladarius Gunter did, and both had good nights, especially Rollins, who was one of the stars of the Packers’ 22-11 win at Gillett Stadium.
You don’t want to overstate matters based only on a preseason game, and the Patriots didn’t play any of their top three receivers: Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. By the time Rollins got on the field after the starters went to the bench, Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski also was done for the night, as of course, was quarterback Tom Brady, one of the game’s all-time greats. So the Patriots’ top receiver was Josh Boyce, a fourth-round pick in 2013 with great speed (4.38-second 40) but who was on the practice squad most of last season. And their quarterback was second-year pro Jimmy Garoppolo.
Still, there’s no denying Rollins’ eye-catching play.
In a stretch of six snaps in the second quarter, he made four good plays, including breaking up three passes. On a couple of them he showed the natural body awareness and ball skills that convinced the Packers to draft him so high even though he was a four-year college basketball player who didn’t return to football until his fifth year at Miami (Ohio).
Right now it’s a tossup on whether Randall or Rollins will be the fourth cornerback in the Packers’ dime defense – Randall handled that role in practice until his injury this week. But Rollins’ performance Thursday night jumped off the field and puts him strongly in the running. And though Casey Hayward and nickel back Micah Hyde remain the likely Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks, Rollins’ play Thursday night and Randall’s in camp to date have been good enough to suggest they can push for a bigger role if either of the veterans falters.
Rollins had three pass breakups, all against Boyce. On one fade-type throw he recovered at the last second and poked the ball out of Boyce’s grasp. On the next play Rollins nearly intercepted a slightly underthrown deep ball by Garoppolo. And on the third, Rollins’ body control and ball skill really stood out. Garoppolo tried to hit Boyce on another go route in the end zone for what would have been a 31-yard touchdown, but Rollins turned, found the ball, kept his balance while backpedaling and nearly caught that one too.
It’s the kind of play where many cornerbacks end up playing smaller than they are because they’re disoriented or off balance as they search for the ball. But Rollins looked like a natural while tracking the ball the while on the move.
He also had a big hit during that six-play sequence when he took out Patriots running back James White while breaking up a swing pass.
Gunter, the undrafted rookie who started shooting up the depth chart in offseason practices, didn’t make as many plays as Rollins, but he made the biggest one when he intercepted Garoppolo in the second quarter. On that play Gunter played physically against Boyce and basically overpowered him as the ball arrived.
So yeah, it’s just one preseason game. But Thursday night while playing against another team, the Packers looked like they have the makings for another deep group of cornerbacks despite the two personnel losses in the offseason. Even if the rookies are likely to take their share of lumps along the way, all three have shown the ability to play the ball, which is what that position is all about.
“We’re getting our hands on a lot of balls,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “You can see it in practice. As a secondary, it’s happening a lot more this year than in prior years. You can see it in the training camp practices and I thought it definitely carried over tonight.”
Here’s a quick look at how a few other young players fared in extended playing time Thursday night:
■ Outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott flashed again, just like he did last year in the preseason. He led the team with seven tackles, and had two good speed rushes that beat tackle Chris Barker – one for half a sack that he shared with Datone Jones, and the other for a pressure. Elliott also tackled White for a one-yard loss.
■ Andy Mulumba, who started at outside linebacker because Nick Perry and Mike Neal did not make the trip, had a sack on a play in which he lined up as an inside linebacker.
■ Inside linebacker Corey Bradford was overmatched playing in space in the first half when White caught a checkdown pass and juked him in the open field for a 17-yard gain. Bradford did have a sack on an inside blitz on a fourth-and-3 in the third quarter.
■ Receiver Myles White has made a strong bid for a job as the No. 5 or 6 receiver early in training camp but had two clear drops Thursday night.
Original story here
From Field Yates, ESPN Insider
~Aaron Rodgers — the best player in football — famously urged Green Bay Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X” following the team’s 1-2 start to begin 2014. The team had averaged just 18 points per game over that brief stretch, and the Green Bay faithful were growing impatient.
The team would go on to average 33.2 points per game in its next 13 contests, compiling an 11-2 record, with Rodgers securing his second league MVP trophy after posting season-long totals of 38 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Green Bay’s mindset — as articulated by Rodgers — wasn’t to abandon their plan and make sweeping changes. The team had a plan for success entering the season, and they were going to stick with it.
Fast forward to the offseason — on the heels of a crunching defeat in the NFC Championship Game to Seattle — and the Packers’ stick-to-the-plan approach is once again relevant.
