Jan 022013
 

15cgvike1203.jpgMinnesota Head Coach Leslie Frazier has given a high appraisal of backup quarterback Joe Webb’s ability, making it no secret that he feels Webb can be an NFL starter. So it was faith in Christian Ponder, rather than the sense he lacked depth at the QB position, that prompted Frazier to stick with Ponder through his mid-season struggles. Ponder rewarded his coach with a 234 yard 3 td performance in Week 17 at home that capped a 4-game winning streak, in which Ponder was picked off only once, and launched Minnesota into this week’s re-match at Lambeau. Ponder’s ability to relocate his early season efficiency in conjunction with Frazier’s guile and Adrian Peterson’s historic comeback season have turned around a franchise that bottomed out at 3-13 just a season ago.

For Green Bay, 2012 was more of the same from a franchise that has taken on a level of consistency and success in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. Aaron Rodgers overcame the lack of a marquee running attack and injuries to both Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb to post MVP caliber numbers. Green Bay overcame a 2-3 start, albeit a controversial loss to Seattle thrown into that mix, to win 11 of their final 13 games. Saturday brings round three of the Vikings-Packer series back to Lambeau where the Packers overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit against Minnesota on Dec. 2 and have not lost since opening day.

The Keys for Minnesota
It was Ponder’s 2 interceptions thrown to Morgan Burnett that sunk the Vikings on Dec 2nd and rendered Adrian Peterson’s 210 yard performance for naught. Fast forward to Week 17 when Peterson rushed for 199 yards but Ponder avoided turnovers and passed for three scores in the wild card clinching victory. Ponder will need to be equally as efficient if Minnesota is to win the rubber match. Additionally—it almost goes without saying—Peterson needs to continue his dominance against the Packer defense.

If Minnesota did one thing right on the other side of the ball in Week 17 it was in the pass rush where they were able to register 5 sacks. Unfortunately, the back end of the defense did not fare as well—giving up 365 yards and 34 points. Greg Jennings seems to be returning to form while Randall Cobb is likely to be available for Rodgers this week. Minnesota will need to slow down Green Bay in the secondary if they are to move on.

The Keys for the Packers
The Green Bay defense proved more than proficient at getting to the quarterback this season—ranking inside the top 5 in sacks. However, they have not fared well against the Vikings pass protections schemes and have sacked Ponder once in two games this season. Green Bay will need to put more pressure on Ponder in the second year quarterbacks playoff debut. The Packers can withstand another big performance by the NFL rushing champion as long as they make the Vikings offense one dimensional.

On the offensive side of the ball Aaron Rodgers will need to produce like Aaron Rodgers typically does. The Vikings defensive line has been able to find Rodgers, who has been able to overcome 7 sacks in the two meetings to produce stellar numbers. One has to wonder if Rodgers overcome back-to-back 5 sack performances? The Packers would be served best not to find out and would likely benefit from better pass protection and a better performance by the running game. They rushed for 72 yards in the week 17 loss versus 137 in their victory on Dec. 2nd. DuJuan Harris will likely get the chance to lead the Packers rushing attack.

Outcome
It can be argued that Minnesota has outplayed Green Bay in 6 of the 8 quarters the teams have played. Two things have held true through the two meetings: Green Bay cannot stop Peterson and Aaron Rodgers has been able to overcome Minnesota’s pressure to exploit the Vikings’ secondary. The “Wild Card” here is Ponder and whether or not he has the ability to build the performance of last week when he not only took care of the ball but he made big plays when needed. Similarly to the Colts and the Redskins, Minnesota getting to this point marks a dramatic resurrection from where they were a year ago. Win or lose, the Vikings are headed in the right direction. However, this week that direction is a return flight to Minneapolis where they can begin an off-season with designs on building on the success of 2012. Green Bay 35 – Minnesota 21

Sep 252012
 

I grew up watching a variety of sporting events. One of the things I always appreciated was listening to the post game radio interview after a basketball game, and hearing a basketball coach refuse to blame the loss on an official’s call, or a missed free throw, shot or lay-up that had occurred at the end of the game. The coach on these occasions would point out that the failure to make plays at key moments throughout the game was the cause of the loss as opposed to an official’s call, a missed free throw, or a missed shot at the end of the game. Thus, potentially one of the most frustrating and disappointing things to come out of last night’s game is the opinion that this game was stolen from the Packers. I disagree with this popular sentiment.

The Seattle Seahawks are a gritty, tough, team, and they are a lot of fun to watch. The Seahawks are a play or two away from being 3-0. Who was not impressed by the inspired play of the Seahawk defense, and their plucky quarterback, rookie Russell Wilson? In addition, Marshawn Lynch and Golden Tate were nearly equally as impressive. Consequently, the Seahawks collectively won this game, and let’s give credit where it is due.

In contrast, can the same thing be said about the play of the Green Bay Packers? Giving up eight sacks in one half of play is inexcusable. Yes, Mike McCarthy and his staff made some much needed adjustments at halftime. Further, the much maligned Packer defense has suddenly become a bright spot for the team. The Packers played winning defense, and Aaron Rodgers rendered the type of second half performance that we are used to seeing from him.

