The Top Moments of 2010

2010 now draws to a close tonight, but as every year does, it has left behind many memories. Some of us are probably glad 2010 is over, others may think it was one of the best years ever. But, here at the Tap, we just wanted to know what your favorite sporting moment(s) were. The responses were great, with a few key moments really sticking out. There was a lot of love for Bucky, and a lot of love for Favre's failings. We even had a few Illinois people chime in with their thoughts. Also, if you'd like to share your moment, please comment below!

@miketotheG - "Beating Favre Twice"

@nfeuerer: - "WI beating Ohio St"

Anonymous: "Landon Donovan's goal in extra time to beat Algeria 1-0"

@TheRealDohr: "Favre's Last Concussion"

@BWilly84: "opening kickoff vs OSU. What followed was great, but if I have to pick one moment it's the kick return."

@Enrico_Plazo: "clay knocking kolb out"

@Mason3K: "Jeff Suppan released from #brewers"

@Pugbomb1: "That's easy...Kane's OT goal to win the Stanley Cup

@bdogschneeby: "gilreaths 97yd kickoff return, hoffmans 600th, paul allens call of favre's interception in nfc champ. game, who dat nation"

Our favorite moments:

dbauhs: I think Wisco getting the jump on OSU and never letting go has to be the top of my list.

Second and third place go to the Brewers signing Zach Greinke and Clay Matthews throwing Brett Favre around like a rag doll, respectively.

Super Dave: My favorite Wisconsin sports moment would be watching the Badgers dominate OSU. That was a pleasant surprise. The Badgers have a history of choking on Saturday prime time nationally televised games. The fact they stepped up for that game really catapulted them through the rest of their Big 10/11(soon to be 12)schedule. I also enjoyed the Wisconsin/Michigan hockey contest at Camp Randall. fantastic setting, wild game!!

Lange: best sports moment in 2010? USA vs. Canada gold medal game... never seen that much buzz for hockey, didn't even mind losing

@Diddy05: I'm going to do a top 3, with a tie for 3rd.

Third: Goes to the Badgers key wins against Ohio St. and Iowa. Why do I rank these together you ask? Because I only saw the end of each game. I was at a wedding for each of these games. For the OSU game, I left the reception to go to a bar to watch it, and for the Iowa game, we held up the grand march to watch the Badgers put their finishing touches on the Hawkeyes on the road.

Second: Hoffman's 600th save. Talk about a great moment. I just wish I was there.

First: Watching the Badgers football team dominate Northwestern and then Lange and I went onto the field to celebrate. I was able to give Lance Kendricks a good game high five. What a remarkable experience.


Special teams vital to Packers' success

It’s that other, other side of the ball. The one that, although only on the field for a small fraction of the game, can totally change the direction and pace of a game. Special teams is an area where the Packers have struggled for the last several years. They have finished the last three years ranked lower than 20th in most kickoff and punt categories.

If the Packers are to make the playoffs and have success if they get there, they need to improve their special teams play. If they don’t, their battle will be one fought uphill.

One blaring example of the Packers’ special teams costing them a game would be the Atlanta game a month ago. With a minute left the Packers kicked off to the Falcons. Eric Weems had so much confidence against the Packers’ coverage team; he took the ball out from four-yards deep and went 40 yards before being face-masked by journeyman Matt Wilhelm. If Wilhelm hadn’t grabbed Weems’ mask, Weems would have gone the distance.

So as not to put the blame on Wilhelm, many different things and people have contributed to the team’s shortcomings in these areas.

The one that immediately stands out is Jarrett Bush. Why the team matched the Titans offer to Bush on a three-year deal will forever escape me. The guy has been unable to find a spot on defense at cornerback or safety. Whenever there is a penalty or a fight on the field, he’s right there in the middle of it. You would think a lifetime special teamer would get the hang of it eventually, but he is the face of the poor performances we’ve seen on kickoff coverage the last three years.

This year, head coach Mike McCarthy made a good point that with the team’s injury issues, the side of the ball that has suffered the most has been special teams. With many holes to fill on offense and defense, they have had to pull players who might be focusing solely on special teams to fill in the gaps elsewhere.

Looking across the field for this upcoming game, the Bears have a dynamic return game that most teams should be scared and jealous of. They rank third in the NFL in kickoff return average and lead the league in punt return average. Devin Hester and Danieal Manning form a ferocious duo, consistently giving the Bears’ offense good field position. The same cannot be said for the Packers.

The word to describe Packers punt return man Tramon Williams would be safe. I appreciate his being mindful of ball security, but 19 fair catches in 36 attempts and a 7.7 yard average compared to Hester’s 9 in 31 with a 17.1 average shows an unwillingness to take the ball and see what could happen. I can see why he might be asked to though, since as a starting cornerback he is on the cusp of stardom, recently being snubbed from the Pro Bowl, but that’s another thing. The Packers need to put someone else back there that can take the ball and run with it.

Sam Shields has taken over on kickoffs, and seems to think it is easier to run sideline to sideline than north and south. Hey, it is a shorter distance, but the outcome doesn’t really help. Maybe they’re running sideline plays on returns, but it isn’t working, as Shields currently ranks 29th in the league in return average.

The Packers know what is at stake this weekend. Nobody needs to remind them of the playoff implications. If they respect the Bears and their special teams by avoiding kicking the ball to Hester, they will do themselves a huge favor. Hester returned a punt for a touchdown against the Packers in the two teams’ first meeting this season. If the Packers want the win this weekend, they could help themselves by winning the special teams battle.


Poll: What's Your Favorite 2010 Sports Moment

I am taking a poll on both twitter (@WI_SportsTap) and Facebook (WisconsinSportsTap), on what everyone's favorite sports moment was in 2010. If you'd like to weigh in, please write us on either twitter, facebook, or comment below.

My initial question was "your favorite Wisconsin sports moment", but if you have another moment you'd like to share, please feel free.

I'll be posting a write up with everyone's answers by Friday evening! And if you're not following us on either Twitter or Facebook, well, you know what to do!

He Lovies Me He Lovies Me Not?

Following the Philadelphia Vicks enduring an unexpected wing clipping at the hands of the Vikings last night, I feel compelled to answer the burning question sweeping Packer nation; "Will Lovie play his guys or rest them now that the Bears have locked the number 2 seed?"

There are 3 primary reasons the Bears will play for the win late Sunday afternoon;
First, in light of having the luxury of a first round bye, if Lovie was to rest his starters Sunday that would leave his key guys with an extended layoff. Nearly 3 weeks since the Jets game and far too much time to let the "rust" build up. Lovie made this mistake in 2005 when he "sat" his starters, ended up with an 11-5 record and got bounced by a red hot Carolina team.
Second, laying down and letting the Pack dance and skip their way into the playoffs not only allows a dangerous offensive team into the mix, a team in a conference where the team that gets the hottest at the right time wins the trip to big D and a dance with the Brady bunch, but also a chance to "grab the 'mo' " from the Bears at the wrong time. Lovie is smart enough to understand this and does not want to let the voracious animal (aka the Packers) a shot at thieving the Bears feast.
Third, there is still a possibility, albeit remote, the Bears could grab the 1 seed if Carolina miraculously finds a way to best the Dirty Birds and the Saints lose to a desperate band of Bucs. Earning the 1 seed comes in pretty handy if the Bears find themselves in the NFC title match.
My backup reason if the 1 seed is not available is 'pride.' Lovie and the Bears will simply want this game for the Great Lakes Region bragging rights and all that comes with it. Not to mention becoming the only NFC North team to sweep the division schedule since it's inception. So, for several reasons, despite the Eagles taking a dive at home last night, Lovie will not 'rest' these still hungry Bears and let them begin feeding at 3:15 on Sunday. GO BEARS GO!!


