Hangin’ with Havel!

 

Chris Havel’s sports columns will appear throughout the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click to go to their website/Facebook):

Hangin’ with Havel

For Wednesday April 17th, 2019

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to their website/Facebook

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** Rick Woldt’s Slammer Inn
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Packers’ home games set

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Roll out the barrel. Let the good times roll.
While Wisconsin sports fans are going crazy over the Brewers and the Bucks, the Packers have been a bit overshadowed since their initial NFL free-agency flurry.
However, the Packers are back in the news with the NFL’s 2019 schedule release set for later today.
Thus far, I have compiled the Packers’ complete home schedule, without times included. I also want to say this is within a fair certainty of being accurate. But it’s not 100-percent set in granite.
Here goes:
Sunday, Sept.15, Vikings
Sunday, Sept. 22, Broncos
Thursday, Sept. 26, Eagles
So that’s three straight home games in an 11-day span following Green Bay’s Thursday night, Sept. 5, season-opener at Chicago.
The Packers have two home games in October.
Monday, October 14, Lions
Sunday, October 20, Raiders
After that, it’s a single game in November, followed by two December home games. Then, the Packers close out the season with a pair of road games including at least one in the NFC North.
Sunday, November 10, Panthers
Sunday, December 8, Redskins
Sunday, December 15, Bears

Packers’ LaFleur Era spurs
team’s curiosity, anticipation

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Matt LaFleur Era is under way.
There’s a fresh coat of paint in the hallways at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. There are new murals on the walls. There’s a new seating chart in the meeting rooms.
There’s a new sheriff in town.
LaFleur, 39, is doing what NFL head coaches from Lombardi to Holmgren have done. They’ve made it a point to accentuate change, to highlight turning the page, to promote moving forward on the path to prosperity – aka the Super Bowl.
The Packers began their offseason workout program Monday under LaFleur’s direction. Players met with media on Wednesday and there was a distinguishable excitement in their voices.
Their curiosity has been piqued.
That’s the starting point of what’s going to be an intriguing journey for the 2019 Packers and LaFleur. The telling moments lie ahead. When adversity hits it’s how LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers react to it, grow from it and get better because of it.
For now, the focus is getting acquainted with each other, getting familiar with the offense, and buying into and building a new dynamic.
With all of that as a backdrop, last week’s Bleacher Report article that was highly critical of Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ previous coach, seems to have rallied players around Rodgers.
It certainly fired up the Packers’ all-pro quarterback.
Rodgers called the article a “smear attack.”
He denied holding a grudge against McCarthy and made it clear any suggestion that he somehow sabotaged the former coach is untrue.
Rodgers responded to the article in an ESPN Milwaukee interview. He made it clear that the alleged comment by Packers president Mark Murphy, telling Rodgers, “Don’t be the problem,” was a lie.
“The two main things I think I really want to talk about and just clear up, which are really central themes to the article, the first is the Mark Murphy conversation because part of the article seems to want to say the Packers are worried about me as the leader of the football team moving forward.
“And before I get into what actually happened in the conversation with Mark, I want to say two things: One, if they knew that, why would they offer me a contract last year? And two, which goes into my second central thesis point that I’m going to take down, is if I really disliked Mike (McCarthy) so much, why would I re-sign knowing that if I play and we do what we do around here – we made the playoffs eight straight years and then I got hurt and we missed the playoffs – it’s going to be me and Mike my entire career. So if I really disliked him that much, do you think I’d re-sign. Is the money that important to me? I’ll tell you it’s not. Quality of life is important.”
Rodgers added that Packers fans should be grateful for everything that McCarthy accomplished in his time here.
“We had a hell of a run,” Rodgers said. “We had 13 years, four NFC Championships, one Super Bowl, eight straight playoffs, 19 straight wins … So instead of trashing this guy on the way out, let’s remember the amazing times that we had together.
“Packers fans, remember this, especially those of you who live in Green Bay: Mike lives here. Mike has young kids here. So Mike has to be here. Think about how difficult that is for him. My favor that I would ask of you, strongly, is if you see Mike, shake his hand. Tell him thanks for the memories … show him the respect that he deserves.”
With that, Rodgers made the right call: He put the Rodgers-McCarthy rift in the past. Then, he spoke of how excited he is to run the Packers’ offense under LaFleur’s direction.
If Rodgers isn’t buying into LaFleur’s scheme it didn’t show.
Despite the unflattering article, the Packers have had a fair amount of good news lately. I take it as good news that the NFL chose to kick off the 2019 season featuring the league’s oldest rivalry: Packers at Bears, on Thursday, Sept. 5.
It’s a terrific way to start the season, and to gauge the Packers’ new coach and new look.
It’s also a nod of respect to both Chicago and Green Bay.
Other good news included Cole Madison’s arrival in Green Bay. The Packers’ offensive lineman – a fifth-round pick last year – sat out the season for personal reasons. The most important thing is Madison’s health, and it’s a bonus for the team to have him in the fold.
Meantime, the Packers are busy in the “getting to know you” stage under their new regime. Rodgers and Co. have effectively left the past in the past. It’s time to focus on the future. In less than a handful of months, the Bears will be waiting to put a hurt on the Packers at Soldier Field.
It’s going to come sooner than people think.

Rodgers, McCarthy ugliness comes out

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s difficult to win in the NFL when the head coach and quarterback are operating entirely on the same page. It’s all but impossible to do so if they’re at odds.
So it was with the Green Bay Packers during the past few seasons.
The alleged rift between Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t nearly as bad as Packers fans may have suspected.
It was worse.
When the Packers went 7-9 in 2017 it was widely believed Rodgers’ injury at Minnesota undercut the season. When the Packers followed up with a dreadful 6-9-1 record this much became obvious: The Packers were awful without Rodgers, and scarcely average with him.
The reasons became a bit clearer last week.
First, McCarthy griped to ESPN that he didn’t appreciate the way the Packers handled his firing. He said they couldn’t have handled it worse. That’s his opinion.
McCarthy didn’t like the “how” and the “when” of his dismissal. He said the messenger was cold and the timing (in-season) was unfair to a Super Bowl winning coach.
For some reason, McCarthy avoided the “why.”
Let me clear it up.
McCarthy was fired because he couldn’t get his team to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He was fired because his offense was increasingly more painful to watch while he grasped at thin air to fix it. Most of all, he was fired because he couldn’t control his quarterback.
Last Thursday, a Bleacher Report article by former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Tyler Dunne, shed light onto the epically dysfunctional relationship between the coach and the quarterback.
Here are the three main conclusions to draw:
** No. 1 – McCarthy’s Super Bowl-sized ego didn’t allow him to consider that his offense had grown stale since 2010. He felt it was his play-calling and offensive acumen that led to the Super Bowl. In fact, much of it was due to an offense featuring Rodgers’ incredible talent and an ungodly array of weaponry.
Once the Donald Drivers, Jermichael Finleys, James Jones, Jordy Nelsons, Randall Cobbs and Greg Jennings declined either to age or injury or both, the Packers’ offense wasn’t the same.
McCarthy failed to adjust.
His greatest mistake was giving the car keys to his assistant head coach-offense, Tom Clements, as an overreaction to the Jan. 18, 2015, overtime playoff loss at Seattle.
After that Rodgers ran roughshod over Clements, which meant the quarterback was actually calling the shots – if not the plays.
McCarthy never reclaimed the offense. This was Rodgers’ world and McCarthy was just taking up space in it.
The fact that Rodgers didn’t trust or respect the coach isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise are the details that indicate the extent of their pettiness and selfishness to the team’s detriment.
A team source claimed Rodgers changed McCarthy’s plays an unheard of thirty percent of the time.
The article also indicated that McCarthy would receive massages while his team was preparing for that week’s upcoming opponent. Apparently that didn’t sit well with Rodgers and others in the locker room.
McCarthy didn’t like when and how he was fired.
Who does?
The fact is he had to go, and it wasn’t all because Rodgers undercut him. McCarthy failed to confront his quarterback. That’s on him.
** No. 2 – Packers president Mark Murphy restructured the football operation for a reason. The reason is it needed someone in charge. Former GM Ted Thompson was a non-factor his final three years. He should’ve been removed a lot sooner.
I doubt Murphy will make the same mistake twice.
He moved decisively and quickly in firing McCarthy. Then he did likewise in hiring Matt LaFleur. One of the most important takeaways from the recent “dirty laundry” is that Murphy is serious about winning.
According to a source, when Murphy placed a courtesy call to Rodgers informing him of the LaFleur hire, he added, “Don’t be the problem.”
We’ll know soon enough if Rodgers was listening, and if Murphy’s statement has any teeth.
** No. 3 – The Packers’ roster may not be as bad as 6-9-1 indicates.
With all the selfish, petty antics going on between the team’s “leaders,” how could players – especially rookie receivers – excel in that atmosphere?
One of the most telling stories is that rookie receivers such as Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling feared being “frozen out” by Rodgers. It’s why they would alter routes in the huddle when asked to do so by the quarterback.
Then, when the coaches heard what was up, instead of going to Rodgers and clearing the air they put more pressure on the receivers. They told them to run the play as called.
That’s not leadership. That’s putting all the pressure on the offense’s weakest links – the rookies.
Perhaps this will change all of that.
It had better or the Packers are going to be staring at another losing season and a whole lot more questions they’d rather not answer.

Brewers, Yelich start
season with a bang
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a single weekend the Milwaukee Brewers reminded everyone why they’re such great entertainment.
The Brewers (3-1) won three of four games from National League Central Division rival St. Louis at Miller Park.
In the process, they captured Major League Baseball’s full attention.
In addition to the victories, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich belted four home runs, Lorenzo Cain sealed one win with a game-saving catch of a would-be home run, and Josh Hader dealt an immaculate inning.
Before the season, Brewers manager Craig Counsell talked about how great it was to win the 2018 NL Central and come within a game of reaching the World Series. But then he spoke of it being a new season.
After Sunday’s 5-4 victory over St. Louis, Counsell flashed a mischievous grin and admitted he changed his tune.
“I was wrong,” he said. “This is like last season.”
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Yelich, 27, is proving to be the catalyst in a potent Brewers lineup.
The right-fielder slammed his fourth home run of the season in the first inning of Sunday’s game. Then, in the ninth, he delivered the tying and game-winning runs with a resounding double.
Ryan Braun, the 2010 MVP, could only marvel at his teammate.
“I’ve never seen anyone this good at baseball for this long,” he told MLB.com. “I mean, maybe (Barry) Bonds in his prime … As great as (Mike) Trout is. I’ve seen (Albert) Pujols. I think everybody should take the time to appreciate it, because what we’re witnessing is greatness.”
The Brewers trailed 4-3 going into the ninth inning of Sunday’s game. Furthermore, they were facing Jordan Hicks and his 100 mph fastball.
No matter.
Ben Gamel led off with a pinch-hit double. Cain followed with an infield single off Hicks’ glove to set the stage for Yelich. That’s when the sweet-swinging lefty delivered a line drive in the gap to left-center.
The resounding double scored Gamel and Cain to seal the win.
Yelich is six for 12 with six walks and eight RBI this season.
“We were just trying to find a way to push one across and tie the game,” Yelich told reporters afterward. “(Hicks) has great stuff. One snuck in the line (Gamel’s double), and Lo’s deflected off his glove and we were able to pull it off.”
Yelich’s fourth home run tied the Major League record for most games with a home run to start a season.
He’ll go for the record against Cincinnati right-hander Tanner Roark, who is starting for the Reds in tonight’s 5:40 p.m. game at Great American Ballpark. Zach Davies will start for the Brewers.
Yelich’s first inning home run came off St. Louis’ Michael Wacha, who settled down to pitch six innings of seven-strikeout, one-run baseball.
Whether Yelich can match his 2018 statistics (.326, 36 home runs, 110 RBI) remains to be seen, but he’s off to a great start.
So are the Brewers.

Brewers open 2019
in style with 5-4 win
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It is the stuff of Opening Day highlights, if not movie scripts or legends. It reminded everyone all that was special about the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, while stoking the imagination for 2019.
With the Brewers clinging to a 5-4 lead with two outs in the ninth, St. Louis’ Jose Martinez hit a deep line drive to right-center field. The gasps were audible throughout Miller Park.
Brewers’ centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who was shading a bit the other way, came galloping into view. Cain timed his sprint, and then his leap, and turned the tying home run into the final out.
It was the perfect finish to a near-perfect day.
The Brewers (1-0) trailed 3-0 for the briefest of moments before Milwaukee’s bats, in particular its MVP, came alive.
Christian Yelich’s three-run home run, an inning after Mike Moustakas homered to make it 3-1 Cardinals, gave Milwaukee a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Brewers flashed all the elements that make them a serious National League pennant contender.
Jhoulys Chacin started and was touched for back-to-back home runs to stake the Cardinals to a 3-0 lead. But Chacin stayed calm, stuck to his game plan and stifled St. Louis over the next four innings.
Chacin (1-0) also helped his cause with his first career home run. It proved to be the difference in Milwaukee’s 5-4 win over St. Louis at Miller Park. The Cardinals’ tough righty, Miles Mikolas, took the loss.
Chacin struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings on his third Opening Day start.
Other highlights included Orlando Arcia reminding everyone just how terrific his is defensively at shortstop. He made several high-degree difficulty plays look easy.
Then there is Josh Hader.
The big left-hander mowed down the Cardinals in short order.
He struck out four over two innings. Frankly, he was unhittable. His velocity and movement are truly special.
Afterward, Brewers manager Craig Counsell made it clear he would resist any temptation to overwork Hader. He also said the Brewers had enough arms in the bullpen to overcome the absence of Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.
Hader faced the heart of the order and whittled it down to size with a steady diet of fastballs ranging from 96 to 98 mph. Even the Cardinals’ newest acquisition, Paul Goldschmidt, couldn’t catch up with Hader.
The Miller Park crowd of 45,304 got to witness a microcosm of last season. It featured solid starting pitching, quality relief work, timely hitting, power and great defense.
What more could a fan want?
Tonight, the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta will tangle with the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty in a battle of tough right-handers in Game 2. The first pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.
I can only imagine what drama awaits in tonight’s game.
The Brewers have now won 15 of 19 games dating back to last season. They have been excellent in the clutch moments, while their starting pitching has been above-average, their defense strong and their power-hitting awesome.
What’s not to like about the Brewers?
Jerry Augustine, the Brewers’ FOX Sports analysts extraordinaire, said that he feels there are enough quality arms on the current 25-man roster. He doesn’t feel there’s a great, urgent need to go get a top-end starter from another organization.
A year ago, while singing the praises of Chacin and Wade Miley, among others, Augustine said the Brewers should be patient. He was right.
For now, I’m sticking with Augie’s assessment another season.

UW, Marquette limp into ‘March Chaos’
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A few weeks ago, Marquette was thought to be a strong No. 2 seed, and Wisconsin was perceived as a solid No. 4.
So much for that rosy prognosis, as it turns out.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee gave the Golden Eagles and Badgers exactly what they deserved: They put them on the wrong side of the dreaded No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup.
If you’re a fan of either or both state teams you may find a quick scan of the Internet to be rather depressing. A majority of the quote/unquote “experts” have Marquette struggling to get past Murray State and Wisconsin flat-out losing to Oregon in the first round.
This time, the “experts” may be right.
Google the words “NCAA Tournament upset alert!”
You’ll be able to read all you want about Marquette and Wisconsin.
The Golden Eagles (24-9, 12-6 in the Big East) have been in a tailspin since a week or so before the Big East tournament. It began with Markus Howard being limited by a pulled groin muscle and continued with a pesky wrist injury.
Howard hasn’t been the same ever since for two reasons.
First, I’m not convinced that he’s completely healthy. He doesn’t have the same explosive first step that he displayed before the injury. In addition, he aggravated the wrist injury in the Big East tourney.
Second, opposing defenses have been gearing up to thwart him.
While other Golden Eagles have tried to fill the scoring void, the overall team defense has suffered. That added up to a lot of frustration and confusion at the worst possible time. While other Big East teams were playing their best basketball, Marquette was struggling to keep pace while losing five of their last six games.
Now comes Murray State (27-4) and NBA lottery pick Ja’ Morant in Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. game (TBS) in the West Region.
Morant, the Ohio Valley Conference’s Player of the Year, averages 24.6 points and 10 rebounds for the Racers.
Morant will face Howard, the No. 6 scorer in the nation and Big East Player of the Year, in what figures to be a scintillating matchup.
The Racers feature three double-figure scorers including freshman Tevin Brown and junior Darnell Cowart. Brown, a 6-5 guard, shoots it at a 37-percent clip from 3-point range. Cowart leads in rebounding at 6.5 per.
The Golden Eagles won 23 of their first 27 games before the slide.
To get right, Marquette needs better play from Howard, to be sure. Junior Sam Hauser has played well while scoring at least 20 points in eight straight games. Brother Joey is a 43.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Sacar Anim, Theo John and Ed Morrow are solid role players.
Marquette hasn’t made it out of the first round since going to three straight Sweet 16s in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
That streak is threatening to continue.
In the South Region, the Badgers (23-10) look to regain their mojo against what figures to be a pesky Oregon squad. Tip is set for Friday at 3:30 p.m. on TBS.
Ducks head coach Dana Altman is an experienced tournament coach who got his team on the right path after losing star freshman Bol Bol – a likely NBA lottery pick – to a foot injury nine games into the season.
After struggling to find itself, the Ducks closed with an eight-game win streak including three double-digit wins in four days to win the Pac 12 Conference Tournament and earn the automatic berth.
Oregon and Wisconsin are meeting for the third time in five years. The Badgers KO’d the Ducks in 2014 and 2015 on their way to consecutive Final Four appearances.
If only these Badgers had the offensive firepower of their predecessors.
Ethan Happ (17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists) has had a rollercoaster senior year. While he has dominated at times, opponents have managed to thwart him down the stretch.
His poor free throw shooting has become an albatross around his neck. Teams have intentionally fouled him late in games and it has worked. It is likely Oregon will do the same if circumstances dictate it.
Senior forward Khalil Iverson, who averages 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds, has been playing his best basketball of late.
The Badgers’ Achilles heel has been inconsistent guard play.
The backcourt of Brad Davison, D’mitric Trice, Kobe King and Brevin Pritzl has been substandard for a while now. Nate Reuvers has been solid down the stretch, but the guards need to play much better if Wisconsin intends to advance.

Packers’ defense adds pass-rush duo, safety

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – True to his word Packers GM Brian Gutekunst is willing to pay in order to play in free agency.
Now we’ll see how effective he is at it.
In a single day the Packers shored up their defense by reportedly signing two edge rushers and a safety in free agency, according to multiple reports. An added bonus is that the safety, Adrian Amos, is leaving the division-rival Chicago Bears in order to get paid to help get the Packers’ defense right.
As I wrote last month, Green Bay would do well to double-dip on Smiths – the ex-Raven Za’Darius and the former Redskin Preston – to upgrade a dreadfully inadequate pass rush.
Lo and behold Gutekunst answered the call.
Now the question is this: How much of an impact can Amos and the Smiths make on defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit?
If Gutekunst’s evaluation of his free-agent trio is correct this is how it will play out: Za’Darius Smith will replace Clay Matthews as the defense’s primary pass rusher, while Preston Smith will take over for the just-released Nick Perry.
Za’Darius Smith, the former Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker, is attractive for several reasons.
The 6-foot-4, 272-pound edge rusher had a modest 10 sacks in his first three seasons. However, he came up big in his contract year with 8 ½ sacks in 2018. He also had 25 quarterback hits and 60 pressures on the NFL’s top-rated defense.
Smith, 26, has more sacks than Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who reportedly spurned the Jets to stay in Minnesota.
An ESPN report offered an interesting stat: Za’Darius Smith had quarterback hits on 25 of 485 pass rush snaps (5.2 percent), which is more than the Chiefs’ Dee Ford (4.7 percent). Ford is being shopped as trade bait by Kansas City and will require a significant draft pick in return.
Za’Darius Smith may prove to be an equal talent at a bargain cost without having to surrender a draft pick.
Za’Darius Smith’s contract is a four-year, $66-million deal that includes a $20 million signing bonus and $34.5 million in the first two years, according to ESPN.
Preston Smith, the former Washington Redskins outside linebacker, signed a four-year deal worth $52 million, with $16 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
Whereas Za’Darius is the more accomplished edge rusher, Preston is suited to replace Perry.
Preston Smith, 6-5, 265, is as durable as it gets in the NFL. He has started in 64 of a possible 64 games in his career. He also ranks among the NFL’s best at setting an edge against the run.
Preston Smith had 24 ½ sacks in his four years at Washington. He has some pass rush ability, especially when lining up opposite an end that can bring it.
A rotation of the Smiths on early down, with Kyler Fackrell joining Za’Darius Smith on passing downs, makes sense.
Amos is set to sign a four-year, $37 million deal, according to ESPN. He will receive $14 million in the first year and $21 million in the first two seasons combined.
Amos, 25, started 56 of 60 games played in Chicago, where he was a fifth-round pick in 2015.
Last season, Amos started 16 games on the Bears’ third-ranked defense. He had two interceptions, nine passes defended, one sack and 73 tackles. Pro Football Focus ranked Amos as the eighth-best safety in the NFL.
The Amos addition paves the way for Green Bay to draft a potential play-making free safety to line up opposite him. In Chicago, Amos was the orchestrator while Eddie Jackson was the ball-hawk. A similar situation with Amos and a young, talented safety would be a huge upgrade in Green Bay.
Still, Gutekunst wasn’t done.
The Packers also signed ex-Broncos offensive lineman Billy Turner, according to multiple reports. Turner, who has the athleticism new head coach Matt LaFleur prefers among offensive linemen, has started at both guard and tackle.
Turner’s four-year deal, according to reports, is worth $28 million with a maximum of $29.5 with incentives, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Packers may not be done yet.
It’s still possible that they might add a veteran slot receiver such as Golden Tate to the mix.
Stay tuned.

Packers’ defense must add talent at all levels

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ offseason has been all about acquiring an edge rusher or three for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s linebacker-challenged unit.
I’m here to tell Packers’ fans the defense needs to be better at every level. Edge rusher is merely the most obvious, immediate need on a rather lengthy list.
Last season, the Packers’ defensive front seven was so-so versus the run and worse versus the pass. Opposing offenses took advantage of the Packers’ new scheme under Pettine, numerous injuries to solid starters and a general lack of playmakers.
The defensive line was the most experienced unit, the linebackers (hard as it is to believe) the most productive and the cornerbacks the most talented.
Yet each of the defense’s levels is flawed.
It is why the Packers’ game-plan for building a dynamic defense needs to be multi-pronged.
** First, the returning players must be better. While fans love to daydream about drafting Player X, trading for Player Y or signing Player Z in free agency, the reality is this: If the current players don’t improve the defense is still going to struggle.
That means Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Mo Wilkerson, Tyler Lancaster and Dean Lowry have to either recapture past success (Daniels, Wilkerson) or continue to upwardly ascend (Lowry).
Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell are half of the linebacker corps in the 3-4 and critical to a strong 2019 season. Martinez is positioning himself to rank among the NFL’s top tier inside ‘backers. Fackrell needs to show his double-digit sack total wasn’t an outlier, but that it reflects the player he has become.
Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson flashed success. They could be molded into an upper-echelon cover trio, but it requires that King stay healthy.
With Alexander’s skill set on the other side, King has an opportunity to finally fulfill his promise. Frankly, I haven’t given up on King. In fact, I’m predicting he’ll have a breakout season because of Pettine’s scheme, Alexander’s presence and his own considerable but untapped potential.
** Second, the Packers need to score at least three defensive players among the first six selections (out of the top 118). That means drafting an edge rusher such as Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, to be sure, but don’t discount an inside linebacker (Michigan’s Devin Bush) or an interior defensive lineman (Michigan’s Rashan Gary).
The Packers’ defense needs playmakers regardless of position.
Interestingly, a sideline-to-sideline linebacker such as Bush, when paired with Martinez, could control the middle of the field. That’s something Green Bay’s defense hasn’t done for the past several seasons.
Presumably the top edge rushers will be gone by the time the Packers are on the clock with the 12th pick. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Florida State’s Brian Burns and Sweat likely will be drafted before the Packers are up.
If that’s the case, I’d think long and hard about Michigan linebacker Rashan Gary, Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, LSU linebacker Devin White, Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams.
My guess is the Packers select Gary (my favorite), Oliver, White or Ferrell at No. 12. If the right team comes calling, crazy as it sounds, I could see Packers GM Brian Gutekunst dropping back a few spots, drafting the best defensive player on their board (even if it’s the cornerback) and getting on with it.
Williams, Alexander and King would give Green Bay one of the NFL’s top cornerback trios (or quartet if you include Jackson) to build around. Add Bashaud Breeland plus a veteran safety and that’s suddenly an intriguing secondary.
** Third, free agency MUST be a positive force for Green Bay’s D. That’s where an edge rusher and a safety come into play.
My preference would be Anthony Barr and Tashaun Gipson. Barr, the ex-Vikings linebacker, has been underutilized as a pass rusher. Barr’s a complete, high-end linebacker with considerably unexplored potential as a pass rusher. At worst, he’s still a strong every-down linebacker. At best, he becomes a beast.
Gipson, at safety, makes a ton of sense. The Jaguars released him in a cost-cutting measure. The veteran has 20 career interceptions and is still in his prime. Furthermore, he played for Pettine in Cleveland in 2015. When Pettine was fired, the Browns chose to let Gipson sign a hefty free-agent contract with the Jaguars.
A Pettine-Gipson reunion would be good for Green Bay.

Bucks run NBA-best record to cool 47-14

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – All the Bucks do is win games.
Milwaukee ran its NBA-best win-loss record to 47-14 with a frenetic 141-140 overtime win at Sacramento Thursday night. The Bucks’ blend of brilliance, balance and sense of purpose was on full display in a gritty gut-check against the Kings.
While Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has been judicious with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s minutes, due to right knee soreness, others have risen to the forefront.
On Thursday night, it was the animated Eric Bledsoe and the impassive Malcolm Brogdon leading the way.
While Giannis sat, and Khris Middleton was battling cramps, Bledsoe and Brogdon carried the Bucks in overtime. Bledsoe scored five of his team-high 26 points in OT, while Brogdon chipped in with a clutch 3-point shot late.
“It builds a lot of confidence,” Budenholzer told reporters afterward. “All year we’ve been talking about different guys can step up and make plays. For Malcolm to make a shot, for Bled to make all the big plays he did, it speaks well for us going forward.”
Bledsoe finished with 13 assists and 12 rebounds to go with his 26 points, while Brogdon scored 25 and proves to be a perfect backcourt mate.
Together, they bring defense, the ability to hit 3-point shots, the willingness to pass and be a team player, and an explosive first step on drives to the basket.
They’re as good as there is in terms of NBA backcourts.
Bledsoe seems to be maturing by the minute.
He has been clever about when to be aggressive and when to maybe dial it down a bit. He picks his spots. He plays to the moment and his passion is unquestioned.
Brogdon’s value can’t be overstated. Think about this: Whenever a team wants to make a trade with the Bucks which player do they invariably request? It’s Brogdon. Also, Brogdon’s left quad injury in 2017-18 forced him to miss 30 games. It showed how much the Bucks truly rely on him.
Oh, by the way, Middleton and newcomer Nikola Mirotic each scored 21 points in the victory. It has to be frightening for opponents when Giannis has the ball at the point, Middleton and Brogdon are on the wings, and Brooke Lopez and Bledsoe are screening for each other along the baseline.
Will Giannis drive and score? Will he drive and kick to one of the wings for an open 3-pointer? Will the wing nail it or abstain and hit a cutting Bledsoe for an easy two points?
It’s quite the challenge.
Giannis chipped in with 17 points in 25 minutes while also further adding nuance to his game. His monitored minutes – I think – force him to really focus when he’s on the court. And it’s not like he isn’t focused anyway. It’s just that he also continues to grow and advance his sense of overall game awareness.
It’s a beautiful thing. It’s also a treat to be a Bucks fan and have a front-row seat for this.
“We’ve got the best record in the league for a reason,” Bledsoe said. “Even though those are our two best players (Giannis and Middleton) we still have a full, complete team out there playing.”
The Bucks have won nine straight road games. They’ll put it to the test Friday and Saturday in back-to-back games against the Lakers and the Jazz.
Right now, Budenholzer has the Bucks humming along.
It didn’t take but a second for Mirotic to fit in. The 6-foot-10s ability to drill 3-point shots is a considerable weapon. He’s also agile enough to back down defenders and score in the low post.
Mirotic’s presence gives the Bucks incredibly flexibility.
Watching the Bucks do their thing is a beautiful thing. Why do I have the feeling they’re going to be doing it into June? It’s because of games like the Bucks win over the Kings.

