Tag Archives: Mike McCarthy

NFL18 Cherry Picks W14: St. Nick’s Maybe Memo to Packers, ‘Better a Big Fish Than Small Fry’

8 Dec

Fish n’ Chips

If there’s no news, then make some news. That could be a placard above the entrance to the managing editor’s office at SI.com.

Someone at the long-running magazine got it in their head this week to float the wobbly notion that Alabama football coach Nick Saban should become the next Packers guru to fill the vacancy created by the panic-driven firing of Super Bowl winning Mike McCarthy who’d been at the Green Bay helm for over a decade (06). Where there’s M&M (money & motivation), anything can happen.

But the Packers Executive Board doing what it takes to pry Nick away from UA where he rolls towards what could be his sixth national title in Tuscaloosa (7 + LSU), in money & position (club president), well, that’s about as likely as the forever frugal Brewers signing Bryce Harper to a 5-year deal: Not very.

There are plenty of reasons why someone of Saban’s caliber would never coach the green & yellow, starting with the fact the Packers would never go after someone with a celebrity carrying such a high price tag. That’s for the Yankees, Lakers and Cowboys of sportdom who like to throw money around.

Green Bay likes to think they can find diamonds in the rough, and they have, on occasion, but usually of the already cut variety (Wolf (OAK) – Holmgren (SF) – Lombardi (NYG)). Below the radar might be the better metaphor.

Besides that, the Packers Board of Directors ‘throw nickels around like manhole-covers (See also: Bears).’ But then all this has been common knowledge amongst real NFL fans for quite some time now.

And Saban himself might not like giving up the near reverential status he’s held in college football for about twenty years. At Alabama, Nick is becoming the John Wooden of college football (JW: 10 basketball titles @ UCLA). There’s Saban, and there’s everybody else, now that Urban Meyer has hung-up his head-set, again. The West Virginia native just might want to keep it that way, until he retires and goes into consulting and motivational speaking.

Though, it would not surprise that Saban has buried in the back of his mind a belief that he could do in Green Bay, or another NFL city, what Pete Carroll has done so marvelously in Seattle after his own great success at USC (2 titles 2003-04) and two brief NFL head-coaching stints with the New York Jets (94) and in New England (97-99 27-21), in winning back-to-back Halas trophies (NFCC 2014-15) with Wilson, Lynch and Legion of Boom. But such a build-from-scratch success story as Carroll fashioned is a rare feat indeed.

A Packers post means accepting the challenge of winning big in the Fox Valley. Key word there is ‘big.’ Winning’s not enough in Packerland. Titles must be won. That’s titles, plural. Once, as they said in the movies (75), is not enough.

Success in Green Bay does have its rewards.

The Packers are one of the most storied franchises in American sport. The head coach is a big fish in a small pond. That means you can gobble up pretty much whatever and whomever you want whilst you swim in it. They’ll probably name a street after you if you win a Super Bowl. Make that two, at least, two Halas trophies (NFCC). But if you don’t win early and often, they’ll hand you your walking papers right quick and might even string-up your family pet if the rabble get riled-up enough (See; Dan Devine 70s).

A former NFL Coach of the Year, Ray Rhodes, lasted but one 8-8 season before getting his pink slip from the Packers, even as Brett Favre had a sore thumb on his throwing hand most of that 1999 season.

Now this unexpected, rather ignominious mid-season firing of McCarthy, and you tell me, would you want take the reins in Green Bay? And it’s not like they’re gonna’ fork out the big bucks to help you assume the risk. No sir-ee, Nick.

This is a recent statement made by Packers All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his relationship with Mike: “We would finish every time that we talked.”

And I know what Rodgers meant: Listening in kind. That means, hearing each other out and responding. Not always in agreement, but in understanding: That’s maturity, that’s respect and that’s not easy to find today anywhere.

The coach community is a club. They understand the ups and downs, risks and rewards that come along with being a head coach. Some of those risks are unanticipated, like getting fired in-season with a 125-77 overall. That then creates a community wide impression, and not a good one.

Another name that’s being bantered about for the Packers’ HC job in 2019 is Northwestern’s resourceful Pat Fitzgerald (95-70 / 3-5 (3-1 since 2012)).

Pat’s done a marvelous job in Evanston but the former All-American linebacker is a defensive specialist. And as any real football fan knows, while the HC must delegate duties to capable staffers, they must also have a near expert understanding of play on both sides of the ball. Not that the Pack couldn’t use a boost on the D side of things, but with a guy like Rodgers running the offense, it’s scoring that is Green Bay’s forte, at least in the forceable future.

And therein be the carrot on Packers President Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst’s stick, Mister Aaron Rodgers.

Sure, money is important to a coaching candidate but so too is the prospect of winning quickly and winning often so you can keep earning that money, and that’s what Mr. Matriculator gives his coach, in all likelihood.

But Aaron, future Cantonese he be, is no spring chicken, as he will be entering his fourteenth season come next summer training camp in 2019.

While his first three seasons were limited to clipboarding, the fact Rodgers has recently suffered two semi-serious injuries (broken clavicles), missing half of 2013 and 2017 seasons, makes one wonder if he‘s become … susceptible?

How many NFL seasons does the Berkeley Bear have left?

He’s not the type to play just to break records or get a paycheck. His endorsements have him set for life. But the beatings in the backfield take their toll, even with new rules in place to protect the field general. I’d say 4-6 year, and that may not be enough to pull in the biggest names.