Bear Down! A South of the Border Perspective.

This is it!! This weekend, this Sunday, this showdown between the Bears and the Pack! This may well be the marquee matchup that rekindles the fire that once blazed so ferociously in the NFL's most storied rivalry. Earlier this year before the Bears squeaked by the Pack thanks to an undisciplined Packers squad that was flagged for over 100 yards in penalties, the article penned by Dick Bauhs of W.S.T. claimed the Bears-Packers rivalry wasn't the same as it used to be. He said it had lost much of the energy or for lack of a better term "hatred" that festered and bubbled between the two teams back in the 80's as when Charles Martin body slammed Jim McMahon or when the Fridge barreled into the endzone on a fullback dive for a TD essentially flattening George Cumby and his career. Upon reading that article I had to agree. It has been several years since I went out of my way to snag as many tickets as I could for the annual "invasion" of both the hated Pack and my rabid Packer fan inlaws. Also since the Brett "please pay attention to me and only me" Favre drama began, Bear and Packer fans alike have had a common ground; an even more intense distaste for everything purple and Nordic! Bear and Packer fans cringed evenly at the obnoxious blare of the Viking horn! The point was well noted, 'the rivalry just aint what it used to be.' It's been since 2005 that both teams were in the playoffs at the same time let alone a real shot at a post season meeting between the two.

There is alot on the line Sunday afternoon for both teams. The Bears need the win to maintain momentum and secure a first round bye. True the Monsters of the Midway are only 5-3 at home but the difficulty of winning on the road in the playoffs increases exponentially. For the Pack, win and they're in. Simple as that. They could still find their way to the post season despite a loss with some help but I'd bet my Rex Grossman Super Bowl jersey (not much to put up, I know!) that the Pack would rather take care of business by themselves Sunday afternoon. A victory over the Bears would be HUGE for several reasons; not only launching a team that was floundering just 2 weeks ago into the playoffs but providing a huge emotional and motivational lift over their despised divisional rivals. Throw all this into a bowl and mix on high for 5 minutes and you have the recipe for a rivalry revived!!

Keys to Sunday's game:

This matchup is a schedule makers dream and exactly what the league hopes for; divisional rivals battling for playoff position. True the division is decided, (2010 NFC North Champion Chicago Bears in case you'd forgotten) but as I previously mentioned there is alot to play for. It would seem Green Bay will have the emotional edge and will want this game more, but don't count the Bears out. The drubbing suffered at the hands of the Brady bunch may have happened at exactly the right time. The Bears seem like a completely different team since then. The defense is bending more than I'd like, but It's been forever since our offense has clicked like it has the last 2 weeks. The Pack is riding a similar wave of 'Mo' since Sunday's beat down of the lesser Manning and his teammates. Will this game be the springboard the Pack hopes and wants it to be? Here is what the answer to that question hinges upon:

Bears 'D' vs. Packers 'O'
The Lovie cover 2 although effective overall, ie. Chris Harris' pick to seal Sunday's win over the Jets, will definitely need to be adjusted hopefully before halftime or Aaron Rodgers will pick it apart as easy as a vulture snacking on roadkill. I'm not quite confident the Bears backfield can keep up with the Packer receiving corps. The Bears will need to implement varying line stunts and attempt to pressure Rodgers into dumping the ball off quickly. Containing John Kuhn and his bulldog running style while getting pressure on Rodgers early in the game is the key to grabbing the momentum. If Rodgers relies on his instinct for avoiding sacks and remembering to slide at the end of runs he will have a good chance at driving the Bears D nuts. Pressure from Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije may well be the determining factor to shutting down the potent Packers offense.

Bears 'O' vs. Packers 'D'
What Packers fans have taken for granted for so long the Bears fans see as a shiny new bike we've always wanted and finally have; a talented gunslinger quarterback!! When Cutler surpassed 3,000 yards passing this year making it 2 in a row (2 not 20!) for the first time ever It gives us cause to be optimistic! The Bears run game has been solid after a shaky start, Matt Forte 978 yards and a 4.4 yard average while second year man Johnny Knox is developing into a prime time pass catcher 960 yards with an 18.8 yard average. Sunday's contest may well depend on how 'smartly' Cutler plays. After he was picked clean on a stupid throw for a defensive TD vs the Jets Sunday he seemed to settle down and make better choices ie. eating the ball or throwing it away when his receivers weren't open. If the game grinds down to a defensive struggle his game managing skills will be the key to Bears O finishing the game well. The Bears offensive line which has seemed to get better every week has seemed to gel yet must find a way to control the likes of Clay Matthews and BJ Raji. Clay Matthews has seemed to cool off the second half of the season thanks to a slew of double teams. But Raji, as tall as he is wide, has been a violent force. I do not envy Olin Kreutz and company trying to unwedge this guy! Matt Forte is going to find it slow going early on and will have to fight for the last 22 yards to break the 1k mark for the year. Cutler will need to find a way to attack the Packers secondary. The quick slant, the screen and utilizing Greg Olsen, who could not find a way to catch anything last week, will be the way to finding their way downfield.

Special Teams;
Two words, Devin Hester. Enough said. If The Packers are dumb enough to kick to him they will pay the price. He was a large factor in the Bears beating the Jets. When you kick away from him you give up field position. When you actually kick to him as the Jets did three times he burned them both time and time again yielding a great field position for the offense. All other factors aside, if Hester has a great game the Bears stand a great chance to win the game.

This is the most anticipated Bears-Packers game in a long time! Many are calling for an offensive shootout based on both teams offensive momentum coming in. There will be some fireworks early, but I look to both Dom Capers and Rod Marinelli to make solid adjustments to their defensive units slowing the tempo of the game. I see the Bears ahead late with the Pack driving to tie the game.... 12 seconds on the clock....Has McCarthy learned his lesson on late game clock management?? I think he has...Hold on........Robbie Gould nails the game winner in OT from 47 yards out!! Same score as September...Bears 20 Packers 17.

Rivalry Week: Bring on the Bears

Packers vs. Bears, Lambeau Field, forecasted high of 23 degrees. Playoff implications abound, two top-5 defenses, both teams are coming off of spirited wins. This is exactly what this rivalry should look like, and we've got several Packers-Bears related pieces on tap this week, including our first contribution from a poor, misguided soul from south of the Wisconsin border.

Earlier this season we at the Wisconsin Sports Tap questioned the Packers-Bears rivalry, and concluded that while lately it's largely been overshadowed by the Packers vs. Vikings, the tide appeared to be shifting. Though our prediction that this game would decide the winner of the NFC North was inaccurate, the game still figures to have all sorts of bite. A win guarantees the Packers a playoff spot, and should the Eagles beat the Vikings on Tuesday (probable), the Bears will have a first round bye on the line.