UW, Marquette hoops teams net solid wins

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – As college basketball’s February grind yields to March Madness the Badgers and Golden Eagles are poised for strong tournament runs.
Wisconsin (19-8, 11-5 Big Ten), which had dropped two of its last three games, held off feisty Northwestern 69-65 on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.
Badgers guard Brad Davison scored two of his team-high 16 points on a step-back jumper for a 65-62 lead with 1:56 to play. Wisconsin’s suffocating defense then held Northwestern to a pair of Vic Law free throws to close out the win.
“You want to play in the best conference from top to bottom in the country because you get challenged each and every day,” Davison told reporters. “At the end of the day we’re all playing for March and this game got us better for March for sure.”
Meantime, No. 11 Marquette (23-4, 12-2 Big East) continued to build its NCAA Tournament resume for seeding purposes with a strong 76-58 victory Saturday afternoon at Providence.
While Markus Howard struggled with a groin injury and scored just 14 points (12 below his average) his teammates stepped up.
Sam Hauser snapped a mini-shooting slump to score 18 points and grab 13 rebounds against the Friarse. Sacar Amin also scored 18 for the Golden Eagles, while Hauser’s little brother, Joey, scored 15 points and hauled in seven rebounds.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski was proud of the way his team rallied around its leading scorer to win on the road. The Golden Eagles improved to 6-1 in Big East road games.
“Markus certainly wasn’t himself, but it was clear Providence’s game-plan was to make life really difficult for him,” he said. “Markus has gotten a lot of credit and he’s worthy of it. He’s had a magnificent year, but I truly believe the strength of our team is our team. We have a number of guys who are capable of playing very well and have bought into their roles.”
Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident “bracketologist,” projects favorable seeds for Marquette and Wisconsin.
Lunardi has the Golden Eagles as a No. 3 seed in the East, where it would face 14th-seeded Old Dominion.
The Badgers are projected as a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, where it would face 13th-seeded Vermont.
Wisconsin is at Indiana on Tuesday night, while Marquette travels to Villanova to face the defending national champions on Wednesday night. The Golden Eagles edged the Wildcats 66-65 when they met Feb. 9 at Fiserv Forum, where Marquette is 16-1.
Here are several keys down the stretch for both teams.
WISCONSIN BADGERS
** The prevailing wisdom is that Wisconsin will only go as far as Ethan Happ and his free throw shooting will take them.
That’s a gross oversimplification. It’s the Badgers’ guard play, and their defense, that will carry them in the tournament.
Davison and especially D’Mitrik Trice have to continue to pick up their games at both ends. If Wisconsin’s guards aren’t up to the task it will be a brief tournament stay. Perhaps Brevin Pritzl or Kobe King will emerge in the final weeks, but it’s unlikely.
Nate Reuvers is the X-factor. While he remains a strong inside presence on defense, his shooting has been off-target of late. When he’s hitting 3-point shots the Badgers are dangerous.
MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
** Marquette’s only loss since Jan. 1 – and its only home loss of the season – was a 70-69 nail-biter against St. John’s on Feb. 5.
Howard’s offensive brilliance has been the catalyst. He came into Saturday’s game averaging 26.6 points per game. When Marquette spreads the floor with Howard out top and the Hausers and Anim on the wings it puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses.
Howard can slash to the basket, pull up for the “three” or kick it out to one of his 3-point triggermen on the wings.
Marquette’s best defense is putting offensive pressure on its opponents. When the Golden Eagles get a lead it tends to force other teams into quick shots, which often are poor shots. Despite its lack of a bona fide inside presence, Marquette’s defensive rebounding is more than adequate. That’s because it is blessed with quick leapers and athletes who pounce on loose balls.
Anim, a 6-5 junior forward, has been playing especially well of late. He is averaging 12.5 points in the past four games, including two 18-point efforts in that stretch.
All of this sets the stage for what should be an exciting NCAA Tournament for college basketball fans throughout the state.

Packers’ fans may get FA wish this offseason

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The names are tantalizing to Packers fans.

What damage might be wrought by an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that added Golden Tate, III, and re-acquired Jared Cook in free agency?

Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Tate and Cook along with youngsters Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore would be an upgrade. And that’s with or without Jimmy Graham, which makes the Cook signing interesting.

Tate, 30, would be ideal as Randall Cobb’s replacement. He has ranked among the NFL’s leaders in YAC (yards after the catch) and forced missed tackles in recent seasons.

The 5-foot-10, 197-pound veteran played in 10 games at Philadelphia last season. He would be a nice fit here.

Cook also would be an upgrade at tight end.

The speedy veteran had great chemistry with Rodgers in what mostly was an injury-plagued season. A healthy Cook would give first-year head coach Matt LaFleur a potent one-two punch at tight end if Green Bay chooses to keep Jimmy Graham.

Either way, Cook proved to be an explosive, downfield weapon in his brief time with Green Bay. In a second go-round, there’s no reason to believe Cook couldn’t put up a monster season.

On defense, my dream one-two punch would be Anthony Barr and Earl Thomas. The Vikings’ linebacker and Seahawks’ safety would bring instant experience and immediate impact to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit.

Barr, 26, only has 13 ½ sacks since being a first-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2014. However, some suggest the Vikings have miscast Barr throughout his career by too often having him drop into coverage rather than attack the quarterback.

A Barr signing brings the delightful double-whammy of taking from the Vikings to help the Packers.

Thomas is on the south side of his great career, but he can still use his terrific mind and his above-average speed to read and react to plays. He’s never been a prototypical big-hitting safety at 5-10, 200, but he could and still can run and play the football with the best of them.

He’s also a tremendous leader.

The Rams’ Joyner is younger, more explosive and likely more expensive than Thomas. None of that means the Packers shouldn’t explore signing him. Joyner, who can line up near the line or deep with equal aplomb, would be an immediate upgrade to a unit desperately in need of a last line of, well, defense.

Whatever Packers’ fans prefer, clearly this sampling of available players should whet their appetite until the start of free agency. Free agency begins on Wednesday, March 13.

On to other topics:

** The NFL’s 100-years commercial aired during Super Bowl LIII was a hit among fans, although there was one glaring oversight. The two-minute commercial didn’t include a single Packers’ player, or prominent ex-player, among the 50-plus shown. It also made no mention of the Lombardi Trophy, or its depiction, during the commercial.

The Packers are an integral part of the NFL’s 100-year story. In fact, I believe it’s impossible to adequately depict its history without including the Packers.

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, the NFL did include its first female official, and a small girl who aspires to play in the NFL. That’s terrific, but it’s no excuse for failing to include Green Bay.

Where was LeRoy Butler doing a Lambeau Leap into the cake? Or better still, how about Brett Favre throwing a TD pass over Brian Urlacher’s outstretched arms? You know, like old times?

Oh well, like the Packers have said in 2017 and again in 2018: Maybe next year.

** The 19th-ranked Badgers absorbed a rugged 61-52 loss at seventh-ranked Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Wisconsin (17-7, 9-4) sits in fourth place in the Big Ten after a game that saw the Badgers’ Ethan Happ plagued by foul trouble. Happ missed nine minutes after picking up his third foul early in the second half. The Wolverines’ Jon Teske benefited most by scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while largely outplaying Happ.

The Badgers only shot two free throws and missed both.

On the bright side, they beat Minnesota earlier in the week, and they were locked in a 51-50 slugfest at Michigan until the Wolverines ran off eight straight points to take the lead for good.

Wisconsin hosts Michigan State on Tuesday night. A win will keep them among the NCAA’s top 25.

** The Alliance of American Football debuted during the weekend to much fanfare and positive feedback.

Frankly, it warms the heart.

It reminds everyone that this country’s appetite for quality football is nearly insatiable. The AAF outdrew the NBA’s Rockets vs. Thunder on ABC, according to Darren Rovell of the Action Network.

That’s pretty good.

The eight-team league features players of all backgrounds working on three-year, $250,000 non-guaranteed contracts.

In full disclosure, I watched about 10 minutes of the AAF. The teams seemed to function pretty well, with the quality of play being better than what I expected.

Furthermore, veteran coaches such as Steve Spurrier and Mike Martz re-emerged to remind everyone just how good they were once upon a time.

The AAF, at least based upon early returns, is here to stay.

Packers’ LaFleur has work cut out for him

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Super Bowl LIII can wait a second.
It’s Friday afternoon approximately 48 hours from the kickoff of the NFL’s marquee moment featuring New England vs. the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Let the buildup continue a bit longer.
First, I’d like to tell those Packers’ fans who felt Mike McCarthy shouldn’t have been fired – in-season or otherwise – need to hear what David Bakhtiari had to say.
In an interview on ESPN Wisconsin radio, Bakhtiari revealed a level of mismanagement and in-house control that can be devastating to a team.
“The one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way, and I guess it can kind of parallel with complacency, is accountability,” Bakhtiari said to ESPN Wisconsin this week.
“The one thing that would really grind my gears was guys being late for the plane (leaving for road games) and no one holding those guys accountable or even fining them for being late. (Someone) should have said, ‘Hey, we’re leaving at 1:30. You’re not there, the door is closed.’ That’s how it needs to be.”
That was a mouthful.
One question that comes to mind is this: Why didn’t Bakhtiari be the one to say something to the late players? Was he told not to rock the boat? Where were the coaches in that situation?
Clearly, it smacks of a head coach who has lost control of the locker room. That’s an easy blanket statement but it covers a lot of ground. Where were the veteran leaders? Do the Packers have enough of those types of players?
This much is sure: Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has his work cut out for him. He is inheriting a roster with players who thought they could run the show.
Those days had better be over.
Frankly, I’d have liked Bakhtiari to speak out earlier – like during the season – as opposed to later, but it’s nice to at least get a head’s up as to the level of dysfunction.
Fortunately, LaFleur has a clean slate in his endeavor to move away from the recent past and create his own culture. It was time.
On to Super Bowl LIII … the Patriots are the favorite for two reasons: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
I would like to submit five other reasons: Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. That is the Patriots’ offensive line, left to right, and it’s been amazing.
Brady has had airtight pockets for the most part, and he’s been able to use strong protection and a quick release (among the NFL’s top six release times) to stay out of harm’s way.
The Patriots also can run the football.
Sony Michel displays great vision and a good burst to find the seams in the Patriots’ zone blocking scheme. Michel could rush for 100-plus yards Sunday and I wouldn’t be surprised.
James White, the Patriots’ “other” back, is merely the single-game record holder for catches in a Super Bowl with 15.
The ex-Badgers back is Brady’s safety valve and he’s a good one. My guess is that the Rams will be able to control Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who might be used as a diversion – to a degree – with in-line blocking and short passes early on.
Then, once the Rams are frustrated at having devoted significant resources to preparing for Gronk and turn their attentions elsewhere, he’ll hit a big play.
The Patriots’ defense has Donta Hightower, Trey Flowers and highly regarded defensive coordinator Brian Flores to lead them. There’s that, and Belichick’s defensive expertise.
Jared Goff is going to be nervous and struggle early on. The Patriots will jump on him and they won’t let him off the hook the way the Saints did.
Sean McVay is an excellent head coach and his Rams will be well-prepared. Los Angeles might be the more talented of the two teams, but the Patriots and Brady are impossible to bet against.
I’m seeing New England 31, the Rams 27 in an epic game.
Enjoy!

Rams, Pats advance;
Packers filling staff
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – That worked out well for me.
The Saints and the Chiefs were my picks to defeat the Rams and the Patriots, respectively, to advance to Super Bowl LIII.
So close and yet, so far, while I am left to wonder, “What if?”
The NFC Championship’s catastrophic non-call on what clearly was a pass interference/hit to the helmet penalty marred an otherwise entertaining game. That is if you’re not a Saints fan. They responded with venom and in some cases litigation.
The NFL subsequently admitted it blew the call in the Los Angeles Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory last Sunday at New Orleans. Newsflash to NFL: The posthumous admission of guilt only further enrages the fans who feel they’ve been wronged.
In the AFC, the roughing-the-quarterback penalty on the Chiefs that sustained New England’s game-extending drive was a joke. That is if you weren’t a Kansas City fan. The back judge – with a clearly obstructed view no less – penalized the Chiefs 15 yards on what would’ve been a third-and-8 incompletion deep in New England territory with less than a handful of minutes to play.
Instead of a difficult fourth-and-8, and perhaps the Chiefs claiming a 28-24 victory, New England’s drive was extended. It eventually led to a late touchdown to make it 31-28 Patriots.
Patrick Mahomes responded with an epic game-tying field goal drive, but he never saw the field again thanks to the NFL’s ridiculous overtime rules.
The NFL needs to play one 10-minute overtime during the regular season – no rule changes needed – to determine a winner. If after 10 minutes it’s still tied that’s how it ends.
In the postseason, the league could play a 15-minute quarter with the winner being whoever is ahead at the end.
It’s sad that we’ll never know whether Mahomes could’ve matched Tom Brady’s great drive.
While the NFL contemplates its officiating woes and its ultimately unsatisfying overtime rules, fans are left with a Los Angeles Rams-New England Patriots Super Bowl LIII matchup to consider during the all-hype, all-time-time run-up in Atlanta.
As a service to Hanging with Havel readers, I am going to offer my early read on Super Bowl LIII: The Rams’ Jared Goff was shaky early at New Orleans. The Saints and Drew Brees let him off the hook by not capitalizing.
I suspect Goff is going to be at least as nervous on the NFL’s grandest stage. I also suspect New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are going to make the Rams pay.
This might be one of those rare Super Bowls when the Patriots and Brady may be put in a position to protect a lead, rather than having to come from behind.
Super Bowl LIII: Patriots 31, Rams 27.
** Back here in Green Bay, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur is assembling his staff. It’s an important first step in laying the foundation for what’s to come this season and beyond.
Currently, the staff looks like this:
** Offensive coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett in; Joe Philbin out.
** Quarterbacks coach: Luke Getsy in; Frank Cignetti, Jr., and Jim Hostler, out.
** Running backs coach: Ben Sirmans returns.
** Offensive line: Adam Stenavich, in; James Campen, Jeff Blasko, out.
** Wide receivers: Vacant; David Raih, out.
** Tight ends: Justin Outten, in; Brian Angelichio, out.
** Defensive coordinator: Mike Pettine returns.
** Defensive line: Jerry Montgomery returns.
** Linebackers: Kirk Olivadotti, in; Patrick Graham, Scott McCurley, out.
** Defensive Backs: Jason Simmons, in; Joe Whitt, Jr., out.
** Special teams coordinator: Vacant; Ron Zook, out.

Saints get past Rams;
Chiefs outlast Patriots

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s top playoff seeds invariably crow about the importance of owning “home-field advantage.”
The reason is valid and twofold:
** First: It is the regular-season achievement award – you get to play in front of your fans, in your stadium, for the right to go to the Super Bowl – because you were the conference’s best team once the wins were counted and the tiebreakers sorted out.
** Second: In any conference title game, but especially when the teams are so evenly matched as in Sunday’s games, ask yourself: What’s going to be the decisive element? What’s going to tip the scales? What’s going to be the great intangible?
At the risk of oversimplification, but not wanting to miss the forest for the trees, I’m not going to overthink it.
The decisive factor is going to be home-field advantage.
The Saints got it by edging the Rams, 45-35, in a Week 9 matchup at New Orleans. It was one of those “closer than the score indicates” kind of games. It was high drama, with the game tied at 35-35 in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans prevailed.
The Chiefs got the home-field edge by having more wins than the Patriots (13 to 12). However, in head-to-head play New England edged K.C., 43-40, at Foxboro in a Week 6 thriller.
The matchups are compelling because they’re so close.
The offenses in general and the quarterbacks in particular rate among the NFL’s finest. A strong argument can be made for each of the remaining offenses as being the best because they’re all so explosive. They’re also incredibly balanced.
The Rams’ defense may have inched past the Saints’ ‘D’ as the best still in the field given Los Angeles’ health and New Orleans’ loss of Sheldon Rankins. The Rams didn’t have Aquib Talib the last time around, either.
Otherwise, it looks like it’s going to be whoever has the football last, or has built up enough of a lead to hold on, is going to win.
Here’s a closer look:
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
L.A. Rams (13-3) at New Orleans (13-3)
2:05 p.m. CT; Fox TV; Line – New Orleans -3, Total – 56 ½
If I had to bet it, I’d take the “over 56 ½” while planning for a push against the line. But if “push” comes to shove, I’ll have to go with Saints 33, Rams 28.
The Rams can win if Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson can grow legs in the running game. Gurley, who is healthy and raring to run, will have his chance. It helps that he’ll be doing it against a Saints’ defense without Rankins, a stud on their defensive line.
Gurley will most assuredly keep the Rams in the game.
The problem is the 40-year-old quarterback for the Saints. Brees isn’t going to let this chance slip through his grasp. He’s been gunning for a second Super Bowl title and this is his chance.
Betting tip: The Rams were favored in every game this season. However, Jared Goff is only 2-8 as a starter in an underdog role in his first two seasons. As good as Goff and the Rams have been all season, I’ll put my money on the Saints and Brees.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
N.E. Patriots (12-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-3)
5:40 p.m. CT; CBS TV; Line – KC -3, Total – 56
It pains me to go against tradition, otherwise known as the Patriots owning it in past AFC Championship Games, but this matchup feels a bit different.
It’s in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most electric venues at which I’ve ever covered a game. In a word, it’s loud, and Chiefs’ fans are lusting for a Super Bowl berth.
Furthermore, they’ve got one of the all-time great coaches in Andy Reid, a man who’s shown the ability to adapt in what’s become increasingly a younger man’s game.
Patrick Mahomes is a once-a-generation player, or so it seems. Quarterbacks like him appear less frequently than events like Sunday night’s “Blood Wolf Super Moon,” although Mahomes does light up the scoreboard in similar fashion.
If Tyreek Hill were a superhero, he’d be The Flash. He’s incredibly, inhumanly fast on a football field. Damien Williams has done an amazing job of making Chiefs’ fans forget about running back Kareem Hunt, once an unimaginable thought.
Furthermore, the Chiefs’ defense isn’t all bad.
Dee Ford and Justin Houston can be nasty pass rushers, and the Chiefs’ special teams also are on top of their game.
It is true New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the most successful head coach-quarterback duo in NFL history.
In fact, I’d say the next closest is Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, with a nod to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana and an honorable mention to Chuck Knoll and Terry Bradshaw.
As great as Belichick and Brady are they simply don’t have enough of the other pieces to get to the Super Bowl.
Sony Michel has been a terrific ball carrier, and Julian Edelman is always pesky and then some, but Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been the same great weapon he once was.
I’ll go with the Chiefs 30, Patriots 26.
So sit back, relax and enjoy a great weekend of NFL football.

Packers hire LaFleur to ‘get back winning’

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mark Murphy was beyond satisfied.
The Packers’ top dog was fairly bursting Wednesday while he retraced the steps that led him to hire Matt LaFleur as the 15th head coach in team history.
LaFleur, 39, will join general manager Brian Gutekunst and money man Russ Ball to complete Murphy’s handpicked trio.
Whether Gutekunst, LaFleur and Ball can return Green Bay to its place among the NFC’s elite will decide Murphy’s legacy. It also will go some toward determining Aaron Rodgers’, too.
Perhaps the most positive development for Packers fans is this: There aren’t any excuses left. Thompson’s out of any decision making here, and McCarthy’s out of football.
It’s all on Murphy, his lieutenants and his quarterback.
They couldn’t be more tied at the hip than cartridges jammed into a six-shooter’s gun belt. They are in it together.
Beyond that Murphy, Ball and Gutekunst (albeit the GM’s is a small sample size) have met or exceeded expectations. Ball has the Packers swimming in $50 million-plus in salary cap space. Gutekunst showed he’s willing to play in free agency. In addition, the Packers’ first-year GM had a strong inaugural draft that included the acquisition of New Orleans’ first-round selection. The Packers own six of the top 112 picks this spring. That’s plenty of ammo.
Meantime, the Packers’ president has been a forward thinker while keeping the team fiscally strong. Off the field, the Packers are thriving under Murphy.
On it, lately at least, it’s been not so much.
The greatest criticism of Murphy is that he stayed with previous GM Ted Thompson a year or three too long.
Ultimately, he fixed it by nudging aside Thompson and hiring Gutekunst last offseason. He followed that up with the in-season firing of Mike McCarthy that led to LaFleur’s hire.
Clearly, the most unproven of the Packers’ football trinity is the new head coach, although LaFleur’s acumen, ascension and affability suggest he’s the right man for the job.
LaFleur’s first task is assembling a staff.
It seems likely that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and perhaps several staff members will return.
Then, he and his staff plan to critically assess the current roster. That’s when they’ll forge their collective vision. Then they’ll get with Gutekunst and the scouts to share that vision in terms of acquiring personnel best-suited for the task.
Through it all, LaFleur’s ability to click with his quarterback is essential to the team’s success. Much was made of the fact that Rodgers called LaFleur before the Packers offered him the job.
I say so what.
The sooner they begin their dialogue the better.
“The conversation went great,” LaFleur said. “I can tell he’s a passionate guy, and he wants to win. And I think that holds true for me as well. So I think we’re in alignment there because, like I said before, this game is about winning. I know that he wants to add to his legacy, and the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to win a world championship.”
Murphy said he was impressed by LaFleur’s preparation and performance during their interview. LaFleur, the Titans’ offensive coordinator and play caller for one season, was the 10th and final candidate to be interviewed.
Clearly, LaFleur’s experience working for Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay was a factor. So was his work with quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff and Jay Cutler, all of whom played well under his direction.
The possibilities of a Packers’ offense that relies on balance, throwing to the running backs and tight ends, and a heavy dose of play-action is the cure for what ailed Rodgers.
And the reality is that Rodgers wasn’t all that bad in 2018.
The Packers were.
Rodgers undoubtedly has to be all in on the LaFleur hire. The Packers’ front office didn’t cede hiring power to their quarterback, but rest assured they knew enough not to hire a coach that Rodgers felt he couldn’t work with.
“Any time you’re the play caller, you want that collaboration with your quarterback,” LaFleur said. “Certainly we’re going to have a foundation in place of how we run our system. I think it’s a system that’s really predicated on building the run game with the pass game. We like to have plays … we like to say plays that start off looking the same but are different, plays that play off of plays. It lessens the predictability of what you’re trying to do, and it keeps a defense more off-balance.
“And if there’s one thing I can say in regards to a guy like Aaron, if you give Aaron time and you are unpredictable, he’s going to excel because we all know the talent he has. That’s how we’re going to build this thing.”
Offensively, everyone seems excited at the prospects under LaFleur’s direction.
The greater question is this: Can he handle a locker room? Can he coach up the entire team? Can he inspire a collection of the world’s most talented athletes to accomplish great things?
Murphy believed it or he wouldn’t have made the hire.
“In talking to (players) I think they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable,” Murphy said. “And the other thing that, and Brian can speak to this as well, he was there … (the players) talked a little bit about how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches. So in my mind, that was something that as we went through the process, was kind of in the back of my mind. Is there something that we can do that can kind of shake people up so we don’t have the complacency?”
If McCarthy’s firing didn’t shake things up, LaFleur’s hiring will see to it.
Let the revamping begin.

Lions rout Packers;
Search for coach is on

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ regular season finale served to reaffirm all that is wrong in Green Bay.
When a kicker beats you with his arm, rather than his leg, you know it’s time to call it a season. Matt Prater’s wobbly, wind-blown 8-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo on a fake might’ve been a laser beam for all the difference it made.
The Packers, on that play and in general, were outplayed, outcoached and outscored in a 31-0 shutout loss to Detroit in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.
The Packers (6-9-1) weren’t able to win back-to-back games all season. They earned the 12th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and little else in an underwhelming effort against the Lions (6-10).
The day’s biggest surprise wasn’t the score, but the fact that the Packers would still bother to interview interim coach Joe Philbin after that debacle.
“Yeah, it was hard,” Philbin said afterward. “We just didn’t have any rhythm.”
They didn’t really have much of anything going.
Aaron Rodgers suffered a resounding, helmet-wrenching hit on the game’s second play. Philbin said he apologized to Rodgers for making such a terrible play call.
Apology accepted, I guess.
Two series later, Rodgers was out of the game with a concussion. I suspect even he couldn’t stomach what was to unfold. The Lions embarrassed the Packers at Lambeau Field, and it isn’t the first time that’s happened lately.
How far the Packers have fallen since the days when they ruled the NFC North.
Now, they’ve got to hope they figure it out while the Bears and Vikings either self-destruct or are exposed as being mediocre teams in a less-than-stellar division.
Presumably help is on the way.
The Packers’ president and CEO, Mark Murphy, is conducting an exhaustive search in conjunction with GM Brian Gutekunst. The list of candidates to replace Mike McCarthy is at least interesting, if not overwhelmingly impressive.
There isn’t a surefire hire in the bunch.
My wish list is topped by Adam Gase.
Gase did more with less at Miami than most NFL coaches could have and he has experience in the NFC North. He has an even disposition, is wicked smart and knows offense inside and out.
Gase would be the last of my interviews because I’d stop there.
After that, it’s pretty wide open, although I’m very intrigued by the Titans’ offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur. He has coached with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and he has had a hand in developing and helping quarterbacks have career years.
LaFleur is intelligent and one of the new breed of offensive minds, although what impressed me most was his ability to stick to the running game, and to be productive on offense despite a ridiculous amount of injuries.
I’m not a fan of anyone who worked under New England’s Bill Belichick. They tend to oversell and underperform. They act like they’re the hoodie but they’re not even close.
That rules out Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, and Brian Flores, the defensive coordinator.
To me, it’s Gase, LaFleur and good luck, Mr. Murphy.

Bears crush Packers’ playoff hopes, 24-17

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In Carolina the Panthers’ owner made the decision to sit quarterback Cam Newton for the final two games. Newton’s sore right shoulder made it a fairly obvious call.

In Green Bay a similar decision remains unmade, like a bed.

Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he wants to play – and even if he didn’t want to play, it’s the correct public position – so interim head coach Joe Philbin signed off on his wishes.

If Packers’ president Mark Murphy agrees he should say so.

That way Packers’ fans, season-ticket holders and anyone else who sees the absurdity of playing Rodgers against the Jets knows who to blame.

This one isn’t on Rodgers. It isn’t on Philbin.

It isn’t even on GM Brian Gutekunst.

“Gutey” took the job with the understanding that he answered to Murphy on everything from who to hire as the next head coach to whether to play or sit Rodgers in a meaningless game.

Rodgers is listed on the injury report with a knee/groin issue. Either would suffice as a logical reason to sit him down. The Packers’ team doctors, among the best in the league, could step in and sign off on it. I’ve got to think Rodgers is sufficiently beat-up to make it way beyond legitimate.

So why play Rodgers? The better question is, “Why sit him?”

Here’s why:

** The Packers (5-8-1) are at the Jets (4-10) Sunday for a noon kickoff. Neither team is playing for a post-season berth. There aren’t any NFL-related “integrity” issues at stake.

Nobody can claim the Packers “threw” the game to increase their draft position, or just as bad, to tilt another team’s playoff possibilities in a certain way. That’s not happening here.

** Some say Rodgers needs to play to earn his fat new contract. The truth is Rodgers’ ability to earn his salary is predicated on his ability to stay healthy. That incurs serious risk by playing him against a feisty, capable Jets’ defense in New Jersey.

It exposes him for what purpose? It’s not to prove his worth, so why risk the chance of diminishing it?

Season-ticket holders, at least the ones I’ve talked with, say they don’t want to see Rodgers exposed to unnecessary risk. They realize that their tickets, precious as they are, will be practically worthless if the star quarterback is out with an injury.

** The argument that the Packers’ quarterback needs to get on the same page with his young receivers is ludicrous. By that logic, why sit Rodgers the final two weeks of the preseason? Isn’t it important to get on the same page before the opener when the post-season is still in play?

It’s hypocritical to take the risk now but not then.

** What’s to be gained by playing Rodgers? Let’s say the Packers to New Jersey, beat down the Jets, 35-7, and fly back home for the holidays.

Again, I ask, what’s to be gained?

Lord knows Rodgers has suffered enough this season. He gets sacked more often than groceries at a supermarket.

Besides, he doesn’t need to work on his game. He needs to work on his attitude. He needs to stop with the immature gesturing and frowning whenever he throws an incomplete pass.

It’s a bad look.

It’s also not being a good leader to show up teammates, especially the most likely to screw up – the young receivers.

Rodgers can ponder that while watching DeShone Kizer take snaps. Speaking of Kizer that’s another reason Rodgers’ sitting is beneficial to the Packers.

Frankly, I’m curious to see how much – or perhaps if – Kizer has improved since the atrocious first-half showing against the Bears in the regular-season opener.

Perhaps Kizer’s positive development will be one of Mike McCarthy’s parting gifts.

** Ultimately, if Rodgers plays, Philbin’s No. 1 job is to make sure he doesn’t get nearly so often. Get the football out of his hands. Run the football. Realize that it’s OK to punt if you must and live so your quarterback can fight another day.

PREDICTION: JETS 23, PACKERS 16

The Jets’ defense sacked Houston’s Deshaun Watson six times in last week’s 29-22 loss to the Texans. Watson still posted a 130-plus passer rating, but it wasn’t easy. If the elusive Watson was hit that many times by the Jets, how often will Rodgers be getting blasted?

Packers 34, Falcons 20 Five takeaways …

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ 34-20 victory over Atlanta ended a three-game losing streak and launched what they hope will be a strong finish under interim head coach Joe Philbin.

