The NFL Draft – Meeting Our Needs

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The Packers drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first pick last year (21st overall).

 

by Jordan Huenink

Even though I’m still finding myself having conversations with co-workers about ‘the game,’ I think I’m finally coming around to accept the reality that the Packers season is over. Of course I plan on watching Sunday’s game, but I don’t plan on enjoying one second of it. Not even the commercials. Or the Puppy Bowl. Or the food. Okay, maybe the food.

But since the post-season is over, we now officially find ourselves in the off-season, a time where teams mold and shape their teams to give them a better shot at making a run to the Super Bowl next season. Their first shot at improvement is Free Agency, which Jon covered yesterday. After that comes the NFL Draft.

I’ve scoped out a few of the major sports sites and compiled a list of positions that they think the Packers need to address at the draft.

NFL.com
– Inside Linebacker
– Defensive Lineman
– Tight End

Inside linebacker was a position of need going into the 2014 season, but was not addressed by the front office. This weakness shined brightest in the play of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones this past season. With B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion listed as free agents this year, the Packers could find themselves with a hole or two on the d-line. Richard Rodgers showed great improvement over the course of 2014, and I’m personally not ready to write him off. I think the Packers have other positions to address than tight end.

FoxSports.com
– Cornerback

This article was written days after Matt Ryan and Julio Jones carved up the Packers secondary on Monday Night Football. If the Packers choose not to or are unable to resign Tramon Williams and Davon House, they will find themselves thin at the cornerback position. Even if they resign Williams, he will only have one or two decent years left in him. Might not be a bad idea to invites in a young CB.

Bleacher Report
– Inside Linebacker

The article labels Hawk as a fan favorite, but a player that has become a hindrance on the field at times due to his lack of speed. They rightfully seem high on Jamari Lattimore, but feel a new face will be brought in on Draft Day to add speed to the linebacking corps.

WalterFootball.com
– Inside Linebacker
– Cornerback
– Nose Tackle
– Rushing Linebacker
– Wide Receiver

This site uses some of the same reasons for needing ILB, CB and DL. They also realize that although Julius Peppers had a fantastic 2014, he won’t be around for very long. The Packers will need another linebacker able to rush the quarterback opposite Clay Matthews. They also mention a need at WR, but it seems like more of a need to sign Randall Cobb than find one in the draft.

Inside linebacker was the position that immediately came to mind before I started writing this post. If I have to sit through another game where Brad Jones draws a flag that extends the opponents’ drive and results in points, I may hate the number 59 for the rest of my life. I don’t mind A.J. Hawk one bit – I’m actually a Hawk jersey owner – but he either needs to stop pulling a piano around every time he chases a quarterback or he needs to thank the Packers for drafting him when he finds himself in a different team’s jersey.

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Ranking the Free Agents-to-Be

Two of these three men are important free agency targets. The third is Jamari Lattimore.

Two of these three men are important free agency targets. The third is Jamari Lattimore.

By Jon Meerdink

Of the 13 potential free agents we previewed before last season even began, only 11 remain. Derek Sherrod and Ryan Taylor have been involuntarily moved on to greener pastures. Well, I really can’t speak to the color of the grass where Sherrod and Taylor are, but assuming there is grass, I hope it’s green.

Anyhow, there are just 11 remaining free agents, and you could make a compelling case for keeping most of them around, if not all of them. Some need to be prioritized, so let’s take a look at each of them, tiered for your convenience.

Tier 1 – Big Bucks, But Worth It?

Randall Cobb – He’s no doubt the cream of the Packers free agent crop, and as such, he’s going to be expensive. I tried to handicap the market for cobb before the season, but the numbers may have close to doubled since then. I’d be inclined to pay him almost whatever he’d ask. Cobb has such terrific chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. His loss would be a tremendous blow to the Packers’ offense.

Bryan Bulaga – The former first round pick finally seems to have shaken the injury bug that’s bothered him the last couple seasons, but he always seems like he’s one bad step away from missing another game or two. Still, this year’s offensive line was by far the best in recent memory, and Bulaga’s steady play was a big reason for that. He was Pro Football Focus’s fifth ranked right tackle this season, and Fox Sports’ Paul Imig provides a good estimate as to what he could be worth.

