Lombardi blog: November edition

Thoughts on Favre; Bounty-Gate; Packers-Cowboys showdown

November 29, 2007
Ice Bowl II
If the Packers win tonight and close out the year securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the odds of a Cowboy-Packer rematch at Lambeau Field in the cold is too dramatic to consider. The hype would be overwhelming. I am not sure who would benefit the most. Since the Packers won the game back in 1967, they would get more attention and potentially have the greater distraction, but the Cowboys would be the stand in for the loser of that game and could be distracted also. Forced to comment on that game for a week as the "losing team" could be tiresome for Dallas.

I do not think there is a person who does not feel the Packers have the edge at home in the cold, but just getting to the playoffs is an acheivement and this team is so young that they probably do not know any better. I wonder if James Jones has ever played in a super cold weather game, or a game of this magnitude. I doubt Greg Jennings has been in a similar situation.

November 28, 2007
Stuff is Happening
The Packers are at the center of the football universe. They dominated Thanksgiving Day, showed up on the radar for Bounty-Gate, are heading to Dallas to play the Cowboys and seem to have found a president. What about it.

The Thanksgiving game was big win that almost got away from them. Brett Favre continues his amazing run. His streak of 20 straight completions is mind boggling. The Cowboys winning later in the day set up Thursday's big game. If the whole world got the NFL Network, everyone would be watching.

In addition to Favre's big game, the best thing about the win over the Lions was when the Packers need to eat up clock in the fourth quarter, they did. Ryan Grant carried the ball five times for 47 yards on Green Bay's last true drive. The Pack kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 11 points and make it a two score game with around two minutes left in the game. He had only carried the ball 10 times for 54 yards before that drive. At half he only had three carries for seven yards. But when it counted, they ran the ball and ate up time.

Now for this bounty thing. Has there ever been more attention paid to such a non-story. I understand why the league forbids bounties, but this did not seem to be a bounty as I would define it. Nobody needs incentive to hurt someone if they decided to do so, but making little side wagers and such can motivate a team and foster a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. I am sure that the Packers have goals related to their performance as a team. The offense wants to throw for x number of yards and rush for so many yards and so on and the defense wants to limit the opponents output. How is this any different than what it is reported happened with the Packers? Sometimes the media overreacts with these things.

As for the Dallas game, the Packers need to stop Jason Witten and find a way to get Al Harris or Charles Woodson matched up on T.O. The Cowboys will probably use motion and put him in the slot to prevent the Packers' corners from getting a body on him off the line.

Offensively, I do not think there is a team in the league that can slow down Favre. Only he can beat himself right now given the way he is playing. The key to shutting him down is to get pressure on him and that is next to impossible with his quick release and the game plan of short passes and play action. In obvious passing downs, the shotgun gives him the extra time to make it work.

And lastly the papers are reporting that the Packers are in negotiations with Mark Murphy, Athletic Director at Northwestern, to take over the Packer Presidency. I had never heard his name mentioned in the search, so he is kind of a stealth candidate, but I have heard good things about him over the years and know some folks who have worked with him and are impressed with him.

Even though he has not had the NFL management experience, he does have an impressive resume and as a former player and player rep, he will bring a different perspective to the job. In fact my father was a member of the NFL Management Council when he was a player rep and they were both involved in the 1982 strike, on opposite sides of the table. Even though they were adversaries at the time, my dad respected him and the way he carried himself. That was over 20 years ago, but I do not think people change their inherent character much.

November 20, 2007
Playoffs
I have been informed by a reader that I neglected to include a team from the NFC South in my playoff scenario, and that is true. I do not have any faith in any of those teams rising up and being a threat, unless the Saints figure out how to play defense. Drew Brees makes them dangerous in an elimination contest. The Bucs are also a threat because they have a good QB in Jeff Garcia.

Either way, the odds are the Packers, Cowboys, Giants, and Seahawks should be the four teams left standing after the first weekend of games come January. There are always upsets, but that would be the likely outcome and would ultimately be the best thing for football and football fans.

