Why the Packers defense will finally be better

By Andrew Hanlon

The Packers' defense hasn't carried its own weight in years. Probably since Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV, which is no coincidence.

In 2011, the Packers' defense dropped from fifth in the league in total defense to dead last.

In 2012, they were 22nd. They jumped to eighth in 2013, but fell back to 18th last season.

Meanwhile, the Packers' offense ranked first (2011), fifth (2012) , eighth (2013) and first (2014) in points scored during those seasons.

Again - the Packers' defense hasn't carried its own weight in years.

This year, though, will finally be different because of one word - Versatility.

Why LeBron James really is The King

By Andrew Hanlon

Seven conference finals appearances in 12 seasons.

Six NBA finals appearances and two championships.

Playoff averages - 27.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals on 47 percent shooting.

Also, the first player to reach five straight NBA Finals since Bill Russell's Celtics in the 60s.

Oh yeah, and there's this.

There's a reason why people call LeBron James The King.

The Bucks' No. 1 need this offseason - and it's not shooting

By Andrew Hanlon

The Milwaukee Bucks had an amazing season last year. They went from 15 wins and the worst record in the league to 41 wins and the sixth seed in the playoffs.
They fought back from down 3-0 in the first round against the Chicago Bulls to at least force a game six with two incredibly entertaining victories, including a buzzer-beater.

Unfortunately, what they did last year was easier than what comes next. It's one thing to go from a terrible team to a mediocre team. It's another thing completely, however, to go from a good team to a great one. 

What Jabari Parker Means to Milwaukee

Note: This post can also be seen in the July 1 edition of the Clintonville Chronicle and the July 2 edition of the Manawa Messenger.

Jabari. Parker. 

The Milwaukee Bucks took the Duke forward with the second overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft, and they could not have made a more perfect selection.

I was extraordinarily high on Australian point guard Dante Exum, who went fifth to the Utah Jazz. I still think Exum will be a perennial All-Star someday, but the Bucks franchise needed Jabari Parker the way human beings need oxygen. 

What makes the Parker selection even more perfect is that Parker wanted to come to Milwaukee as badly as Milwaukee wanted him here. The Bucks need a franchise player both on and off the court, and Parker is absolutely that. 

Parker wanted to go to a place where he was desired, and where he would be the focal point of the franchise moving forward. In almost every one of his interviews since Thursday night, when asked why he wanted to come to Milwaukee, he responded with some form of “they were all-in with me.” Jabari was channeling his inner Cheap Trick – he wanted to be wanted. As a Chicago native, he also wanted to play close to home.

Packers 2014 Draft Recap

Note: This post can also be seen in the May 13 edition of the Clintonville Chronicle as well as the May 14 edition of the Manawa Messenger.

Packers’ GM Ted Thompson continually explains to the media that team need does not play into the selections Green Bay makes in the draft.

But the Packers needed to fill spots at safety, wide receiver, linebacker, tight end, center and defensive line. Thompson drafted at least one player at each of those positions.

So either things just worked out perfectly for Thompson, or need is at least somewhat of a factor.

Regardless, it’s too early to know if any of the players in this class will work out; only time will tell. It’s not too early, though, to judge Thompson’s class on what kind of value he got, what risks he took and which of his picks could contribute this season.

Best Pick: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno St.

Thompson’s track record on second-round receivers is legendary at this point. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were all second-round picks. Now comes Adams, who led the country last year in catches with 131 and receiving touchdowns with 24. His 1,718 yards wasn’t too shabby, either. Over his two seasons as a Bulldog, he compiled 233 receptions for 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns. He fits the mold of a Packer receiver – great hands and good after the catch. He should compete with Jarrett Boykin for the third receiver job in training camp.

Best Value: Corey Linsley, C, Ohio St

One of last year’s fourth-round picks, J.C. Tretter, who has never played a down in the NFL, was the best option at center this year for the Packers before this selection. Linsley started all 26 games for the Buckeyes at that position the past two seasons, earning All-Big Ten honors in 2013. He will show up on day one with more experience at center than anyone on the Packers’ roster. If Thompson got his starting center in the fifth round, that defines value.

Biggest Risk: Richard Rodgers, TE, Cal

This was a reach for the Packers. Rodgers is essentially a developmental prospect, which is fine at the tight end position, but not in the third round. He didn’t even play tight end last season for the Golden Bears. He has good hands and is a decent route runner, but he’s not fast or explosive by any means. He’s a similar prospect to former Packers’ tight end D.J. Williams, who never made an impact. This is a high-risk pick because if the Packers can’t develop Rodgers, it’s a wasted third-round selection.

Best Late-Round Selection: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The Packers have already said they’re going to play their fourth-round selection at outside linebacker and let him rush the passer, something he did well for the Sun Devils. Eventually, he could end up moving to inside linebacker, which is more of a need for Green Bay. He’s athletic enough to drop into coverage and is a good, strong tackler. The major knock on him is his size and arm length, which could cause him to struggle to get off blocks. More than anything, Bradford plays with an aggressiveness and a sense of urgency that fans are going to enjoy. He also has the determination and maturity that could allow him to succeed despite his size.

