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Tag:Greg Jennings
Posted on: October 9, 2011 9:44 pm
 

Cilfton hurts hamstring; return is doubtful

C. Clifton had to leave the Atlanta game with an injured hamstring (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With Bryan Bulaga (sprained and bruised knee) already not in uniform at right tackle for the Packers, Green Bay couldn’t afford to lose any other starting offensive lineman. But with the Packers already down two touchdowns midway through the second quarter, left tackle Chad Clifton hurt his hamstring and his return to the game is doubtful.

Clifton appeared to get his feet tangled with left guard T.J. Lang while the two were blocking Atlanta defenders. Clifton’s leg appeared to buckle slightly after he contacted Lang, and he immediately fell to the turf. He had to be helped off the field by Green Bay trainers, and he was carted off to the locker room.

Without Clifton, Marshall Newhouse -- who had replaced Bulaga at right tackle -- moved to left tackle, and rookie Derek Sherrod, who had been working out as the backup left guard, took Newhouse’s place on the line.

Although Aaron Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings on a 39-yard pass to the Atlanta 4-yard line, Rodgers was sacked twice and Green Bay had to settle for a field goal. Considering the Falcons only had accumulated five sacks entering the game -- which ranked worse than everybody but the Bills -- that’s not a good sign for the rest of this contest.

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Posted on: October 8, 2011 4:06 pm
 

Favre 'surprised' by reaction to Rodgers comments

Posted by Will Brinson



Last week, retired Packers legend Brett Favre said he was surprised that it took current Packers legend Aaron Rodgers "so long" to win a Super Bowl, because of all the talent on Green Bay's roster.

This did not go over well -- current teammates of Rodgers' lept to his defense, and most of the media chastised Favre for refusing to fade quietly away from the spotlight.

Favre, for his part, now says he's "surprised" at the reaction that his comments caused.

"Nothing, for the most part, surprises me anymore," Favre told USA Today's Jon Saraceno. "But I have to admit [the reaction to] this one surprised me."

This is somewhat understandable, given that Favre did have lots of nice things to say about Rodgers and the as-currently-constructed Packers roster.

"It is very [infrequent] when I do interviews," Favre said. "I was very gracious and complimentary of the Packers and Aaron Rodgers."

Again, this is true. However, Favre left the door open for criticism with the way he phrased his words. Had he said, "I knew that Rodgers would win one sooner or later," we wouldn't be talking about this.

But Favre didn't do that. He used the phrase "fell into a good situation" to describe where Rodgers ended up, which is the very definition of a backhanded compliment, especially when, to paraphrase Packers wideout Greg Jennings, Favre couldn't win a Super Bowl with the same roster.
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Posted on: October 6, 2011 9:52 am
 

Jennings: 'We didn't go all the way with Brett'

Posted by Will Brinson



Brett Favre refuses to let it go, doesn't he? The ol' gunslinger recently appeared on an Atlanta radio station and said he was surprised it took Aaron Rodgers 'so long' to win a Super Bowl, given all the talent on the Packers.

This went over terribly; the only defense for Favre's comments were "misconstrued, maybe?" and "backhanded compliment." Neither of those are good excuses. Greg Jennings, who played with both Rodgers and Favre, has a better answer -- Favre just "won't give it all up" (read: admit Rodgers is better) to A-Rodge.

"When you first hear it, you're kind of like, 'What?' " Jennings said Wednesday on the NFL Network. "But knowing Brett, knowing the competitive guy he is, he's never going to really give it all up to Aaron. I don't think he should, because I don't think Aaron would give it up to him, trust me."

"We played with Brett, we had success with Brett, we didn't go all the way with Brett, but we did with Aaron, so I think that that kind of speaks for itself."

Boom -- Jennings just pulled off, as they say in France, "le burn" on Mr. Favre. And there's really no arguing about it -- Favre had a similar (albeit younger) team when he was last playing with the Packers and they didn't win the title.

Rodgers did, making this whole argument moot. It is understandable, though, that Favre wouldn't want to admit that Rodgers is the better Packers quarterback, mainly because it would tarnish his legacy more than ... well, OK, not more than some of the stuff he did, but it would still diminish his role in Green Bay's football success.

Rodgers, for his part, wouldn't take the bait, giving it all up to the team when asked about Favre's comments on Tuesday.

"You know what? Again, I'm just going to say I was really proud of our team," Rodgers told Jason Wilde on ESPN Milwaukee. "It takes 53 guys to win a championship. We had the right recipe last year, and we're trying to do that same thing this season."

And that right there is the main difference between a guy who's supposed to be mowing a farm on a tractor, and a guy who's in the middle of an undefeated season. Clay Matthews recently said that Favre's comments will likely motivate Rodgers, and I imagine he's correct.

