Archive for December, 2009

An open letter to Dom and the five positives from a gut-wrenching loss

Posted in Rory on December 22, 2009 by big.ror

I was originally going to title this post “In Dom we fail,” but I thought that might be a little too harsh.  Nonetheless, I’m still quite vexed over the ending of the Packers/Steelers game last Sunday, and as a means to vent some of that frustration, I’m going to begin this post with an open letter to the Packers’ defensive coordinator.

Dear Dom,

A three man rush?  Really?  That’s your master plan?  On the Steelers’ final drive, not once did you dial up a blitz.  Not once did you bring any sort of pressure.  You think you’re going to put away the defending Super Bowl champs with a consistent string of three man rushes?

Here’s what I understand:  you have two inexperienced (read bad) players forced into action in the secondary in Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell, and in an effort to mitigate their weaknesses, you drop everyone but three defensive lineman back into coverage.

But here’s the problem:  in rushing only three, you give Roethlisberger more than ample time to throw.  And when you give a quarterback like Roethlisberger 5 or 6 seconds on every snap, he is going to find an open receiver eventually.  Furthermore, the Steelers need a touchdown; they need to go 86 yards to win the game in two minutes with only one timeout.  Put differently, the Steelers aren’t going to dink and dunk their way down the field; they are going to run deeper routes that need time to develop.  And you let those routes develop because you didn’t send any pressure inRoethlisberger’s direction.

Dom laid an egg during the last 2 minutes of the game

During this game, I realized that outside of, say, Nick Collins, Charles Woodson, and Tramon Williams, nobody on this team is good in coverage.  That includes Atari Bigby, Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, Brandon Chillar, Clay Matthews, and, of course, Bush and Bell.  All of them were taken advantage of at least once last Sunday in the passing game.  So this is where your logic falls apart, Dom.  If you know that these guys aren’t good in coverage and if you know the Steelers are running deep routes (both of which were pretty obvious last Sunday), then why rush three?  The more logical move is to send at least four, probably five.  That way, those linebackers can actually do something they’re adequate at:  rushing the passer rather than getting exploited in coverage.

Even my girlfriend, who doesn’t really know the strategic aspects of football, said to me, “What’s up with the three man rush?”

What’s worse is that once it was obvious this approach was not working, you fatuously and obstinately stuck to it.  Your inability to adjust during a crucial moment in the game was just baffling.  It was as if you were dialing up these calls from the Bob Sanders’ handbook, How to Blow a 4th Quarter Lead.  The Packers hired you to eschew those type of late game performances, not to replicate them.

There’s an old NFL adage, one that seems all the more apropos after this loss:  prevent defense only prevents you from winning.

Dom, I respect you and everything you have done for the Packers’ defense this season, but on Sunday, when it mattered most, you let me—and many other Packer fans, I’m sure—down.

**

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move forward.

On a superstitious level, this game was a coming to fruition of sorts; that is, the Packers had won 5 straight, and the Steelers had lost 5 straight.  The former was due for a loss; the latter due for a win.  Moreover, during this 5 game span, the Packers had found ways to gain and/or retain a lead in the 4th quarter, while the Steelers had found ways to give up leads in the 4th.  All of this, coupled with the Steelers being at home and having ten days rest, portended an ominous day for the Packers.  Nonetheless, this game conjured up painful memories of the 2008 season.  Those last two minutes were all too reminiscent of last year:  the Packers’ offense fights valiantly and takes the lead late, and as a reward, they get to watch the defense squander it away.

That all said, in singling out Dom’s inexcusable playcalling during the last two minutes, I am forgetting that all Cullen Jenkins had to do was wrap up and make the sack the play before the touchdown to Wallace.  I’m also eliding the fact that Charles Woodson had a pretty mediocre day and that Brandon Chillar has developed a new (and unfortunate) penchant for making illegal contact at the most inopportune moments.  So while thus far I have sounded overwhelming negative—well, scathing—in both my letter to Dom and in my review of the Packers’ agonizing 37-36 loss to the Steelers last Sunday, and deservedly so, anyone who knows me knows that I am an optimist at heart.  As such, there are still some positives to take away from this game—five of them, in fact.

