Green Bay Packers: Remembering Ted Thompson

Another member of the Green Bay Packers family passed away earlier this week, as former general manager Ted Thompson died Wednesday at his home in Atlanta, Texas, three days after his 68th birthday. This unfortunately, seems to be a trend. In 2020, a number of legends from the Packers passed away, which included Paul Hornung, Herb Adderley and Willie Davis.

It’s sad and surreal that Thompson would pass away the week of the NFC title game, as a number of the players he drafted or signed for the Pack will be playing in that championship contest versus the Tampa Bay Bucs at Lambeau Field.

Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback for the Packers obviously and it was No. 12 who was the first ever draft pick of Thompson in 2005 when he was picked with the 24th selection of Round No. 1. Thompson also drafted wide receiver Davante Adams in 2014 in the 2nd round, running back Aaron Jones in 2017 in the 5th round, left tackle David Bakhtiari in the 4th round in 2013, center Corey Linsley in the 5th round in 2014 and signed tight end Robert Tonyan as a free agent in 2017.

All but Bakhtiari, who is out with an ACL injury, will be starting on Sunday on offense for the Packers. On defense, only two picks made by Thompson will be starting on Sunday for the right to get to Super Bowl LV. They are defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who was drafted in the 1st round in 2016 and cornerback Kevin King, who was drafted in the 2nd round in 2017.

So, as you can see, even though Thompson has not been the general manager of the Packers since January of 2018 when Brian Gutekunst was hired to replace him, the Packers still have the mark of the man who played his college football at SMU.

After SMU, Thompson played 10 years in the NFL with the Houston Oilers, where he mostly was a special teams demon, although he did start eight games in his career with the Oilers. Thompson was also versatile enough to go 4-for-4 in extra point attempts for Houston in 1980.

In 1992, Ron Wolf, who was the general manager of the Packers back then, hired Thompson to be part of his scouting department. One of Thompson’s first assignments under Wolf was to look at film of a quarterback Wolf was interested in trading for. That quarterback was Brett Favre. When Wolf told Thompson that he was thinking of trading a No. 1 pick to acquire Favre from the Atlanta Falcons, Thompson concurred that he would do that as well.

From 1993 through 1996, Thompson was the the director of pro personnel for the Packers. The pro personnel department is responsible for adding other players who have played in the NFL, either through trade, free agency or by waivers.

During Thompson’s tenure in running the pro personnel department, the Packers added a number of key pieces to the team, either via free agency or trade.

Players like wide receiver Mark Ingram, tight end Keith Jackson and safety Eugene Robinson were acquired by trade. Free agents such as defensive end Reggie White, safety Mike Prior, defensive end Sean Jones, wide receiver Don Beebe, defensive tackle Santana Dotson and wide receiver/kick returner Desmond Howard were signed.

A number of these players contributed to the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI victory.

After the 1996 season, Thompson moved over to run the department of player personnel for the Packers from 1997-1999. In 2000, Mike Holmgren, the former head coach of the Packers and now the executive vice-president/general manager and head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, hired Thompson to become the vice president of football operations for the Hawks.

Thompson stayed on with the Seahawks thorough 2004, and a number of his draft picks were key pieces of the team that played against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

In 2005, after head coach Mike Sherman was stripped of his job as general manager, the then president of the Packers, Bob Harlan, hired Thompson to become general manager. It would be a job he would hold until the end of the 2017 season.

Thompson fired Sherman after the 2005 season, as the team had a record of 4-12 and Favre had the worst year of his career at the time. In 2006, Thompson hired Mike McCarthy to become the new head coach of the Packers.

The marriage of Thompson and McCarthy turned out to be a very successful one. The modus operandi under the two of them was to draft and to develop the players. Pure free agency was used very infrequently, while “street” free agents were often signed to the team.

In terms of the players who Thompson drafted, besides Rodgers, the man of few words also selected safety Nick Collins (2nd round in 2005), linebacker A.J. Hawk (1st round in 2006), wide receiver Greg Jennings (3rd round in 2006), wide receiver James Jones (3rd round in 2007), kicker Mason Crosby (6th round in 2007), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (2nd round in 2008), defensive lineman B.J. Raji (1st round in 2009), linebacker Clay Matthews III (1st round in 2009), offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (1st round in 2010) and running back James Starks (6th round in 2010).

In free agency, Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson after he was released by the Oakland Raiders in 2006. In 2007, he signed cornerback Tramon Williams as a “street” free agent. He did the same thing with long snapper Brett Goode in 2008 and linebacker Erik Walden in 2010. Thompson also loved signing undrafted rookie free agents, In 2010, Thompson signed cornerback Sam Shields and linebacker Frank Zombo that way.

Thompson also used the waiver wire to upgrade his roster. In 2006, he brought aboard cornerback Jarrett Bush via the waiver route. He did the same thing in 2007 when he brought in fullback John Kuhn and in 2010 when defensive tackle Howard Green put on a Green Bay uniform.

All of those players had key roles in the march towards winning Super Bowl XLV, when the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

While Thompson and McCarthy duo was running the Packers from 2006 through 2017, the Packers were 121-71-1 during that tenure. That included nine appearances in the postseason, which including eight straight seasons at one point and also six NFC North divisional titles.

That also included four appearances in the NFC title game and a win in Super Bowl XLV.

That is a great run of success and that is why Thompson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2019.

Thompson was a soft spoken man, but those who worked with him in Green Bay and those who were brought on to the team by him will never forget him and will always appreciate what he did for the organization.

These are just a few of those sentiments.

Mark Murphy– ““We all owe a debt of gratitude to him. His stamp is on our team now.

“I think at the time when he drafted Aaron he said, ‘This is the kind of thing that five years from now people are going to say was a pretty good decision.’ Boy, was he right.

“(Fifteen) years after that, people still say that.”

Brian Gutekunst– “This particular team (the 2020 Packers) would’ve been one that he would have really enjoyed being around. The players that we have, and the spirit that it has, I think really fits him. He would have really enjoyed being around for this. That’s a tough thing to swallow.

“He, in my opinion, is the best talent evaluator – especially when it comes to the draft – that I’ve ever seen or been around. He had a very unique way of seeing what a player was going to become, and the greatness he could become.”

Matt LaFleur– “His impact is still felt today. I think it’s felt all around the league. There’s a lot of heavy hearts here today.”

Bob Harlan– “He was more comfortable when he wasn’t in the public eye. He told me he wasn’t comfortable behind the microphone. I told him don’t worry about it. That’s not why we hired you.

“He said if Rodgers is there, I’m going to take him. It’s not going to be popular. I told him if that’s what he wanted to do, it was his team. I got phone calls and letters. People were very critical. Ted was well aware he was going to catch heat, but he did what he thought was the best thing.”

Aaron Rodgers– “I’m really thankful for Ted. The fact that I was his first draft pick will always link us together.”

