NFL Nation: Jermichael Finely

Halftime: 49ers 24, Packers 21

January, 12, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- I'm spending most of Saturday night's game in our Countdown Live chat, but here are a few quick halftime thoughts from Candlestick Park, where the 49ers lead the Packers by three:
  • A Captain Obvious note: The Green Bay Packers haven't had an answer for the running skills of Colin Kaepernick, who has 107 yards on 11 carries -- including a 20-yard touchdown dash. Kaepernick is fast and has instinctive open-field ability, but the Packers also don't appear to have accounted for him in their defensive scheme. I've seen linebacker Clay Matthews in a spy position a couple of times, but otherwise they haven't had anyone in position to tackle him close to the line of scrimmage.
  • Leaving Matthews in a spy position limits his pass-rushing opportunities. But truth be told, he hasn't done much against 49ers left tackle Joe Staley in this game.
  • The 49ers have 14 points off Packers turnovers. The Packers have seven points off Kaepernick's only mistake of the game, a poor pass on the opening possession that Sam Shields intercepted and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. Partially because of that play, the 49ers held the ball for 21 minutes, 47 seconds in the first half.
  • I'm not sure why the Packers opened the game with Jeremy Ross as their kickoff and punt returner. Randall Cobb has been slowed by an ankle injury and the flu, but he is in uniform and playing in this game. In the playoffs, you tend to trust your most experienced players. Ross' muffed punt in the second quarter set up a 49ers touchdown, and Cobb has replaced Ross since that point.
  • The Packers offense has moved in fits and starts but has not been as sharp as the 49ers'. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed only half of his 10 attempts, but he made two laser throws on the Packers' final possession of the second quarter -- one a 19-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley and one on a 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver James Jones.
  • Jones has been the Packers' best offensive player, scoring one of their touchdowns and catching a 44-yard jump ball to set up their other.

OK, back to the Countdown Live chat.

Packers' first fourth-quarter deficit

December, 18, 2011
KANSAS CITY -- For the first time all season, the Green Bay Packers are trailing in the fourth quarter of a game. As of this moment, it's 9-7 in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers, in fact, haven't trailed in the fourth quarter during any of the games in their current 19-game winning streak.

Their offense showed a bit of life in the third quarter, getting on the scoreboard on a 2-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Driver. A 41-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley set up the score.

It appears the Packers will go the rest of the way without right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who re-injured his left knee and has been replaced by rookie Derek Sherrod. Barring major news, we'll settle in and watch the conclusion of this game. Look for a Rapid Reaction shortly thereafter.

Halftime: Chiefs 6, Packers 0

December, 18, 2011
KANSAS CITY -- Well then. The Green Bay Packers are scoreless at halftime and trail the Kansas City Chiefs. A few thoughts.
  • The Packers have had a few games with concentrated drops this season, but none like the first half Sunday. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed only six of his 17 passes, and while drops are a subjective judgment, I would conservatively say at least six of those incompletions should have been caught. Tight end Jermichael Finley is responsible for half of that total. Those who worried about Finley's ability to fill in as the lead receiver while Greg Jennings is sidelined appear justified.
  • Offensive pass interference is a relatively rare call, so the fact that receiver Jordy Nelson has been whistled twice already suggests that someone from the Chiefs has gotten in the officials' ears. Just a guess.
  • There is no doubt some serious belly-aching about the drops, but the Chiefs have controlled this game mostly on offense. Quarterback Kyle Orton has completed 14 of 19 passes, and overall the Chiefs have 210 yards and 13 first downs while holding the ball for 20 minutes, 33 seconds of the 30-minute half. The Packers' defense hasn't had many answers, and if it weren't for a fourth-and-goal stop late in the second quarter, the Chiefs would have a two-score lead.
  • Punter Tim Masthay did his part in limiting the scoring with a strong 71-yard punt late in the second quarter, flipping field position and preventing the Chiefs from gaining possession anywhere close to field goal range.
  • With all of that said, the Packers will get the ball to open the third quarter. As they have many times this year, they can shift momentum of the game with a strong drive. Stay tuned.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 27, Bears 17

September, 25, 2011
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the 183rd edition of the NFL’s oldest rivalry:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers are now 3-0 and tied for the NFC North lead with the upstart Detroit Lions. In the process, the Packers have put some distance between them and the Chicago Bears, who fell to 1-2 amid another disjointed performance by their offense.

