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Tag:Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Posted on: December 13, 2011 11:08 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 11:12 pm
 

Report: Bucs GM Dominik wanted to cut Aqib Talib

By Will Brinson

Raheem Morris says he isn't worried about the temperature of his seat. (US Presswire)

It's coaching hot seat season right now, and the Buccaneers Rahee Morris finds himself squarely at the top of the list of coaches rumored to be flying in the danger zone. Though Morris won 10 games in 2010, the Bucs have struggled mightily this season, limping to seven-straight losses, including a 41-14 bloodbath in Jacksonville last week.

Not helping matters is the lack discipline surrounding the team and its young players (Brian Price, as an example, was sent off during a game recently). And not helping matters, according to Jason Cole at Yahoo Sports, is the fact that Morris talked the Bucs into keeping troubled cornerback Aqib Talib during the offseason.

"After getting arrested for the gun incident, Tampa Bay management was ready to cut ties with Talib once and for all, according to a team source," Cole wrote on Tuesday night. "General manager Mark Dominik didn’t care about Talib’s supreme talent, the distractions were no longer worth the drama, the source said."

Week 14 Recap

Cole writes that Morris has become "too close to the players" in his role as a coach, and quotes a current Bucs player who believes keeping a troubled albeit talented player like Talib sends the "wrong message."

Morris, for his part, isn't sweating the hot seat. Or at least isn't sweating the hot seat more than he does every other day he's at work.

"When you're coaching, you are always on the hot seat," Morris said Tuesday, per the St. Petersburg Times. "That's the mentality of what we do. We were on the hot seat when we were 10-6 and we didn't go to the playoffs. We could still get fired. I remember I got fired when I was 9-7 and I became the head coach that same year. So you're always in the hot seat."

Morris added, via our Bucs Rapid Reporter Scott Purks, that he'll only concern himself with criticism from the guys who sign his checks.

"The only criticism I'm worried about is from [Bucs owners] and [general manager Mark Dominik]," Morris said. "[The media's criticism] doesn't matter. We're not going into [Saturday's game against Dallas] to not get fired. We're going in to win."

Unfortunately for Morris, Cole's report about Dominik wanting to cut Talib and being talked out of it by his own coach is exactly the sort of thing to be concerned about.

If Dominik and the Glazer family believe Morris is too close to the players and unable to control the guys on his roster, a seven-game (or more) losing streak is exactly the sort of thing that'll put him on the chopping block come the end of the season.

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Posted on: December 12, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:35 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 14

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 14 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. They're Not Saying 'Boooooo' ...

True story: Just over two years ago, T.J. Yates came on the jumbotron at the Dean Dome during a North Carolina game as the lead-in to a UNC football video, said "I'm T.J. Yates and I'm a Tar Heel," and Yates, who was in the crowd, was booed mercilessly by Tar Heel fans in attendance.

One surprisingly strong senior season and a slew of injuries to Houston quarterbacks later, Yates is the starting quarterback for the first Texans team to ever make the playoffs. He's no figurehead, either, as his play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-19 victory in Cincinnati showed.

We think that logic and common football sense says a rookie quarterback can't take a team deep into the playoffs, but does it? This Texans team's success is predicated on running the ball and playing defense.

And that's not too far off what Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger leaned on as rookies. Both those guys went to the AFC Championship Game, as a rookie quarterback mind you.

Yates is different than those Sanchez or Roethlisberger because he's matured under tough circumstances, his expectations are lower, he didn't leave school early so he's more experienced and he's got good mentors surrounding him on the roster.

If Houston gets into a shootout with an opponent or finds themselves with a huge halftime deficit, they're probably in trouble. But if that happens, it's not on Yates anyway -- the defense and rushing attack probably already let them down.

Just remember that when it comes time to debate the viability of the Texans in the postseason that the rookie quarterback under center is about as viable as the stereotype that the Texans can't stop anyone on defense.

2. Where It's Due in Denver

It's about time, in this LOL-worthy Tim Tebow saga that hit another high with Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago Sunday, to give credit where credit is due. No, not the defense. No, not the running game. No, not the super-human effort from kicker Matt Prater on Sunday. No, not John Fox or John Elway.

Let's give credit to ... Josh McDaniels.

Remember, McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow and blossoming receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both might have been reaches when they were taken (25th and 22nd overall, respectively) and both looked like absolutely horrid selections pretty recently. But McDaniels obviously knew something about these guys and his premonitions and talent evaluation is paying off for Denver now.