Rodgers had a great game, scoring 4 touchdowns (3 passing, 1 running)

Aaron Rodgers is awesome: (doing my best high school girl impersonation) Like, for realz.  Rodgers started out a little inconsistent, having some balls sail on him to start, but he settled down quickly and played an amazing game.  His stats imply a great game, but those stats don’t do him justice, as the Packers’ receivers, reverting to their ugly early season form, were dropping balls left and right.  Perhaps most alarming is the play of Donald Driver, who has put together some bad games after a solid first half start.  Rodgers displayed hints of frustration with his receivers last Sunday, but he never lost his cool.  Overall, he was poised, he avoided pressure, and he did everything you could ask of him.  He put forth a winning performance on the road in a hostile environment, and that augurs well not only for the rest of the season but also for his career heading forward.  Rodgers is an elite quarterback, people.  You had better believe it.  And he just turned 26.

Finley continues to be a playmaker, as he hauled in 9 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown

JerMichael Finley is money: How good is this kid (and at 22 years old, he really is a kid)?  I was always impressed with Finley’s athletic abilities, but after his struggles last year, I worried that he would be too immature, perhaps even mentally incapable, of putting these talents to good, consistent use on the football field.  I’m happy to say that those worries have dissipated.  Finley’s progression from his rookie year to this year has been a pleasure to watch:  since coming back from his knee sprain, Finley has led the Packers in receptions, and he has turned into Rodgers’ go-to-guy.  He’s a blatant mismatch for opposing defenses, and he was one of the main reasons the Packers were able to overcome their recent red zone struggles (even in a loss).  The sky, pardon the cliché, is the limit for this young man.

Matthews had two more sacks Sunday, giving him 7 sacks in the last 6 games

Clay  Matthews has an insane motor: Officially, Matthews had 5 tackles and 2 sacks against the Steelers, but unofficially, we all know he should have an extra sack as well as a forced fumble and recovery added to his name.  I find myself complimenting Matthews in some form almost every week, so while I’m starting to sound like a broken record, let me just say, on record, that he deserves every bit of praise he receives.  As far as I’m concerned, Matthews is the defensive rookie of the year.

The offense never quit: Despite never leading until early in the 4th quarter, the Packers’ offense played admirably (sans the drops, of course).  In fact, at times, their demeanor and poise epitomized that of a team with the lead.  To close the game, the Packers’ offense scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives.  Yes:  they abandoned the run from the very first snap of the game, but McCarthy aptly went back to it on Grant’s 24 yard touchdown run.  I had a feeling that if the receivers would stop dropping balls, that the offense would put the team in a position to win.  I was right.  Unfortunately, the defense decided to regress to their 2008 play, thus stealing a win from this offense, who put forth a great, gritty performance on the road in the cold.

Playoff Experience: This wasn’t a playoff game, and unless they get some help, the Steelers aren’t making the playoffs, but this was a playoff-esque game with a playoff-esque atmosphere.  True:  the Steelers had lost 5 consecutive games, some to bottom-tier teams such as the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns.  But the Steelers brought it last Sunday.  Roethlisberger played easily the best game since his Super Bowl performance last February, if not the best games of his career, and the Steelers protected the ball (well, at least according to the refs, who egregiously called Roethlisberger’s fumble an incomplete pass and inexplicably blew an early whistle after Bigby nailed Wallace to force a fumble—you think I wouldn’t mention the refs abominable performance?).  The Steelers, the defending Super Bowl Champions, put together one of their better games of the season, and while the Packers very much chocked in the final minute, this is still a game from which they can learn.