The Colts playing the Patriots in the AFC and the Cowboys and Packers in the NFC is what makes sense for the league. Does anyone doubt that the Favre-led Packers trying to stop the "evil" Patriots would be the most watched Super Bowl ever? The only downside to a Packer Super Bowl run is that Favre might call it quits after making that happen - win or lose.

Favre's "Resurgence"
As most folks know, there has been a lot of bluster the past few years over Brett Favre's future. Many in fandom and the media called for him to hang it up. He was washed up. He was too old. He was holding the Packers hostage. He was holding them back. As I have mentioned before, I think that some in the Packer front office wanted him to pack it in also.

Now that he is playing like an MVP again, Favre has been "reborn" and is playing with new enthusiasm. It is one of the biggest stories in the NFL this season. But is the truth behind his "rebirth" more a question of Coach McCarthy opening things up and letting him play. Is Favre the same guy, but under a more appropriate system.

I do not want to pile on Coach Sherman, but maybe Favre was hamstrung with his play calling and game planning. Granted he did not have the talent at receiver in 2005, but maybe Sherman just did not have the relationship and trust with Favre. Maybe that spilled over onto the field. The contrast between McCarthy and Sherman and their interaction with Favre during games is stark.

Now the Packers pretty much have to pass the ball to succeed and Sherman wanted to run the ball and had a back to do it. It was a different offensive dynamic a few years ago.

I doubt that Favre will ever write another book, but I wonder if he will ever talk about it. Probably the only way we will ever find out about it.

November 16, 2007
Having Second Thoughts?
I see where Brett Favre has received more votes for the Pro Bowl than any other player. He is having his best season in a long time, both statistically and record wise. Are all those folks who wanted him to retire having second thoughts?

Speaking of second thoughts:

Do the Vikings wish they had let Brad Childress leave the Twin Cities and interview with any other team?

Do the Bears regret giving Lovie Smith that extension?

For years it was assumed that Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis was passed over for head coaching positions because of racism. Anyone care to admit that maybe he was not cut out for the job?

Does Ted Thompson regret not pulling the trigger on the Randy Moss trade?

Aaron Rodgers may develop into a great player, but here are some of the names drafted after him. Seahawks Center Chris Spencer, Chargers DE Luis Castillo, Eagles D Tackle Mike Patterson, Colts Corner Marlin Jackson, Steeler Tight End Heath Miller, Pats Guard Logan Mankins, and Niners Guard David Baas. All of them are listed as starters at positions where the Packers could use some help. Castillo and Patteson both play on the D-Line, where the Packers are strong, but they took Justin Harrell this year in the first round.

Speaking of Harrell, I know it is too early to worry about him, but maybe something could have been done to find a guy who can get on the field and contribute. Any regrets there, scouting department?

Maybe Chargers big shot A.J. Smith should have tried harder to get along with Marty? I wonder if he regrets letting Drew Brees leave?

When was the last time a first round Quarterback panned out? Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Carson Palmer in 2003. Going back to the 2000 NFL Draft, there have been 21 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Subtract this year's two guys and that gives you 19 first rounders. Of them, only Palmer and Big Ben are what I would call can't-miss guys. Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers are still unknowns, but that is not a very good track record. Assuming half of those question marks become solid starters, that gives us five good players out of 19 choices. A .263% success rate is only acceptable in baseball. Of the three best quarterbacks in the league, one was drafted in 1991, the other was taken first overall in 1998 and the other was taken in the sixth round in 2000. Tough business this scouting.

November 14, 2007
Flexibility
I recently got an e-mail from a reader trumpeting the job Mike McCarthy has done. I cannot argue with him and I see where some pundits are pushing him for Coach of the Year honors.

The question is, how good a job has Coach McCarthy done and why has he been successful?

It is easy to answer those questions. Obviously, the record speaks for itself. The team is 8-1 this year and they have one 12 of 13 games going back to last year. The team is near the top of the league rankings in both offense (fourth) and defense (tenth) and has a chance to secure not only a playoff berth but possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

On the negative side, they have committed too many penalties and have gotten lucky in a few games. Most concerning they are last in the league in rushing offense. They have offset that worry by being first in passing offense.