What I liked: The Packers once again didn’t try to force anything downfield against the Bears’ defense, which has historically limited their big plays. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected on three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley and finished with 297 yards passing, but his longest gain was 25 yards. There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at it this way: The Packers dinked and dunked their way to 27 points. Rodgers is now 6-2 against the Bears all-time, including postseason.

What I didn’t like: Maybe they didn’t think they could run against the Packers' defense, but the Bears didn’t generate enough of a pass-run balance for my liking. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw on 17 of their first 23 plays and Bears tailback Matt Forte finished with two net yards on nine carries. They obviously identified some matchups they liked, especially against new Packers safety Charlie Peprah. But the Bears will win very few, if any games, under those circumstances.

What I didn’t like II: The Packers can’t be happy about the way they finished this game. They held a 27-10 lead early in the fourth quarter but allowed Bears tight end Kellen Davis to rumble through their secondary for a 32-yard touchdown play midway through the quarter. Later, their punt coverage team was faked out by a smart Bears return that seemed to get Johnny Knox a touchdown with about a minute left. A holding penalty by the Bears’ Corey Graham nullified the play and prevented the Bears from pulling within a field goal.

GrantWatch: Packers tailback Ryan Grant had by far his best game of the season, finishing with 89 yards on 15 carries while James Starks struggled to five yards on 11 carries and also lost a fumble. Grant did leave the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit in the face, but he put some important production on tape regardless.

Injury report: Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) did not return after injuring his knee in the first quarter. Marshall Newhouse went the rest of the way. And we’ve already discussed Grant’s injury.

What’s next: The Bears will host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday. The Packers will host the Denver Broncos.

In compiling my list of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL, I found myself building around the four NFC North tight ends we've spent the better part of two years writing about. I didn't doubt that the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew would make the final cut after all of's power rankers got around to power ranking them, given his 71-catch performance in 2010, but I wondered how our other three tight ends would fare.

As it turned out, not too well.

Pettigrew took the No. 9 slot and Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley snuck into the No. 10 spot despite appearing on less than half of the ballots. I was the only voter to put Greg Olsen of the Chicago Bears and Visanthe Shiancoe of the Minnesota Vikings on my ballot.

In this case, I feel like neither a homer nor a power ranking manipulator, which I believe is a psychiatric condition outlined in most college-level textbooks. Instead, I feel like I was in was in a unique position to be able to judge these players in context. That's something I admittedly couldn't do with the two top 10 tight ends I left off my list, Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Marcedes Lewis of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(But with each divisional blogger participating, it should all come out in the wash, right?)

I voted for Olsen because we're only one year removed from him being the top receiving option in the Bears' offense. He caught 60 passes, including eight touchdowns, in 2009. It's true that his numbers dipped significantly in 2010, but context is important: His 41 receptions were the most ever for a tight end in a Mike Martz offense, which traditionally relegates tight ends to blockers. Even San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who finished No. 4 overall in this balloting, managed 31 catches in his one season under Martz (2008).

That should count for something. (In Olsen's case, it put him No. 15 in our expanded balloting.)

As with Olsen, there is no arguing that Shiancoe's production slipped in 2010. Most notably, his touchdowns dropped from 11 to two. But I would argue that his 47 receptions last season were just as impressive, if not more, than his 56 in 2009, when you consider the rag-tag quarterback situation the Vikings found themselves in for the better part of 2010. That should count for something, and for Shiancoe it put him at No. 17.

Finley, meanwhile, no doubt would have ranked higher had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 last season. It's probably an accomplishment to rank in the top 10 considering he has missed 14 games over the past two seasons due to injury.

For the record, here is how I voted:
  1. Jason Witten
  2. Antonio Gates
  3. Vernon Davis
  4. Dallas Clark
  5. Tony Gonzalez
  6. Chris Cooley
  7. Jermichael Finley
  8. Brandon Pettigrew
  9. Greg Olsen
  10. Visanthe Shiancoe

Formation leads to favorable matchup

December, 7, 2009
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- I can’t say I’ve seen that formation in … forever.

Green Bay just scored its first touchdown of the game on a 2-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley, who began the play lined up as a tailback behind “fullback” Brandon Jackson. Finley went into motion, lined up as an outside receiver, and hauled in Aaron Rodgers’ pass.

The formation might have been designed to get Finley a favorable matchup. Baltimore safety Tom Zbikowski, who started in place of the injured Ed Reed, picked up Finley and didn’t have much chance to outfight him for the ball.

The score gave Green Bay a 10-0 lead with 4:35 remaining in the half.
As expected, quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have improved the NFC North's passing and scoring totals relative to last season.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

Take a breath. We made it. We’re at the quarter pole of the 2009 season here in the NFC North. Four games down and 12 to go until we find out how this crazy journey will end.