Here are five takeaways from the Packers’ victory:

** 1 – It appears Philbin is eminently qualified to guide this ship through the season finale. His temperament, experience and belief in himself should make for a smooth exit.

He has to go some to enter the picture as a serious candidate in the search to replace Mike McCarthy. That begins with Sunday’s game against the Bears at Soldier Field.

The Packers’ 5-7-1 record has spurred the debate: Are the Packers in a full-blown rebuild mode? Or aren’t they that far away and could contend next season?

The answer will be provided to a large degree on Sunday.

If the Packers aren’t that far from being a contender they should at least go into Soldier Field and make a battle of it.

They have their All-Pro quarterback, terrific No. 1 receiver and enough weapons to give Chicago some trouble. On the other hand, if the Packers get hammered by Chicago it suggests a greater gap in talent and potential than some want to believe.

** No. 2 – The Vikings’ 21-7 loss at Seattle on Monday Night Football is another example of the similarities between Green Bay and Minnesota.

The Packers (McCarthy) and Vikings (John DeFilippo) both fired their play callers during the season. That’s significant in that both teams have experienced quarterbacks, talented receivers and ample weapons in the backfield.

That said Kirk Cousins has been a major disappointment in Minnesota. Cousins’ numbers are OK but the win total leaves a lot to be desired. Cousins’ win-loss record is 4-24 as a starter against teams with a winning record.

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been the problem in Green Bay. It’s more about not having receivers Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb for a majority of the season. It required younger receivers to step up before their time, and with tight end Jimmy Graham being a disappointment, Rodgers’ list of weapons was too short.

Both teams’ offensive lines have been decimated. At times they’ve been short no less than three starters, which is difficult to ask of any team.

Excuses aside, the Packers and Vikings are playing for more than a wild-card berth. They’re playing to reaffirm their status as an upper-echelon team in the NFC.

Both have a considerable way to go and three games to get there.

** No. 3 – Bashaud Breeland is a player. So are Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez. Josh Jackson has flashed potential, and Dean Lowry continues to slug it out in whatever role he’s asked to fill.

The defense has some pieces to build around, and I believe coordinator Mike Pettine has done a very good job.

Pettine should be given serious consideration to replace McCarthy.

** No. 4 – Philbin did several things a bit different than McCarthy. For example, he made a concerted effort to get the football out of Rodgers’ hands as quickly as possible. Rodgers was still sacked four times against the Falcons, but he took more snaps under center and threw more short passes.

He also seemed to get his players to concentrate. The Packers had six penalties for 37 yards, which is down from their season averages.

The Packers’ offense also played with more rhythm and tempo. The plays were sent in a lot quicker under Philbin, which is especially impressive in that he hadn’t called plays since 1996.

** No. 5 – The offensive line is in tatters. Like it or not the Packers are going to have to bite the bullet and draft an offensive lineman in the first or second round next spring.

Rodgers needs to have better protection and the offensive line has been neglected for some time. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Spriggs holds up against Leonard Floyd or Khalil Mack on Sunday against the Bears.

Good luck to Spriggs, and the Packers.

Nevertheless, I’m taking the Packers in a thriller: Green Bay 24, Chicago 23.

McCarthy fired after Packers’ brutal loss
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Packers fans awoke Sunday with hopes that Green Bay would defeat Arizona and launch a five-game winning streak to finish with a flourish and reach the playoffs.
They went to bed wondering who will be the next head coach.
The Packers’ uninspired 20-17 loss to the lowly Cardinals at Lambeau Field served to hasten the inevitable.
Less than three hours after the debacle, Packers president Mark Murphy issued a statement declaring McCarthy’s firing, effective immediately.
Unassuming Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator, will serve as the interim head coach.
It is the first time the coach has been fired in-season in the Packers’ 100-year history.
Some fans celebrated the move, while others agreed with it but were quick to criticize Packers president Mark Murphy for departing from tradition.
If fans want to criticize Murphy, it should be for aiding and abetting GM Ted Thompson’s slow descent into oblivion. Thompson’s horrible drafts from 2014-2016 sank McCarthy as much as the coach’s own poor decisions.
Murphy’s apparent reluctance to fire Thompson was a massive oversight. In some corporations it would’ve cost him his job. With the Packers it merely means he gets to preside over a coaching search while Thompson goes into the Packer Hall of Fame this summer. Too bad it wasn’t three summers ago.
Now, Murphy better do the right thing and give current GM Brian Gutekunst total control of the football operation. Murphy, and others, should consult but it’s got to be the GM’s call.
Anything beyond that makes it look like I was wrong about Murphy and that he did indeed orchestrate a power play. As Packers president he’s no more qualified to hire a coach than his predecessor, Bob Harlan. The difference is that Harlan was wise enough to support his GM by staying out of football decisions.
At any rate, McCarthy deserves thanks for 12 ½ mostly successful seasons, including a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
His teams won 125 games, reached the playoffs eight straight seasons and advanced to the NFC Championship three times.
However, McCarthy’s critics suggested his offense had become stale and outdated. It’s hard to argue the point in an NFL season in which scoring is on a record pace.
Clearly, McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers weren’t on the same page. Part of that is because Rodgers did little to present a unified front. I can’t recall a time when the Packers’ quarterback defended his coach from the naysayers.
On the contrary, Rodgers’ perpetual pout and sub-par play only punctuated his unhappiness. It would be too strong to suggest Rodgers sabotaged the season, but he made no effort to conceal his displeasure with McCarthy’s offense and play-calling.
At times, Rodgers appeared to treat McCarthy like an intellectual inferior, at least in terms of offensive football.
After the Packers’ loss to Arizona, a game in which they were two-touchdown favorites, Rodgers played it cool.
When asked if he thought a coaching change would be made, he chose to dwell on the four games remaining and little else.
“I’m just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times, trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride,” he told reporters.
“The conversations will take care of themselves down the line. I know my role is to play quarterback to the best of my abilities. That will be my focus the next four weeks, and then we’ll go from there.”
In what proved to be his final post-game news conference, McCarthy seemed at a loss as how to address his team following the ugly loss Sunday and a disappointing 4-7-1 season.
“I mean, I’ve never been in this spot,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to act like I know what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow (Monday) when (the players) get in here. So we’re going to do what we always do: We’re going to represent the Packers the right way, I know that. Other than that, we’ll focus on what’s in front of us.”
Today, what’s in front of McCarthy is his next coaching job. It’s doubtful he’ll stay unemployed for long given his resume.
For the Packers the search is on while Philbin leads a team on a four-game journey to nowhere.

Packers-Vikings game ‘winner-take-all’ deal

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers haven’t won on the road. The Vikings can’t afford to lose at home.

It’s a “winner-take-all” matchup Sunday night when the Packers and Vikings square off at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Packers’ loss at Seattle still stings.

Green Bay sent Ty Montgomery packing for taking the football out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands late against the L.A. Rams. Some fans believe Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy did likewise by punting on fourth-and-2 late at Seattle.

Now, McCarthy is coaching for his job, and his team is playing for its post-season life.

The Packers blew a 14-3 first half lead and scored three points in the second half. A victory would’ve thrust them into the playoff picture. Now, a loss at Minnesota puts them squarely out of it.

Minnesota (5-4-1) and Green Bay (4-5-1) are separated by one game, and linked by one tie. Sunday night’s winner will garner all head-to-head tiebreaker scenarios. If the Vikings win, they basically bury the Packers. If Green Bay wins, it puts the Packers one game ahead of Minnesota for the NFC’s second wild-card spot with five games to play.

The NFC playoff chase shakes down like this:

** No. 1 seed: New Orleans (9-1) – The Saints are all but certain to be the NFC’s top seed and the NFC South’s champion.

** No. 2 seed: L.A. Rams (9-1) – The Rams will win the NFC West in a landslide. The only question is if they can finish one game ahead of New Orleans, which seems like a longshot.

** No. 3 seed: Chicago (7-3) – The Bears’ defense makes this team a definite NFC Championship Game contender. It remains to be seen how much QB Mitchell Trubisky can continue to develop between now and the regular season finish line.

The Packers’ chances of catching Chicago rest of winning their final six games to go 10-5-1 and hope the Bears finish 3-3 to go 10-6. That’s a mighty thin line to win the NFC North, but it’s still possible.

** No. 4 seed: Washington (6-4): The Redskins are the most vulnerable of the division leaders given QB Alex Smith’s season-ending broken ankle. Colt McCoy played well in Smith’s absence, but still couldn’t avoid a tough 23-21 loss to Houston.

It’s likely the Redskins will fade out of the playoff picture.

** No. 5 seed: Carolina (6-4): Why head coach Ron Rivera elected to go for the winning 2-point conversion, rather than a 20-20 tie at Detroit, is beyond my thinking. The Panthers were the better team. Overtime would’ve favored them. Kick the PAT. It was giving away a game that shouldn’t have been lost.

At any rate, every Panthers’ loss helps the Packers’ chances.

** No. 6 seed: Minnesota (5-5-1): The Vikings must win at home against Green Bay to keep pace with the Bears. A loss to Green Bay, and the tiebreakers that go with it, would be a low point in QB Kirk Cousins’ brief time with the Vikings.

** The rest: Seattle (5-5) – The Seahawks own the tiebreaker with Green Bay and are a threat to edge Minnesota out of a wild-card berth. Dallas (5-5) – The Cowboys have a better chance of winning the NFC East (with Smith’s injury) than capturing a wild-card berth. Green Bay (4-5-1) – For the Packers it’s all about winning at Minnesota on Sunday night. A Packers’ loss makes it all but impossible to find a path to the playoffs.

If that’s the case, we’re watching Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s final season.

Some suggest Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t exactly thrilled with his head coach, and in turn isn’t performing at his typical high level. On the other hand, Rodgers’ statistics are still among the NFC’s best in spite of McCarthy’s obvious gaffes, a month-long knee injury and deficiencies at wide receiver and in the offensive line. Tight end Jimmy Graham’s broken right thumb only complicates matters.

That said, McCarthy and Rodgers still have a tremendous opportunity to make something special of this season.

A victory at Minnesota, however it happens, would be that “moment” that Rodgers has been waiting on.

It’s up to McCarthy to set the two Aarons up for success. He needs to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly, and he needs to get the ball into Jones’ hands early and often.

It’s easier said than done, unless McCarthy steadfastly clings to the passing game and either abandons or leaves unexplored the running attack. Jones’ skill set is too unique to go unused.

Given time, Jones and the running game will make Rodgers’ life easier. It’ll also make the offensive line – and the offense – better.

Obviously, the Packers didn’t target Graham as much as I thought they would. Still, another five to seven targets have become available. Where should they go?

I would look to give at least four to Jones and the rest to Davante Adams. Those are the Packers’ top two play-makers and they’re going to need to make them to beat the Vikings.

The Packers need to jump on the Vikings after their beat-down at the hands of the Bears. I’m going Packers 31, Vikings 30, in an old-fashioned NFC North thriller.

That said, I’ll predict the Packers lose if:

** A) Aaron Jones has fewer than 20 touches;

** B) Aaron Rodgers has more than 42 pass attempts;

** C) The defense doesn’t register at least one turnover and three sacks.

Is that too much to ask?

often.
It’s easier said than done, unless McCarthy steadfastly clings to the passing game and either abandons or leaves unexplored the running attack. Jones’ skill set is too unique to go unused.
Given time, Jones and the running game will make Rodgers’ life easier. It’ll also make the offensive line – and the offense – better.
Obviously, the Packers didn’t target Graham as much as I thought they would. Still, another five to seven targets have become available. Where should they go?
I would look to give at least four to Jones and the rest to Davante Adams. Those are the Packers’ top two play-makers and they’re going to need to make them to beat the Vikings.
The Packers need to jump on the Vikings after their beat-down at the hands of the Bears. I’m going Packers 31, Vikings 30, in an old-fashioned NFC North thriller.
That said, I’ll predict the Packers lose if:
** A) Aaron Jones has fewer than 20 touches;
** B) Aaron Rodgers has more than 42 pass attempts;
** C) The defense doesn’t register at least one turnover and three sacks.
Is that too much to ask?

Packers aim to put
Seattle woes in past

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ recent trips to the Pacific Northwest have wrought drama and disaster.
Let’s face it.
The Seahawks have had the Packers’ number in Seattle, where the weather will be mild (mid-50s, no rain) and the famed “12th man” will be hostile Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks kick off a stretch of five homes games in the next seven weeks, which qualifies as great news to Russell Wilson. The Seattle quarterback has thrown 13 touchdown passes to just one interception in his last six home games.
The Seahawks (4-5) also come in with a two-game losing streak, one they intend to snap against Green Bay.
The Packers (4-4-1) are under no illusions.
“I like our chances at home, but we’ve got to win some road games or we’re going to be at home in January – for good,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Sunday.
The Packers pummeled the Dolphins 31-12 in a “must win” game Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers threw for two touchdowns to Davante Adams and Aaron Jones rushed 15 times for 145 yards and two scores to provide the offense with a much-needed semblance of balance.
“We needed that,” Rodgers said of Jones’ ball carrying. “If (the Packers’ defense) plays like that, and we run the ball like that, we’ll be tough to beat.
“(Jones) got going, he really did,” he added. “He’s a really good back, a slasher, fast (and) tough to take down. The first guy doesn’t bring him down a whole lot.”
Jones was suspended the first two games of the season. It’s been a slow, steady grind ever since toward the inevitable: The role as the lead running back in Green Bay’s offense.
“He’s a slashing running back,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “His ability to see the hole and hit it at full speed and to cut pretty much at full speed is what makes him special. Any time you have playmakers like that, you always want to make sure to give ‘em as many touches as possible because they can always make magic happen.”
Jones’ 67-yard thunderbolt against the Dolphins is an example.
“This league has always been about big plays,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “You can’t score points without big plays and you have to make big plays to win the game.”
Jones’ 6.8 yards per carry leads the NFL.
Adams, his offensive counterpart, upped his touchdown reception total to nine to tie for the league lead. Adams’ 31 touchdown catches since 2016 also ties for the league lead.
Offensively, the Packers appear to be more balanced than at any time in recent memory. It’ll be the first time in a while that they’ll actually be packing a running attack for the trip.
It certainly helps that Seattle’s defense currently is yielding 5 yards per carry.
Defensively, the beat-up Packers made strides against Miami.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit recorded its first red zone takeaway in 25 games when Reggie Gilbert recovered a Brock Osweiler fumble on Miami’s opening drive.
The Packers got their first red zone sack in 31 games on Miami’s next drive when Kyler Fackrell got to Osweiler.
The Dolphins had to settle for four field goals.
“For sure this is the type of game we needed from our defense,” Rodgers said. “We held them to four field goals. Every time there was the potential for momentum swings … those were big plays from them.”
Bashaud Breeland had an interception in just his second game after being sidelined to that point with a leg injury. Breeland aggravated his groin in the game, though, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready for the Seattle game.
Kentrell Brice, Nick Perry, Kevin King and Randall Cobb didn’t make the trip.
Perhaps safety Ibraheim Campbell or cornerback Will Redmond will make their Packers’ debuts.
Most important will be Green Bay’s ability to stop the run. Wilson is one of the NFL’s best at play-action passes. He also ran for 95 yards in last week’s 36-31 loss to the Rams.
The Packers made several necessary strides against Miami. Given Jones’ success, Adams’ ability to get open and Rodgers’ right arm I’m taking Green Bay to win: Packers 35, Seattle 31.

Packers’ season on the brink at its midpoint

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers have reached both the season’s midpoint and its crossroads.
It’s going to go one of two ways.
Either Green Bay’s 3-4-1 season begins to ascend toward its expected landing in the playoffs, or it continues with it stacking of failures – rather than successes – until the inevitable end.
Which direction the Packers take is up to head coach Mike McCarthy, his staff and the players.
The preseason prognosticators – the so-called experts – had the Packers and the NFC North’s defending champion Minnesota Vikings locked in a death struggle until the regular season’s end.
Well, that hasn’t happened. (In full disclosure, I thought the Packers and Vikings would be neck-and-neck until the end, too).
Wrong.
In a season that’s been dissatisfying and disappointing, there have been far too many lows and not nearly enough highs.
Predictably, the head coach’s future has come into question.
Like the sad sighting of spring’s first robin, frozen to the turf, the inevitable, “McCarthy’s on the hot seat” headlines begin.
McCarthy isn’t new to defending his reputation and his team’s honor. His detractors typically appreciate his brilliance in guiding the upstart 2010 Packers to a Super Bowl. But after a 15-1 follow-up that flamed out early in the playoffs, it’s been the story of a perennial playoff team slowly eroding due to subpar drafts, ineffective player development and so-so coaching.
So it goes this season, where the Packers’ weaknesses are the same now as they were at the beginning. The pass rush, run game, use of tight ends and a “scrubbing” of the playbook were supposed to fix what ailed the team.
Looking back, it was asking too much, too soon.
Packers’ first-year GM Brian Gutekunst has made numerous shrewd decisions in his relatively brief tenure. There is the 2017 draft that produced Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and the Saints’ first-round draft pick in 2019. There also is the decisive action in trading Ty Montgomery and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In addition, he signed tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, defensive tackle Mo Wilkerson (out with an injury), and defensive back Tramon Williams in free agency.
The offseason looked like the running start McCarthy needed.
It’s why my partner on Sports Line, three-time Super Bowl champion Harry Sydney, answered thus when asked in the offseason: Who is truly on the hot seat in Green Bay?
Sydney replied, “Mike McCarthy.”
The rationale was sound. Gutekunst set up McCarthy with a reasonable roster, including several players at new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s request, to revamp the team.
An influx of young receivers, the advent of young running backs and the (cross your fingers) health of the offensive line – and by extension the quarterback – were all looking good.
Then came the narrow season-opening victory over the Bears, which nearly claimed Aaron Rodgers, and it’s been a struggle ever since.
The Packers, at the most critical moments, have been their own worst enemies. That’s noteworthy because as Rodgers has said in the past, “We have to be at our best in the biggest moments.”
It has been anything but thus far.
So where does it go? How does it end?
What has the season still in store?
Frankly, it’s going to be a study in perseverance. I’m talking about McCarthy’s, Rodgers’ and the fans’ because it’s not going to be easy. If Rodgers stays healthy, and that’s a big if, the Packers remain a dangerous team despite all odds.
What has to happen around Rodgers is threefold:
** No. 1 – McCarthy needs to be at his creative best from here on out. By that, I mean he has to be willing to take risks, rather than putting it all on Rodgers’ shoulder pads. Get Davante Adams in motion more often. Find ways to twin Graham and Lewis to do some serious damage in both the run and pass game. Figure out how best to get the ball into Aaron Jones’ hands.
** No. 2 – Veteran players such as Clay Matthews, David Bakhtiari and Blake Martinez must take the lead come Sunday’s game against Miami. Make no mistake – this is a “must-win” game. Of that there can be no question.
It isn’t going to be easy even with Brock Osweiler starting at quarterback. Don’t laugh because Osweiler’s completion percentage is actually better than Rodgers’ right now.
The veterans need to get it done Sunday.
** No. 3 – The defense has to force turnovers. That hasn’t happened in forever. The Packers’ turnover ratio is a joke. Rodgers NEVER throws interceptions – he’s got one – but the defense can’t force turnovers to save its collective souls.
That has to change.
Ultimately, if the Packers get past the Dolphins, I can see them gathering steam at Seattle for a strong late run.
A loss to Miami, however, will go down as the game that ultimately sealed McCarthy’s coaching fate in Green Bay.

 

Packers suffer second ‘Ty’ in season on edge

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – With scarcely two minutes to play the stage was set for a thrilling, game-winning Packers’ rally, save for the final act.
Enter Ty Montgomery.
That’s when the (now former, thank God) Packers’ part-time running back/default kick returner decided to take things into his own hands. Despite being told to take a knee on the kickoff, he elected to go off script.
Montgomery’s ensuing return and lost fumble cost the Packers dearly in a well-played, hard-fought 29-27 loss to the Rams Sunday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The tie against Minnesota was bad. This ‘Ty’ felt worse.
“The plan there is to stay in the end zone,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “… But that’s what those games come down to. There are decisions and Ty’s in that ‘decision situation’ and I’m sure Ty was trying to make a play.”
I hear what McCarthy is saying, but one question lingers: Where’s the accountability?
That question was answered Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline when Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst traded both Montgomery and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Montgomery was sent to Baltimore in return for the Ravens’ seventh-round pick in 2020. That’s the NFL’s closest thing to a bag of scuffed footballs. The seventh-rounder, two years from now, meant he was either going to be traded or released.
Clinton-Dix brought a 2019 fourth-round pick from Washington, who will pair him with D.J. Swearinger to form a fairly stout safety tandem. Clinton-Dix, who was in the final year of his contract, also had to go. Why? He’d already discussed not returning next season.
I believe he’d already checked out. Besides, it’s either a fourth-round pick or nothing in the way of compensatory picks due to the way Gutekunst talked Wednesday. He described not recouping picks in 2020 (when Clinton-Dix would’ve applied) because Green Bay sounds like it intends to play in free agency. They have an estimated $43 million in cap room to work with.
Beyond future considerations, I never felt Clinton-Dix’s play rose to the level of Pro Bowl, not even close. While it’s true he played on every snap since forever, you could look at it another way: He was on the field for every snap while playing for a weak defense. How much was Clinton-Dix the common denominator?
At rate, a change of scenery will do both Montgomery and Clinton-Dix a world of good.
McCarthy tended to let things slide, especially if he appeared to have a fondness for a player. That misplaced sense of loyalty gets NFL coaches fired.
It didn’t go that way in Green Bay. Not this time. Not with a new GM on the case.
Montgomery had to go.
He bordered on being a divisive force in the locker room. With the Packers precariously teetering at 3-3-1 this isn’t the time for dissension, doubt and finger-pointing.
There was no reason to have Montgomery returning kicks. He’s too slow to be a threat to take it to the house, and he’s obviously not to be trusted with ball security or decision-making.
Other than that he was a great option.
There is no such thing as a moral victory. There is only victory, defeat or a tie. Right now the Rams (8-0) are unbeaten and untied. The Packers (3-3-1) are neither.
Aaron Rodgers correctly noted that Montgomery’s fumble didn’t lose the game, but it did cost them a chance to win it.
Who didn’t think Rodgers-to-Davante Adams would be unstoppable in the final minutes? Perhaps the Rams and the amazing Aaron Donald would’ve stymied the Packers like they did on the previous drive. Sadly, we’ll never know.
So what now?
Well, there were numerous positives despite the loss.
Aaron Jones looks like he’s ready and able to take over the primary ball carrying duties. He rushed 12 times for 86 yards and a touchdown, but only had four carries after the half.
Why McCarthy didn’t use him more is a mystery.
The Packers’ defense played its best game of the season.
Kenny Clark had five tackles, two sacks and one heck of an impact. Jaire Alexander had an NFL season-high five passes defended. If not for Alexander it’s fairly certain Jared Goff would’ve made multiple big plays throwing to Brandin Cooks.
Blake Martinez, with a sack and 12 tackles, also played well while being tasked with covering the Rams’ Todd Gurley. The trouble is that Gurley is so good he still finished with 114 yards rushing and another 81 yards receiving plus a touchdown.
Clay Matthews also had his best game of the season with seven tackles and a sack, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s decision to play dime (six DBs) was right on the money.
Further, the Packers were whistled for just two penalties.
All of that was squandered by Montgomery’s poor judgment.
Now Montgomery, Clinton-Dix and the Rams’ game are in the past. What matters is this: Green Bay has a chance to go to Foxboro and knock off the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
It won’t be easy, but New England hasn’t been nearly as dynamic as it has in recent seasons.
Furthermore, the trading of Clinton-Dix and Montgomery should be addition by subtraction. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams likely will embrace the 1-2 role and Tramon Williams and perhaps Bashaud Breeland will see time at safety. They may tighten up the coverage and qualify as an improvement.

 

Brewers’ magical
season finally ends

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – What if?
What if Christian Yelich’s fifth-inning drive to left-center hadn’t been caught?
What if Jeremy Jeffress hadn’t reverted to being a mere mortal?
What if Jhoulys Chacin hadn’t struggled early in Game 7 so Josh Hader and the bullpen could see the finish line?
The Brewers’ magical 2018 season ended too soon, of course, with a tough 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS Saturday night at Miller Park.
Still, that loss and those questions lead to another question: How good are the Brewers going to be in 2019?
Answer: Really, really good.
How do they make that happen? They continue on the path set by GM David Stearns, assistant GM Matt Adams and the entire front office, minor league scouts and Brewers manager Craig Counsell and his staff.
The Brewers enter the offseason as an established contender. They are set at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. The starting rotation is a bit in flux, but it’s because there are numerous qualified candidates, as opposed to no one that’s worthy. The bullpen is, well, the bullpen.
It’s the best in the big leagues.
Milwaukee should expect big things.
In fact, the Brewers are among MLB’s best bets to go deep into the post-season, and perhaps the World Series, next season.
Las Vegas sports books have posted odds to win the 2019 World Series and the N.L. and A.L. league championships.
The Red Sox and Astros, both at 6-to-1, are the early favorites to win next year’s World Series. The Dodgers and Yankees are next at 7-to-1, followed by the Cubs and Indians at 10-to-1.
The Brewers and Braves are tied for seventh at 12-to-1 to win the 2019 World Series. The Brewers are 6-to-1 to win the National League, trailing only the Dodgers (7-2) and Cubs (5-1).
“We won 96 games – 95 games in the regular season,” Counsell said. “We won our division. We finished one game from the World Series. In a lot of ways, there’s another series after this we’d like to be playing in. But you do this again and you put yourselves in these situations again, that’s all you can ask.”
The Brewers’ future appears bright.
It begins with Yelich, who hit .326 with 36 home runs, 110 RBIs and 118 runs scored. Yelich, the sweet-swinging lefty, is the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Yelich was clutch. He also sustained excellence for a significant stretch. He was good from the All-Star Game until the National League Championship Series.
It wasn’t just his bat.
His even-keel demeanor is priceless. Yelich is a leader by example. The moment is never too big. The highs are never too high, and the lows are never too low.
Yelich’s work with his glove also was Gold Glove quality.
Lorenzo Cain, who was signed as a free agent the same day the Brewers traded for Yelich, also was a baseball godsend.
Cain hit .308 as a leadoff man and was the consummate pro. He played centerfield like a Gold Glove winner, was patient at the plate, and also stole 30 bases.
Ryan Braun, after a slow start, finished strong.
His future is in question, but his bat remains viable. He hit .254 and finished with 25 doubles and 20 home runs. Travis Shaw also was strong again, with 32 home runs and the willingness to move from third base to second base to accommodate Mike Moustakas.
Speaking of Moustakas, he brought a steadying influence and would be welcome back.
Orlando Arcia merely is pushing to become the heart of the team, and the diamond of the infield. Arcia has MVP talent, especially if he continues to swing the bat like he did during a thrilling post-season.
Arcia finished with as many home runs in the playoffs (three) as he hit in the regular season. His upside is unlimited.
The pitching staff is loaded.
Brandon Woodruff will be a top-flight starter in the rotation. Freddy Peralta also will be there, as well as Chacin.
Wade Miley will have a spot, which leaves Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps Jimmy Nelson to contend. Brent Suter is also a candidate when he gets healthy.
The bullpen is Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Corbin Burnes, Jeremy Jeffress and Joaquim Soria is loaded.
The front office is superb, and owner Mark Attanasio is always willing to do what it takes to upgrade his franchise.
Where will the Brewers finish in 2019? It depends on their ability to retain their nucleus and have players continue to ascend. They need to find a full-time second baseman.
They may need a catcher, depending how far they think Eric Kratz can go. They have needs, without question, but they also have a track record. They came within a game of the playoffs in 2017. This year they came within a game of the World Series.
What if? Now the better question is, “What next?”

