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Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013

GREEN BAY PACKERS: A GOOD TIME TO BYE

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Weird, wild stuff, that game in Cincinnati. It left the Packers 1-2 and so banged up that their Week 4 breather looks mighty timely to one of the Observers.

 

Artie: Did you see the graphic Fox showed at the end? They said this was the first time ever that an NFL team won a game after leading by at least 14 points and then trailing by at least 16.

Frank: The ESPN website said it was the first time in 14 years that an NFL team won after allowing an opponent to score 30 consecutive points.

A: Who knew we were seeing history?

F: Which I assume you'd rather have avoided.

A: No way should they have lost after being up 30-14. But I think the key play was in the first quarter when Jeremy Ross fumbled that kickoff. There were lots of other turnovers, including Johnathan Franklin's fumble that became the winning touchdown, but those were “course of the game” stuff. But to mess up out in the open like that is such a freak thing.

F: He looked like an outfielder who suddenly realizes he has to charge a sinking liner.

A: I guess there was some wind, but still...

F: But the loss doesn't matter as much as how injured the Packers are going into this bye week.

A: And more importantly, how healthy they'll be after it. When the schedule came out and I saw the bye in the fourth week I thought it was way too early. Now it's just what the doctor ordered!

F: Jermichael Finley got concussed early, Clay Matthews has another of his yearly hamstring problems, James Starks ran well but hurt a knee...

A: Even Franklin limped off the field, although he came back for part of the final, futile drive. And then there are the guys who didn't even suit up! Morgan Burnett—who hasn't played a down yet—Casey Hayward, Eddie Lacy, Jarrett Bush, John Kuhn.

F: So the bye is a blessing.

A: Yeah, but it also means they have to play 13 straight games without a rest. This team could use a bye every other week! Or maybe if they get it together and make a run to 8-2 or 9-2, they can tell the league, “We forfeit the next game.”

F: Assuming that won't happen, what can we draw from this game in terms of how the team played?

A: The defense played really well, to fall behind by two touchdowns and then shut Cincy down for, like, 33 minutes. Yeah, the Bengals helped with turnovers, but the Pack had a hand in them. It's not like Andy Dalton held the ball out and said, “Here, take it.”

F: But the offense had problems, even though they rushed for 182 yards.

A: Yeah, settling for field goals after a couple of those turnovers came back to bite them. So did the two second-half interceptions.

F: Remember, the Packers were 1-2 last year and overcame it.

A: Overcoming 1-2 is one thing. Overcoming a roster full of injuries is another

 

I JUST CALLED TO SAY…

A: I guess Ryan Braun still knows the way to Milwaukee.

F: It's nice that he visited the AIDS Resource Center and dropped in at the Brewers' clubhouse, but he sure didn't do anything to put the disgrace of his drug suspension behind him.

A: Oh yeah, he also called some season-ticket holders and team suite holders.

F: Again, that's nice, but I want details. How many fans did he actually talk to, were they really chosen at random, and what was his basic message?

A: Gee, you sound suspicious.

F: Until Braun appears in public, with no script and no handlers, and answers questions from the local and state media, I'm at least skeptical.

A: Why can't you be satisfied? Ron Roenicke is.

F: Yeah, when the manager was asked if he thought Braun would face the media, he told the Journal Sentinel, "For me, he doesn't need to. He's made a statement enough for me. We need to move on with this.” It may be enough for Roenicke but I don't think it's anywhere near enough for most fans. What's more, what Roenicke said is not the company line.

A: As stated by Mark Attanasio in July after the suspension was announced.

F: Here are some of the owner's comments: “This was the first step in coming forward and accepting the penalty... That's the first step, and it's a baby step... It's going to take some time and take some work.”

A: More work than issuing two written statements and making some phone calls. People are forgiving, but he needs to meet them more than halfway.

F: I don't have the sense of betrayal that a diehard Brewers fan probably has. But I do have partial season tickets, and as someone who helps pay his huge salary, I want to hear more from him.

 

HEAD-BANGING: THE BEAT GOES ON

A: Man, I thought Aaron Rodgers was gonna join the wounded a couple of times. And I ask, as I did last week, what happened to the league's supposed determination to cut down on helmet-to-helmet stuff?

F: As I watched the game I was thinking that it was a good illustration of how difficult it can be to judge when that really happens. For instance, on Finley's concussion I think the defender did a good job of hitting with his shoulder, not his helmet. But at that speed there often will be impact on the helmet, as it happened to Finley. There was no flag on the play, but should there have been? It's so hard to tell in real time.

A: There was a hit on Rodgers that was flagged, and should have been. It seemed like those Cincy guys, like the Washington head-hunter the week before, have been taught to lead with the helmet.

F: Well, I think even that hit on Rodgers wasn't really helmet-to-helmet. Yes, he led with his “hat” but I think he actually hit Rodgers in the shoulder pads. But one's head is going to snap back from that anyway, which would lead the referee to throw a flag. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing—just that it's hard to tell at the game speed.

A: I'm starting to think the refs somehow don't know what to call.

