Lombardi blog: September edition

Thoughts on Giants; stealing signs; Packers' win over Eagles; offense and defense

September 12, 2007
The Giants
The last time the Packers played the Giants, it was quite interesting. Remember, Brett Favre got a concussion and then came in for one play and threw a TD pass. Then his backup, Doug Pederson, came in and broke his ribs. Packers lost. It was fun to see Favre pull that off.

I was also at the previous meeting between the two teams. It was at Giants Stadium and it was about six years ago. The Packers won the game big, but that is not the reason I remember that game. This was the game that was postponed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It was supposed to be played the weekend after the attack but was pushed back to the last game of the season. It was also the Michael Strahan/Brett Favre flop, where Strahan set the single season sack record. I was living on Long Island and went to all of the Giants' home games that year.

The first home game after the attacks was against the Saints. Mike McCarthy was offensive coordinator for New Orleans that day. The turnout of firemen and police at that game was amazing. The emotions of that day were strange to experience. I was worried about another attack, at one point a small plane buzzed the stadium which was scary. I was also blown away by the patriotic fever and outright love for the first responders in attendance. That day and those feelings seem like a different time.

The Patriots
As many of you know, I worked for Bill Belichick way back in the day. Although I am not shocked that teams try to steal signals, the whole videotape thing seems a bit excessive. In my experience, most teams have both official and unofficial advance scouts who are a week or two ahead of the schedule. Teams request a press box credential for the official guys. The unofficial ones scalp a ticket. Both guys job is to scout the players and strategy of the upcoming opponents. They are looking for things that the film does not show, such as signals and substitution patterns.

When I was a graduate assistant coach at Vanderbilt, I helped develop signals sent in on the defensive side of the game. Anyone who took time to watch the signals and match it up to the play could easily figure them out. The key is to do it quickly.

I have personally never been an official or unofficial advance scout, but was suspected of being one many years ago. It was a big misunderstanding and was my fault, but it sure lead to some anxious moments.

Each week, the coaches call around to their friends to get info on this week's opponent. They call guys who have played them already to get snap counts and other stuff. I know a team that hired a fired coach from a rival, let him hang around the office all season and paid him to do basically nothing but feed them info on the Irish for one game. He picked up other tasks but the primary reason he was there was to help them prepare for one game. If I remember correctly, he was still being paid by their opponent, so I am not even sure if they paid him much.

There are rumors out there of teams breaking down the game as it happens, looking for tendancies. I think that the rules prohibit that being done on site, but teams would pipe the video offsite in an attempt to get around that rule. I think that is banned now. I am not positive about any of that, it was all just hearsay.

There is cheating, like steroids, and there is cheating, like spit balls and stealing signals and signing recently cut players to garner information. One is unacceptable to most folks and the other is winked at. It appears that the Patriots have stepped over the line, not for the actions which are common, but by their methods which seem plain stupid.

September 10, 2007
Monday Morning Quarterbacking
The Packers pulled one out of the oven yesterday and with the Bears losing, they are in good shape tied atop the NFC North with the Vikes and Lions. Unfortunately, all is not well in Packerland. The offense was ineffective for the most part. Brett Favre will not survive 16 games if he takes the kind of hits he took yesterday. I know he has played for 16 straight years, but he was under a lot of pressure yesterday. The running game was non-existant.

Around the league, Randy Moss had a good day (nine catches for 183 yards and a score), so did Ahman Green (16 carries for 73 yards). The Browns looked so bad, that their first round pick might be the first pick in the draft next year. Heard stories that the Browns offered that pick to the Packers for the pick they used to take Justin Harrell.

The Packers passed on Moss, let Green walk and turned the Browns down who made a deal with the Cowboys.

Some would question the judgment of those decisions. If Favre was as adament about getting Moss as he has let on, I would have probably tried to get him. I would have let Green go for what the Texans offered, but would have tried to get a proven running back. I would have probably traded the 16th pick to the Browns who were throwing in their second rounder (#36 pick) for good measure. My guess is whoever the Packers took with the #36 pick would probably have been active for the first game. And with the first pick in the 2008 draft, the Packers would hold all the cards. Trade the pick for players and/or multiple picks. Take Brian Brohm, the QB out of Louisville or Jake Long, the tackle from Michigan.