In a league where patience seemingly grows thinner by the year and many teams aggressively pursue high-priced free agents to fill holes, the Packers’ plan of draft, develop and reinvest remains. Here’s how Green Bay has built a 2015 Super Bowl favorite and a contender that won’t go anywhere any time soon.
Keeping the band together…
Rather than overreacting to a heartbreaking finish, the Packers’ offseason was laced with little more than fine-tuning from a roster perspective. The team returns 21,184 snaps from the 2014 roster, the second highest total in the NFL behind only the Cincinnati Bengals. That number could’ve shrunk had the team not taken care of business before the NFL funny money started flying around in free agency, too. Within moments of the 2014-15 season coming to a close, Green Bay’s top roster priorities crystallized: retaining wide receiver Randall Cobb and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, both set to be free agents.
Both were re-signed (four years, $40 million for Cobb; five years, $35 million for Bulaga), and it didn’t even take the team using the franchise tag on either to accomplish it. The fact that Cobb and Bulaga both accepted deals before hitting the free-agent open market — which would have almost assuredly allowed them to fetch more money — also suggests that Green Bay has created an atmosphere that players want to be a part of.
…while not spending unwisely
When it comes to free agency, there’s only one appropriate term to describe the Packers: boring. Consider this: the Packers have not added a single player this offseason that played even one snap for another NFL team in 2014. Not one. Assuming that holds true, it will be the fourth time in six years that Green Bay’s Week 1 roster looked this way. And that’s by design. The Packers have just three players on their roster right now that have ever played for any other NFL team: outside linebacker Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Letroy Guion and fullback John Kuhn. Every other NFL team has at least 16 such players.
As should be expected, the Packers have also ranked exceedingly low across the NFL in terms of guaranteed money shelved out during the offseason over that same span (see chart).
|ESPN’s Roster Management system.|
This is not to say that spending less is always superior to spending big, but there’s plenty of empirical evidence that high-priced free agents can be fool’s gold. The Miami Dolphins were deemed “major” winners during the 2013 offseason after landing, among other players, wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned the same label after signing offensive tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson in 2014. All four players — be it via trade or release — changed addresses this offseason.
The truth is a team often knows their own players’ value better than teams that are pursuing them as a free agent. The Packers believe in their system of drafting, and because they’re good at it, they’re rarely forced to take risks on unknown commodities in the free-agent market.
As one NFL personnel man said: “They do have a great plan for drafting players that fit their vision/system. Look at their offensive line as a prime example. All of them have size, they are smart and tough and they play damn well together.”
A roster with talent
Having a plan is one thing, but a plan must be matched by results. It would be naïve to overlook the impact Rodgers has on the rest of the roster. Any operation runs smoother with him involved — the Packers have won 64 of the 87 regular season games he has started since 2010 — but it should also be noted that general manager Ted Thompson has surrounded Rodgers with an abundance of talent.
The offensive line is a cohesive group — David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga started 95 of 96 regular season games combined last year — the receiving corps is the best in football, and Eddie Lacy is a terrific all-around back. On defense, Clay Matthews has evolved into one of the game’s most feared players, while Peppers — a rare free-agent addition — looked rejuvenated last season. “At the end of the day they have as much talent as anybody, especially on offense,” said one personnel man. “And if they can bolster their secondary and play better on defense, they are my favorite [to win the Super Bowl],” while noting, “but you still have Seattle, Indianapolis and New England.”
By sticking with their plan, the Packers are set up to succeed — yet again — in 2015.
Original story here
From Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes
~The Green Bay Packers enter the 2015 season as Super Bowl favorites along with the Seattle Seahawks. The Pack have been one of the NFL’s most consistently, successful teams over the past two decades. They have had only two losing seasons in 23 years, while racking up 17 playoff appearances. The Packers are a cultural phenomenon with the NFL’s best fans, as 84% of adults in Green Bay identify themselves as Packers’ fans, according to market researchers Nielsen Scarborough. It looks like the rest of the country is clamoring for a piece of the Packers in 2015 as well.
The Packers are the biggest road draw in 2015, according to new data from secondary ticket marketplace Vivid Seats. Prices on the resale market are 68% higher on average when the Packers come to town with two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Packers top the Dallas Cowboys (52%), Pittsburgh Steelers (39%), Denver Broncos (38%) and New England Patriots (37%) when measuring impact on an opponent’s median ticket price.