Then there’s interim, Joe Philbin, who led the Dolphins for parts of four seasons, compiling a so-so record of 24-28 as Bullygate unfolded. Not impressive but capable enough to get a short-term deal as search goes on as needed, or not.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 14

Saints @ Tampa: 12.9 Fox 1:00pE: Saints
Patriots @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Pats
Baltimore @ KansasCity: CBS 1:00: KC
Indianapolis @ Houston: CBS 1:00: Colts
Atlanta @ Green Bay: Fox 1:00: Packers
Panthers @ Cleveland: Fox 1:00: Browns
Denver @ 49ers: CBS 4:05: Broncos
Cincinnati @ Chargers: CBS 4:05: Cincy
Detroit @ Arizona: Fox 4:25: Lions
Philadelphia @ Dallas: Fox 4:25: ‘Boys
LosAngeles @ Chicago: NBC 8:20: Rams
Vikes @ Seattle: 12.10 Disney 8:15: Hawks

Record: 44 – 42

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, 2011; Fish-and-Chips, wc.cca, Mathias-Meckel, Blackpool, 2018; N.Saban, wc, 8.18.09, Ramma-Jamma-Yella; cherries, B.Kua, wc, 6.1.08; Willie-Wood, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 12.7 @ 10:49pE, edit 12.8; Copyright © 2018

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NFL18 Cherry Picks W10: Absent Super Bowl Berth, Big Decision Befalls Packers Brass

11 Nov

It’s that time of year again. That time when talk begins about Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy getting the boot by his betters on the Board.

It’s a routine that began around 2013, a couple years after Mike & Company’s Super Bowl triumph over the Steelers. It, of course, has never amounted to much, not amongst practically-minded folk, anyway, except for periodically re-shuffling the play-calling duties to appease the gripers.

But this season might create a different mood, a cheese of a different color, so to speak, if a terrific turnaround and trip to Atlanta doesn‘t come to fruition.

At the midway, the Pack sit at 3-4-1, the tougher half of their schedule behind them where they faced maybe the two top Super Bowl contenders in the Rams and Patriots, back-to-back and on the road, suffering close losses versus both.

And if you think Packers’ R-back Aaron Jones’ fumble to start the 4th quarter of play against those Patriots as both were knotted at 17, was the reason for the green & yellow’s loss in Foxborough, you might want to stick with the NBA.

A more likely cause, one that’s reared its ugly head in nearly every Packers’ loss since White and Butler exited the Fox Valley (early 2000s): Poor defense.

On 3rd and seven at their own 27 in first series after recovering said Jones fumble to start the 4th quarter, Green Bay’s Swiss cheese D allowed Brady to connect with Dorsett for a 17-yard gain, giving the New Englanders good breathing space for a drive that would eventually end in a TD to take the lead, harness momentum and get the win.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict the Packers going 7-1 the rest of the way, a final regular season tally (10-5-1) that might be good enough to take the NFC North, a competitive division but with no juggernauts in the bunch.

Current division leaders Chicago (5-3) are improved with new QB Trubisky under center but look more a pretender with a youthful signal-caller prone to rabbit, a red-flag for fumbles and INTs in crucial game moments.

A visit to Seattle in week 11 (TNF), then traveling to arch-rival Minnesota ten days later on Sunday and one more seriously challenging home match-up versus Atlanta in W13 is the stretch that will decide the Packers and Mike’s fate.

All three, the Seahawks, Vikings and A-Birds are playoff contenders but of the fickle variety in 2018: One weekend they can look serious, the next, downright pathetic, even with fairly talent laden rosters.

Even at 9-6-1, a team can probably take the NFCN, the runner-up seriously challenging for one of the two wild-card spots in a down season for the NFC.

And with their remaining schedule, not terribly tough, unless you stand at 3-5, I’d not expect the Lions to get that wild-card spot.

But even a playoff spot and deep run may not be enough to save Mike. Anything short of a Super Bowl will be seen as a failure by Packers elite and fandom.

Aaron Rodgers is a rare talent, even as Green Bay had such fortune just prior to the Berkeley boy’s arrival in the person of Brett Favre. Once Rodgers hangs ‘em up, maybe less than five years with recent the injuries starting to take their toll, to nab a third consecutive Hall of Fame caliber QB is highly unlikely. The point being, Packers window for returning to the Big Game is closing.

McCarthy is not a great coach, but he’s a pretty darn good one (124-74-2 / 10-8 PS / SB45-W). He’s in that grade with Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin (SB 1-1) who himself is looking to solidify a place in the history of another storied franchise.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 10

NO @ Bengals: 11.11 Fox 1:00pE: Cincy
Detroit @ Chicago: Fox 1:00: Lions
Washington @ TB: Fox 1:00: Buccaneers
Buffalo @ New York: CBS 1:00: Bills
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Jags
Los Angeles @ Oakland: CBS 4:05: Raiders
Seattle @ Los Angeles: CBS 4:25: Hawks
Dolphins @ Green Bay: CBS 4:25: Packers
Dallas @ Philadelphia: NBC 8:20: Eagles

Record: 38 – 31

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Aaron-Rodgers, Mike-McCarthy, wc.cca, 9.9.12, M.Morbeck, Lambeau-Field; ripe-cherries, Chirak, 6.24.07; Harold-Jackson, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 11.11 @ 2:45aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W4: Matthews Sports Angel-Hands As Brees Staves Cantonization

30 Sep

Together they constitute the 2d-longest running coach-QB duo in this current NFL, the New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees, dating back to 2006, tied with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and just one year greater than Big Ben and Mike Tomlin in the Steel City (07).

Only the Belichick-Brady pairing (2000) is longer in time and just a bit more accredited with eight (8) Super Bowl appearances and five (5) wins.