Packers’ struggles continue at Detroit, while Brewers roll

By Chris Havel

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s been 11 days since the Packers won, and 11 games since the Brewers lost.
The stats and status of Wisconsin’s NFL and MLB franchises aren’t lost on frustrated Packers’ fans, many of whom also are ecstatic Brewers’ fans.
Once upon a time, the Brewers’ primary purpose was to remain relevant until the Packers kicked off training camp. Anything of importance or relevance after that was all gravy.
Well, this Brewers’ season it’s been all gravy, plus mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, sweet corn, cranberry salad and dessert. It’s been an entire feast that continues Friday night, when the Brewers host the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.
The Brewers’ sweep of Colorado, after their do-or-die victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, captivated an entire state’s fan base and has dominated the headlines.
It’s been a beautiful thing, especially given the Packers’ struggles. Instead of entirely obsessing over “What’s wrong with Green Bay?” it’s been about, “Yeah, the Packers got problems, but we’re OK dealing with it after the Brewers’ season.”
I can’t say that I blame them.
This isn’t the first time the Packers have come out limping, figuratively or (in Aaron Rodgers’ case) literally.
Green Bay (2-2-1) has time to get its act together.
In fact, I’m still leaning toward a Packers’ playoff berth despite the gruesome, almost farcical 31-23 loss at Detroit last Sunday. The Packers’ most disappointing loss of the season had it all:
** Another 12 penalties for a staggering 112 yards against Green Bay. Where’s the discipline? Where’s the accountability? It begins with the coaching staff and a zero tolerance policy.
Well-coached teams don’t have players receiving “taunting” penalties for any reason, especially undrafted, free-agent cornerbacks who celebrate finally making a play by standing over an opponent and shouting at them.
And it’s not the first time it’s happened in Green Bay.
** The Packers surrendered four more sacks, which puts them on pace to give up a whopping 64 this season. Is it little wonder that a beat-up Rodgers has been less-than-thrilled with the plan?
Frankly, the plan so far has been, “Have Aaron run for his life until he makes something happen, or can’t run anymore.”
I mean, why have Aaron Jones run the football when there’s Rodgers on one leg? Better still, how about having Jones touch the football at least 15 times a game? It’s time for the Packers to deploy their top play-makers and the head coach to figure out how best to use them.
When has the Packers’ offense had a defense back on its cleats? I can’t remember the last time it’s happened, it’s been that long.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t exactly had memorable games thus far as a play caller. The idea in bringing back Joe Philbin to be the offensive coordinator – at least I thought – was to allow McCarthy to focus more on his play calling and less on the nitty-gritty game plan details. If Rodgers is unhappy who’s to blame? What’s changed?
Either way, I’ve got to believe Rodgers and McCarthy will be on the same page coming out of the bye week. Between now and then, they face a San Francisco 49ers team on Monday Night Football with the entire league watching.
The storyline, now that 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out with a season-ending knee injury, is this: Two once-proud NFC franchises are struggling to regain their place among the conference’s elite teams. If the 49ers pull off an upset – and San Francisco is a 9 1/2 –point underdog – it most surely signals another step downward for the Packers.
That can’t happen if Green Bay plans to play in the postseason. Right now, I can (generously) see the Packers at 5-5-1 with five games to play. A 4-1 run to the finish, which is possible, still leaves Green Bay at 9-6-1.
That’s cutting it close for a wild-card.
I suspect Green Bay handles the 49ers behind Rodgers’ right arm and a havoc-causing defense more resembling the group that shut out the Bills.
Meantime, the Brewers keep rolling along their merry way.
Milwaukee is a legitimate threat to reach the World Series. Clearly, the star-studded Dodgers are no slouch, but there’s something about the Brewers’ chemistry that’s special.
I’m going to pick Packers 35, 49ers 13, on MNF.
As for the Brewers, I think they win the opener, 3-2, behind a Jesus Aguilar home run off Clayton Kershaw. Then, they get busy to win the series, 4-3, in epic fashion.

 

Packers blank Bills, Brewers in playoff

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – One down … two to go.

That is where the Packers and Brewers find themselves after one of the state’s most interesting sports-related weeks in years.

The Brewers need two more wins to capture the best-of-five NLDS. The Packers need two more wins to go 3-0 in a pivotal stretch before a bye that’s followed by a brutal five-game stretch with games at the Patriots, Rams and Vikings.

Green Bay hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2010. Milwaukee hasn’t gone to the post-season since 2011. Yet here it is, early October, with history threatening to repeat itself.

Let’s start with the Brewers.

Milwaukee (96-67) reeled off eight straight wins – including a one-game playoff – to clinch the NL Central Division title. It was capped by a 3-1 victory over the Cubs Monday at Wrigley.

After Colorado eliminated Chicago in Tuesday’s wild wild-card game, the Brewers got past the Rockies 3-2 in 10 innings in Thursday’s gut-wrenching Game 1 of the NLDS.

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell started Brandon Woodruff in a so-called “bullpen game.” It is when a team elects to start a reliever (although Woodruff has done both) and play the game inning-by-inning while riding fresh arms throughout.

The advantages are reduced pressure on the starter. After all, he’s only expected to go a handful of innings. The relievers are in their element – coming into a tight game – so there’s nothing new for them. Furthermore, a team can get an extra bat in the lineup by use of the double-switch and hitting for the pitcher.

Woodruff was near-perfect in three innings. He allowed no runs, no hits and only one walk. After that Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader combined to blank the Rockies through eight innings.

Meantime, Christian Yelich’s two-run home run in the third gave Milwaukee its narrow 2-0 lead.

Enter Jeremy Jeffress in the ninth. Exit the Brewers’ lead.

The Rockies rallied for two runs in the top of that inning and missed a great opportunity to plate more runs. Give Jeffress credit for not blowing the lead.

Besides, what’s to fear so long as Milwaukee’s MVP is here?

Almost on demand, Yelich coaxed a walk to lead off the 10th. Two outs later, Mike Moustakas lined a two-strike single to right to send Yelich home and fans into delirium.

The Brewers’ Jhoulys Chacin starts tonight’s Game 2.

The Packers, like the Brewers, kicked off the week by pitching a shutout. Green Bay blanked the Bills, 22-0, while the Brewers shut out the Tigers, 11-0, to set up their one-game playoff.

Afterward, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers made it sound like the Packers had won by the score of 2-0.

Rodgers had his reasons.

Green Bay’s offense had five dropped passes on four different drives. They also ran sporadically and rotated Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery to no great effect.

However, they did attempt 27 rushes, which is progress. They also managed to pick up 110 yards on the ground. It’s at least a step, so to speak, in the right direction.

Rodgers hit 22 of 40 passes for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His 76.9 passer rating is almost 30 points below his career average. Understandably, he wasn’t pleased.

In particular, Rodgers took exception to what he called limited targets to their most potent weapons.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy addressed Rodgers’ concerns, saying they had talked.

I think it’s a positive sign. If they don’t talk now, then when would they? This is a critical three-game stretch in terms of finding an offensive identity and ultimately a rhythm.

Defensively, the Packers took a significant stride forward.

After being dreadful on opening drives, the Packers forced the Bills into eight punts and three turnovers on their first 11 drives. LeShon McCoy rushed five times for only 24 yards, and Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen played like the rookie that he is.

The Packers registered seven sacks, including three by Kyler Fackrell, and need to build off that success.

This Sunday, the Packers (2-1-1) face the pesky Lions (1-3) at Ford Field in Detroit. They did incur several injuries though. Davante Adams (calf), Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion protocol) all missed practice Thursday. The only good injury news is that Jimmy Graham (knee) did return to practice and was upgraded on the injury report.

The Lions have troubles of their own under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been streaky, perhaps because he’s been hit way too often. The running game also has been underwhelming.

However, the Lions do have several dangerous weapons, including Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, while the Packers’ secondary is hurting with Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both struggling with groin injuries.

It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to patch it together and give Rodgers and the offense time to figure it out.

Prediction I: Brewers 6, Rockies 3 in Game 2.

Prediction II: Packers 27, Lions 20.

Packers brace for Bills to kick off key stretch

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you have the Packers penciled in for a post-season berth, Green Bay’s next three games will play a pivotal role in determining if that’s likely to happen.

In fact, its importance goes beyond the obvious need for wins.

The Packers (1-1-1) have a sketchy identity at this point.

Who is Green Bay? Through three games it looks like a playoff wannabe with a great but gimpy quarterback, no real running threat or interest in developing one, and a substandard defense.

Other than that it’s all good.

That is why the next three games are critical.

The Packers host Buffalo (1-2) on Sunday. After that they’re at Detroit (1-2) before coming home for a nationally-televised Monday Night Football encounter with San Francisco (1-2).

That’s three winnable games. It’s also three chances to define players’ roles, develop a semblance of offensive balance and get new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense on track.

Clearly, it’s an opportune to gain confidence and momentum in an NFC North whose forecast is suddenly mostly cloudy.

The Vikings (1-1-1) are good but not great. The Bears (2-1) are holding down first place with a Top 10 defense. The Lions (1-2) are coming off a 26-10 upset win over New England.

It’s crazy. It’s also time for the Packers to focus.

Starting with Sunday’s noon kickoff at Lambeau Field, the Packers must turn their “To Do” list into a “Ta Da!” list between now and a brutal five-game stretch beginning Oct. 28 with a game at Los Angeles against the undefeated Rams. After that it’s Tom Brady’s Patriots at New England, the undefeated Dolphins’ stout defense, the pesky Seahawks and the most important game of all – at Minnesota.

Here’s the Packers’ “To Do” list:

** No. 1 – Keep the opponent from scoring a touchdown on its opening drive. Is that too much to ask? The Packers’ defense has set a tone thus far – it’s an interest in getting tough only after falling behind (and/or) in the second half.

Pettine’s defense has had its injuries, to be sure, but so has every other NFL team’s units.

It’s time for Pettine to decide how he’s going to proceed: By getting aggressive and using unconventional means to pressure quarterbacks? Or by focusing on the down-and-distance battles while employing a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy?

The signing of cornerback Bashaud Breeland to replace Davon House, who was placed on IR, is an upgrade. Breeland should fit in nicely with the Packers’ secondary, especially when Kevin King returns from a groin injury.

The loss of Muhammad Wilkerson to a dislocated ankle was costly. It’ll be interesting to see how Dean Lowry responds. My guess is he’ll be active and make an impact against the Bills.

The problem is the Packers’ defensive line can’t afford to absorb another key injury. It’s also time for Montravius Adams to get more snaps and show his pass-rushing talents.

Reggie Gilbert also has to emerge as a true pass-rush threat. Right now he’s an afterthought with Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalties distracting focus from the reality that the pass rush is weak.

Safety Kentrell Brice needs to pick up his play or be relegated to a reserve-special teams’ role.

** On offense, it’s time for head coach Mike McCarthy to commit to the running attack. I’m not talking Aaron Rodgers with run-pass options (RPOs) either. I’m talking about handing it or tossing it to Jamaal Williams with some frequency, and riding Aaron Jones when down-and-distance maximizes it.

At any rate, Ty Montgomery’s role would be diminished.

Rodgers also needs to bear responsibility for abandoning the running game. It’s OK to hand off and let the offensive line gain a foothold for the day.

Obviously, the offensive line needs to quit putting the offense in terrible down-and-distance situations with penalties. A holding call on a quick-hitting 2-yard run is ridiculous.

So are the frequent holding penalties on passing downs.

As McCarthy said, the Packers (and the offense) need to clean up their house because it’s way too messy.”

** In the next three games, McCarthy needs to use rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling as a kick returner and a deep threat in the passing game. He also needs to find ways to implement the double-tight end formation with Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, who has been largely ignored thus far.

I don’t get it.

The double-tight end would balance up the opposing defense, provide the run-pass option, and create obvious mismatches.

If McCarthy has an explanation I’d love to hear it. After three games, I’m not buying the old song and dance about having so many great receivers that they have to get their hands on the football. You mean like Randall Cobb got his hands on it?

That doesn’t wash.

Last week, I predicted a 31-13 Packers’ victory. I had the “31” correct, but was dead wrong on the outcome.

This week, I’m seeing a Packers’ win that (hopefully) both addresses and answers some of the above: Green Bay 27, Buffalo 16.

 

Golf, anyone? Packers sloppy in 31-17 loss

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The painful loss, uncharacteristic drops, shoddy defense, rampant penalties and blown calls compelled me to consider Green Bay’s long-range forecast.

It proved to be surprisingly good news.

Temperatures this Sunday are expected to reach into the upper 50s with a slight breeze and little chance of rain.

It’s prime golf weather.

Seriously, it’s also a prime opportunity for the reeling Packers to pull themselves together and get a grip on the season.

Green Bay’s 31-17 loss to Washington Sunday on a rain-swept FedEx Field in Landover, Md., was distressing on several fronts.

Specifically, there was the Packers’ inefficient offense, sloppy defense and substandard (again) officiating. It has become the unholy trio in Green Bay, where the Packers’ notion of balance isn’t offense-defense, or run-pass, but rather a 1-1-1 record.

To be fair, it wasn’t just Green Bay’s ineptitude that led to defeat. It was hastened by a Redskins team that managed to get its stuff together just in time for the Packers’ arrival.

Allegedly beat up, unloved and unwanted by some Redskins’ fans, Washington came out and took charge from the start.

Green Bay’s defense aided and abetted by finishing the first half the way it started, which is to say, it finished by playing awful.

The Redskins (2-1) became the third team to score a touchdown on its opening drive against Green Bay. Then they closed it out with a lengthy touchdown drive with just 2:17 left in the half.

It gave Washington a commanding 28-10 lead and proved too deep a hole for the Packers to dig out of.

“The first half was bad,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I don’t know how else to put it. The first half was bad … a lot of inconsistent play. We came out in the second half and did better, but it was a little too late at that point.”

The Packers’ defense surrendered first-half touchdown drives of 75, 79, 98 and 74 yards.

Safety Kentrell Brice displayed poor leverage on Paul Richardson’s 46-yard touchdown catch to cap the Redskins’ first scoring drive.

On Washington’s second touchdown drive, the Packers committed three pass interference penalties, and all three were the correct call in my opinion.

The Redskins’ third touchdown drive was launched by Alex Smith’s 34-yard pass to Jordan Reed on third-and-6 at the Washington 6-yard line. A few plays later, Adrian Peterson set up the first of two short-yardage touchdown runs with a 41-yard burst off right tackle.

Peterson finished with 120 yards on 19 carries while Smith did just enough (12 of 20, 220 yards and two touchdowns) to win it.

Meantime, Washington’s defense battered Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.

Rodgers finished 27 of 44 for 265 yards and two touchdowns for a 93.5 passer rating.  He was sacked four times and hounded constantly behind a suspect offensive line. Bryan Bulaga (back) and Justin McCray (shoulder) were replaced by Jason Spriggs and Byron Bell, both of whom fared no better.

The Packers also committed 11 penalties for 115 yards.

“Way too many holding calls,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. “A lot of long down-and-distances … we had a lot of opportunities in the second half to get the game back to one score and didn’t get it done.”

Three dropped passes, including two in the second half, conspired to thwart each of those drives. A Randall Cobb fumble killed another.

“We have to clean our own house,” McCarthy said. “It’s sloppy right now.”

Rodgers, speaking for the offense, agreed.

“We put ourselves behind the sticks with a lot of negative-yardage plays,” he said. “The next thing I know we’re down by three scores. That’s kind of how the game went.”

Cobb took responsibility for his sloppy play. He had two drops, the fumble and just four catches (in 11 targets) for 23 yards.

“I didn’t give us an opportunity to win,” he said. “A third-down drop on the first drive, the fourth-down drop, a fumble … I played terrible and didn’t give us an opportunity to win.”

Lance Kendricks’ drop on a perfectly thrown deep pass by Rodgers also was frustrating for the Packers.

For a third straight week a Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty grabbed headlines. Matthews’ sack of Smith appeared to be text book, but he was flagged nonetheless.

“I think Clay did what he’s supposed to do there,” McCarthy said. “How it’s being officiated are questions for other people. He hit him with his shoulder, he’s coming full speed off the block, he braced himself … I was fine with what Clay did.”

Matthews was frustrated afterward.

He charged that the fans don’t like the direction the league is going, and that the NFL might be getting soft.

Sadly, the same could be said of the Packers.

Packers can use tie to motivate going ahead

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers are listed atop the NFC North standings – not because of merit following a tie with the Vikings – but solely because the letter “G” (Green Bay) comes before “M” (Minnesota) in the alphabet.

Sole possession of first place, for now, must wait.

On the bright side, the Packers (1-0-1) remain undefeated in the wake of an infuriating 29-29 tie with Minnesota last Sunday.

The officiating was substandard, even by NFL standards, and it left such a bad taste in the mouths of players and fans that their initial inclination was to gargle, spit, rinse and repeat.

Another way to cleanse the pallet would be a victory Sunday against the Redskins (1-1) at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

While Washington’s defense has been pesky in its first two games – a 24-6 win at Arizona and a 21-9 loss to the Colts – the Redskins’ offense has been woefully ineffective.

Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft, was selected 23 spots AHEAD of Aaron Rodgers.

After an up-and-down stay in Kansas City, Smith was traded this offseason to the Redskins to replace … drum roll … Kirk Cousins, who left for Minnesota.

Smith has completed 54 of 76 passes for 547 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in two games. Most of the Redskins’ offense has been runs and short underneath throws.

Frankly, the Packers get the Redskins at a good time because Smith is directing a beat-up attack.

On Monday, Rob Kelley (toe) became the third Redskins’ running back placed on injured reserve this season. It leaves Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson to man the backfield.

Peterson started strong in the opener at Arizona, but managed just 20 yards on 11 carries in the loss to the Colts.

The ex-Vikings star knows all about Rodgers.

So does Thompson, who told reporters, “It’s very important to improve (each week). I mean that’s Aaron Rodgers coming in. We don’t have it together, we get embarrassed again.”

Tight end Jordan Reed is Washington’s best weapon. He has 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown this season.

Beyond Reed it’s been one injury after another at wide receiver. The depleted Redskins signed Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd, a pair of former first-round picks, on Tuesday.

Paul Richardson, the ex-Seahawk and their No. 1 receiver, is dealing with a sore shoulder.

The Redskins’ receivers have combined on just 18 catches for 173 yards and zero touchdowns through two games.

The Packers’ Randall Cobb has 13 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown by himself. Green Bay’s receivers have combined for 38 catches, 460 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, the Redskins may be better equipped to deal with Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense.

Safety D.J. Swearinger had two interceptions against the Colts’ Andrew Luck last week. But despite giving his team great field position twice, the Redskins managed just three points.

Up front, the Redskins have top pick Daron Payne and veteran Ziggy Hood to man the D-Line. A linebacker group of Ryan Kerrigan, Mason Foster and Zach Brown is the D’s strength.

Of course, cornerback Josh Norman can still play – and talk – at a high level.

“When you get the opportunity to face one of the top quarterbacks in this league – if not No. 1 then No. 2 – we have to key in on everything they give us,” Norman told reporters.

What the Packers plan to give the Redskins is fits.

While cornerback Kevin King battles a groin injury, safeties Josh Jones (foot) and Oren Burks (shoulder) should play. It will give defensive coordinator Mike Pettine more options to defend the middle of the field.

On offense, Rodgers and tight end Jimmy Graham are getting on the same page, which is bad news for the rest of the league.

Also, the Packers will have running back Aaron Jones at their disposal following his two-game suspension. Jones’ speed and explosiveness gives Green Bay’s offense a key element.

The Vikings host the dreadful Bills this week.

If the Packers expect to stay atop the NFC North – whether by merit or alphabetically – they need to dispatch the Redskins.

Prediction: Packers 31, Redskins 13.

Missed calls, chances lead to Packers’ tie

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Last week, the Browns made a tie almost feel like a win against Pittsburgh. This week, the Packers made a tie most definitely feel like a loss against Minnesota.
Through the maze of blown calls and missed opportunities the Packers can take solace in this: With a gimpy quarterback and a developing defense, Green Bay went toe-to-toe with the vaunted Vikings to forge a 29-29 overtime tie Sunday at Lambeau Field.
It isn’t a win in the standings, but it’s better than a loss.
On a day when the officiating was substandard, even by NFL standards, the Packers proved several things.
First, that Aaron Rodgers can play at a high level despite having to do so with a sore and heavily braced left knee.
Second, that the Packers’ defense can limit the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook to just 38 yards on 10 carries with a long run of 9 yards.
Third, that Green Bay’s woes – from the disastrous 1-for-5 in the red zone to recording a mere two sacks in 48 pass attempts – appear to be correctible.
The Packers’ lesson of the day is this: Take care of business instead of leaving it to the officials.
Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty was absurd.
What clearly was a legal hit instead drew a penalty to extend the Vikings’ final possession, which resulted in a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion. Matthews hit Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in the midsection just as he released a pass that was intercepted by the Packers’ Jaire Alexander.
At that point, it would have been game over.
Instead of celebrating a 29-21 victory and a 2-0 start, the Packers’ nightmare trundled on into overtime. After 10 minutes, two missed field goals by Minnesota and a Packers’ botched second-and-1 at the Vikings’ 37, the game ended in a tie.
It was like receiving an award posthumously: Thanks, I guess.
A frustrated, perplexed Matthews tried to sort it out afterward.
“I have so many emotions running through as far as what a terrible call it was,” Matthews told reporters. “At the same time, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know. You let me know. You tell me. Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within his waist to chest. I got my head across, put my hands down. To call it at that point in the game is unbelievable.
“Last week, OK, shame on me,” he went on. “This week, that’s unbelievable. The worst part is, we’ll probably send it in and you know what they’re going to say? They’ll find fault on me because they’re going to agree with the refs. I don’t know. It’s a difficult call to call. You see how it changed the game. I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control. I don’t know what else to do. It’s frustrating because Jaire’s interception, that’s game (over), right? Instead, they go down and score, overtime, this and that.
“We had opportunities to win the game, no doubt about it, but it’s frustrating to allow a call which I feel like I did the right thing to influence the game. I don’t know. I’m trying to bite my tongue, but obviously I don’t agree with it.”
The Packers’ missed opportunities were numerous.
Mason Crosby delivered on five straight field-goal attempts, but with a chance to seal the victory from 52 yards out, his kick stayed wide of the left upright to force overtime.
Despite the loss, or rather, the tie, there is reason for optimism:
** Rodgers finished 30 of 42 for 281 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 97.4. He was sacked four times, which was too much even with his lack of mobility, but he proved he can play at a high level despite the injury.
** Tight end Jimmy Graham caught six passes for 95 yards. He also had a touchdown catch wiped out because of an absurd holding penalty on left guard Lane Taylor.
Graham is going to be a force for the Packers this season.
** Geronimo Allison is settling in as a key special teams’ performer and wide receiver. He caught six passes for 64 yards on six targets and also blocked the punt that teammate Josh Jackson turned into a touchdown.
Allison is a player on the rise.
** The Packers’ defense did a lot of good things.
They only sacked Cousins twice in 48 pass attempts, but constantly harassed and hounded him. The effort wasn’t lacking.
Furthermore, they limited Dalvin Cook to a long gain of 9 yards in 10 attempts. The run defense held up well.
Individually, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez and Alexander stood out on a defense that has the potential to be a Top 10 unit.
Ultimately, the tie is painfully disappointing given the circumstances, including the poor officiating.
Nevertheless, the Packers have no time to cry over it.
They have a trip to Washington, D.C., to face the Redskins on Sunday afternoon. The best way to get this tie behind them is to raise the record to 2-0-1 and get ready for the Bills at Lambeau.

Packers shock Bears
with epic comeback
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Khalil Mack – the NFL’s highest and second-highest paid players – earned their keep Sunday night.
In turn, Packers fans got their money’s worth and then some.
Down 20 points late in the third quarter, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to spark the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Bears. It tied for the fourth-largest come-from-behind win in Packers’ history, which is a whole lot of history for a team kicking off its 100th anniversary season.
The comeback was amazing in its own right.
That Rodgers spurred the rally after being carted off before halftime with a knee injury only amplified its magnificence.
Rodgers was just 3 of 7 for 13 yards when he injured his left knee while being sacked in the second quarter.
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy compounded the woes by having backup quarterback DeShone Kizer throw with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. Instead of running out the clock and regrouping, McCarthy’s call for a screen pass resulted in a Mack interception and 27-yard touchdown return. That put the Bears up 17-0 as the Packers were booed off the field at half.
Mack, who signed a six-year, $141-million contract after being traded to Chicago from Oakland last week, was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half. He had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and the pick-six before intermission.
The Bears had every reason to think this was a “W”.
Re-enter Rodgers to start the second half.
With only one good leg but one terrific right arm, the two-time MVP gamely walked out of the tunnel and into history.
Rodgers completed 17 of 23 passes for 273 yards and three TDs after intermission. He kept the Bears’ vaunted pass rush at bay with a no-huddle attack that relied on quick passes, short runs and big plays.
“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable,” McCarthy told reporters. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
Trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers capped an eight-play, 81-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison to make it 20-10.
Allison beat the Bears’ best corner, Kyle Fuller, on the play.
With 9:01 to play, Rodgers avoided pressure and hit Davante Adams for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 20-17.
The Bears added a field goal but it wouldn’t be enough.
Facing third-and-10 at the Green Bay 25 with less than three minutes to play, Rodgers made the play of the game: He rolled left, threw back over the middle to Randall Cobb and watched as No. 18 ran 75 yards for what would be the winning touchdown.
“We went exclusive no-huddle (in the second half),” McCarthy said. “The two-minute drill is the best thing (Rodgers) does.”
Cobb was bumped off his original rout by Bears safety Eddie Jackson, but stayed alive to make the night’s biggest play.
“I saw Aaron scramble and I tried to break free,” Cobb said. “Once I caught it I just saw green grass and did what I could to get in (the end zone).”
Cobb caught nine passes on 10 targets for a career-high 142 yards and the touchdown. Adams added five catches for 88 yards and Allison another five grabs for 69 yards.
Cobb reacted as if he’d died and gone to Packers heaven.
“I love the fact that (Rodgers) came back out there and played the way he did,” Cobb said. “We knew once he came back on the field we were in a great position and we just had to get it done. We never gave up hope.”
At halftime, Rodgers told his defense, “If we don’t give up any more points we’ll win.”
The Bears managed just two field goals in the second half. Second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky was 23 of 35 for 171 yards and a 77.2 passer rating.
He was sacked four times by a Packers’ defense that had its ups and downs. Veteran Clay Matthews looked old and was largely ineffective. Matthews had one tackle and one bone-headed play that could’ve cost the Packers the game.
With less than two minutes to play, the Packers thought they’d turned the ball over on downs to seal the victory. Instead, Matthews inexplicably launched himself at Trubisky well after he’d thrown the football. The unnecessary roughness penalty extended the last-ditch drive but ultimately didn’t prove costly.
Nevertheless, the Packers won in spite of Matthews’ poor play and McCarthy’s awful decision to have Kizer throwing late in the first half.
Now it’s on to a noon showdown against the Vikings next Sunday at Lambeau Field. Rodgers predicted he will play against Minnesota. For his sake, let’s hope the Packers’ offensive line plays like it did in the second half against the Bears and Matthews plays like he did once upon a time.

 

Most Wanted List!
What the Packers need to see…

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ preseason has been impressive on several fronts.
First, the injury situation is almost non-existent compared with past training camps. With two games to play, the Packers should be able to reasonably protect their key players without undermining the critical final stages of the evaluation process.
Second, the quarterback play has allowed Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy and his assistants to accurately assess the talent at receiver. Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley and Tim Boyle have been a sharp quartet.
Ultimately, the Packers have put themselves in position to be adequately prepared for the regular-season opener. They also have set themselves up to finalize a strong 53-man roster.
That said there’s still plenty of work to be done. Here is a sampling of our listener’s thoughts on the question, “Most Wanted: What they need to see between now and the opener?”
** DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley need to settle the backup quarterback question. Hundley has played much better than a year ago. Without that obvious improvement this job would be Kizer’s right now.
For his part, Kizer also has played well in a new scheme. I suspect Kizer will continue to perform at a high level and earn the best backup job in the NFL.
** The tackling has been substandard, at times, and needs to be sharper. Clay Matthews recognized as much, but also said that’s what the preseason is for and they’ll get it tightened up.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also acknowledged the sloppy tackling, but shed some light on the reasons. Mostly, he said players are thinking instead of reacting at this point. He also said the teaching points and corrections will be made.
It’ll be interesting to see how sharp the Packers’ defense is in Friday night’s third preseason game at Oakland.
** Pettine identified his top four outside linebackers: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Reggie Gilbert and Kyler Fackrell. Matthews and Perry can play, but can they stay healthy? Gilbert is promising but has yet to do it on the biggest stage. Fackrell has been better than last year, but he seldom flashes and leaves observers with the feeling that he’s just a guy.
The pass rush will be OK if Matthews and Perry stay healthy, Gilbert is the real deal and Pettine’s scheme creates opportunities to make plays.
That’s all.
** How does Ty Montgomery fit? The reality is that he’s a receiver-turned-running back and plays that way. His ball security, especially when running between the tackles, is iffy.
He also has struggled to stay healthy. He takes direct shots when a more experienced running back would naturally reduce those to glancing blows.
Montgomery’s best chance to contribute is as a receiver out of the backfield, either in the slot or the screen game. He has value and better start fast. With Aaron Jones suspended the first two games, Montgomery’s play is going to be crucial against the Bears and the Vikings in Weeks 1 and 2.
** The Packers’ backup tackles need to step up. Byron Bell, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy and others have yet to wow. They need to tighten it up in the next two games, or the Packers may be in the market for a veteran tackle as an insurance policy.
Stay tuned.

MR. GOLF’S TIP OF THE WEEK
Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, Aug. 14

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to website/Facebook)

** Pine Acres Golf Course

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** Chrysler World

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Packers’ young WRs

in serious competition

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Preseason games have been known to deceive observers regarding a team’s true depth, identity and potential.

With that qualifier, here’s what I can say with a fair amount of certainty following the Packers’ 31-17 victory over Tennessee Thursday night at Lambeau Field:

** No. 1 – The Packers’ backup quarterback will be vastly improved from a year ago. It’s the insurance policy a team prays it never has to use, but in Green Bay’s case it isn’t likely to be the disaster it was last season.

Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and even Tim Boyle showed some poise and pizzazz in the exhibition opener.

They also facilitated the evaluation process by completing 25 of 47 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. There were a ton of opportunities for the young receivers.

Hundley’s accuracy and decision-making seems to have progressed, although he remains skittish at times in the pocket. He’s playing for his NFL career in Green Bay, at least, and seems ready to put up a battle against Kizer.

Hundley completed 9 of 14 passes for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

For his part, Kizer looked comfortable in a new offense and seems to have profited from the tough lessons learned in Cleveland last year. As it stands, the No. 2 quarterback job is Kizer’s to lose, regardless of the current pecking order.

Kizer was 9 of 18 for 134 yards with two sacks.

Boyle is an intriguing prospect. The kid throws a better deep ball than either Kizer or Hundley. He hit rookie J’Mon Moore in stride for what would’ve been a 40-plus yard gain only to see the fourth-round pick drop it. Boyle rolled with it and continued to play well in his debut.

Boyle hit 7 of 15 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and a 116.7 passer rating.

That leads me to …

** No. 2 – The receiving corps – top to bottom – is much-improved from last season.

That’s a bold statement based on training camp practices and one preseason game. That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate though.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling stole the show.

The 6-4, 206-pound rookie from South Florida caught five of seven targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in a 51-yard bomb in stride from Kizer.

It’s a strong start.

It’s the same for Jake Kumerow. The 6-4, 209-pound undrafted free agent caught Aaron Rodgers’ eye early in camp for all the best of reasons. Then Kumerow went out and caught three passes for 76 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown.

Valdes-Scantling and Kumerow have the inside track … for now. J’Mon Moore has proven he can get open. He’s also proven to be unreliable catching the football. As strong as he looked early in training camp, his margin for error is shrinking.

Equanimeous St. Brown had four catches for 61 yards, including a nifty 28-yard catch-and-run. St. Brown is a smooth, tall (6-5, 214) athlete with strong hands.

Furthermore, second-year pro DeAngelo Yancey also has been solid in camp.

** No. 3 – The Packers’ defense remains something of a mystery in terms of the big picture. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine rarely blitzed in the preseason opener. He also lined up without perhaps eight of 11 starters.

Nevertheless, several players stood out.

Montravius Adams, the big defensive tackle, was very active. He held the point of attack and hustled to chase down plays from the back-side. If Adams’ flashes become more frequent he could become a formidable contributor as an interior pass rusher.

Rookie Oren Burks, a hybrid linebacker/safety, tackled well and played with confidence in his debut. Burks is going to rack up a ton of plays this season.

Second-round pick Josh Jackson is a battler. He received a lot of work with first-round pick Jaire Alexander and others out. He struggled early with a penalty, and surrendered a couple completions, but just as important fought back.

** No. 4 – J.K. Scott is the real deal. Those who criticized the Packers’ new GM, Brian Gutekunst, for drafting a punter in the fifth round can admit they were wrong any time now.

Also, the disaster that was the snap, the hold and the kick last year has been fixed. Hunter Bradley, a rookie, has been so solid he’s gone under the radar. That’s perfect for a long snapper.

Scott is an adroit holder and Mason Crosby is, well, Crosby.

MR. GOLF’S TIP OF THE WEEK

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, August 7, 2018

From: Chris Havel, Sports Line
The FAN website column for Tuesday, August 7th!

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to website/Facebook)

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Just a short “drive” north of Green Bay on Hwy. 41, Pine Acres has an awesome Friday Night Fish Fry. This 9 hole gem is in terrific shape. Check them out on Facebook.

** Townline Pub and Grill
This is THE classic sports bar, restaurant and banquet facility. Located in Howard-Suamico, Townline features home-made pizza, fajitas and the best burgers and wings around. See the daily specials at www.TownlineOnline.com.

** Chrysler World
Just 10 minutes north of Green Bay on Hwy. 41 come and see the 500-plus car inventory including new and used models. When you stop out tell them, “Havel sent me!” Check them out at www.chryslerworld.com.

Packers’ O linemen
in spotlight Saturday

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers received some good news on the offensive line injury front.
On Friday, Bryan Bulaga was cleared to practice after rehabilitating a serious knee injury last year.
On Saturday, David Bakhtiari apparently dodged a bullet when he twisted his left ankle late in the Family Night practice. Early reports, according to ESPN sources, say Bakhtiari will be able to go in the regular-season opener.
Meantime, Packers’ legend Jerry Kramer, another offensive lineman, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Kramer’s long-overdue induction was the highlight of the evening. It was great news one-two-three for Packers’ offensive linemen, past and present.
For a while there it didn’t look so good. In fact, it looked bad. It appeared that:
** Bulaga might be done due to his constant injuries. He has missed 43 of a possible 128 games during his career. That said, there’s no question the Packers’ offensive line is better off with him at right tackle.
** Bakhtiari’s ankle injury reminded everyone just how important the All-Pro left tackle is to the team’s fortunes. The fact that he’s going to miss an undisclosed amount of practice strikes me two ways.
First, I’m alright with him being out of harm’s way between now and the Sept. 9 season-opener versus the Bears. It will provide Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs and Byron Bell the reps they dearly need.
Second, I’m concerned because it’s never good when Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector is out. That’s even true in the preseason. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy must decide how much time Rodgers is going to see given Bakhtiari’s absence.
DeShone Kizer needs to be ready in case of emergency, and Brett Hundley is fighting for a roster spot.
For both the more snaps, the better.
In other Packers’ developments:
** Rookie receiver J’Mon Moore continues to impress. I liked him early in camp and that hasn’t changed. He made a difficult, 5-yard touchdown catch in the Packers’ Family Night practice that stood out. He also had a drop early on, but rebounded to make that big play.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown also flash play-making ability to go with their impressive size-speed ratio. The Packers’ young receiving trio appears to be on the right path to help the offense sooner than later.
** Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery have managed to stay healthy and get their work in thus far. That’s been important given hamstring injuries to Aaron Jones and Davante Mays.
Williams and Montgomery have the potential to be a decent one-two backfield tandem. My guess is Williams will be used on early downs and in tandem with a fullback, and Montgomery will be the single back most-often deployed in obvious passing situations.
** Montravious Adams showed up and played well.
The second-year defensive tackle’s forte is quickness as an interior pass rusher. He showed exactly that in the Saturday night practice.
Adams should have a role in the Packers’ sub-packages as an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment, as well as lining up wide in a 3-4.

MR. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK
Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

 

Packers’ camp heats up Saturday as pads are on

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jimmy Graham splits out wide and looks unstoppable. Aaron Ripkowski lines up in the I-formation as lead blocker for Jamaal Williams and splatters folks. Mo Wilkerson explodes off the edge as a pass rusher during the “team: no huddle” period.
There was a lot to see as the Green Bay Packers put the pads on Saturday at Ray Nitschke Field.
The tempo was brisk, the hitting selective and the message clear: Go hard, play fast and get after it.
The Packers’ defensive coaches are more vocal, demonstrative and demanding than the previous group.
The urging, teaching and coaching are incessant. It begins on the quick jog to the next drill, intensifies as the action unfolds and continues on and through the whistle.
Whether this translates into a better defense remains to be seen, but it unquestionably is a louder outfit.
Harry Sydney, my co-host on Sports Line, noted the defensive staff’s passion Saturday as “impressive.”
“I like it,” Sydney said. “They’re teaching and communicating and getting their message through to the players.”
The intensity is accompanied by focus.
Other defensive standouts:
** Wilkerson, at 6-4, 315, flashed a burst off the edge. If he can bring juice as a “5” technique in a 3-4 or as an end in a 4-3 it would be a boon to the defense. This veteran doesn’t act like an old eight-year veteran, but rather a player on a mission.
So far, big No. 96 looks really good.
** Blake Martinez jumps out without even trying. He’s seemingly everywhere doing everything. It’s not going out on a limb to see the Packers’ linebacker having a big season.
** Jaire Alexander fears no receiver.
The first-round pick has got moxie and speed to spare, and it appears he genuinely loves to compete at cornerback. He dares receivers to run past him and fights like crazy in “jump-ball” situations.
Meantime, second-round cornerback Josh Jackson goes through his paces smoothly. He does come off as a bit hesitant, at times, but perhaps he’s more cautious by nature.
He’ll pick it up.
On offense, two receivers stood out: rookie J’Mon Moore and second-year pro DeAngelo Yancey.
Moore caught a slant pass from Aaron Rodgers in stride and while he was being assaulted by a defensive back. Moore’s quickness and ease in-and-out of breaks is striking. He also appears to possess rock-solid hands.
I really see a huge upside for Moore.
As for Yancey, the powerfully built 6-1, 220-pounder from Purdue was inconsistent and injured a year ago. So far, Yancey has used his upper-body strength to battle cornerbacks, and his speed to get behind them. Oh, and he’s also caught it cleanly, too.
** Running back Jamaal Williams looks terrific. I have him as the regular-season starter at running back. He made a slick move in the hole to cause a defender to whiff. Williams also catches it with ease out of the backfield.
Devante Mays made several sweet moves in team drills, and showed really good balance and feet. However, he struggles to catch it cleanly and remains a work in progress.
NOTE: Next post following Monday’s practice. The Packers are off Sunday.

MR. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK
Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

Brewers in good place four games to midpoint

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers hold a 2-½ game lead over National League Central Division rival Chicago with four games to play until the MLB season’s midpoint.

Who’d of thought it? The Brewers in first place as they round second and head into July?

It is one of baseball’s best stories.

It also is one that receives scant national attention.

The Brewers (45-32) don’t seem to care about accolades. They seldom, if ever, play the “we get no respect” card. In fact, they present themselves as a confident team that realizes it hasn’t actually accomplished anything yet.

The view from the Brewers’ dugout appears to be twofold:

** 1 – That they are playing fairly inspired baseball for themselves, their manager and each other. The bench-wide euphoria when the Brewers belt a decisive home run or deliver an inning-ending strikeout appears genuine.

They also appear to be welcoming of new teammates. It is reflected in the way call-ups tend to perform well early on. If they weren’t comfortable it would much more difficult.

Freddy Peralta, the 22-year-old who pitched his way into Brewers history with a 13-strikeout debut, is pitching tonight. It’s his first start at Miller Park. He’s excited. His teammates are excited. Even manager Craig Counsell is anticipating the start.

Peralta would’ve had a tough time being so overpowering at Colorado, and again in his most recent start, if he didn’t feel the chemistry – especially with catcher Manny Pina.

In a162-game season chemistry matters and the Brewers appear to have it.

** 2 – The other conclusion is that the Brewers’ talent looks as real as their chemistry.

At last glance, Milwaukee was among baseball’s top three teams in runs scored after two outs. It suggests the Brewers’ hitters are capable in the clutch.

The Brewers also are among the league leaders in home runs. Led by Jesus Aguilar’s 16 bombs, and backed by Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers’ offense is plenty potent.

They’ve been shut out 10 times this season, which is cause for alarm if/when the Brewers reach the postseason, where they would face top-flight starting pitching.

Frankly, Milwaukee fans shouldn’t stress about whether the Brewers are good enough to win a postseason series. Reaching the postseason would be a great accomplishment.

It’s do-able though.

The Brewers have back-to-back games against a weak Kansas City squad at Miller Park before going to Cincinnati to face the Reds, who’ve gone from slumping to surging.

These next four games could set the tone for the second half.

Consider this: If the Brewers take three of four they’ll finish at 48-33 at the halfway point. That puts them on pace to win 96, which should put them in the playoffs.

The Las Vegas betting line for the Brewers’ win total was 81 ½. Milwaukee should blow that number away.

It sets up for a great second half. It’s likely to be one that will keep Packers/Brewers fans’ interest well beyond training camp.

MR. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

Thoughts on Packers’ second public OTA
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here’s a “sports math” quick quiz:
Question: What does 80 plus 85 equal?
Answer: Seven (as in seven points).
For all of Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst’s offseason moves, the incredible upgrade at tight end tops the list. The Packers may not have the NFL’s highest-scoring offense this season, but they have a great chance to be one of the most dominant.
When the Packers’ Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis stand shoulder pad-to-shoulder pad they blot out the sky.
Green Bay’s veteran tight end duo is enormous. They also bring a combined 20 years of experience to the position.
All of that leads to this educated guess: Graham (6-7, 265) and Lewis (6-6, 267) are going to be a handful for opposing defenses this season. That’s based on just a glimpse of the Packers’ second public OTA practice Thursday at Ray Nitschke Field.
Everyone from the fans in the stands to Aaron Rodgers and DeShone Kizer found the big tight ends impossible to miss.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke at length to the media about the offseason acquisitions at tight end.
Graham and Lewis aren’t kids anymore. They don’t run like they once did. That’s OK because the reality is this: Graham still runs plenty fast, and Lewis is so skilled and smooth he’ll be able to get open, too. Best of all, they catch it. At least they showed the ability to catch it with ease at the OTA practice.
Tight ends aren’t like receivers.
They don’t have to maintain high-end speed to be effective. McCarthy said there isn’t an edge rusher in the league that Lewis can’t block. And Graham is as dynamic a threat in the red zone as there is in the game.
Further, the Packers appear to be serious about using them.
They ran multiple “stack” or “bunch” formations with their tight ends, including holdover Lance Kendricks, who shouldn’t be discounted as a valuable third cog.
Rodgers threw to both Graham and Lewis frequently.
Once the pads come on we’ll see exactly what they can do in terms of blocking in the run game, but for now I’ll take McCarthy’s word for it.
Other OTA observations:
** Jamaal Williams is going to be the lead dog in the backfield.
The second-year running back looks like a man on a mission. The way he carries himself in practice, interacts with teammates and goes about his business professionally suggests he’s going to be the No. 1 back for a while.
Ty Montgomery has receiver skills, and Aaron Jones has breakaway speed, but it’s Williams who drew my eye. He’s so smooth and focused you would swear he’s a six-year pro.
I predict Williams will be the starting running back with Montgomery and Jones – if they stay healthy – providing a nice changeup to him.
Frankly, the running back position looks better than it has in a long time, and it starts with Williams at the top.
** The right side of the offensive line no longer looks like a mess.
The signing of veteran Byron Bell (6-4, 320) gives the line some much-needed depth at tackle. On Thursday, Bell rolled at right tackle and Justin McCray at right guard with the No. 1 unit.
That still leaves rookie Cole Madison to compete and either start or provide depth. Meantime, Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs can heal up.

MR. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK
Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

 

 

Brewers’ rookie makes
‘M’emorable debut

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s tough to know which was nastier:
Chase Anderson’s stomach virus, which caused him to miss a start, or Freddy Peralta’s stuff, which caused the Rockies to miss most everything in the Brewers’ 7-3 victory Sunday at Colorado.
Peralta, a wiry right-hander, was called up from the AAA Pacific Coast League when Anderson had to be placed on the disabled list.
The 21-year-old delivered a Mother’s Day dandy.
Peralta – not to be confused with ex-Brewer Wily – mowed down the Rockies as if they were dry grass being cut by a razor-sharp blade. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth and got the win.
He finished with a Brewers’ rookie record 13 strikeouts.
“The pitching coach told me to smile, breathe and pitch,” he said. “So that was what I did.”
Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar hit home runs to back Peralta, and the Brewers won three of four to take the series.
Milwaukee (24-17) is at Arizona (24-16) Monday night.
The first-place Brewers got a shot in the arm from Peralta, who threw 98 pitches (90 of them fastballs) to confound the Rockies. Before being called up Peralta led the Triple ‘A’ Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 46.
“He settled down after his first three pitches,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “After that he just kept getting better.”
Counsell seemed almost as if in awe.
Peralta’s 13 strikeouts were tied for the third-most by a rookie making his debut. Stephen Strasburg fanned 15 in 2010. Before that, powerful righty J.R. Richard of the Astros K’d 15 in 1971.
Aguilar was impressed with the 21-year-old’s debut.
“It was unbelievable,” he told MLB.com. “I’ve never seen their second baseman (D.J. LeMahieu) look like that, or (center fielder Charlie) Blackmon. They didn’t see the ball. It was unbelievable. Good for him. These guys are really good hitters, and he dominated, easy, with the fastball.”
Peralta came through with Anderson and Zach Davies both battling to get back from the DL.
Also, the Brewers’ bats came through, Saturday notwithstanding. Milwaukee’s eighth shutout this season – a 4-0 loss Saturday – ties last year’s season total.
Nevertheless, the Brewers won three of four at Colorado to move into first place in the National League Central.
Junior Guerra will open the series at Arizona, who has struggled of late while losing five straight games.
Milwaukee would be more than happy to extend that string.

MR. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK
Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their wonderful range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game now that the weather is cooperating.

With the 14th pick, the Packers select …Vea?

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Few declarative sentences will stir as much anxiety and anticipation as this one: “With the 14th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Packers select …”

The fans’ reaction depends upon Green Bay’s choice, of course.

If it’s a receiver they’ll raise eyebrows. If it’s an offensive lineman they’ll raise hell. If it’s a defensive stud they’ll raise their glasses to toast the new GM.

So who’s it going to be?

The checklist seems fairly straightforward.

The Packers’ greatest needs are a pass-rushing linebacker and a bookend for cornerback Kevin King.

That’s it.

The top two are Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.

The next-best two are Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Odds are Smith and Ward will be selected in the top 10. The cost to Green Bay – to move up from 14 to 7 – would be its first, second and third-round picks. That’s a high price to pay for a single player, as starter-ready and talented as he may be.

It is likely Edmunds and Fitzpatrick will be “top 12” selections.

The cost to Green Bay – to move up from 14 to 10 or 11 – would be its first- and third-round picks plus considerations such as current players (Brett Hundley?) and late-round picks.

If Edmunds somehow slides to 10, the Packers should seriously consider pulling the trigger on a trade to acquire him. He would provide immediate pass-rush help while offering a long-term alternative to Clay Matthews and/or Nick Perry.

Ultimately, the Packers will probably sit tight, consider how great life might be with Fitzpatrick and King at cornerback, and do a lot of praying.

Indeed, if Fitzpatrick is there, the Packers shouldn’t hesitate. They should take him and count their blessings.

Fitzpatrick is a top five talent that will be a Day One starter opposite King. The Packers’ defense has to face Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky six times each season.

Good luck stopping that without strong cover corners.

However, if Smith, Ward, Edmunds and Fitzpatrick are all off the board when the Packers are on the clock, the choice is easy: They should select Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.

The Packers’ defense needs disruptors.

Vea, at 6-foot-4, 347 pounds, is exactly that.

He is a powerful man who possesses a rare combination of size, speed and strength. His legs are compared with tree trunks. He is the immoveable object. His heart also appears to be in the right place because he plays with passion.

When Vea is compared to players, rather than trees, the name mentioned is the Eagles’ Haloti Ngata, which is high praise.

Imagine a 4-3 defense that’s front four includes Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Vea and Muhammad Wilkerson, with Dean Lowry available in the rotation.

Vea’s sheer strength and size allows him to collapse the pocket.

That enables the pass rush to work all the better.

Clearly, the Packers would need help at cornerback and outside linebacker if they did choose Vea.

The drop-off, or cliff, at cornerback comes after the top four: Ward, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, UCF’s Mike Hughes and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Ward’s a top five pick, while the others are perceived as really strong mid- to late-first round picks.

After that the best options are LSU’s Donte Jackson, who ran a 4.32 at the combine, and Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver.

Green Bay could select Vea at 14, trade back into the late-first round and still grab a starting-caliber cornerback.

Another scenario has Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry slipping into the 25-to-30 range, in which case Green Bay might be obliged to go that route and trade up.

Three outside linebackers the Packers should consider in the second round are South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard, Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter and USC’s Uchenna Nwosu.

All three would be upgrades to the front seven.

A receiver and an offensive lineman are in demand, too. Fortunately, the Packers can bolster both areas with quality players in the fourth round and beyond.

Look for the Packers to select Fitzpatrick if he’s there at 14.

If he’s not, they should select Vea with apologies to no one.

  1. GOLF’S GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give them a call to reserve time on the indoor simulator – a great way to beat the muddy blues.

Give Mr. Golf a call at 338-9535 or stop by and use the outdoor driving range to work out the winter kinks.

Bucks, Brewers cure for ‘Cabin Fever’ – sort of

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Those were my thoughts somewhere between Sunday’s umpteenth inch of record snowfall in Green Bay and the Bucks’ awesome second-quarter run against the Celtics.

About that time, the Brewers were taking a 2-1 lead on the Mets despite striking out an incredible eight straight times against New York’s ace right-hander, Noah Syndergaard.

For snowbound Wisconsin sports fans – especially those of the Bucks and Brewers – the noon starts were a godsend.

Obviously, the outcomes were especially disappointing.

The Bucks lost 113-107 in overtime despite Khris Middleton’s incredible 35-foot bomb with 0.5 seconds to make it 99-99 at the end of regulation. That came after the Celtics’ Terry Rozier feigned Eric Bledsoe out of his sneakers to nail a 3-point shot and give Boston a 99-96 lead with 0.5 to play.

Enter Middleton, who scored 31 points, as the Bucks’ big-shot maker. He nailed the 3-pointer and gave No. 7 seeded Milwaukee hope in its opener at No. 2 seed Boston.

That’s when the Celtics’ defense clamped down, the Bucks cooled off and Boston corralled its late victory.

The question is this: Are Bucks fans encouraged by the team’s second-half rally and late comeback? Or are they discouraged because the Bucks had a real chance to win and let it get away?

Frankly, the Bucks were fortunate to take it into overtime.

They committed 20 turnovers and were outscored 22-4 on second-chance points. They played better-than-I-expected defense, but when it mattered most Jayson Tatum hit the huge through-the-lane, over-the-head left-handed prayer that went in, and Al Horford played like a man on a mission.

Rozier’s 3-pointer was typical of the day. When the Celtics needed a big basket they got it.

Tonight, I suspect things will be different.

Markus Morris can’t possibly be as hot as he was Sunday. He could’ve made shots blindfolded. Also, the Celtics got too many second-chance points, which surely was a point of emphasis for the Bucks between then and now.

Furthermore, I can’t imagine Jabari Parker playing only 15 minutes. The Bucks can’t beat the Celtics in a seven-game series without Parker’s offense, especially the 3-point shot and slashing drives to the basket.

The Bucks will get Boston’s best shot early. It’s going to require an active Giannis, a much-better Bledsoe and Parker to stave it off, regroup and go on to register an upset.

It’s possible.

My two greatest takeaways from Sunday’s Bucks loss:

** No. 1 – They were way too sloppy to beat almost anyone.

** No. 2 – The Bucks are the more-talented team and should – that’s right – should win this series.

Tonight’s final: Milwaukee 102, Boston 99

The Brewers, 8-9, need to keep treading water until they get healthy and find a way to add another starting pitcher.

Brent Suter and Junior Guerra don’t appear to have what it takes to go deep into games (six innings or beyond) as a starter. I like Guerra’s chances better than Suter’s because his split-finger fastball – when it’s right – is the equalizer against left-handed hitters. Suter is incredibly effective getting out left-handed batters, which is why opposing managers stack their lineup with right-handed hitters against him.

Suter is better-suited to being a situational lefty out of the pen.

On another topic, manager Craig Counsel needs to understand that five innings out of Jhoulys Chacin is a bonus. The pitcher appears dreadfully out of shape, and his half-hearted jog to first base on a ball hit in the hole at shortstop – he was thrown out by a half-step – was regrettable. The Brewers had the go-ahead runner on third base at the time.

Also, it’s time that Jesus Aguilar becomes the full-time starting first baseman. The platoon with Eric Thames is hurting Milwaukee at the plate and in the field.

It’s not even so much that Thames (five home runs) is playing poorly, but rather Aguilar always hits, is a superior defensive first baseman and has more than enough power.

 

  1. GOLF’S “GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK”

Stop by Mr. Golf on Green Bay’s east side located just off GV where they have great deals on golf clubs, shoes and apparel.

Say hello to Jeff and tell him “Havel” sent you.

The tip this week is to be patient, continue to do flexibility and strength exercises, and create a check-list of goals this golf season. So often we seek to improve, but where are we trying to take our game? Without a plan the odds for success go way down.

At Mr. Golf, Jeff will help you create a plan to get your golf game in tip-top shape by the time the Green Bay-area weather cooperates.

Brace for Brewers,
Bucks & NFL draft
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Villanova did it in dominant fashion. Notre Dame did it on a last-second shot.
Both were incredibly fun to watch.
Congratulations to the Wildcats and the Lady Irish on capturing NCAA basketball championships this weekend. A very special mention goes to Milwaukee native Arike Ogunbowale, who hit the game-winners against UConn and Mississippi State.
It capped off a crazy men’s tournament that saw top seed Virginia and its terrific coach, Tony Bennett, fall to the 16th seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. It also featured the ascension of Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean in what became the tournament’s top storyline.
Bennett, the AP’s Coach of the Year, will be fine. The 2017-18 Ramblers and Sister Jean will be immortalized, right along with the Retrievers, if only in Baltimore and Chicago, respectively.
Meantime, a potentially epic Master’s waits to tee off Thursday.
Tiger Woods chipped in for eagle during his practice round, perhaps an ominous foreshadowing for the rest of the field. Then again, the rest of the field looks pretty capable. Phil Mickelson is swinging it, Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler are hungry and Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and others are eager to tee it up.
That leaves the Bucks, who continue to founder, and the Brewers, who ate up the Padres for three straight wins before choking on dessert (aka St. Louis) in the home opener.
The Bucks’ flashes of first-rate play are routinely interrupted by lengthy lapses unbefitting this team. Giannis and the Bucks are fun to watch, to be sure, but don’t expect much this post-season.
The defense is too inconsistent, the offense is too loose and current head coach Joe Prunty will be gone at season’s end.
The Brewers’ fortunes are much brighter.
Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich are a dynamic duo at the top of the batting order. In fact, Cain, Yelich, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana are as potent a top five as any in all of the National League.
Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Matt Albers all have thrown it well out of the bullpen. The staff’s ace, Chase Anderson, was excellent in a one-hit, six-inning no decision at San Diego. Anderson will be looking for his first win tonight in the Brewers’ second game against St. Louis at Miller Park.
Oh, by the way, there is also this event called the NFL Draft April 26-28. The Packers, who have been successful in free agency, are doing their due diligence as the draft draws near.
It was interesting to hear GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Mike McCarthy discussing the team’s efforts in free agency.
Both seem pleased with the acquisitions of DeShone Kizer, Mo Wilkerson, Jimmy Graham, Tramon Williams and improved draft position in the fourth and fifth rounds.
I can’t say that I blame them for being pleased.
Graham’s impact on Green Bay’s offense is flying under the radar. The fact is it can’t be overstated. Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for an NFL-high 38 touchdowns last season. Ten of those went to Graham, who seems to be on every Seattle highlight that doesn’t feature the Seahawks’ defense.
Graham is going to have Packers’ fans singing Gutekunst’s praises for signing him and McCarthy’s for feeding him. This isn’t going to be Martellus Bennett 2.0.
It doesn’t mean they’re going to rest on any laurels. That’s hardly the case given the sense of urgency and commitment shown by both men in terms of upgrading the Packers’ roster.
Gutekunst and McCarthy are under no allusions.
They know all the work that needs to be done in Green Bay, and obviously they’re paying attention to significant upgrades made by the rest of the NFC North.
While the GM and coach keep working, the rest of us can sit back, enjoy the Master’s and the Brewers, and count the days until the NFL draft.

MR. GOLF’S “GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK”

I have been disciplined about going to Mr. Golf’s driving range this spring. I have made at least 10 visits to the driving range, which is more than twice as many as all of last season.
The benefit is that my swing truly looks and feels better than it has in years. The problem is while my mind is willing, and I’m making the effort to practice, my body is saying, “Whoa!”
This week’s tip is simple: Make an effort to increase your strength, flexibility and endurance. PGA.com professionals can’t overstate the importance of getting your body right, too.
The trouble (excuse) is that there isn’t enough time.
If that’s the case, focus on increased flexibility. Go to PGA.com or merely Google the words “golf exercises” and you’ll have plenty of ammo to work with. Now you’ve got to get to it!

Golf Fitness Tip
Of the three major components of fitness (strength, endurance and flexibility) flexibility is probably the most important for having a powerful and effective golf swing. A good way to develop flexibility is Yoga. Take a class or even get a book. It will make a big difference in your game, especially in the long term. It will also help you with your overall fitness and general health. (Hey, that sounds good!)
Yoga Book for Golfers
Yoga Video for Golfers
Find a Yoga Instructor
I’ve been doing regular stretching since 1976 (…wish I would have started earlier! ), on the average of at least 5 days per week. If I could only afford the time for one type of exercise stretching or Yoga would be it — not because I’m a California weirdo, but because it is the one that has the most noticeable positive impact on my game and the way I feel, physically and mentally. Continue below for more suggestions.

CB leapfrogs DE as

Packers’ No. 1 need

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s free-agent cornerback pool has effectively dried up.

Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Tyrann Mathieu, Mo Claiborne and Rashaan Melvin are among the biggest names to get big pay-days with new teams.

The Packers aren’t among them.