Look, there are guys that were taken after Tebow and Thomas that are better overall additions to a roster (Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty stand out), and the value McDaniels wasted at those spots is disappointing. Also, given the Rams struggles on offense this year, handing credit his way isn't exactly the chic thing to do.

But as we get further from his nightmare regime in Denver and more ensconced in Tebowmania, it at least warrants a tip of the cap to McD for his decision to select two guys who are starting to fulfill the expectations that come with their draft slot.

3. Cowboy Down

We spent the better part of the podcast (you can listen above, just by clicking play!) trying to figure out who to blame for Dallas' failings in their 37-34 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.

But since Rex Ryan egged on some defensive coverages, Tony Romo egged on a big third-down throw to Miles Austin and Jason Garrett egged on clock management, isn't it possible that it's a systematic issue across the team as a whole?

We assume that because there's a new coach running the show, with different coordinators in place and some new players, that things are different. But things just aren't.

Jerry Jones knows this -- with the Giants at the goal line and the clock ticking down, an NBC camera caught him screaming "Timeout, Jason!"

Give credit where credit is to due to Eli Manning and the Giants for clawing their way back into this game, because it was a pretty magnificent comeback, something Eli's becoming quite proficient at this season.

But these Cowboys just can't close. We've seen it over and over this season and at some point, the bossman's patience for a lack of execution is going to run out.

4. Start 'Em/Sit 'Em?

The Packers have, with their 46-16 obliteration of Oakland in Green Bay, now officially clinched a first-round bye. Thanks to the 49ers losing to the Cardinals on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's team is just one win or one San Francisco loss away from clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Sunday's victory came at a price -- star wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers said that "hopefully" the Packers can get Jennings back in time for the team's first playoff game, following their bye, which is approximately five weeks from now.

This begs the question: will McCarthy and Green Bay chase 16-0 with the same fervor as the Patriots?

Losing someone like Jennings is debilitating to their run at repeating as Super Bowl champions, but it's not a dealbreaker because of all the talent they have at the various skill positions. Losing Aaron Rodgers? That's a whole different story.

And what if someone like Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams or Clay Matthews was lost for the rest of the season playing in a meaningless game? Yeah, that would be bad.

There's no right answer that doesn't involve "winning the title" so it's unfair to judge whatever McCarthy and Ted Thompson decide to do. We don't know how things would play out in an alternate universe. But Jennings injury might be a bad sign for the chances at Green Bay running the table.\

5. Familiar Feeling

New England is streaking towards a likely No. 1 seed right now. And they have a  kerfluffle on the sidelines between Tom Brady and his offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that everyone can talk about. And there's the whole "Can I draft Rob Gronkowski in the second round of my fantasy league next year?" debate that might be worth discussing when going over interesting things about this team. 

But I can't shake the fact that the Redskins piled up well over 500 yards passing between Rex Grossman and Brandon Banks (!) plus 120 rushing yards from Roy Helu and narrowly lost to the Pats 34-27.

Again: the Redskins did this. Back in 2009, New England got throttled by the Ravens in Foxborough, because Baltimore had a stout defense and Ray Rice went HAM on a Pats defense that couldn't shut him down.

This year? The Patriots defense, a season-long problem for the team, reminds a lot of that squad, in that they can't stop anyone who's physical and can play ball control. Or, really, they can't stop anyone -- only four teams have scored less than 20 points against the Pats, and one of those was quarterbacked by Tyler Palko.

There are a lot of good defensive teams headed to the playoffs in the AFC, with a lot of good running backs, and some pretty talented quarterbacks.

Brady and Belichick are great about covering up flaws on a roster, but when they run into a physical team in the playoffs, we might see a similar result from years past.

6. So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

The 2011 NFL season wouldn't feel right if we didn't get a Lloyd Christmas-inspired false-hope run from the Eagles and Chargers, would it?

The Eagles are still alive after a 26-10 beat down of Miami, although making the playoffs at this point involves jumping a whopping five other teams, and is about as likely as the Eagles retaining Juan Castillo next season.

San Diego's path to the postseason should have been a little bit easier, because the Raiders lost and the Broncos were supposed to lose (see: Tim Tebow doing what Tim Tebow does). Now things are much murkier, as San Diego needs either the Jets -- a team they should have beaten -- to go 1-2 down the stretch, or the Broncos -- another team they should have beaten -- to lose. And the Bolts have to win

8-8 and 9-7, respectively, are doable based for the two teams, based on their schedules. But even that kind of effort might not be enough to save the jobs of certain people in certain positions for these teams.

