Green Bay Packers Midterm Grades
Halfway through the 2006 season the Pack sits at 3-5. Like at least twenty other NFL teams they are neither good nor bad and their chances of making the playoffs are slim. The remainder of the year will be filled not with scenarios of home field advantage, but with scenarios for a high draft pick. For you and me, the rest of the season represents only a chance to see if the young players can beat the Bears once and the Viqueens twice.
On the positive side, the Packers are the youngest team in the league and under new management. The midway point of the season is as good a place as any to stop and see what progress has been made and where the franchise is headed. Here is the report card:
I like what Ted Thompson has done. Many have bemoaned the fall the team has taken the last two years, but that was not Ted Thompson’s fault. The Packers were in decline long before Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera left (by the way, Rivera has played so poorly this year for Dallas that they have changed quarterbacks partly because of the need for the QB to be more mobile), and Thompson has been given the unenviable task of rebuilding a franchise sorely lacking talent. Thus far he is succeeding ahead of expectations.
First, Thompson has drafted far better than Mike Sherman ever did. While the pick of Aaron Rodgers cannot be graded yet, and other picks from last year succumbed to injury, this years’ draft has produced several starters who look to be solid long term players in the league. No one could have done better here.
Second, Thompson let some old, unproductive players go during the off season. Goodbye Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher, Na’il Diggs and others. Being decisive in cutting ties with the old regime has let the new players flourish.
Finally, Thompson avoided the temptation to overpay in what I thought was a weak free agent market. Only Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett were signed to any kind of money, and both filled immediate short term needs where there were no young players waiting in the wings. The result is that the Packers will have had another year to evaluate the teams’ talent while simultaneously remaining significantly under the salary cap. The Packers now have room to go after someone next season who could be a real impact player.
This is a mixed bag. I really like Mike McCarthy. The team has been prepared for their games, and he has shown a sense for when he needs to be aggressive (aside from yesterday’s idiotic pass call at the goal line). He has also shown that he is not afraid to score again when he has the lead. That will serve him well in the future. Offensively, it took a while for the new blocking scheme to develop, but the team now consistently moves the ball, and with so many young players on offense, one has to give credit to the coaching staff.
The big downside has been defensive coaching. The endless breakdowns in the secondary continue. We are halfway through the season and that is no longer acceptable. Additionally, the defense has had some bizarre schemes, Woodson at safety? Poppinga covering a slot receiver? That leads one to question some of what has been going on. Finally, the defense has had trouble all season long getting the right players on the field, and even the right number of players on the field. Don’t be surprised to see some defensive coaching changes in the off season.
No quarterback in the league has his every pass dissected and analyzed like Brett Favre does. Favre has not been the problem many pundits expected. Take away the two picks thrown in the fourth quarter of a Bears game that was long since lost, and his numbers are very good. He has lost a step, and his arm is not what it once was, but he is not remotely the liability some would lead you to believe. If I could change one thing here, it would be his fumbles. Some of those are due to the shotgun formation and the frequent rollouts the Packers employ to control the opposing pass rush. Expect to see the Packers go with more straight under center sets and more straight pocket passing as they gain confidence in the offensive lines’ pass blocking.
Aaron Rodgers remains a completely unknown quantity.
It took a few games, but the offensive line has come around and now is able to consistently run and pass block. That is a scenario that few would have expected two months ago. Rookies Spitz, Moll and Colledge have all played well, and even at their worst have not shown the incompetence of recent Packer draft picks. Tauscher has played solid at tackle except for one costly play against St. Louis. Chad Clifton may now be the weak link on the line. His propensity for penalties is something that typically gets worse in a veteran player, not better. Scott Wells had a horrible game against Buffalo, but otherwise has significantly stepped up his play from last season. This is a unit that could now be among the NFL’s better lines for several years.
This is a unit that has one very experienced solid starter in Donald Driver. Greg Jennings has shown lots of ability, but needs to stay healthy. Robert Ferguson suffered his usual season ending injury. After Driver and Jennings, it’s strictly a platoon effort among several basically interchangeable players. The Packers still need to add depth here, and if Jennings doesn’t pan out, may yet need another starter.
At tight end the Packers stink. Bubba Franks is finished as a pass catcher, David Martin is useless as a blocker. Martin has greatly increased his receiving numbers, but even this has only made him an average receiving tight end with below average blocking skills. A really good tight end would be single easiest way to improve this offense.
The Packers parted ways with Davenport and Fisher in the off season. Samkon Gado was traded for Vernand Morency. These have turned out to be good moves. The former two were non productive players who got hurt. I liked Gado, but Morency can return kicks and with all the other returners hurt, this was a short term need.
Starter Ahman Green has come back from his injury nicely and has been one of the most productive backs in the league the last several weeks. Morency has also shown some good running ability. Both men, however, have a tendency to fumble. Green has shown he can limit his fumbles to an acceptable level. The Packers may not have as much patience with Morency. Third Stringer Noah Herron also has ability running the ball, but he also fumbles, and this may be the only thing keeping Morency as the second stringer.
At fullback, William Henderson was demoted in favor of Brandon Miree. Only Miree’s injury has allowed Henderson to keep playing. Once Miree is healthy again, expect to see Henderson on the sidelines until the end of the season when he will likely retire. Miree has some ability and is a big step up from Vonta Leach who was released. If Miree can continue to develop as a pass catching threat out of the backfield, he could be the starter for several years.