That’s despite the fact that Green Bay’s first-year GM, Brian Gutekunst, has been extraordinarily active this offseason.

The Packers traded cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland for quarterback DeShone Kizer and improved draft positioning.

They also signed tight end Jimmy Graham, an impact player on offense, to give Aaron Rodgers a dynamic red-zone weapon. In addition, they added Muhammad Wilkerson to shore up their defensive front. Wilkerson, a veteran who brings toughness, immediately improves the Packers’ rotation at defensive end.

Despite the obvious upgrades at tight end, backup quarterback, defensive end and draft positioning, fans shrug and say, “Yeah, but what about cornerback?”

What about cornerback?

The Packers currently have Kevin King, Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters and a couple of other unknowns.

Clearly, they are going to add to and upgrade the position between now and the start of training camp.

The question is how?

Veteran E.J. Gaines, formerly of the Bills, reportedly plans to visit the Arizona Cardinals. Another veteran, Delvin Breaux, reportedly plans to visit the Denver Broncos. Gaines, a sixth-round pick in 2014, has just three career interceptions. Breaux, who had a strong 2015 season in New Orleans, has suffered with back-to-back broken fibulas each of the past two seasons.

But despite these causes for concern, one or both could be off the market by the time this is published.

Bashaud Breeland, formerly of the Redskins, reportedly received interest from Green Bay before signing with Carolina (and subsequently failing his physical). Breeland remains a free agent, but reports indicate it could be several months before he recovers from a ATV accident and is able to pass a physical.

The Packers signed Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet on Friday. The Bears had five days to match. They took five minutes, or so it seemed, to elect to pay Fuller big money.

At least the Packers are aware of the holes at cornerback, and are trying to explore all avenues to plug them.

The best guess here is this: The Packers add a veteran cornerback or two (how about Tramon Williams and Davon House)?

The Packers also will draft an edge pass rusher at No. 14 plus two cornerbacks and a receiver among their next three selections. They are positioned to make that happen with top 100 prospects.

The Packers’ fans have their fingers crossed.

  1. GOLF’S “GOLF TIP OF THE WEEK”

(From the PGA.com website)

How to choose a golf instructor?

By John Hughes, PGA

The programs the men and women of the PGA or LPGA complete are intense, include first-hand experiences over a longer course of time, and are constantly required by the organizations to re-educate themselves on a regular basis.     When seeking a golf professional to help you with your game, insure that the individual has an active accreditation with the PGA or LPGA, or another accreditation association that places more value on education over a longer period of time, versus just a couple of weeks of training.  Be sure the instructor is remaining active in the association he or she belongs to and is constantly educating themselves on the latest innovations of technology and instructional methodology.  And most important is to be sure that the instructor has a history of creating positive results for the clients he or she serves.

No matter what affiliation of accrediting association the instructor is part of, asking for and receiving references from the instructor is a great way to confirm if this is the instructor for you.

To find an instructor near you, please visit PGA.com and enter your zip code.

Packers sign Graham,

Mo; say bye to Jordy

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers mean business.

That’s the overriding message as the NFL’s free agent-signing period opened today, with Green Bay acquiring Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson to lead the way.

The Packers’ defense improved significantly especially if Wilkerson can reclaim his pass rush-ability that he flashed with the Jets. Wilkerson (6-4, 280) gives Green Bay a formidable front with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.

Furthermore, I expect the Packers to add at least more two cornerbacks in the draft, one cornerback in free agency, an edge rusher in the draft and free agency, and a receiver in the draft.

Early Tuesday, the Vikings reportedly agreed with quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84-million guaranteed contract, while the Bears landed receiver Allen Robinson on a major deal.

Meantime, Green Bay’s “aggressive” new regime had done nothing. That left the Packers and their fans to fear the worst: new GM Brian Gutekunst – despite what I have been saying on The FAN – is Ted Thompson 2.0!

All I can text is OMG.

Or, I suppose, “I told you so!”

Gutekunst is his own GM. He has had a front row-seat to “The Best & Worst” of the Packers under Thompson. It appears to me he has embraced the best, discarded the worst, and adopted his own overarching principles and beliefs to run the show here.

If there’s a GM in recent memory – Packers or otherwise – that has been this impressive, this soon, I can’t recall.

Wilkerson gives stability and credibility to the defensive line.

Graham makes the offense deadly in the red zone.

Graham, the 6-foot-7, 266-pound tight end, reportedly was in talks with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he signed. Apparently, the future HOF quarterback wasn’t leaving anything to chance, or perhaps the new front office encouraged his recruitment of a top-end talent at a position of need?

That’s purely speculation, but whatever the means the end result is that Graham is the weapon the Packers’ offense has sorely needed for far too long.

He can move the chains, stretch the defense and attack in the red zone. Last year, he caught 15 of 24 red-zone targets for 10 touchdowns in Seattle. If he can continue to play at that pace, and with Rodgers at quarterback it’s more likely he’ll be even better, the Packers have acquired a big-time offensive weapon.

This is the team’s most explosive tight end since an aging Keith Jackson, or perhaps the speedy Jackie Harris, or maybe the ultra-dangerous Jermichael Finley.

Whomever he compares with, it’s sure to be favorably.

The Packers’ other momentous roster move Tuesday was the release of surefire team Hall of Fame receiver Jordy Nelson.

One of the Packers’ all-time greats, Nelson’s $10.25 million contract became too much to absorb this season. Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy alluded to this move in his post-season remarks at the combine when he suggested Nelson and Cobb weren’t quite the same players they once were.

Nelson ranks third in Packers’ history with 550 catches, fifth in receiving yards (7,848) and second in touchdowns (69). Rodgers and Nelson teamed up for 65 touchdowns, surpassing the team record of Brett Favre-to-Antonio Freeman for 58 touchdowns.

Now, it’s up to Graham to replicate the mojo Rodgers shared with Nelson, and Wilkerson is being paid to be a nasty lead dog on the newly revamped defense.

That’s a terrific day’s work for Gutekunst.

And free agency is just beginning.

 

Packers trade Randall

to Browns for Kizer

By Chris Havel

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers capped the NFL’s crazy, carousel-like week Friday by taking a spin of their own.

Green Bay sent cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland in exchange for quarterback DeShone Kizer. The Packers and Browns also swapped their fourth- and fifth-round picks, meaning Green Bay chooses first in each of those rounds.

Almost as an aside, ex-Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson made a free-agent visit to Green Bay before going ahead with planned visits with New Orleans and Oakland.

Meantime, Packers first-year GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Mike McCarthy presented a unified front this week.

The key conclusions to draw:

** No. 1 – It is clear the Packers ARE going to be players in free agency. Whether or not they sign Wilkerson doesn’t change the fact that they brought a quality player in BEFORE free agency. The Packers’ 53-man roster for 2018 is far from set.

Before fans criticize the Packers for trading Randall they would be wise to wait for the other cleat to drop. Who knows? Perhaps ex-Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will read David Bakhtiari’s tweet for help and come to Green Bay.

If you think there’s no way, you haven’t been paying attention. Whether it’s Sherman or another cornerback help is on the way.

** No. 2 – The Packers aren’t going to suffer players that tend to be disruptive finger-pointers (see Randall).

McCarthy made his displeasure with Randall clear last season. He benched the cornerback in Week 4 against the Bears and had him removed from the sideline in the second half.

Randall appeared to get the message.

He picked off a pass in three straight games and finished with a team-high four interceptions. Then he sat out the final two games with a knee injury and according to ESPN reports, some within the team felt he could have played through the injury.

The topper was Randall’s criticism of ex-defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was fired after the season. It prompted McCarthy to share this after the season:

“I’ll tell you what I told Damarious: He needs to focus on himself. He’s got to clean his own house. That’s what I look for him to do in the offseason. We all understand what happened in the Chicago game, but I thought from the Chicago game on, he played at a very high level. He probably played the best football of his career, but then he didn’t play the last two games.

“He needs to go home and self-evaluate and clean his own house. We all need to clean our own house.”

It turns out McCarthy’s own housecleaning included Randall. Now Randall can clean his new house in Cleveland.

** No. 3 – Gutekunst isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. I won’t be stunned if he continues to use trades as an avenue to upgrade the roster. It seems to be the wave in the NFL right now.

Frankly, the first-year GM is doing what strong GM’s should do by supplying the coach with players best-suited to win a title.

Clearly, McCarthy’s patience with Randall had run out.

What the head coach perceived as a distraction, the GM perceived as a means to upgrade in three ways.

First, he sent Randall packing, which also reinforced this message to the team: The GM is going to support his head coach in terms of not keeping a player he may not want.

That’s significant.

Second, Gutekunst leapfrogged a total of 25 draft picks by swapping spots with Cleveland. Gutekunst still has 12 draft picks, but he now holds four of top 101, plus the first pick in the fourth round when the NFL Draft’s Day 3 kicks off.

That means Green Bay will have all night to decide which player still on the entire board is best-suited to help them. It also means other teams will have all night and the next day until 11 a.m. to also draw their conclusions and perhaps come calling.

Third, Gutekunst heard McCarthy’s plea for help at backup quarterback and responded in a big way.

Please don’t confuse DeShone Kizer with Brett Hundley.

Kizer starred at Notre Dame, was the 52nd player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, and played OK given the almost impossible, trial-by-fire situation he faced as a rookie on the worst team.

Hundley had three years in the system and looked lost at times.

Kizer, who just turned 22 in January, started 15 games at Cleveland last season. That alone deserves a meritorious achievement award.

He was sacked 38 times (eighth-most) and constantly under pressure. His quarterback rating of 60.5 was bad, and his league-high 22 interceptions were even worse.

However, he still threw for 11 touchdowns and 2,894 yards while keeping the Browns competitive in numerous games.

I expect Kizer to outplay Hundley in training camp, although that presumes Hundley will be here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hundley is part of a draft-weekend trade.

Hundley was 3-6 as a starter, but twice needed overtime to win, and that against NFL weaklings Cleveland and Tampa Bay.

When Aaron Rodgers griped about HIS quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, being let go he forgot about Hundley’s apparently substandard preparation as well as performance.

That was on Van Pelt.

Ultimately, the Randall trade creates a temporary void in the Packers’ defensive secondary.

They have Kevin King, Quinten Rollins returning from Achilles surgery, and Lenzy Pipkins and Josh Hawkins. Whether Davon House will be back after his one-year deal expired is unknown.

That’s it at cornerback.

I should clarify: That’s it for now. Give it a few days.

Free agency hasn’t even officially begun yet.

Brewers keep rolling;

No NCAAs for Bucky

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The question speaks to both the promise and potential for Wisconsin’s sports fans: Which of the in-state teams will best-satisfy their fans’ fondest wishes this year?

It merits debate between the Packers, Badgers (football and basketball), Brewers and Bucks.

Historically, the easy answer has been, “The Packers.”

So long as Green Bay has its front office and head coach in place, and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers have to be considered a legitimate threat to go deep into the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Packers are coming off a 7-9 season.

Reality bit as the Vikings’ Anthony Barr KO’d Rodgers to effectively end Green Bay’s season on Oct. 15. Many might’ve suspected as much, but watching the “worst-case scenario” unfold was a brutal dose of reality.

There was only one logical conclusion. The Packers’ roster needs work. In fact, it needs lots of work.

The Packers’ frenetic-but-necessary offseason of change gives hope that Green Bay will recapture its place among the NFC’s elite, but as last season proved there are no guarantees.

A championship is possible for the Packers, I suppose, but right now an NFC North Division title looks like it’ll require a whole lot of heavy lifting. I’ll have to see the draft and free agency before I can honestly say I think Green Bay is up to the task.

The Badgers’ football team is another story.

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst led the Badgers to one of their finest seasons in history. While Wisconsin missed its chance to participate in the College Football Playoffs, it did finish on a strong note by hammering the Hurricanes, 34-24, in Miami, to close the season.

Jonathan Taylor is one of the top running backs in the nation, and he’ll be working behind what is annually one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten, if not the nation.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to find consistency. If that happens, and the defense can replenish its depth chart (it should be able to), the Badgers should be a serious playoff contender.

To me, the Wisconsin football team has the best chance to make its fans drunk with delight.

The Badgers’ basketball team is a close second. In the past month, I have come to regard head coach Greg Gard as one of the finest around. He took an injury-ravaged, senior-absent team with a target on its jerseys and made it better.

In fact, he made it a lot better.

Wisconsin (15-18) won four of five down the stretch by riding Ethan Happ, Brad Davison and a determined group around them. The Badgers’ Big Ten Conference Tournament win over Maryland was impressive, followed by a rugged 63-60 loss to the eventual NCAA Champion Michigan State Spartans.

With D’mitric Trice, Kobe King and Trevor Anderson being available next season, the Badgers should be a Top 4 team in the Big Ten, and a surefire NCAA Tournament qualifier.

I think the Brewers are going to win more than the 86 games they did a year ago.

Why?

Let me count the ways: ** No. 1 – They are significantly better defensively.

The outfield added Gold Glove athletes in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Shortstop Orlando Arcia is going be better defensively with an entire big-league season under his belt. Already, he ranks among the most sensational shortstops.

** No. 2 – The pitchers and catchers have had a season together. Manny Pina, Stephen Vogt and Jett Bandy have worked, at one time or another, with Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff and the rest.

It also matters with the relievers, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel, when late-inning jams leave no room for miscommunication.

** No. 3 – The hitters have shown exceptional plate discipline. I realize that it comes and goes, but the Brewers appear to take each at-bat seriously. That comes from having keen competition. There are several key jobs up for grabs (second base, first base, etc.) and the bats likely will decide who starts and who doesn’t.

** No. 4 – I know it’s early, but Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have looked strong thus far. That’s not surprising. However, the sharp early showings of Yo Gallardo and Junior Guerra do qualify as pleasant surprises.

Gallardo’s velocity is back in the low-to-mid ‘90s, which is plenty fast enough for him to be effective.

Guerra, you may recall, was the Brewers’ Opening Day starter who injured himself trying to get out of the batter’s box. Guerra’s season played out the like opener: It was a disaster.

The good news is Guerra’s velocity and control have returned – he threw 22 strikes on 24 pitches the other day. He also had three strikeouts and is positioning himself to win a spot in the rotation.

Then there is the Milwaukee Bucks, a team guaranteed to make you leap off the couch and shout superlatives and/or epithets with equal regularity.

The Bucks can be great and awful all on the same possession.

Right now, it appears Milwaukee is trying to be too cute on the offensive end, while leaving the dirty jobs undone.

The rebounding is atrocious. Turnovers have come too common. Tough defense is left for only the most crucial moments, which lately has been code for “too little, too late.”

The Bucks have great potential this post-season, but I’m not sure they’re gritty enough to battle the big boys.

There you have it: The Badgers’ football team, followed by the Packers and Badgers basketball as the teams most likely to have terrific 2018 seasons.

That, of course, means the Bucks will go deep into May, and the Brewers will win 92 games.

Brewers’ bats busy;

Bucks inconsistent

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s suddenly become a busy sports week, what with the Packers preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and the Badgers bracing for Maryland in Thursday’s first round of the Big Ten Conference basketball tournament.

First-year GM Brian Gutekunst’s news conference Wednesday in Indianapolis will be of great interest. I’m curious to learn how far he will go in discussing his team’s philosophy in terms of player acquisition.

Gutekunst has said the Packers will be thorough in researching potential free-agent acquisitions. That way, if a player becomes available, they won’t have to hesitate to make the deal.

The resurgent Badgers gave top seed Michigan State a bit of a scare in a 68-63 loss in Sunday’s Big Ten regular-season finale.

The Badgers tackle Maryland in the first round with the winner facing top seed Michigan State in Friday’s quarterfinals. I predict Wisconsin KO’s the Terps before being eliminated by the eventual NCAA Champions.

Meantime, the Brewers’ bats are banging away in spring training while the Bucks are spinning their wheels down the stretch.

The Brewers, 3-1 in Cactus League play, have been strong at the plate at the outset.

They outlasted the Cleveland Indians 7-6 on Monday in a game that featured Hernan Perez driving in a pair of runs while Keon Broxton and Jesus Aguilar had two hits each.

Last week, I tuned in to see Eric Sogard line a triple to right field, and Jonathan Villar drive a double off the fence in left.

Let the competition at second base – which also means at the plate – begin between Perez, Sogard and Villar.

Even Ryan Braun could get into the act: His assorted baseball gloves for this season arrived from Wilson. They included an infielder’s glove in case Braun gets time at second base.

Chase Anderson pitches Tuesday for the Brewers, the latest expected to throw an inning while knocking the rust off.

It’s only 30 days until the Brewers’ opener at San Diego. Between now and then, Anderson and Zach Davies need to be ready to go in order for Milwaukee to get off to a decent start.

Milwaukee’s Bucks are trying to start fast during the stretch run. They opened with an impressive overtime victory at Toronto, which came into the game as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

Giannis has been amazing and the Bucks’ ball movement and defense were outstanding against the Raptors. It carried over for one half into the New Orleans game Sunday, with the Bucks leading 66-49 at the half.

The Pelicans promptly erased the entire deficit and went on to beat the Bucks, who are 33-26 with 23 games to play.

Milwaukee’s interim head coach, Joe Prunty, has the Bucks on the right path. Jabari Parker’s return has been significant and his role will continue to grow in the coming weeks. By the playoffs, Parker will be a player for opponents to reckon with.

While Tyler Zeller is finding his way, Khris Middleton is finding his range. Middleton has been shooting the lights out, and Eric Bledsoe seems to be more comfortable each night out.

The Brewers’ outlook is sunny and the Bucks are at least more interesting than they’ve been in recent memory.

Packers face key calls;

Brewers’ outlook sunny

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – This is the quote/unquote “Dead Zone” on the 2018 sports calendar.

The Daytona 500 has come and gone, the Eagles clinched Super Bowl LII and NCAA men’s and women’s basketball is still awaiting the conference tournaments and March Chaos.

The NHL and NBA playoff chases haven’t truly begun in earnest, while Major League Baseball teams are a still days away from spring training games.

The NFL’s offseason hasn’t started yet.

Free agency is still in its early stages, while the NFL scouting combine hasn’t been held yet.

It begs the question, “So what’s there to talk about?” My answer: Are you kidding me? There’s always more to talk about than time to cover it.

Let’s start with the Packers and free agency.

The name that should make Packers’ fans leap with joy is Jimmy Graham. The 6-7, 265-pound tight end is going to be a hot commodity in free agency, with teams such as New England (if Rob Gronkowski does indeed retire), the Houston Texans (whose WR, DeAndre Hopkins, has already started recruiting the TE on Instragram), the New Orleans Saints (who have $32 million beneath the cap) and of course the Packers.

Graham would be a perfect fit.

He caught 56 passes for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns last season in Seattle. He isn’t quite the deep threat that he used to be with his 4.53-second 40-yard dash time out of college, but he is a deadly weapon in the red zone and over the middle.

Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst said he plans to be in on every available player, including free agents. He can send a strong message by courting Graham and perhaps signing him.

I’m certain Aaron Rodgers would be on board.

If the Packers sign Graham, extend Rodgers and add a veteran offensive tackle and edge pass rusher in free agency, it would set them up sweet for the April 26-28 NFL Draft.

Beyond impending free agency and dreaming big, the state’s sports fans have been treated to some unexpected but much welcomed strong play by the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s 73-63 victory in overtime Monday night at the Kohl Center wasn’t always pretty, but it ended beautifully. It was Wisconsin’s second straight win and assured the Badgers of being no worse than a No. 10 seed going into the Big Ten Conference Tournament.

On the heels of the Badgers’ 57-53 upset of sixth-ranked Purdue last week, it appears head coach Greg Gard has his team playing defense much more to his liking.

Wisconsin held the Golden Gophers to zero field goals in the final 5:56 of regulation. It allowed the Badgers to overcome what at one point appeared to be an insurmountable deficit. Wisconsin closed on a 22-5 run to seal it after trailing 58-51 with less than six minutes to play.

Ethan Happ had a modest 10 points and four rebounds, but his five assists out of double teams – coupled with Brad Davison’s and Brevin Pritzl’s 3-point shooting saved the day.

Today, Marques and I will talk Badgers with the great Matt Lepay, which is always a treat for us and the listeners.

We’ll also have heavy-duty Bucks talk as the Giannis-led Milwaukee squad heads into its 25-game stretch run. Milwaukee has been a pleasant surprise since Joe Prunty took over for Jason Kidd as interim head coach.

The Bucks have responded by playing much stouter defense, and the return of Jabari Parker and the addition of big-bodied Tyler Zeller have taken some rebounding-interior defense pressure from the rest of the squad.

I’ll be disappointed if the Bucks don’t finish 15-10 or better down the stretch. They’ve had time to relax and come together under Prunty, and they should be able to maximize the return of Parker, the addition of Zeller, and the chemistry that has been built between Eric Bledsoe and his teammates.

A glance at the rest of this week:

** Thursday: The Packers and free agency have been strange and rare dance partners. Who will be available in terms of “realistically” being pursued by the Packers? It’s a question of how much money the Packers will spend.

We’ll discuss the Packers’ best options.

** Friday: Our “Badger Breakdown” segment with Andy Coppens will focus on the Big Ten Conference tournament in, of all places, New York’s Madison Square Garden.

 

Eagles’ Pederson

MVP of SB LII

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the Eagles and their fans joyously parade through the streets of Philadelphia let’s sift through the Super Bowl II confetti for a few tidbits, nuggets and leftovers …

** The Eagles’ 41-33 victory over New England at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis signals the NFC’s resurgence.

It is the stronger, deeper conference in every way.

It boasts the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.

It features the lion’s share of the best and brightest quarterbacks, both young and old alike. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and a QB to be named (DeShaun Watson, perhaps?) doesn’t quite compare with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garappolo, not to mention Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff and the Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles.

The Patriots have ruled the NFL roost forever.

But the loss to the Eagles had a ring of finality, and truth, to it.

New England’s dynamic duo of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady is the next-greatest tandem this side of Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr.

But even the great “Glory Years” Packers faded into folklore.

For the Patriots to reach eight Super Bowls in 17 seasons is ridiculous. To win five of the eight is amazing.

To sustain it for much longer is impossible.

Perhaps the Patriots get to one more Super Bowl with Belichick and Brady, but I doubt it. If it does happen, it’ll be as much about a weak AFC as it is a dominant Patriots team.

** The obvious question, in terms of the NFC’s return to power, is this: Where does it leave the Packers?

ESPN’s “way-too-early” power rankings have the Vikings fourth, the Packers eighth, the Lions 20th and the Bears 31st.

Green Bay’s offseason stands as recognition that significant changes needed to be made. It would’ve been irresponsible for the Packers hold tight while the rest of the NFC’s best swept past like they’re standing still.

President Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst, head coach Mike McCarthy and the rest need to be at the top of their game.

This is as pivotal and vital offseason as I can remember.

On Monday’s edition of Sports Line, Harry Sydney and I compared the Eagles’ and Packers’ opening rosters for the 2017 season. The gap was considerably in favor of the Eagles then, just as it is now.

Green Bay’s defense especially didn’t have nearly the horses that Philadelphia had to run the race.

That needs to change beginning with free agency.

At least two position units must be overhauled with significant help via free agency: The tight ends and the receivers. A lineup of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams isn’t reliable enough to believe it can be trusted an entire season.

Age, injury history and recent performance are factors that weigh against the Packers’ previously brilliant WR trio.

Now, Adams (and his concussion history), are all that stand between Aaron Rodgers and next-to-nothing to target.

Drafting a tight end within the first four rounds would be a logical move, but even that wouldn’t be enough to buoy the position group. Right now, it’s Richard Rodgers and nothing.

** Doug Pederson, who was Brett Favre’s understudy for seven seasons in Green Bay, turned in a brilliant coaching performance. If coaches could be the game’s MVP, Pederson would deserve thoughtful consideration.

Pederson’s gutsy 4th-and-1 decisions to go for it are ready examples of tremendous preparation, trust and execution. The Eagles’ head coach conveyed a calm, cool confidence that seemed born out of great faith in his program.

His aggressive play-calling resonated with Philadelphia fans and had some Packers’ fans wanting to see McCarthy be that forceful with his play calling.

The reality is Pederson’s personnel are much better right now.

The offensive line lost its best player in left tackle Jason Peters, and still out-played everyone including the Patriots.

The linebackers lost Jordan Hicks, their play-caller on defense, and still were able to close out New England.

Then, Wentz went down for the season.

Nobody panicked. They merely picked up the pace.

Foles stepped in, worked through a brief adjustment period, and led the Eagles to their first championship in 57 years.

Pederson kept it rolling along throughout.

To those who worked with him during his seven seasons in Green Bay, his performance in Super Bowl LII wasn’t a surprise.

In 2006, Sherman Lewis and Gilbert Brown talked about Pederson’s role as backup QB on the Super Bowl XXXI winner. Those comments were made in the book, “A Year of Champions: The 1996 Green Bay Packers.”

Lewis described Pederson as extremely confident and a natural born leader, great attributes to have as a head coach.

“Doug showed he has outstanding leadership qualities,” Lewis said. “He showed the staff he can move the team and win. He’s got a nice presence about him in the huddle. In addition, he has a good strong arm with the ability to throw on the run.”

Brown appreciated Pederson’s professionalism.

“A pro’s pro,” Brown said. “Doug understood the game as well as anybody, and he used that knowledge to help Brett and the offense in every way possible. He didn’t get much attention, but he didn’t need any. He was great in the locker room.”

In his quiet, understated way, Pederson was a vital resource to Packers’ head coach Mike Holmgren, Favre and the offense.

Clearly, Pederson was paying attention to everything going on.

Today, he stands as one of the NFL’s top head coaches, and his Eagles appear on the brink of a successful run.

The torch has been passed.

** For what it’s worth, I picked the Eagles 27-24, which covered both the spread (Eagles plus 4 ½ and the over/under 48), which puts me at 2-0 on the year.

Going forward with Hangin’ with Havel, I’m going to include a “rock solid lock” pick of the day.

Today’s game: Bucks (29-23) at Knicks (23-31)

Milwaukee, a two-point favorite, has won six of its last seven since ex-coach Jason Kidd’s firing. That includes a 92-90 nail-biter over the Knicks Friday night in Milwaukee.

Giannis sprained his ankle late in the game, but sounded hopeful that he’d be available for tonight’s game.

My pick: Bucks to win by 3 and cover.

Rooting for Eagles

easy call in SB LII

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It isn’t often that my head and heart actually agree with one another.

Super Bowl LII happens to be one of those moments.

Only a fool would bet against New England’s mythical head coach, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots’ ageless wonder at quarterback, Tom Brady.

OK, I’m a fool.

The Patriots are gunning for their third Super Bowl title in four seasons. That’s the stuff of greatness … the 1960’s Packers, 1970’s Steelers, 1980’s 49ers, 1990’s Cowboys … and so forth.

Standing in New England’s way is Philadelphia, the NFC’s No. 1 seed in name only according to many going into the playoffs. The Eagles are led by a second-year head coach, a backup quarterback and a defense that is too headstrong, too stubborn, too resilient, to realize when it’s finally met its match.

That’s OK because head coach Doug Pederson has been unflappable thus far, Nick Foles has been exceptional and the defense has been terrific.

Good for Philadelphia.

If anyone is able to stand up to the Patriots it’s a team that has had to endure a fair share of adversity to get here. The Eagles most assuredly qualify.

Injuries claimed Jason Peters, one of the NFL’s top left tackles, elusive third-down back Darren Sproles, and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks. All of that occurred before the Eagles lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz’s season-ending knee injury led to Nick Foles’ taking over at quarterback.

After a so-so start, Foles got comfortable and confident. He’s completing an unheard of 77.8 percent of his passes (49 of 63) in the post-season, many coming on RPO’s (Run-Pass Options).

He has three touchdowns and zero interceptions in victories over the Falcons (15-10) and Vikings (38-7).

Jay Ajayi, the lead running back, is a tough, no-nonsense ball carrier. He is perfect for big games and the spotlight because he doesn’t over-think it. He takes the toss or handoff, slides to a crease and then hits it.

Ajayi doesn’t shy away from contact and gets stronger as the game wears on. The Falcons had nothing like him to milk clock and salt away a 28-3 lead on the Patriots last year.

Legarette Blount is a goal-line and short-yardage banger, while ex-Wisconsin back Corey Clement is athletic and effective either between the tackles or as a receiver out of the backfield.

Eagles’ center Jason Kelce – brother to Travis Kelce of the Chiefs – is the best in the business. He should be able to neutralize much of what the Patriots’ defense tries to do in terms of pre-snap adjustments.

He’s also terrific sideline-to-sideline always hunting blocks, and he gets to the second level in a hurry.

Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Ertz lead a deep and capable receiving corps (wide outs and tight ends).

Then there’s the Eagles’ defense.

Philadelphia has given up a total of 17 points in two playoff games. The Falcons and Vikings were expected to put up that many points each in a single half.

Fletcher Cox is a man-eater in the heart of the defensive line. His supporting cast is active, relentless and well-oiled. The secondary is capable, especially if the Patriots’ wondrous tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is slowed by injuries.

