Lombardi blog: October edition

Thoughts on Harrell; Broncos; Patriots; Max McGee; Denver Broncos; Franks' injury

October 29, 2007
Lots to Play For
With the Lions beating the Bears yesterday, the Packers have a lot to play for tonight against Denver. The Lions ran their record to 5-2. Were the Packers to lose against the Broncos, they would be tied with Detroit for tops in the NFC North.

The Broncos are 3-3 and with a win, they would move into a three way tie with the Chiefs and the surging Chargers.

Neither team should be lacking for something to play for tonight.

October 26, 2007
I see where first round pick Justin Harrell was injured in practice, will be out a few weeks and may even end up on IR. Is it too early to say he is a disappointment? Does he have a problem staying on the field? I acknowledge that he was coming off an injury from college and the Packers are stout at his position, but should not we expect more from the first round draft pick? Did the Packers over reach to get him?

Couple that with the fact that second round draft pick Brandon Jackson will probably be inactive for the fourth straight week and things are not looking good for the top of the draft board. James Jones is a good pick. Korey Hall made a good transition from linebacker to fullback. Mason Crosby looked good until a week or so ago and DeShawn Wynn has won the halfback spot by injury default. There are good things to build on in the draft, but you would hope that the first round pick would have more of an impact by now.

I am not ready to bury Harrell yet, but I would have liked to see more out of him so far, given where he was picked. About the only thing I have seen out of him in his limited duty is a pretty good bull rush.

October 24, 2007
Champ Bailey
Reports out of Denver are that Bailey practiced today and will play on Monday. Bailey is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, so his return presents a challenge to the Packer Passing game.

Home Field Advantage Much is made of the altitude in Denver and the supposed advantage it gives to the Broncos. Does the altitude affect the opponent physically or is it psychological? I once heard that the Air Force Academy used to put out more bottles of Oxygen than normal, just to psych out the visiting team.

Whatever the reason, home field has been kind to the Broncos. The Broncos' are 76-24 at home since 1995 under Mike Shanahan. That translates into a winning percentage of .760, which is the league's best during that time.

October 23, 2007
The Perfect Season
Many people, including myself, believe that the New England Patriots may not lose a game this season. They are 7-0 and are winning games by an average of 22 points. If they do go undefeated, the question will then be - "Are they the greatest team in NFL history?"

I have always believed that the 1972 Dolphins were the league's greatest single team. They did not lose that year and consequently can legitimately claim the title of Best in History.

But I bet there are Packers fans and Steelers fans and Niners fans and probably Bears fans who would argue differently.

The Packers went 12-1 in 1962, winning the NFL Championship that year. The only loss was at Detroit on Thanksgiving 26-14. Packers fans should be happy to know that Green Bay beat the Bears twice by a combined score of 87-7. I think that team had something like 10 Hall of Famers on the field and one on the sidelines. The enshrined Packers are Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis and Henry Jordan.

The '70s Steelers best record was in 1978 when they went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. I think that that team also had ten Hall of Famers on the field and Chuck Noll went in as a coach. The Legends on that team were Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Lynn Swann, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Donnie Shell and Jack Lambert.

The Niners' best record during their great run was 15-1 in 1984. They won the Super Bowl that year under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott also made the Hall of Fame and Jerry Rice will when he is eligible, but he was not drafted until 1985.

The Cowboys' best record during the Jimmy Johnson glory years in the 1990s was 13-3. They were Super Bowl Champs that year and Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin are Hall of Famers, and Emmitt Smith will be when he is eligible.

The Dolphins' '72 team had six players make the Hall of Fame and, of course, Don Shula made it too. They were Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Nick Bouniconti, Larry Little, Paul Warfield, and Jim Langer.

Looking at the records, the Dolphins are the standard, but who was really the best team of all time? If the Patriots go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl, then I think it has to be them. They would have at least three Hall of Famers - Tom Brady, Junior Seau and Randy Moss. Belichick will make it, too.

I would probably put the Packers second because of the talent they had and because they beat the best teams in the league that year. They beat the John Unitas-led Colts twice and the Giants in the Championship game. The title game was a home game for the Giants and the conditions were, according to some people, worse than the Ice Bowl - 13 degrees and 40 mph winds. The field was like a parking lot.

