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Tag:Ryan Grant
Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:05 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:28 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Running back rankings

Players are willing to get the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in their future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the running backs.

1. Ray Rice

Breakdown: Ray Rice told CBSSports.com back in October that "I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands." As it stands, Rice is a free agent. And it appears that while the Ravens may eventually "do the right thing" and sign him to a long-term contract (though almost certainly nowhere near Adrian Peterson-type money), the short-term plan is to franchise him. At 25, Rice hasn't yet reached his prime, which is all the more reason the Ravens should find a way to keep him in Baltimore for the next five years.

NFL Draft prep
The problem, of course, is that running backs are fungible. We've beaten this dead horse beyond recognition but it's worth repeating: teams can find relatively productive backs for little money. Knowing that, it doesn't make sense to use a non-trivial part of the salary cap to pay running backs, even those well above replacement level. It's why were were adamant last summer that the Titans shouldn't pay Chris Johnson. (They did and he was underwhelming in 2011, rushing for 1,047 yards -- 4.0 YPC -- and four touchdowns.)

That said, Rice isn't your typical back. In addition to his ability to run the ball, he's also a dangerous pass catcher. How dangerous? He led Baltimore in receptions in 2011 (76), was second behind Anquan Boldin in 2010 (63), and first in 2009 (78). For all the talk about Joe Flacco wanting a new deal, the Ravens' offense goes through Rice.

Potential landing spots: Ravens. That's it. If he gets away, Baltimore deserves whatever fate awaits them. Rice fits any system but is especially dangerous when he's utilized. That seems obvious but it's something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot at various points during the 2011 season.

2. Matt Forte

Breakdown: Forte missed the final month of the 2011 season with a knee injury but it won't have any impact on what the Bears think he's worth. They have no plans to let him hit free agency -- earlier this month team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And while #paydaman was the Twitter meme of the '11 season for Forte, he seems amenable to the franchise tag if it leads somewhere beyond a one-and-done deal.

"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said a few days after Phillips' comments above. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

Plus, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz gone and Mike Tice named as his replacement, the offense shouldn't require six weeks to find its rhythm. Ideally, a healthy mix of pass and run will keep Cutler upright and the Bears competitive in the NFC North. Forte, clearly, is a big part of that.

Potential landing spots: The Bears have no intentions of letting Forte get away, but like Rice, he'd fit in pretty much any offense. He's a capable pass-catcher and north-south runner.

3. Arian Foster

 Foster wants to stay in Houston '100 percent' (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wants to be back with the Texans and it sounds like the Texans 100 percent want him back.  As of early January, the two sides hadn't made progress on a new contract, and like Forte, Foster doesn't seem averse to the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in his future. Unlike Forte, Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the Texans have the option to sign him to a tender offer, which would be much less than the one-year franchise-tag value of $7.7 million.

Could the Texans' offense survive without Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing leader? Yeah, sure. They still have Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate. But Foster is only 25, and he's played on an undrafted free agent's salary the last two seasons. He's certainly outperformed his previous deal, now it's up to Foster's agent and the organization to find some middle ground.

Potential landing spots: The Texans. The franchise tag guarantees that other teams won't even get a shot at landing him. That said, he'd fit perfectly in the Redskins' scheme (they run virtually the same offense as the Texans, just with less talented players).

4. Marshawn Lynch

Breakdown: In the wacky world of Pete Carroll, trading a second-rounder for Charlie Whitehurst makes sense. So too does signing Tarvaris Jackson. To Carroll's credit, he said "thanks but no thanks" when his Heisman-winning quarterback during his USC days, Matt Leinart, was dumped by the Cardinals. And he had something to do with bringing Marshawn Lynch to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-rounder and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Lynch carried the Seahawks to a playoff win over the Saints in 2010, and rushed for 12,04 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.

Lynch was Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon last season (this explains the Peyton Manning scuttlebutt) and earlier this week the word on the street was that the team was in "deep" contract talks with Lynch and would consider using the franchise tag if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

We're not sure that's the best use of resources for an offense with plenty of issues. Unlike the Ravens, Bears and Texans -- all teams with top-15 quarterbacks -- the Seahawks might want to take that $7.7 million they'd use on Lynch and address other needs (quarterback, wide receiver, or a couple running backs, for example).