Second-guessing Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy is easy to do, but the weaknesses apparent on this team are clear to see and not much was done in the offseason to correct the lack of playmakers on offense. They overcame the dearth of offense against the Eagles, but it will be a miracle if it does not come back to haunt them soon. Next week's opponent, the Giants, are wounded. Green Bay could be 2-0 the hard way.

September 9, 2007
Eagles Game
-- I guess it is not surprising that Justin Harrell was inactive for the game given his preseason performance and the depth of the Packers' defensive line, but it is still disappointing that he will not contribute for the foreseeable future.

-- The Eagles did everything possible to give the game away early. Those two turnovers, four crucial penalties and a lackluster start helped the Pack jump out to an early lead. The Eagles fought back for the tie at half and the momentum.

-- Favre looked frustrated and fed up at times in the first half. I wonder how long his patience will hold out.

-- The arm/elbow injury suffered by Al Harris on the punt coverage team was ugly. I actually felt myself wince when I saw the slo-mo replay. I doubt we will see him blocking gunners anymore. The punt return team may suffer because of it, but it is the safe thing to do.

-- The Packers only had five first downs in the first half (three of those were on the final hurry up drive) and no running game. I do not care how good Brett Favre is, he cannot do the impossible. Two turnovers by the Eagles led directly to those 10 first half points. The Pack only had 106 first half yards. The Patriots' Ellis Hobbs had a kickoff return that went 108 yards. No one made any plays on offense except Favre who is starting to look like Fran Tarkenton running around back there. With about six minutes left in the third quarter, it appeared that the Packer completely gave up on the run. It worked as they marched down the field behind Favre's improvisational play for a field goal.

-- Without a running game, the Packers cannot have any long-term success. Defenses will adjust and make it tough for Green Bay to move the ball without a balanced attack. The defense and special teams will not always be able to bail out the offense every week. Without a running game, play-action passes lose their effectiveness and Favre is very good with play action. It needs to improve for the Packers to consitently compete.

-- Atari Bigby looked pretty good. After one week he seems to be an upgrade over Marquand Manuel. Same goes for Johnny Jolly who seems to have a knack for tipping passes at the line of scrimmage.

-- The Packers were on the short end of the stats in almost every category, except three. They won the turnover battle, had fewer penalties and had more points. The Packers made fewer mistakes and that is why they won.

-- Lastly, as the old cliche goes, some times it is better to be lucky than good. When was the last time a team had two muffed punts in the same game. The Packers were lucky today, but so what. This is a game that last year or the year before would have ended up as a loss for the Pack. Maybe that is a good sign. Despite their shortcomings, the Packers found a way to win.

For about 24 to 36 months (especially versus the Eagles) Green Bay has found a way to lose. Not today, and hopefully for fans of the Green and Gold it might be a sign of things to come.

September 7, 2007
Lay of the Land - Defense
Here is an analysis of the Packers defense:

Defensive Line
A few years ago, this position was not so much a weakness but a distraction. Cletidius Hunt, Jamal Reynolds and Joe Johnson were notorious busts. Surprisingly it currently appears to be the strongest position on the team. I read somewhere where a pundit claimed that Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman could combine for 30 sacks. When was the last time two Packer players combined for so many sacks? Maybe back before they kept sacks as a stat (in 1982). But since then it has not happened. In 1989, Tim Harris had 19.5 sacks. The next highest guy had three. In 1998, Reggie White had 16 and Vonnie Holliday had eight. Last year Kampman had 15.5 and Corey Williams had seven. Throw in KGB on passing downs and pressure could be the word of the day on Sundays around Green Bay.

I do not have the Elias Sports Bureau backing me up but I looked it up. These results are unofficial of course, but the Chargers' Shawne Merriman with 17 and Shaun Phillips with 11.5 came close last year. The Dolphins Trace Armstrong with 16.5 and Jason Taylor with 14.5 in 2000 were the last tandem to do it.