The other thing to contemplate is if the Patriots win the Super Bowl, they will have won it four times in seven years. How does that compare to the Packers' five titles in seven years? Is it comparable? It is harder now than then? Let the debate begin.

October 22, 2007
Max McGee
I never got to know Max as well as some of the other Packer Legends. He was always joking around and carrying on with the other guys. I can see why he was so valuable to those Packer teams. As hard as my grandfather could be, Max (and to a degree Paul Hornung) was a good foil. His humor kept everyone loose. It was no different the times I was around him the last couple of years. His humor and attitude set a tone that kept everyone relaxed. It helped that he could play the game on top of it.

It is interesting to note the size of the receivers the Packers had back then. Max and Boyd Dowler were both very tall wideouts and would be today. No smurfs on that team.

Max was very successful after he retired from football as a businessman and a broadcaster, but his greatest accomplishment was in battling Juvenile Diabetes. Max and his wife started the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes after their son was diagnosed with the ailment when he was a small boy. To give back to others was what Max was about. Whether it was through his various charity endeavors or by making people laugh, Max was great at giving back.

The Broncos
The Broncos got a big win last night and will be a big test for the Packers. Like the past few weeks, Denver has a good tight end in Tony Sheffler. Assuming Travis Henry has not been suspended, they have a good running game and QB Jay Cutler has as stong an arm as anyone in the league.

Defensively, Denver is struggling, giving up lots of yards and points. As far as match ups go, if Champ Bailey is healthy, he and Dre Bly will cause trouble for the passing game. Watch for the diminutive Elvis Dumervile. He is not even six feet tall but rushes the passer from Brett Favre's blind side and can cause trouble. The Packer love to run slants and crossing routes, so look for safety John Lynch to put the hurt on a Packer receiver as he comes into the middle of the field.

On the other side of the ball in addition to Sheffler, Henry and Cutler, Wideout Brandon Stokely, who plays mostly in the slot will give the Packer fits, unless they slide Charles Woodson or Al Harris onto him. Jarrett Bush will get beat like a drum if he has to cover Stokely. It looks like Javon Walker might be sidelined with an injury, so the Packers catch a break there.

And as he proved Sunday night, Kicker Jason Elam is as clutch as they come.

October 17, 2007
Koren Robinson ESPN's Chris Mortenson is reporting that Koren Robinson has been reinstated. The rich get richer it appears. I assume that the Packers will have him on the practice field as soon as possible. It will be interesting to see what kind of shape he is in. He apparently stayed out of trouble while suspended. I hope he spent the time working out. The Packers are (at least) three deep at reciever but Greg Jennings has yet to show he can make it through a complete season, so depth at the position will help. A more immediate boost may come in the return game where Robinson made the Pro Bowl a few years ago. If only he could play tight end.

October 16, 2007
I see where Bubba Franks is out for a couple of weeks due to a injured knee. That leaves Donald Lee as the only TE on the active roster according to Packers.com. Ryan Krause and James Adkisson are on the Practice Squad. Will the Pack bring someone in off the street? Who is available? Who will get cut, or sent to the IR to make room for a second TE? Will they move a fullback there for the short term? It will be a big decision.

Here's a link to a list of free agents available at tight end.

Looking Past the Bye Week
Two road ames out west could be trap games for the Packers. Denver is a tough place to play, but the Broncos are reeling. The seem out of sorts. The altitude in Denver can be a factor for visiting teams but it can be exaggerated.

Kansas City is also a tough place to play. The fans there are rabid and the Chiefs are improving. Larry Johnson had a big game last weekend. In both cases, the Packers are better behind center, so I give them the edge. Both teams want to run the ball, so it will be up to the defense to shut that down and give Brett Favre a chance to win it.

October 15, 2007
Summation Quote
I have been searching for a way to describe the Packers' season so far. I found it this morninig while reading the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Columnist Mike Woods authored the following line:

"For they are part good, part lucky and most assuredly blessed."

It is assuredly the best summation of the Packers season so far. As long as it continues, do we really care?

October 14, 2007
Redskins Game Recap
Near the end of the Packer-Redskins broadcast, Troy Aikman asked, "does anyone want to win this game?"

Here are the stats:

- The Redskins dropped at least six passes, most of them important.