Milwaukee Brewers: Remembering Don Sutton

I’ll never forget the date. I was in my third year covering the Milwaukee Brewers and there had been rumors that general manager Harry Dalton was going to bolster the pitching staff of the Brew Crew. And sure enough, on August 30, 1982, the Brewers acquired veteran hurler Don Sutton from the Houston Astros for players to be named later and cash. The players which the Brewers sent to the Astros on September 3, were outfielder Kevin Bass, pitcher Frank DiPino and pitcher Mike Madden.

It was another great acquisition by Dalton.

Dalton had already strengthened the Brewers in December of 1980 in a huge trade, when he acquired relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons from the St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee sent the Cards pitcher Lary Sorenson, pitcher Dave LaPoint, outfielder Sixto Lezcano and outfielder David Green to get back the terrific trio.

That trade helped get the Brewers to the 1981 MLB postseason for the very first time. And to add to that, Fingers won the American League Cy Young award, as well as being named American League MVP. Plus, Vuckovich was on his way to winning the Cy Young award in 1982 as well. Simmons, who hit from both sides of the plate, was a steady influence behind the plate and could hit with power.

Speaking of power, the Brewers behind manager Harvey Kuenn was a slugging bunch. The team was nicknamed Harvey’s Wallbangers due to their pop at the plate. It seemed like everyone in the lineup could hit from No.1 to No. 9 in the batting order.

Third baseman Paul Molitor (“The Ignitor”) led off, followed by shortstop Robin Yount, who would win the American League MVP in ’82. Yount was followed by first baseman Cecil Cooper, Simmons at catcher, left fielder Ben Oglivie, center fielder Gorman Thomas, either Don Money or Roy Howell as designated hitter, right fielder Charlie Moore and second baseman Jim Gantner.

Before the deal to acquire Sutton, the starting pitching staff was led by Vuckovich, who threw from the right side, lefty Mike Caldwell, righty Moose Haas, lefty Bob McClure and righty Doc Medich, who had replaced lefty Randy Lerch in the rotation after a trade. Medich had been inconsistent, which is one reason Dalton wanted to add another veteran arm.

The bullpen was led by Fingers, who was having another fine year, plus the pen also had righty Jim Slaton, righty Dwight Bernard, lefty Jerry Augustine, lefty Jamie Easterly and righty Pete Ladd.

When the Brewers acquired Sutton on August 30, the Brewers were up by 4.5 games in the tough American League East. I remember talking to Dalton shortly after that trade was made and he told me that he wanted a successful veteran hurler who had postseason experience and also someone was always ready to take the ball whenever he was called upon. Sutton fit that profile perfectly.

At the time of the trade, Sutton had been 13-8 for the Astros, with an ERA of 3.00, plus had four complete games. Up to that point of his career, which also included 15 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and one-plus with Houston, Sutton had a career record of 239 wins and 182 losses. In addition, Sutton had been to four World Series with the Dodgers, pitching in three of them, going 2-2. Sutton was also 3-1 in three National League Championship Series that he appeared in.

The most prominent pitch in the repertoire of Sutton was his curveball. In his rookie season in 1966, Sutton struck out 209 hitters, which was the best mark by a rookie since 1911. In terms of being durable, Sutton never missed a start, before or after the trade to the Brewers. And although he only won 20 games or more games once in his career, Sutton averaged 14 wins per season by the time he was acquired by the Brew Crew.

On the same day I talked to Dalton about the trade to acquire Sutton, I talked to Don himself. He told me that he was very happy to be a new member of the Brewers. He thought he could add another veteran presence on the pitching staff, much like Fingers. Plus, he was thrilled to be pitching for a club that had so many terrific hitters. Finally, he told me that hopefully this could be the year that he would be part of a team which would win the World Series, as he had been part of four teams (1966, 1974, 1977 and 1978) on the Dodgers who went to the Fall Classic, but lost each time.

I also remember the night that Sutton made his first appearance with the Brewers. It was September 2 and the Brewers were going to be playing the Cleveland Indians in a twi-night doubleheader at County Stadium. Sutton would be starting Game 2. In Game 1, Haas got the start and pitched well, but in the 9th inning, Fingers who had pitched 1.1 innings up to that point, felt a sharp sting in his elbow. Fingers had to leave the game and Ladd came in to get the save as the Brewers won 2-1. Nobody knew it at the time, but Fingers would be lost for the rest of the regular season and postseason due to a tear in his elbow.

In Game 2, Sutton pitched a beauty, giving up just one run in eight innings, but unfortunately, Sutton gave up a three-run homer to Von Hayes in the top of the 9th and the Brewers lost 4-2. That would be the only loss for Sutton for the rest of September, as he won four straight starts after that. No start was more important than his start against Jim Palmer and the Baltimore Orioles on October 3.

Going into the season-ending series against the Orioles, the Brew Crew had a three-game lead on the O’s. But after losing the first three games of the series, it came down to the final game of the season, when two future Hall of Famers would be facing each other. The winner would go on to the ALCS, while the loser would go home.

Led by Yount, who went 3-for-4 with two homers and two RBIs, plus Cooper, who went 2-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs and Simmons, who went 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs, the Brewers hit Palmer hard. That was fine with Sutton, who went eight innings, allowing just two runs on eight hits, as the Brewers won 10-2.

But it wasn’t so easy for Sutton, based on what he told the press after the game. Sutton said that he had come to Baltimore suffering from a virus and then had an allergic reaction to an injection of antibiotics, breaking out in hives. But by Sunday morning, Sutton was feeling much better and ready to go.

Sutton did his job at the moment of truth and got the Brewers into the postseason for the second straight year. The Alabama native talked about about what it was like in the clubhouse after the game.

“It was bedlam, absolute bedlam,” Sutton said. “I felt so privileged and gratified to have the ball that last day and have it turn out so well. I felt like I wasn’t just pitching for the Brewers. I was pitching for the whole state of Wisconsin.”

Then in the ALCS, with the Brewers down two games to none in a five-game series versus the California Angels, Sutton was given the ball again to try and stave off elimination in Game 3 in Milwaukee. Once again, Sutton got the job done, as he went 7.2 innings, giving up three runs on nine hits, while striking out nine, as the Brewers won 5-3. Ladd came in and got the save, as Fingers was not available obviously. The Brewers went on to win the series three games to two and the team was going to be facing the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series.

After winning Game 1 by a score of 10-0 behind a three-hit shutout by Caldwell, Sutton got the start in Game 2 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which was a place that Sutton had pitched at a number of times. Sutton pitched into the 6th inning with the Brewers holding a 4-2 lead, but gave up two runs in the bottom of the 6th and the game was tied. The Brewers ended up losing the game 5-4, as not having Fingers available to come into the game from the 7th inning on really hurt.

Sutton also started for the Brewers in Game 6 in St. Louis, as the Brewers had a 3-2 series lead, but nothing went right for Sutton and the Brewers that night, as the Cardinals won 13-1. The Brewers would also lose Game 7 by a score of 6-3, after blowing a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning. Once again, the loss of Fingers ended up biting the Brewers.