And like the Packers (2010-11) and Steelers (2008-09) long, successful pairings, Sean & Drew earned an NFL championship ring together (2009-10) in a game most memorable to this writer for the Saints’ head coaching call to start the 2d half with an on-side kick, one his men recovered and put in for score. New Orleans had been building back against the Manning-led Colts but this gutsy call gave the NFC rep full momentum which they never relinquished (NO 31-17).

But since that pinnacle performance, it’s been a mixed bag for the Big Easy bunch: Four (4) playoff shows + four miss-outs = lots of unfulfilled expectations, so much so that Sean’s retention by the Saints has been subject of discussion in recent years among fans, if not ownership (Tom Benson (d.2018) and family).

The Bountygate scandel certainly took its toll on New Orleans‘ winning ways.

The defense, traditionally a mainstay in New Orleans (67), has struggled somewhat since those semi-glory days, with the burden heavy on an offense that never lacked for passing yards but, like most NFL clubs today, found a reliable run-game (80-120y per) hard to come by, as hard to roster for most clubs as the master matriculator under center.

And that shaky defensive trend has continued into 2018. With a record of 2-1, the Saints have given up on average 34+ per contest. Not exactly awful in this NFL age but still pretty poor stoppage effort, one that cannot forever rely on future Canton inductee Brees to keep bailing them out of jam after jam with his heavenly passing arm.

The Austin, Texas native Drew is set to turn 40 next January and shows no sign of decline (80.6% / 1078y / 8t-0i / 144-107).

This Sunday or next he’s likely to surpass Peyton Manning’s pass yardage mark of 71,940 (71, 523). I remember when the Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton (47,003) surpassed the great Johnny Unitas’ (40,239) in the mid 70s, both marks, in their times, that seemed unbreakable. And that’s a big one. Yardage on level with the TD record, Peyton held, as well (539), another one that, baring serious injury, Drew should nab in not too distant future (496).

It does bear mentioning, Mister Brady is within striking distance for taking that yardage title himself someday (66,803), though, that’s a longer chance for Tom than the TD record (494), the ultimate holder of which is anybody‘s guess. Then there’s a guy in Green Bay named Rodgers.

All of this leading to the conclusion, we live in a very special time for great pocket passer quarterbacks. So enjoy it while you can, before flash-QB becomes the norm, again (30s-40s single-wing tailback).

Most sporting types know about old “Angel Eyes,” the Bad one of Sergio Leone’s trio of bounty-hunters that flavorize his Classic spaghetti Western, The Good The Bad And The Ugly (66), played by the incomparable Lee Van Cleef (d.89).

What they may not know, at least by its official name, is the National Football League’s own version of angelica called, the angel hands.

It attaches whenever a defender makes serious contact with an offensive player and immediately throws his sticky-hands up like a pair of angel wings, claiming innocence of any wrong-doing the officials or fandom my charge.

In Week 3’s Packers – Redskins tussle (DC 31-17), Green Bay linebacker and Campbells® Soup spokesman Clay Matthews was flagged in third-quarter play for unnecessary roughness as he pile-drove DC signal-caller Alex Smith into the FedEx Field turf in a disallowed sack.

Cries of over-protection and a seriously “soft(ening)” NFL soon flowed from the mouth of the charged offender, but Matthew’s whine has a bitter taste.

As Matthews rolled out of his thunderous thump of Smith, his right, then left hand rose upward in typical angel manner, clearly indicating his own self-doubt, a likely awares of the rule (one that, rather than soften the game had aimed to prevent over-zealous sack-seekers from needlessly pile-driving opponents into the ground) and then a pre-emptive plea for sympathy. A hard tackle is a favored feat among footballers and its followers but the pile-drive is a personal macho move that is best left to video aficionados.

Clay’d been better to’ve kept his hands to himself, post-piling.

But alas, when a Packers’ lad feels mistreated and declares that mental state to the world (“NFL’s gone soft”), the League that reveres Lombardi like he were its Founder (Halas), listens, whether it’s “earn(ed)” or not. They Suits & Skirts on the Rules Cmte have now undertaken to review what appears a sensible rule. And that can only mean one thing: “Soft(ening)” the rule to sooth egos. Oy vey.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 4

Jets @ Jaguars: 9.30 Fox 1:00: Jags
Miami @ Patriots: CBS: New England
Eagles @ Titans: Fox 1:00: Philly
Bills @ Packers: CBS 1:00: Green Bay
Lions @ Dallas: Fox 1:00: Cowboys
Tampa @ Chicago: Fox 1:00: Bucs
Bengals @ Falcons: CBS 1:00: A-Birds
Saints @ NYG: 4:25 CBS: New Orleans
Ravens @ Steelers: 8:20 NBC: Pitt
KC @ Denver: 10.1 Disney 8:15: Denver

Record: 8 – 5

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Drew-Brees, wc.cca, Kelly-Bailey, 1.8.11; Brees, wc, DB-King, 9.14.08; Clay-Matthews, wc, Amy-Anderson, 2010; JimMarshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 9.30.18 @ 11:40aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL17 Cherry Picks W7: Minus Rodgers, Packer-Backers Brace For Future Shock

21 Oct

For the Green Bay Packers and their frothy fandom, NFL 2017 has poured them a big brimming beverage of Future Shock to imbibe. Drink up, blessed ones.

But the title of their novel state reads different than the 1970 best-seller: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Football Without a Great Quarterback Under Center. It should fly off the shelves. Sure, Steve.

— — —

Future Shock was a non-ficition write penned by New Yorker Alvin Toffler (1928 – 2016). It was a well-received prediction on how change, through technologies and their profit-seeking managers, will become a constant in the lives of every person on the planet. It’s a prediction that’s proved fairly accurate.