- The Redskins threw an interception and lost two fumbles (they fumbled four times), one of which was returned for a TD by Charles Woodson.

- Brett Favre threw two picks and actually could have been intercepted two to three more times. The Packers fumbled four times, but recovered all of them.

- Washington tight end Chris Cooley had 9 catches for 105 yards and one TD. Backup Tight End Todd Yoder added another catch.

- As usual, the Packers could not generate a ground attack. 19 carries for 57 yards.

- Packer kicker Mason Crosby missed two field goals.

- 16 drives ended in a punt, eight by each team. The Skins had 15 total drives, same as the Packers.

The Packers did just enough and got enough breaks to hang on for the win. This is becoming the theme of the season. When they need a play, they make one. The game was not pretty, it was not a classic for the ages. With ten games left in the season, they can go .500 and still win 10 games. Since the Lions, idle this week, are 3-2, Vikings are 2-3, and Bears are 2-4, the Packers are in the driver's seat. Win out in the NFC North and their record is 9-7 at worst.

Unless the Patriots and Cowboys tie, Green Bay will be tied for the second best record in the league behind the Colts (off this weekend) and the winner of the match-up in Dallas. And if the Cowboys lose, the Pack will be tied for the best record in the Conference. Everyone knows how much of an advantage playing a playoff game at home in January could be for Green Bay. Home field advantage is something to play for. The other division leaders in the NFC besides the Packers are all warm weather teams - Dallas, Tampa and Arizona. None of the early candidates for a wild card could be considered cold weather teams - Seattle, Carolina or Detroit. The Packers would have a big advantage at home. I do not want to get ahead of the game, but it is something to shoot for.

With the bye week, Green Bay can rest up, heal up and prepare for the stretch run.

Lambeau Field
Green Bay spent a lot of time and money this off-season upgrading the surface to Lambeau Field. The Packers installed some new fangled synthetic weave into the grass. Early indications from the wet conditions on Sunday were underwhelming. Guys were slipping all over the place. Maybe it takes some time to break in, but it did not look like a success this first time out.

October 12, 2007
Redskins Tight Ends
The Packers have had trouble covering opponents' tight ends for a year or so. The Redskins have a good tight end in Chris Cooley. He has some crazy hair but will be a challenge for the defense.

I hope Washington goes with two tight ends, though. Their backup TE is Todd Yoder. He went to Vanderbilt and I was one of the folks who recruited him. He came to Vandy for his visit and nobody was around, so Eric Johnson, who is now a coach at Iowa and I had to host Yoder. Not much was going on, so we took him to a Women's Basketball game against the USA national team. He was a high school running back his senior year, came to Vandy as a wide receiver and has now bulked up to play tight end. This is his seventh year and he has played for the Bucs and Jaguars in prior years. He is a special teams guy mostly but he has good hands. As a freshman, he was Vandy's only offensive weapon. They would just throw it up for him and hope he caught it.

Probably the most coincidental part is that he married a young lady who also went to Vanderbilt. After I finished my graduate degree at Vanderbilt, I was an assistant coach of the women's lacrosse team (it is a long story) for about six months and his wife Sue was the team's best player. Todd is about 6-5 and Sue is close to 5-foot so they are a contrast in styles. She was as fast as they come though and a fierce competitor.

The world is a small place.

October 10, 2007
James Jones
Apparently James Jones is getting a lot of heat for his two fumbles in the Bears game. It was not a great game for the young man, but it happens. He had a great training camp and a good couple of games, including catching what turned out to be the winning TD in the Vikings game. The man is second on the team behind Donald Driver with 18 receptions. Give the kid a break. It was not like he just fumbled in space. He was getting hit at the time and hit hard.

I will take the good with the bad when it comes to him. If he keeps it up, I will have to reevaluate that stance though. Donald Driver is as soild as they come. Greg Jennings has shown signs of greatness, but struggles to stay healthy. Hopefully Jones does not have a problem holding onto the ball. If the young guys can stay on the field and hold on to the ball, the Packers will have a very good receiving corps for the present and future.

Dr. Z
Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated had a column online Tuesday that accused the Packers (and Bills) of not being tough. That lack of toughness led to both teams losing. His thesis was that both teams were up and were not tough enough to pound the ball and close out the game. The Bears were tougher and that allowed them to crawl back into the game and eventually win. I do not think he is only talking about physical toughness, but mental toughness.