Aaron Kampman is one of the best defensive ends in the league. After him, however, the Packers get no consistent pass rush from the end position. Kabeer Gbaja Biamila was a good situational pass rusher who is now a below average every down player. He is weak against the run, and as a pass rusher is a one trick pony; he strictly tries to speed rush outside the tackle. Expect to see the packers go free agent at defensive end next year. They will be well under the cap and an established DE would improve the defense more than any other single player.
Inside, Pickett and Williams are good against the run, but provide little consistent pass rush. This pair might look a lot better, though, were the Packers to posses another legitimate DE. With no other pass rushing threats, the Packers have blitzed more than they would like and have been burned on several occasions, most notably during the Eagles game.
This grade would have been an F, but Ahmad Carroll was cut after the Eagle’s game. He is not missed. While the play of the secondary has dramatically improved since Carroll’s departure, it still leaves much to be desired. Halfway through the season this unit still does not always know where to be on the field, leading to lots of uncovered receivers, and lots of big plays for the offense.
Charles Woodson has been average. He can cover a Number 2 man one on one, but appears to have trouble with the various zone coverages the Packers inexplicably love to employ.
Al Harris has also been average. He has picked up his play the last several weeks, and like Woodson is much better in man coverage than zone.
Marquand Manuel is good against the run, bad against the pass.
Nick Collins has been in a season long sophomore slump; bad against the run, worse against the pass.
This unit MUST improve its’ play for the Packers to continue their development. All of these players have shown better in the past, and everyone is rightly questioning if this is a coaching issue. Given the number of breakdowns, I’m guessing yes. Expect Kurt Schottenheimer to depart if things do not quickly improve.
Brady Poppinga has been overmatched covering receivers at times during the season, but he needs the playing time to develop. The second half of the season will likely determine if he keeps his starting job.
A.J. Hawk has developed slowly, but is becoming more consistent. He too needs the playing time to develop. More telling is that Hawk is rarely responsible for big plays against the defense.
Nick Barnett is the most overrated player on the team. Some people love him, but I don’t see it. Barnett never dominates a game, and rarely is an impact player.
In defense of the linebackers, they have not been in a position to do what they do best. When Ahmad Carroll was in the game, the proper play for the offense was to throw the ball to the player he was supposed to be covering. With the secondary’s poor play, and the lack of a consistent pass rush, they have been called on to do too much pass covering and too much pass rushing. More consistent play by the defense as a whole might allow this group to have more impact on games.
These units have been a pleasant surprise given how awful they were last year. Because good special teams are usually a result of good coaching and depth, this is as good a sign as any that the Packers are on the right track.
Dave Rayner is vastly superior to Ryan Longwell on kickoffs, and has developed into a reliable field goal kicker. Actually he is better on field goals than Longwell was last year.
Jon Ryan has been average as a punter, and that is infinitely better than B.J. Sander ever was.
Most encouragingly, the Packers have improved their kick coverage, even including the bad Buffalo game.
On returns, Woodson is a solid, if unspectacular punt returner. The downside is that he risks injury as a return man and he is far more valuable to the Packers as a defensive back. The Packers have been forced to use a platoon on kick returns, none of whom are breakaway threats. Expect to see the Packers go free agent at this position during the offseason.
So my overall midterm grade is a C+. I expected a lot less from this team. Results wise I thought they could have a better record by virtue of Favre winning a game or two or the defense generating a bunch of turnovers, but I did not expect for the Packers to be playing as well as they are every down. The big thing now is for the offense to continue to dominate the line of scrimmage and stop turning the ball over. Defensively, the second half of the season will be a good test to see how some of the younger players do against better teams and how and if they continue their development.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed this season even with the disappointment of the Buffalo game. This team is clearly better than last years’ version, there is every reason to expect continued improvement from the youngest team in the league, and we can look forward to some good and interesting football in the second half of the season. With one year under their belts and some good free agent acquisitions I see a playoff berth next season. GO PACK!
Posted by BVBigBro at November 6, 2006 07:32 PM
The trackback entry for this page is : http://www.inthehat.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1407
|# November 6th, 2006 7:40 PM kris|
When Ahmad Carroll was in the game, the proper play for the offense was to throw the ball to the player he was supposed to be covering.
Okay, that made me crack up. It's funny because it's true!
|# November 6th, 2006 8:36 PM james|
|uh oh, i think i agree with everything you said. when 2 packers fans agree, does it mean that hell hath frozen over?
i would have given the receivers a better rating than C though, probably a B-. i like how driver always seems to be in the right place at the right time - he and favre definitely have a rapport. and jennings, when healthy, has really impressed me.
|# November 6th, 2006 8:47 PM themandownthehall|
|HA! At least you're not a Lions fan... We haven't had anything to cheer since Barry Sanders retired. Despite my recent poor picks in the college games, I think I can safely say that the Pack will be back long before the Lions ever feast on title. |
|# November 7th, 2006 8:29 AM BVBigBro|
|The Lions. I do pity you. |
|# November 7th, 2006 8:39 AM james|
|what's there to pity? at least the lions won this week, and they did so against a playoff caliber team |
|# November 7th, 2006 5:50 PM themandownthehall|
|Yeah, but that was a fluke. They do that every so often to keep ticket sales going. :) We'll still have a top 10 draft pick. Just like pretty much every other year. |