I covered the Brewers again in 1983 and interviewed Sutton a couple of times. Don was like most of the Brewers who I interviewed, very cordial and easy to talk with. Sutton went 8-13 in ’83 for the Brew Crew with an ERA of 4.08. In 1984, Sutton went 14-12 with the Brewers and had an ERA of 3.77. In December of that year, the Brewers traded Sutton to the Oakland Athletics.

Sutton pitched most of the 1985 season with the A’s when he was sent to the Angels in another late-season deal. Sutton pitched with the Angels through 1987. Then in 1988, Sutton returned to the Dodgers as a free agent. Unfortunately for Don, he was released in August of ’88, the same year the Dodgers would win the World Series.

Sutton ended his fantastic career with a 324-256 record, having made 756 starts, which is third on the all-time list. Sutton, who spent 23 years in MLB, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Sutton later had a long broadcasting career, most recently with the Atlanta Braves. 

The thing I remember most about Don was how much he enjoyed being part of the Brewers. I often would see him in the clubhouse kidding around with his teammates. I also recall him having a great time with Bob Uecker when “Mr. Baseball” was throwing batting practice.

I was like a kid in a candy store covering the Brewers from 1980 through 1983. I was the same age as many of the players on the Brewers and I fit in very well. It was an honor to be able to interact with future Hall of Famers like Sutton, Fingers, Yount, Molitor, Simmons, Uecker and owner Bud Selig.

Selig was the type of owner who was very close to his players. It was no different with Sutton and he said this about the two-plus years Sutton spent as a member of the Brewers..

“He always said that he just loved his time in Milwaukee,” Selig said. “He had been with the Dodgers all those years but he said over and over that every player in the big leagues should play in Milwaukee.”

When I heard that Sutton had passed away yesterday at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer, I was very saddened.

Rest in peace, Don! God bless you and your family, as well as your friends and former teammates.

Comparing Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the NFL Postseason

(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

There is a reason why many call Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). It’s hard to argue when you think about the six times that Brady led the New England Patriots to wins in the Super Bowl.

Add to that, Brady will be taking his new team, the Bucs, to the 14th conference championship he played in. That is truly amazing.

Still, I want to peel back the onion and look at one of the reasons Brady has been so successful in the postseason and compare what he has done versus what Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has done.

First, let’s look at Brady’s passer rating in the postseason. Currently Brady has a rating of 90.2. That mark is 15th all time. Brady is also 32-11 in the postseason, as he has thrown 77 touchdown passes compared to 35 interceptions for 11,968 yards.

The former Michigan Wolverine has a record of 6-3 in the Super Bowl and 9-4 in conference title games. Brady was also the MVP of four of those six Super Bowl wins.

In all of his playoff games, Brady has led an offense which has scored an average of 28 points-per-game. On the other side of the ball, his defenses have allowed an average of 20.6 points-per-game. In conference title games, Brady and his teams have averaged 27.4 points-per-game and the defenses have allowed 21.3 points-per-game.

Bottom line, Brady has played with defenses which allow a touchdown less than what he and the offense have produced.

Let’s compare that with Rodgers The former California Golden Bear has a postseason passer rating 100.4, which is fifth all time. Rodgers is 11-8 in the postseason, as he has thrown 42 touchdown passes compared to 12 interceptions for 5,323 yards.

Rodgers is 1-0 in the Super Bowl and 1-3 in conference title games. Rodgers was the MVP of his lone Super Bowl game.

In all of his playoff games, Rodgers has led an offense which has scored 28.2 points-per-game. On the other side of the ball, his defenses have allowed an average of 26.4 points-per-game. In conference title games, Rodgers and his offense have averaged 21 points-per-game and the defenses have allowed 30.7 points-per-game.

Bottom line, in all postseason games, Rodgers has played with defenses which have allowed less than a field goal difference compared to what his offenses have produced and in conference title games, the defenses have allowed more than a touchdown compared to what Rodgers and the offense have produced.

The defenses that Brady and Rodgers have played with in the postseason are key in understanding the success that both have had in their career.

Let’s take a look at the passer rating of quarterbacks with a least four NFL championships in NFL history.

Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers had a record of 9-1 in the postseason and won five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls. Starr was the MVP in each of those Super Bowl wins. The passer rating for Starr in the postseason is 104.8, which is second, only behind the 106.8 mark of Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs had a record of 16-7 in the postseason and won four Super Bowls in the 1980s. Montana was the MVP in three of those Super Bowl wins. The passer rating for Montana in the postseason is 95.6, which is ninth all time.

Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers had a record of 14-5 in the postseason and won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Bradshaw was the MVP in two of those Super Bowl wins. The passer rating for Bradshaw in the postseason is 83.0, which is 32nd all time.

What do Starr, Montana and Bradshaw all have in common besides the many championships that they won? They all played with great defenses or better-than-average defenses for the most part.

In the 10 games that Starr played in the postseason, his offenses scored an average of 25.3 points-per-game. The defenses that Starr played with only allowed 12.1 points-per-game.

In the 23 games that Montana played in the postseason, his offenses scored 26 points-per-game. The defenses that Montana played with only allowed 18.6 points-per-game.

In the 19 games that Bradshaw played in the postseason, his offenses scored 24.8 points-per-game. The defenses that Bradshaw played with only allowed 16.6 points-per-game.

So if you compare Brady to Starr, Montana and Bradshaw, one can see that the defenses that each of them played with in the postseason allowed at least a touchdown less than what they were able to produce on offense.

I’m sure you have all heard the adage that “defense wins championships” fairly often. In the cases of Brady, Starr, Montana and Bradshaw, the defenses that they played with all definitely helped them win postseason games. But so did the performances of each of them. I mean we are talking about a combined 10 Super Bowl MVP awards between the four of them.

Rodgers has also won a Super Bowl MVP. But he has rarely played with a great defense. In fact, when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the Packers had the second-best defense in the NFL in terms of total defense. That was also the last time that Rodgers played with a defense in the top 10 in the NFL. At least until this year, as the Packers finished ninth in the NFL in total defense.

But Brady once again has a top flight defense as well, as the Bucs finished sixth in total defense in 2020.

So what does this mean for the NFC title game this upcoming Sunday between Rodgers and the Packers and Brady and the Bucs at Lambeau Field?

It should be a game for the ages. Both teams have top 10 defenses, plus the offenses led by Rodgers and Brady each averaged over 30 points-per-game in the regular season.

I expect both Rodgers and Brady to play well on Sunday. The game may be determined by a key play on defense by either team.

Bottom line, NFL quarterbacks usually get the glory when their teams win a championship, but the defense that they play with is also a key factor as to how that title was won.

Brady, Starr, Montana and Bradshaw would all agree.

Green Bay Packers: The Track Record of Aaron Rodgers Versus the Los Angeles Rams

Since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers in 2008, No. 12 has played the Rams five times. The first four games were against the St. Louis Rams and Rodgers was a perfect 4-0 against them. The most recent game against the Rams occurred in 2018, when the team had relocated back to Los Angeles and Rodgers lost his only game against that franchise. More on that game later.

In the five games in which Rodgers has faced the Rams, the former Cal Bear has thrown 11 touchdown passes versus three interceptions for 1,454 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers in those five games is 113.8.