Potential landing spots: Seahawks, Bengals, Jets, Redskins

5. Michael Bush

Breakdown: Darren McFadden played in just seven games last season but the Raiders' rush offense still ranked 11th in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Much of that was due to Michael Bush, who ran for 977 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns, and added 418 yards receiving.

Still, despite his '11 success, when training camp begins, McFadden will be atop the depth chart. Running backs-by-committee are en vogue so it's reasonable to think that Bush will get plenty of work but he wants to be a starter (likely because it comes with starter money). And for that reason, the Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran wrote last week that Bush might prefer the franchise tag to a long-term deal. Corkran pointed out that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has a knack for developing running backs, which could mean that Bush will be elsewhere next season.

Potential landing spots: Bengals (former Raiders coach Hue Jackson is an assistant there), Buccaneers, Redskins

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Breakdown: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss broke down Green-Ellis' situation nicely last week: "The view from here is that the Patriots would like Green-Ellis to return and have a price in mind. The question then becomes if that price is attractive enough that it sparks Green-Ellis to sign before hitting free agency."

Free agency starts March 13. There will be a glut of running backs on the market and there's no promise that Green-Ellis will get more in free agency than he would from the Pats. It's more likely that New England will offer something less than market value because a) they typically handle the salary cap well, and b) they'll sell it as "we're a winner, if you go elsewhere you'll be in rebuilding mode."

And then there's c): the Pats drafted two running backs last April -- Shane Vereen in Round 2, Stevan Ridley in Round 3 -- and should they not be able to re-sign Green-Ellis they'd have plenty of depth at the position (something they seem oddly incapable of at wide receiver). As always, as long as Tom Brady is on the field, the Patriots will have a good chance to win. It would be nice to have Green-Ellis behind him but New England's offense will survive either way.

Potential landing spots: Patriots, Chiefs (Scott Pioli's the GM)

7. Cedric Benson

Breakdown: It's seldom players go to Cincinnati to revitalize careers but Benson isn't your typical NFL running back. The Bears' former No. 4 pick in 2005, he was considered a bust until he joined the Bengals in 2008. He rushed for 1,251 yards in 2009, 1,111 in 2010 and 1,067 last season.

This offseason, the organization has talked about getting backup Bernard Scott more touches next season. Benson, meanwhile, has taken to publicly calling out the Bengals -- not the best negotiating strategy.

“We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on," Benson said during an appearance this week on SiriusXM. "When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

As for Benson's future in Cincy, we think this comment pretty much says it all: “I’m not sure [where things stand]. We haven’t had any talks about a new deal.”

Last offseason, the organization dumped Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton and made the playoffs. The in-with-the-new personnel philosophy will apparently continue this offseason, too.

Potential landing spots: Benson's skills have diminished to the point that he's probably not worth more than a veteran minimum deal. Given his baggage, it makes more sense for a team looking for running back depth to sign a young player.

8. Peyton Hillis

Cleveland wants to keep Hillis? (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Whether Hillis was a victim of the Madden curse (he thinks he was) or he just got really bad really fast, the fact remains: he cost himself a lot of money in 2011. Hillis was traded from the Broncos to the Browns for Tim Tebow's No. 1 fan, Brady Quinn, and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He played in just 10 games last season, rushing for 587 yards and three scores.

Not good. Not good at all.

There were concerns during the season that Hillis let his impending contract negotiations affect his decision to play. As you might expect, that didn't go over well with teammates or fans. Still, the Browns said last month that they want Hillis back after he "worked his way into the team's good graces" over the final six weeks.

A source tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that the organization might even consider franchising (!) Hillis if they come to terms with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. That sounds, well, silly but then again, we're talking about the Browns.

Potential landing spots: Browns, Patriots (where derailed careers get back on track), Broncos (two Tebows, one backfield)

9. Ryan Grant

Breakdown: The team appeared to favor James Starks but he's had trouble staying on the field. In 2011, Grant had 14 starts and rushed 134 times for 559 yards and two touchdowns. Not particularly noteworthy, but then again, he played in Aaron Rodgers' offense. He'll be 30 in December and while he rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009, an ACL injury sidelined him for all but one game in 2010.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel wrote that "Packer general manager Ted Thompson won't make a heavy investment in a running back Grant's age… So Grant will test free agency, and he is unlikely to return unless there's little interest on the open market."