F: I'll tell you one thing they should have called—that hit at Rodgers' knees in the third quarter. Boy, that looked like it could have caused a major injury.

A: And I think there was another helmet-to-helmet in the second quarter when the Pack was inside the 5-yard line. Rodgers took off toward the sideline and got clobbered, and it sure looked flag-worthy to me.

F: Could it be that you were seeing it with your heart?

A: I knew you'd say that, and the answer is no. I replayed it frame-by-frame.

F: But the refs don't see the action frame-by-frame.

A: On that same play there was something else. As Rodgers rolled out, a Cincy defender in the end zone shoved Ross in the back and out of freakin' bounds, even though he was a potential pass receiver for Rodgers.

F: The fact that Rodgers was scrambling might change those circumstances, but yes, I saw that too. But back to the helmet-to-helmet stuff; I think a lot of games will turn on what is and isn't called as the refs try to get some consistency.

A: My sense is that they're actually calling fewer of the personal fouls than they did last year. The old complaint of “you might as well put a dress on the quarterback” doesn't seem to be holding true.

F: Well, the technique of launching yourself helmet-first has been "bred" into the current generation of players by too many coaches and too many "big hit" highlights on TV. I'm thinking it will take a lot of intensive teaching at the Pop Warner and high school levels to breed it out of future generations—assuming there are future generations in which enough parents allow their kids to play the game.

 

LET'S REPLAY THAT ANALYSIS

A: Hey, I think we both have to admit we were wrong about something.

F: Only one thing?

A: In this case, it's the goofy play that ended Wisconsin's loss at Arizona State. You said last week that based on the replays you saw, Joel Stave did not get his knee down before he laid the ball on the turf.

F: True. And you agreed.

A: But before the Badgers' game against Purdue they showed two replays from different angles, and closer. And in both of those I swear Stave's knee did touch the ground.

F: Hey, I DVR'd that game but didn't watch because it was such a rout. But give me a couple of minutes and I'll check it out now...

 

(And after further review...)

 

F: Jeez, I think you're right. It does look like he got his right knee down. But I would still say that Stave contributed to the confusion because he did it very quickly—so quickly that maybe the ref wasn't sure about it either.

A: But still, the ref is supposed to be in charge of things. Why else would Stave have laid the ball down and tried to set up a spike play, to stop the clock for a field-goal try?

F: I do agree that somebody—the ref, the booth—should have stopped the clock and said, “Let's get together and figure out what the heck we have here.”

A: I have a new theory. Those were PAC-12 officials, and you know some of those states in that conference—Oregon, Colorado, California— have some pretty lax laws on things like marijuana smoking. That might account for the slow reaction time in Tempe.

F: You might be stretching things there. But on the bright side, the Badgers didn't let the loss keep them from stomping Purdue and feel mighty good about themselves heading into the Ohio State game this Saturday.

A: Wow, that rushing attack is something. Melvin Gordon has been amazing!

F: I saw the stats and said, “What? One of those three featured backs didn't get to a hundred yards?”

A: That would be the freshman, Corey Clement, who had only 83.

F: I guess it's James White's bad fortune to have shared the Montee Ball era and the blossoming Melvin Gordon era.

A: Yeah, but I read that coming into this year White had a per-carry average of 6.1 yards, the highest in UW history. So he ain't no slouch.

F: how does the game in Columbus look to you?

A: Winnable for sure! The Badgers' defense, especially the secondary, has been so much better than I thought it would; although, I am concerned about some injuries the Badgers suffered Saturday afternoon. But, the whole team is playing with a lot of energy, which I think has something to do with new coach Gary Andersen. And for Badgers fans there was more good news last weekend.

F: Such as?

A: Rutgers beat the Razorbacks and their new coach, one Bret Bielema, 28-24. I'm sure that will help Bret's welcome in Arkansas, where most of the people can't even spell Rutgers, and if they can they think it was some kind of car in the '20s. “Yeah, my granddaddy used to drive a Rutgers...”

F: I think we'll just move on.

 

REMEMBER THIS GUY?

F: Hey, Milwaukee's old pal Ned Yost is back in a playoff race with Kansas City.

A: Me, I'm rooting for Cleveland to get one of the AL wild cards.

F: Aw, just to foil Ned?

A: Not just that. It's for Cleveland, a real sports-team hell these days with the Browns, the Cavaliers, the team that used to be the Browns winning the Super Bowl for Baltimore...

F: Very compassionate of you. But back to Ned. The last time he had a team in the playoff hunt, he didn't quite make it to the finish line.

A: Fired on Sept. 15, 2008, with a dozen games left and the Brewers in danger of gagging up the single NL wild-card spot.

F: And although Dale Sveum didn't dazzle anyone with a 7-5 record they made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. Well, this time Ned got past the Sept. 15 and dozen-game marks anyway.

A: The Royals enter this week with 3 1/2 games to make up and only seven to play.

F: But they do get to play two poor teams in Seattle and the White Sox. Even though Ned is still at the helm, his future is uncertain. He's a lame duck; the Royals picked up his option for this year but there's been no offer of an extension yet. The team owner, David Glass, said last week that Yost's fate is entirely up to GM Dayton Moore—who has only one year left on his own contract. Glass added, “I’m pleased with Ned and Dayton both.”

