Packers make case for NFL's best; 2011 will be odd year in coaching
Rediscovering Greg Jennings has helped the Packers reel off four straight wins
Vince Young's future will be incendiary topic between coaching staff and owner
The awards for Week 11, my MVP Watch, plus 10 Things I Think I Think
NEW YORK -- Highlights, lowlights (and Richard Seymour, that was one incredible lowlight) and assorted weirdness of Week 11:
I've blown up the Fine Fifteen, promoting the Packers and demoting the Jets. I admire the Jets quite a bit for their late-game moxie, and it's all about the W's, but in the past three weeks they've had to fight to the death to beat two- (Detroit), three- (Cleveland) and four-win (Houston) teams. I'm giving Green Bay BCS style points for winning three in a row by a combined 85-10.
Are you ready for your closeups, Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier?
Cut the cord, Bud Adams. Vince Young must go.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and James Sanders just beat Peyton Manning. What a country.
Not trying to be Peter Downer on this Mike Vick story, but he's not the 11-week MVP. And I love watching him play -- he's got some Gretzky and Jordan in his game right now -- but I don't like his chances to survive if he keeps getting hit as much as he is.
You'll never guess who's using Slingbox.
Your Army buddy and mine, Mike McGuire, is back ... and he's getting ready for his fourth -- count 'em, four -- deployment into the most dangerous place in the world.
On with the show:
Green Bay is this week's Next Best Thing.
It's hard to not have great admiration for Aaron Rodgers. After the Packers embarrassed the Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome, Rodgers made a beeline for Brett Favre at midfield, and they embraced for a good 20 seconds, both whispering into each other's ear. It's obviously been an odd relationship; they were friendly but never tight in Green Bay, and now Rodgers is proving there is life -- very good life -- after Favre in Green Bay, a prospect that once seemed unthinkable.
I asked Rodgers if he could share anything he'd said to Favre at such an awkward and probably emotional time. Rodgers not only had played at a Favrian level back home in Green Bay, but now he'd come into Favre's new place and finished the process of ripping the team's 2010 guts out. Green Bay 31, Minnesota 3. Somewhere, in some deep place, Rodgers had to be feeling some measure of tremendous satisfaction, but he wasn't going to show it in that embrace, and no matter what he thought of Favre, he realized the moment and knew it was only right to treat Favre with the dignity he hopes he'll receive when replaced. Maybe sometime around 2024.
Hearing my question about what went on between him and Favre, Rodgers said, "I'd rather keep that private. I don't think it'd be right to share it.''
Just the right answer.
The Packers, for what it's worth, look like the best team in the league to me after 10 games for a couple of reasons (and if you want to say it's the Patriots, I couldn't argue much, or the Eagles or Falcons or Jets or even the Saints). The defense has gotten early instability settled; coordinator Dom Capers has figured out the right personnel combinations, and the corner combo or Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson -- who has turned into the kind of leader a head coach dreams of -- is playing as well as any corner tandem in the league. Green Bay's allowed 10 points in the past 12 quarters. The Packers shut out the Jets at the Meadowlands. In the past two weeks, they didn't let two bad teams breathe.
Offensively, it's been about Rodgers' dominance -- 75-percent passing, seven touchdowns, no picks in the past two weeks -- and about the rediscovery of Greg Jennings. A few weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy saw how Jennings, a legit number one receiver, was being overlooked in the offense week to week, and he began to emphasize more plays for Jennings, more shots for him as the primary target. And he's exploded since then. Check out the difference in Jennings' first five games and his second five:
On Sunday, Rodgers' first of three touchdown strikes to Jennings was a great example of the new emphasis about getting the ball to him, and about Rodgers' patience. Chased from the pocket, Rodgers kept surveying the field while keeping half an eye on Jennings because of what the Pack thought was a favorable coverage matchup. As he rolled left, Rodgers finally saw a wide-enough opening to get the ball through, and fired it, and Jennings caught it for the score. And the rout was on.
"This is exactly the way I saw us playing this year,'' Rodgers said after his four-TD, no-pick day. "No offense to them, but when we play a team and we're playing the way I know we're capable of playing, we feel there's no way they can stop us. And that's the way we're playing right now. It's a good feeling to work the way we have and then have everything go the right way.''
It's going to be a very odd year for coaching changes.
You're an owner, and you want to make a coaching change for 2011. Here's what you're thinking about as this disappointing (presumably) season winds down:
1. There's a very good chance the new coach won't have access to the players beginning in March, when a potential lockout would happen. He may not have access to the players until a new labor deal is signed, which seems more and more like it won't happen until at least the summer. And that's being optimistic.
2. The new coach won't be able to work with his new staff very much either, because most teams will put assistant coaches on varying part-time contracts. The new coaches won't be in the building much, if at all, during a work stoppage.
3. The big-name coaches -- Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden -- will be in play. But will you want to lock them in at a big number for 2011 if you're not sure when or if you'll be playing football?
"What all that means,'' one head coach not on the hot seat told me Friday, "is an advantage for the in-house candidate unlike there's ever been. Financially and functionally, the top coordinator makes sense more than it ever has.''
In Minnesota, after Monday's firing of Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier will have a six-week audition as interim coach to prove he's the man long-term as well. In Cincinnati, if Marvin Lewis leaves, firebrand Mike Zimmer could ascend to the job, with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski staying in place. In Dallas, Jason Garrett, who has righted the ship in just two weeks, might make the point moot anyway because owner Jerry Jones already seems to be thinking of giving him a shot to win the job in 2011*. In Carolina, there's not an obvious guy in-house, though owner Jerry Richardson wants to keep the coaching payroll down, so he could think of promoting from within.
*Jones inquired about whether he could make Garrett the permanent coach without opening up the job for interviews after the season. The NFL has a policy, known as the Rooney Rule, that requires each team with a coaching opening to interview at least one minority candidate. And Jones has been told that, whether he intends to hire Garrett or not, he'll have to abide by the Rooney Rule once the season ends.
"I can't imagine what the landscape would be like,'' the current head coach said, "if a new coach walks into his first team meeting on August 11th and says to his team, 'OK, guys, we're switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3, so here's the new defense. And we're going to run the West Coast offense now. We play a game that counts in three weeks. Let's get to work.' I mean, it's impossible. That's why the in-house candidate will be more attractive than ever. When I talk to other coaches, we all see which way it's going. And I'd be surprised if there were a lot of changes that went to guys who planned to come in and change everything.''
I'm hearing more and more that Gruden could live with another year at ESPN -- he has one hard-and-fast year left on his contract there -- but would love to be in play for the right job. I think Cowher would go only to a place where the circumstances were right, and that job might not exist this year. The third-most desirable guy (unless John Fox's star is not totally tarnished by this awful season in Carolina) might be Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who I think would love an NFL job someday. This just might not be the day. Even if potential franchise quarterback Andrew Luck leaves Stanford early, the weirdness of the 2011 landscape may make college a lot more desirable in 2011 for Harbaugh.
So add that little wrinkle to what promises to be a year unlike any other in recent NFL history in 2011.
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