Grant seems to understand the situation. "We'll see," he said. "I know I have a lot left. I think I showed that at the end of the year here. Would like to be back . . . but we'll just have to see."

Potential landing spots: Teams looking for running back-by-committee members willing to play for the veteran minimum. Barring injuries, not sure there will be much of a market.

10. Honorable Mention

Unrestricted free agents: Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, Thomas Jones

Restricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 6:43 pm
 

Will Cedric Benson return to Bengals in 2012?

BensonBy Josh Katzowitz

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has wanted to get backup running back Bernard Scott more playing time, and if this Cincinnati Enquirer report is any indication, it sounds like that might happen in 2012. But it might happen because starter Cedric Benson – who’s hit the 1,000-yard milestone the past three seasons -- might not return to Cincinnati.

“From a consistency standpoint you’d like to get Bernard more carries, more touches and Cedric has earned the right to be a feature back in this offense the last couple of years,” Gruden said. “The more you give it to Bernard the more you’ve got Cedric over there scratching his head and not real happy. Really, to me, on a good football team nobody should worry about who’s scoring or who’s getting the ball so long as the team is moving.”

If that seems like a subtle shot at Benson from Gruden, that certainly could be the case. Gruden inherited Benson, and though Benson has resurrected his career with the Bengals, the team might really want to see what they got when they drafted Scott with the sixth-round selection in 2009.

But the fact is that the Bengals have pounded Benson the past three years. In 2009 and 2010, he carried the ball 301 and 321 times, respectively, and though that number decreased to 273 this seasno, he still had the fourth-most attempts of any AFC running back.

Considering he lost some carries to Scott from the previous two years, Benson wasn’t happy with his team’s direction.

“I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Benson told the paper. “Granted I don’t make those decisions or calls and I have to find a way to make it work. It was something they started soon after the first game. There was a vision where they saw the offense going. I may not like it or agree with it but I’ll make it work if given the opportunity.”

Thing is, he might not get the opportunity. He signed a one-year, $3 million deal before the 2011 season, and that means he’s an unrestricted free agent who could make pretty decent money on the open market.

But considering these are some of the free agent running backs that will emerge this offseason -- Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, and Mike Tolbert -- Benson has to worry about oversaturation. And if that’s the case, maybe he’s better off taking a few less carries and staying in Cincinnati

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Posted on: December 25, 2011 11:47 pm
 

Packers win again, but have some issues

K. Bell gained 121 yards in Chicago's loss to Green Bay (AP).By Josh Katzowitz

Not many people gave the Bears much of a chance to upset the Packers on Sunday night. Not with Chicago missing its first-string quarterback, starting a guy who was coaching high school football not so long ago, and playing a third- and fourth-string running back in place of Matt Forte.

But Chicago’s Josh McCown was more than solid, running back Kahlil Bell looked fantastic and Chicago played evenly with the Packers in the first half (and ultimately outgained Green Bay 441-364). But the Packers did what the Packers do and dominated the second half to finish off Chicago 35-21 and secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Before we anoint the Packers an automatic Super Bowl team, though, they still have issues they need to correct. Here are three that the Bears helped expose tonight.

Run defense: It’s easy to talk about how (statistically) poor the Packers pass defense is (though Green Bay has faced the second-most pass attempts in the league this season, so the statistics look a little worse than they should), but the run defense isn’t all that wonderful either.

Without Ryan Pickett, who was out with a head injury, in the lineup, the Packers showcased a major weakness through the entire first half. Bell -- the Bears third-string running back -- looked like an All-Pro, gaining 89 yards on 14 carries in the first half (he finished with 121 yards). Last year on their run to the Super Bowl, the Packers allowed 114.9 rushing yards per game, ranking 18th in the NFL. This year, after Sunday’s game, they give up 114.4 yards per contest, ranking 16th.

Listen, that’s not terrible. But against a Bears team that was one-dimensional, starting a third-string quarterback, the Packers knew Chicago would have to rely on its running game. Green Bay just couldn’t stop it. Against most teams, the Packers offense doesn’t allow that to matter, but in the playoffs, when Green Bay could be facing a top-notch defense like the 49ers, this could become a major hole.