That dynamic, first in passing and last in rushing is what I find most interesting about Coach McCarthy. I have seen too many coaches, who for whatever reason, be it stubbornness, stupidity or sheer arrogance cannot adjust to circumstance. They become coach of a team and instead of molding their system and knowledge to the talent and players they have, try and bend the players to their system. Instead of taking the cards they have been dealt and playing them as best they can, these coaches try and change twos to kings.

McCarthy sees what he has and molds his game plan to take advantage of the players available to him. I am sure he would like to run the ball more and more effectively. I am sure he would like to be more balanced. But he has Brett Favre and at least three good receivers, so he is going to ride that as long as he can. Come a year or so, when Favre is gone, I am sure he will design a scheme to take advantage of his strengths at the time. Maybe by then, the offensive line and backs will be stronger and he can become more of a running team, giving Aaron Rodgers or whomever the QB is a chance to develop. Maybe Rodgers will live up to his draft position and McCarthy can continue to sling it. I doubt that he will become caught up in having the number one passing offense if that is not their strength in the future.

I was on the staff of a college team once that had run the option and I-bone under the old coach who quit to go to a big time school. All of its players had been recruited to run the ball. The quarterbacks were all running quarterbacks. All the lineman were limited when it came to pass blocking. They just did not do it all that often. It was not their strength. The new coach came in from the pros and had run a version of the Redskins offense from the early 90's. It was a short passing game with timing routes and multiple reads. Its basic personnel group was one back, three receivers and the H-Back/Tight End. Lots of motion and formations.

The head coach tried to run that offense with a running quarterback. He never once tried to meld his system to the players he had. He planned on recruiting guys for his system, but he was stuck with the old guys for a season or two. It was so ugly, that he did not make it to season three. The only bright spot was the defensive personnel was perfect for the defensive scheme installed by the D-Coordinator. Not only that, he used their talents to make adjustments to what he had and the defense was always near the top of the conference rankings.

McCarthy should be commended for doing the best, which is pretty good, with what he has. Arrogance does not seem to be high on his list of personality quirks. Look no further than our neighbors to the west for a coach who cannot get out of his own way.

As Dirty Harry said, "A man has got to know his limitations."

November 12, 2007
Deja Vu?
In 1958, the Green Bay Packers went 1-10-1. In 2005, they went 4-12.

In 1959, the Pack went 7-5. In 2006, they went 8-8.

In 1960, the regular season record was 8-4. In 2007, the regular season record is 8-1 so far.

In 1960, the Packers lost in the Championship game to the Eagles.

Will the 2007 team make it at least that far?

What are the similarities between the two teams? What are the differences?

One stark difference is at quarterback. The current version of the Packers has Brett Favre. The team from 47 years ago, had not decided on Bart Starr as QB. He alternated with Lamar McHan for those two seasons. In 1959 and 1960, McHan started at least 11 games. It was not until 1961 that Starr was the unquestioned starter and leader.

November 11, 2007
Pile on the Vikings
The Packers did just about everything right as they took it to Minnesota. The Vikings are not a powerhouse team and might have quit on their coach after the Troy Williamson paycheck kerfuffle. I would not bet the house on it, but I do not see Brad Childress coming back next year as head coach.

Regardless, it was an impressive win because of how the Packers won. In almost every game this year, it has either come down to the last few minutes or the Packers have gotten a break to get the win. Not on Sunday. They pounded the Vikes on all sides of the ball. The Vikes ran 44 offensive plays to the Packers 80. The Packers held the ball for more than 40 minutes. It was the only time in the history of the matchup that the Vikings were shut out and the largest margin of victory for the Packers in all the times they have played.

They ran the ball well. Ryan Grant had his second hundred yard rushing game is three weeks. It was the first hundred yard effort against the Vikings defense all year.

Brett Favre was effective - Three touchdown passes, including that miracle last one to Ruvell Martin. He was not sacked the whole game.

The offensive line, especially the guards, played very well, considering the scrutiny they were under after a sub par effort last week in KC.

They did not turn the ball over.

They converted on third down.

They controlled the clock with long drives and fourth down conversions.

They almost eliminated the stupid penalties that had been haunting them. They only committed four infractions and none really hurt them.

The defense kept rookie running back Adrian Peterson in check, eventually knocking him out of the game due to injury.