But the game against the Rams in 2018 is the one we want to look at, as many of the players on each of those teams are still around as the Packers get ready to host the Rams in a NFC divisional game on Saturday at Lambeau Field.

When the Packers played the Rams in 2018, Mike McCarthy was still the head coach for Green Bay. The offense for the Pack was in a state of flux that season. The team would finish 6-9-1 that season and McCarthy would lose the job he had since 2007.

Meanwhile, the Rams would finish 13-3 that season and would later lose Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots 13-3.

When the two teams met at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in front of 75,822 fans that late October afternoon, the Rams were undefeated at 7-0 and the Packers (3-2-1) were trying to ignite their season with a big win.

The Packers played well enough to win that day, but a huge mistake late in the game by kick returner Ty Montgomery took away any chance that the Packers could win. It was a back and forth type of game. The Packers went up 10-0 on a Jamaal Williams one-yard run for a touchdown in the 1st quarter and then followed that with a 41-yard field goal by Mason Crosby in the 2nd period.

The Rams scored the next eight points in the 2nd quarter, first on a safety when running back Aaron Jones was tackled in the end zone and then on a one-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Josh Reynolds.

The Packers added to their lead on a 53-yard field goal by Crosby in the 3rd quarter, but Los Angeles answered back with two touchdowns. The first was on a 30-yard pass from Goff to running back Todd Gurley. Goff then hit Gurley again with a pass on the two point conversion to make the score 16-13 Rams. The Rams scored again when Goff hit Reynolds again with a touchdown pass, this time from 19 yards out to make the score 23-13 in favor of Los Angeles.

But the Pack came back. Late in the 3rd period, Jones scored on a 33-yard run to make the score 23-20. Early in the 4th quarter, the Rams padded their lead when Greg Zuerlein nailed a 43-yard field goal to make the score 26-20. But Rodgers gave the Packers a 27-26 lead when he hit wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 40-yard touchdown pass.

With 2:05 on the clock, Zuerlein put the Rams up 29-27 with a 34-yard field goal. That gave Rodgers plenty of time (plus the Packers had one timeout) to drive down the field and get in position for a game-winning field goal by Crosby. However, there was just one problem. Montgomery returned the kickoff from his end zone even though he was told by his coaches not to return the kick. Of course, Montgomery fumbled and the Rams recovered. Game over.

Rodgers had a very solid game against the Rams that day, even with the offense not clicking on all cylinders. No. 12 was 18-of-30 for 286 yards and one touchdown pass. Rodgers did not throw a pick and his passer rating for the game was 102.9. Rodgers was also sacked three times, with two of the sacks coming from defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

The upcoming playoff game against the Rams will pit the NFL’s top offense (Green Bay) against the NFL’s top defense (Los Angeles). Rodgers leads the best offense in the NFL, as the season he had in 2020 was one of his best ever. For the year, Rodgers threw 48 touchdown passes versus just five picks for 4,299 yards. No. 12 completed 70.7 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 121.5, which is the second-best mark ever in the NFL, only behind the passer rating Rodgers had in 2011 when his rating was 122.5.

Rodgers was named to his ninth Pro Bowl squad, plus was named first-team All-Pro for the third time in his career. Rodgers received 46 first place votes from the 50 voters for the NFL All-Pro team. Those same 50 voters also vote for the NFL MVP award, so one can expect Rodgers to win his third MVP honor this year as well.

Rodgers would also love to win his second Super Bowl MVP award as well, but to do so, he and the Packers have to first take care of the Rams on Saturday. That won’t be easy, as Donald had another fabulous year on the defensive line, as he was put on his seventh Pro Bowl team, plus was named first-team All-Pro for the sixth time. Donald is also the favorite to win his fourth NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020.

Donald hurt his ribs in a NFC Wild Card game last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks and missed the rest of the game, but he is expected back to play against the Packers on Saturday. Time will tell how much the rib injury will affect the play of Donald.

Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams sacks Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 28, 2018.

The Rams also have cornerback Jalen Ramsey ready to take on wide receiver Davante Adams of the Packers as well. Ramsey is considered one of the best corners in the NFL and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl team this year, as well as being named first-team All-Pro for the second time. Adams is also considered one of the best receivers in the NFL and he too was named to the Pro Bowl (for the fourth time) and was also first-team All-Pro.

I expect Rodgers to play very well again on Saturday. No. 12 always plays well in the postseason, as his statistics illustrate. In 18 games, Rodgers has thrown 40 touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions for 5,027 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers in those 18 games is 100.0.

In the two games he played under head coach Matt LaFleur last year in the postseason, Rodgers was a combined 47-of-66 for 569 yards, with four touchdown passes versus two interceptions. His passer rating last postseason was a cumulative 105.5. And that was with an offense which was ranked 15th in the NFL, not 1st like it was in 2020 for the Packers.

Bottom line, even against a great defense like the Rams have, I expect Rodgers to have another exceptional game.

Green Bay Packers: Boyd Dowler Talks About the ‘Ice Bowl’, Davante Adams and the Pro Football Hall of Fame

I had the pleasure of speaking with Boyd Dowler of the Green Bay Packers on the 53rd anniversary of the 1967 NFL championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” played on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field. Boyd and I talked about that game, as well as other subjects such as Davante Adams of the Packers and also the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of the “Ice Bowl”, Dowler recalls that he caught four passes from Bart Starr in that game for 77 yards and two scores. Dowler recalls what happened on each of his touchdowns. The first touchdown came on the first drive of the game of the Packers and it was when Green Bay was on the 8-yard line of the Cowboys.

“Bart noticed that the cornerback was lined-up a couple of yards outside of me and I was in tight,” Dowler said. “So was the linebacker. Plus, Mel Renfro, who was a safety, was near the line of scrimmage near the center. So Bart calls an audible called 86, which had nothing to do with my number. 86 was a quick post or slant and it was a blitz audible when the safety was up. But Bart never once called that audible when I was in tight. He always had called it when I was split out wide.

“But he called it anyway. But the call did not throw me off, as I knew how Bart thought and was in my ninth year playing with him. So I thought to myself to just not screw up and run what Bart had called, even though I was in tight. The linebacker gave me a clean release off the line of scrimmage and I just broke inside to where Renfro should have been and Bart just threw it to me and it was an easy pitch and catch. But it was the play call that got me open. Bart sort of surprised me with the call, but when I broke wide open in the end zone, I realized it was a damn good call by Bart.”

Dowler also recalled the second touchdown, which occurred in the second quarter.

“It was third and short and Bart called the 36 pass,” Dowler said. “If Renfro was playing deep where he was supposed to be, Bart would have changed the call to a 36 run, when the fullback would run off tackle.”

On the 36 pass, Starr had two options. One, he could throw to the halfback out in the left flat or throw to the end who would run a post pattern. This play occurred when the Packers were at the 43-yard line of the Cowboys.

“On that 36 pass play, Bart first faked the handoff to Ben Wilson and then looked to pass,” Dowler said. “The wind was blowing in Bart’s face on that play. Renfro was playing up a bit and when I got by him, my heart skipped a beat because I thought Bart would overthrow me, but he laid it in there perfectly. Renfro wasn’t far behind me when I caught it and he did tackle me in the end zone.