But you won't hear Rodgers mention it until -- and probably only if -- he ends up holding the Lombardi Trophy again at the end of the season.

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Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:47 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 3

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Podcast is coming tomorrow -- this week's edition of SSP is brought to you in tardy fashion by the Ford Fusion that hauled your writer home at 3:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Group exercises are, for the most part, ridiculous. I trust you! You trust me! How groundbreaking.  

But play along for 30 seconds and repeat after me: "the Bills and Lions are undefeated."

Haha, but no seriously. This is happening. The idea that bad NFL teams become good and the idea that good NFL teams become bad isn't shocking. It shouldn't be. It won't ever be absolutely mind-blowing, because this is what happens in today's NFL -- some teams get good, some teams get bad and some teams just happen to become the first team in NFL history to mount consecutive comebacks of 18 or more points.

Parity is what drives this league. No one doubts that, no one thinks that's weird, and no one should. There'll be some regression to the mean, and it'll probably happen to the really good teams who are only really good through a few weeks. When it does, please don't act like it's any weirder than what went down in a b-a-n-a-n-a-s Week 3 of NFL action.

1. Young guns
Two of the top three passers from Sunday's action -- Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford -- are excellent examples of the young crop of quarterbacks that are blossoming early in 2011.

Questions surrounded both Flacco (Can he beat the Steelers?) and Stafford (Can he stay healthy?) and, three weeks into the year, they're answering their critics. Flacco struggled against the Titans in Week 2, but the Ravens did a fantastic job of bouncing back from a subpar Week 2 to point out to everyone that they're elite.

I watched the games Sunday with my NBA counterpart, Matt Moore (yes, the link's ironic, thanks, I know), and at halftime of the Vikings early beatdown of Detroit, he pointed out that the Lions bandwagon was derailing.

He was correct at the time, but the Lions stormed back on the strength of Stafford's arm, winning in overtime to move to a surprising 3-0.

If Stafford stays healthy and Flacco keeps developing like he has thus far this year, we're going to be re-ordering the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and both these guys will be joining the upper echelon sooner, rather than later.

Look, the list of truly "elite" quarterbacks will continue to feature the names you know: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are also there, but we're seeing a new "generation" of quarterbacks starting to come into their own, as guys like Flacco, Stafford and other recently-drafted quarterbacks really start to generate some press.

And it's happening in a year when passing attacks are at an all-time high, which is only going to make the game better.

2. What do you know about pressure, Tom?

There's an ample number of awesome young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but two very familiar names -- Brady and Brees -- are tops in the league when it comes to passing. Brady in particular is lobbing up some pretty ridiculous numbers right now; he leads the league in passing yards with 1,327, the most by a quarterback through three weeks in NFL history.

Only 22 people in the history of football have thrown for more than 4,500 yards in a single NFL season. 14 of those have happened in the past 10 years. (As we've noted, it's a passing league.)

So can Brady break Marino's record? Well, yes, he most certainly can. Remember that Marino, during his record-setting season, didn't surpass 400 passing yards in a single game until Week 5.

He's on pace for a stupid 7,077 yards for the season, although we have to assume he'll regress off that pace a little bit.

Just for fun, though, let's imagine Brady completes his schedule by passing for the exact same number of yards that his remaining opponents have allowed per game through three weeks. (Yes, there are several problems with this calculation, but just play along.)

Based on the remaining 13 games and the teams' respective yards per game allowed via the pass, Brady would pile up another 3,072 yards, which would give him a total of 4,399 yards for the season.

Conversely, Brady "only" needs to average another 289 yards per game to match Marino's record from 1984. That's not easy, per se, but it's certainly possible. And given how badly New England's own pass defense has been this season -- they're dead last in yards allowed -- it may be required too.

3. Hit the Snooze Button

Look, this is a world where Eli Manning is criminally undervalued -- the man referred to himself as "elite," tried to prop up his game, and everyone wanted to trot him out to the guillotine. No big deal though, you guys, because Eli doesn't need to show up and throw beautiful passes to Brandon Jacobs for 40-yard touchdowns. (Pardon the interruption, but FTC rules require that I write "OH GOD" in big letters again at this juncture so you'll be aware that the Apocalypse is coming soon to a city near you, by the way.)

The Giants are, somehow, not terrible. And while I might be [metaphorically] drunk on Tom Coughlin's team having watched them play in a Giants bar, it's pretty damn hard not to be impressed with what they've done this year. Last week's win over St. Louis was the single-worst blowout victory I've ever witnessed and, no, that is not a compliment.

This Sunday was an entirely different ballgame. Despite the face that actually fielding a defensive roster should be an impossibility, the Giants showed up to Philadelphia, generated a ton of pressure on Michael Vick, and barnstormed their hated division rival en route to a win that gives the NFC East more of a jostle than a trip to Sterling Archer's tumbler.