At the end of the third quarter, the Vikings only had around 100 yards total offense. By then the game was effectively over.

About the only negative thing you can say about this game is that they beat a really bad team. A team that started Brooks Bollinger at quarterback for pete's sake. In fact, with the exception of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, I would say that the Packers have not beat a team with a quarterback who would be ranked in the top half of the league. Manning and the Giants were in disarray when the Packers played them and Rivers and the Chargers suffer from Norv Turner disease. Donovan McNabb might have been in the top half at one point, but no longer. Jason Campbell and Jay Cutler might be there some day but not yet. Kelly Holcomb, Brian Griese and Damon Huard are journeyman.

And looking ahead to next week, they will get more of the same as Vinny Testaverde, or David Carr or some other guy will start for the Panthers. Vinny was a player once, but not sure he can still do it. Green Bay needs to make sure that they do not get caught looking past Carolina towards the matchup with Detroit on Thanksgiving. It is a classic trap game.

I would never want to look beyond next week's opponent or even the week after. But I hope the Packers keep winning because I am looking forward to that game against the Cowboys. My dad is scheduled to flip the coin before the game with Tom Landry's son. It will be some kind of rematch of the Ice Bowl with my dad and Landry Junior standing in for their famous fathers. Hopefully you have the NFL Network so you can see it.

November 11, 2007
Best in the NFC
The Cowboys, Giants and Lions are the the other teams that wll challenge the Packers for supremacy in the NFC. I do not think any of these teams are in the same league as the Patriots, Colts and maybe the Steelers.

How do the Packers stack up to Dallas, NY and Detroit?

I will never be convinced that the Lions can take the Packers until they do. They have been too bad for too long for me to suspend my disbelief for even a minute. As for the Giants, the Packers handled them pretty easily in Week Two, but the Giants are a different team since then. And as for the Cowboys, I think they are good but overrated.

I watched the Giants-Dallas game after the Packers game and I see no reason why the Packers cannot beat both of them. They are both talented, but they are beatable. There is ample reason to think that the Packers have as good a chance as anyone to be the sacrificial lamb for the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Ron Kramer
I saw Ron Kramer on Saturday. He was in Green Bay to sign his new book. You can find it on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Thats-Just-Kramer-Michigan-Lombardis/dp/1587264331/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-9798613-2342338?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194820383&sr=8-1

I have not read it, but if it is anywhere close to as entertaining as Ron is in person, it will be a great book.

November 11, 2007
Packer President Search
Take a look at this article in the Milwaukee Paper and then come back to read my comments and analysis.

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=684787

None of this is surprising to me. Let us go back to an article I wrote a few months ago. Let me quote. These quotes are from my submitted version, I do not know if they were edited and changed.

Concerning Bob Harlan's participation in the process:

3. I do not think Bob Harlan will have one ounce of input into this decision. His last three major appointments have not set the world on fire. Mike Sherman as GM and John Jones as his successor have been utter failures. Ted Thompson as GM has not proven itself yet and is still a work in progress. Harlan will be given a prominent PR role, but I would be surprised if his counsel is taken seriously.

As for the rest of the Journal Sentinel article, I will step aside and let my earlier writing speak for itself:

There are members of the Packer Board of Directors who feel that the team should hire a President who has Green Bay ties. They want to go back to the age when a local businessman ran the team. They want to keep it in house so to speak.

Much of this is motivated by ego. Some of those same people want the job for themselves. The other side is power. If an outsider comes in and takes the job, these men will potentially lose their influence. Anyone worthy of the job will more than likely demand the authority to run the team as they see fit. Anyone who does not seek the power is probably not up to the task. Do you see the contradiction? The days of Vince Lombardi bossing the Board Members around are long gone. Is it any coincidence that when the person running the football side of the team is stronger than the Board, the team wins and when the Board meddles, the team loses?

There are other members of the Board who realize that a person with sizable experience in the NFL must be chosen. It is necessary in today's NFL. That was supposedly John Jones' strength, but it turned out he was never up to the job. Bob Harlan has been an amazing spokesman for this team and the person who replaces him must also have that ability. But they must be more than that. They must be experienced and knowledgeable about the league. The days of running the team out of a cigar box in a back room of the local newspaper are long gone.