Tier 2 – The Twins

B.J. Raji/Letroy Guion – The first pair of teammates hitting the free agent market is an interesting case, and one where I don’t think the Packers have a downside. The Packers could keep both, either, or neither and make a good case for any one of them. B.J. Raji was primed for a “prove it” year before he was sidelined with a torn bicep, and Guion, on a one year contract, was in a similar situation. Guion had a career year, but his career year wasn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s likely that Raji returns on a deal averaging slightly less than he’d have been paid this year and Guion gets slightly less than that.

Tramon Williams/Davon House - Here’s a good case for “older but limited” vs. “potential but injured.” We know exactly what Tramon Williams is at this point in his career: a decent cover corner who will make between two and seven completely inexplicable bad plays a year, like the dunderheaded tackling job on Dallas’ short pass that turned into a touchdown in the divisional round. And while his plays are bad, it’s fair to point out that cornerbacks, at least when we watch on TV, usually go unnoticed, so perhaps it’s just that his plays look worse than others. What’s all that worth, especially with Williams on the wrong side of 30? Hard to say, but I think the Packers look to bring back House first, if only because he’s younger. Injury concerns, though, would seem to drive down House’s value.

Matt Flynn/Scott Tolzien – Color me unimpressed by either Packers back-up. The Flynn mythos is well established, although crossing your fingers that he’ll put together yet another lightning in a bottle game seems like a wish and not a plan. Tolzien has the tools, but questions constantly abound about the way he throws the ball. Tom Silverstein covered the topic at some length in November, and the concerns go back even farther than that, at least five years from what some cursory Googling reveals. At this point, I’m fine with keeping one or neither, and it’s probably a safe bet that at least one of them will be around at least through training camp next year.

Tier 3 – Spare Parts

John Kuhn – The annual Kuhn debate returns with the same talking points, only a year older! He’s still a fullback, still a pal with Aaron Rodgers, and still probably valuable in some capacity as a lead blocker, not that it made any difference down near the goal line during a recent game whose outcome I can’t remember.

Jarrett Bush – The annual Bush debate returns with the same tal…oh sorry. Anyhow, Jarrett Bush. He does special teams better than most other guys but nothing else, aside from destroying tight ends named Tony Gonzalez and occasionally Jason Witten. If Demetri Goodson figures things out, Bush is gone.

Jamari Lattimore – Here’s a fact that you may have forgotten: Jamari Lattimore started not one but SEVERAL games for the Packers this year. The fact that I can’t remember one thing that he did, good or bad, doesn’t seem to bode well for a guy who started five games.

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Wasted

There was a game that happened here. I'm not sure exactly what happeend.

There was a game that happened here. I’m not sure exactly what happeend.

By Jon Meerdink

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the final quarter and a half of Sunday’s meltdown. I had to turn off the TV just as the Packers kicked a field goal to make the game 19-7 just past the midway point of the third quarter and return to church for volunteering purposes. Needless to say, the worst of my fears was realized: I watched the Packers slowly lose the lead and succumb to one of the greatest postseason collapses in history.

I have no plans to watch that final quarter and a half, as it would probably just make me feel worse about the game than I already do. And while the bad feelings are mitigated in large part by the news of the untimely passing of Mike McCarthy’s brother, I’m still left with the impression that the Packers wasted one of the best opportunities they may ever have to score another title during the Aaron Rodgers era.

As I detailed before the game, opportunities to truly contend are limited. For all we know, this could have been the Packers last, best shot to grab another championship before Rodgers rides off into the sunset. Whether they could have beaten the Patriots again, we’ll never know. We’ll always have to wonder what could have been.