There's also a bit of a twist. With a Packers win, not only are they in the playoffs, but they'll play the Bears again the following week. Sound familiar? It should, as last year the Packers played the Cardinals in consecutive weeks. If you'll recall, the Cardinals fell behind early in week 17 and yanked all their key starters, opting instead to save themselves for the playoffs. With the Bears in a similar situation, all the Packers should need to do is jump out to an early lead and coast the rest of the way, right?

Well, I doubt it. This is Lovie Smith we're talking about. A main point on his mission statement when he came into Chicago was that he wanted to beat the Packers. Even if a bye week were all sewn up for his Bears, one gets the feeling that he'd bring his first-team to play regardless.

Still, as well as the Bears have been playing, the Packers can take them. In order to beat the Bears the Packers need to have some semblance of a rushing game, and the past two weeks they've actually had a serviceable one, which is all they need to set up their play-action passes.

There is one last factor which makes me like the Packers here. Though McCarthy's teams have been criticized for not playing well in close games, he does seem to coach well when he's got vengeance on the mind. The loss his Packers suffered in Chicago earlier this season is one he no doubt remembers bitterly, and I think we're more likely to see last week's Packers than we are to see the team he fielded at Detroit.

But this game isn't about analysis. It's not about stats or may the best team win. Logic doesn't apply here. Its about yelling at your TV when the refs make a bad call and jumping off your couch after a touchdown. Its about wearing your lucky Packers underwear and calling your Bears friends to taunt them on good plays, or throwing your phone in the snow when the tables turn. Its about history, about reminiscing on past games and rooting for the team your dad taught you to root for with your friends whose dads did the same. Bring on the Bears! Let's enjoy this week, and GO PACK GO!


Point-Counterpoint: Is Mike McCarthy Ned Yost?

53. That's the total number of points the Packers have lost by in their past 12 losses, spanning two seasons including playoffs. The worst loss in there was by 12 points to the Vikings last season, the closest a mere extra point vs. the Steelers, also in 2009. Meanwhile, the Packers have the best point differential in the NFC over that same span with +277, thanks to a number of blow-out wins.

So what gives? Is Mike McCarthy basically football's Ned Yost? Yost was brought into Milwaukee to turn a franchise around, and to an extent he succeeded. But he was never able to elevate the team from solid to elite. The same claim can be made of McCarthy. While he has helped develop a solid club and brought it to the brink of greatness, he has thus far failed to take them to the next level.

So is McCarthy's high number of close losses indicative of a failing in his coaching style, or is it just a fluke? The Bauhs brothers offer both arguments:

Brian: McCarthy is Yost

Tell me that there are a few close losses and I’d admit that it may be a fluke. But when the number reaches double digits, then it moves onto being a problem.

In an NFL where free agency has made a team’s window for success small, coaches have been put on shorter leashes than ever. Close losses are no longer moral victories to learn by, especially when they happen for the 10th time. It may not be fair, but a coach needs to show a willingness to change and learn on the fly. McCarthy hasn’t.

Last season’s close losses were often because of the defense letting the other team score at will. That year the Packers gave up a total of 225 points in their six losses. That’s an average of 37.5 points per game. An offense cannot be expected to compete with that every game.

This season, in its six losses, the defense has given up an average of 19.5 ppg. That cannot fall on the defense anymore, as the offense has been right there in these games but unable to stick Wayne Larrivee’s dagger in the opposing defense.

Not much has changed this season in terms of personnel, other than the rash of injuries the team has sustained. However following the performance the team put forth Sunday night against the Patriots, I have no doubt this team has the talent to beat anyone, but just isn’t cutting it.

The lack of a running game shouldn’t be attributed to Grant’s injury, but rather to the way the running plays have been simple, one dimensional and sparse all season until last week when they unveiled the pulling off tackle sweep, which got Brandon Jackson into the open where he shines. They ran it 38 times compared to their average of about 25 per game this season.

What this comes down to is the team being on the cusp of making it. The Brewers rode CC Sabathia to the playoffs in Yost’s last year even if he was let go before they made it. While McCarthy may find his way as a head coach, this is his first stop in the NFL in that role, and he has shown a hesitance to adapt to his team’s personnel. Perhaps it is time to move onto someone who will.

Dick: McCarthy is not Yost

It's a total fluke.

This was supposed to be the year. It's reasonable to expect a few injuries, and any worthwhile team should be built to withstand the loss of a key player here or there. But 5 starters? Its a miracle the team is even in contention for the playoffs, and that's a huge credit to Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff.

Ned Yost had a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal when he was axed. But against the Patriots Mike McCarthy went from Rodgers-Finley-Grant to Flynn-Quarless-Jackson. That's three Pro Bowl caliber players replaced with reserves, and McCarthy still had the team competing for a win. The team played so well that after the game Cris Collinsworth had more good to say about the Packers than the winning team.

But that's the question, right? Yost was great for getting the most out of mediocre teams, and that's exactly what McCarthy is doing right now. However, I look at this year's losses and see where he has corrected his mistakes. Example: Last season Green Bay was the most penalized team in the league, and after the 18-penalty Chicago game there was concern that the problem had resurfaced. But the Pack has averaged only 5.1 penalties per game this year, good for 5th in the NFL.

Its things like that that push the stubborn McCarthy to change his ways. Though very set in his convictions, he's shown a willingness to change when faced with clear evidence to support it. That's why I'm interested in seeing his approach against the Giants. At New England Brandon Jackson finally stopped dancing in the backfield and looked decisive in his runs with a nice 22 carry, 99 yard game. He gave his coach a reason to trust him.

If Mike McCarthy loses control of his team, then yes, he should be fired. But right now his Ryan Braun has concussion issues, his Prince Fielder is on the IR, and Ted Thompson decided not to get him a CC Sabathia. I think he deserves another year before we decide whether he can take his team to the next level.

Where do you stand? Comment below!


In for a Drought?

There is a perception out there that the Milwaukee Brewers had a thin Farm System before the Zack Greinke trade and that it must be even weaker now that the team has traded more of it's top prospects.  While it is true that the Brewers Farm isn't as deep as it was (you can't get better by taking talent away) it's not as bare as one might think.

Center Field:  Was Lorenzo Cain the best center prospect that Milwaukee had? Without a doubt. Was he the only center field prospect that had the potential to be a good major leaguer? Nope.  Outfield is a spot that the Brewers have improved on in recent years, especially center field.

In Double-A Caleb Gindl, a 5'9" lefty with pop, saw extended playing time in center and performed well.  He won't be the defender that Carlos Gomez is but with another season under his wing he may be above average at least.  Gindl has a career average of .298 in the minors with a very nice .375 OBP.  That's one option.

Logan Schafer could be the Brewers next big position prospect
Also in Double-A was 2009 Minor League Hitter of the Year Logan Schafer.  Schafer missed most of the season with various injuries but was stellar in his award year.  He hit .308 with a .370 OBP and only struck out 56 times in 480 at-bats.  The organization is very high on him and if he can bounce back he could be primed to make a run at a starting job as early as the end of next season.

