Thursday, September 30, 2010

Packing it in

I had a revelation after the Packers' devastating 20-17 loss to the Bears on Monday night. I'm glad it came in such an important game so early in the season, because now I officially have no expectations for the 2010 Packers.

Why? Because the 2010 Packers are fatally flawed. They have no running game, they make mistakes in droves, their offensive line looks just as shaky as last year and really they are one of the stupidest teams I've ever followed.

In a close football game, a single penalty that wipes out a touchdown, or a sack, or an interception might be enough to alter the outcome. Against the Bears on Monday, the Packers had a touchdown, two interceptions and a sack reversed because of penalties. They also had a pitiful punt jumpstart the Bears offense at the end of the first half. And, they still lost by three points.

The reality is that any team that commits 17 penalties will have trouble winning a game against the Lions, nonetheless a motivated team like the Bears.

Even if the Packers string together a few wins this season, we will always know that they are prone to an unwatchable performance like they had on Monday. And, with that in the back of my mind, I no longer take this team seriously. Any win is gravy, any loss is a byproduct of this talented, yet weirdly assembled team.

Maybe it's only appropriate to be figuratively unplug now, since next year will inevitably bring on a labor dispute that will disrupt the season and set the league back a decade. I'll still watch every game and follow them closely and all, but let the record show I emotionally divested in September.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joakim Noah > Carmelo Anthony

So the NBA rumor mill decided to cap a frustrating summer for Bulls fans by tantalizing us with the possibility of acquiring Carmelo Anthony.

Now that Anthony seems on his way to New Jersey, I suppose this blog post is a little late. The problem is, I've been getting my newborn on for the last three weeks so I haven't had a chance to weigh in.

Anthony is a great, if inefficient scorer, who has underachieved as a team leader in the NBA. He can score just about every way imaginable, and he is still in his prime, setting up the possibility of being able to pair him with Bulls star guard Derrick Rose for years to come.

The Bulls apparently proposed a silly package consisting of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and draft picks. The Nuggets have held out for Joakim Noah, and the Bulls have balked. Now some NBA executives apparently think the Bulls are foolish for being unwilling to trade Noah (and Deng) for Anthony.

My best guess is these executives are in the front offices of teams that have trouble drawing fans, which the Bulls do not. These same execs probably forget that the Bulls are built around defense, as evidenced by hiring Tom Thibodeau as coach. The new defense-first identity is moot if Noah is gone, because he's the team's best defender by a mile.

What's more, the Bulls have seven new players on their 12-man roster this year. Chicago needs a tone-setter like Noah, who blocks shots, rebounds, defends the pick-and-roll like a mad man, and brings intangibles that just about no other player in the entire league can offer.

A lot of fans have tried to pin the whole ambiguous, "he's a winner," tag on Noah because he won two national championships at Florida. First of all, that UF team was stacked. Second of all, Anthony led his Syracuse team to a title as a freshman and then went pro.

This is a tough decision, and it's one that will be fun to judge as this season unfolds. But 25-year-old 7-footers with a work ethic like Noah just don't come along often. Chicago has the tools on offense in Rose, Carlos Boozer, Deng and others to score. But in order to advance in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls need to offer something other top teams like Miami, Orlando and Boston don't have.

I truly believe Chicago could be one of the top defensive teams this season, and that could be its calling card to contend. With that in mind, Noah deserves a lucrative contract extension, and Anthony should get a trip to New Jersey/Brooklyn.

Week 5 rankings

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Florida
6. Oklahoma
7. Auburn
8. Nebraska
9. TCU
10. Arizona
11. LSU
12. USC
13. Stanford
14. Utah
15. Nevada
16. Wisconsin
17. Michigan
18. South Carolina
19. Arkansas
20. Iowa
21. North Carolina State
22. Miami
23. Northwestern
24. Air Force
25. Texas

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week 4 rankings

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Nebraska
7. Texas
8. TCU
9. South Carolina
10. Florida
11. Auburn
12. Arizona
13. USC
14. West Virginia
15. Arkansas
16. LSU
17. Stanford
18. Utah
19. Wisconsin
20. Michigan
21. Nevada
22. Northwestern
23. Air Force
24. Iowa
25. Miami

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What he said

Yahoo! Sports.