With half of the division entering a bye week, now is as good a time as any to evaluate the trends we’ve been tracking and determine just where we stand on a number of issues.

(For regular readers: This post will encompass our usual Thursday “Air and Space” entry.)

OK, let’s get to it.

We’ve talked extensively about the influx of new quarterbacks. (Hence, "Air and Space.") In July, we noted that NFC North teams combined for the second-fewest passing yards among the eight divisions last season. As you’ll see in the chart below, the arrival of Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Minnesota’s Brett Favre and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has brought the division’s passing totals to No. 4 overall.
NFL passing average by division
Rank Division Avg. passing yds per game
1 AFC South 257.2
2 NFC East 245.6
3 AFC North 228.5
4 NFC North 217.5

I used average yards per game this time to compensate for some NFL teams that have only played three games. On that scale, NFC North teams are throwing for an average of about 18 more yards per game this season. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough to leapfrog three spots in the NFL divisional rankings.

But the new quarterbacks’ biggest impact has been on scoring, a far more important statistic than gross passing yards. As you can see, three of the league’s top seven scoring teams reside in the NFC North. Last season, the division had only one team (Green Bay) in the top 10.
Scoring by NFC North teams
Team Points per game NFL rank
Minnesota 29.5 3
Chicago 26.2 6
Green Bay 26 7
Detroit 20.8 17
We’ve also tracked our class of young tight ends, whose impact as a group has been a bit underwhelming so far.

Here’s some trivia we’ll answer at the end of this segment: Which tight end leads the NFC North in receptions? It hasn’t been one of the young bucks we’ve discussed. Below, you’ll see that group and where their reception totals rank among NFL tight ends:
By the numbers: NFC North tight ends
Player Team Catches NFL rank* Yards TDs
Jermichael Finley Green Bay 18 T-11 190 1
Greg Olsen Chicago 10 T-22 94 2
Brandon Pettigrew Detroit 10 T-22 131 0
Visanthe Shiancoe Minnesota 9 T-26 67 2
*Among tight ends.

Olsen and Shiancoe have combined for four touchdown receptions; coincidentally, they have all been from 1 yard out. Pettigrew has displayed more open-field running ability than I thought he would, but he’s yet to get into the end zone. And Finley was quiet until breaking out for his six-catch performance Monday night at Minnesota.

Frankly, Finley’s 62-yard catch-and-run was the type of athletic play we have been expecting with some regularity from this group. They can all get downfield and break tackles.

Anecdotally, you might think that Olsen has been bottled up by defenses that feel comfortable defending him as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver. But according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears have thrown Olsen more passes (25) than any other player on their team. In other words, he’s getting his fair chance.

The situation would be more critical if the Bears’ receiver group hadn’t stepped up the way it has. But I look for Olsen’s production to increase as the season continues.

(Your trivia answer: Green Bay’s Donald Lee, with 13 receptions.)
Green Bay linebacker Aaron Kampman has proved competent in his new position. If anyone was concerned about Kampman’s ability to make open-field tackles or to stay with running backs in the flat, I think he has shown he won’t embarrass himself in those areas.

But to this point, the Packers have traded an elite defensive end for a competent linebacker. The position change has diminished the impact of their best pass-rusher, an especially notable turn of events for a team that is tied for No. 28 in the NFL with five sacks.

In limited opportunities, Kampman has one sack and -- according to the Packers’ official statistics -- two of their nine quarterback hurries/pressures. This is a player who, as a 4-3 defensive end, had the third-most sacks in the NFL (37) from 2006 to 2008. The last time Kampman had one sack over the first four games of a season was 2004.

Every time Kampman retreats into coverage, it's hard not to wonder if that’s the best use of his skills. But I’m not sure what the answer is here. The Packers’ decision to change schemes was about much more than Aaron Kampman. Good pass-rushers are rare, and you should always maximize their skills. But should the Packers have maintained their previous scheme simply to keep Kampman in his regular position? I don’t think so.

To this point, his sack totals have been an unfortunate -- and not entirely unpredictable -- by-product of a larger plan to improve.

While Detroit largely kept its offensive line intact, the other three NFC North teams each changed at least two starters. The results, to say the least, have been mixed. Here’s a quick report card:

Chicago Bears
Positions changed: 3
Sacks allowed: 8
Rushing game rank: No. 26
Grade: C
Comment: Most observers agree that left tackle Orlando Pace and left guard Frank Omiyale are still making adjustments. Pass protection has been adequate, but tailback Matt Forte hasn’t seen much daylight.