“The bottom line is that on both of my touchdowns, the coverage problem for the Cowboys was because of where Renfro was lined up. Bart saw that and took advantage of it.”

After Dowler retired, he coached receivers for 15 years in the NFL. In fact, in 1971, Dowler was a player-coach with the Redskins. There he coached Charley Taylor, who like Dowler was on the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s. Taylor was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

So was another player Dowler coached when he was on the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be Harold Carmichael, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020, which also included safety Bobby Dillon of the Packers.

Obviously Dowler knows a lot about playing receiver in the NFL, both as a player and as a coach. Which is why I wanted to get his take on Davante Adams of the Packers.

Davante Adams hands Aaron Rodgers the football after catching the 400th touchdown pass of Rodgers’ career against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 6, 2020 at Lambeau Field.

Adams is now ranked fourth in Green Bay history with 546 receptions. Dowler is ranked eight with 448 catches. Adams has 62 touchdown receptions, while Dowler had 57. In terms of yardage, Dowler leads in that category, as he had 6,918 receiving yards, while Adams has 6,568.

In 2020, Adams was basically unstoppable catching balls from Aaron Rodgers, as No. 17 had 115 receptions for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns. Because of the great season he had in 2020, Adams was named to the Pro Bowl squad and was also named first-team All-Pro.

“In terms of Davante, I don’t understand how he is being covered in games,” Dowler said. “For instance, when I coached under George Allen, he always had his defense set up by his generals. His generals were usually linebackers like Maxie Baughan and Jack Pardee. George also used safety Richie Petitbon in that role. And they would change defensive alignments and coverages based on where the star receiver of each team would line up.

“For instance, that would be the way we played Bob Hayes of the Cowboys. No matter where Hayes would line up, he would be double-covered. But in Davante’s case, it seems like he doesn’t get a lot of double coverage. I mean, he’s fast, he’s big, he’s got great feet and he has great moves. It seems like he is always open. But no matter how good you are as a receiver in the NFL, you aren’t always going to get open against two people.

“It just doesn’t make sense that Devante is not doubled at times. Even when he pressed, Adams has quick feet and can get away from the defender. I mean, Devante is awfully good. But it would be tougher with two guys covering him.

“Still, Matt LaFleur has a great offensive system. That’s due to using motion or different formations which seems to get Devante a lot of single coverage. I think that is a credit to the coaches and the quarterback.”

It sure looks like Adams will someday be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like the quarterback (Rodgers) who throws him the football. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, we will know on February 6th who will be part of the Class of 2021. One of the players who could be selected is Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys.

Recently, I wrote a story comparing Pearson to Dowler and to me, both had very similar stats. Both were NFL All-Decade players for instance. So was another player who also is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’m talking about Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both Swann and Pearson were All-Decade in the 1970s, while Dowler was All-Decade in the 1960s.

In terms of comparing Swann and Dowler, in the regular season, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.

Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games. So if you compare the two, Dowler and Swann each caught three passes per game in the postseason. Plus, each caught a touchdown pass in every other playoff game they played in. The only real difference between the two is that Swann is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Dowler is not.

Also, neither Swann or Pearson was ever named to a NFL All-Time Team. Dowler was named to the NFL 50th Anniversary Team. No. 86 was named to the second-team of that 45-man squad. Dowler was joined on that second team along with players like Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

All of those players have a bust in Canton except for Dowler. As a matter of fact, Dowler has never been a finalist. That needs to change. When I was at a party that the Packers had for Jerry Kramer in Canton the day of his enshrinement in 2018, I talked with Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin, who is part of the Seniors Selection Committee.

Gosselin asked me what I was going to do next now that Kramer was finally inducted. I told Rick that there were a number of other former Packers who deserve to be in Canton and that I would continue to promote those players and write about them. Rick told me to make sure that I wrote about Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

“In terms of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I haven’t given that a whole lot of thought,” Dowler said. “But I know one thing, you are doing about as much as can be done in terms of making people aware of what I accomplished as a player and I’m very happy about that.”

The 100-Year Rivalry Between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears: Starr, Favre and Rodgers Have Been the Difference

After Sunday’ 35-16 win by the Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, the Packers now lead the regular season series between the two teams 100-94-6. The two teams also have a 1-1 record playing each other in the postseason.

When the teams first played in 1921, the da Bears were known as the Chicago Staleys. Green Bay traveled to Wrigley Field (then Cubs Park) and lost to Chicago 20-0. The first time the Packers beat the Bears was in 1925 at old City Stadium, when Green Bay won 14-10.

The thing that is amazing about the Packers leading the regular season series by six games now is the fact that before the 1992 season began, the Bears had a 79-58-6 series lead over the Packers. That means that since the ’92 season, the Packers have had a 42-15 record against the Bears.

So, what are the reasons that the Packers have the series lead over their long-time rivals from the Windy City? Actually, there are three reasons. Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

During his time with the Packers, Starr was 15-5 versus the Bears. When Vince Lombardi was his head coach, Starr was 12-3 against Chicago. Meanwhile, Lombardi was 13-5 versus George Halas from 1959 through 1967, which included five NFL titles in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, when Starr was the MVP of both games. Chicago did win the 1963 NFL title during that period as well.

It was a game against the Bears which elevated the status of Starr to both his head coach and his teammates. Jerry Kramer related that story to me in one of our many conversations.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pussy.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

Still, even with the great record of Starr against the Bears, the team still was down by 21 games in the series before the arrival of Favre in 1992. That all changed when No. 4 arrived. In 16 years in Green Bay, Favre had a 22-10 record against Chicago. Plus, like Starr did five times, Favre led the Packers to a NFL title, when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI.

Favre’s most memorable win against the Bears had to be on Halloween night at Soldier Field in 1994. That was the night that the Bears were retiring the jerseys of both Dick Butkus (No.51) and Gale Sayers (No. 40), plus both Green Bay and Chicago were wearing their throwback jerseys.

It was a scary night weather-wise, as the temperature was in the low 40s on a very windy and rainy night. It was raining sideways for awhile as a matter of fact. Favre didn’t have his best night throwing in those conditions, even with his strong arm, but he did throw for 82 yards and one touchdown, without throwing a pick.

It was Favre’s legs that made the difference in the game though, as he rushed for 58 yards on just two carries, including a memorable 36-yard touchdown scamper. The Packers as a team ran for 223 yards, which was very Lombardi-like.

Rodgers has just been magnificent against the Bears. Since taking over for Favre in 2008, Rodgers has a 20-5 record against the Monsters of the Midway, plus beat da Bears in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field. That victory came before Rodgers was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, as the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

The numbers that Rodgers has put up against Chicago are just amazing. In 25 games, No. 12 has thrown 55 touchdown passes for 6,013 yards and only tossed 10 interceptions. That adds up to a passer rating of 107.2.

There have been many memorable games by Rodgers against the Bears, but the one that most remember was the final game of the 2013 season when the Packers met the Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home and not make the playoffs.