Let's move past the Giants, though, because they're the same thing that we knew they were, we just undervalued the properties they own. The Eagles are in much worse trouble than New York, simply because everyone assumed that if you have a really talented but sometimes injured quarterback and combine him with a marquee-worthy defense that secretly sucks up the middle, you don't have to worry about the rest of your problems.

Then the season happened, and the Eagles, as it turns out, have a terrible offensive line and a pretty bad combination of linebackers and safeties. Vince Young's belief that this is the "Dream Team" was fun to mock in the offseason, but it's downright comical at this stage.

Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha drew the headlines in the offseason, and DeSean Jackson plus LeSean McCoy make any team a viable threat to win any week just based on offensive explosiveness. But just like the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason signings might have masked some serious positional-skill issues that will only become more exacerbated when depth starts creeping in.



4. A Hue-gh Win
The only way that the weird scene of a rookie Raiders coach dominating a third-year, Super Bowl-guaranteeing guy is if, well, the Raiders won. And they did. And people predicted it -- this actually happened. The absolutely weirdest thing is that it somehow managed to go Hue Jackson's way, as opposed to Rex Ryan's.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and in classic New York-style, Derek Jeter-fashion and the Jets shortened the lead to seven points. It had all the stink of a Ryan win, which is, frankly, a compliment. You can't lose well in the NFL -- just ask Cam Newton! -- and people will question your every move. But if you win and you're not that good at it, it's OK.

Jackson's got Oakland doing some fun, funky things on offense right now, as if Darren McFadden's pump-faking a throw nine yards in front of the line of scrimmage while running an option end-around of sorts doesn't make that obvious.

He's an aggressive attacker, and can do creative things with all the speed that the Raiders have drafted in recent years, but Jackson also knows that using Oakland's physicality and letting McFadden do what McFadden does best -- pile up yardage by the ton -- is how Oakland can remain a viable playoff contender all season long.

5. Ponder This
Are the Vikings that bad or are the Lions that good? The answer is likely the second one, but the Vikings aren't that bad, and it's not fair to say that just because they choked away a trio of halftime leads.

Here's the thing that people will miss -- the Vikings are a not good team in the middle of a rebuilding project they don't know about.

There are problems with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is an epic talent somehow surrounded by an aging cast parading as a group of guys that are, in the NFL environment, "making a last run." The truth of the matter is that Peterson is the definition of sublime when it comes to running backs, and the rest of the Vikings just aren't that good.

On the bright side, at least they didn't do the double disservice of trading up for a quarterback AND trading further picks for a veteran who is, despite his reputation, quite clearly a one-year rental.

Which is where things get problematic -- I asked Rich Gannon last week if he thought the success of Newton and Dalton cranked up the pressure on teams like the Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder this past year, to play their rookie.

"I don't think so," Gannon said. "I don't think the plan in Minnesota will change unless they continue to lose and all of a sudden that whole process will be expedited. I think there's more pressure now, certainly moreso now than there was 10 years ago to develop that position and have a guy play right away and be successful. Days of what they did even with Aaron Rodgers, I don't know if we're going to see as much as that. I think they're paying these guys so much money that it's like, let's get these guys on the field.

"The problem is they're not always ready to play."

And that might be the case with Ponder in Minnesota, especially if he looks as overwhelmed as he did during the preseason. On the other hand, if Ponder steps in and looks even remotely good after/if this season's lost for Minnesota, it'll do wonders for the scrutiny on Leslie Frazier.

6. What about the Packers?
Detroit won, so we shouldn't discount them for the sake of chatting about the Vikings. But the real NFC North story is the Packers, who dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning by double digits against their biggest rival for the first time in three years.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, all to Jermichael Finley, and this is precisely why everyone should be very scared of Green Bay again in 2011.

Finley is an absolute terror who is nearly impossible to defend near the goal line and, really, anywhere else on the field. The Packers won the Super Bowl without him, of course, and if he's healthy this year, Green Bay's offense is only going to be more difficult to defend than it was in 2010.

What's interesting is how Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have done a fantastic job of making sure that Greg Jennings and the other wide receivers stay incorporated, though Finley's obviously a much bigger part of the passing game than he was last year.

Jenning really struggled early on in 2010 and only blew up after Finley went down (and after he'd made mention he wasn't thrilled with how many targets he was getting). The transition to the 2011 version of the offense featuring Finley's been much more seamless, and that's reason to fear the Packers again this season.

They're the defending Super Bowl champion and arguably the best team in the NFL right now, and yet, why aren't we talking about them much?

7. Not running away from anyone now
There's very little sympathy for Kenny Britt around the NFL. Dude racked up more tickets this summer than "my friend" at college piled up.