Now the Pack are faced with the toughest change any team, any not sporting a defensive leader the likes of Bobby Wagner or Luke Kuechly, will face in a season: The loss of their offensive field general in Aaron Rodgers. A difference here: Most changes today are designed to optimize profits. This one wasn’t designed and definately won’t spur gains as Rodgers happens to be that rare, well-decorated four-star variety commander (five-star: Baugh, Graham, Clark, Layne, Van Brocklin, Starr, Namath, Griese, Jurgensen, Staubach, Unitas, Bradshaw, Montana, Brady, Aikman, Favre, Roethlisberger, Mannings).

— — —

The green & yellow stand at 4-2 in this still fairly early yet angstful NFL season, thank you, knee-jerks, tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North. The 2-time MVP Rodgers sustained a 2nd collarbone break in 3+ seasons (13) early in last week’s road contest versus the Vikings who currently hold the tie-breaker.

But this time the injury is a bit more troubling for Rodgers.

The Chico, California born and Cal-Berkely educated Rodgers is 3-years older than when he had the last CB-fracture, expecting then the heal process to be slightly slower and maybe less certain. The body ages, skin gets thinner and bones more brittle. We can slow the process, but it still ages. Worse is that the injury this time fissures on his better half, his right, throwing side.

The surgery is complete and it’s postulated the 2010 Super Bowl winner and Kaepernick fan will miss the rest of the 2017 season. But don’t be surprised if he makes a return before the regular slate finishes. That would be fine timing for GB because his Packers team will no doubt still be in the thick of it, having only to compete in the typically sad-sack North Division (1960s). That is, if his backup in 2d-year man out of UCLA (5R-2015), Brett Hundley (2g / 56C% / 1t-3i), can muster enough offense to help his team take 3-4 victories and make Rodgers’ task (making the post-season) that less daunting.

In 2013, Rodgers went down in W9 (v CHI). Under Matt Flynn the Packers played to 2-5-1. Upon Aaron’s return W17 versus those Bears, GB won the game to make the playoffs at 8-7-1 where they lost a nail-bitter at home to none other than the Harbaugh 49ers (20-23) and Kaepernick who, as he always did to GB in the post-season, passed poor (16-30) but ran wild (98y) to victory.

Any new signal-caller, especially in Green Bay where expectations run higher than the cholesteral count of a tailgating, beer-guzzling, cheese-inhaling, bratwurst hound on game-day, can use some serious help from his backfield. Maybe ‘use’ isn’t the right word: desperately needs the help of his backfield mates. Brett might have that in Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones.

Montgomery looked somewhat promising last season: On 77 attempts he scored 3 TDs with a spiffy 5.9 YPC. That average has come down in 2017 (3.2) but the Stanford man has only carried the pigskin around 10 times per contest. Some guys need regualr action to get it rolling and Ty may be one of those guys.

Rookie Jones (2017 – 5R – TX-EP) had a great game in Dallas where he gained 125 (6.8) and scored a touchdown (45-215y / 4.8 / 2t). But of couse, Aaron’s largely an unknown at this point in time. And promising is promising.

— — —

Since the early 1990s, the Green Bay Packers roadway to the championship has been one paved mostly with easy victories, MVP awards, a plethora of All-Pro selections, more Super Bowl trips than most NFL clubs (3) and lots o’ lots o’ friendly national press coverage for the green & yellow gang.

It began in 1991 with the arrival of one crafty General Manager in Ron Wolf (HOF15), he of the Oakland Raiders chamipionship ways. Wolf would secure the key components to Green Bay’s long-awaited post-Lombardi revival.

In 1992 Wolf persuaded 49ers assistant Mike Holmgren to take up residence in a place that’d become a graveyard for coaches ever since the Great One’s departure following the Pack’s victory over AFL Raiders in SB2 (68).

Then he pulled off the master-stroke, the deal that proved linchpin to the whole Green Bay renaissance and his eventual election to Canton when he snatched a rookie bench-warmer quarterback / party-animal with a rocket arm named Brett “Mississippi” Favre from Atlanta’s roster for one 1st-round draft pick.

In 1993, shoring up the Packers’ defense became Wolf’s focus as he enticed Philadelphia Eagles free-agent sack-master Reggie White to “boldly go where (fewer of his black race had been going) before,” Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After that group had won two NFC titles, Wolf retired and the torch was passed to Ted Thompson (2005) who “boldly (went) where no man had gone before” in drafting a 1R QB (Rodgers) to replace a still vibrant, iron-willed, Wisconsin demi-god in Favre, and show the future Hall-of-Famer the proverbial door.

— — —

In this run of success, Green Bay has returned to the Super Bowl three times, won an arm-load of NFC North trophies and muscled their way into becoming a Thanksgiving regular along with traditionals Detroit & Dallas. And while it’s fallen short of the Walsh – Seifert string and Cowboys title tally of the 90s, you wouldn’t know it by the cock-sure confidence most ‘Backers exude from every pore, every minute, everyday since the rebirth began.

But “the times they are a-changin.’”

The first collarbone crack heard ‘round Wisconsin in 2013 sidelined the master matriculator in W9 and the Packers nose-dove (0-3-1). Expect something similar this time around. It’s just a taste of something they haven’t had to stomach since the days of Lindy Infante‘s final campaign: mediocrity.

In fact, there’s a whole generation of Packerland folk who’ve never know the despair most the rest of NFL fandom experience with a certain regularity, who’ve never had their faith tested, week in, week out, year after year.

A great QB is a god-send. His ability to read D (fluid intellect), implement a plan, take hits in the pocket while possessing an innate ability to move the ball, all add up to wins and may mask what is otherwise an uninspired team.