In fact, I think this is by far the overriding positive from this game.  Put differently, how would you feel, if you were a Packer player, after this loss?  You trail most of the game, in a hostile environment, only to take the lead late in the game.  Then, to lose on the last play of the game, after countless opportunities to seal the game:  that has to piss you off.  And it should.  As a fan, it pisses me off.  And that’s natural.  What the Packers need to do, however, is channel that pissed-off-ness and turn it into motivation.  They need to use it as a reminder the rest of the season as to what can happen on the road against a good team if you don’t take care of business.

**

If the Packers are to do anything in the playoffs (granted they get there), they will need to win on the road.  Sunday’s game is the closest thing they will have to a road playoff environment until they experience the real thing in January.  With that in mind, the Packers really need to reflect on this game.  More importantly, they need to learn, to understand what they did wrong and ensure that it won’t happen in the future.

As difficult as this game is to stomach, it is nonetheless the type of game that can end up being a blessing in disguise late in the season.  This loss should stick in the back of their craw, irritating and annoying them.  This loss should strengthen the Packers’ focus.  This loss should rejuvenate and inspire them.  Will it?  I guess we’ll find out next Sunday against Seattle.  Because let’s face it:  if the Packers don’t dominate the Seahawks, who just lost at home to the Buccaneers, then the Packers aren’t a playoff team.  Despite the loss, I thought they played like a playoff team against the Steelers.  Maybe  not a great playoff team, but a playoff team.  And despite their kicking woes (at this point, Crosby is indefensible) and secondary concerns (yeah:  I’m looking at you Bush and Bell), this is a dangerous team.  A hard-fought, one point loss on the road to the defending champs doesn’t negate that.

Should the Packers be angry after last Sunday’s loss?  Hell yes.  And if they want to make a playoff push, they need to play angry the rest of the season.

Prepping for the playoff push

Posted in Rory on December 15, 2009 by big.ror

The day:  November 8th.

The forecast:  gloom and doom.

After two disconcerting losses in a row, one to the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings and another to the hapless and winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers’ season appeared, essentially, finished.  A season ripe with promise was seemingly spoiled.  With the Packers at a disappointing 4-4, the question circling through Packerland wasn’t what it would take for the Packers to regroup and make the playoffs but whether the Packers should (or could afford to) fire coach Mike McCarthy.

I too was unable to find any silver lining in one of the worst two week stretches the Packers had endured over the last decade.

Now, five weeks later, many of us look back and see this two week stretch as a blessing in disguise—a wake-up call of sorts.  Since the ignominious loss to the Buccaneers, the Packers have won five straight games.  And with three games left in the 2009 season, the current question isn’t whether the Packers can make the playoffs—in fact, barring a strange turn of events, they seem like a lock to make the playoffs and can even secure a spot this Sunday against the Steelers with a win and some help.  Instead, the question is whether this streaking Packer team can make a playoff push toward the Super Bowl.  In order for that to happen, however, the Packers would have to win three straight playoff games, all three of which would most likely be on the road since the Packers, despite their record, can do no better than a Wild Card.  Improbable?  Perhaps.  Impossible?  Not in the slightest (just ask the 2007 New York Giants).

However, if the Packers are truly serious about making a deep playoff run, then they need to use these next two games—and possibly the last game against the Cardinals depending on how everything unfolds—to focus on a few key aspects of their game.  With that in mind, here are two lists:  (1) what the Packers need to continue doing and (2) what the Packers need to start doing.

What the Packers need to continue doing:

The offensive line has only given up 6 sacks the last 4 games

Keep Rodgers upright: As we all know, this was a major concern through the first eight weeks of the season, where Rodgers was sacked an embarrassing 37 times.  During the five game win streak, however, Rodgers has been sacked only 10 times, and 4 of those came against the Cowboys.  In other words, the Packers haven’t allowed more than 2 sacks in a game over the last month.  That’s a major improvement from the obligatory 5 sacks per game Packer fans were unfortunately becoming accustomed to seeing.  Part of the improvement is due to stability along the offensive line, who after partaking in an unsuccessful game of musical chairs throughout the first half of the season have now been starting the same five for over a month.  Another reason for the decline in sacks is Rodgers getting rid of the ball quicker.  Rodgers is playing at a Pro Bowl level, but he’s also benefited greatly during this stretch from the return of JerMichael Finley and Jordy Nelson.  Both, especially Finley, allow the Packers to spread the field and capitalize on the short, quick passes that are a staple of the West Coast Offense.  By eliminating the sacks and, to a degree, the pre-snap penalties, the Packers have found themselves in more favorable downs and distances, and as a result, they have capitalized.  They still aren’t the offensive juggernaut we saw in the pre-season, but that is more the result of red zone struggles.  More on that later.