Aside from that clown's reputation, it's important to note that when stupid people do stupid things a stupid amount of time, we take notice. Britt drew tons of attention this summer for his off-field antics, and he should have. Somehow he skated out of a suspension, but karma appears to rolled his way, as he'll likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

Britt shredded his knee on a screen pass, fumbled the ball, and carted off the field in a Week 3 win against the Broncos.

The worst part about this saga is that Britt somehow had the "Dwayne Bowe circa 2010" look about him, making plays, looking like a top NFL wide receiver, and generally wrecking the same havoc on the NFL that he wrecked on the legal system this summer.

Without him, the Titans offensive gameplan is an entirely different ballgame, especially considering that the corpse of Chris Johnson can't do a whole lot without providing more than three yards a carry. Look, Matt Hasslebeck deserves tons of praise for doing what he's done with what he's had to do while, um, doing what he do.

That being said, this is a Titans team that's begging to lose it's offensive identity in 2011. The biggest curiosity they face isn't so much "how the hell are the 2-1?" so much as it's "how they hell are they scoring points at a pace to make them less terrible than the Chiefs?"

Between the two questions, one is substantially better, and one question -- hint: it's about Kansas City -- is one you don't want everyone asking about your team. Yet Tennessee continues to survive. Maybe that's the way Mike Munchak's regime will win, and that's fine.

But expecting an exact repeat of Jeff Fisher's reign just because Munchak worked for Fisher but didn't necessarily retain all the offensive firepower seems like a stretch.

8. The Camwagon
As you probably know by now, when the word "Cam" gets dropped, it's time for some bragging. Well kudos first go to me for predicting that Cam Newton wouldn't have the monster game everyone expected when he beat -- yes, Cam won! -- the Jaguars on Sunday.

Before you strain your elbow giving some much-deserved pats, though, you should know that I have a weather app on my iPhone.

Speaking of weather, if someone tells you that Newton won a game, make sure you point out that he did it in the most terrible fashion ever. The Panthers might have come out victorious, sure, but did he throw for 400 yards? And was there a double rainbow? No sir there was not.

Ergo, the only answer is that Cam is absolutely terrible at controlling the weather and therefore not a winner. This is actually a thing that someone at your office will probably try and say.

Here's the truth though: Newton was really bad on Sunday, horribly inaccurate with his passes and very much looking like a rookie. The Panthers won 16-10, but they should have won 60-10, even with the weather. Blaine Gabbert, in his first career start, gifted Carolina a safety in his first career drive, and the Panthers somehow never managed to capitalize the opportunity.

Then all of a sudden there was a monsoon in Charlotte, the exhibition matchup became a legitimate great game and Newton was in danger of "not being able to step up." Or something. Everyone will find an excuse. Know this, though -- the Jaguars are a sneakily decent-sounding 1-2 and they're a terrible team. This is despite the career-high 185 yards (through the first two weeks anyway) that Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled.

Another nice day from MJD and a start from Gabbert masked what should have been one really team blowing out another much worse team. Jack Del Rio, this last sentence is for you, sir.

9. Just Wing It
Enjoy saying this now, because there's a strong chance you'll never say it again: "The Bills nearly left too much time on the clock when they scored." Fred Jackson streaked for the end zone to put Buffalo up a touchdown (Again! Against the Patriots!) and give Tom Brady a shot at what Tom Brady does.
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Instead, instant replay ruled Jackson down, the Bills got the ball just shy of the Patriots end zone, and were able to melt the clock down before kicking a game-winning field goal. The really wonked out thing here is that the scoring replay change was perfect for Buffalo.

We've watched enough football to know what happens if you hand this Brady character the pigskin with two minutes remaining and down a few points, right? Watching Brady eviscerate a pass defense en route to a comeback win is still exciting and thrilling and something everyone should do before they die, but it's borderline cliche.

Instead, the Bills flipped the narrative on us, won the damn game and are the leaders at the two-thirds of one-quarter mile-marker for the 2011 NFL season in an AFC East division that didn't have a single bit of prediction promiscuity at the top.

Yes it is early and yes we've seen the Bills storm out of the gates hot before, but there's something afloat in Buffalo's water these days and it's not Spalding's Baby Ruth bar.

10. Houston, We Have … No I'm Sorry I Can't Make That Joke
While we're taking a magical ride on the jump to conclusions mat, let's go ahead and assume that the Texans are terrible at defense and that they are much closer to the 2010 abomination we know, understand, love and play fantasy people against than they are the 2011 would-be division winners.

Except that's silly.

It's not silly to point out that there are a lot of teams who cannot "stop the pass" -- quotations are necessary here because in case you're not reading this regularly, the NFL woke up and decided to chunk the ball down the field with collective regularity.

Arian Foster missing is not the problem, of course. It's still defense for Houston, who appeared on the verge of justifying the Wade Phillips 3-4 hype before coughing up 40 points to New Orleans. But before we freak out and judge this team let's again remember that it's Week 3, again remember that this is Drew Brees commanding a very efficient and very dangerous offense, and let's, most importantly, remind ourselves that it's a baby-stepping process.