Someday the Packers will be slumming, blue bloods without a great signal-caller, without even be a ‘can’t miss’ college draftee in their sights (See; 1970s-80s). But in the not-to-distant future, Mr. Rodgers will return and will win many more games. So if you’re a Packer-backer, just “relax.” Know that both of those futures will come to fruition and that a little humility goes a long way in preparation.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 7

Ravens @ Vikes: 10.22 CBS 1:00: Baltimore
Saints @ Green Bay: Fox 1:00: New Orleans
New York Jets @ Miami: Fox 1:00: Dolphins
Panthers @ Chicago: CBS 1:00: Bears
Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams: Fox 1:00: AZ
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Colts
Dallas @ San Francisco: Fox 4:05: Cowboys
Bengals @ Pittsburgh: CBS 4:25: Cincinnati
Seahawks @ New York Giants: CBS 4:25: Seattle
Falcons @ New England: NBC 8:30: Atlanta
Redskins @ Eagles: 10.23 Disney 8:30: DC

Record: 22 – 15

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; A.Rodgers, 12.30.12, Minneapolis, wc.cca, JoeBielawa, E.Griffen; Rodgers, M.Morbeck, wc,12.27.09, LambeauField; B.Favre, Dugan, wc,11.15.09, MN-NationalGuard; cherries, Hispalois, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain, wc; Jim-Otto, 1970, TCG
Posted: 10.20.17 @ 10:47pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Pre-Play: Bloom Is Off But Arians Still In League’s Elite Coach Class

5 Sep

NFL 2017 head coach ranking with Bruce Arians of Arizona Cardinals @ #5:

1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
2) Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
3) Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
4) John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
5) Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

— — —

It was a rough 2016 for the Arizona Cardinals and their 5th-yr HC Bruce Arians who still gets mentioned when the NFL’s best are bantered about.

Arians must be a firm believer in aberration, i.e., an unpleasant deviation from the norm. He HAS to be because he won’t, he CAN’T believe that his fairly talent-laden NFC West squad would again lay an egg like they did in NFL 2016 when, in oppposite of many favorable prognostications by fans & press and general roster health they finished a disappointing 7-8-1. Eek.

Progression can be a wonderful thing. From it will spring forth hopes, learning experiences and maybe, just maybe, a 5-year, $25M ($15M guaranteed) contract with a nice buyout clause ($7.5M). Maybe.

I don’t know how the Paterson, New Jersey native’s, who is set to turn 65 in October (10.3.52), contract with owner Bill Bidwell reads but given his former progression, its terms are most likely fair & balanced to both sides.

The problem with progression is that any sudden halt in one’s steady forward progress and it can be bone-jarring. Ouch!

— — —

Beginning his coaching career at Virginia Tech in 1975 as a graduate assistant, Bruce didn’t get his first top NFL gig until late in the game at age sixty when he took over as Indianapolis interim for the ailing Chuck Pagano who was out in cancer treatment (2012) and proceeded to win the first of his two AP-COY awards (+ 2014). In 2013 he took the reins at Arizona and kept winning, going 34-14, a total that excludes his 9-3 Colts mark (11-5), W-L numbers diverted to Pagano‘s career tally by NFL’s record keepers.

2012: Colts 9 – 3
2013: Cards 10 – 6
2014: Cards 11 – 5
2015: Cards 13 – 3
2016: Cards 7 – 8 – 1

Odd as Arizona’s 2016 devolution, odder still was that it happened even as there were some quite notable individual and team bright spots.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ 1st-Rd draftee out of USC in 2004, appeared to’ve fully recovered from his 2014 knee injury, making fifteen starts and putting up reasonable if not great numbers.

Career-long Card and another 04 draftee in receiver Larry Fitzgerald had his eight 1000-yd season in 2016, surpassing the 100 career total in TDs (104).

On defense, Arizona sported a double-digited sack-duo in linebackers Markus Golden (12.5 / tie 3rd) and Chandler Jones (11 / 8th). Not how I’d use my main-defenders (sacks) but it got the job done in part as AZ’s defense ranked a spiffy #2 in yapg (305 (301 HOU)) but a so-so #14 in papg at 22.6 (15.6 NE).

The brightest spot was rising star and MVP candidate (I had him #2 heading into W17), running-back / receiver David Johnson, the 2nd-year man out of Northern Iowa who ran for 1239 (+ 16td), caught 80 passes for 879 yards (+ 4td) and led the League with 20 pay-dirts in total.

Some small comfort for Arians & Crew may’ve been the fact that 2016 was, as Winston Churchill put it in describing the Soviet Union circa 1939, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” especially in the ho-hum NFC which may help to account for this prognosticator’s worst effort to date.

In the American, surprise disappointments were the Jets (10-6 (15) > 5-11 (16)), the Ravens (10-6 (14) > 5-11 > 8-8 (16)) and the Bengals (12-4 (15) > 6-9-1 (16)) who were expected to contend and then, of course, el-foldo come playoffs.

In the NFC, Cards and defending Halas hoisters, Carolina, were favored to shine but stumbled in start and never recovered; Seattle didn’t find the fierceness and only Atlanta & GB looked worthy of taking on New England. And if you thought Dallas (13-3) was the real-deal with the rookies, you don’t watch much NFL.