Moving down the line, Brevard County may have a possible center field option as well.  The ever steady Erik Komatsu played 75 games in center for the Manatees.  He has a polished eye at the plate (his OBP last season was .413) and he was very consistent all season.  On his way to a .323 season average, Komatsu never hit less than .302, or higher than .357 in a month in 2010.

Another option might be 2010 1st round pick Kentrail Davis.  Drafted as a center fielder, many project Davis as more of a corner outfielder.  He played the majority of the season in left last year, but that had more to do with a lingering hamstring injury.  It wouldn't be a surprise to see him see extended playing time in center next season.

Shortstop:  This is a major position of concern for Milwaukee.  If you go level by level in the Brewers farm system there is not one offensively inclined prospect that might help the big club.  This is not surprising however, since the Brewers thought Alcides Escobar would be in the lineup for the next several seasons.  Usually when a top prospect reaches the majors, the cupboard is pretty bare behind him.

The closest might be Josh Prince, who spent last season with Brevard County.  Prince projects out as a lead-off hitter, mostly due to his lack of power and base stealing ability.  He had a nice 2009 season, earning his way to A-ball after being drafted in June.  It was a different story in 2010 though, when he hit just .233 with a .287 OBP and 22 errors.  There is enough to like about Prince that he may improve, but he has a long way to go.  Like it or not he is Milwaukee's top shortstop prospect.

The outside-the-box option is Triple-A second baseman Eric Farris.  Yes he's been a second baseman basically his entire 4-year minor league career, but he has seen some (very) limited playing time at shortstop.  If Rickie Weeks does sign an extension than Farris' path to the majors is blocked, it wouldn't be a bad move to see what he can do at shortstop next spring.

Farris is a contact hitter with terrific speed and base stealing ability.  For his career he's hit .296 with a .336 OBP.  In 2009 he stole 70 bases for Brevard County.  Farris was slowed by a knee injury last season but finished strong, hitting .274 for Nashville and had a nice stint in the Arizona Fall League where he led Surprise with a .351 batting average.

Starting Pitching:  Giving up Odorizzi may end up costing the Brewers in the long run, but he was a long way from the major leagues and so much can happen in the time it takes a prospect to climb the ladder.  Odorizzi is certainly one of the Crew's top pitching prospects, but the best?  A pretty strong case could be made for Cody Scarpetta.

And that's what's most impressive about this deal, that Milwaukee was able to add a player of Greinke's caliber and not give up any of the starting pitching prospects that are close to helping the big league club.  Amaury Rivas, Cody Scarpetta, Wily Peralta, Kyle Heckathorn - these are names that Brewer fans should get used to hearing because within the next two seasons they could be helping Milwaukee.

That's without mentioning former first round pick Mark Rogers, who finally made his major league debut last season.  Rogers looked good in the 11 innings he pitched last September and should start the year with Triple-A Nashville.  Starting pitching in the Brewers system is not a big time concern, even after losing Odorizzi.

The Harvest is Good:  The overall state of the Brewers farm system is still good, though not perfect.  While they now lack some of the impact players they had at the top there are still good quality players to fill in the void.  There aren't many strong position players but the Brewers don't need many strong position players.  This is a testament to the impressive job that the Doug Melvin's front office and scouting department have done since taking over. Milwaukee can and will stay strong for years to come because of their commitment to the growing players.


Monday Morning Reverie: That Just Happened Edition

It's Monday morning, for you.  For me it's the first week of a stretch of overnight shifts at my wonderful day..er... night job.  So good morning to you, and goodnight to me!  But before I sleep for the day, let's look back at the weekend that was.

1. Greinke joins the Barley and Blue.  Of course the big story of the weekend is the addition of Zack Greinke by the Milwaukee Brewers.  I've covered the story here on the Tap since it first broke, so check our Brewers section to see my thoughts on the deal.  Also there will be at least one more write-up on the blockbuster trade.

What you may not have caught on to was the fact that the story wasn't broken by a newspaper, national magazine or over dramatic cable television station.  It was broken by Jim Breen of Bernies Crew.  My hat is off to you Jim, you set the bar awfully high for the rest of us and didn't need a dieing medium to do it.

2. Dynasty.  That's what you can call the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks.  UWW won the  Division 3 football title with a 31-21 over title rival Mount Union on Saturday.  The National Championship was the Warhawks second straight and third in the last four years.

It's a feat to go to the National Title game six straight years, especially for a public school.  To win three times without being able to offer scholarships is just amazing.  As an alum of the Dub Dub, I am proud to be a Warhawk.

3.  Not too shabby.  It would be a mistake for me to mention the D. 3 champ without giving a shout-out to the champions of football's second division.  The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs took the title, their second in the last three years and are yet another team that I have a personal connection to.

When I was still working in sports broadcasting I had the good fortune to cover the Bulldogs and interview Coach Bob Nielson numerous times and I am happy to see him continuing to have success, he's a terrific coach and a great interview.

Funny, nobody will ever question the validity of the titles the Warhawks and Bulldogs have won.  They played through the gauntlet of college football and won a playoff to determine who the best team was.  Novel concept that one.

4.  Season sacked.  It was fitting to have the Packers chances this season end with a sack of Matt Flynn on what could have been a game winning drive.  It was a tough loss, true, but in the end the Pack just didn't have the horses to stay with New England.

No professional sports team likes to use injuries as an excuse but that's what happened.  It was a scrappy performance but you just can't win with the volume of injuries Green Bay has had this season.  And as well as Matt Flynn played, you just can't take a sack in that situation.

5.  Roller coaster.  Up and down and up and back down again, the roller coaster ride of James Starks.  Just a few weeks ago Starks was the savior of the Green Bay running game but his game was so underwhelming that he found himself on the inactive list against New England.

It's too early to write Starks off, especially with Ted Thompson's propensity to hold on to project players, but it's surprising to see his star fall this quickly.  As the season winds down one would expect to see more of Starks as well as a healthy dose of Matt Flynn.  There is no point in rushing Aaron Rodgers back from a head injury and Green Bay's playoff prospects are dire at best.  It's time to look to 2011.

Now, it's time for bed.


Some Official Thoughts

The trade is official, the Milwaukee Brewers will send shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Jake Odorizzi along with a player to be named (who, by all indications, will be flamethrower Jeremy Jeffress) to the Kansas City Royals for former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

For a complete breakdown of the players involved in the trade take a look here, it's a four for two deal with each team gaining two major leaguers.  A win-win on paper.

Epic Upgrade

The immediate impact can be felt just by simply looking at the Brewers rotation for the next two seasons.

1. Zack Greinke
2. Yovanni Gallardo
3. Shaun Marcum
4. Randy Wolf
5. Chris Narveson

That's pretty good and more importantly that isn't just for 2011.  Every pitcher in that rotation is under club control for the next two seasons at least.  Also the rotation stands to be the best in the NL Central and third best in the National League, behind Philadelphia and San Francisco.

The pitching staff has been awful since Milwaukee made the playoffs in 2008, Doug Melvin needed to add two pitchers to the team that could have a real impact.  He traded for Shaun Marcum, he flirted with Carl Pavano and he went for it with Zack Greinke.