Packers should trade for Marshawn Lynch

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflections on nine days with baby Maddux

My mom left our family for good when I was 9-years old. Before her absence carved out its void, her unadulterated and drug-fueled abuse turned me into a frail, fearful insecure little boy. Although I, along with my sisters, was forced to grow up quickly, I never took very well to responsibility. I dodged it, really. I blame those awful years under her care for that.

Anyhow, I don't mean for this to be a sob story about my life. I won't go into any gory details of my earliest childhood recollections. I never took very well to pity either. Add up all the times your mom comforted you, all of your most cherished family memories and replace them with terrifying, haunted and battered life events.

Because my mom's actions were so deplorable, and because it made moving on easier, I realized that I managed to warp her into a demonic caricature of her real self. She probably earned herself a prison sentence by some of her actions. But she didn't turn into an abusive, drugged-out loony until I was about six or seven. That means, for the first five years of my life, she overcame her own wrecked childhood and suppressed her own temptations in order to be a pretty nurturing mom.

I have some fond memories, too. Fishing at Salt Creek as a family. Going to the drive-in movie theater. Receiving big, puffy, suffocating hugs. I vaguely remember a sarcastic sense of humor, a flickering faith in God. Maybe those were passed down to me, too.

I've been a father to Maddux for nine days now. It's been difficult in its own way, but loving on him, doting on him, giving him all that a newborn (supposedly) needs, that's been relatively easy. It hasn't been difficult to imagine our future together, either. We've already talked about showing him the Brooklyn Bridge, his Oma's garden in Indiana and Lambeau Field. We can't wait to take him to North Carolina for some of Mamaw's southern-fried cooking, or to watch him play with his many cousins.

These last nine days have helped remind me that my childhood wasn't all bad. After all, my Mom's self-medicated beatdowns stopped when I was young enough to recover. I learned the lesson, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, is more than a cliche to cling to. It's true.

It took a while for me to embrace, but none of that God-awful bullshit killed me. And, now I'm a stronger Dad for it.

Packers Super Bowl season on the brink

Word out of Green Bay is that starting running back Ryan Grant is lost for the season with an ankle injury. Coupled with the offense's shaky performance in Philly on Sunday, there are very good reasons to believe the Packers' Super Bowl hopes are going down the drain.

But, GM Ted Thompson can fix all that by finally making a bold move. I would trade for Bills RB Marshawn Lynch, Cowboys RB Tashard Choice or sign veteran RB Willie Parker.

In 1996, when injuries hit the Packers' receiving corps, then-GM Ron Wolf signed troubled, yet talented, veteran receiver Andre Rison. It was a move that helped save the season. Rison turned out to be a productive player in Green Bay, and caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.

Losing Grant hurts, but there is hope. Backup RB Brandon Jackson has the potential to be a good player. Perhaps one of the unproven young players -- rookie James Starks, who is on the PUP list, practice squad member James Johnson, or rumored Grant replacement Dmitri Nance -- can pick up the slack. But without an infusion of veteran talent, the running game will suffer, opposing defenses will tee-off on Aaron Rodgers, and the vaunted offense will not live up to its considerable potential.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 3 rankings

My try at college football rankings. I still think Boise State looked great against Virginia Tech, although I understand that win is watered down now. Ohio State looked good too, but they were at home and really just took care of business.

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Texas
7. TCU
8. Nebraska
9. South Carolina
10. Florida
11. Iowa
12. Wisconsin
13. Auburn
14. USC
15. LSU
16. West Virginia
17. Arkansas
18. Utah
19. Stanford
20. Cal
21. Michigan
22. Air Force
23. Arizona
24. Clemson
25. Miami

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 Packers preview

I once had a grizzled, veteran Green Bay Packers fan explain something to me about Cheesehead karma. He told me his life always seemed to be a balance between personal successes and football struggles. As he graduated college, met his wife and started a family, he also moved breezily up the professional ladder, ending up the vice president of international business for a major corporation.