Houston wasn't becoming an elite defense overnight, and much less so in a lockout-shortened season. Losing to the Saints is tough, but they're still taking this division, and once they're playing against rookie quarterbacks, it will probably be on the strength of their offseason signings on defense.

While we're here, and because it's too important for muffed punts, Darren Sproles is the most important offensive signing of 2011's free agency. Yeah, I'm doing the knee-jerk thing, but this guy is making a difference in the Reggie Bush role for Sean Payton's offense.

The awkward thing is that he's just flat-out better than Bush at every facet of the game. That's not to rip Reggie, who probably needed to move on anyway, but it's an important reminder that sometimes it's not signings with the big, bold lights that really make the difference once people start playing football.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"After 9 days,I let the horse run free..cause the desert had turned 2 sea"

Irsay's referencing "Horse With No Name" by the band America. Except he decided to do so a day after refuting his own statement that Peyton Manning wasn't playing this season.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
- A Fox Sports bar in the Charlotte airport made the decision Sunday night to shut off their televisions because a bunch of airport patrons were crowded around the outskirts of the restaurant, watching the Colts-Steelers game. It was the most obstinate, pig-headed display of customer service I've ever seen.
- If you go to New York City and need a good spot to watch some football, the Cornerstone Tavern in Manhattan is pretty freaking fantastic. Good food, nice beer selection and tons of televisions. Also, it's like the unofficial place for Florida Gators to go, so there's that.
- Alex Henery has been a bright spot for the Eagles, by the way. Kid comes in as a rookie, replacing a legend like David Akers, and is producing on some crucial kicks.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
So here's something fun -- Sportsbook.com has odds for the first NFL coach to be fired. We'll include them in parentheticals.
  • Tony Sparano (-120): Sparano's 0-3, the Dolphins can't seem to score and Chad Henne isn't progressing as we thought he might after the first week. Losses at the Chargers and the Jets over the next three weeks make him the favorite to get canned first.
  • Todd Haley (+180): A decent effort against the Chargers on Sunday at least should give Haley a bit of comfort that he can hold onto his job. Plus injuries are a nice excuse.
  • Jack Del Rio (+350): Speaking of nice excuses, the weather in Charlotte on Sunday really helped out Del Rio, because it gave the Jaguars a chance to win against the Panthers. Jacksonville recovered five (!) fumbles and still couldn't pull out a win.
  • Leslie Frazier (+400): Yeah, I was as surprised as you to see him here and I'm only including him because Sportsbook did. Oh, right, and because the Vikings have been outscored like 6,456 to six in the second half so far this season.
  • Jim Caldwell (+1000): It's hard to imagine the Colts canning Caldwell if he continues to keep games close, having lost Peyton Manning. There's  no reason for a midseason firing unless there's a particularly viable candidate out there.
  • Random note: It's just crazy that Tom Coughlin was in this spot less than seven days ago. Oh NFL, you're so nuts.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
Dolphins (1/2): They're almost assuredly going to be 0-5 through six weeks. That should be good for morale.
Chiefs (3/1): Somehow they've already played the easy portion of their schedule!
Colts (2/5): What to watch here is whether or not Indy thinks Peyton Manning can play more than two or three years.

MVP Watch
I'm sticking with my boy Matthew Stafford for now -- hard to argue with him considering the Lions are undefeated, he's second in the league in passing touchdowns (nine), fifth in passing yards and has only thrown two picks. Obviously Tom Brady's a good choice but if the season ended today, he'd get the Offensive Player of the Year award and Stafford would get my nod for MVP. Aaron Rodgers is certainly in the conversation as well.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:34 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:09 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Packers vs. Saints

Posted by Will Brinson



Eye on Football's patented 7-Point Preview will get you prepped for some of the biggest games of the 2011 NFL season. Don't forget to check out our podcast preview below and Subscribe to the Pick-Six Podcast on iTunes.


1. Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (0-0)
The NFL is back. (!) And what a way to kick things off, huh? The last two Super Bowl winners square off at one of the sport's greatest venues, Lambeau Field, in primetime on a Thursday following a turmoil-filled lockout that eventually led to one of the craziest offseasons and most anticipated regular seasons in recent NFL history.

It's also the first time that two Super Bowl MVPs -- Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- will face off against each other on the NFL's opening weekend since 1993 -- when Troy Aikman and Mark Rypien, of the Cowboys and Redskins, respectively -- went head-to-head.

And presumably the first time that Kid Rock has been within 100 yards of whoever the people are that form Maroon 5. Of course, these bands apparently impressed Packers wideout Greg Jennings, who referred to this game as a "mini-Super Bowl." Mr. Rodgers would like to disagree, sir.