Collins has been an interception machine, picking off a pass in 5 of his last 6 games

Force turnovers: The Packers are a NFL best +18 in the turnover ratio, and they are 3rd in the league with 23 interceptions.  14 of those interceptions have come from Charles Woodson and Nick Collins, both of whom intercepted Jay Cutler last Sunday.  Although Woodson was beat on consecutive throws, one even for a touchdown, he put together a solid game overall, breaking up 3 passes, the last of which sealed a win for the Packers, and making yet another impressive shoelace tackle at the line of scrimmage.  Overall, Woodson just continues to pad his stats and to make his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year (if not MVP of the league).  For Collins, it was his 4th straight game with an interception, and his 5th INT in the last 6 games.  Can we finally agree that Collins is an All Pro caliber safety and that the Packers need to sign him to a long-term deal—like now?  If the Packers continue to win the turnover battle, they’ll find themselves with a chance to win most of their games, and that includes playoff games.

Get solid play from the rookies: Clay Matthews has been a constant force since becoming a fulltime starter, and fellow rookies BJ Raji and Brad Jones have put together impressive performances as well.  Last week I devoted a lot of attention toward the rookies, so for the sake of being redundant, I’ll just say that I hope these three continue to improve and don’t tire down the most important stretch of the season.

What the Packers need to start doing:

Convert in the red zone: The Packers’ offense has turned into a well-oiled machine over the past few weeks—until they reach the red zone, that is.  Recently, the red zone has been the Packers’ kryptonite, and in settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, they let inferior teams hang around.  They let the Ravens close within 3 points two weeks ago, and rather than jump out to a 21 point lead against the Bears last Sunday, they settled for field goals twice and actually were trailing 14-13 heading into the 4th quarter.  Yes, the Packers are finding ways to win these close games in the 4th quarter, something they couldn’t do last year, but if the Packers want to make a Super Bowl run, they cannot continue to settle for field goals.  They have been able to do so and win against inferior teams, but good teams—you know, teams that make the playoffs—will make the Packers pay for not taking advantage inside the twenties.  Getting touchdowns instead of field goals is doubly important since the Packers are still displaying an unfortunate proclivity for disappearing for quarters at a time.

The special teams coverage was good against the Bears, but it is still a lingering concern

Improve their special teams: This is two-fold.  First, the special teams need to do a better job of punt and kick coverage.  Far too many times this year, the Packers have scored and grabbed some momentum only to give it back a play later by allowing a big kick return.  I actually expected a big return after the Packers went up 21-14 early in the 4th against the Bears.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  The Packers covered well against the Bears, and this needs to continue.  Right now, it appears as though the Packers will play either the Cardinals or the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs, and both of them have dangerous returners.

The other area in which the special teams needs to improve is in the field goal department.  Yeah:  I’m looking at you, Mason Crosby.  Despite what the coaches are saying, Crosby’s slump is starting to become a major concern.  He’s turned into a liability, missing very makeable field goals at crucial points in the game.  Two weeks in a row, Crosby has had a chance to extend the Packers’ lead to 10 points in the 4th quarter, and both times, he’s missed.  The Packers have been able to hold on to these leads, so the misses don’t seem as damaging now, but if this trend continues, it is going to hurt the Packers sooner rather than later.  If the Packers find themselves driving for a game-winning field goal late in the 4th quarter, I’d have to say I don’t like their chances.