This game reminds me very much of another road playoff collapse: the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on January 11, 2004, better known as the 4th-and-26 game. You know the story. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the basement of my family’s house on North Main Street in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin when the game ended. I remember Brett Favre gifting an interception to Brian Dawkins in overtime. I remember seething as the game ended. And most of all, I remember a guy from my parents’ church group saying “well, that’s a bummer,” and then leaving the basement, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

That irritated the 15 year old version of me very much, but in hindsight I wonder if he had a point. He’d watched the same on-field disintegration that I had, but it didn’t bother him. He’d probably barely think about it on his drive home, because he’d properly compartmentalized that part of his life. He was much better adjusted than I was. I could spin it as saying that he wasn’t as much of a fan, and that may be true, but it’s probably equally likely that he was just a better fan than me.

So yes, the Packers may have wasted an incredible opportunity on Sunday, the fact remains that the clock is slowly ticking towards another football Sunday. We won’t see the Packers compete in a game that matters again until September, and even when we do, it won’t be the team that we invested in this season. And that’s okay. We’ll still watch. We’ll still enjoy the games. We’ll still have fun with our friends and families as we see a new version of the Packers grow and develop and succeed. All that will happen again next year, just as it did this year. And no matter the outcome, none of it will be wasted if we remember the game’s proper place.

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Another Shot – NFC Championship Preview

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Julius Peppers nows moments like these are rare. Appreciate them when they come along.” width=”436″ height=”287″ /> Julius Peppers knows moments like these are rare. Appreciate them when they come along.

By Jon Meerdink

Football is a rare commodity. You’re guaranteed sixteen games a year and no more. As Packers fans, we’re already well into bonus coverage. Our team gets another shot this weekend, and we get another chance to see them play.

The Packers have now made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. Six years in a row, our favorite team has had a shot at the ultimate goal. If that’s not remarkable enough, think back a generation to the beginning of the Brett Favre Era in Green Bay. How many shots did the Packers have then? How many times did the season extend beyond Week 17?

It’s been a long run of success in Green Bay, and that run got a little longer this year. But this is far from ordinary. The Packers have had two consecutive Hall of Fame quarterbacks under center, and more than enough good fortune to put excellent players around them. What we’ve seen over the last two decades and change is extraordinarily rare.

But think deeper about those years. The Packers have won two Super Bowls, been to three, and gotten to the conference championship two more times, only to fall short. In those more than two decades of success that’s five times the Packers have had a shot at either winning or going to a Super Bowl. This Sunday makes number six. Even with Hall of Fame quarterbacks, chances at winning it all don’t come along all that often.

Few people on the Packers know that better than Julius Peppers. He’s had all the individual success in the world, but a ring eludes him. In a news conference this week, Peppers talked about what it’s like to come up short time and time again.

“All of those were close calls,” he said. “I always thought I’d be back the following year, and it never happened. It makes you realize that you have to take advantage of the moment when you have it.”

Peppers has another moment on Sunday, and so do we. The odds are steep, and the Packers will need more than a few breaks to fall their way to come out on top. But they have a shot, and that’s the most important thing.

Football is a rare commodity indeed, and opportunities to watch your team succeed at the highest level are even more rare. Appreciate this Sunday. Enjoy the ride, no matter what the outcome. We never know when this chance could come back again.

The Pick – Packers: 31 Seahawks: 30

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Is Stopping Marshawn the Lynch-Pin?

By Jordan Huenink

As we get closer to conference championship weekend in the NFL, there aren’t a lot of media outlets giving the Packers a huge chance this weekend in Seattle. In fact, I think they’re currently listed as a seven point underdog! Apparently everyone outside of Green Bay thinks the equation is:

NFC Championship Equation

But on the Green and Gold side of things, we know that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have what it takes to pull the apparent upset of the reigning Super Bowl champs. Jon touched on the passing attack yesterday, and today I’m going to look into how the Packers defense can limit the impact that running back Marshawn Lynch has for the Seattle offensive attack.

In Week 1, Lynch ran all over the Packers to the tune of 110 yards and two touchdowns. By season’s end, Lynch racked up a stat line of 1,306 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns. He’s what makes the Seattle offense tick, and is probably at the top of the “Most Feared” list heading into Sunday’s game.

In the Seahawks’ four losses on the season, Lynch was held to stat lines of 63 total yards and a receiving TD (@SD), 62 total yards (vs DAL), 71 total yards (@ STL), and 124 yards rushing (vs KC). So it’s clear that limiting his output is a key factor in keeping Seattle in check.