Will Arizona rebound in 2017? League’s looking pretty pathetic these days, bound to get worse with the art of tackling fading fast and flash-QB filling the ranks, meaning, any team with pro talent in key positions, and that means AZ, should have a good shot a taking the Hunt or Halas trophy come January.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; B.Arians, G.Skidmore, 8.5.16, Glendale, wc; L.Fitzgerald, wc, Al-Anbar, Al-Asad, USO, 3.8.09, Cpl-J.Hernandez, Cpt-J.Daniels; Arians, 3.22.17, DoC, T.LaRussa, G.Skidmore; Topps, J.Otto, 1970
Posted: 9.5.17 @ 4.28pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: A Patriots Peer, It’s Back To Top-Tier or These Packers Turn Flat-Beer

28 Mar

Pretendership: It’s an NFL station most Green Bay Packers devotees have never knelt before in prayer for guidance and delivery. Anyone rooting for the Acme club yet having no recollection of the play that made John Brockington and Lynn Dickey house-hold names in the badger state is probably in that blessed group.

But that’s for later.

For now, just imagine rooting for an NFL team, one that not only wins most of its regular season games but will have on display any given year a future Cantonese or two roaming the turf, that for most of your conscious life has been an NFL contender. Imagine that. Easy enough for New England Patriots faithful but for the rest of fandom it’s a little hard to picture even in the mind’s eye.

Twenty-five years of pretty much football bliss in Northeastern Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, thanks in large part to two men (GMs), four if you count the coaches (Holmgren / McCarthy), six if you include the QBs (Favre / Rodgers).

Sure, there were some struggles, a few 8-8s seasons, even a couple losing campaigns, but there was always an easy scapegoat to find (Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, Bill Schroeder) and soon enough the Good Ship Green & Yellow would find its contender course again and all was ship-shape.

The Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson Packers have never dominated the sport as did former Green Bay juggernauts under Vince Lombardi (60s) or founding father Curly Lambeau (20-40s) but playoff births have been nearly automatic since 1992 and the two Super Bowl victories (1997 & 2011) have given the period of prosperity a legitimacy that can only come with championships.

While the Patriots recent reign of championships is incomparable in this still newish century of play, it’s not hyperbole to write that it is actually the Packers, hang with me here, by way of a crafty continuity in success that’ve been the more impressive of NFL’s two most juggernautious franchises these past 25 years.

Sure, New England coaching genius Bill Belichick and his sure-to-be 1st ballot HOF quarterback extraordinaire in Tom Brady are likely the most terrific title tandem in the Super Bowl era (See also; Noll & Bradshaw, Landry & Staubach, Walsh & Montana), but the manners in which both Wolf and then Thompson engineered their respective coach – QB tandems-in-terrificness are the templates in ‘How To,’ 1) Acquire a diamond-in-the-rough bench-warmer (Brett (ATL)), and 2) draft a replacement (Aaron) for a living legend.

Just imagine, two consecutive GMs who respectively displayed an expertise in post-draft patience (Ron) and then prediction on player longevity (Ted), that player in Favre being, to Wisconsin sports fans, next to God, making it very risky business to draft any heir apparent in 2005 (Aaron).

Wolf’s persistence and then shrewd calculation in extracting Favre from Atlanta’s roster in trading a #1 pick (respectful enough to get their interest but not so generous to get ’em wondering) should be an example to every GM and fantasy fan, i.e., that post-draft follow-up can be of greater value than draft day doings.

And Thompson, in showing Brett the door by drafting the Berkeley Bear Rodgers in 2005, took one humongous gamble. To appreciate just how bold a move it was you have know just how popular was the man from Southern Miss.

Directly north up in Wisconsin, Favre was bigger than Lombardi had ever been, in part because every female sport fan in America’s Dairyland had become enamored with the dude. And that’s putting it mildly.

You think Tom Brady’s huge in 2017? He is, but Brett Favre was huger. Hell, Brett was bigger than the NFL. The Green Bay Renaissance that he and his team fashioned, back-to-back Super Bowls and plenty o’ playoff action, briefly put them in the America’s Team seat, after the Aikman Cowboys disbanded, a starry status that played no small role in facilitating formation of the still budding international game in the early 2000s (Mexico City (05), London (07)).

Consider that when “Onslow (Geoff Hughes)” dons Packers gear on the hit British TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95),” it’s not because of NFL rules changes or networks addition of female sideliners. It was Favre, plain & simple.

So if Rodgers doesn’t pan out when handed the offensive reins in 2008, Ted probably gets run out of paper-mill country on a rail, figuratively speaking, after hustling out the family dog first (See; Devine ‘74). But instead, the pan turned up gold and Ted will get a street named after himself, if he hasn’t already.

“Mississippi,” as Falcons Jerry Glanville referred to the rookie QB in smirk, had a couple good seasons left in the tank when he exited Lambeau: An injury-affected Jets campaign (10-6) and two seasons with arch-rival Minnesota, the first in 2009 which would be his best single statistical show and see the Vikes fall to the Bounty-gate Saints in the NFCC10-OT and finale when he dragged himself back for one more go before hanging up his Canton-bound cleats.

♫ Shades of Mediocrity ♫

Mercurial might aptly describe the 2016-17 Green Bay Packers.

Hovering around .500 to the midway, then going three (losses) in the hole, the Pack found some consistency the rest of the way (6 + 2PS) until getting stomped in the NFCC at Mercedes-Benz (Georgia) Dome (44-21 (24-0 H)).

The party isn’t over, not by a long shot, not while perennial MVP entry Aaron Rodgers has his legs underneath and maintains his pin-point passing precision. But some of the good-times have started to head for the exits and a few of those that remain are looking a bit green around the gills (gulp).

One of those always in attendance is the Green Bay defense. It’s a curiosity for even as they helped raise a Lombardi for head coach Mike McCarthy in 2011, it’s also a unit that’s looked wather wobbly since the Reggie White – George Koonce – Sean Jones – LeRoy Butler bunch broke-up.