A: That settles it. They're both gone.

F: Not if they make the playoffs. In that case I'd guess they'd both get extensions.

A: I'm not so sure. I read some stuff on the Kansas City Star's website last week that wasn't too favorable toward Ned.

F: Such as?

A: I guess they coughed up a couple of leads in losses to Detroit and Cleveland, and last Wednesday a column by Sam Mellinger had the headline: "Playoff Teams Win This Type of Game." Mellinger went on to write: "There is nothing egregious about what Yost did on Tuesday, but the looming stink of leaving Jeremy Guthrie in too long on Sunday and the result—which is all that matters, really—mean the September microscope is going to find warts."

F: That comes with the territory for any manager.

A: A few of the readers' comments on the website were a lot stronger. Like, “If Tuesday proved anything, it was that in crucial must-win games, Ned Yost continually gags under pressure. He cannot be allowed to come back next year, that much is clear.” Or, “Sorry, Ned. Can't continue to defend your use of wrong players at inappropriate times.”

F: Rants about using the “wrong” reliever, pulling a starter too early or leaving a starter in too long. That's the stuff people always complain about after losses.

A: True, in every city there are the fire-breathers who wan to can the manager after the first game. And the folks who comment on stories are probably like the ones who call the radio gasbag shows—hell, they may be one and the same.

F: So how much stock can you put in what they say?

A: I don't know, but in this case I'm buying that stock.

F: I covered Brewers games for almost all of Ned's five-plus seasons here, starting in '03. As you've heard me say before, in the early years when the Brewers were developing their young players and building toward contention, Ned was a pretty easy-going guy, quite patient with the press. But as the expectations grew and the team finally broke a 13-year streak of losing records in '06, I thought Ned got wound tighter and tighter. He got more brusque with the media and just generally seemed more tense. And I think that probably conveyed itself to the players.

A: And probably was a reason for his firing. There was a danger that they'd fritter away a playoff spot. Attanasio and Doug Melvin obviously felt they had to jump in.

F: And that could well be happening with the Royals too. But on the flip side, Yost must have had something to do with the Brewers' development from '03 to '08, and he must have had something to do with the rise of the Royals.

A: There's a double-edged sword to that “team on the rise” stuff. Yes, there's been a lot of buzz about the Royals' young players for a few years, but now there seems to be a little disgruntlement that they haven't risen farther by now.

F: It's interesting that you say that. The New York Times ran a big feature on the Royals when I was on Long Island a couple of weekends ago. The headline was, “Royals' Patience Finally Rewarded With Playoff Push,” and the article talked about several of their good young players and general manager Dayton Moore. But the words “Ned Yost” appeared nowhere in the piece.

A: That's really strange, not to mention the manager at all. I can't understand that one. But Ned's not the only one under fire. The GM, Mr. Moore, has caught some criticism for the trade he made to get pitcher James Shields from Tampa Bay. He dealt a phenom outfielder, Wil Myers, whose been having a good season since the Rays brought him up in May. He goes into this week at .288 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs in 79 games.

F: Hasn't Shields been doing well for the Royals?

A: He's 12-9 with a 3.21 ERA and 221 2/3 innings pitched as the week begins. But is that worth the loss of the kind of run production that Myers was likely to give them over quite a few years? He could have been a real cornerstone.

F: That's the life of a GM. Melvin took the risk in trading Matt La Porta in the CC Sabathia deal...

A: A risk that sure worked out, not just with the '08 playoff berth but the fact that La Porta is now in the baseball equivalent of the witness-protection program.

F: If he's anywhere near Cleveland he's in hiding. He's been in the minors all season after hitting .238 with 31 homers in parts of four years with the Indians. Melvin also took chances in dealing Brett Lawrie to Toronto in the Shaun Marcum deal. Marcum helped get the Brewers to the playoffs in '11 but faltered badly in the NLCS, while Lawrie has been solid for Toronto.

A: And Melvin dealt Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal, and both of them are starters for the Royals.

F: Good thing Melvin hit the jackpot in dealing Greinke away last year, landing Jean Segura as the new shortstop of the future. Anyway, every deal is a leap of faith by the GM.

A: How long has Ned been the K.C. skipper?

F: Since May of 2010.

A: I hope Ned is familiar with the concept of “shelf life,” because I think his may be running out.

F: The Royals are doing it with pitching and "little ball." They have the most stolen bases and fewest strikeouts in the AL but also the fewest home runs. They're 11th in runs but fourth in batting average. And they have the best ERA in the league.

A: They've been really streaky.

F: In late July and early August they played themselves into contention, but in late August they lost seven straight. But since then they've rebounded again.

A: They had the tough luck to win something like 17 of 20 games at the same time that the Tigers and Indians were also on fire. Hey, Yost is a real big NASCAR fan, ain'a?

F: Absolutely. I think he was a good friend of the late Dale Earnhardt.

A: Well, if he gets canned he can become a crew chief for somebody.

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek always needs a bye week.

 

 

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