Cut down on the penalties: Penalties were a major story following the Ravens game two weeks ago, and they have been a concern all year:  the Packers have amassed 102 penalties this season, the most in the league.  Last Sunday, however, the Packers watched the Bears play the role they were accustomed to playing:  the Bears committed 13 penalties for 109 yards, while the Packers only committed 4 for 30.  Considering the horrible field conditions in Chicago, I expected the Packers to be flagged quite regularly, but that surprisingly wasn’t the case.  Like the special teams coverage against the Bears, the low amount of penalties is something the Packers will want to replicate going forward.

What I’ve attempted to articulate here isn’t new.  And on some level, much of what I said are fundamental musts for good football teams, such as protecting the quarterback and the football.  Still, whether we like to admit it or not, a penalty here and there, a missed field goal late, and a missed opportunity in the red zone can make all the difference between winning and losing.

**

Next on the docket for the Packers is a trip to Pittsburgh, a game many Packer fans penciled in as a loss earlier in the year.  But with the Steelers reeling, losing five straight games, some of which to dreadful opponents such as the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns, many of those same fans are using the other end of the pencil and erasing that early prediction.  The Steelers are all but eliminated from the playoffs, and the hell that coach Mike Tomlin said would be unleashed has yet to come to fruition.  In fact, it’s quite cold in Pittsburgh.  Talk about your all time backfires.

At this stage, one would have to consider the Packers losing to be an upset.  And with a chance to secure a playoff spot, the Packers should be amped up.  That said, the Steelers, at least to me, appear to be a prideful team; furthermore, they’re at home, and they’ve had essentially a week and a half to prepare for the Packers coming off their Thursday night loss to the Browns.  Nonetheless, the Packers are the better team right now, and I hope they show that Sunday.

This defense is good

Posted in Rory on December 11, 2009 by big.ror

Okay:  I was wrong.

When the Packers lost both Al Harris and Aaron Kampman for the season in the same game, I expected the defense to have a drop off in production:  after all, teams don’t lose Pro Bowl caliber players and get better—right?

Well, maybe they do.

In saying that, I’m not trying to imply that this is a situation of addition by subtraction.  In other words, the Packers’ recent success defensively is not due to Harris and Kampman being sidelined; rather, it is due to improved and inspired play throughout the entire defense.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the individuals who are making this defense an absolute pleasure to watch.

Matthews continues to make big plays as a rookie

The first reason, perhaps the most surprising yet the most enjoyable reason, why the Packers are playing great defense is the emergence of the rookies.  Let’s start with Clay Matthews, a player whom I’ve praised a lot, and deservedly so, since he became a fulltime starter in Week 4.  Matthews was all over the field against the Ravens last Monday:  he led the team with 5 tackles, forced a fumble, and registered 2 sacks.  Matthews is going to be the real deal, folks.  He has a great motor and never quits on a play, which was evident in his sack of Matthew Stafford to close the first half during the Thanksgiving game two weeks ago.  As he continues to progress and mature, Matthews seems more and more like the type of person who can become a leader of a defense.  He’s already won the confidence of his teammates:  said Ryan Pickett after last Monday’s win, “We expect that from Clay.  He doesn’t play like a rookie.”

Finally healthy, Raji is turning into a force along the defensive line

BJ Raji is another rookie who’s made some big plays the last few games.  Hindered by an injured ankle for most of the first half of the season, Raji has been healthy as of late, and the Packers’ defense has been reaping the benefits.  His bursting through the line only to swallow up Willis McGahee for a three yard loss to start the second quarter is just one example of the type of play we can except to see in the future from this impressive rook.   Raji’s impact won’t always be noticeable on the stat sheet but it is in the film.  He has impressive strength, which he compliments well with great speed for a man of his size, and consequently, he’s been starting to draw a slew of double-teams.  This, in turn, is freeing up other players who in their own right are deserving of double-teams, such as Pickett and Cullen Jenkins.  Raji’s improved play the past couple games gives the Packers a great rotation, but more importantly, the defense doesn’t regress when the starters rotate out.  In fact, one has to wonder if the team doesn’t play better when Raji is in the game.