Rodgers and the Packers were in a very difficult situation late in the game. Da Bears led 28-27 and there were only 46 seconds to go and Green Bay faced a 4th-and-8 scenario from the Chicago 48.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Bottom line, when Starr, Favre or Rodgers have played against the Bears, their record has been a combined 57-22. That’s 35 games over .500 folks. In addition to that, the Packers won seven NFL titles behind those three quarterbacks, which includes four Super Bowls.

So, what then would the season series look like without the record of Starr, Favre and Rodgers included? Well, da Bears would lead the series by a 72-43-6 margin.

That’s all you need to now about how impactful Starr, Favre and Rodgers have been in the most storied rivaly in the NFL that dates back to 1921.

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears: By the Numbers in 2021

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers always seems to play well against the Chicago Bears. Both at Lambeau Field and at Soldier Field. In fact, going back to the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field when the Packers won 21-14, Rodgers has led the Packers to nine wins in ten years at the storied stadium near the shore of Lake Michigan in the Windy City.

Nothing was more exciting than the final game of the season between the Packers and Bears at Soldier Field. The winner would win the NFC North, while the loser would be out of the playoffs.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing da Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Randall Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

A win today by the 12-3 Packers against the 8-7 Bears clinches the No. 1 seed in the NFC and also a bye in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

No. 12’s overall numbers versus Chicago are just incredible.

Regular Season Record: 19-5

Postseason Record: 1-0

Completion Percentage: 66.28

Completions: 509

Touchdown Passes: 51

Interceptions: 10

Passer Rating: 105.3

Yards Passing: 5,773

Yards Rushing: 276

4th Quarter Comebacks: 7

The 2020 Green Bay Packers Can Look to the Super Bowl XXXI Team for an Answer at Left Tackle

David Bakhtiari

On the same day that newly acquired defensive lineman Damon “Snacks” Harrison practiced with the Green Bay Packers for the first time, left tackle David Bakhtiari was lost for the rest of the regular season and postseason on what appears to be an ACL injury to his knee.

Losing Bakhtiari is brutal setback to the Packers, as they are setting their sights on becoming the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, which also mean a bye in the first round of the postseason. Bakhtiari is considered the best left tackle in the NFL, which earned him a new contract extension earlier this season.

No. 69 signed a four-year, $92 million contract extension on Nov. 15, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. His new contract included a $30 million signing bonus and averages $23 million in new money and $20.7 million over the full five years. Bakhtiari has been named first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro three times, plus has been named to three Pro Bowl teams.

While the loss of Bakhtiari comes at a very bad time, the Packers can look to the 1996 Green Bay team which won Super Bowl XXXI. In that season, the team also had one of the better left tackles in the NFL at the time. That player was Ken Ruettgers. But a knee injury hobbled Ruettgers early in the ’96 season and No. 75 only played in four games and started just one.

The Packers tried a number of players to try and find a left tackle who could protect the blindside of the NFL MVP in 1996, quarterback Brett Favre. Head coach Mike Holmgren tried both John Michels and Gary Brown at left tackle for most of the season at that position. But late in the season, the team turned to veteran Bruce Wilkerson, who held down that position all the way through the postseason, which included the 35-21 win by the Packers over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

In trying to replace Bakhtiari, head coach Matt LaFleur has a couple of options he can utilize and they are options he has used before. When Bakhtiari hurt his ribs earlier this year which caused him to miss three games, the Packers used both Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner at left tackle.

Both were effective playing the position as well in those three-plus games Bakhtiari missed. If Ricky Wagner, who hurt his knee last week against the Tennessee Titans, can play right tackle against the Chicago Bears this week, Turner can switch over from his right guard position and play left tackle. Turner started at the position in the three games Bakhtiari missed due to the rib injury. Lucas Patrick would then assume the right guard position while Turner moves to left tackle.

If Wagner can’t go against the Bears, Turner would most likely go to play right tackle and then Jenkins would move from left guard to left tackle, like he did in the game when Bakhtiari hurt his ribs. Jenkins, who was named to the 2020 Pro Bowl team, is probably the most talented and versatile offensive lineman on the Packers. No. 74 has played every position of the offensive line in 2020 except right guard.

If Jenkins goes to left tackle, Patrick would be at right guard, while rookie Jon Runyan would play left guard. The only constant of the offensive line would be center Corey Linsley.

The bottom line is that the ’96 Packers were able to overcome issues at left tackle and were able to accomplish the ultimate NFL conquest. That is, winning the Super Bowl. The 2020 Packers can do the same thing. Plus, the Packers have had to win without Bakhtiari in three games already this season. And you know what? The Packers won two of those three games and only allowed two sacks in 12 quarters of football.

Elgton Jenkins (No. 74) and Billy Turner (No. 77)

The most important thing was that quarterback Aaron Rodgers never skipped a beat in those three games. Rodgers threw 11 touchdown passes versus no interceptions for 879 yards in those three games. The cumulative passer rating in those three games for No. 12 was 130.2.

Plus, in the 2010 season, the Packers lost one of the better right tackles in the NFL for the year when Mark Tauscher suffered a shoulder injury after only four games. But rookie Bryan Bulaga stepped in and played well enough for the Packers at right tackle in 12 starts for the team to advance to the postseason. That all led to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, when Rodgers was the MVP of that game.

We shall see if the Packers can overcome problems again at the offensive tackle position in their quest to win Super Bowl LV. The Pack has achieved that goal twice before.

The Green Bay Packers add a Holiday ‘Snack’ to their Roster

Snacks Harrison sacks Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers received a holiday gift when the Seattle Seahawks released defensive lineman Damon “Snacks” Harrison on Monday. The Packers claimed Harrison on waivers on Wednesday. Harrison was a player who the Packers have coveted for a while now.

The Packers wanted to bring in Harrison earlier this year, but he visited Seattle first and signed with the Seahawks. In six games, Harrison had nine tackles and forced a fumble for Seattle. But after not being active against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday, Harrison asked for and was given his release.

So why did Green Bay want the 6’3″, 350-pound Harrison? Because there are few defensive linemen who stop the run better than Snacks. Pro Football Focus did a piece on Harrison a year ago which described Snacks as an immovable force. 

Although the Packers did a decent job of holding down the production of running back Derrick Henry last Sunday night when the Packers beat the Tennessee Titans 40-14, the run defense of the Packers is still the biggest weakness on that side of the ball. The Packers are currently ranked 14th in the NFL in stopping the run. In addition to that, the Pack is giving up 4.6 yards per carry to opposing running backs.

The Packers have also given up 15 rushing touchdowns, nine rushes of 20 yards or more and three rushes of 40 yards or more.

Harrison is now in Green Bay and will be practicing today, according to Olivia Reiner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers was quoted as saying, “He’ll be at practice today. He will potentially be suiting up Sunday, we’ll see.”

Plus, Matt Schneidman of TheAthletic.com quotes LaFleur saying this about Harrison, “Hopefully he can get acclimated pretty quickly. What we’ve seen and what we’ve heard is he’s a pretty intelligent guy. “I think he can give us a lot in terms of playing the nose.”