In the interior line, Ryan Pickett, Williams, Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole and others all combine for a formidable run stopping combo. As Williams demonstrated last year, they can also get some pressure up the middle in passing situations. The only disappointment is first round draft pick Justin Harrill, who has not impressed. Give him time I keep telling myself.

The three starters Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga are solid. Not spectacular but they are a good trio of linebackers. The concern here is depth. The Packers went deep at D-line and DB and that leaves them thin at Linebacker. Pray that nobody gets seriously injured. Tracy White and the rookie Desmond Bishop are not ready for full time action. Maybe Korey Hall can go both ways?

Defensive Backs
There are four questions that need to be answered at this position:

1. Can Al Harris and Charles Woodson keep defying mother nature and the injury bug and continue to play at a high level? If the answer is yes, then all is good. If not, look out.

2. Did Atari Bigby all of a sudden develop into a NFL starting safety, or were the Jets and Dolphins who cut him in the past just dumb? Will he be an upgrade from Marquand Manuel?

3. Will Nick Collins play like he did as a promising rookie or like last year when he was frankly a liability?

4. Who will the nickle corner end up being and can he be counted on? Will it be Jarrett Bush, Will Blackmon or maybe Frank Walker? Because of their stoutness against the run and perceived weakness at safety, teams will throw the ball against the Packers and the nickel and dime defenses will see a lot of action.

Answer those questions and we can know if this unit will be any good. Last year, it was solid on the edge and weak in the middle.

Overall, the defense is the stronger unit on the team and will be counted on to keep games close. All of this is pointless unless the team can avoid the mental errors it made last year.

Substitution problems, communication breakdowns and the like must be avoided at all costs. Assistant Head Coach Winston Moss and Coordinator Bob Sanders will be on the hot seat if these problems persist into the meat of the season.

September 6, 2007
Lay of the Land
Given that the season is only a few days away, let us take a look at the roster. First the offense:

Brett Favre still has it and as long as he stays upright, which is not guaranteed, he is good enough to still win games. His only weakness is his propensity for comitting turnovers and if he can limit that, the Packers have a chance.

Favre's quick release and escapability will be needed because the with young running backs and a young interior offensive line, he will get some heat. Aaron Rodgers looked good in action this summer, but hopefully he will carry a clipboard for at least another year.

Running Back
The Packers will more than likely start two rookies, Brandon Jackson and a converted linebacker Korey Hall on Sunday. Running back is the one position where a rookie can make an immediate impact but this is not ideal. Are any of the teams that the Packers play going to worry about Jackson or Vernand Morency (assuming he shakes his injury)? It is axiomatic that you cannot win in the NFL with a subpar running game. To have more than a mediocre season, the Packers will have to improve here.

Pass protection is one of the things that young running backs struggle with. Keeping in a tight end like last year to help on passing downs really limits the offense's opportunities.

Tight End
Bubba Franks looked better than in the past in the pre-season and Donald Lee shows flashes here and there, but this is still an area of weakness until Franks or Lee proves otherwise. I assume that they will add another body here. Franks is still solid as a blocker.

Offensive Line
The tackle positions are pretty good with Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. I like Scott Wells. Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz should get better, but the Packers inability to run the ball falls on the line's shoulders as much as the backs. I have heard the explaination that the game plan was vanilla and once the regular season starts, they should do better but I will wait and see. I do not see alot of depth, so pray for healthy guys. Like I wrote above, Favre makes these guys look good in pass pro with his amazingly quick release.

Assuming Donald Driver is healthy, this could be a position of strength. Driver is as good as they come. Greg Jennings was sort of invisible during the preseason, but he should show up and James Jones looked very good in all four games.

Favre is still a top quality NFL QB and the receivers will be more than adequate. If Coach McCarthy can work in the tight end, anything is possible. The running game will hold this team back unless the young guys develop, but even then, adequate is about all a fan can hope for. It looks like the team will have to throw the ball to be comptetitive and to paraphrase Woody Hayes, "When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad."

Being one dimensional is never a good thing to be and if the pressure gets to Favre, he tends to press and that is when he takes too many chances.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

Lombardi blog archives:
August 2007 edition
July 2007 edition
June 2007 edition
May 2007 edition
April 2007 edition
March 2007 edition

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