The five teams above all made the playoffs last year and finished the regular season with a combined record of 59-16. They all rate among the top eight Super Bowl favorites going into this season. The Broncos (No.1), Packers (No. 3), Cowboys (No. 4) and Steelers (No. 5) rank among fan’s favorite football teams, according to a September 2014 poll from Harris Interactive (the New York Giants rank second). The Patriots finished No. 8. It makes sense that fans would pay up to see this elite cluster of teams.
But clocking in just behind this group is the Chicago Bears with a 26% positive impact on opponent’s ticket prices. The Bears have a new coach in John Fox, but still have the same flawed quarterback in Jay Cutler. The team is coming off of a 5-11 season with few expectations of contending this year (USA Today projects a 3-13 record and Bovada’s Super Bowl odds are 50-1). Credit the Bears’ rich history and large national fan base. The team rated as the ninth most popular with fans in the 2014 Harris Poll and rated third overall as recently as 2009.
The Super Bowl runner-up Seattle Seahawks (25%), Giants (11%), Philadelphia Eagles (11%) and Indianapolis Colts (9%) round out the top 10 teams that impact opponent’s ticket prices on the secondary market.
The Jacksonville Jaguars hold the distinction of the least desirable team in 2015 with ticket prices 25% below normal when the Jags are the opponent, according to Vivid. The Jaguars have a young team with few stars and fans are likely turned off by the team’s three wins per season on average over the past three years.
Other teams where ticket demand is weak when they are the opponent include: St. Louis Rams (-23%), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-22%), Houston Texans (-19%) and Tennessee Titans (-17%). The Bucs and Titans turned over the keys to their franchises to rookie quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but fans are not rushing out to see the top two overall picks in the 2015 NFL draft. The five teams with the weakest demand all ranked in the bottom six most popular NFL teams, according to Harris. Only the Texans at 9-7 had a winning record among these squads.
Original story here
By Wes Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~FOXBOROUGH, Mass.— Scott Tolzien showed Thursday night why the Green Bay Packers felt so comfortable letting Matt Flynn walk this offseason.
Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offense handled the first three series against New England Patriots in the Packers’ preseason opener, but Tolzien looked right at home once he supplanted the MVP quarterback in the second quarter of the eventual 22-11 victory.
Tolzien brought his efficiency in practice with him to Gillette Stadium. He commanded the no-huddle offense for four series, leading two touchdown-producing drives while completing 10-of-16 passes for 107 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to receiver Jeff Janis.
The Packers have invested two years into Tolzien’s development, but didn’t feel he was ready for the No. 2 role last season. With Flynn backing up Rodgers in 2014, the coaches tweaked Tolzien’s throwing motion and footwork.
Since re-signing on a one-year, $1.35 million deal in March, there’s been a noticeable difference in Tolzien’s decision-making and velocity. On Thursday night, it was time for Tolzien to translate his improvement to a game situation.
He responded with a 102.9 passer rating.
“You want to make it as seamless as possible,” said Tolzien of his transition. “Aaron is the MVP, so it’s hard to match what he does. But at the same time, I want to learn as much as I can from our coaches and there’s no better coach than Aaron, too. It’s a great teaching tool. I’m lucky to be in that situation.”
As many changes as Tolzien has made, the fifth-year quarterback has been impressive regardless in five preseason appearances with the Packers. Last summer, he didn’t commit a turnover and completed 38-of-56 passes for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
Tolzien continued to protect the ball against the Patriots, but not at the expense of big plays. The former Wisconsin standout’s finest moment came on a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive on the second-team offense’s second series.
Tolzien looked comfortable in the pocket and going through his reads, completing a critical 16-yard pass to tight end Justin Perillo on third-and-1. He later hit second-year receiver Jeff Janis in stride with a 26-yard touchdown pass over the coverage of Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan.
It was reminiscent of his recent performances in the two-minute periods in camp.
“Scott, it’s Scott’s natural progression for him (and) making plays,” said Rodgers, who completed 11-of-19 attempts for 117 yards. “He made a really good throw on fourth down to Jeff. Nice to see Scott being productive, as he should.”
While Tolzien is known for his work ethic, McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt knew there were certain aspects of the quarterback’s mechanics that needed fine-tuning from the moment he signed onto the team’s practice squad in September 2013.
There just wasn’t any time for refining after Rodgers (broken collarbone) and backup Seneca Wallace (groin) succumbed to injuries early that season. Tolzien moved the offense in three appearances, but also threw five interceptions.
Receiver Myles White has been in Green Bay the past two seasons and seen a definite change in Tolzien’s approach to the game. When both were on the practice squad, he’d spend hours catching passes from Tolzien in pre-game warmups.
His ability to put a touchdown pass to Janis on a dime isn’t surprising.