"It's a similar feel to a big game, a playoff game," Rodgers said. "I don't want to say the Super Bowl. There's a big atmosphere outside the stadium. But the only thing that matters is taking care of business on the field."

Winners of Super Bowl XLV last season, the Packers have pretty good historical odds on their side in terms of this opening game. The previous 45 Super Bowl winners are 37-7-1 in their season opener the following year, and 10-0 in the last decade when it comes to showing up early and often the next year.

But then again, the last ten Super Bowl winners probably weren't chugging beer cheese in the offseason, and everyone knows how nasty a hangover that creates.

Of course, that's all the past. We're talking about the future now, and both these teams should be wearing shades. Thanks to the roster-building skils of Ted Thompson, the Packers are arguably the biggest favorite to win the Super Bowl again in 2011 and, honestly, look like team with dynasty stamped all over it.

The Saints had a "down" year in 2010, but are clearly motivated by their embarrassing wild-card loss to Seattle last year and certainly have the personnel and the talent to get back to February.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
Well, Vegas unsurprisingly has this game as a high-scoring affair, as the over/under is set at 47.5. That's the highest point total of the entire first weekend, which is interesting because it just occurred to me that the lockout will probably cause suppressed over/unders to start the season. And 47.5 is unsurprising because the lockout has people so jacked for football that their willing to throw piles of money on touchdowns.

The Packers are a (relatively) heavy favorite at -4.5. None of our NFL experts picks went towards New Orleans straight-up, and only Clark Judge and I selected the Saints against the spread. I don't want to say that Clark and I came out firing last year and you should bet on the Saints, but Clark and I came out firing last year. You should bet on the Saints.

Unfortunately, there are no stats on-hand to say "hey, the Packers and Saints can really throw the ball well" just quite yet. At least not for this season anyway. But, it's quite interesting that the Saints and Packers are very close in Football Outsiders' projections for the 2011 season. Green Bay's defensive DVOA is nearly elite (like, almost top-six) and a very stout good offense (like, almost top-10).

New Orleans doesn't project to having a particularly impressive defense, but their offensive DVOA is elite, ranking in the top-five.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
With that nerdiness in mind, perhaps the best matchup to pick is Aaron Rodgers vs. Greg Williams. Look, Rodgers may not like fancy GQ photospreads, but he's a very talented quarterback who, as Ryan and I mentioned above, has gotten very good at moving quickly through his progressions. Add in his athleticism and unbelievable arm and, yeah, he's very good at football and very difficult to contain.

That's where Williams -- a fiery fella in his own right -- comes in. If you want to beat Rodgers, you have to put him on the ground. And if you want to put Rodgers on the ground, you have to blitz him, unless you can generate enough pass rush from your defensive line to get through Green Bay's offensive front. (Good luck with that.)

"The one thing about Aaron Rodgers that’s most impressive is that he was the best quarterback last year against the blitz and the pressure," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He gets the ball out of his hand quick, so we've got to find ways to create some things."

Given that defensive end Will Smith is suspended for this game, there's an even bigger onus on Williams to generate pressure on Rodgers from somewhere other than straight-up defensive fronts.

If he can put Rodgers on his butt early, the Saints will be able to scale this thing back from a full-on shoot-out. If not, we could see a lot of Packers players doing their best Michael Jackson impersonations into the end zone.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
This is the first time in Thursday night Kickoff Weekend history that the past two defending Super Bowl winners are playing to open up the season and, frankly, I love it. Of course it doesn't really hurt that it's the Saints and Packers, which should provide fireworks on both sides of the ball. To honor their recent success, as well as Freddie Mercury's recent would-have-been birthday, why don't we bring back some Queen to our previews?



5. The Packers will win if ...
Rodgers can stay on his feet. The lasting reminder of Rodgers, for anyone who watched the 2010 playoffs, is that he's untouchable. And his mobility does make it hard to bring him down. But if you'll recall, Rodgers and the Packers looked like they were going to miss the playoffs when the quarterback had to sit out against New England -- a game Green Bay nearly won with Matt Flynn under center -- last year, so it's not unheard of for Rodgers to get knocked around a bit.

If he can stay on his feet and remain untouched during most of Thursday night's game, though, he'll end up finding Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and James Jones and Jordy Nelson plenty of times, and probably end up giving Williams a new highlight reel to show his defense.

6. The Saints will win if ...
They can establish the run and keep Green Bay's talented linebackers from attacking too much. It's something that's doable -- the Packers ranked just 24th in the NFL in rush defense in 2010. But despite the stereotype that the Saints are a passing team, they truly found success (and a Super Bowl victory) in 2009 by running the ball extremely well, as they finished sixth in the NFL with 131.6 yards per game on the ground.