Week 16 recap
Makeshift offensive line: The line actually played well vs. a Bears defense that boasts Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers. Marshall Newhouse handled Peppers well, and despite missing left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Bears garnered just one sack. But this is potentially a problem in the future, because you can’t expect Newhouse and T.J. Lang, normally a guard, to keep up that pace in replacing Clifton and Bulaga.

Besides, without the starting tackles in there, Rodgers looks to make quick passes or get out in space on play-action. If Clifton, who’s been out since Week 5 with a bad hamstring, and Bulaga (a sprained knee last week who might not return until the postseason) can be back for the playoffs, that probably would make Rodgers -- who was sacked four times in last week’s loss to the Chiefs -- feel better.

Running game: Twice, in the span of one series, the Packers running back busted up a play and forced Aaron Rodgers to scramble a few yards and then fall down to avoid danger. Once, it was Ryan Grant, once it was James Starks and both times Rodgers couldn’t have been happy.

Starks and Grant were basically invisible anyway. They combined to record 57 yards on 14 carries, and overall, the Packers run game ranks 27th in the NFL. Even if the Packers become the most one-dimensional team in the league, it probably won’t matter with Rodgers running the team. But if he struggles in the playoffs or gets injured, Green Bay could be in trouble.

But Clay Matthews made a good point after the game in regards to how these issues could affect the team in the future.

“When you have a quarterback like that,” Matthews said on NBC, “you’re allowed to make a couple mistakes.”

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Posted on: December 18, 2011 12:24 pm
 

James Starks on the Packers inactive list

StarksBy Josh Katzowitz

Packers quarterback James Starks completely planned to play today. Despite suffering an ankle injury in Week 11 that he subsequently reinjured in the following two games, which then caused him to miss last week’s game, Starks said he was healthy enough to play vs. the Chiefs and there was no reason to sit him out with the playoffs coming closer.

His team apparently disagrees, as Green Bay has deactivated Starks for the second-straight week.

Starks has been OK this season (565 yards, 4.4 yards per carry), but since he hurt his ankle, he’s combined for seven carries and 24 yards in the past two games. Obviously, his ankle was hurting badly enough where he was ineffective when he was actually in the game.

Plus, the team probably doesn’t agree with Starks that there is no reason to be cautious with his ankle with the upcoming playoffs. In fact, there’s EVERY reason to be cautious with the rapidly-approaching postseason, especially considering Green Bay is playing a Kansas City squad today that shouldn’t be much of a threat.

Also, last week, without Starks in the lineup, Ryan Grant had one of his best games of the season, recording 85 yards and two carries on 10 carries, another reason why Green Bay probably feels OK about resting Starks another week.




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Posted on: December 6, 2011 11:01 am
 

How to buy Green Bay Packers stock (right now!)

By Will Brinson

If you've always wanted to be a partial owner of an NBA team, but just didn't have the mustache money to make it happen, you have your chance on Tuesday. The Green Bay Packers are currently offering up for sale 250,000 individual shares of the team's stock for $250.

We previously mentioned that the stock would go on sale Tuesday, and it can now be purchased at PackersOwner.com.

We should note precisely what the website notes, which is "common stock does not constitute an investment in 'stock' in the common sense of the term." Which, put more simply, means you're not making an "investment" per se. If you purchase one of these shares, you shouldn't expect the Packers to win another Super Bowl and then get a bunch of dividends in return.

Instead, you're going to "help fund the Lambeau Field expansion project."

But it's not all just donating. You will be "invited to shareholder meetings and have voting privileges." Each piece of stock also comes with its own $25 "handling fee," so that's something too. (Wait, that's bad. Nevermind. But it's there.)

And the Packers, per their Offering Document, can actually offer up to 880,000 shares this time around, depending on how well the shares sell on Tuesday.

Basically, it boils down to the idea that the Packers are a publicly-owned company, they need money to make their awesome stadium even more awesome and they're offering fans a chance to "buy in" to the company just 19 days before the biggest gift-giving day of the entire year.

If you're a life-long Packers fan, it's a pretty cool thing to hop on, because you'll end up getting a locker room tour and a nifty little certificate that says you're an owner of the NFL's only publicly-run franchise.

Just don't think you're going to end up making any money out of it, or get to tell Mike McCarthy when he should go for two.