Time will tell whether of not Harrison will be able to play for the Packers in the final regular season game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday due to COVID-19 protocol, but Snacks will certainly be a welcome sight in the postseason.

All the Packers need to do is remember last year’s postseason. The Packers gave up  285 yards on the ground in the 2019 NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers. Plus, in the three losses that the Packers have suffered in 2020, the defense allowed an average of 157 yards per game on the ground.

You can beat the Packers by keeping Aaron Rodgers and company off the field. Running the ball and controlling the clock makes that easier.

By beating da Bears on Sunday, the Packers will assure themselves of a first round bye and homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. And having Harrison on the defensive line on early downs will be a huge asset in the postseason. The run defense will be much improved with both Harrison and Kenny Clark on the defensive line.

Plus, the Packers have seen an improvement at the production at inside linebacker in stopping the run with the play of two rookies, Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin. The shoulder injury to Christian Kirksey in Week 3 have allowed the Packers to see what their talented rookies can do at inside linebacker.

They are also seeing better run defense on the edge with the play of Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary, who has seen his playing time increase at the expense of Preston Smith.

The play of safety Adrian Amos has also been a key in helping the Packers get better in run defense.

But when you can add a player like Harrison of your defensive line, especially on early downs, you have provided the defense with an anchor that is almost impossible to move.

By adding a player like Harrison to team with Clark, it reminds me of the 2010 season, when the Packers added Howard Green to their roster to team with B.J. Raji about midway through that season. That move definitely helped out the run defense for the Packers, plus it was Green who forced quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers into a poor throw in Super Bowl XLV, which led to a pick-6 by safety Nick Collins. The Packers ended up beating the Steelers 31-25 in that Super Bowl, as Rodgers was the MVP.

By adding a player like Harrison, the road to Super Bowl LV in Tampa just got a bit easier, as Rodgers will be able to be on the field more often than not in the NFC playoffs.

A Scout’s Take on the Game Between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl

Going into their game today against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, the Wisconsin Badgers have a record of 16-15 in bowl games. The bowl berth for the Badgers is their 19th straight, which is the longest current streak among Big Ten teams.

The Badgers are 4-1 in bowl games under head coach Paul Chryst. The only loss coming in the Rose Bowl last season.

Wake Forest is 9-5 in their bowl history and will be playing in their fifth straight bowl game.

Speaking of history, the calling card of the Badgers has always been their running game. Names like Alan Ameche, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and Jonathan Taylor come to mind. All of those backs have had big bowl games as well.

Probably the most famous back to ever come out of Wake Forest was Brian Piccolo. In his senior year in 1964, Piccolo rushed for 1,044 yards and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. Piccolo also caught two touchdown passes.

In terms of the game today between the Badgers and the Demon Deacons, I’m passing along the preview of the game by NFL scout Chris Landry.

The Wisconsin Badgers will head on the road to Charlotte, North Carolina for a battle versus the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30.

Both teams had three games canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Wisconsin (3-3) needs a win to avoid its first losing season since 2001. On the other hand, Wake Forest will be playing just its third game since the end of October. Under head coach Paul Chryst, the Badgers are 4-1 in bowl games with their lone loss coming last year in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Meanwhile, Wake Forest will be playing in its fifth consecutive bowl game under head coach Dave Clawson.

Can Wake Forest close out the season with a bowl game win over Wisconsin on Wednesday ?

Wisconsin vs Wake Forest: Duke’s Mayo Bowl Broadcast
Date: Wednesday, December 30
Game Time: 12:00 ET
Venue: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Network: ESPN

In mid-November, both Wake Forest and Wisconsin had lofty bowl expectations. The Demon Deacons were 4-2 and had won four straight games. Midway through the third quarter of their game against North Carolina on Nov. 14, Wake held a 21-point lead. But at that point, things fell apart. The Tar Heels came back and won, then a couple of games in future weeks were lost due to COVID-19 issues, and four weeks after the Carolina loss, Dave Clawson’s unit fell to Louisville.

On that same Nov. 14, Wisconsin established itself as the Big Ten team most likely to challenge Ohio State. The Badgers had squashed Illinois in their season opener and after their own COVID-19 outbreak, destroyed Michigan to improve to 2-0. But three straight losses followed and Wisconsin fell out of the Big Ten West race. The skids by both Wake Forest and Wisconsin set up this Duke’s Mayo Bowl matchup.

Wisconsin has played football since 1892 and Wake Forest since 1888, but this will be the first time the two programs have ever met.

The Badgers enter this bowl game with question marks at quarterback. Wisconsin closed out the regular season with a 20-17 overtime victory at home against the Minnesota Golden Gophers to snap a three-game slide. Graham Mertz completed 12 of 20 passes for 132 yards while Garrett Groshek rushed for 154 yards and a score to help the Badgers finish the regular season with a 3-3 overall record.

Garrett Groshek

The Badgers got a little bit of bad news over the weekend, as quarterback Jack Coan entered the NCAA transfer portal. Coan entered the season as the presumed starter after making 18 starts between the 2018 and 2019 seasons but battled through an injured-riddled 2020 campaign. Coan threw for 2,717 yards with 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions as a junior while completing 69.6 percent of his passes. The 6-foot-3 senior injured his right foot during preseason practice and underwent surgery. He dressed for Wisconsin’s final three games but did not play a single down.

Coan was replaced by redshirt freshman Graham Mertz, who started each of Wisconsin’s six games. Mertz threw for 1,108 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions before getting hurt in the finale against the Golden Gophers. Sophomore Chase Wolf came in and completed 4-of-5 passes for 15 yards with one touchdown and one interception in relief of Mertz, who suffered an upper-body injury and did not return.

Defense has been the Badgers’ calling card this season. Wisconsin ranks among the nation leaders in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense this season. The Badgers have surrendered just 15.7 points (6th in FBS) and a nation-leading 263.5 yards of total offense per game. Opponents have also managed just 93.7 rushing yards per contest versus the Badgers’ defense, which ranks sixth in the country.

Wake Forest hoping to shake off rust following long layoff. Wake Forest had its final ACC regular-season game canceled due to coronavirus concerns on the Florida Seminoles roster. The last time the Demon Deacons took the field, they were throttled in a 45-21 loss on the road against Louisville. Wake Forest enters the Duke’s Mayo Bowl riding a two-game losing streak.

The Demon Deacons’ offense is led by quarterback Sam Hartman, who is hoping to cap off a strong sophomore campaign. The redshirt sophomore has thrown for 1,906 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interceptions this season while adding two more scores on the ground. Hartman didn’t throw a pick until the final game of the regular season and only lost two games by double-digits. The 6-foot-1 sophomore leads an offense that is scoring 37.0 points and averaging 435.3 yards of total offense per game.