There is middle ground though. They could appoint someone with ties to the area as President: someone with the understanding of Green Bay and its place in the community. Someone who is good in front of a microphone. Then find a person with League connections to be Chief Operating Officer. It could work if the COO is squared away, humble and the President defers to him on most issues, especially those related to football. The question is where does that leave Ted Thompson?

Once this internal squabble is settled, then they can go looking for the right person. If the decision is made to appoint a local person, then Attorney Tom Olejniczak and Larry Weyers, both board members, are considered possible candidates. If the faction looking to find someone with NFL Experience succeeds, then the number one candidate is Titans' GM and former Packer Exec Mike Reinfeldt. He has local ties and has been gainfully employed in the league for a long time. Assuming there is no bad blood left over since his departure for Seattle with Mike Holmgren, I would guess that it is his job to lose - if he wants it. Jason Wied may get the job if he can convince enough Board Members that he is up to it. He is a safe choice. A person with local ties, who has been working in the league. A good compromise choice. I could see some Board Members thinking they could control him. His weakness is his age and his lack of experience with anything football related. Odds are he will have the job someday, maybe after Reinfeldt.

If the decision is to appoint a local person and find a COO, there are many people qualified, but I am not sure any of them would like the arrangement. They all want to run the show at some date. Do they leave their current job which might be comparable for something unknown? Does this person have authority over Ted Thompson? Can this person hire and fire the GM and/or Head Coach? Without that authority, I am not sure that anyone who takes the job has the necessary ability to make it work.

Once it all shakes out, it will be imperative that the person who gets the title has to be someone who knows the game. The future of a team is wholly dependent on its on-field product. A winning football team is vital for the organization to thrive. There are too many decisions that need to be made in the near future that will impact the team for years to come. The new president will have to face life after Brett Favre and will need a GM and Head Coach who can whether the storm. That is a decision best left to a football guy, not a lawyer, banker, realtor or car salesman. The new Packer President will have to assume all of those roles but more importantly he has to be able to field a team that wins football games. Everything depends on a winning football team. And the next president had better be able to make that happen.

Since I wrote this I have begun to believe that Reinfeldt will not get the job. I am not sure the Titans will release him. A while back I heard that the leaders for the job are Tom Olejniczak and Dolphins President Bryan Wiedmeier. Nothing has changed on that respect. My gut tells me that that they will go in-house. They are not prepared to secede that authority to an outsider. Harlan has publically trumpeted the need to a football guy and since he has been sidelined, it only makes me think that a local guy is going to get it. That way the Executive Committee can run the thing as they see fit.

November 7, 2007
Lambeau Field
I hate to plug a competing website, but head over to Sports Illustrated online and check out their rankings of NFL Stadiums and which are the best experiences. Lambeau Field is number 1, which surprises nobody. Lambeau and the Packers got a total of 54 points out of a possible 70.

The categories are tickets, food and souvenirs, accessability, tailgating, the team, stadium atmosphere, and the surrounding neighborhood.

They were strong in everything but neighborhood (five of 10) and accessability (four of 10). I actually have never had a problem parking at a Packer game and find it pretty easy to navigate, but I suppose if you are not used to going to a game, like a SI reporter, it can be confusing.

As for the neighborhood, that is one of the things that I find endearing about the Packers. Lambeau backs up to houses and even though there are businesses and bars sprinkled about, it is actually part of the neighborhood as opposed to some other places which are out in the middle of nowhere or downtown. Anyway, check it out, it is fun to compare and constrast.

The next three, the Steelers, Browns and Lions, must have improved their facilities, because there is no way that their old stadiums would have made the list. Three Rivers was OK, but generic and stale. Cleveland's old stadium was a baseball field with the 50-yard line of the football field around first and third for a strange arrangement. The supposed best seats in the house were the farthest from the field. The Silverdome in Pontiac was as unappealing as they come.

Last on the list - The Jets at Giants Stadium. The Giants, who share Giants Stadium with the Jets are 25th. I guess the product on the field matters.

Other teams of note: Bears - 20th; Vikings - 31st

John Lombardi is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

Lombardi blog archives:
October 2007 edition
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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