Lynch is a bruiser. Not only can he sidestep a would-be tackler, he can lower his head and just run straight through you. All this physical running takes a toll on opposing defenses as the game goes on. Most of his longer rushes have occurred late in games when the other team is getting worn down. There’s no easy way to tackle him without giving up additional yards or getting trucked in the process. Trust me, I’ve tried. (NOTE: I have not actually tried.)

In Week 1, the Seahawks also used Percy Harvin as a rusher to mix up their run game. As a result, the defense had to account for Harvin every time he went into motion. This then opened up running lanes for Lynch or drew defenders out of the box. Even though Harvin was traded to the Jets, the Packers will still have to account for the read option by quarterback Russell Wilson, who the Pack held in check in their first meeting (seven rushes for 29 yards).

They key to slowing down Lynch (because it will be near impossible to stop him completely) will be for Clay Matthews and the defense not to get worn down by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Single coverage on the Seattle wide receivers will help with this, since safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde will then be free to help stop the run.

It will also be crucial that the defense stays smart and stays to their rush lanes. If defenders over pursue or fail to set the edge, Lynch and Wilson can easily exploit those errors and turn them into big gains. Do I need to remind you of what Colin Kaepernick has done in the past?

kaepernick run

And finally, just one word. TACKLE! There have been an agonizing number of missed tackles by the Packers secondary which turned minimal gains into huge plays for the opposing teams. Off the top of my head I think of two examples. First, this embarrassing touchdown run by then-Buccaneer LeGarrette Blount.

Blount GIF
And I’m sure you all remember Tramon Williams‘ missed tackle in last week’s game that turned into a long touchdown for Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams. I believe Clinton-Dix also had a missed tackle against Brandon Marshall of the Bears that turned into a long touchdown.

william whiff

Play clean, sound defense and limit the big plays, and the Packers can come out of Seattle with the win and a ticket to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.

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A Quick Pass to Victory

Rivers and the Chargers took down Seattle in Week 2. Can the Packers do the same?

Rivers and the Chargers took down Seattle in Week 2. Can the Packers do the same?

By Jon Meerdink

The Seahawks’ secondary is getting all kinds of publicity leading up to this weekend’s NFC Championship, and for good reason: they’re really good. They’ve thoroughly flummoxed just about every top-flight quarterback they’ve faced, including Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. The Packers famously made the decision to avoid Richard Sherman entirely that day, cutting off half the field even more effectively than Sherman already does. It didn’t work. The Seahawks were more than okay with the Packers avoiding half the field, and the Packers couldn’t do enough on the half they alloted themselves to even put a small dent in Seattle’s defense.

It won’t be the same this time around, however. The Packers have already gone on record as saying they’ll be going Richard Sherman’s direction, and I think we’ll see some new wrinkles that Mike McCarthy is cooking up this week, much like he did in preparation for the New England Patriots.

Might it be simpler than that, though? Is there an easier way than out-scheming the Seahawks? Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren thinks there is. here’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week:

Asked how he would attack the Seahawks, Holmgren said that he would throw on first down and run on second because Carroll tends to have his big linemen in the game on first down and replace them with his pass rushers on second down.

“They’re going to bring their ‘quicks’ in on second down,” Holmgren said. “They substitute a lot on second down. When they go to their smalls, you run and try to get in third and short. Then you have a chance.

“That’s what San Diego did (in a 30-21 Seahawks loss).”

A look at the play-by-play data from San Diego’s Week 2 tilt with Seattle reveals this to be at least partly true. Overall (and not counting kneel downs), the Chargers called passes on 16 of their first down plays and runs on…17. But wait! There’s more! During the Chargers’ impressive first half, in which they outscored the Seahawks 21-14, they went with passes on 12 plays and runs on just seven. That may be more the approach Holmgren was hinting at.

Could it work? The Packers have the personnel to do so, but pass protection will be even more at a premium. If quick passing on first down is the answer, the biggest question will be pass protection.