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Posted on: December 3, 2011 11:58 am
Edited on: December 3, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Green Bay Packers stock sale starts Tuesday

Posted by Will Brinson

Owning an NFL team is a pretty difficult thing to pull off. In fact, only the Green Bay Packers represent a chance for members of the public to invest some of their hard-earned money into an NFL team, and even they only have a limited number of shares.

But here's some good news -- starting on Tuesday, the Packers will kick off their fifth-ever stock offering and make 250,000 shares available to the public at the low cost of $250 a share.

“We appreciate the interest that fans have expressed in our fifth stock offering,” Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement released by the team. “We are not yet in a position to fully discuss the offering, however, this information will answer some of the initial questions that we’ve received.”

The details Murphy and the Packers did offer include: only US citizens can purchase shares (with the exception of people who live in New Hampshire, who may not); up to 200 shares may be purchased by each individual or spousal pairing; shares can be purchased online with credit and debit cards, or via mail; the 200-share limit includes any shares purchased during the last offering in 1997-98.

Additionally, you can't transfer the stock, you shouldn't buy the stock hoping that the Packers win another Lombardi Trophy and you make a profit, and each piece of stock isn't worth $250 if you want to sell it back to the Packers.

Also, be aware that there are currently 4,750,397 shares owned by 112,158 shareholders, so you probably won't have much say in whether James Starks gets more carries than Ryan Grant the rest of the year.


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Posted on: December 1, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Packers RB thinks Suh's suspension is 'absurd'

Grant on Suh: 'It was about as overboard as you can get what he did; it’s just not football' (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

As expected, Lions defensive tackle and amateur kickball player Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for stomping on a Packers lineman during last Thursday's Green Bay-Detroit Thanksgiving Day get-together.

Suh is appealing his suspension. The decision is expected by 3 p.m. ET Thursday, though we expect the hearing to go something like this:

NFL appeals board: "Mr. Suh, we're prepared to hear your opening statement but just know that whatever you say we will deny your appeal. So either we can wrap this up now, call it a day, and beat the traffic, or we can drag this out. Whatever, you ain't playing again until Week 15."



This is only the second time NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended a player for more than a game. The other instance came in 2006 when then-Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth got a five-game suspension for stomping on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode.

Haynesworth's actions were malicious and if he had been suspended for the season we don't imagine anybody would've protested. Suh wasn't going to hurt anybody, but what he did certainly merited a suspension if for no other reason than to send the message that we're all tired of the way he plays the game after the whistle.

Well, some people don't think two games is a punishment that fits the crime. Take Packers running back Ryan Grant, for example.

“I think it’s absurd. It was about as overboard as you can get what he did; it’s just not football," Ryan said during an appearance on WSSP (via SportsRadioInterviews.com). "Can’t have that. It was ridiculous, and it’s not something you want to see regardless. I’m not a fan of the apology, I’m not a fan of what he said. Anybody in hindsight can say all that, but we’re talking about something that’s not exactly a first occurrence. There have been issues, there have been talks and communication with the commissioner and across the board.”


This Sunday night, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will take on Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. Who will get the victory? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz go inside the numbers and preview this intense matchup.

The man makes some good points but like we mentioned above, Suh wasn't malicious, just stupid. Then again, if the punishment is based on the act regardless of intent then Suh (forgive us in advance) doesn't have a leg to stand on.

But as PFT.com's Michael David Smith wrote earlier today, "Suh could point out (to the commissioner at his appeals hearing) that his ejection and two-game suspension is a much stiffer punishment than other players received for dirty plays: Grant’s teammate Charles Woodson was neither ejected nor suspended for punching Saints tight end David Thomas. Vikings defensive end Brian Robison was neither ejected nor suspended for kicking Packers guard T.J. Lang in the groin."


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Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:09 pm
 

Film Room: Packers vs. Buccaneers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Green Bay Packers are off to the best start of any Defending Champion since the ‘99 Broncos. With legitimate buzz about a perfect season getting louder, let’s look at some of subtle but important elements that make this team great.


1. Aaron Rodgers hidden traits
Through nine games, Rodgers is playing the quarterback position better than anyone has ever played it. No need to sit here and talk about his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, mobility and “moxie” – all it takes are two eyes and a pulse for an observer to notice these things.