That dipped off tremendously last year, which is precisely why they jumped up in the draft to grab Mark Ingram. If he, starter Pierre Thomas and the speedy Darren Sproles can generate a substantial ground attack, the Saints have a very good shot at prevailing.

"There’ll be plenty of touches not only for Pierre, but for Mark and Darren," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And it’s our job to mix those up and also to let the running back get comfortable and get in a rhythm when he's in the game."

That (those?) comfort zone(s) will be key for a potential Saints win.

7. Prediction: Packers 24, Saints 21

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Posted on: March 13, 2011 12:21 pm
 

Edgar Bennett now Green Bay's receivers coach

Posted by Andy Benoit
E. Bennett (US Presswire)
Lost in Green Bay amidst the noise from the Super Bowl XLV euphoria and news about contract extensions for head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson is the story about the changes to the Packers coaching staff.

The story is that there weren’t many stories. The only assistant to leave town was wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who took the receiver coach position in Dallas. Maintaining virtually an entire Super Bowl winning coaching staff is extremely rare.

Worth noting is the man the Packers tapped to fill the receiver coach position: Edgar Bennett. The same Edgar Bennett who ran the ball for the Packers from ’92-’97. Bennett has been on the coaching staff since 2005, but as a running backs coach. How does a former running back and five-year running back coach suddenly become in charge of wide receivers?

“I think we can (listen to a former running back). We’re a coachable group,” wideout James Jones told Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. I know Edgar is going to push us to the max. He’s a great coach. I’m sure he’ll get a lot of knowledge from a lot of receiver coaches, so he’ll be well prepared to coach us during the season.”

Donald Driver is equally optimistic.

“Crazy part is when I came here, E.B. was in Chicago. That just shows how much of a relationship we’ve had with one another,” Driver said. “We have also talked and let each other know exactly what we feel. I know he’s going to bring something better to us and we’re going to get  better as a group.”

The key factor here is that the Packers already have a cohesive veteran group of receivers. Driver, Jones, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have worked together in the same offense for several years. Driver has 13 seasons under his belt; Jennings has five, Jones four and Nelson three.

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Posted on: February 7, 2011 12:41 am
Edited on: February 7, 2011 12:43 am
 

Packers WRs fight back after drops (VIDEO)

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

DALLAS – The drops were beginning to frustrate Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, and they were really beginning to annoy WR Greg Jennings.

Over and over again, Green Bay’s receivers dropped very makeable catches from Rodgers, stalling drives and killing momentum. Jordy Nelson (nine catches, 140 yards, one touchdown) had a fantastic night, but he dropped a few. James Jones (five catches, 50 yards) recovered pretty well, but he flubbed a potential touchdown catch. Brett Swain blew one as well that bounced off his hands and his legs before it hurt the turf.

Jennings wanted to say something, but he knew he couldn’t harp on the negative – on the, “What the hell are you guys doing out there” aspect. Still, receivers coach Jimmy Robinson urged his No. 1 guy to say something, especially with team leader Donald Driver out for the game.

“As one of the head guys, you understand that guys sometimes have to pull themselves out of the hole,” Jennings said. “When you have a drop, you have to be able to bounce back. All I said was, ‘We have to be great. Period. We have to be great. We can’t afford to have that in a game of this magnitude.’ The guys responded and we made the plays down the stretch. Ultimately, we got the job done.”

For much of the second half, though, the receivers were shaky. And on the Packers first drive of the fourth quarter, the carelessness struck again. With the Packers leading by four, Rodgers faced a third-and-seven after Nelson dropped another pass. But with the Packers desperately needing to continue the drive and put points on the board, Rodgers zipped a throw to Nelson.

Nelson easily made the catch, gaining 38 yards, and the Packers eventually scored a touchdown to take an 11-point lead.

“I can say for Jordy on that drive, for him to make a play on the very next play after he dropped one, it erases that drop out of your mind,” Jennings said. “When you can do things like that, it makes the game a lot easier even though you just made the ultimate boo-boo in our profession.”

The Packers prevailed without their emotional leader, as Driver – who injured his ankle in the first half and never returned – watched the second half from the sidelines. Without Driver, the Packers needed some kind of spark to kick-start an offense that failed to gain a first down in the third quarter.

Jennings helped provide it by fooling Steelers S Troy Polamalu.

After the Steelers cut the lead to four points in the third quarter, Green Bay’s defense forced a fumble from Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall, and after driving deep into Steelers territory, Jennings found himself running toward Polamalu, who was playing in a Cover-2.

Two weeks ago, while playing the Bears in the NFC championship game, Jennings cut inside against that defensive scheme and continued on his post route. That played worked a few times against Chicago, but against Pittsburgh, Jennings tried something different, cutting outside on a corner route and catching a wide-open touchdown pass.

“They were definitely playing for the post,” Jenning said. “We had gashed Chicago a couple times, and I’m sure they saw that in their film preparation where if they show a Cover-2 look, I’m going to be bend it into the post. But we kept the corner route on, and I was able to get behind him. (Polamalu) just dropped me. He completely dropped me.”