“I think Scott has done a great job,” White said. “You could see it tonight — he’s a great quarterback, great player, great leader. Really understands the offense and he grows every day. Everyone knows A-Rod is one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league. He’s got a great opportunity and a great situation for him.”
Tolzien gave way to rookie Brett Hundley after rookie running back Alonzo Harris plowed into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Despite some early struggles in camp, Hundley got into a rhythm during his third series after hitting rookie receiver Larry Pinkard on a 31-yard competition, the longest of the night by either team.
The fifth-round pick out of UCLA finished the eight-play, 61-yard series with a 10-yard pass to rookie running back John Crockett. Hundley immediately ran into the arms of Crockett and right tackle Fabbians Ebbele.
“It was just an awesome, awesome experience,” Hundley said. “I’ll always remember it.”
The Packers’ four quarterbacks, including UW-Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard, combined to complete 27-of-43 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns (98.5 passer rating).
“I just thought overall as an offense the depth showed at all positions,” Tolzien said. “It was fun to watch. These are the guys you see making plays in practice and it was cool to see those guys make plays under the lights tonight. I thought Brett did a really nice job.”
Tolzien tempers his excitement about his own performance. Like last year, he cautions that it’s “just a start” and that there’s still a lot of preseason football yet to be play. However, it’s a start Tolzien can build off, especially in the eyes of McCarthy.
The Packers took a risk in not re-signing Flynn, but Tolzien looks like he can handle the job.
“I thought the quarterbacks, the group played well,” McCarthy said. “Scott had the offense running at a very high tempo and did a really good job with the no-huddle mechanics and obviously he was productive. I thought Brett did some nice things. The touchdown throw was a nice play.”
Follow Wesley on Twitter @WesHod
Original article found here
From Nate Davis, USA Today
~The free agents have signed, the rookies have arrived, the suspensions have been doled out — and appealed to federal court — and now the NFL’s players are back to work with training camps open around the league. Now that each team’s circumstances are generally solidified, USA TODAY Sports projected the results of all 256 regular-season games to create one snapshot of how the 2015 season could play out before injuries, firings and Murphy’s Law take their toll.
Packers (12-4): They open on road against hated Bears before hosting Seahawks at home in NFC title game rematch. Two big games to wash bile from last season out of the collective palate while potentially mapping route to top seed.
Vikings (10-6): Highly motivated Adrian Peterson should take offense and second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater to new level, and potentially stacked defense looks ready to blossom. Schedule gets friendly after Week 5 bye.
Lions (7-9): Last year’s No. 1 run defense sees Adrian Peterson (twice), Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles in first half minus Ndamukong Suh. We’ll know then how badly franchise erred (or didn’t) by letting all-pro walk.
Bears (3-13): Defense will look almost entirely different in terms of personnel and scheme. They can only hope QB Jay Cutler looks entirely different from 2014 version under new coaching staff.
Eagles (10-6): Chip Kelly went 10-6 during his first two seasons, why not now? Really, this team’s range for success or failure seems extensive based on how QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, a new-look defense, etc. mesh.
Cowboys (8-8): First month could be telling minus suspended DE Greg Hardy and MLB Rolando McClain as D faces four potentially elite offenses (Giants, Eagles, Falcons, Saints) without DeMarco Murray eating the clock on its behalf.
Giants (6-10): How effective will DE Jason Pierre-Paul be after his accident? Can rookie T Ereck Flowers protect Eli Manning’s blind side? Can they establish run or even stop it? Lot to figure out no matter how well they chuck it.
Redskins (4-12): Much is riding on how quickly new defensive coordinator Joe Barry and O-line guru Bill Callahan whip their units into shape. Robert Griffin III’s future may be riding on it, especially against two scary fronts (Dolphins, Rams) to start.
Panthers (11-5): Cam Newton is healthy from a mind, body and bank account perspective. He and his formidable defense will also face just four playoff teams from last season.
Saints (10-6): They lost their final five games at Superdome in 2014 and still finished 7-9. Don’t expect that streak to continue, especially with a favorable schedule and, theoretically, improved run game and D.
Falcons (4-12): New coach Dan Quinn is probably a long way from accruing the talent and personnel that fit the defensive scheme and philosophy he honed in Seattle. It could be a rough start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Jameis Winston could begin 1-0 by beating fellow Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in opener. But Bucs play four of next six on road before hitting teeth of their schedule.
Seahawks (12-4): Open with pair of tough roadies (Rams, Packers) and play three of final five away from comfy CenturyLink Field, so need to make hay in the middle. Week 2 game at Green Bay could determine NFC’s home field.