But, my friend was also a diehard Packers fan and his accomplishments coincided exactly with the dark ages in Green Bay after Vince Lombardi left town. Having a wonderful family and a rewarding career was nice and all, but this guy bled green-and-gold. Enduring the Bart Starr and Lindy Infante era was rather tough. In swept Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White, restoring Titletown to its rightful place. Wouldn't you know it, the same year the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, my friend found himself laid off and looking for work.

It's with that Packer fan's real-life story that I reflect on the chances for this year's squad. They look like contenders to me. But then, I've gained a lovely wife, a good job and now a newborn son in the last year. Odds are, the Packers will fall flat on their faces. I'm predicting playoffs, but no Super Bowl. Here's my position by position breakdown.

I don't understand general manager Ted Thompson's strategy with the Packers defensive backs. On one hand, you have defensive MVP cornerback Charles Woodson and playmaking Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins. But on the other hand, you have an array of inexperience, injuries, question marks and under-achievers. I would think that with the Super Bowl seemingly within reach, Thompson would have invested in the free agent or trade market to add a worthwhile starter at cornerback.

Instead, Tramon Williams will be starting opposite Woodson. At times, Williams has seen like a potential star. At other times, Williams has proven to be prone to penalties and broken coverages. Rookie Morgan Burnett is the starter at safety. Burnett definitely seems talented and I'm guessing the Packers are glad they were able to snag him the third round of the draft. But, I would feel a lot more comfortable with an assignment-sure veteran at the spot.

The nickelback seems to be undrafted rookie free agent Sam Shields, with further depth provided by troubled, but talented, Brandon Underwood, shaky veteran Jarett Bush and injury-prone Pat Lee. Special teams ace Derrick Martin and journeyman Charlie Peprah are the backup safeties.

I understand depth has been hurt because 2009 starters Al Harris and Atari Bigby begin the season on the PUP list. To me, this was even more of a reason to add depth. Harris suffered a catastrophic injury and Bigby has been hounded by nagging injuries. Instead the Packers kept their hand and will rely on rookies and unproven players for depth. Woodson is outstanding, but at his age, injuries are always a concern. He already has a toe injury to start the year. Images of Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger and others throwing at will on the Packers still run through my mind. If the Packers live up to their preseason hype, it will be in spite of this secondary, or because at least two of the young guys prove to be surprises.

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was a terror in 2009, but he missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury and has to adjust to a new position. Opposite Matthews, Brad Jones has the chance to capitalize one-on-one situations because defenses will concentrate on other players.

At middle linebacker, Nick Barnett is a leader, but he is coming off knee surgery. AJ Hawk has been something between pedestrian and pretty good during his time in Green Bay. There is plenty in reserve with veterans Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop, who would be starters for many other teams.

Brady Poppinga and undrafted free agent Frank Zombo leave something to be desired in reserve at outside linebacker. An injury to Matthews could genuinely ruin the season.

Defensive line
This is one unit that does give me hope the Packers could play deep into January. Ryan Pickett had a great season at nose tackle last year and moves to left end. Last year's first round pick BJ Raji takes over at the nose, giving Green Bay two run stuffers up front. Cullen Jenkins is one of the most underrated players on the roster, as he requires double teams and could even see time at outside linebacker in some situations. The problem is that Jenkins is constantly battling nagging injuries, and the depth is questionable. Rookies Mike Neal and CJ Wilson are joined by former first rounder Justin Harrell, whose injury plagued career is on the brink this season.

Frankly, I feel like Raji could be the team's secret weapon. If the behemoth lives up to his potential, then running the ball on Green Bay will be a tough task

Bottom line
It seems to me the Packers strategy on defense could be to completely shut down the opposing team's running game, therefore compensating for the lack of secondary talent with confusing blitzes and coverage schemes cooked up by defensive coordinator Dom Capers. When the unit became a 3-4 last year under Capers, it paid dividends and was clearly an improvement. Perhaps this trend can continue in the second year under Capers.