The Marcum Factor

Questions arise after this trade, could Milwaukee have done this without dealing for Marcum?  Maybe have held on to Brett Lawrie and used him instead of Alcides Escobar?  The better question might be would this trade have happened had the Brewers not dealt for Marcum already.

Milwaukee was on Greinke's no trade list, he had to approve a deal to come to play in Brew City.  He had already turned down a trade to Washington because they are too far from contending.  But in Milwaukee you have a team that has a good offense and was already making moves to improve their chances in 2011.  Greinke might have seen it as a chance to not save the rotation, but complete it.

The Royal Question

This also has to answer the Prince Fielder question, to trade or not to trade.  Prince will finish out his career in Milwaukee and leave as a free agent.  This team is built to win next year and possibly in 2012, after that who knows.  One has to wonder though, would Milwaukee pursue a two-year deal with Fielder?  And would Fielder be open to it or is his next pay day what matters most?  Just a thought.

Not Perfect

This team still has it's holes.  Bullpen depth should be a concern, with Jeremy Jeffress traded and Todd Coffey released.  Also LaTroy Hawkins is a complete wild card, you really can't expect much of anything from a pitcher his age coming off a shoulder injury.  Mark Rogers is nearing the majors, but the team would probably rather see him starting in Triple-A then relieving in the majors.

Also the offense will have some questions to answer as well.  Yuniesky Betancourt might have hit 16 home runs last season, but that was nearly twice his previous high.  He doesn't walk much and doesn't hit for a good average, that's hole no. 1.  Next is Carlos Gomez, a strikeout-prone career underachiever.  He'll get yet another job to win a starting spot in the big leagues but he needs to cut down his free-swinging.  

The third potential hole would be catcher.  Don't get me wrong, I am a major supporter of Jonathan Lucroy but he is a second year player and he only hit .253 last season.  He will be solid but not great and a sophomore slump would leave Milwaukee with holes at four of nine lineup spots (the fourth being the pitcher).

Judgement Day

It's easy to look at this trade now and say the Brewers gave up too much or they are ransoming their future for a run now, but the ultimate judge of this deal is whether or not the team makes the playoffs.  If Milwaukee takes this pitching staff and fails to make a postseason appearance than this trade was a waste.

If the Brewers make the playoffs and win, this is the trade that could define Doug Melvin's tenure as GM of the Milwaukee Brewers (it would also earn him a new contract).

History will judge this trade as good or bad.  

Dear Milwaukee, looove you

If there is one clear message that is being sent it is to the Brewer fan base, a tried and true bunch that sticks it out through the good and the bad.  The franchise is telling it's fans they want to win.  They want to win now.  Something tells me that the fans will respond.

A Glimpse and a Glimmer?

In the desert that is the baseball offseason, there is something on the horizon.  If you squint you can see it, well you can see something so you keep heading towards it just hoping against hope that it isn't a mirage.  That's where Brewer Nation finds itself at this juncture.

As I write this the rumors of Zack Greinke have taken a step forward to the point of being reported on.  The first  report came via Bernie's Crew, reporting that Milwaukee had a deal in place that would send Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Jeffress to the Kansas City Royals for Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.  The story came with a nice strong disclaimer, so it was still a rumor but much stronger than most.

But, shortly thereafter, Andrew Wagner of onmilwaukee.com stepped it up a notch, stating that the deal was all but official with Jake Odorizzi also being sent to Kansas City.  Wagner also didn't know who the second major leaguer the Royals would be sending to Milwaukee was. As of this story's publish this is where we stand, with no Kansas City report corroborating the deal and the National Media basically in a blackout on it (sorry no Yankees involved).

The estimable Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel weighed in late, but couldn't confirm the deal.  So what do we know?  There's something on the horizon but we can't touch it yet.  We can only keep walking towards it and hope it's real.

That said it's time to do what bloggers do best - speculate.


There aren't many better words to describe what Zack Greinke brings to the table.  He's an ace, he's dominant, he's in his prime and he's not a single season rental.  A deal that brings Greinke to Milwaukee gives the Brewers one of the best 1-2 punches in the game along with Yovanni Gallardo.  Add in the newly acquired Shaun Marcum and last years free agent lefty Randy Wolf and suddenly you have a very potent rotation, no matter who you put at no. 5.

In the last four seasons Greinke has had an ERA over four just once (last season, 4.17).  He's never walked more than 56 batters in a season and he's struck out more than 180 in each of the last three seasons.  Look he's good, he's really good.  He moves the Brewers from Wild Card contender to World Series contender.  Cardinals? Reds? Still there, but on paper this puts Milwaukee at the top of the Central.


And then there's Yuniesky Betancourt. He's... he's... he's something alright.  Betancourt is coming off a season in which he has set career highs in walks (with a whopping 23) and home runs (16, nearly doubling his previous high).  The home runs were almost certainly an aberration, but a switch to the National League and hitter friendly Miller Park won't hurt.  He'll swing at anything but he at least puts the ball in play, Betancourt only struck out 64 times in 588 plate appearances.

But then there is his defense.  Numerous metrics consider Betancourt to be one of the worst defensive shortstops in all of baseball.  He has terrible range and even the good old fashioned stats say he stinks (18 errors in 2010).  Escobar committed more than his share of errors a year ago but he also is young and will improve.  Betancourt is what he is, a poor defender and a poor hitter.  The prospect of him starting next year is disconcerting.


The cost is high, perhaps higher than I projected but it doesn't bleed the farm system as badly either.  Losing Odorizzi and Jeffress costs you big time, though not as big as one might think.  Jeffress will probably get chances to start but he still projects out best as a reliever.  100-mph arms are rare, but the Brewers have a lot of relief options coming up through the minors.  Think of this as a commitment to guys like Zach Braddock and John Axford.

Odorizzi on the other hand is a tougher read.  He's young enough that the sky is the limit, but he hasn't pitched higher than Single-A.  You would've loved to see him develop but a lot can happen in the next 2-4 seasons it takes him to reach the Majors.  Be glad that the Brewers managed to hold onto arms that are closer to the Bigs like Cody Scarpetta, Wily Peralta, Amaury Rivas and even Kyle Heckathorn.  Turns out the pitching in the minors isn't as thin as some seem to think.

Lorenzo Cain will be missed, that much is true.  He's a five-tool prospect and an exciting player to watch.  Cain showed flashes of being a star and was likely the starting center fielder next season.  If he lives up to his potential it will be difficult to watch him do what he's capable of (think Carlos Gonzalez type ceiling, a long ways to go however).  It just proves you have to give up major league players to get major league players.

The final piece might hurt the most; not because of what Alcides Escobar brought offensively but because of what his potential replacements bring both offensively and defensively.  There is no doubt that Escobar's supremely sub-par 2010 caused him to lose some of his luster.  Still, he is another high-ceilinged player who has yet to scratch the surface of his potential in the Show.  Replacing his offense won't be hard but the replacement will not be as dynamic a player.


Let's start with the easy one, Carlos Gomez in center field.  Gomez lost his starting job to Lorenzo Cain last year and Denard Span the year before that.  He's strikeout prone, walks little and has an increasingly frustrating attitude.  He's also a five-tool prospect and will get another chance to live up to those tools next season.