Besides, it’s the little things that set Rodgers apart. Things like….
  • Footwork: This past Monday night, Jon Gruden shrewdly pointed out that when taking a shotgun snap, the right-handed Rodgers keeps his right foot back. All other right-handed quarterbacks keep their left foot back. By keeping his right foot back, Rodgers is in position to throw the second he receives the ball. This is critical given how many quick slants and smoke screens the Packers throw. Rodgers’ footwork is not just unique in the shotgun. He’s incredibly crafty in how he angles his drop-backs ever so slightly to impact opposing pass-rushers’ path to him. It’s something you generally wouldn’t notice unless you have to play against him. Rodgers’ subtle footwork adjustments can be a tremendous help to Green Bay’s offensive line.
  • Presnap vocals: Rodgers recognizes defenses as well as any quarterback in the game and uses the snap count better than anyone. This Sunday, keep track not just of how many times Buccaneer defensive linemen jump offsides (Adrian Clayborn and Albert Haynesworth both had some issues with this last week) but how many times the linebackers and cornerbacks are baited into accidentally showing their hand. Rodgers is remarkable in the way he recognizes any flinch and mentally processes a defender’s initial move. Good dummy cadences allow him to do that.
  • Precision accuracy: Rodgers has the ability to succeed even on plays where the defense’s scheme defeats Green Bay’s offensive concept. His ball command is a big reason why. Most accurate passers simply hit the dart board; Rodgers routinely hits the bull’s-eye. He puts the ball not just on a receiver, but in the most favorable location for that receiver. This is why the Packers are the best in football when it comes to running after the catch. The last passer who threw with the quick release and velocity necessary for near-perfect precision was Kurt Warner. The difference between Rodgers and Warner is Rodgers exhibits this kind of accuracy in the pocket AND outside on the move (he’s the best movement passer in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman included).
2. Formation versatility
The Packers offense is a nightmare to prepare for. They have a bottomless trove of formations and personnel packages. They regularly use three different running backs, five different wide receivers and four different tight ends, with formations reflecting virtually every possible combination of those groupings.

And thanks to the versatility and potency of Jermichael Finley, defenses often can’t decipher whether it will be a run or pass formation until the Packers line up. Even then, it can be hard to decipher, as it’s not uncommon for Finley to shift before the snap. The Packers run a lot of the same plays but out of different formations.

This formation versatility allows Green Bay’s rushing attack to stay afloat. Talent-wise, it’s not a great ground game. James Starks and Ryan Grant are both methodical, gaping-hole runners who can’t redirect quickly or create their own space. It helps that they play with a strong, versatile lead-blocker in John Kuhn and behind stud right guard Josh Sitton and crafty center Scott Wells. H-back Tom Crabtree is also a positive factor in run packages.

But what really makes a difference is that the Packers are a threat to throw out of run formations. They have a viable screen game, they’re great in play-action and Rodgers is not afraid to go downfield even if there’s only one wideout in the formation (the first touchdown to Jordy Nelson in Super Bowl XLV is a great example).

The Bucs safeties struggled in run-pass recognition against the Texans last week. And their linebackers really struggled against the run (middle ‘backer Mason Foster is about as stiff as they come). Don’t be surprised if the Packers pound the Bucs on the ground and later throw the safeties a curveball with a downfield shot out of heavy personnel.

3. Receiver distribution

Receiver distribution can be explained with simple who-where-how questions: WHO are the receivers on the field, HOW do they line up and WHERE do they run? The “who” is always favorable to Green Bay. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley form the most formidable quintet in the NFL. All are fast, fundamentally sound and well-schooled in Mike McCarthy’s system.

It’s in the “where” and “how” that McCarthy doesn’t get enough credit. Along with Sean Payton, McCarthy is the best in the business at creating big passes through alignment and route combinations. The Packers create a lot of mismatches simply by lining certain players up in certain areas. They create even more mismatches by designing routes that work off one another.

The best example is their 3 x 1 receiver set (three receivers to one side, one receiver to the other). Greg Jennings is often the X-iso receiver (i.e. the receiver on the one-receiver side). From this formation, an outside route by Jennings all but guarantees one-on-one coverage (a safety over the top can’t cover enough ground quick enough to help outside; even if he could, the three receives being on the other side of the field usually demands that he be over there).