7. Call It a Comeback, Kid

For the second time this season, four teams in a single week overcame 12-point (or more) deficits to win.

Why? Well, as it turns out, offensive points aren't the only exciting thing that's happened as a result of the offense-friendly rules the NFL installed over the past few years. Comebacks occur more frequently too.

And big comebacks as well -- Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston and Arizona were all down by 12-plus points and mounted a comeback in Week 14 -- in Week 2, another four teams did it as well.

Limitations on members of the secondary, limitations on defensive players hitting quarterbacks and the middle of the field opening up because of defenseless receiver rules mean teams are able to sling the ball around more frequently.

Defenses simply can't clamp down on teams when they have a lead and if someone takes their foot off the gas (see: the Panthers vs. the Falcons on Sunday), a comeback is absolutely in the cards.

8. Taking Flight

Note to anyone who ends up in a December-only fantasy league: draft Shonn Greene. Dude gets unholy hot when the weather gets cold and he's doing it again this year, with four touchdowns and well over 200 yards the last two weeks, including a career-high 129 rushing yards in a blowout win against Kansas City Sunday.

Not coincidentally, it might be smart to not write off the Jets ever again. Somehow, someway, they manage to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan's crew is doing it again, and even though this rendition of the Jets is clearly inferior to the previous two seasons, it's hard to count them out.

Twice in his two years as head coach, Ryan's used a formula to get to the AFC Championship Game despite fighting uphill to even get into the playoffs. And now he's doing it again.

The Jets last three opponents -- Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City -- are about as cream-puffy as it comes, but you only have to play the people on your schedule. So I'm really not sure why this wasn't as obvious an outcome as Greene being largely irrelevant for fantasy teams until now.

9. Get Your Mojo Running

Lost in some of the fantastic Week 14 action was the fact that the incredibly underrated Maurice Jones-Drew, the only elite skill-position player that the Jaguars have, set the franchise record for career touchdowns, surpassing the also incredibly underrated Fred Taylor.

"Mojo" did it on a day in which he went absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 51 receiving yards and a pair of scores through the air as well.

“Words can’t really explain how excited I am,” Jones-Drew said.

Jones-Drew's one of the prototypes for the modern NFL back -- small but powerful, quick, great hands and a secret workhorse. (Not to mention he's a stalwart in the community, and a good guy to boot.) Amid an often ugly offensive performance by Jacksonville on a weekly basis, MJD's been insanely consistent in 2011.

Dude deserves some love.

10. Great Expectations

It's fascinating to see that Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo are two guys everyone agrees find themselves firmly on the hot seat. That's because last year, Morris and Spags were a combined one game away from both being in the playoffs last year.

Morris won 10 games with the surprising Buccaneers and even though Spagnuolo went 7-9, he had a shot at winning the putrid NFC West in the final week of the season.

The 17 total wins for the two teams has created a pretty terrible predicament for the coaches who nearly got them to the postseason though: both guys are looking like strong candidates to be fired after the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay lost its seventh-straight game in horrific fashion on Sunday when Blaine Gabbert and the Jags dropped a 41-14 bomb on the Bucs and the Rams are scheduled to start Tom Brandstater against the Seahawks. That will probably not end well.

The point of all this is that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business and Spags and Morris have lost lately. A lot.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Packers have now scored 466 points on the season, the second-highest total in NFL history through 13 weeks, behind only the Pats 503 in 2007.
... Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 40-straight games with passing touchdowns.
... Rob Gronkowski has the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a single season by a tight end with 15.
... Eli Manning's 400-yard passing performance was the 14th over the season, an NFL record.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF(S) O' THE WEEK

You can see video of KC kicker Ryan Succop executing the worst onsides kick in the history of football right here, but this GIF of the three-yard putt/kick is just mesmerizingly depressing.



And I'm double dipping this week again, as Jabar Gaffney's dive into the seats without being caught is just too much fun to ignore.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Spags really, really needs a win on Monday night against the Seahawks.
  • Raheem Morris -- As noted above, this team won 10 games last year!
  • Todd Haley -- After righting the ship, the Chiefs are back to sinking. This may be related to "starting Tyler Palko" but still, Haley's the coach.
  • Jim Caldwell -- *stares blankly at Colts record*
  • Norv Turner -- Norv's fanning the hell out of his seat, but the Chargers might not have enough games left to make up for the bad start.

Award Worth Discussing of the Week

Aaron Rodgers has retired the MVP watch and the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck so I'm adjusting on the fly. Today's award worth discussing: Coach of the Year.