If the Packers are frequently playing ahead because of the dynamic offense, this strategy could work. But an injury to a player like Woodson, Collins, Matthews or Jenkins would be devastating and there are too many questions along the second string to feel secure.

Aaron Rodgers is proving to be a Steve Young type quarterback. In his first two years, Rodgers is making the Packers forget Favre the same way Young made 49ers fans forget Jone Montana. If Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers will be in the discussion at the end of the season. Matt Flynn is continuing Green Bay's tradition of turning backup quarterbacks into starters for other teams. If he has to play for a short stretch, I'd feel OK.

Running back
Ryan Grant is rock solid. He's tough, plays well in the zone blocking one-cut scheme and has proven to be very productive in two years at Green Bay. His backup is Brandon Jackson, who is a demon as a pass blocker and should be chomping at the bit to get the ball more this season. The Packers carry three fullbacks in Korey Hall, John Kuhn and Quin Johnson, which allows them to show unique packages and improve their short yardage running game. A third halfback would have been nice, but what do I know.

Tight end
Jermichael Finley is positioned to be a superstar and there is great depth behind him. Donald Lee could start for half the teams, Tom Crabtree is a special teams and blocking savant, and Andrew Quarless looks alarmingly like a younger version of Finley. This is probably the best tight end unit in the league in my opinion. Finley could be a 70 receptions, 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns player and his backups are threats in the passing game, and weapons in the running game.

Wide receiver
Greg Jennings seemed on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler, but last year was sort of a sidestep. I anticipate him fulfilling his potential this year. Ageless Donald Driver returns looking to add to his Packers HoF career. James Jones and Jordy Nelson are more than capable reserves who give other teams headaches.

Offensive line
Things have settled down at the o-line since last year's unit gave up sacks and committed penalties in droves. Veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are holding down the fort at tackle, as they have for the last decade. Unlike last year, depth has arrived in the form of first round pick Bryan Bulaga and developing TJ Lang. Darryn Colledge earned the left guard job and Josh Sitton is probably the best lineman on the team. At center, the Packers have heady veteran Scott Wells, and former starter Jason Spitz in reserve. This unit looked good in the preseason, seems healthy and has enough depth to overcome an injury. If the Packers can keep Rodgers healthy, then the offense will put up points without a problem.

Special teams
Tim Masthay won the punting job, and he has the unenviable task of stabilizing a position that has been dreadful since Jon Ryan was inexplicably cut. Mason Crosby seems talented enough, but he needs to be more consistent as the kicker. He's no sure thing when the game is on the line.

The coverage units have been abysmal the last several seasons, but the improved depth and a new emphasis in practice will hopefully see gains there. Thompson made no moves to add a return man, which means Tramon Williams or Greg Jennings, both critical starters, will be forced to return punts and subject themselves to injury. Jordy Nelson's only job as a kick return is to reach the 20-yardline or so and not fumble.

Bottom line
The Packers can reach the Super Bowl if they a. avoid the big injury AND b. become one of the top run defenses in the league so that opposing teams are forced to pass. This could easily happen because with the offense looking like an explosive unit, opposing teams could be playing from behind. This would allow the Packers to use their clever blitzes and give their playmakers like Woodson and Collins opportunities for interceptions.

Even one key injury on defense could blow up the season though, and for that Thompson is to blame. He could have gone "all in" and signed veterans in the secondary and return game. He didn't. Now, those holes leave the Packers hoping they can merely hang on until Harris and Bigby come off the PUP list.

Final thoughts
Real-life karma in my life says the Packers won't get the job done this year. But with the NFC North only looking so-so, 10-6 could still see Green Bay reach the playoffs. With Rodgers and that offense, that's reason enough to be excited for tomorrow's tough first game at Philadelphia. Coach Mike McCarthy has led the team to the NFC title game and I feel confident he has the right temperament for this team.

You just have to hope the A+ offense and A- run defense can overcome the C- pass defense and special teams. If that happens and the Packers make the Super Bowl as many predict, then I just hope I don't find myself jobless in January like my old friend did a decade ago.