Another player that will get a chance to win center field will be late season acquisition Chris Dickerson.  A left-handed bat, Dickerson has shown flashes of being an above average player but has yet to capitalize.  He'll get a chance next year if center field is indeed open.

Whether or not the current options pan out in center field this is not a poor spot in the farm system.  Logan Schafer needs to have a bounce back year after injuries derailed him in 2010, but the year before he was the organizations minor league hitter of the year.  Also Double-A prospect Caleb Gindl has seen increased playing time at center this past year.  He should be with Triple-A Nashville next year and with a good season could be contributing to the big club before year's end.

Shortstop is another story, aside from the previously mentioned issues with Betancourt there are very few other options.  Milwaukee has zero minor league prospects at the shortstop position, which might be the biggest detractor to this deal.

There is not one player currently in the farm system that projects out to be even an average major league shortstop.  One option could be second baseman Eric Farris, who was initially drafted as an infielder.  He has seen very limited time at short since embarking on his pro career (think single digit games each season).  That's the best minor league option right now.

In-house there may be one other possibility should Betancourt provide to be as defensively inept as he has been.  The easy jump is to veteran Craig Counsell, though he'll be 41 by the end of next season and can't be considered a viable every-day player.  Plus he isn't under contract yet, but expect that to change quickly now.

Another slightly more intriguing player is Luis Cruz.  Cruz was the starting shortstop for the Brewers Triple-A affiliate and he hit a very nice .281 with 10 home runs.  Less than impressive was his 10 walks all season, which almost seems hard to accomplish.  Realistically Cruz and Counsell will end up filling out the bench though.


I'm torn, the trade I lined out made the major league team better without making it worse.  That's my fault, I didn't want to see the team give up players that would help the big club next year but the fact is good players need to be traded to get good players.  Not just good minor league players.  As good as this trade would make the Brewers for the next two seasons it will be tough to swallow if Cain and Escobar turn into all-stars.

If.  That's the operative word.  While this looks good for both teams it's far from the real deal.  Me?  I'll just squint my eyes at the skyline and keep pushing through the heat and sand.  There's something on the horizon, I know it's there - I can see it.  I only hope when I get there it's real.


Driver approaching the end of the road

Since watching the loss to the Lions and the Patriots' subsequent deconstruction of the Bears, I've found myself getting less and less optimistic about the Packers' playoff hopes. If Rodgers can't go on Sunday, Flynn is going to be eaten alive by New England, and the Pack needs a lot of outside help in addition to a couple of tough wins if they want to even sniff the post-season. And just like that I go into Brewers mode, giving up on hope and thinking back on all the good moments of the season.

My favorite?

Donald Driver catches the ball on the right side of Lambeau Field 40 yards from the endzone and turns to run. He jukes 49ers SS Reggie Smith at the 30 and easily sheds off the ensuing attempted tackle.

25 yard line.

FS Dashon Goldson runs full speed into the now stopped Driver. Driver ducks as teammate Andrew Quarless jumps over him to deliver a block on Goldson, then takes off again toward the endzone.

20 yard line.

CB Nate Clements leads a mob of 4 Niners after #80, but Driver deftly slows his stride and uses his left hand to help Clements run past him, out of bounds.

10 yard line.

The other 3 are now right on his heels, and Clements turns around in time to catch Driver's body at the 5, but it's too late--their momentum carries all 5 players past the 1 yard line.


Was there a better play this season? Definitely not on the offensive side of the ball, and really, you can argue that was the best play of Donald Driver's storied career--one that's likely nearing its end.

With Driver's injuries hindering him for much of the season, there was some question of how much juice he had left in his tank. Before the start of the season he was extended through 2012, and the concern was that the extension may have been a bit hasty. The stats back up the worry. Plenty has been written in recent years on the 30-year-wall NFL running backs hit, and for wide receivers there's a similar wall around the age of 36. Over the past decade, the likes of Joey Galloway, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, and Bobby Engram all went downhill around the age of 36. Driver turns 36 on Groundhog's Day.

Oh, but that play. Anyone who can make that play has to have a decent amount of mileage left in them, right? Well, perhaps. Over the past decade there have been two exceptions to the rule: Jerry Rice, who put up 1,000 yards at age 40 as a Raider, and Terrell Owens, who is on pace for 80 catches and 1,200 yards with the Bengals at age 37. Owens and Driver are not comparable in any way, but you could probably make a case for a comparison to Rice. Rice was known for his off-season workouts, and Driver does keep himself in similar shape. But Driver isn't a top-5 all time NFL player by a long shot, so it's hard to see him bucking the trend.

When I think of how to properly plan for using a 36 year old WR, I think of what the Baltimore Ravens did for Derrick Mason. Mason has been The Guy in Baltimore for the past 4 years, and he's very similar to Driver statistically and in how he's used schematically within the system. After he crossed the 35 mark, Baltimore responded by bringing in Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh--the former to take the pressure off, the latter as the contingency plan in the event that Mason's body gives out.

But the Packers seem to already have this in place. Since 2008, Greg Jennings has grown into the #1 role while James Jones has steadily improved every year. Jones has had some growing pains this season in the way of untimely drops and fumbles, but should Driver hit the 36-wall in 2011, I think Jones will be ready. And quite frankly, the Packers are in better shape than the Ravens: while Boldin and Housh are 30 and 33, respectively, Jennings and Jones are 27 and 26.

But that's all a year away. Right now Driver is still the cagey veteran who hasn't quite hit the steep portion over the hill, and he has some milestones approaching. The obvious one is that he needs 501 more yards to reach 10,000 for his career, and that will come next season, but he also only needs 158 receiving yards to become the Packers' all time leader. That'll happen in the final two weeks, and should the Packers' playoff hopes collapse like the Metrodome roof in a snowstorm, it's a good reason to keep watching.


Prospecting: Sean Halton

Here's another feature we'll be introducing, not on any particular day but when slow news days permit.  The Tap gained a very favorable response on our Farm Reports but those can be broad and not provide as good of a breakdown of what a prospects strengths and weaknesses are.

So when time allows, we'll be looking in-depth into a Brewers prospect, this doesn't mean an end to the Farm Reports however.  Some will be big names, some could be diamonds in the rough and some could be career minor leaguers, but these are the guys that make up the Milwaukee Farm System.

Who is Sean Halton?

Drafted in the 13th round in 2009 to play first base, Halton was a pitcher and first baseman for Fresno City College for two seasons before transferring to Lewis-Clark State College.  With Fresno City College he was a first team Junior College All-America both seasons.  After transferring to Lewis-Clark State he was an honorable mention NAIA All-America.

At 6'5" and 240 lbs. Halton is not small, he has a first baseman's frame if I've ever seen one.  He'll turn 24 in June of next season and graduated from Fresno High School in California where he earned First Team All-State recognition his final two seasons.  Halton bats and throws right-handed.

He splashed onto the scene by hitting .330 with the rookie league Brewers after being drafted.  After 25 games he was promoted to rookie Helena where he put up even better numbers, batting .354 in 44 games.  For his debut season he finished with six home runs and 45 driven in while batting .344.