Team ranks tell the tale. In 2016, the Green figured about where they usually do in the McCarthy era, 22nd in yards allowed per game (364), 21st in points (24+). In the NFCC17 those middling marks came home to roost as Atlanta feasted.

At the center of the defensive scheme has been The Hair, sack-minded linebacker Clay Matthews. Never a top tackler, perplexing for a middle-man, Clay’s numbers have been trending down since that Super season to the point where real value should be a real question for GB staff. He does make a fun soup commercial.

The run game, as party-goers go, hasn’t had much to say lately.

The weighty part of the ball-carry was spending most of its time at the buffet. But Lacy’s gone now and won’t find better eats in the greater Seattle metro, that is unless you really like salmon. And maybe that‘s the point. Bon appétit, Eddie.

Ty Montgomery (2y-SU) filled the void nicely in 2016, for a time, then faded late, 2010 draftee James Starks was not re-signed of , another 2d-yr. in big guy (6’1 255) Aaron Ripkowski (Sooner) will full-back just fine (4.4 – 2td), F/A pick-up Don Jackson (Nevada) had 10 carries last year while former Seahawk Christine Michaels was inked to a deal but has much to prove (9-GS from 2013 (4.3)).

Finding replacements, not mockery, is why the draft matters.

And then there’s Mike ‘What Have You Done For Us Lately’ McCarthy.

Coaching the Green Bay Packers, an early NFL entrant (1921) with accolades enough to fill a cruise liner (sink it along with its Captain in rough waters), is like riding a tiger: When times is good, everybody purrs, but when the champagne rarely flows, the big kitty pitches a fit and sometimes eats its own (gulp).

Mike’s got a monkey on his back clutching an NFCC runner-up trophy in symbol of GB’s disaster known as Cheese-Melt 2015. Packers 1st half lead frittered away and overtime nailed their coffin shut as the Seahawks returned to the Super.

Mike McCarthy has been suffering the “slings and arrows” of regional critics with no return trip to the Big Game. But the rather disappointing playoff runs, enabled by a rather terrific career regular mark (.651), is just part of a pattern he’s displayed since being hired to replace Mike Sherman in 2006. Some good years, a few pedestrian and patience, more patience.

There’s only one Bill Belichick, folks.

Mike’s big mistake was caving to pressure after the Melt to concede offensive play-call, a concession he…revoked (?) at last season’s midpoint. Trust then becomes an issue. But remember, MM turned Packers back into champions when all looked discombobulated, six (6) years after the guy who was prone to sideline temper tantrums left for the State of Washington.

It wasn’t easy filling Favre’s sizable shoes…wait…come to think of it, it actually was pretty easy for Thompson. But Brett was bigger than life and there’s only been one mobile pocket-passer the likes of Mr. Rodgers, a player who, as he will enter his thirteenth (13) NFL summer camp shortly, I’d give four (4) 1Rs in trade today if by some fluke he became free and I a GM in need.

Such a smooth succession in kingly QBs in Packerland in pass of the bejeweled scepter of signal-caller royalty, the Patriots (Belichick – Brady) have not yet displayed. Course, they haven’t had the need. When Tom retires, likely same time Bill hangs up his headset, we’ll see how they do it in Foxborough.

But the Pack are on the championship clock. They need to return to elite status in 2017 (12-4) or their royal carriage may turn pumpkin before anyone expects it.

Last season’s road to the Halas Trophy (NFCC) was not exactly strewn with pot-holes in serious contenders. It was more like the E-ZPass® highway.

The Atlanta Falcons were the real deal in 2016-17 yet may still feel the reel this upcoming campaign from their colossal collapse in SB51.

To write that the rest of the NFC was deficient would be an understatement.

Though much ballyhooed after a W1 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys much anticipated playoff turned Texas-sized soufflé in loss at home to Green Bay; G-Men and Lions proved pretenders, not because they lost in the PS which, by itself is no fraud, but in both getting shellacked; Seattle, never quite the same since losing SB49, gave one of those shellackings (DET) but then got one themselves (ATL); and while Tampa surged to respectability, Redskins never got rhythm, Vikes were extra-mercurial (6-0), Panthers licked their wounds all season (SB50 – L) and pre-season hopeful Arizona never got going.

Residence in the once vaunted North divsion, f/k/a Black & Blue, always boosts the Packers pre-season rank which sits just under Atlanta as NFC favorites, ahead of Seattle (Lacy ≠ Lynch), then Arian’s Cardinals sure to rebound, the Giants, Lions, Dallas who won’t surprise in 2017, D-Vikes, maturing Bucs and sometimes capable conundrums in Redskins, Eagles, Saints and Carolina.

Procuring a reliable run-game is not the challenge that is finding a top-flight, resilient pocket passer, but good ball-carriers don’t grow on trees, either.

Letting lunch-a-lot Lacy exit looks prudent now, but if McCarthy, Thompson and OC in former GB ball-carrier Edgar Bennett cannot in trade or late-April draft find that impactful runner(s) to spell Rodgers and give opposing DCs a ground-attack to diagram, and then the bodies to shore-up a defense that too often turns leaky in rough waters, Packers will continue to get bounced too early from playoffs, Mike will get pink-slipped with no contribution to anyone’s awareness and this era of exuberance will creep to a close, great QB, notwithstanding.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: A.Rodgers-M.McCarthy, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Packers-print, wc, 1959; B.Belichick, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; A.Rodgers, wc, M.Morbeck, 12.7.08; Minnesota-Vikings-GreenBay-Packers, P.Loadholt-C.Matthews, wc, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck; M.McCarthy, TJ.Grant, wc, 8.11.07; NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao
Posted: 3.28.17 @ 11:39am EST, edit 11:01; 3.31; Copyright © 2017

NFL16 Cherry Picks W2: New Digs, Old Scores to Settle in League’s Fiercest Feud

18 Sep

Bad Blood

The date: October 22, 1961.