I find this race fascinating because you have four primary contenders, all with totally different situations.

There's Mike McCarthy of the Packers, who's threatening to run the table with a defending Super Bowl champ. Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who's made the a talented, underachieving 49ers team relevant again and quickly. They're the two favorites.

Then there's the underdogs: John Fox, who continues to win despite Tim Tebow flying under the radar in terms of media attention, and Gary Kubiak, who will not let a quarterback injury kill his season.

If McCarthy goes undefeated it's impossible not to give him the nod because, well, they didn't lose. But if the Packers falter at all, Harbaugh's sheen could fade enough down the stretch (a loss to Pittsburgh and struggles against Seattle and St. Louis maybe?) to let Fox and Kubes make a play for the award.

My vote, provided things play out the way they have so far, is for Fox, since he's winning with less in a way no one ever saw coming, well ahead of when people believed he'd win.
Posted on: December 11, 2011 10:32 am
 

Josh Freeman had minor setback Friday

FreemanBy Josh Katzowitz

With Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman out last Sunday because of a right shoulder injury, Josh Johnson subbed in for him and did OK in Tampa Bay’s 38-19 loss to the Panthers -- which, by the way, showed beyond a doubt that Tampa Bay is finished for the season.

Though Freeman was scheduled to be back Sunday in time for the Jaguars game, he had a setback Friday that has put his ability to play today in doubt.

That’s according to the St. Petersburg Times, which writes that Freeman couldn’t finish practice Friday because of the pain.

"The arm is still in some pain, but it feels better than it did last week," Freeman told the newspaper Saturday. "I'm hoping it feels okay to play."

If not, the Buccaneers will turn back to Johnson, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 229 yards, a touchdown and an interception while rushing for a team-high 45 yards last week. The problem is that Johnson dislocated his non-throwing shoulder last week, though that doesn’t seem to be enough to keep him from starting if his team needs him -- he only missed one play last week before trainers popped his shoulder back into place.

Freeman said his shoulder felt better after throwing Saturday, so it’ll be a gametime decision as to whether he can play.




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Posted on: December 4, 2011 5:34 pm
 

Morris sent Brian Price home early

B. Price was sent home early by his coach (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With the Buccaneers in the middle of a terrible stretch of season -- so much so that it’s quickly become a terrible season overall -- coach Raheem Morris had seen enough when defensive tackle Brian Price was penalized for a personal foul penalty in the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s 38-19 loss to the Panthers.

So, a clearly upset Morris sent Price home. He didn’t just banish Price to the locker room for the rest of the game. He told Price to get the hell out of the stadium.

And then, Morris dropped an F-bomb in front of the scribes in his postgame presser.

"Yes, I sent him to the locker room,'' Morris said, via the St. Petersburg Times. "I told him go home. F---. Yeah. Because it's foolish, it's selfish to your teammates, to everybody in your organization, to your fans. That's terrible. That's just selfish behavior to get a 15-yard penalty, in that situation, when that's all we talk about, when that's all we discuss. You just can't do that to your team.

"When you give up a penalty, after a third-and-15, those are things that are not smart, not fair to anybody on the football team. Not fair to anybody that's coaching that football team. Those things are unacceptable.''

Price was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, and later on that drive, the Panthers scored a touchdown that basically put the game out of reach for Tampa Bay.

But what might be even more concerning for Tampa Bay fans: Morris intimated he’s begun to lose his team.

“You know, they're not listening,'' Morris said. "They've got to listen and we've got to do a better job of coaching. That's all.''

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Posted on: December 4, 2011 11:23 am
Edited on: December 4, 2011 11:34 am
 

Josh Freeman out for Bucs Sunday, Johnson starts

Posted by Will Brinson

Late Saturday, the Buccaneers decided to promote current third-string quarterback Rudy Carpenter to the active roster, an ominous sign for Tampa Bay fans, since it seemed likely that starter Josh Freeman would miss Sunday's game against Carolina.

That is exactly the case, as the Buccaneers announced on Sunday that Freeman will be inactive against the Panthers in Tampa Bay.

Freeman's absence means Josh Johnson will get the starting nod for the Bucs. Johnson's played in six games for the Bucs this season, though he's only attempted seven passes, completing two of them for 14 yards. He's also attempted five rushes for 17 yards, as most of his usage this year has been out of Wildcat-type formations, or when Freeman's been banged up.

Johnson hasn't started a game since 2009, when he began the season as the Bucs starter, losing the first four games before Tampa Bay decided to insert Freeman as a rookie.