2010 started off slow for Halton though, in 23 games with Wisconsin (Low A) he hit just .221 with zero home runs.  But due to an organizational need at Brevard County (High A), Halton received an early promotion and responded.  He drove in 77 runs to lead the Manatees despite playing in only 104 games with the team and batted .292 along the way.  Between the two levels Halton finished with 10 home runs and 88 RBIs.

The Good

Halton was a very consistent hitter in 2010, never too hot and never too cold.  His lowest batting average for a month was .274 in July and his highest was .298 in June (Halton also hit .391 in September but he played only five games that month).  Consistency should never be overlooked.

His power was also up last season.  10 home runs may not seem like much but Brevard County can be very tough on hitters so to see Halton improve on his power numbers is promising, so long as it wasn't an aberration.  Also, he only committed 10 errors in 2010, that's not exactly gold glove material but it's no Mat Gamel either.

The Bad

The big first baseman's walk rate isn't terrible, but it isn't good either.  A .332 OBP with two A-ball teams won't translate well to the majors especially when you include the 102 times he struck out.  That said, a batter's eye can improve with experience and Halton is only two seasons into his big league career.

At this point his plate presence isn't a major hole in his game but it's definitely something to watch.  Players get better every season and this is an area of Halton's game that will likely be a focal point next season.  Pitch selection and walk rate.

The Outlook

Halton *should* be destined for Double-A Huntsville next season.  I say should because you never really know what thoughts the organization will have in regards to a player - but if it is Huntsville next year is very important for him.  Double-A is where you really get a feel for a players major league prospects because there is more talent competing for less spots.

If Halton is going to establish himself as a true first base prospect he will need to maintain his offensive production, while showing a bit more power than he has so far.  You can see that batting average dip a few points if you see the run production increase.  Also there will need to be an improvement in his plate presence, it doesn't have to be huge but at least enough to think he will keep getting better.

At this point it is impossible to say what kind of future Halton has in the big leagues.  He's not a Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun type of prospect where you can look at him and just know that he will be in the majors - Halton has tools, it's just a matter of how strong those tools are.

That said, the Brewers farm system is devoid of strong first base prospects so if he can put up a big year he may find himself at the top of that list.  But he'll need to put up those numbers first and Double-A has washed out the Brewers last two first base prospects.


The Big Ten's Big Bust

I'm not here to talk about the logo.  No, I'm just going to gloss over the fact that the Big Ten Conference paid what was probably an excessive amount to have a graphic designer come back with block lettering and  a G that kind of looks like a zero (they really made them earn that one).

I'm going to just pass by the fact that the G looks like a zero to honor the original ten members of the conference.  It's not like that is already done by the conference's name being the BIG TEN.  This quote, and my subsequent breakdown of it's meaning, really sums up everything you need to know about the logo:

"The new Big Ten logo was developed to symbolize the conference's future (that G does kind of look like a six doesn't it), as well as its rich heritage, strong tradition of competition (nothing screams competition like robin's egg blue), academic leadership, and passionate alumni," said Gericke. "Its contemporary collegiate lettering (Translation: we totally forgot about this until yesterday) includes an embedded numeral "10" in the word "BIG," which allows fans to see "BIG" and "10" in a single word (because before it was just too long). Memorable and distinctive, the new logo evolved from the previous logo's use of negative space (Translation: How much longer do I need to talk for?) and is built on the conference's iconic name, without reference to the number of member institutions (It was 10, then 11, then 12, then 16... oh wait that isn't official yet)."

No, that is not what I am here to talk about.  It's something much more serious.  The Big Ten Conference has committed a crime against nomenclature.  Vocabulary itself should feel slighted for the absolutely atrocious name selections that the Big Ten has made for their first ever division titles.

Legends and Leaders.  It sounds like an over-hyped movie.  A campy pre-game speech.  Something you'd hear in Friday Night Lights rather than in Saturday morning locker rooms.  When the news broke I had to double-check to make sure it wasn't being reported by the Onion.

There are so many directions to go with this name choice and none of them are good.  For starters, someone thought this was a good idea.  Then when they brought that idea to someone else, that person didn't laugh in their face... he actually thought the idea was good too!  And the ball kept rolling until it actually happened.

Did the Big Ten select the worst possible names? I guess not, I mean they could have named their divisions after Osama and Hitler, but in no way are these names good. Legends and Leaders, it's a good slogan at least, but this was not a slogan that they announced.

There is something out there called groupthink.  The principle of it is that a group of people making decision, in this case a naming choice, takes what most of them believe is a good idea and runs with it because nobody wants to cause strife or problems in the group by disagreeing.

This leads to the idea not being considered and analyzed as in-depth as it should be.  Groupthink prevents an idea from being seen from all angles, but especially those that are critical of it.  Nobody wants to be the odd man out so the idea sails through uncontested.  Is that what happened to Big Ten officials?  It makes the most sense, an idea got enough steam that everybody jumped on board just so they wouldn't be the black sheep of the group.  If that's the case, hindsight is 20/20, we can forgive this mistake while there is still time to fix it - there is still time to fix it right?

The fact is good ideas were passed on for the Big Ten to end up with Legends and Leaders.  Ideas both creative and commendable, select and superior.  Yet every single one of those ideas was passed on, and we were left with Legends and Leaders.  Let's all just hope this isn't a sign of the future decisions that the Big Ten brass will be making in the near future.

Not All Failures

There is a silver lining in all this, the new names for all of the conference awards.  The titles will honor some of the best that college football and the Big Ten have ever seen and the Wisconsin Badgers are well represented.  

The Championship Trophy is one of the most well-named, with the honor of the award giving due to Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and coaching legend Amos Alonzo Stagg.  No one can argue against the impact Paterno has had on the college football world and Stagg deserves recognition on the Division 1 level (The Divsion 3 title game is named for Stagg and his 116 Big Ten wins are third all-time).

As for Badger representatives, one-time football star and long-time athletic director Pat Richter shares the "receiver of the year" award with a different sort of Wisconsin sports hero - Desmond Howard.  The Packers Super Bowl MVP in 1997 was also the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner.

Richter was a 9-time letter winner with the Badgers, three times each in football, basketball and baseball. He also was an All-American for the 1962 season, when Bucky finished No. 2 overall.  Richter went on to be the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft, but is best known for overseeing the revitalization of the Wisconsin football program... and hiring Barry Alvarez.

A Badger also has his name on the "kicker of the year" award, Jim Bakken, a 17-year pro and Madison, Wis. native will share that honor with Michigan State's Morton Anderson (yes that Morton Anderson).

But the most fitting award might be the "running back of the year" award, which honors both of the Badgers Heisman Trophy winners.  The award will be called the "Ameche-Dayne" Trophy, paying homage to Wisconsin's 1953 and 1999 Heisman winners.

Ron Dayne is the all-time leader in rushing yards in the NCAA's top division with 7,125.  He broke the record in the 1999 season's last home game, against Iowa.

Alan Ameche is a figure from another era of sports.  He is not much more than a name to most Badger fans, but his 3,212 career rushing yards were an NCAA record at the time.  Ameche's name and No. 35 are one of four to sit on the facade of Camp Randall Stadium.

In a year that the Wisconsin running game has been it's most dominant since Ron Dayne graduated, it seems fitting that the Big Ten name it's running back award after a pair of legendary Badger backs.