Rams (10-6): Catch potentially battered Seahawks in opener and may not get full dose of Le’Veon Bell in his Week 3 debut. After Oct. 11 game at Lambeau Field, Rams leave St. Louis once in subsequent five weeks, good time for Nick Foles to find groove.
Cardinals (9-7): Three 1 p.m. ET kickoffs aren’t good news for a team that’s historically struggled on East Coast. But healthy Cards should be in the mix provided new-look defense clicks without Todd Bowles.
49ers (5-11): A schedule that includes the AFC North and NFC North doesn’t look particularly forgiving to a team that lost so many key vets to retirement and is adjusting to regime change as well.
Patriots (11-5): Remember, they started 2-2 last year with Tom Brady (plus Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork and Shane Vereen) in the lineup. Whether Brady plays out of the chute or not, rest of AFC East appeared to close on Pats this offseason.
Bills (10-6): They just missed snapping 15-year playoff drought last year. Are Rex Ryan, LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin — plus still-loaded defense — enough to get them back into January?
Dolphins (10-6): They won’t see a playoff team from last year until Week 8, and only two before December. Plenty of time for the Ryan Tannehill-led offense to crest and the Ndamukong Suh-led D to crystallize.
Jets (7-9): Unless QB Geno Smith does an about face, they still look like the division’s weak link. But a defense revitalized by CB Darrelle Revis could be special under new coach Todd Bowles. Overall talent is vastly improved.
Ravens (10-6): Having four offensive coordinators in four seasons (Marc Trestman is the latest) isn’t ideal. But aside from receivers, there’s plenty of continuity throughout lineup. Opening with five of seven on road a major hurdle.
Bengals (9-7): Per usual, they have look of solid outfit not necessarily built for a deep playoff run. Navigating NFC West-laden schedule could even leave them short of another one-and-done postseason.
Steelers (8-8): Defense is undergoing a huge transition and seeking new leaders. Meanwhile, last year’s second-ranked offense won’t have all-pro RB Le’Veon Bell for first two weeks, making league’s toughest schedule more difficult to survive.
Browns (5-11): Soft September opening includes Jets, Titans and Raiders. Only team they’ll see rest of way with a sub-.500 2014 record is the always competitive Rams. Guess here is that Johnny Manziel will get extended tryout by midseason.
Colts (13-3): It seems they’ll again benefit from playing in the league’s weakest division. And if their incremental pattern of success under coach Chuck Pagano and QB Andrew Luck holds, they’ll reach Super Bowl 50.
Texans (6-10): Quarterback aside, they looked fairly formidable elsewhere — until Arian Foster was injured. No matter how good the defense is, and Jadeveon Clowney could take it to new level, offense doesn’t seem capable of holding up its end now if Foster is out for long stretch.
Jaguars (6-10): The core of young talent has quickly improved, and this team plays hard for coach Gus Bradley — whose job may be on the line without a spike in the win column.
Titans (4-12): Let’s have some patience with Marcus Mariota, who inherits a last-place schedule that still features trips to New Orleans and the AFC East gauntlet.
Broncos (10-6): Peyton Manning must learn foreign scheme in what could be his final dance — and he may have to dance frequently behind patchwork O-line. But don’t sleep on a defense that just may carry this team for stretches.
Chargers (9-7): They must deal with three 1 p.m. ET kickoffs … though perhaps being far removed from the siren call of Los Angeles and the inherent rumor mill will help. Rookie RB Melvin Gordon could have dramatic impact.
Chiefs (8-8): With RB Jamaal Charles and OLB Justin Houston, they have a bona fide superstar on each side of the ball. But will either get enough help to make playoff return? O-line’s ability to coalesce may be the key.
Raiders (5-11): The L.A. conundrum also hangs over this franchise. But the foundation is quickly improving, and new coach Jack Del Rio worked some miracles under similar circumstances in Jacksonville.
Wild card: (3) Broncos def. (6) Dolphins; (4) Ravens def. (5) Bills
Divisional: (2) Patriots def. (3) Broncos; (1) Colts def. (4) Ravens
AFC Championship Game: (1) Colts def. (2) Patriots
Wild card: (6) Rams def. (3) Panthers, (5) Vikings def. (4) Eagles
Divisional: (1) Packers def. (6) Rams; (2) Seahawks def. (5) Vikings
NFC Championship Game: (1) Packers def. (2) Seahawks
Super Bowl 50: Packers def. Colts
Original story here minus the photos, color, and GIFs