August 25, 2013

Packer pass-catchers have talent, but leadership?

By: Shane Arman

The consensus is clear among fans, media and the Green Bay PackersGreg Jennings is expendable. Young talent waiting in the wings, the Packers let their number one WR leave in free agency and will now build their offense around Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley.

Is James Jones ready to be a #1 WR? 
Talent isn't the question with this group; they've all proven to be play makers for moments in time. But perhaps the unexplored story-line is if this group maintain continuity and consistency wi
thout their ring leader and veteran play maker. Don’t think the Green Bay Packers are merely losing an “injury-prone” 29-year-old WR whose biggest strength is route running.

For all of Jennings’ superb play-making abilities he has an equally impressive character, engaging personality and innate leadership mentality.

As a Green Bay Packer, Jennings always said the right thing (unlike his very vocal off-season this year) and was praised for his mentorship of younger WRs. Hence why Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings saw Jennings as a perfect fit on a team that desperately needs a “father figure” to teach its young WRs and QB how to succeed. It’s a tall order considering how unproven and raw Minnesota’s next three WRs are; plus patience is beginning to dwindle with starting QB Christian Ponder.
Will Jennings help balance the Vikings offense?

But if anyone is willing and able to elevate a group’s play just by his demeanor and presence, Jennings just might be the guy. Time will tell whether the Packers underestimated this quality in Jennings. The performance of the Packers WRs this year will certainly help us understand Jennings' value.

Green Bay’s trio of WRs are 24, 25 and 26 years young respectively, and Finley is 25. So who steps up and takes the reigns as a vocal leader?  The problem is you could make the case for any of the four. Each has the potential to be the #1 option. Everyone can argue that it doesn't matter who is or isn’t the #1 WR, but it’s certainly a conversation that will bubble up if injuries sideline one or more Packers WR and if one WR doesn't separate himself as Aaron Rodgers' new go-to.

When the number one WR leaves, the next logical question is who replaces him? Everyone assumes Randall Cobb will step up; but don’t think the jump from good to great is easy or that it happens in one season. Cobb is a special talent, but he’s under a flurry of pressure to produce big, early in his career. I’m not saying he won’t rise to the occasion, I’m just saying that raw talent doesn’t always translate into greatness in the span of three years.

August 15, 2013

Packers Will Survive Without Bryan Bulaga

By: Andrew Megow

Aaron Rodgers was sacked a total of 51 times in 2012. Amazingly, Rodgers was able to play all 16 games last year, which is a testimony to Rodgers “iron-man” ability to stay on the field. Having only missed one game due to an injury in his entire tenure as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, it will become more likely that Rodgers could miss a game or two, as he gets older.

Packers OT Bryan Bulaga // courtesy //
That being said, it will become increasingly important for the Packers offensive line to be stable and healthy. Bryan Bulaga certainly isn’t helping that cause, as he tore his ACL and is out for the season.  He was the Packers intended answer to take over at left tackle, where Marshall Newhouse struggled last year. While the Packers' coaching staff did shuffle various pieces hinging on Bulaga's health and switch to LT,  Packer fans shouldn’t necessarily panic because this situation has happened before (see below).

2010 – Played 16 games
2011 – Played 12 games
2012 – Played 9 games 

The Upside:
This team didn’t see a significant drop-off in win/loss when Bulaga was in the lineup, compared to when he was not. While this is one isolated stat, it shows the Packers can win football games without Bulaga.
  • Total Win/Loss in 2012 with Bulaga on the Offensive Line: 6-3
  • Total Win/Loss in 2012 WITHOUT Bulaga on the Offensive Line: 6-3

Possible Consequences:
The problem with this injury is that the Packers simply may not have the personnel to safely protect Rodgers. The coaches don't really trust Marshall Newhouse on either side of the line, but he'll probably get playing time by default and based on his experience. The other topic that hasn't been discussed is Bulaga's injury on the Packers' running game. A great RB can solve some problems behind a makeshift OL, but no RB can be a star or be an impact player behind a bad OL. The big guys still need to pave lanes for the Packers' RBs and those lanes may not be big enough for the running game to take off.

Probable Outcome:
One potential player who will need to step up on the line is 4th round rookie OT David Bakhtiari, who has shown great strides so far in camp. Defensive End Mike Daniels told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Bakhtiari, “…is a long guy. Strong kid. You can tell he’s been well-coached. He reminds me of Sitton. He’s got that real nice, cool personality, but when he gets on the field he turns into a psychopath.”

Packers OT David Bakhtiari
If the current starting five OL can stay healthy the entire season and if the running game can ease the pressure on Rodgers, I don’t see the Bulaga injury putting a damper on the Packers’ Super Bowl aspirations.

Bakhtiari’s First Game
  • The August 9 preseason match up against the Arizona Cardinals was our first glimpse of David Bakhtiari playing at left tackle for the injured Bulaga. Suffice to say, he was one of the better players in what was a rather putrid display of football from the Packers backups. Bakhtiari played throughout the first half of the game and had no obvious bad plays. 

Bakhtiari told reporters Friday night, “I just didn’t feel overwhelmed, that’s probably the best way to put it….I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all.”