Monday Morning Reverie: The Sky is Falling Edition

If you were visiting the Tap last week you might have noticed something, we wrote.  So in an effort to establish a more consistent website there will be some new weekly columns.  Some will work, some won't but stick with us and we'll all come out better in the end.

Time to take a look back at the weekend that was with some meandering thoughts about what went on in sports over the past two days.

1.  Were they not expecting snow? Here's the hot video of the weekend.  We already knew the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was a dump and the Vikings inability to get a new stadium has lead to the franchise flirting with a possible move to Los Angeles, but the roof collapsing because of too much snow seems a little absurd.

If you're the Minnesota Vikings and you're facing lagging attendance and an inability to improve the stadium situation, a collapsing roof is not going to motivate you to stay put.  This is purely speculation on my part but at this moment the future of professional football in Minnesota does not look bright.

Still this was pretty cool to see.

2. Fading Fast. The playoff prospects of the Green Bay Packers look very dim after Sunday's loss to the woebegone Detroit Lions.  The game was ugly before Aaron Rodgers left the game with his second concussion of the season and with Rodgers out, the Packers offense was disjointed and downright ugly.

If Rodgers isn't back quickly you can kiss this season goodbye.  The Packers without Rodgers are broken offensively.  Matt Flynn doesn't have the arm strength to be a deep ball quarterback and finally the mass of injuries will catch up with Green Bay.

With no legitimate running game Flynn would have to bear the load.  That's something Aaron Rodgers did admirably but I wouldn't hold out the same hope for Flynn.  If the Packers are going to have any hope to make the playoffs this season they need to hope for a speedy recovery from Rodgers.

Concussions are tricky though, just ask Steve Young and Troy Aikman.

3. While we're on the Subject another concern beyond Matt Flynn potentially starting is the fact that Green Bay has a very difficult three-game stretch to end the season.  New England, Chicago and the New York Giants.

The Patriots are the best team in the NFL right now and the prospect of facing them is not very promising even if Aaron Rodgers is healthy.  The once bright outlook for this season is now starting to look like an 8-8, missing the playoffs debacle.

After watching New England dismantle a hot Chicago team there needs to be very legitimate concern about the final three games of 2010.

4. A Pleasant Surprise, that's what I would call the Badgers win over in-state "rival" Marquette.  Going into the game I was pessimistic.  Bucky always struggles with the Golden Eagles, especially at the Bradley Center, so to see Wisconsin force their style and pace on the road was good to see.

The Badgers strength is in their front court, but Jordan Taylor is emerging as a star player.  He's the best guard to play for Bo Ryan since Devin Harris, without a doubt.  But how far this team goes will likely depend more on senior forwards Keaton Nankivil and John Leuer.

As for Marquette, I don't consider myself an expert but a couple points stood out.  First, they are undersized (duh) which seems like a problem every year.  They'll manage to win despite that, they do every year.  But the other problem I saw in that game was the lack of a clear second scorer.

Jimmy Butler is the go to scorer for this team but it doesn't look like anyone has stepped up to help carry the offensive load.  Like I said, I'm not an expert on Marquette basketball so my observation is based only on Saturday.

5.  The St. Louis Cardinals traded away starting shortstop Brendan Ryan.  Ryan, a LaRussa favorite just a season ago, did exactly what I predicted he would this year, he stunk.  In 486 plate appearances he hit just .226 with only two home runs.  In four career seasons he is a .259 hitter, with little power but a good arm at shortstop.  He'll stick around because he plays defense but he won't be winning any batting titles.

What's funny about this deal is who it leaves the Cardinals with to be their starting shortstop - none other than former Chicago Cub Ryan Theriot.  He doesn't walk much and has very little power and is a worse defender than Ryan was.  This is in addition to signing Lance Berkman to be their starting left fielder.  I thought the trend was towards pitching and defense not pitching and washed up veterans.

What will this week bring?  Zack Greinke perhaps?  Or maybe Cliff Lee will finally sign (with the yankees).  Maybe Aaron Rodgers will be just fine.  Or maybe the Tap will put out a Bucks post (not likely).  Stay tuned to find out.


Finley's injury opening new doors

The loss of Jermichael Finley is something that still looms over this season. During training camp Aaron Rodgers was positively giddy when he spoke of Finley, and as preseason led to the regular season, you could see why. Linebackers couldn't keep up with the third year tight end while cornerbacks and safeties clung to his ankles for dear life as he continued down the field, and with his basketball background he could post up on anyone and come down with the ball.

This, of course, all ended in the Redskins game in week 5, and the impact was immediately felt in 2 consecutive losses. But since then Rodgers has rediscovered target Greg Jennings, as ESPN's Kevin Seifert writes, and his article raises a question: could the loss of Finley be a good thing?

It's not out of the question. There's even historical precedence for it in Green Bay. When Brett Favre was finding his way from 92-94, he leaned heavily on All-Pro WR Sterling Sharpe. In those 3 seasons Sharpe had a whopping 314 catches, or approximately 1/3 of Favre's completions. But he suffered a career ending neck injury at the end of the 94 season, leaving Favre without his safety valve.

Favre responded with 3 consecutive MVP seasons.

It is possible Favre would have had as much success with Sharpe in those years, but I don't think so. My theory has always been that Favre used Sharpe as a crutch in tough situations: if things go bad, go to Sterling. Once that crutch was gone, Favre stepped up his game. He began to spread the ball around more, and consequently saw his interceptions drop. Simply put, he was less predictable.

Rodgers was suffering from this same predictability early in the season. He began forcing the ball to Finley, and though they connected on some sensational plays, you can't help but wonder who was open on some of those passes into triple-coverage. His interceptions may reflect the Finley related problems as well. In Finley's 4 full games Rodgers threw 5 interceptions, then in the following 3 games--his readjustment period, if you will--he threw 4 more. He hasn't thrown a pick since.

So now that Jennings has reemerged as the top threat and Donald Driver is again healthy (as evidenced on this incredible catch and run), the two are once again the focus of the offense. But there are also less noticeable benefits to the Finley injury, and that's the added experience the younger players are in line for. Lesser receivers James Jones Jordy Nelson, and Brett Swain have benefited from his absence, but perhaps no one has benefited more than Andrew Quarless.

At 6'4" 250, Quarless is a guy who has the tools to be another Finley. Because he provides the same mismatch problems, the portion of the playbook which would've been otherwise lost due to a lack of the proper personnel remains open, meaning he's seen plenty of added playing time. He's had the growing pains expected of a raw rookie talent, but according to his QB and his coach, he's made some significant strides of late. This progress never would have come had Finley stayed healthy, and should Quarless realize his potential upon Finley's return next season, Rodgers won't be able to develop tunnel vision if he tries.

Ultimately, Jermichael Finley has been missed this season. There's no telling what impact he would've had in the OT loss to the Redskins had he not gone down on the second play of the game, and it's hard to imagine there ever being a 4th & Goal situation in the Falcons game with him in the lineup, let alone a QB sneak. But for the long term prospects of Rodgers' growth as a quarterback and the developing youth on the roster, his injury may have been the best thing that could have happened.