As a result, the Packers dropped the Steelers. And, at the same time, alleviated some of the annoyances created by a couple wide receiver drops.

“I,” said Rodgers with a laugh, “am not frustrated any more.”

Below is video of Jennings discussing his 31-yard catch on third-and-10 on the Packers final fourth-quarter drive.




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Posted on: February 6, 2011 10:51 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Five keys from Super Bowl XLV

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Rodgers making the most of his time

We speculated before the game that Dick LeBeau would elect to drop back and play coverage against Aaron Rodgers. After all, when the Steelers blitzed Rodgers in the 2009 regular season matchup, they got tA. Rodgers (US Presswire)orched for 36 points.

Well, that speculation was prescient. Just as he did in the Super Bowl two years ago, LeBeau often kept safety Troy Polamalu in deep coverage. LeBeau’s bet was that outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley could abuse Green Bay’s edge pass-blockers. But with the exception of one James Harrison sack, that was not the case. Give a world of credit to Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga.

Polamalu played closer to the line of scrimmage in the second (including as a slot corner), but that did not disrupt Rodgers’ rhythm. As has been the case all postseason, Rodgers was terrific in his presnap diagnostics. And with solid protection, he was able to buy time in the pocket and work through his progressions. His poise allowed him to finish 24 of 39 (with six drops, no less) for 304 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Effective running

The Packers did not make the run a staple of their offensive gameplan (again, no surprise – they were facing the third best run defense in NFL history), but they made the absolute most of the rushing attempts they did have. James Starks finished with 52 yards, 37 of them coming in the first half. He had crucial gains of 8 yards, 7 yards, 12 yards and, most notably, in the fourth quarter, 14 yards.
 
The common thread on all these plays was that Green Bay attacked running. The Packers knew they didn’t have the oxen to move nose tackle Casey Hampton, so they attacked the edges. Brilliantly, they used slow developing runs to do this. This caused the aggressiveness of the outside linebackers to work against the Steelers. It probably wouldn’t have worked if Polamalu had lined up in the box.

3. The mismatch

For the past two years, the weak link of the Steelers’ secondary has been cornerback William Gay. The Packers sought out Gay early and often Sunday. Jordy Nelson beat him on a fade route on the opening touchdown (this would be a harbinger for the rest of the game, as Nelson finished with nine catches for 140 yards and was targeted 15 times). When Gay lined up inside, the Packers were able to exploit him with crossing patterns.

To be fair, Gay was not the only Steelers defensive back who struggled. Troy Polamalu took a few bad angles in coverage (including in the red zone) and Ike Taylor gave up a crucial 31-yard completion on third-and-10 to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter.

4. Packers front seven (or eight) stepped up

The Packers were without athletic outside linebacker Erik Walden (high ankle sprain) this game. But replacement Frank Zombo stepped up big. He took on blocks extremely well and – for the most part – held the edge against the run. He also sacked Ben Roethlisberger in the third quarter.

A bigger injury was the loss of roving defensive back Charles Woodson. His absence was felt when Pittsburgh came out and completed crossing patterns passes and moved the chains on off-tackle runs early in the third quarter. Dom Capers was tempted to get conservative and utilize more traditional 3-4 fronts, but ultimately he tapped Jarrett Bush to play the joker role and stuck with the 2-4-5 that, all season long, has brought Green Bay magnificent success. Bush responded well (the design of the scheme gave him a clear pass-rushing lane or two) and the Packers defense avoided sliding down the sliJ. Bush (US Presswire)ppery slope they had found themselves on.

5. Pass-rush forced turnovers

Roethlisberger’s two first half interceptions that led to 14 Packers points were the product of bad decisions by the quarterback. But those bad decisions were the product of pass-rush pressure. Massive defensive lineman Howard Green ran into Roethlisberger on the first interception (the Nick Collins pick six). On the second pick, Roethlisberger felt his pocket collapsing and, uncharacteristically, floated the ball around A.J. Hawk and into double coverage.

Clay Matthews did not have a dominant game, but he got inside the Steelers’ heads somewhat by delaying his blitzes. Capers had Matthews line up as a quasi-inside linebacker early on. It looked like Matthews was spying Roethlisberger, but you don’t spy a non-Michael Vick quarterback with your superstar pass-rusher. Really what Matthews was doing was waiting for the Steelers offensive line to commit itself to a pass protection maneuver, then attacking. It was a shrewd concept given that the Steelers have struggled with pass protection communication at times this season, and given that they were without center Maurkice Pouncey.

Pass-rush pressure is about more than sacks. Green Bay’s front seven attacks disrupted the Steelers in subtle but costly ways.

[More Super Bowl coverage]

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