The other rookie making his presence felt is Brad Jones.  Though faced with the unenviable task of replacing the injured Kampman, Jones has held his own quite nicely.  In his first start against the Cowboys, Jones held the point of attack and was second on the team with 7 tackles.  While many praised Jones’ play, they did so with tempered optimism, noting that teams will be better prepared for Jones in the future now that there is actual game footage of him.  Well, Jones has started two games since, one against the Lions on Thanksgiving and the other last Monday against the Ravens, and he continues to impress.  Some pundits even believe the defense is faster with Jones in the line-up than with Kampman.  Regardless, Jones has put forth an admirable effort over the past month or so, and he displayed great speed when he beat fellow rookie Michael Oher for a sack last Monday.

While it’s great to see not only one but three rookies flourish, especially in a complicated scheme such as the one Dom Capers employs, questions about and concerns over the dreaded “rookie wall” are becoming more pronounced by the week.  And the concerns are valid:  I’ll admit, if the Packers want to make the playoffs and, more importantly, make a push toward the Super Bowl, they need all three rookies to continue playing at a high level.  That’s a lot of pressure, but for some reason, I feel these three are up for the task.  Part of my optimism stems from the tread on each player’s proverbial tires; that is, the major impetus in rookies hitting “the wall” is a lack of stamina.  Coming from the college game, where they are not accustomed to playing on a weekly basis in December, most rookies tend to tire.  But fortunately for the Packers, neither Matthews, Raji, nor Jones were starting from day one:  Matthews didn’t become a fulltime starter until Week 4, Raji doesn’t start (though he does play starter snaps for a defensive lineman), and Jones didn’t become a fulltime starter until two weeks ago.  Collectively, the rookies reveled in the spotlight last Monday, as they played their best game, as a set, of the year.  Put differently, these rookies seem to be peeking, to be hitting their stride, and I just hope it can carry on through December and into January.

Barnett has put together a great season, perhaps his best as a Packer

The second major reason the Packers’ defense continues to play great is the performance of the inside linebackers.  At this point, it’s safe to say that Nick Barnett is back.  By that, I don’t mean he’s healthy, though he is; rather, I mean the 2007 Nick Barnett is back—except this version seems more mature.  After tackling Ray Rice for a seven yard loss early in the fourth quarter, I expected Barnett to bust out his patented samurai chop, a celebration he has been scrutinized for performing at inopportune times.  And while that play would have surely warranted the samurai chop, Barnett instead opted to clap his hands gently and to point to the fans, perhaps a sign that he does indeed “get it.”  Although his play last Monday doesn’t stand out statistically, Barnett was the major reason Rice was rendered inconspicuous.  Barnett shadowed Rice all night, essentially eliminating the Raven’s biggest playmaker.  Overall, Barnett has put together a fantastic year playing at a position wherein many expected him to struggle.

Hawk has made the most of his opportunities since Chillar was sidelined

The other inside linebacker exceeding expectations is AJ Hawk.  Early in the season, Hawk was seemingly demoted, playing solely in base formations.  The team was disappointed in his play, and the coaches apparently informed him of much behind closed doors.  And although it took Brandon Chillar getting hurt in order to give him another opportunity, Hawk has made the most of it and has responded with some of his best play as a Packer.  Hawk has always been considered assignment steady, a solid player who didn’t make too many mistakes.  The problem for many, however, was that he didn’t live up to the billing of the number five overall pick.  In other words, Hawk wasn’t developing into the playmaker many thought he would.  Lately, however, Hawk has become just that:  a playmaker.  He’s flying around the field, and he’s making tackles at and behind the line of scrimmage.  Perhaps most impressive is his improved play in coverage.  Early in his young career, Hawk was considered one of the better coverage linebackers in the game.  Many have since soured on that assessment, but Hawk is once again showing that such people—as with the people who have written him off as a bust—might have spoken prematurely.  His huge game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter is evidence of that.