Aaron Rodgers who passed for 62 yards Friday night said, “I didn’t get touched tonight……We had a few drop backs, I think five attempts, so I’m sure he (Bakhtiari) was pretty good over there. It’s nice when you’re not worried about him, and tonight I wasn’t worried about him. He’s a confident kid. I think he’s got a bright future for us.”

No matter who is at left or right tackle, Green Bay still has 16 games to play and as long as the line can find some continuity, they should hold up. The 2012 Super Bowl winning team saw Rodgers get sacked 31 times. The 2011 Packers team gave up 36 sacks and went 15-1. Last year the team went 11-5 but seemed to struggle throughout the year because of the lackluster running game and lack of QB protection. 

Let us hope that a broken Bryan Bulaga is not the end for the Packers season and that Bakhtiari is good enough in a full game to be his replacement. A lot can happen between now and the playoffs but I predict most of us will forget this happened by November.

August 6, 2013

What to expect from Packers’ crowded and young backfield

By: Ryan Jensen

It has been 4 years since the Green Bay Packers had a 1,000 yard rusher. After Ryan Grant's 1,253 yard season in 2009, he was injured in the first game of the 2010 season sending the Packers running game on a downward spiral. Brandon Jackson led the team in rushing in 2010 with 703 yards with just a 3.7 yard average. James Starks was the leading rusher in 2011 with 578 yards and a 4.3 yard average, and Alex Green led the team last season with 464 yards and a dismal 3.4 yard average. I can't help but daydream about the days when the running game was the most consistent part of the Packers offense, specifically in 2003, when Green Bay had 3 running backs who averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry: Ahman Green (5.3), Najeh Davenport (5.5), and Tony Fisher (5.0). I believe the Packers are ready to drastically improve with the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.

Eddie Lacy is Packers’ best RB option
Lacy is the best option for the Packers offense. He will compliment QB Aaron Rodgers perfectly by converting the 3rd and shorts and punching in the short distance touchdowns. There have been some unfair questions about Lacy's weight due to an unflattering picture, but he will surprise people with how light he is on his feet. Listed at 5'11'' and 230 lbs, the strength and power he brings to the table is a given, but it's how well he maneuvers his size that makes him so dynamic. He knows when to be patient and will let blocks develop, but will also lower his shoulder and power over defenders for extra yardage. Lacy's role will be most prominent in the redzone. He unofficially ran for 65 yards on 8 carries at the Packers Family Night Scrimmage, showing his ability to get up field in a hurry off of a good block and a nice cut.

Will Franklin earn the third-down RB job?
There has been some speculation that Franklin will emerge as the starter before the season ends. He has impressed early on by bursting out of his cuts with tremendous speed. At 5'10'' and 205 lbs, he is smaller than Lacy but his acceleration will compliment Lacy's style perfectly. He is not afraid of running through the middle, but has had a history of fumbles. With the right coaching, he should be able to clean that up. His pass protection was questioned before the draft, but has been very physical in training camp and is clearly working hard to earn the role of the 3rd down back.

Are Starks, Green (and Harris?) relevant?
Alex Green and Starks are also in the mix. Both players have had opportunities to be the featured back in this high octane offense, but generally have not had much success because both have struggled to stay healthy. Starks has been the most consistent back in camp so far this year, but he also has the most experience. He started with the number ones on Packers Family Night, and looked like the running back from the 2010 playoffs. Alex Green will have his work cut out for him trying to earn touches, but he does look better than he did last year when he was still recovering from the knee injury which held him out of the 2011 season.

Another player that cannot be forgotten about is DuJuan Harris. He earned a chance to make the team with what he did at the end of last season by averaging 4.6 yards per carry and being effective in the passing game. He has a very high motor and a low center of gravity (5’8’' and 203 lbs). He has been out early in training camp due to a knee injury, and is also recovering from surgery in which he had a large fist-sized cyst removed from near his lung. As DuJuan Harris' agent, Dave Lee, pointed out, "The cyst was pressing against his lung, and now he has full capacity with his lungs so he should have even more endurance and speed, so it was a blessing in disguise."

If DuJuan Harris does in fact bounce back in better shape with a year of experience under his belt, it would be hard to keep him off the field. We have seen the ceiling from Starks and Green and know what we are getting with those guys, and it's time to see what these young runners can do.

Green Bay has also been impressed by undrafted rookie free agent, Angelo Pease. He performed well at the Packers' rookie orientation in May, showing the ability to make decisive cuts. He managed an impressive touchdown on the Packers Family Night scrimmage. He has also done a good job in pass protection which could earn him a spot on the practice squad, or even the 53-man roster.

What should we expect from this crowded backfield?
I expect to see a lot of Starks throughout the preseason and early in the regular season because he has the most experience on the roster. He keeps the defense honest, because he is more of a passing down threat than a rusher, but can easily get his average above 4.0 yards per carry.

Lacy will earn most of the redzone touches, and could become a 20-25 touch per game player, but it will be difficult to keep the dynamic Franklin and Alex Green on the sideline. Look for Lacy to get about 15 touches, Starks with 5, Franklin and Green each with 2-3. Harris and Pease could have success if the opportunity presents itself, but they are buried behind a lot of talent. Coach Mike McCarthy will stick with the hot hand, which will be Lacy by October.