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Packers vs Seahawks: A History Lesson

Packers-Seahawks.1aby Jordan Huenink

Last time the Packers traveled to Seattle to take on the Seahawks it wasn’t a pretty outcome for the Pack. The Seahawks were coming off a convincing Super Bowl win against one of the most potent offenses of all time in the Denver Broncos, and it was also the night they got to raise their championship banner. It was the first game of the 2014 NFL season, and the Pack were went packing by the score of 36-16.

Both teams find themselves at the top of the NFC, but it’s not the first time that’s been the case for these organizations.

Back in the day when players like Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and Ahman Green took the field, these two teams faced off in two of the greatest playoff games of all time. Let me correct myself. They faced off in two of MY favorite playoff games of all time. Let’s take a look back at these two, fantastic games.

2003 Playoffs – Wild Card Round

The Packers finished the 2003 season NFC North champions with a record of 10-6 and the #3 seed in the playoffs. Brett Favre finished the season with 32 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. (An enormous number compared to what we’ve now grown accustomed to with Aaron Rodgers.) Ahman Green was in the prime of his career having rushed for over 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. He was a beast.

The Seahawks also went 10-6 to earn their Wild Card spot (5-1 in the NFC West) – the #5 seed. Matt Hasselbeck tossed 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on the season, while Shaun Alexander posted 1,435 yards rushing to go along with 14 touchdowns of his own.

The two teams had played at Lambeau back in Week 5. A game in which the Packers dispensed of the Seahawks by the score of 35-13. Favre threw two touchdowns, and Green rushed for two. Alexander had the lone, Seattle touchdown in the contest.

Like most Lambeau, playoff games, it was chilly. Game time temperature was 20 degrees with a wind chill of 7 at kickoff. The Packers were looking to avenge a 2002 home, playoff loss to Michael Vick and the Falcons – the organization’s first ever playoff loss at home. Head coach Mike Holmgren was on the sidelines, but for the visiting team. You can see the kind of storylines that were probably being reported by the media leading up to this game.

With the score at 6-3 in favor of the Seahawks, Favre found tight end Bubba Franks for a 23-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first touchdown. A Ryan Longwell field goal made it 13-6 heading into halftime.

Seattle came out with a strong drive to start the second half, and tied the game as Alexander converted a 4th and goal from the one yard line for the touchdown. He would then give the Seahawks the lead later in the quarter with another goal line score.

Ahman Green answered with a goal line touchdown of his own to tie the game at 20-20. He then found the end zone in the fourth quarter to give the Packers a late lead. But Hasselbeck orchestrated a comeback drive to tie the game with Alexander’s third touchdown of the game. A last-second Longwell field goal came up short for the win. The game was heading to overtime.

Then this happened.

2007 Playoffs – Divisional Round

The teams met again four years later in the second round of the playoffs, once again at Lambeau. The Packers rolled into the playoffs at 13-3 and NFC North Champs (despite two losses to Chicago). Seattle went 10-6 and won the NFC West.

While the quarterbacks stayed the same since their last, playoff meeting, the Packers now had Ryan Grant in the backfield rather than Ahman Green. Shaun Alexander was still with the Seahawks, but was injured for part of the year and had only tallied four touchdowns on the season. Grant rushed for 958 yards on the season and eight touchdowns.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this game was the snow. Despite a green field at kickoff, the snow quickly came down, turning Lambeau Field into a real-life snow globe. If I remember correctly, people had to run out on the field with shovels during timeouts to uncover the lines on the field. I also remember Favre throwing snowballs at Donald Driver with that childish glee on his face.

Snowball As for the game, Ryan Grant managed to put the Packers in an early, 14-0 hole. Grant fumbled on the first play of the game as well as on the team’s second drive. Seattle quickly struck with two, early touchdowns.

But from that point on, it was all Green Bay. The offense rattled off six, straight touchdown drives despite the barrage of snow. Favre threw two touchdowns to Greg Jennings and one to running back Brandon Jackson, while Grant redeemed himself in a big way with 201 yards rushing and three scores.