In the end, I get why the Patriots are favored by 4 ½ points.

It’s New England. It’s the hoodie. It’s Tom Brady.

All that said, I’m going with the Eagles to win, 27-24, in what’s certain to be a thriller.

Ex-Badgers’ RBs in

SB LII limelight

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Corey Clement and James White find themselves in the center of the NFL universe this week.

The ex-Badgers’ running backs will play key roles in Super Bowl LII – White with New England and Clement with Philadelphia. The two “quote/unquote” third down backs are critical to their teams’ offensive success in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

While both starred at Wisconsin, Clement and White have taken different paths en route to their NFL success.

White was the Big Ten’s 2010 “Freshman of the Year” and had a strong college career despite splitting time with John Clay, Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball.

Because of that, perhaps, White slid to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He felt his way, learned the Patriots’ way, and continued to develop his first two seasons.

Last year, he capped a strong showing with a superlative Super Bowl LI performance. He set the Super Bowl records for most receptions (14) while scoring three touchdowns, including the first one scored in overtime in NFL history.

Clement, 5-10, 220, was part of the most successful class in Wisconsin football history (41-13). He finished eighth in career rushing average (5.4) and ninth in rushing touchdowns (36).

As a rookie in Philadelphia, Clement’s size and strength enabled him to be a competent ball carrier between the tackles, while his speed and athleticism made him a genuine threat as a receiver out of the backfield.

Clement rushed 74 times for 321 yards with four touchdowns this season. With Jay Ajayi grabbing the lead role, and LeGarrette Blount manning the short-yardage and goal-line situations, Clement became a third-down back.

It isn’t a crazy stretch to think that either Clement or White – and more likely both – will have a significant impact on the Super Bowl.

The Eagles boast the NFL’s No. 3-ranked rushing attack at 132.2 yards per game and a 4.5-yard average. The Patriots have the No. 20 running attack at 114.8 yards per game, but an ultra-effective 4.7 yards-per-carry average.

It’s an interesting difference in philosophy and style.

The Eagles are more content to bang away with Ajayi, Blount and Clement while relying on a truly clever run scheme. The Eagles’ center, Jason Kelce, is the best in the business. He sets the tone and the running backs follow it.

They trust Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to call running plays and stick with that part of the attack. The Eagles supplement that with the short passing game while relying on the tight ends and backs out of the backfield.

It’s a perfect fit for Clement’s diverse skill-set.

It’s much the same with White in New England.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is adept as a receiver and a runner in an attack that coordinator Josh McDaniels insists on throwing out of the backfield.

White’s forte is moving the chains and turning what appears to be an inconsequential 6-yard grab into a huge play.

In a bit of irony, the Packers’ offense has been lacking a back with similar talents to Clement and White.

Both starred down in Madison, and both could’ve been had for a tremendously reasonable price. Either would look terrific in a Packers’ uniform.

Both will be key to their team’s success in Super Bowl LII.

Packers’ Murphy

gets unfair grief

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy on Monday introduced a new general manager and a new way of doing football business.

He named Brian Gutekunst the Packers’ general manager.

Then, he announced a new structure that splits former GM Ted Thompson’s previous job in half.

Gutekunst will be in charge of the Packers’ personnel department, which includes presiding over the NFL draft and having final say on the team’s 90- and 53-man rosters.

Russ Ball will be responsible for negotiating contracts and managing the Packers’ salary cap.

Mike McCarthy will continue in his role as head coach with largely unchanged duties. The difference is that the team’s president, rather than the GM, is in charge of hiring and firing the head coach.

Some in the media have portrayed this as a triangular structure fraught with peril. Talk about melodramatic. The reality is the Packers are the 16th NFL team to adopt this structure. It should be commended as the Packers getting with the times.

Instead, Murphy has been roundly criticized by those who wish to portray this as a power grab.

They say, “Oh no”“ the sky is falling because the coach, GM and financial manager all are reporting to the president!”

To that, I say, “What’s your point?”

Either you trust Murphy or you don’t. To my knowledge, Murphy has been an exemplary team president the past decade. The success on and off the field is undeniable.

Nevertheless, Murphy seldom stepped into the spotlight, not once showing any indication of having an ego to match the magnitude of his position.

It’s embarrassing to think those media members who had zilch to say about Murphy before Monday’s news conference suddenly have all kinds of negative opinions and assertions.

Where is this coming from?

I have the answer: Shortsightedness is one reason. Cryptic thinking is another. Believing the worst of a person in a position of authority may be a third.

The suggestion that Murphy – by having his three key football people reporting directly to him – is somehow his way of grabbing control makes no sense.

Unless the trio is Curly, Moe and Larry, the personalities involved matter far more than the distribution of power.

Putting Gutekunst, McCarthy and Ball in charge of their areas of expertise, and allowing them to proceed as they see fit, makes perfect sense.

That’s called leadership. It’s called giving direction. It’s called being on top of the franchise that’s been entrusted to you.

Yet, Murphy is getting flak on some fronts.

It is true Murphy could’ve given Gutekunst the power to hire and fire the head coach, but he elected to seize control and remove that element from the coach-GM working relationship.

He did it for a reason, my best educated guess being that it creates a dynamic of Gutekunst and McCarthy truly being in this together.

Murphy has taken clear steps to improve the communication and collaboration at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

One might quibble about the personalities involved, be it McCarthy as a coach, or Ball as a salary guy, or Gutekunst as a talent evaluator, but to criticize the structure is knee-jerk.

This is nothing like what’s happened in the Packers’ past.

That’s because it’s known as forward, progressive thinking.

Trust me, at some point in the next two seasons, I’ll be kind enough to refrain from saying, “I told you so … or not.”

Job No. 1 for Packers’ next GM: Build a “D”

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike McCarthy’s fire was on full display during Thursday’s season-ending news conference.

Too bad the Packers’ pass rush didn’t bring it like that.

McCarthy talked a lot about “fits” though he never mentioned the “fits” fans often had watching Dom Capers’ defensive unit being skewered by opposing offenses.

In an informative Q&A session with media, McCarthy offered several telling and insightful comments. Among those that jumped out at me was the belief that Green Bay’s defense needs to be better than its offense.

McCarthy said exactly that to reporters, adding that there are four ways to accomplish that: Player acquisition, player instruction, player finances and player performance.

Aside from the alphabet, that might be the first time “D” came before “O” in Green Bay.

It was a necessary and refreshing statement.

Aaron Rodgers, at 34, isn’t the same quarterback he was at 29. He has had more wear and tear, including the broken right clavicle this past season.

McCarthy needs to go back to square one: Do everything he can to make the quarterback position successful. If that happens, the team wins.

To make it happen, the defense has to be significantly upgraded. It begins with a new defensive coordinator and the culture and mentality he sets in place.

Frankly, the Packers need pass rushers, pure and simple. Right now, they can’t get to the opposing quarterback consistently. Against the best teams that isn’t going to be good enough.

The Packers’ next GM must be able to recognize and acquire high-end pass rushers, the more the merrier.

If my math is correct, and the Packers do indeed receive a third round compensatory pick for the departed T.J. Lang in free agency, Green Bay would select at 14, 36, 78 and again somewhere in the mid-90s. That’s four Top 90 players, including two in the top third.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Bay went for edge rushers with both selections. The only exception might be if a Top 3 quarterback somehow becomes available at 14.

McCarthy also needs to mold an offense designed to rely on the run almost as much as the pass. It also has to have a dynamic that allows it to move the chains and eat the clock. Ball control is going to be more critical as Rodgers gets on in years.

Rodgers has to be able to throw when he wants to, as opposed to because he has to.

A No. 2 receiver to go with Davante Adams, a high-end tight end and continued development of the running backs are all critical on McCarthy’s “To Do” list.

McCarthy and the Packers’ next GM face a big task: Rebuilding the defense. McCarthy needs to make the right choice at coordinator and the GM needs to acquire enough talent at pass rusher.

That alone sounds like two big jobs for one offseason.

Packers clean house:

Thompson steps aside

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Packers president Mark Murphy’s assessment of outgoing GM Ted Thompson was spot on.

“I think his record speaks for itself,” Murphy said Tuesday. “I realize that he’s a little bit of a lightning rod for our fans, but when you step back and look at it, what he’s accomplished as a GM speaks for itself. It was never about him. He’s a very humble man. He’s tremendously loyal to the Packers.”

Murphy’s comments came after news that Thompson was no longer the Packers’ GM but would continue with the title, “Senior Advisor to Football Operations.”

Of all Thompson’s personnel moves the best was his first: He drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Now, it seems like a no-brainer.

Back then, it was more than a bit controversial to spend a first-round pick on a quarterback when the legendary gunslinger, Brett Favre, was still able to play at a Pro Bowl level.

That set the stage for one of the great handoffs in NFL history: Favre to Rodgers.

B.J. Raji, Nick Collins, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and so many other draft picks were key figures on the 2010 Super Bowl championship team. All were selected by Thompson.

Murphy will be hiring the Packers’ next GM.

Clearly, the Packers’ director of operations, Eliot Wolf, is among the leading candidates to replace Thompson.

For my part, I’d like to see Wolf in the role for many reasons. Here are two: ** He knows the inner-workings of the franchise, including the personnel department, coaching staff and roster. He would hit the ground running for the 2018 NFL Draft in late April.

** Wolf has had a front-row seat to Thompson’s way of doing things. He also has input from his Hall of Fame father, Ron, and certainly fresh ideas of his own he’d like to implement.

That’s all good stuff.

Thompson also cleared up reports that suggested the Packers’ Board of Directors pressured Murphy into the change.

“There’s no truth to the story that I was directed by the board (of directors) to make a change,” Murphy said Tuesday. “Our board doesn’t operate that way. It was my decision to move the way we have, and this is going to be my hire. I keep our executive committee (apprised).”

The Packers also parted ways with several members of the defensive staff, including coordinator Dom Capers.

Murphy made it clear that head coach Mike McCarthy was in charge of that hire, and that it was independent from his own GM search.

“Mike has that authority (to hire),” Murphy said. “Things move quickly on the coaching side. You don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage.”

The Packers also extended McCarthy’s contract through 2019. There’s no lame duck here.

“Mike is our man,” Murphy said. “He is our coach. We have all the confidence in the world in Mike that we’re going to have great success moving forward.”

My preference would be hiring a defensive coordinator from outside, although defensive backs coach Joe Whitt and assistant head coach, defense, Winston Moss, also is a possibility from within.

At any rate, the winds of change are sweeping through 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Thus far, the moves are not only solid, but necessary.

Packers-Bears game

early tipping point in

NFC North Division

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bears (1-2) enter tonight’s NFC North Division matchup against the Packers feeling ecstatic in the wake of a rugged 23-17 overtime win against the Steelers.

The Packers (2-1) aren’t feeling nearly so frisky.

The offensive line is in tatters following a bruising 27-24 overtime win against the Bengals. The top five tackles are out: starters David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) are unavailable tonight. Also out are Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay, all of whom are on injured reserve.

That leaves Adam Pankey at left tackle, Justin McCray at right tackle and newly acquired Ulrich John to back them up.

None is a household name beyond his own house.

The Packers must rely on Aaron Rodgers’ nimble feet to avoid disaster and powerful right arm to win the day.

So what’s new?

The combination has been successful, but it puts great stress on both the quarterback and the available weapons.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy must walk a fine line.

He needs to be aggressive and creative in his play-calling in order for the Packers to lead with their best punch: The offense. Likewise, he has to be careful not to put Rodgers in harm’s way.

Frankly, there aren’t many NFL teams that could expect to win despite losing their top five offensive tackles.

In Green Bay the mantra is: Rodgers will conquer all.

So how do the Packers get past the upstart Bears?

Here’s a roadmap to victory:

** The Packers need to play an up-tempo style on offense. The no-huddle might be too much to ask, given the number of new players and moving parts, but a “sugar” huddle could work.

By “sugar” huddle, I mean getting the play in, hustling to the line of scrimmage and snapping the football. The idea isn’t so much to create great mismatches – although it’s one goal – but rather to prevent the new tackles from “over-thinking it.”

Pankey and McCray are in an unenviable situation.

They are expected to protect the franchise – aka Rodgers – without missing a beat, or a block. On the other hand, if they were that sure-fire dependable they would’ve been starting long before this.

** Take shots deep against the Bears’ secondary.

Obviously, that suggests Rodgers will have time to take shots downfield. But how can that be given the Bears’ above-average pass rush and the Packers’ lack of experienced tackles?

That’s simple: Go into the play knowing Rodgers is going to have to buy time – almost like a “Hail Mary” situation – and rely on roll-outs, boot action and misdirection.

If Rodgers is going to extend plays better that they’re planned rather than off the cuff. It’s like the “apparent” chaos in the red zone when a play breaks down. In truth, the Packers have practiced for the inevitable red zone breakdowns that may occur.

** Employ an array of single-, double- and yes even triple-tight end formations to keep the Bears’ defenders guessing.

Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers represent a deep, experienced and talented tight end group. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three have key roles tonight.

They are adept at setting an edge in the run game, finding the soft spots should the Bears play zone and making big plays when split wide against linebackers.

The tight ends are critical to the Packers’ success tonight.

** As much as the Packers need to run the football with a modicum of success, this isn’t the game to push that goal.

Green Bay’s running attack may grow legs as the season rolls along, but to expect Ty Montgomery and perhaps Jamaal Williams to penetrate the Bears’ front seven to great effect is akin to whistling while you pass a cemetery. It might bring comfort in the moment, but it’s not going to save the day.

** Rely on brisk special teams’ play to be an asset, rather than a liability. The Packers can’t afford special teams’ miscues. Muffed punts, poor snaps, missed field goals and blown tackles are going to be difficult to overcome with such a slim margin for error going in.

Prediction time: I suspect tonight’s Bears-Packers game will be similar to the Bengals’ game. If you’re looking for the Packers to be in mid-season form forget it. They’re in survival mode.

Fortunately, they’re also in Green Bay.

If this game were scheduled for Soldier Field, rather than Lambeau Field, the challenge may be too much to overcome. As it stands, the Packers should find a way to come out on top in a close one: Packers 24, Bears 23.

The reward will be a 3-1 win-loss record, first place in the NFC North and a 10-day stretch to heal up for what’s to come.

 

Brewers-Pirates ties,

Clemente on mind as Hurricane Maria punishes Puerto Rico

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the Brewers wrap up a three-game series tonight at Pittsburgh, I’ll pause to say a prayer for the earthquake victims in Mexico City, as well as those in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that were ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

The natural disasters’ aftermath is difficult to watch on TV.

In Mexico City, neighbors and family members are pulling loved ones – some alive, some dead – from beneath the rubble of a 7.1 monster’s devastation.

In San Juan, the hearty citizens are coping with neither water nor electricity while surviving in the aftermath of a 140-mph demon.

Meantime, in Pittsburgh, the Brewers are trying to defeat the Pirates and pull even with the Colorado Rockies in the National League wild-card race.

The juxtaposition of life and death is painfully obvious.

What matters? What doesn’t?

The Brewers’ hunt for October is paramount to long-time fans, and understandably so. I count myself among them.

But I also would like to count myself among those who pause to be grateful for everything we have in this great country of ours.

Baseball, in general, and the Brewers in particular, represent one of my favorite diversions from life’s occasional difficulties.

Ever since Robin Yount was dubbed “The Kid” by the great Bob Uecker, the Brewers have been a welcome outlet despite the wide range of emotions they evoke.

Tears of joy, tears of sadness … they make you feel it all.

They make you feel alive.

Tonight’s game at Pittsburgh is intriguing on its own merit, although I wouldn’t discount the ancillary stories.

In many ways, they rise to a higher level of importance.

While Hurricane Maria’s viciousness is being unleashed upon San Juan, I can’t help but think of one of my childhood heroes, and one of Puerto Rico’s national heroes, Roberto Clemente.

Clemente, perhaps the greatest Pirate of all-time, died at age 38 in a plane crash. He was on an aid mission to help victims of a mammoth earthquake that ravaged in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Dec. 31, 1972, plane crash that killed Clemente and three others occurred shortly after takeoff, landing in the waters of Puerto Rico not far from where Hurricane Maria made landfall.

While Clemente was boarding the ill-fated flight, Expos pitcher Tom Walker (who was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico) asked to join him on his mission of mercy.

Whether it was because of the plane’s load limit, or the fact that Walker was single and Clemente wanted him to enjoy New Year’s Eve is unclear, but Clemente told him to stay.

Tonight, in Pittsburgh, Neil Walker is going to be in a Brewers uniform trying to help them defeat his former team – the Pirates.

Obviously, that wouldn’t be the case had his father not heeded Clemente’s words.

Walker has been a godsend for Milwaukee. The switch-hitting second baseman has been a guiding veteran force while the young Brewers find their way in an unexpected pennant race.

Walker’s story just might be recounted on tonight’s broadcast.

Another story undoubtedly will focus on baseball’s all-time rise in home runs. Hitters are swinging for the fences – and belting baseballs over them – at a record rate. Last night, the previous single-season record for total home runs was crushed.

Some say the home run rise is due to a nasty return of PEDs. Some say it’s because the baseballs are wound tighter. Some say it’s because the hitters are being encouraged to swing away and say, “Oh, well,” if they strike out in the process.

The “modern” analytics suggest it’s best to take your hacks. Strikeout totals, not surprisingly, also are at an all-time high.

Interestingly, the great Roberto Clemente weighed in on this very topic many seasons ago.

Clemente hit .317 during his 18-year career.

The 15-time All-Star also smacked 240 home runs and drove in 1,305 runs.

Clemente’s view on hitting was this: “I am more valuable to my TEAM hitting .330 than swinging for home runs”

At the 1971 All-Star Game, a reporter asked the 12-time Gold Glove winner when he was going to get his 3,000th hit.

Clemente replied, “Well, uh, you never know. I, uh, if I’m alive, like I said before, ‘you never know because God tells you how long you’re going to be here. So you never know.”

Clemente swatted a double for his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium.

It was the final at-bat of his career.

 

Packers-Seahawks

opener a severe

stress test for both

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Expect the unexpected.

As contradictory as the statement may be – after all it’s not unexpected if you expect it – it does seem to be great advice, especially when it comes to NFL season openers.

Just ask New England.

If those first three paragraphs seem familiar, if not redundant, it’s because that was the opening of my Seahawks-Packers preview column.

The Packers’ 17-9 victory over Seattle Sunday at Lambeau Field proved the point.

When the Las Vegas odds-makers are that far off – Las Vegas had the Packers as a 3-point favorite in a high-scoring (51 point over/under) game – it suggests the unexpected.

A defensive struggle against the Seahawks is the rule. The Packers’ defense being the unit causing fits is the exception.

Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers can be proud of his defense’s performance in the opener. They dominated on third down, held their ground on first down, and played fast, smart football for the most part.

Mike Daniels was the game’s MVP, but it wouldn’t have happened without big efforts from Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and especially Nick Perry.

Early on, Perry and Daniels set the tone.

They had a meeting at the quarterback on every other down, or so it seemed in the first quarter.

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson never had a chance to get his feet set and throw it downfield. In fact, he didn’t have many chances to slide out of the pocket and make plays downfield, either. To the Green Bay defense’s credit it played sound, consistent, fundamental football.

Safety Kentrell Brice was on the field a lot. So were Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and even Josh Jones to a lesser extent.

Offensively, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers were able to do enough in the second half to claim victory. The positives:

** Ty Montgomery had 24 touches, including 19 carries, in what qualified as a good day’s work.

Montgomery needs as much experience as he can get. That’s especially true in the run game and in pass protection. On one occasion, he knocked right tackle Kyle Murphy off his block in a weak attempt to provide help.

On the whole, Montgomery played well though.

The best thing is he hasn’t even scratched the surface.

Here’s a prediction: In the next three weeks, Montgomery’s headlines will be all about his great versatility. He’ll be catching passes out of the backfield, and out of the slot, and creating match-up nightmares for opposing defenses.

Montgomery is a byproduct of his past and the Packers’ future.

Green Bay has elected to utilize the running back position in a more unconventional way. They’ll hand it off or toss it and run between the tackles, to be sure, but that alone isn’t enough.

The Packers demand that Montgomery be strong in pass pro, a rugged runner inside and a threat in the passing attack as a receiver.

The great thing he possesses the skills.

As the season unfolds, and Montgomery gets more established as a running back, I suspect Jamaal Williams’ role as a runner will expand. In turn, Montgomery may have fewer snaps on obvious run downs, but be more dangerous the rest of the time.

** Murphy played well enough to give the Packers’ offense hope that it can survive without the services of Bryan Bulaga at least on a limited basis.

The Packers’ offense would love to have Bulaga for Sunday night’s game at Atlanta. The more experience a line has in a loud, hostile environment the better.

If necessary, though, Murphy appears to be able to bridge the gap.

** Finally, the Packers’ offense still has to utilize its double-tight end formation to the fullest.

Perhaps Sunday night’s game will be a coming-out party for the tight ends, and in particular Martellus Bennett.

The Packers’ defense looks promising, the special teams’ look solid and the offense is teeming with proven talent and unlimited potential.

Final score: Packers 30, Falcons 28.

 

Packers-Seahawks

opener a severe

stress test for both

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Expect the unexpected.

As contradictory as the statement may be – after all it’s not unexpected if you expect it – it does seem to be great advice, especially when it comes to NFL season openers.

Just ask New England.

The Patriots waltzed into Thursday night’s regular-season home opener as the reigning Super Bowl champs and 9-point favorites over an allegedly overmatched Kansas City squad.

They walked away in resounding defeat.

The Chiefs’ 42-27 victory left Patriots quarterback Tom Brady questioning his team’s effort and many NFL observers questioning the Patriots, period.

To believe this is the beginning of the end for New England head coach Bill Belichick’s rule over the NFL is a gross overreaction. The Patriots will be near the finish line. Whether they cross it first remains to be seen.

However, New England’s loss should be a cautionary tale as the Packers go into Sunday’s 3:25 p.m. regular-season opener against Seattle at Lambeau Field.

The perceived gap between the Packers and Seahawks (Green Bay is a 3-point favorite) is much closer than that between the Patriots and Chiefs.

I doubt anyone in the Packers’ locker room is taking Seattle for granted. On the other hand, if they needed a ready reminder of what could happen, the Chiefs-Patriots game provided it.

Frankly, I believe the Packers are going to beat the Seahawks. I see something along the lines of 31-20 for a final.

It isn’t that I don’t believe Seattle is capable of winning. In fact, the Packers couldn’t have been given a more difficult two games to open the season than Seahawks and at Atlanta.

The Seahawks are among the NFC’s top teams.

Eight of their 11 defensive starters have played in at least one Pro Bowl. They can rush the passer, stop the run and play terrific defense on the backside.

Safety Earl Thomas is a special player who covers ground the way former Packers’ safety Nick Collins did back in the day.

Thomas missed the Packers’ 38-10 blowout victory over Seattle a year ago. He is healthy this time and ready to roll. His presence alone is the single-greatest difference in a year.

The Seahawks’ offense still features Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham and a cast of receivers who are better than most casual fans suspect. Toss in (or to) Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls and the Seahawks’ offense remains a handful.

The Packers would be in a difficult spot without the offseason acquisition of seven battle-tested veterans, including four on defense. Ricky Jean Francois and Quinton Dial bring size, talent and toughness to the defensive line.

Ahmad Brooks brings pass rush ability.

Davon House is an experienced, above-average cornerback who will be a strong addition to the position.

Former Falcons’ linebacker Chris Odom also should play a role. Add right guard Jahri Evans and tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, and the Packers had one heck of an offseason.

Each fills a key role.

The intriguing aspect is seeing how it all unfolds.

Seattle is renowned for being a rugged, physically imposing defensive team with KO capabilities on special teams and an offense that’s built to go hand-in-hand with that style.

In the not-too-distant past the question would be: Will Aaron Rodgers and the offense put up enough points to KO Seattle?

Coming into Sunday’s game the question is: How much trouble might Green Bay’s double-tight ends, healthy backs and receivers and robust offensive line cause for the Seahawks?

I suspect plenty.

The Packers will score at least 30 points. Take it to the bank.

I can’t see the Seahawks’ offense keeping pace. Seattle may try to play keep-away from Rodgers by being conservative and utilizing the clock. That’s where the Packers’ revitalized defense comes into play.

From Kenny Clark to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix the Green Bay defense appears to be built on a strong foundation. For the first time in a while I’m sure defensive coordinator Dom Capers has the horses to run the race.

Win or lose, the Packers’ fans are going to learn a lot about their team in the season opener. I’m confident it’ll be a win and what they’ll learn is the Packers truly are “all in” for the 2017 season.

Are you ready for some football?

I thought so!

 

 

Packers preseason

ends with a blessing,

rather than a bang

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ pre-season finale served a handful of purposes.

First, it wrapped up what has been a productive, mostly drama- and injury-free training camp and pre-season.

The Packers’ 24-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Thursday night’s Shrine Game at Lambeau Field was low key as finale’s go.

Second, the Packers will field a team better-equipped to do battle with the Seattle Seahawks in the Sept. 10 season opener, and again the following Sunday night in Atlanta.

The injuries have been limited.

Bryan Bulaga and Nick Perry are expected to return from ankle injuries in time for the Seattle game. Clay Matthews has experienced groin tightness but nothing that will sideline him.

Dean Lowry’s knee injury proved to not be serious. He also is expected to go against the Seahawks.

Damarious Randall returned from the concussion protocol, Ty Montgomery battled through some soft-tissue issues and Davon House missed time with a hamstring pull but is now a full go.

In terms of being a better team, let me count the ways:

** 1 – The addition of defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and linebacker Ahmad Brooks has given the Packers’ defense a decidedly tougher mentality.

Both played on a first-rate 3-4 defense at San Francisco. The Packers’ linebackers won’t be confused with Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Brooks.

On the other hand, the Packers at least HAVE Brooks.

Francois also is a rugged veteran who reminded everyone of it during training camp and the pre-season games. Guys like Francois come in, do their job well and play to win. There’s no drama, no assembly required and no missing time with hurts.

** 2 – The Packers’ defense has a new look that will be unveiled as the regular season unfolds. That is the ability to deploy multiple safeties both in and behind the front seven who are fast, strong and in most cases experienced. They also have – for the most part – excellent ball skills.

Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a terrific tandem. Factor in Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and rookie Josh Jones and it’s loaded with potential.

It’s a way for Capers to combat offenses that utilize running backs, tight ends and occasionally big receivers (the Falcons, for example) to control the middle of the field.

With Burnett, Clinton-Dix and Jones and/or Brice lurking it’s going to be more difficult for quarterbacks to be certain of a receiver’s being open.

It’s better to play defense on the attack – by that I mean bringing up tough, big safeties that can blitz, fill run gaps or cover a wide receiver if necessary – as opposed to dropping linebackers and corners into zones.

** 3 – Aaron Rodgers and the offense are ready to roll.

It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Mike McCarthy chooses to deploy his tight ends and running backs against the Seahawks. He could use a heavy dose of double-tight end with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. He could deploy two tight ends and three receivers. He could even go four wide receivers and a tight end.

The options are many. We’ll find out how readily available the Seahawks will have answers.

** 4 – The kicking game in particular and the special teams’ units in general look good.

Special teams’ coordinator Ron Zook deserves high marks for getting his units up to speed.

This is such an improvement over his predecessor that I won’t even bother to mention the ex-teams coach by name.

Also, it’s time to have Trevor Davis return kicks as well as punts. Jeff Janis isn’t the answer.

** 5 – The Packers were active in free agency, at least compared to past forways, and continue to try and improve. It shows in the signing of Brooks within days of his release from the 49ers.

The next step is deciding on the final 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad.

I’ll hit all of that in a Sunday column.

 

Packers preseason shows potential for double-TE domination

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis.  Through two pre-season games the Packers appear to be on track with just 19 days between now and the Sept. 10 regular-season home opener against Seattle.

Injuries have been held to a reasonable minimum, especially with word that defensive end Dean Lowry’s knee injury isn’t serious.

The rookies and undrafted free agents are displaying genuine quality competition as they battle to make the 53-man roster. Young players such as cornerback Josh Hawkins and others have forced the coaching staff to take notice.

All four quarterbacks – top to bottom – have looked sharp.

Even head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff have kept mistakes to a minimum while searching for answers as the season fast-approaches.

Here’s what we know with a fair degree of certainty:

** Aaron Rodgers has had an excellent off-season, training camp and pre-season.

The perennial Pro Bowl quarterback looks like a man on a mission to realize his stated goal for the Packers.

“We need to play our best football in the biggest moments” Rodgers said this off-season.

That was a mouthful.

The Packers trail only the otherworldly New England Patriots in terms of sustaining success. Now, in the wake of eight straight post-season appearances, Green Bay wants more.

It needs more.

The thought of winning just one Super Bowl with Rodgers running the show is difficult to accept. The majority of Packers fans realize how challenging it is to win a championship.

In the mid-to-late ’70s and ’80s the Packers existed in a baron wasteland devoid of any meaningful success.

Thanks to the Packers gods that has changed.