The change at quarterback resulted in an early move in Vegas as well, as the Panthers went from three-point underdogs to one-point favorites with the news that Freeman wouldn't play.

That's a pretty accurate portrayal of the difference between Johnson and Freeman, and if the Bucs lose to the lowly (?) Panthers, don't be surprised to hear more chatter about Raheem Morris on the hot seat.


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Posted on: November 29, 2011 9:09 pm
 

Josh Freeman injured thumb at shooting range

Posted by Will Brinson



The Buccaneers continued their slide backwards from 2010's 10-win effort during Sunday's 24-18 loss to Tennessee. Josh Freeman looks like a quarterback regressing from his outstanding performance last year, but now it appears he's got an excuse for his recent poor play: Freeman injured his thumb at a shooting range on Halloween.

That's according to Bucs spokesman Jonathan Grella, who confirmed to the Tampa Tribune that Freeman aggravated a thumb injury he suffered against the Bears in London while at a shooting range on Halloween.

According to the Bucs, Freeman received five "cosmetic" stitches following a "gun mishap" on October 31, an incident that occurred just eight days after Tampa Bay's loss to the Bears.

Freeman's been pretty bad this year, but I'm not sure it's fair to simply attach his lack of success to the thumb injury. His completion percentage has actually gone up in the Bears game and going forward, although he's thrown 10 interceptions since Week 7, and only six before.

Additionally, Freeman's had some pretty putrid games, including a Week 9 matchup against Houston where he completed just 45.5 percent of his passes and threw three picks. But that game's sandwiched against nice efforts against New Orleans and Green Bay, so it's fairly difficult to simply point towards his injury.

But that inconsistency could certainly be a result of an injury -- CBS Sports Rich Gannon opined as much prior to that Houston game.

"I don't think he's healthy right now," Gannon told the Tribune then. "That's my personal opinion. I watched Freeman practice Friday and I don't think he's 100 percent. I don't see Josh Freeman driving the ball. Quarterbacks are very funny about having any tape on their throwing hand. I could tell in practice that it's bothering him."

As you'll recall, Sean Payton turned the Bucs into the league for a misleading injury report after the Bucs quarterback showed up on NFL Network with a splint on his hand.

So maybe he isn't healthy. That would make a lot more sense than Freeman's wild inconsistency this season. Or getting all up in arms about him getting hurt at a shooting range.

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Posted on: November 19, 2011 1:36 pm
Edited on: November 19, 2011 1:38 pm
 

Haynesworth had a nice first week in Tampa

A. Haynesworth had a nice first week in Tampa Bay (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

We’ve poked  plenty of fun at Albert Haynesworth’s expense since the Eye on Football blog came into being, because No. 1, that’s what we do and No. 2, Haynesworth has made it so easy.

So, we should point out the positive impact made by Haynesworth in his first week in Tampa Bay because No. 1, we want to be fair and balanced in our coverage of him and No. 2, it’ll be nearly impossible for those good vibes to last.

We know Haynesworth has been lazy and money-hungry and an unwilling team player. But he’s trying to change, because, really, how many chances does he expect to get now that the Redskins and Patriots made a show of wiping their hands of him?

And he actually played well for the Buccaneers last week, making five tackles and blocking an extra point (the latter, especially, requires the sort of effort we rarely see from Haynesworth).

"I wouldn't say it did anything for my confidence because I know what kind of player I was,'' Haynesworth said, via the Tampa Tribune. "When I looked at the film, I saw things I've got to improve on, but playing in this system is almost like getting back to what I did at Tennessee.”

Ah, Tennessee, the place for which he’s apparently longed since he left to sign a gargantuan deal with the Redskins.
Haynesworth's New Home
It was in Tennessee that Haynesworth had his greatest success, in part because of his defensive line coach Jim Washburn. But after he left, Haynesworth has fallen on hard times (on the field and in the legal system).

But now it seems -- and remember, it’s still extremely early in his Tampa Bay tenure -- he’s taken on more of a mentor role.

"Albert's a great guy, almost like a coach around here,'' defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said. "He comes and tells me little things in my ear to try to make me a better player. Everyone seems to think he has a negative attitude, but I haven't seen it. Hopefully, he stays positive and I think he will.''

So, that’s great news for the Buccaneers organization. But is anybody going to be surprised when this deal begins to go south and Haynesworth stops caring and stops putting forth an effort? No. In fact, we’d be more surprised if it doesn’t go south by the end of the season, because No. 1 and No. 2, we’ve seen this show before.



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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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