This game is memorable to me because it really encapsulated a lot of what the Packers were about at that time. The snowfall was a testament to the conditions of Lambeau, the snowball fights were the epitome of Favre’s boyish love of the game, and the score mirrored the dominance of the 2000s.

Check out these highlights from the game. Sorry for the crappy quality.

Thanks for taking a walk down memory lane with me. We now turn our attention to Sunday’s game against a Seattle team that is quite different than the ones from 2003 or 2007. We’ll dive into this match-up more as the week goes on.

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Let’s Play – Divisional Round Preview

curlyBy Jon Meerdink

The benefits of a first round bye in the NFL playoffs is coming more and more into question, at least in terms of how much it helps the team taking the bye. No one, however, can debate the benefits for the media.

Every possible storyline has been dissected seventeen different ways, extracting every possible shred of significance from the most minute angle of the game. Whether it’s been this blog, somebody else’s, Twitter, Facebook, Ello, LiveJournal, ESPN, Fox Sports 1, Telemundo, or the local news, everyone has espoused take or multiple takes on this game. It’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

And it’s over.

Today is Friday. Teams are wrapping up their last meaningful reps. Most of the significant film sessions are over. The depth charts are set. The coaches on both sides probably have a pretty good idea who’s going to be inactive on Sunday, or they will after All that remains is to pack up the equipment, head to the stadium, and wait for kickoff.

There’s nothing more that means to be said. We don’t need to resort to augury to divine some kind of meaning from this week’s injury report. Wisconsin’s most famous calf muscle isn’t going to tear any more than it already has, and any other sprains, straits, twists, tears, bumps, bruises, rips, or ruptures aren’t going to improve between now and Sunday, except by minor degrees.

All that remains is the game. So let’s play. Let’s see if Dallas can utilize their monster offensive line. Let’s see if Aaron Rodgers can do a passable Tom Brady impersonation. Let’s see how Eddie Lacy and DeMarco Murray perform in the cold. Let’s see it happen.

Let’s play.

The Pick: Packers: 28 Cowboys: 24

 

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“We-fense” – A Look at the Cowboys’ Defense

Wefenseby Jordan Huenink

When you look at the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive roster, there aren’t any huge names that jump off the screen at you. I’ll give you a second to name one, go ahead. What was that? DeMarcus Ware? *BUZZER* He’s now a Denver Bronco. Um…Sean Lee? *BUZZER* He’s been on injured reserve all season. Charles Haley? *BUZZER* Are you even trying?

In fact, there is not one Pro Bowl player on the Cowboys defense this year, despite the team winning the NFC East Division. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that you can’t name one.

The Cowboys defense finished dead last in the league last year in total defense at 415 yards per game. Going into 2014, analysts predicted them to be even worse than that. I remember hearing one analyst predict the Cowboys to finish the season 3-13, with the three wins coming solely at the hands of Tony Romo and the offense, since their defense was going to be absolutely dreadful. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey gave this quote before their Wild Card game against Detroit last week, “I’m excited to see our team who was expected to do nothing rise to the occasion. The great thing is guys understood if you expect to be great, you can become great. They started getting the mentality of it and did a good job of reaching their full potential.”

But despite the media’s lack of confidence in their defensive squad, the Cowboys improved from 2013 and finished the regular season ranked 19th in the league in yardage allowed (355 yds/game), which was only 10 yards per game behind the Packers. Dallas also ranked 15th in points allowed per game at 22.

Their leader on defense is kind of hard to pinpoint. No one really stands out on the stats sheet. Nine different players finished the year with an interception. Their leading tackler, strong safety Barry Church, ranked 42nd overall in the league with 97 combined tackles.

But much like the Detroit Pistons of the early 2000s, this team has managed to turn a roster of average players and turn them into a cohesive unit that makes things happen. Mincey hit it right on the nose when he said, “Our defense is we-fense, and that’s what we focus on. There is no star of the defense.”

While the team manages to put a check mark in the win column most weeks, they don’t seem to do it by rushing the passer well. On the season, their team only tallied 28 sacks, with Mincey putting up six. They did, however, put up a total of 18 interceptions on the season to go along with 15 forced fumbles – 13 of which they recovered.