Green Bay’s fans fully expect their team to flatten the NFC North, capture the conference title and KO whichever team the AFC sends to meet it in the Super Bowl.

It’s a lot easier said than done, of course, but that’s the expectation and for good reason.

Here are two of the best:

** 1  The defense simply can’t be as bad as it was a year ago.

Kenny Clark and Lowry have elevated their games. Clay Matthews comes in healthy, and Nick Perry looks like a player who is going to kick butt after a breakthrough season.

Kevin King, Josh Jones and Hawkins have all flashed, and it appears King is going to be in the starting lineup.

Situational pass rushers such as Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott need to step up, and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett can’t be forced to do all the heavy lifting.

The rush-cover balance needs to get in sync. The good news is the Packers have options in the secondary, unlike last year, and a stout front with Mike Daniels, Clark and Lowry.

** 2  The Packers double-tight end formation is going to be a major pain in the butt for opposing defenses.

I’m not sure how you defend Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Jordy Nelson, DaVante Adams and Ty Montgomery in the red zone.

In the Packers 21-17 victory at Washington, Rodgers hit Bennett for a touchdown when the big tight end beat Redskins linebacker Zach Brown in the corner of the end zone. Brown is one of the best cover linebackers in the league, so it mattered.

Frankly, Rodgers could’ve gone to Kendricks, who was open on the other side, or even Adams in the slot.

The options were many. The answers were few.

Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done, and nobody in their right mind believes the Seahawks and Falcons are going to bring anything less than their best against the Packers.

The challenge is real. Thus far, the Packers look up to it.

 

The FAN website column for Friday, Aug. 11

Packers’ preseason opener a positive
for defense, teams

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was 21 pre-seasons ago when a former and soon-to-be-again famous receiver/return specialist was about down to his last at-bat with the Packers.
Green Bay’s GM, Ron Wolf, loved Desmond Howard.
He believed the former Heisman Trophy winner could be a valuable player as both a return ace and a slot receiver. It turned out that Howard simply couldn’t cut it as a wide-out.
He was too small, too slow and too iffy on difficult catches.
Then, in a single pre-season game, Howard captivated his critics and proved the future Pro Football Hall of Fame GM as being correct. Howard won a roster spot as a return specialist, and went on to have one of the greatest seasons in team history.
The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XIII, Howard would be named the game’s Most Valuable Player, and perhaps none of it would’ve happened if not for a “meaningless” game in August.
Today, I am looking at an aspiring NFL receiver/return specialist named Trevor Davis with similar thoughts.
Davis, a second-year receiver out of Cal, was determined to do everything in his power to make the Packers’ 53-man roster. With that in mind, he sent video of each and every punt return he made during this past off-season to special teams coach Ron Zook. He intended to show Zook and the Packers just how serious he was about returning punts and playing football.
The extra effort paid dividends Thursday night when Davis corralled a long punt, feigned left, cut right and exploded past would-be tacklers for a 68-yard touchdown return.
The Packers went on to a 24-9 victory over Philadelphia in their pre-season opener at Lambeau Field.
Davis picked up several excellent blocks along the way, including a dandy by second-year safety Marwin Evans.
If Davis continues to have a strong camp and plays well in the remaining three pre-season games he quite likely set the stage for work as the full-time punt returner against the Eagles.
Other observations from the Packers’ pre-season opener:
** Kenny Clark is the real deal.
The second-year pro out of UCLA scarcely resembles the young pup that showed up a year ago. Clark, at 6-3, 314, was active and explosive as he shoved around the Eagles’ offensive line.
I really liked Clark as a rookie. He was just 20 years old when he arrived in the NFL, which is a tall task when you’re facing grown men in the trenches.
Clark responded by learning, taking his lumps and finishing strong. This past off-season he was dedicated to becoming stronger and it has paid off.
** Dean Lowry is right there with Clark.
It all starts up front for the defense and Mike Daniels, Clark and Lowry are a good place to begin.
Lowry has made great strides and Daniels appears to be his same old ornery self.
The defensive line may be the second-most improved unit behind the tight ends.
** Rookie running back Jamaal Williams is going to have a significantly positive impact on this season if he stays healthy. Williams, as predicted, is a tough runner inside the tackles. He makes what appears to be a 2- or 3-yard gain that actually turns out to bring up second-and-5.
Ty Montgomery also looked good in spite of the fumble.
It’s better to be reminded about ball protection in the pre-season opener as opposed to the regular season.
Montgomery will be OK, especially as a pass catcher out of the backfield. It’s my best guess that Williams will become the so-called “four-minute back” when the Packers have fourth quarter-leads and are trying to work the clock.
** Justin Vogel had a strong night as a punter.
In fact, he’s so good that I’ll cut him slack for wearing the legendary No. 5 on his jersey. That’s so long as he changes it so something more appropriate after the final roster cut.
** The snap, the hold and the kick were good last night.
It was all in sync and nothing to see there.
Mason Crosby is quietly becoming one of the great players – that’s right, I said players – in team history.
** Everyone who likes Josh Jones and Kevin King raise your hands? OK, you all can put them down now.
As I suspected it was unanimous.
Jones flashed the awareness and physicality that he has become associated with. He will be interesting to watch as the season progresses.
King, the lanky, 6-3, 200-pound cornerback, is a willing hitter. He got beat a couple of times but that’s the best way to learn.
They make the secondary faster, stronger and more athletic. They are the type of pieces to grow with and build around.
** Injuries were the night’s only dark side.
Malachi Dupre took a shot that forced him out on a stretcher, but the rookie receiver sent out a tweet that he’ll be OK.
Don Barclay, the journeyman offensive lineman, appeared to injure his ankle. Barclay, who was a disaster as a back-up tackle, was actually a very do-able back-up center.
Now that plan has been turned upside-down.
I’ll be curious to see how McCarthy and the personnel people respond.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017

Packers’ preseason opener offers shot at roles, playing time,

especially QB Hundley

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Pro athletes aren’t the only ones who can be superstitious. Fans and even ex-pro athletes also have their moments.

When Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury the question was posed: Who should the Dolphins sign – Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick?

Frankly, I would have stayed with backup Matt Moore as the starter and signed a lesser quarterback not named Cutler OR Kaepernick but that’s just me.

The Dolphins went with Mr. Sour Puss for $10 million in addition to another possible $2-to-$3 million in incentives.

So I posed the question during a commercial break on Sports Line: What would the Packers do if they were in a similar situation?

Crickets chirping … silence … more crickets … nothing.

Finally, my running mate, Harry Sydney, says, “C’mon, man. We can’t go there. It’s bad luck.”

Eric Fischer, our producer/intern, agreed.

He acted as if he’d rather be sprayed by a rabid skunk than pose that question in “Last Caller Standing” format to listeners.

OK, let’s forget the potential nightmare of a Rodgers injury.

However, there is the reality of what to do in terms of his backup, Brett Hundley, this year and beyond.

Hundley, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has played well in the preseason. He has been everything the Packers thought he could be when they drafted him out of UCLA to be Rodgers’ understudy.

Hundley drew praise during his rookie preseason.

Last year, he was beleaguered by an ankle injury and did little.

Hundley’s understanding of the offense, strong arm and quick feet make him a valuable commodity. He played well in the Packers’ Family Night practice at Lambeau Field, when he connected with tight end Richard Rodgers for a long touchdown.

He played in four regular-season games in 2016 in mop-up duty.

“It’s a little hard when you get put in at the end of games and you get a drive or two to get out there,” Hundley told reporters earlier this week. “I feel like this is the time I’ll be able to get some rhythm down (rhythm) is the big word or key word for it, and be able to get going and get into a rhythm as a quarterback and get back out there and have some fun and maybe get hit once or twice.”

Nobody wants to see Rodgers or Hundley get hit.

It’s why Rodgers likely won’t play Thursday night against Philadelphia in the Packers’ pre-season opener at Lambeau Field.

For Hundley, it means an opportunity to sharpen his game, and to shine for his current team and other teams’ scouts.

There has been talk that the Packers had received offers during the draft for Hundley, but nothing good enough to make GM Ted Thompson bite.

Frankly, if Hundley was going to be traded, that would’ve been the most likely time.

Each day that the regular season draws nearer is another day it makes less sense to trade Hundley. He is the best option to keep the Packers’ offense afloat for a quarter, a half or a handful of games if necessary.

Hundley is the prototypical “draft and develop” success story. He’s too valuable to trade until either this season’s mid-point – depending on how the Packers are playing – or next spring.

My advice right now is to do nothing.

There is no precedent for another team to come offering a first- or second-round pick for the Packers’ backup QB. However, a third-round pick is reasonable based on Green Bay’s history with Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell and others.

The third round appears to be the cutoff. I might be tempted, but I still would feel better with Hundley on the roster, as opposed to a big question mark at backup QB and an extra pick next spring.

For years, some Packers’ fans greatest criticism of Thompson was his apparent aversion to “going for it” by being aggressive in free agency. The reality of the Hundley situation is that by keeping him, the Packers ARE being aggressive. They’re making the statement that this season is more important than next spring’s draft.

If Rodgers were to miss a handful of games, I believe Hundley would still give Green Bay a chance to win, which could be crucial to staying in the playoff hunt.

Hundley’s presence – regardless of the obvious fact that Packers’ fans hope he never has to play – gives Green Bay its best chance to survive without Rodgers on a short-term basis.

If the Packers truly believe they are going somewhere this season, the best move is to make sure Hundley goes nowhere.

 

The FAN website column for Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017

Packers’ Rollins has ‘outplayed’ everyone at the corner position

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

 

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers get back to work tonight at 6:15 p.m. at Ray Nitschke Field.

After two padded practices and a day off Wednesday here are several early conclusions:

** Quinten Rollins is recapturing the confident, consistent play that made him a contributor in the Packers’ playoff win at Washington two post-seasons ago.

Rollins, who battled injuries during a slump-ridden sophomore season, has been accountable and available thus far.

Joe White, the defensive backs coach, had high praise for Rollins while admitting it should be fairly obvious.

“He’s pretty much outplayed everybody,” Whitt said.

Rollins, who is entering his third season of organized football, seemed to struggle with the physical and mental demands of an NFL season.

In his third season, he appears to have matured in all ways.

Clearly, Rollins’ strong play makes for an interesting situation among the cornerbacks.

Davon House has been very good since his return after a stint in Jacksonville. House prepares and practices like the veteran he is and that’s had to be a positive on the position group.

Rookie Kevin King is dealing with a shoulder injury, but when he’s been on the field he’s played well. He has flashed the range (a wiry 6-foot-3 frame), the ball skills and the speed that made him an early second-round pick.

Whitt told reporters he’s going to ask Aaron Rodgers to start testing the Packers’ top pick.

“I’m going to ask Aaron to throw more his way. When you see 6-foot-3 over there pressed up, the ball’s going to go the other way.”

Meantime, rookie safety/linebacker Josh Jones continues to impress. Jones’ ball skills are a pleasant surprise for me.

I knew he was a legit hitter and willing tackler.

What I’ve been impressed with is his ability to drop into coverage in zone, or to turn and run with running backs or tight ends in man-to-man coverage.

Jones’ awareness belies his inexperience, at least early on.

** Packers GM Ted Thompson has no timetable or date or plans to announce his retirement. Thompson, 64, teased the media by noting that the only time he’s asked about retirement is during news conferences in Green Bay.

He also joked that the media “would have to wait to see the end of the movie” to find out.

Joking aside Thompson said he feels “good to go” which is welcome news for Packers fans.

** On another front, Thompson said he has long supported the new roster reduction change in which teams’ rosters go from 90 to 53 in a single cut.

“I think it gives you more opportunity to see things, to weigh what you think you have against what other people might have … there’s a lot of mistakes made on that cut down to 75 and it helps you get through that last (preseason) game.”

** Defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry have been really strong thus far.

Both second-year pros appear stronger, more confident and more active in camp so far.

The offseason programs seem to have had an impact in terms of quickness and explosiveness.

** Meantime, rookie defensive lineman Montravius Adams’ foot surgery to repair a stress fracture qualifies as a major disappointment. I thought Adams could generate interior pass rush, which is something defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit could really use.

Instead, we’ll have to wait and see with Adams.

It’s unfortunate.

 

Pads come on, turf flies as Packers turn up the heat at camp

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN for Sunday 7/30/17

GREEN BAY, Wis. – True to its namesake Ray Nitschke Field bore the brunt of the punishment during the Packers’ lively, first-time-in-pads popping Saturday morning practice.

Pads smacked and turf flew as the Packers’ players leapt helmet-first into the initial padded practice of camp.

The pace appeared quick without being hurried.

After all these years it’s still impressive to see how much teaching, coaching, learning and training head coach Mike McCarthy’s staff and players accomplish in minimal time.

While the half-line running drill was pitting running backs and offensive linemen versus the defense’s front seven over here, the wide receivers and defensive backs were dueling 1-on-1 over there.

It is fast-paced and furious, if all too brief compared to the NFL’s training camps of old, although much can be learned.

For instance, my initial disappointment in rookie Montravius Adams’ inability to practice was impossible to hide.

I had ghastly flashbacks of Datone Jones, Jerel Worthy, Khyri Thornton and other not-so-illustrious defensive ends who were oft-injured and painfully inconsistent when healthy.

Because McCarthy’s daily briefing occurred before practice, rather than after, I’m not sure why Adams sat out. Clearly it’s unfair of me to draw any serious conclusions, but I’ve got to admit it’s a setback when a rugged, tough, exceptional looking athlete such as Adams works through two non-padded practices, only to be unavailable when the lights (and the pads) come on.

I guess I’ll have to chill, though I am curious as to Adams’ status.

Other first day in pads observations:

** The running backs position group appears to be deeper, more decisive and more talented than any in recent memory.

Not since Eddie Lacy’s first few seasons has the position been this diversely skilled and seemingly polished.

Subsequent practices, the Family Night Scrimmage and preseason games will determine the backs’ pecking order, but early on Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Davante Mays seem prepared to stage a serious battle to back up Ty Montgomery.

By the way, Montgomery looked smooth as silk – both his hands and his feet – as he snatched quck tosses, snared checkdowns in the flat and hauled in wheel routes down and up the sideline.

So far, all I can say is so good with the running backs.

For whatever it is worth two previously nondescript backs – William Stanback (43) of Virginia Union and Khalif Phillips (34) of Charlotte – looked to have nice acceleration, hands and awareness.

You heard it here first.

** Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks are an imposing duo when they stand side-by-side in the huddle. Bennett looks like he’s a half-foot taller than everyone else. Kendricks is strong, wide and quick.

You’ll like it when you see it.

Trust me on that.

** The Packers’ secondary featured Kevin King (20) at right cornerback and Davon House (31) at left cornerback in their first-team base unit.

King competes and his quickness and skills are apparent to the most novice football aficionado.

House just steps into the huddle as if he belongs. I can’t imagine House not being a key player in the defense.

Speaking of key players, rookie Josh Jones (27) lines up pretty much with every group and sub-package the Packers play.

He’s at safety, in the slot and at inside linebacker (a lot) throughout the course of practice. Jones is like that thoroughbred that you let have its head and fly. He appears to be of the belief that “the more, the better” and so forth.

I am intrigued by Jones’ upbeat attitude, range and attention to what he’s doing on and off the field. It’s early but Jones really and truly looks the part of an NFL defender.

** It’s always great to see familiar and friendly faces such as Johnny Gray at training camp. Gray, one of my running mates on Green Bay Game Day, looks and feels great.

He’s the best at mixing fun (surprise) with business – what’s going on during the practice – and it’s always an honor.

El Syd, aka Harry Sydney, also was bopping up and down the sideline with both the music during TV timeouts and the action when it warranted. El Syd and I will be back at it Tuesday on Sports Line as Harry will be hosting the Harry Sydney Open on Monday at Fox Hills Resort in Mishicot. Harry’s My Brother’s Keeper benefits men of all ages and is a necessity here.

I’ll be manning the mike with Eric the Intern on Monday as the Packers are off Sunday but get back to work Monday morning.

Until then ….

 

The FAN website column for Thursday, July 27, 2017

Packers’ camp opens with bright outlook

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ first day of training camp opened beneath a sun-washed sky on a gorgeous Green Bay Chamber of Commerce kind of day.

Fans of all ages surrounded Clarke Hinkle Field as if it was the center of the universe. For all intents and purposes, it is their universe – their Packers football universe. Fans plan their summer vacations around training camp.

Packers President Mark Murphy marveled at the wide-eyed and curious making a human chain perhaps six deep around the practice field.

“This is always a great day,” Murphy said as he surveyed the spectacle that is a Packers’ training camp practice.

Today’s practice drew its usual share of “oohs” and “aahs” from the fans. Great catches by Jordy Nelson and Martellus Bennett, among others, sparked cheers.

The occasional dropped pass or errant throw elicited a healthy dose of encouragement from fans.

Here are a handful of observations from the first practice of training camp. The pads don’t come on until Saturday morning’s practice so it’s wise to reserve judgment.

Then again, this much we know:

** Martellus Bennett (80) and Lance Kendricks (84) most definitely look the part. The tandem appears imposing, talented and confident. Richard Rodgers (82) also looks leaner and a bit quicker and sharper than last year.

In short, the Packers are long on tight ends.

The way they play on offense is going to be influenced by the tight end position’s remake than any other offseason move at any other position.

The Packers can go double-tight end and balance up the defense. That allows them to run or throw with equal ferocity.

They can mix and match personnel up to and including: Two backs and one receiver with the two tight ends; one back and two receivers; or three receivers and no backs.

My best five-man weaponry: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb or Kendricks (depending on the matchup), Ty Montgomery and Bennett.

That’s a lot of explosiveness.

** Montravius Adams (90) only has his jersey number in common with B.J. Raji. Adams, at 6-4, 304, is long-levered player who just might be able to generate pass rush at either tackle or end in a 4-3 front.

He has long arms and obvious suddenness.

Where it goes from Day One remains to be seen with Saturday’s practice being the first chance to appraise.

I’m as curious about Adams as almost any other player on the roster.

** Kenny Clark (97) is a monster.

He just turned 21 but looks much thicker, stronger and more explosive than a year ago.

And I liked him a lot as a rookie.

He progressed as the season unfolded, survived a down-turn in late November into early December, and rebounded to finish strong. Clark’s a winner. Packers’ fans will begin to appreciate him more and more as this season plays out.

** The Packers have 11 cornerbacks on the roster.

The starters on Day One appear to be Davon House (31) and LaDarius Gunter (36) on the outside with Damarious Randall (23) lining up in the slot.

That leaves Kevin King (20), the Packers’ first overall pick, along with Quinten Rollins (24), Demetri Goodson (39), Herb Waters (26) and Josh Hawkins (28) as the holdovers. Newcomers include Daquon (38) and Donatello (44) – that’s Holmes and Brown – as well as Pipkins (41) and Pringle (46) Lenzy and Raysean – to round out the position.

Early conclusions suggest Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers don’t want to rush King. I like the strategy of easing him into the job.

House’s appearance with the first unit might surprise some, but based on his experience and production it makes sense.

Gunter earned the spot based upon last year’s play. Earning the opportunity is one thing. Keeping the job is quite another.

Either way, Gunter will be on the 53-man roster.

 

The FAN website column for Wednesday, July 26 2017

The five best things about Packers’ camp opening

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It doesn’t seem fair to limit it to five.

The Packers’ start of training camp Thursday offers so many reasons to be excited, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

So 10 it is:

** No. 1 – It means there’s only six weeks between now and the Sept. 10 regular season-opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

It’s doubly important in that Green Bay travels to Atlanta to play the NFC’s defending champions the following Sunday night.

What better way to get the Packers’ attention than to open with back-to-back games against two of the NFC’s best. What better means to accurately assess where the Packers are early than with top-flight in-conference competition.

Is the Packers’ defense good enough? Can Ty Montgomery carry the load at running back? Will Aaron Rodgers and the offense start strong and never look back?

The games against Seattle and Atlanta carry an importance that extends beyond getting off to a fast start. It should be a great gauge as to where head coach Mike McCarthy’s team is in early September, and where it needs to be by mid-December.

Fans won’t have to wait and wonder for long.

** 2 – Until this week the 2017 rookie draft class is little more than a talent pool of potential based upon success at the college level. That changes in earnest when the pads come on this week.

For the first time we will be able to compare and contrast the rookies against the veterans. It won’t be OTA’s, mini-camps and college highlight videos.

It’ll be grown men going helmet-to-helmet. No, this isn’t your father’s training camp, but it remains a grind nonetheless. It will test the rookies’ bodies and minds.

Will Kevin King, Josh Jones and the rest stay healthy?

Will they be able to compete from Day One?

In the case of King and Jones they better be able to.

Will they blend in with regards to working their technique in drills, battling in one-on-one drills and playing efficiently and effectively during the live periods?

All those questions remain. The answers began to reveal themselves on Thursday.

** No. 3 – What is the role for newcomers Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks at tight end? Will the Packers be operating out of more double-tight end formations? Will we see both Bennett and Kendricks line up wide with a pair of quick receivers lining up in the slot?

The possibilities are almost endless.

It’s refreshing to have top-rate personnel at a key position that has been underutilized in recent seasons.

** No. 4 – It’s always fun to watch Aaron Rodgers do his thing.

Rodgers is one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks and it appears he’s had the offseason to take it even higher.

He appears to be in a great place both physically and mentally. At 33, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down a bit. If anything his offseason commitment to preparing himself has been inspiring.

He weighed a tight 218 pounds early in the offseason. His arm strength remains on the “shock and awe” category to this day.

Furthermore, it appears GM Ted Thompson has done an exceptional job surrounding Rodgers with what he needs most. He has a lifeline at tight end. He has a stable of potentially capable running backs. His offensive line is established.

Last, but not least, there are the receivers.

This might be the best collection of weapons ever for Rodgers, especially when you include the tight ends and Montgomery out of the backfield.

** No. 5 – It’s time to see what the Packers truly have on defense. Can they get to the quarterback when they bring five pass rushers? They better be able to or it’s going to be awful difficult to beat teams such as Atlanta.

What is Josh Jones’ role going to be? Will defensive tackle Montravius Adams make an immediate impact as an interior pass rusher? That would be a godsend.

How long will it be before Vince Biegel is on the field and ready to challenge for snaps as an edge pass rusher? Meantime, will Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell be able to take advantage of the reps they receive in his absence?

Finally, and perhaps most important, will Clay Matthews and Nick Perry become the book-end pass rushers they’re paid to be? It’s essential that they deliver this season.

They are the defensive team leaders. When Matthews and/or Perry perform the defense wins more often than it loses. When they don’t deliver it leads to a flood of points and losses.

It’s time to get the season started. It’s time to get some answers.

In the words of ex-Ravens linebacker Bart Scott: “Can’t wait!”

 

Sports’ dead zone doesn’t exist today

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. –

This is the alleged “dead zone” of the sports calendar. I write alleged because I totally disagree.

There is no such thing as a sports’ “dead zone” any longer.

It doesn’t exist.

There is too much media coverage, too much social media availability and too much interest for it to be otherwise. Frankly, there is too much money in play for it to be otherwise.

The question is this: What do sports talk hosts choose to talk about? Clearly, there are options. The trick is to pick one, decide upon an interesting angle and then explore it.

I actually listened to a national radio show discuss August’s Connor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather bout at length. And I enjoyed it.

The four-city non-news tour I could do without, but the actual bout and outcome is interesting.

In the case of McGregor-Mayweather the four-city tour is an attempt to drum up interest to watch McGregor go down fast and hard. If they’re into it that sort of outcome they’ll definitely get their pay-per-view money’s worth.

My surprise is that I actually stayed with the McGregor-Mayweather discussion, mostly because I’m curious to learn exactly how badly “Money” will take McGregor apart.

It isn’t going to be pretty, but it cost a pretty penny.

In other sports news, the Brewers kick off their second half at Miller Park against the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’ll be interesting to see the Brewers’ focus, as well as their interaction with fans and each other. Success can do strange things to the best of folks, especially when they’ve had a week to ponder on their own magnificence.

It seems doubtful the Brewers (50-41) will fall prey to vanity. So many in the lineup and on the roster are being paid like paupers, compared with the majority of their big-league counterparts.

As dangerous as success can be the quest for the life-changing contract trumps all. In fact, they aren’t mutually exclusive. If the success is handled correctly, or as Packers head coach Mike McCarthy would say, “Stacked upon each other,” it’s all good.

Zach Davies is going to start tonight’s game, with Jimmy Nelson to follow. I like the order. Davies is a steady, reliable hand who brings out the best in the Brewers’ bats.

Nelson, the undeniable staff ace, has the type of stuff to get the Phillies in a 0-and-2 hole at the plate and in the series.

My question is this: What can deny the Brewers?

The list is surprisingly brief.

The Brewers needed to add another arm and they did with the trade for ex-Yankees lefty Tyler Webb. The move allows Josh Hader to likely join the starting rotation sooner than later.

It also gives manager Craig Counsell the flexibility out of the bullpen with a reliable left. He loses Hader but gains Webb.

As a bonus, if Hader joins the Brewers’ rotation it would be somewhat formidable. You’d have righties Matt Garza plus Davies and Nelson. None of those three is similar. You also have Brent Suter, a soft-throwing but aggressive lefty, and Hader, who has big-time stuff.

The second half is shaping up nicely for the Brewers.

It’s time for them to get off to a good starting beginning tonight

 

Wednesday, July 12 2017

Brewers always entertaining; now they’re winning

Baseball fans thrilled with Milwaukee’s unlikely but exhilarating ascent

 

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers are the talk of Wisconsin, if not the baseball world, for the incredibly pleasant surprise that is the first half of the 2017 season.

Las Vegas believed the Brewers were a 71-91 team, thus the over/under betting line on total wins of 70 ½.

Who wouldn’t want to make that bet now?

The Brewers (50-41) sit atop the National League Central by an impressive 5 ½ games. That they are ahead of the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the perennially pesky St. Louis Cardinals is nothing short of shocking.

Even the most ardent Brewers fans couldn’t have seen this coming.

The question is why? Why are they so surprisingly good?

The answers are numerous and varied.

Clearly, the Cubs and Cardinals have been underperforming in a very big way. Both clubs – but especially the Cubs – will be better after the All-Star break than they were before it.

That means the Brewers will have a tiny margin for error.

To do the unthinkable and actually WIN the NL Central the Brewers will have to do a bit of upgrading, maintaining and hoping that:

** Chase Anderson returns sooner than later from his oblique injury and that when he does he recaptures his prior form.

It could happen, but that’s asking for a lot.

** Whether Anderson does or doesn’t return to form the Brewers must add another starting-caliber pitcher. They are in position to do so because they’ve got a cornucopia of outfield talent and big-league hitters who could be traded.

That list begins with Ryan Braun.

I love Braun, and if he stays and hits like he’s capable of, he could be a positive factor down the stretch. The problem is the Brewers don’t appear to need more hitting, but rather more pitching. Who doesn’t in the majors?

If GM David Stearns can make a move involving Braun he ought to pull the trigger. I’d be less inclined to give up young talent, however, because the future is difficult to predict.

That’s especially true of baseball at the highest level.

The Brewers’ 71 remaining games will be a grind. Clearly, the schedule doesn’t get easier with several extended road trips against playoff-caliber teams (Nationals, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cubs and Cardinals).

My greatest concern is that the starting pitching won’t hold up.

Jimmy Nelson is developing into the staff’s ace.

He has the best stuff among the starters and he has the experience to blossom into a potential 20-game winner. Those are rare these days.

Mighty mite Zach Davies (10-4) has been quite reliable. He pitches well enough to give his team a chance, and then he relies on their big bats to help him finish the job.

Davies’ terrific run support is one reason he’s been so successful, but let’s not discount his influence on the lineup. His position-playing teammates know a couple of things when Davies is on the mound.

First, he’s going to work fast and throw strikes. That tends to equate to fewer base runners, fewer long innings and less of an opportunity to fall asleep on defense.

Anyone who has played baseball at a high school level and beyond knows that teams rally around the starting pitcher. Whether it’s Nelson, who can dominate, or Davies, who merely seems to get the job done without fanfare, teammates respect pitching that gives them a chance.

Nelson and Davies have done that routinely.

Junior Guerra needs to recapture his form, while Matt Garza appears to be pitching better now than at any point in his time with Milwaukee. If Garza can sustain that it’s a huge bonus.

Wily Peralta seems to be a lost soul, while Brent Suter is a crafty little left who understands the subtleties of pitching. Whether he can weave his way through big-league lineups on a consistent basis will be interesting to see.

Out of the bullpen the Brewers are blessed

Neftali Feliz’s awful start as the closer would’ve been a greater disaster if not for Corey Knebel, the Brewers’ lone All-Star.

Knebel showed some mettle by coming back last Sunday to notch the save against the Yankees a day after blowing a late lead. That was wise for manager Craig Counsel to get him back on the mound after the rough night.

This is crazy, but that’s the first I’ve mentioned Counsel, who has been doing a manager-of-the-year job thus far.

No matter what comes after the All-Star break nothing can change the fact that the Brewers have outperformed all expectations to this point.

It’s certainly made for a quick transition from spring training to training camp, which is just 15 days away.