Thursday Night Football Recap

The San Francisco 49ers finally got back to what they do best last night - running the football and playing defense. Frank Gore had his first 100 yard game of the season and the team's defense got back to form, even without the services of Patrick Willis or Aldon Smith. Not surprisingly, after establishing the run first, Colin Kaepernick had his best day since the team's opening game against Green Bay, throwing for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Kaepernick was able to find Anquan Boldin to the tune of 5 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, also Boldin's best game since week one; he had only hauled in three receptions in his last two games. Vernon Davis returned from injury as well to catch a touchdown, giving Kaepernick his two best options in the passing game, and it showed as Kaepernick looked infinitely more comfortable in the San Francisco offense. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman drew up a perfect game plan for the Niners, featuring their efficient power running game combined with play-action roll-outs to Kaepernick's right side.
This is the 49ers team that we have gotten used to in the past two seasons. They physically punish and out-man people on defense and run the ball with Gore on offense before putting Kaepernick in solid play-action situations where he can get out on the edge and use his athleticism and speed. In their last two losses, Kaepernick had completed less than 50% of his passes and thrown 4 interceptions, while the team ran for barely 100 yards in each game. That is not a coincidence. It's difficult to run play-action when a team can't run the ball. Last night, however, the team ran for 219 yards and Kaepernick was able to operate off of that play-action and use it to his advantage, because the offensive line was consistently opening gaping holes for Gore to run through.
The 49ers finally got back to what they do best and looked like the team that made a run all the way to the Super Bowl last year. If they stick to their game plan, they're obviously a tough team to beat. As a Packer fan, I unfortunately know all about it.

Andrew's Week 4 Picks

Here are a few quick thoughts on this week's games:

  • Home teams or away teams? I picked 10 away teams compared to only 5 home teams, something that makes me nervous. In close games I usually tend to go with a team playing at home, but not this week.
  • Lock of the week - Indianapolis over Jacksonville. Wouldn't this be true for anyone playing Jacksonville? What are the odds they go 0-16?b
  • Toughest game of the week - Seattle at Houston. If this game was in Seattle I would have little doubt about taking the Seahawks. On the road is a different story. If Matt Schaub and Arian Foster can control the time of possession and put up 7s instead of 3s, Seattle will have a tough time beating the Texans.
  • Upset of the week - Pittsburgh over Minnesota. I say the Steelers get their first win of the season in London. 

Mike's Week 4 Picks

Week 4 in the NFL should prove to be one of the season's more exciting ones when it's all said and done. Of course the more evenly matched teams provide more excitement for fans, but it also makes predicting the outcome that much more difficult. Needless to say that this week took me quite a bit longer than the first three and I blame that on one thing- road teams. Do I think Washington's best chance to get it's first win of the season is against Oakland? Absolutely. But do I think they can win on the road, with what is on pace to be the worst defense in league history? Or can they stop an improving Terrelle Pryor if he plays? That's where my confidence is shaken. And after I didn't bat an eye at putting 15 points on Minnesota over Cleveland last week (we play in a weighted picks league), Brian Hoyer and Jordan Cameron had Browns fans asking, "Trent who?", after stunning the Vikings in Minnesota 31-27. Be sure to keep an eye on what happens in Tampa Bay, as Josh Freeman has been benched and Mike Glennon -- the third QB picked in last year's draft -- will be the third rookie to start a game this season.

Who are you picking this week? Let me know on Twitter, tweet at FDS, or put your picks on our Facebook wall.

Top 10 - Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning has 12 touchdowns through the first three games of the 2013 season, which is, of course, a record. He also has zero interceptions, which is equally as amazing. He's a 99 overall playing the NFL on rookie. He has to be the MVP of the season to this point and he has the Broncos in position as the early Super Bowl favorites, although this is still his best highlight. In honor of Peyton's hot start, let's do something everybody loves. A good, old top 10 list. I'll rank the top 10 quarterbacks of 2013 through week 3, in my opinion, 10 to 1. By the way, this was much more difficult than I originally thought it would be.

Number 10 - Philip Rivers

There are a few guys who could take this spot right now. Michael Vick is playing well in Chip Kelly's new offense and Russell Wilson is as efficient as always. I like Rivers here, however, and the stats back me up. He's tied for second in the league in touchdown passes, ranks second in passer rating at 116.2, and he's third in the league with a 70% completion percentage. Rivers also led his team on a comeback, game-winning drive against Philadelphia in week 2.He is playing like a top 10 quarterback through the first three games of 2013.

Number 9 - Jay Cutler

The Cutlet's daddy looks like he's finally figured "it" out. He's thrown twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. He's in the top 10 in passer rating at 94.2 and has completed 67.3% of his passes, good for fifth in the league. He's led the Bears to two game winning drives already this year. He's been protected better than in the past (Cutler is second in sack percentage, a stat that measures how often a quarterback is sacked while attempting a pass) and clearly Marc Trestman has been a positive influence, but Cutler is just simply playing more efficient football.