The place: Metropolitan Stadium (d.1984), Bloomington, Minnesota.

The weather: Overcast, mild (55°), breezy and humid (72%).

The event: The Green Bay Packers take to Minnesota tundra for the first time to face-off against the fledgling Vikings in the Norsemen’s inaugural NFL campaign.

The head coaches: Vince Lombardi (GB ‘59) v. Norm Van Brocklin (MIN ‘61).

starr-wc-cca-gb-1956-71-301kSome of the more notable players: Green Bay: Bart Starr (QB), Paul Hornung (HB), Jim Taylor (FB), Boyd Dowler (E), Herb Adderley (CB/KR), Willie Wood (S/PR), Ray Nitschke (LB), Willie Davis (DE), Jim Ringo (C), Forrest Gregg (T/G), Jerry Kramer (G) and Henry Jordan (DT); Minnesota: Francis “The Scrambler” Tarkenton (QB), Hugh McElhenny (HB), Tommy Mason (K-PR) and Hall-of-Fame Overlookees Jim Marshall (DE) & Grady Alderman (T/G).

I was around at the time but what you might call, highly dependent.

A fetus, was I, though, in using contemporary Supreme Court standard, given Mom’s stage of pregnancy, I would’ve been adjudged well into viability (24th week (+/-), lungs working) and fully vested with all Constitutional rights and protections appurtenant.

Nonetheless, awareness was not one of those rights, or senses, more accurately, and I literally could not have cared any less than I (probably) did as to outcome of this opening act between the Vikings and Packers in the early 60s. That (caring) would come ten years later as I invoked my right to choice and began siding with one of the two teams at issue. Hint: Brett Favre was one terrific QB.

And I was the better in amniotic fluid, having missed this earliest engagement.

tarkenton-wc-themiaminews-1-9-74-320kThe first encounter between these two Northern rivals, arguably the most hateful rivalry in today’s NFL, not so much amongst players who, like most jocks in 2016, schmooze plenty (ugh), but rather, acrimony in the stands amongst the fans, wasn’t much of a contest.

The Pack, who’d go on to take the 1961 NFL title, Vince’s first as a head honcho, in trouncing Allie Sherman, Y.A. Tittle and Sam Huff’s New York Giants, 37-0, gave a like lesson in prowess to the Purple People, 33-7 on that mild, late October day. Vandy Commodore and ’62 Pro-Bowler Tom Moore ran wild in Bloomington for 159 as Tark threw three to the other team and benched for George Shaw late.

In a funny quirk of scheduling (It was a time that allowed for inexactitude), Green Bay would give the Vikings another spanking the next Sunday (It was a time that allowed for discipline), though, not so firmly, in besting their new rival, 28-10 at Lambeau, then known as City Field (It was a time that allowed for succinctness).

Things would get better for the Norsemen.

By 1964, having been thoroughly thumped by the Acme monsters for six straight, the Vikings, who almost became an AFL original in 1960 (Oakland), finally got off the schneid and beat the Packers 24-23 in the Fox Valley en route to their first winning season (8-5-1).

peterson-1-28-12-wc-arvee5-0-309kIn time, tables would turn in favor of the Minnesotans with Lombardi’s move upstairs (‘68), then to DC and Bud Grant’s long run of success from late 60s into the 1980s. The W-L tally between the two would hover around the .500 mark even through the Favre era (including his Minnesota sojourn (’09-10)) but swing heavily back to the green & yellow with coming-of-age of Mr. Rodgers.

What to expect this Sunday as the Packers fly to Minneapolis to help break the seal on the Vikes new digs, US Bank Stadium? We know Mike & Aaron will matriculate and Coach Zimmer’s men will play some defense. Keys: Can the host muster enough offense in backing their QB, whomever it be (Hill / Bradford), and the visitors make enough tackles late to make those points Rodgers does put on the board, sufficient.

cherries-cloth-picdrome-6-2011-thmCherry Picks Week 2

Dallas (0-1) @ DC (0-1): 9.18 Fox 1:00: Redskins win
Bengals (1-0) @ Pittsburgh (1-0): CBS 1:00: Cincy wins
New Orleans (0-1) @ NY Giants (1-0): Fox 1:00: Saints win
Miami Dolphins (0-1) @ New England Patriots (1-0): CBS 1:00: Miami wins
Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) @ Houston Texans (1-0): CBS 1:00: Houston wins
Tennessee Titans (0-1) @ Detroit Lions (1-0): CBS 1:00: Tennessee wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) @ Arizona: Fox 4:05 (GTW): Cardinals win
Atlanta Falcons (0-1) @ Oakland Raiders (1-0): CBS 4:25: Atlanta wins
Indianapolis Colts (1-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-0): CBS 4:25: Indy wins
Packers (1-0) @ Minnesota (1-0): NBC 8:30 (GTW2): Green Bay wins
Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) @ Chicago (0-1): 9.19 Disney 8:30: Bears win

Record: 4-4

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: B.Grant, wc.cca, 1.10.77, Eugene-Register-Guard; B.Starr, wc, GB, 1956-71; F.Tarkenton, wc, The-Miami-News, 1.9.74; A.Peterson, wc, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12; cherries-cloth, wc, 06-2011, picdrome; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 9.18.16 @ 1:04am EST: Copyright © 2016