Green Bay Packers
Positions changed: 3
Sacks allowed: 20
Rushing game rank: No. 22
Grade: F
Comment: Right tackle Allen Barbre has looked overmatched, while Daryn Colledge struggled when he moved to left tackle. The Packers are hoping two crusty veterans, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, can save them.

Minnesota Vikings
Positions changed: 2
Sacks allowed: 9
Rushing game rank: No. 10
Grade: B-
Quarterback Brett Favre took too many hits over the first three games, but the Vikings kept him clean Monday night. Right tackle Phil Loadholt occasionally has been vulnerable to the bull rush, but that’s to be expected for a rookie.

Detroit is getting the most bang for the buck from its draft class, although the division’s top two rookies are in Minnesota and Chicago.

The Lions had four draft picks in their Week 1 starting lineup. Five of them started in their Week 3 win over Washington. Running back Aaron Brown has also been a regular contributor, and this week the Lions plan to rotate in kick returner Derrick Williams and linebacker Zack Follett. That would give them eight draft choices with substantive contributions over the first five weeks of the season.
Starts for Detroit's draft class
Round Pos. Player Starts
1(a) QB Matthew Stafford 4
1(b) TE Brandon Pettigrew 4
2 S Louis Delmas 4
3(a) LB DeAndre Levy 3
4 DT Sammie Lee Hill

With that said, I think most everyone would agree that Vikings receiver Percy Harvin and Bears receiver Johnny Knox are the top rookies in the division thus far. At a position where few rookies offer immediate impact, both rank among team leaders in receptions, yardage and touchdowns. Both Harvin and Knox have also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Posted by's Kevin Seifert

PHOENIX -- With the dust settled Monday morning, we can now take a look at the playoff scenarios for the NFC North's two eligible teams.

At 9-5, Minnesota's situation is unchanged from what we discussed Sunday night:

  • The Vikings' magic number is one. That means they will clinch the NFC North with their next victory or the Chicago Bears' next loss.
  • In case you're wondering, I've talked to some people who crunched the numbers on the Vikings' wild-card possibilities should they lose their final two games and cede the division to the Bears. We'll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say, the Vikings would have no realistic shot of a wild-card berth at 9-7.

At 8-6, Chicago's playoff scenarios are more complicated. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times lays out the Bears' situation here.

  • In order to win the NFC North, the Bears need to win their final two games while the Vikings lose their final two games. The Vikings win a tiebreaker at 10-6 or 9-7.
  • As for the wild card, it's difficult but not impossible. First, the Bears would need to win their final two games to finish 10-6. They would also need Tampa Bay, Dallas and Atlanta to lose their final two games. Philadelphia would have to lose once. There is a slight chance that the Bears could beat Dallas in a tiebreaker if both finish team finish 10-6, but that category -- strength of schedule -- can't be determined until the end of the regular season.

Whew. That's a lot of possibilities. But that's where things stand with two games remaining in the regular season.

We've got some traveling ahead of us later Monday morning, but for now let's take a spin around the division:

  • Green Bay displayed some jarring internal division during Sunday's 20-16 loss to Jacksonville. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has details on a near-fight between linebacker Brady Poppinga and cornerback Al Harris, along with some angry words from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy regarding rookie tight end Jermichael Finley.
  • Packers veteran Charles Woodson on the state of the team: "We're just not very good right now. I mean, you can point to a lot of different things, but bottom line, we're not a very good team." Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel agrees.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel writes that the Harris-Poppinga incident was typical, not unusual, for a defense that was in full dysfunction Sunday.
  • Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson caught a career-high nine passes in the Lions' 31-21 loss at Indianapolis on Sunday. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press chronicles Johnson's day.
  • With his team two losses from 0-16, Lions coach Rod Marinelli isn't changing anything, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News. Marinelli: "I'm gonna ask you a question: What should I do differently? ... If I could do anything differently to get a win -- first game or 50th game -- I'd do it. I mean, it's common sense for me. ... I'm not a guy who's gonna go, 'Oh, we gotta change this, this, this [and] this. It's panic time.' No, I'm not gonna do that. I'm just gonna do what I do."
  • Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson broke Robert Smith's record for most rushing yards in a season Sunday against Arizona. Peterson's 165 yards gives him 1,581 yards in 14 games, according to this Star Tribune notebook.
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Somebody grab my tongue, I think I'm having a seizure. They finally played 60 minutes of dominating football just in time to get the folks back home all twitchy and excited about the playoffs."