If Jennings runs an inside route, Rodgers has a one-on-one matchup to locate on the three-receiver side. He identifies these matchups almost instantaneously. And with the vast talent at receiver, the one-on-one matchup will almost always favor Green Bay. Defenses that try to nullify this by playing zone to the three-receiver side are punished by route combinations that work off one another by attacking the boundaries of the zones (i.e., that grey area where one defender’s zone ends and another’s begins).

McCarthy’s goal is to slow down a defender’s mental process just enough to give his quarterback time to strike. The second quarter touchdown pass to Jennings in Super Bowl XLV is a great example:


1. The play involved a formation shift, as Greg Jennings’ motion turned a 2 x 2 receiver set into a 3 x 1. This shifted the Steelers’ zone coverage from a Cover 2 to a man-zone scheme, with Ike Taylor playing man against the lone receiver (Andrew Quarless) outside and the rest of the defenders playing zone.

2. In this scenario, the backside safety (the safety furthest from the three receivers) is responsible for the 3 receiver (the receiver nearest the slot). That was Ryan Clark on the right side.

 

3. It was a great route combination by the Packers. The far outside receiver (Donald Driver) ran a hitch, which forced that cornerback to sit on the route. Because that corner had to sit, he could not help against the second receiver (Jordy Nelson), who was running a seam route downfield. Thus, the deep safety, Troy Polamalu, now had to worry about Nelson.


4. The problem was, Polamalu also had the receiver furthest inside (Jennings) screaming at him. Naturally, Polamalu froze for a split second, as he was mentally processing two different receivers racing into the edges of his zone. This created natural confusion with Ryan Clark, who was responsible for that inside receiver and had a lot of ground to cover. Clark had stayed in his original Cover 2 positioning a beat too long (an understandable mistake given Pittsburgh’s fondness for disguising coverage).

5. Rodgers recognized all this. It was exactly how the play was designed to work. The coverage was decent, but Rodgers’ arm was better. Touchdown.

4. The other side of the ball
Green Bay’s defense is as versatile as its offense. It’s a unit that has been inconsistent this season, but don’t think for a second that this group isn’t capable of winning a game on its own in any given week.

Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme can quickly morph into a 2-4-5 or 1-4-6 scheme, depending on the pass-happiness of the opponent (expect more 3-4 looks this Sunday, as the Bucs utilize a lot of base personnel on early downs). The flexibility of the defensive backs allows the Packers to disguise blitzes before the snap and alter coverages after the snap. These are two of the leading principles of Capers’ system.

Why other teams don’t simply mimic Capers’ effective, playmaking-oriented scheme is because of personnel limitations. Capers enjoys the rare fortune of having the four most critical weapons that a defense in today’s NFL can have: an interior clogger (B.J. Raji), an edge-rusher (Clay Matthews), a cover corner (Tramon Williams) and a versatile slot corner/safety (Charles Woodson). Star players make the role players around them better. The Packers D has stars at every level.

5. The Woodson factor
Matthews might be Green Bay’s most valuable defender simply because there isn’t another pass-rusher on the roster (or perhaps in the league) with his initial quickness and sheer speed. But Woodson has a far greater hand in what the Packers do schematically.

An elite cover corner early in his career, the 35-year-old veteran has morphed into more of a freelancing box safety, ala Troy Polamalu. This isn’t to say Woodson can’t still cover. His five interceptions this season – and outstanding performance playing bump-and-run outside in place of an injured Tramon Williams at Carolina in Week 2 – prove that he can. But he’s more dangerous in the box.

Woodson is an elite blitzer and run defender from the slot. He’s surprisingly physical. His greatest traits are his timing and the unique paths he takes in attack. Woodson recognizes offensive concepts quickly, not just in terms of where the play is going, but when it is designed to get there. He adjusts accordingly, which is why you almost never see him get blocked.

Woodson’s impact is not just felt through his own big plays, either. He is brilliant at getting to spots on the field that he knows will redirect the offense back into the teeth of the defense. A lot of times, the goal of Woodson’s blitz is not to get a sack, but rather, to simply force the quarterback to move into a vulnerable area that the rest of the defense is secretly attacking.

Guys like Woodson only come around every decade or so. They’re rare because it takes about 8-10 years for a player to master the game’s nuances. By that time, most players have declined athletically. The ones that don’t go to Canton.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 11 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
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