I think it is a little more complicated than that, but I cannot argue with him. A team that purports to be one of the best in the NFL has to be able to close out a game when it has a double-digit lead.

Many of my peers have been ripping Mike McCarthy for getting out-coached. The Packers had 341 yards total offense in the first half, including 102 yards rushing. In the second half, they were held to 98 total yards with 19 of those coming on the ground. On the final drive, the Packers picked up 41 yards against the Bears' prevent defense. Do the math. On the previous six drives in the second half they gained 57 yards. They were penalized for 25 yards on those drives so they actually only gained 32 yards on those six drives.

And as for the final drive ... am I the only guy who was surprised at how chaotic it was? The snap count seemed to take forever and all those dinks and dunks. I was sitting next to a reporter from out of town and he was flabbergasted as to how bad it was run. I have been trying to recall something I heard earlier in the year. On the TV game broadcast, the announcers said that Favre told them that the Packers did not work on the two-minute drill all that much. If that is true it is unforgivable.

Like I said earlier, this Sunday's game against Washington is a test for this team and for the coaches. How they bounce back could make or break their season and for some of them, their careers.

October 2, 2007
Stats, Run Rates, Trends and History
As I was drivng home last night, I started to wonder how many passes Brett Favre had thrown so far this year and if that pace continues, how many will he have thrown by the end of the season. So I looked it up.

After four games, he has attempted 170 passes. That averages out to 42.5 attempts a game. Over a 16 game season, that works out to 680 pass attempts. The most passes thrown by a team in a season was by the Vikings in 1981. Tommy Kramer (593 tosses), Steve Dils (102 tosses), Wade Wilson (13 attempts) and Ted Brown (with one) all added up to 709 passes attempted. The Patriots in 1994 tried 699 passes, including 70 in one game which went into overtime. The following year, 1995, the Patriots tried to pass 686 times. Drew Bledsoe was the QB both of those years. He currently holds the record for most passes thrown in a season. According to NFL.com, here are the top three seasons for pass attempts:

691 Drew Bledsoe, New England, 1994
655 Warren Moon, Houston, 1991
636 Drew Bledsoe, New England, 1995

If Favre stays on this pace, he will end up second on the all time list. The Patriots played in a playoff game that year, so I wonder if that game is included in Bledsoe's totals. If the answer is yes, then I think it would be safe to say that Favre is on track to throw more passes in a season than any other QB, playoffs or not. Either way, it is a lot of passes.

One side note to this. Bledsoe's coach in those years, Bill Parcells. Not a pass-happy guy to say the least.

As for the running game, it is a completely different story. The Packers have rushed the ball 79 times in four games. That averages out to 19.75 rushes per game. The season run rate would works out to be 316 rushes for the year. According to NFL.com, the lowest rushing total in a season for a team is 211 rushes for the year by the Eagles in 1982. Second place goes to the 49ers with 218 rushing attempts again in 1982. The Oilers round out the bottom three with 225 attempts. Can you guess the year? 1982. That was a strike year and the league only played nine games. The Eagles still ran the ball 23.4 times per game. Last year the Packers rushed the ball 431 times or 26.94 per game. In 2004, the last time the Packers made the playoffs, they rushed the ball 441 times or 27.56 times per game.

October 1, 2007
Koren Robinson
I do not know the timeline pertaining to the possible reinstatement of Koren Robinson. He could be eligible pretty soon. The question is, should the Packers care? With Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones, do the Packers need him? He can return kicks and might be an upgrade there, but do the potential negatives outweigh what little upside he might bring?

Packer fans know how a good kick returner, like Desmond Howard or Travis WIlliams, can make a big difference in a championship run. But with the potential for Robinson to become a big distraction if he were to fail in his rehab effort, it is worth it?

He would be about the fourth receiver off the bench and has not played organized football in about a year. Even then he did not get a lot of time. Right now everything is going great for the Packers. Could bringing Robinson back upset that karma?

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:
September 2007 edition
August 2007 edition
July 2007 edition
June 2007 edition
May 2007 edition
April 2007 edition
March 2007 edition

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