However, where was the Packer offensive line in the first half? The tackles were consistently abused and exposed throughout the first half, and the offensive line as a unit delivered a miserable performance. The unit improved its play in the second half, but was the damage already done? In the aftermath of the game, though, rather than some of the Packer linemen acknowledging that they could have played better, these players opted to blame the replacement officials and the NFL for the loss.

I will acknowledge that I am highly critical of Roger Goodell’s handling of this matter. It is my opinion that there has been a lack of leadership on his part in addressing and ultimately resolving this matter. The game and its reputation are being damaged given that it is apparent to all that the lack of quality officiating is damaging the brand of football that we have grown accustomed to watching.
This point is reinforced by what happened last night. Rather than acknowledging the fact that the best team last night won the game, we are blaming the officiating for the Packer loss. Based upon what I witnessed, the Seahawks were the better team and they won the game by virtue of being the better team last night. When it comes down to it, the Packers have no one to blame but themselves for the loss. If the Packers had made more plays throughout the game, the Packers would have won that game going away.

Yes, the failure of the officials union and the NFL to reach an agreement is ruining the game we love. This issue needs to be resolved today. As opposed to discussing what was a great football game last night, played by two pretty good to potentially really good teams, we are blaming the officials for a loss. This is not fair to the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and football fans as a whole.

Sep 252012
 

If the Baltimore win over New England was influenced by sub-par officiating, then the Seattle win over Green Bay was downright decided by it.

A replacement referee ruled that Golden Tate maintained simultaneous control of a last second 24-yard Hail Mary by Russell Wilson with Packers defender MD Jennings and ruled the play a touchdown, lifting the Seahawks to a thrilling 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers Monday night.

The only trouble with the call? There was never simultaneous control. Rather, it was clear on replay that Jennings first had possession of the ball and that Tate then fought to gain joint possession of the ball. A second official properly ruled the play an interception but was overruled on the field.

According to the NFL Rulebook,

If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.

Unless you are a Seahawks fan, this video can only show that Jennings secured control of the ball and even turned away from Tate before Tate was able to anchor an arm on the ball to establish mutual possession (not control).

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy refused to discuss the officiating, limiting his comments to, “I was told M.D. Jennings had the ball. I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in football.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the subject on right away. “”It was awful. Just look at the replay. And then the fact that it was reviewed, it was awful,” Rodgers said. “That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

There was some dispute after the game as to whether or not the ruling was subject to review, though one would suspect that because all scoring plays are reviewed, the call could and should have been made to rule the play an interception. That was not done however, and it took the teams a full ten minutes to return to the field to complete the required extra point in order to end the game.

The play ruined what was otherwise an extraordinary football game that, while it suffered from some abysmal calls, was a fair and hard fought battle dominated by the Seahawks defense until the Packers struck late to take the lead. The Seahawks were able to pin the Packers deep in their own territory and force a punt, setting up the Seahawks in Packers territory to start the final drive. The Hail Mary occurred on fourth down, and Golden Tate got away with an incredibly obvious offensive pass interference in the end zone that also should have negated the play. While offensive pass interference is rarely called in such situations, this play was obvious to a blind chipmunk living in Maine watching the game on the radio. Unfortunately for the Packers, the chipmunk was not officiating the game.

The game’s bizarre ending had the ESPN analysts going off again, a scant one week after Steve Young’s justified tirade against the league. Tonight both Young and Trent Dilfer spoke eloquently about the harm that the league is doing to the game, and the insult that the league is paying to the fans, players, and former players. As Young noted, the league is destroying the esteemed place that the NFL holds in professional sports, all for the sake of beating the union and controlling the officials. In the interest of saving money and asserting dictatorial control, the league seems willing to demean its own product and render the games meaningless.

Sixteen hours of talks took place over the weekend with the involvement of both Commissioner Goodell and a federal mediator, but the talks broke down. Word is that the NFL is now trying to re-ignite talks, likely in the wake of a disastrous weekend for the replacement officials. But the NFL sent a memo to its clubs updating teams on the progress of the talks, which unfortunately read like a press release justifying the stance of the league, according to Pro Football Talk. Coupled with the revelation that the league has resisted the desire of players to have concussion experts on the sidelines, it is clear that Goodell’s proclamations about the importance and value of player safety are hollow, and the NFL is willing to sacrifice both the integrity of the game and the safety of the players on the field to maximize its own profits.

While I hope that the situation can be resolved with a positive outcome in the near future, all games played with replacement officials are a continued disgrace to the league. These officials are not going to get better, and the evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse by the game. Roger Goodell’s legacy is quickly being reduced to a monumental joke and one must begin to wonder that if this situation does not get resolved soon, if it is time not only for players, coaches and fans to call for a resolution to the lockout, but also call for the resignation of Roger Goodell.

And I imagine that nearly the entire state of Wisconsin is ready to sign the petition. I’m pretty sure they already have one circulating in Louisiana.

May 222012
 

 

Green Bay Packers

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

Projected Starting Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers

2011 Record:  15 wins, 1 loss (1st in NFC North)

0-1 in postseason (lost in Divisional round)

3rd in Total Offense, 32nd in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 99 wins, 61 losses (T-4th in NFL)

6 wins, 6 losses in postseason

1-0 in Super Bowl appearances

4-1 All-time in Super Bowl