Collins has an interception in three straight games

The play in the secondary is a third reason for the Packers’ continued defensive success.  One player in that secondary is Pro Bowler Nick Collins, who once again is having a Pro Bowl season.  Last Monday, Collins intercepted Joe Flacco on an attempted flea flicker, giving Collins a pick in each of the last three games—and four interceptions over the last five games.  Although he wasn’t giving up big plays or missing tackles, Collins was still off to a slow start to begin the season.  Part of the reason, one could argue, is he was compensating for the loss of fellow safety Atari Bigby.  Another reason was because he, like his teammates, were still acclimating to the 3-4 scheme.  Either way, Collins has once again become the playmaker he was throughout the 2007 season, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Tramon Williams is another player in the Packers’ secondary who deserves some praise.  Joe Flacco and the Raven’s offense targeted him all game long, and in the process, Williams was flagged for some big defensive pass interference calls.  Some of those were legit, while others, at least in my opinion, were more the result of the refs targeting a player than watching the play.  Nonetheless, one has to appreciate Williams’ short memory.  Even though Flacco made an egregious decision in throwing across his body and into the endzone, Williams’ recovery speed, which should not be overlooked, is what turned that play from a mistake in judgment to a monumental error in execution.  As I said a few weeks ago, Williams isn’t as good as Harris, and considering who’s lining up on the other side of the field, we can expect to see opposing quarterbacks target Williams frequently from here on out.  That said, I trust Williams.  He’s going to give up plays here and there; he’ll get flagged a couple other times as well.  But he’s also a playmaker with a lot of heart.

Lastly, there’s this guy named Charles Woodson.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

Woodson is making an incredibly strong case for NFL Defensive MVP

There really isn’t much else to say about Woodson that hasn’t already be said.  The guy, put bluntly, is just amazing.  I haven’t seen as good a defensive player don the Green and Gold since Reggie White.  His diving tackle at the goal line to set up Williams’ interception is the stuff of legends.  Though I may be a bit biased, I have a hard time believing anyone else is ahead of him in the race for the defensive MVP.  He’s just a game changer, a player offenses need to account for on every play.  His versatility, athletic prowess, and football acumen is unfathomable.  I’m not the most easy person to impress, but Woodson has been impressing me on almost a weekly basis this year.  He’s simply outstanding, and I mean that without the slightest tinge of hyperbole.

Although this defense had been ranked number one overall for the past two weeks, many questioned the ranking since it was predicated on total yardage allowed.  Points allowed:  that is a more accurate way to assess a defense, people said.  And while those people may be right, the Packers are now ranked 8th in points allowed, and some of those points, such as the second and last touchdown the Ravens scored last Monday as well as the first and only touchdown the Lions scored on Thanksgiving, were mostly the result of those teams having auspicious field position.  I won’t say this is the best defense in the league, and they have an unfortunate proclivity to disappear for a quarter at a time, but make no mistake about it:  this defense is good.  Damn good.  And if you watch closely, you might just say they’re getting better.

**

Up next for the Packers is a trip to Solider Field, home of the division rival Chicago Bears.  The Packers are clearly a better team than the Bears at this point of the season, but we all know that doesn’t ensure a Packer victory.  The Bears always bring it against the Packers, regardless of either team’s record, and compounding the matter is that the Packers have had their fair share of troubles in Chicago over recent years.  Moreover, the weather will surely play a factor this Sunday, as it did during those recent struggles.  Even more ominous, if that’s possible, is the fact that the entire Packers’ defensive line is nicked up:  Jenkins, Pickett, Jolly, and Raji all missed practice time this week.  All also said they expect to play Sunday, but we’ve heard that before with players.

It appears as though the Packers will need to win at least two of their last four games to secure a playoff spot, and a win against the Bears would go a long way, especially with a home game against the Seahawks, a game the Packers have no business losing.  As a whole, this team appears to have captured the focus they lacked during the first half of the season, and the confidence overall has to be at an all-time high.  Let’s hope we can say the same Sunday night.