Getting stops on defense has been an entirely different challenge for the Demon Deacons, who had an up-and-down campaign on that side of the ball in 2020. Wake Forest surrendered 31.6 points per game and 456.9 yards of total offense per contest. The Demon Deacons were particularly vulnerable on the ground, allowing 191 rushing yards per game, which ranks 92nd in the country. The front-seven will be tested in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against a Badgers’ offense that ranks 59th in the country with 171.7 rushing yards per contest.

Wisconsin’s offense has been injured, inept, and inconsistent after an amazing start, but the defense is No. 1 in the nation overall, No. 1 on third downs, and the team is No. 1 in time of possession.

Wake Forest has a fun, creative attack that doesn’t care a lick about controlling the clock, moves quickly, and doesn’t get a whole lot out of the lines.

The two teams know how to do bowl games right. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson is 3-1 in bowls with the program, only losing last year in a good fight against Michigan State in the Pinstripe.

Wisconsin lost to Justin Herbert and Oregon in a thriller of a Rose Bowl last season, but head coach Paul Chryst is 4-1 with the Badgers in bowls.

The quarterbacks are going to be the story. Wisconsin doesn’t have an elite running back, but Graham Mertz is the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in the program’s history. He’s working through the rough patches of a tough season – the receiving corps has been leveled by injuries – but he’s a talent. Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman is a fun veteran who threw ten touchdown passes and just one interception.

Wisconsin’s offense hasn’t been anything special, and it certainly isn’t the dominant force it’s been over the last two-plus decades when it comes to running the ball, but there are still parts that work like they’re supposed to. Converting on third downs has been like pulling teeth, but the pace and tempo are still at Wisconsin’s level – the team dominates the time of possession battle, keeping the ball for a nation’s high 36:45 per game. Wake Forest will never seem like it has the offense on the field – it averages just over 28 minutes in the time of possession battle.

The Wisconsin offense really hasn’t been anything special, but the Wake Forest defense could be the cure for that. The Demon Deacon secondary has been toasted for most of the year, and the D as a whole can’t come up with stops. It’s bad on third downs, awful against the run, and it’s too easy to power on the front line. The Badger passing game – even without a slew of top receives – should be able to move the chains.

The Badger D really is that good. It hasn’t seen any help from the offensive side for stretches, but it has yet to allow more than 340 yards, hasn’t given up 150 yards on the ground, and it’s a brick wall on third downs, allowing a nation-fewest 25% conversion rate. The Wake Forest offense can move, but the O line gives up way too many plays behind the line. The Badgers don’t have a high-end pass rush, but they’ll have their moments.

Wake Forest takes the ball away, and Wisconsin gives the ball away. The Demon Deacons might not do much defensively, but they’re great at forcing mistakes with 16 takeaways on the year, a +13 turnover margin, and three or more takeaways in four games. It’s this simple – Wake Forest is 4-0 when it comes up multiple takeaways, and 0-4 when it doesn’t. Wisconsin is 0-3 when turning the ball over multiple times, and 3-0 when it doesn’t.

Graham Mertz will hit a few third down throws, but with a banged up receiving corps, there aren’t enough big things happening down the field for a passing game averaging fewer than 200 yards per game. On the flip side, Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman- who has thrown ten touchdown passes and just one pick – has to get and stay hot.

The Demon Deacons can’t power the ball, and they don’t own the ball and the time of possession, but they don’t get hit with a lot of penalties – that’s a Badger thing. They always score in the red zone, the special teams are fine, and again, they own the turnover battle. Wisconsin isn’t good enough to not win all the relatively unnoticed stats.

When Wake Forest Has the Ball

For much of the season, the Demon Deacons had a two-headed monster at running back. The combination of Kenneth Walker III and Christian Beal-Smith had combined for more than 1,200 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. But 13 of those scores came from Walker, who decided to opt out before the final regular-season game against Louisville. That leaves the running up to Beal-Smith, who had a solid season before being held in check by the Cardinals. Freshman Justice Ellison was RB2 in the Louisville game and will be on Wednesday as well.

The biggest surprise in the final regular-season game was how the Cardinals disrupted Wake quarterback Sam Hartman. After an efficient 2020 campaign that included no interceptions in the first seven games, Hartman completed only 41.5 percent of his passes versus Louisville and he threw his first interception. Per usual, his primary option was Jaquarii Roberson, who caught nine balls for 138 yards and a touchdown. Second-leading receiver Donavon Green missed the Louisville game with an injury but is expected to be ready for the bowl game.

Jim Leonhard

Wisconsin’s struggles this fall were not the result of the team’s defense. Coordinator Jim Leonhard’s crew finished atop the Big Ten in both rushing and passing defense after the regular season while giving up just 15.7 points per game. Iowa posted 338 yards of total offense in their 28-7 victory over the Badgers, which is the most the Badgers have given up to this point. Corner Rachad Wildgoose has opted out of the bowl game, but he only played two games this year and was battling a shoulder problem, so his departure should not be a major issue. The unit is led by Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, two linebackers that each have been credited with 41 tackles through six games.

When Wisconsin Has the Ball

If Wisconsin had the Big Ten’s best defense and still finished 3-3, you know there were problems on offense. The Badgers scored 45 points in their opener against Illinois and followed that up with 49 versus Michigan, but managed a total of 40 points in their four other games. Quarterback Graham Mertz started off red hot with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games but the redshirt freshman has struggled mightily (TD, 5 INTs) since.

Needless to say, it’s not all Mertz’s fault. For the first time in what seems like forever, there is no bell-cow running back in Madison. Jalen Berger leads the team with 267 rushing yards and though he is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, he has just one touchdown. Also, there aren’t many dangerous threats out wide. Jake Ferguson and Jack Dunn caught 29 and 22 passes respectively, but neither averaged more than 9.4 yards per catch. Wisconsin has long been known for its dominant offensive line and while this is a fairly veteran unit, it is a group that still has something to prove.

The good news for the Badgers’ front is that they won’t have to deal with defensive end Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr., as the Wake star has decided to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. So the two players to watch on the Demon Deacons’ defense are senior linebacker Ja’Cquez Williams and freshman safety Nick Anderson. Williams leads the team in tackles while Anderson is second in that department and had three interceptions (all in one game). Overall, this was a unit that finished the regular season ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense and had difficulties stopping both the run and the pass at times.

Team Trends

Wisconsin
Badgers are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games following an ATS loss.
Badgers are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games overall.
Badgers are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games after accumulating less than 170 yards passing in their previous game.

Wake Forest
Demon Deacons are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
Demon Deacons are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game.
Demon Deacons are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games as an underdog.

Wisconsin has some question marks at quarterback heading into the Dukes’ Mayo Bowl. Mertz is dealing with an upper-body injury and there has been no official word on his status for the contest. Since returning from a battle with COVID-19, the redshirt freshman has thrown for only three touchdowns and five interceptions. Meanwhile, Wolf has compiled six total D-I pass attempts, so it’s going to be tough to know what we’re getting from the Badgers’ offense in this game. Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has been one of the nation’s most underrated signal callers this season, which should give Wake Forest the edge under center. Expect Wake Forest to stack the box and take the Demon Deacons to cover the spread in this postseason matchup on Wednesday.

Prediction: Wake Forest Demon Deacons +6.5