Packers Need to Use Their Week Off Wisely

After an excruciatingly painful 34-30 loss to the Bengals in week 3 brought their record to 1-2, a bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Packers. After entering Cincinnati with key players out on both sides of the ball, Green Bay left Ohio with even bigger problems.

Early on, Jermichael Finley took a scary shot to the head and left the game with a concussion that seemed to impact some of Mike McCarthy's play calling. Ryan Taylor and Andrew Quarless both had drops in the game, and while Packer fans may be used to more than a few from Finley, there's no doubt that he draws a more respect from the secondary than either of his replacements.

Surprisingly, it was big plays by Green Bay's defense that brought this game back into reach after Cincinnati marched down the field with relative ease on the opening drive, then recovered a botched kick by Jeremy Ross at the Green Bay 12. Cincinnati then punched it in on the next play to take a 14-0 lead in just 12 seconds (Ross was cut by Green Bay on Monday). Without Morgan Burnett at safety and both Jarrett Bush and Casey Hayward at cornerback, the entire defensive unit stepped up, forcing 4 turnovers in the span of just 9 snaps, allowing the Packers to climb back into the game. Unfortunately, both Clay Matthews and James Starks, who had been on pace for a second straight 100-yard game, went down with hamstring and knee injuries respectively, and neither played in the second half. This, combined with an uncharacteristically mediocre performance by Aaron Rodgers, ultimately led to a Bengals comeback and a heartbreaking loss in Cincinnati.

The Packers must use this time wisely, not only to get healthy, but to address some serious flaws that they have in all 3 phases of the game. An area of particular concern is one that is often overlooked - special teams. Before being cut Monday, Jeremy Ross had returned 6 kicks for a total of 75 yards and a long of just 21. For those of you too lazy to do the math at home, that's an average of just 12.5 yards per attempt - the lowest in the NFL of any kick returner with at least 1 return per team's games played. In fact, the second lowest average in the league is almost double that; 20.0 by Washington's Chris Thompson. Even a mediocre Rodgers can't consistently score from that far out. The offense needs better field position, but they need to do it without risking the health of their star receiver Randall Cobb.

Another area to watch closely will be the offensive backfield. After ending Green Bay's 45 game streak without a 100-yard rusher, James Starks did what he does best: got hurt. This made room for 4th round pick Johnathan Franklin to step in, and he did in a big way. Andrew speaks more to that in his One Takeaway column. It's not all bad news for the Packers, though. With Eddie Lacy likely to return in week 5 and the strong showing by Franklin, fans can be hopeful that the green and gold got the 1-2 punch they were looking for in April's Draft. It will be a nice change of pace if McCarthy can use the week off to develop a more balanced attack to support Rodgers and the rest of the offense heading into their week 5 contest in Detroit. After failing to lead the division so far this season and being two games behind 3-0 Chicago, the Packers need this divisional win. Let's just hope they're ready come October 6th.

One Takeaway - Despite His Late 4th Quarter Fumble, Johnathan Franklin Deserves More Carries

In FDS's return to the sports blogosphere, I'll be introducing a new weekly post that we'll be featuring every Monday entitled, "One Takeaway." Each week we'll outline what we see as the main takeaway from the previous day's Packer game. This week our takeaway is rookie running back Johnathan Franklin.

With Eddie Lacy sidelined with a concussion and John Kuhn out with a hamstring injury, Franklin was the only healthy back outside of injury-proned James Starks. And sure enough, Starks injured his knee late in the first half and Head Coach Mike McCarthy had nowhere to turn except to his rookie fourth round pick out of UCLA.

After not taking an offensive snap through the first two weeks, Franklin shined in the second half. He rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown, showing quickness, elusiveness and a burst that the other backs on the roster simply don't have. Granted, he fumbled on the fourth down play that probably cost the Packers the game, but he still looked every bit the part of a starting NFL running back.

The bottom line is that Franklin proved he deserves more carries in the Packers' offense. The team drafted Lacy in the second round and Franklin in the fourth with the hopes that both could share carries and turn into a solid one-two punch out of the backfield to supplement the team's high-powered passing attack. After Franklin's second half performance yesterday, it's beginning to look like those hopes could come to fruition sooner rather than later.

San Francisco at Atlanta, Championship Sunday Games

Julio Jones is a beast. Matt Ryan is playing like a man who's out to prove his doubters wrong. Let me remind those of you who don't remember, however, Atlanta had a 27 - 7 lead against Seattle at home last week and gave it up before they pulled it out of their you know whats at the end. And that first TD was huge for San Fran. Being down two scores rather than three allows them to use their ├╝ber-dangerous pistol offense and run the ball like they love to do as opposed to having to use the pass to get quick scores. It also keeps the play action game involved which is a major part of their offense.

My prediction? I still think the 49ers will win, but it appears it'll be more difficult than I expected. As for the AFC Championship I'm rooting for the Ravens, but I think the Patriots offense is too much, and they'll out score Flacco and Co. I'm thinking 35 - 27. Agree or disagree?