Overall, their defensive unit gives off that swarming vibe. They reek of a team that realizes the need for teamwork and rallies around each other to accomplish what they strive for. While their offense has been clicking well most of the season, the defense has come up big at times when they’re needed. It’s these kind of squads that make me uneasy.

However, I don’t think they’re going to have enough to stop the tsunami of scoring that is the Packers offense. Even with a bum calf, Aaron Rodgers has more than enough composure and ability to carve up any visiting defense. Our 39+ points per home game average is a large number to overcome.

 

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Stopping DeMarco Murray

It might be easier said than done, but Murray can be stopped.

It might be easier said than done, but Murray can be stopped.

By Jon Meerdink

Nobody would dispute that DeMarco Murray is the engine that makes the Dallas offense go. His 449 total touches and 2,261 total yards from scrimmage would shoot down any critic that would try to prove otherwise. Murray had more touches than Tony Romo had pass attempts and his total yardage nearly doubled what Dez Bryant produced. He was and is a legitimate MVP candidate just about any way you present it.

But as good as DeMarco Murray is, he’s also mortal and stoppable, and at least two defenses have shown ways to get it done.

Pro Football Focus is a remarkable resource. It’s provided at least a rudimentary outlet for standardizing player evaluation in the media, if there can ever be one. But it’s also not great at providing context. To wit: Murray had 28 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks, a respectable outing against an excellent defense by any conventional measure. But PFF gave his rushing performance a -1.5 grade, his worst evaluation of the season by a wide margin. Why? Not because of his one fumble, which was fell out of bounds and was basically inconsequential when combined with a holding penalty on the same play. Not because of his low yards per carry average, which was really only low when compared to his other rushing performances of the year. Why then, was the grade so low? We’ll never know, because PFF can’t reveal the reasoning behind their numbers. To do so would eliminate the proprietary nature of their stats, and their profits right along with it.

Murray also received a -0.2 rushing grade for his 32 carry, 179 yard, one touchdown performance against Chicago, and we’ll never know the reason behind that grade either, for similar reasons. We can, however, speculate as to the reasons for these grades with film study, and that’s what I’ll try to do here.

Film study and speculation are inherently dangerous, of course, so take whatever I say here with a grain of salt.

In summary of what I’m about to say, I think Seattle stuck Murray with a negative grade because they made him think about his cuts.

Consider this first quarter run:

Murray seahawks stop

 

Dallas tries a pretty simple zone run to the right, but the entire Seahawks defense flows in front of the Dallas front, forcing Murray to choose between cutting back on the zone or continuing to string it out. He eventually chooses…neither one. Murray runs into his own blocker and is stopped for no gain.

Contrast that to this more successful foray in the second quarter:

murray good run seahawks

Perhaps slowed a little bit by the counter action, Seattle is a little bit slower to get out in front of Murray on this one, and he steamrolls ahead for eight yards. This is the kind of successful run you see often from Murray. He’s not shifty like LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles or a freakish athlete like Adrian Peterson, but he is really good at following his blocks, and I don’t mean that as a kind of backhanded compliment. It takes discipline to get yards when the blocking is there to get you eight yards and not try to stretch it for more. It also allows a defense like Seattle’s to slow you down by taking away your blocks and forcing you to try to stretch for more, as happens here:

murray seahawks stop 3

If there’s a better way to slow down DeMarco Murray, I don’t know what it would be. Seattle’s defense flows faster than the zone run to the left, it’s primary defenders soak up the blocks, and Bobby Wagner slides in and finishes the job.

Now, if that’s the book on taking down DeMarco Murray, the Packers can certainly follow it. It’s not that complicated. Few things in football really are when you actually break them down. My question, if I’m diagnosing how to stop Murray correctly, is if the Packers have the horses to pull off what Seattle did. Much of what the Seahawks do well here is predicated on players like Cam Chancellor, a safety, taking on blocks at the point of attack. Can Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix pull that off? Can linebackers other than Clay Matthews stand up to the Cowboys’ punishing run blocks, freeing up space for other linebackers to roam? Can Julius Peppers be effective against the run?

There’s only one way to find out.

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