Friday, January 21, 2011

Packers CB Williams Selected To Pro Bowl

Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams has been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster, the league announced today. Williams replaces Eagles CB Asante Samuel, who is unable to participate due to injury.
Williams, who was signed by the Packers to the practice squad as a free agent in November 2006, started all 16 games this season for the first time as a pro and led the team with a career-high six interceptions and a career-best 23 passes defensed. He also added a career-high 63 tackles (54 solo), two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a sack.

Williams is the sixth Green Bay player to be named to the team, joining T Chad Clifton, S Nick Collins, WR Greg Jennings, LB Clay Matthews, and CB Charles Woodson. The six Pro Bowl selections for the Packers are the most since they also had the same number in 2003, and it is the second time in the past three seasons that the team has had three defensive backs selected.

NFC Championship Game 2011: 5 Things To Watch For In Packers Vs. Bears

With as much lead-up and hype to Sunday's NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears as there has been, one would certainly have more than enough reason to tune into Sunday's quest for NFC supremacy.

Well, it's true -- and that's only the gist of what is expected.
The longest standing rivalry in NFL history, the Packers and Bears have been through many classic matchups and hard-hitting action.  So, naturally, their 183rd meeting in Chicago on Sunday will be chalk full with prime NFL action and -- most importantly -- a trip to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on the line.
However, with all the analysis and unneeded buildup to what will most likely turn out to be another vintage battle between the two NFC North heavyweights, where do the fans figure into things?
To make things as simple and as straight-forward as possible, here are five things fans should take notice to come Sunday afternoon.

1. Mike McCarthy's balanced attack
It's easy to see why Green Bay has been so decisive thus far in the postseason -- and it isn't solely due to Aaron Rodgers' success through the air.
The emergence of rookie tailback James Starks has proved vital to the Packers' playoff aspirations: yielding 189 yards on 40 carries through two games this postseason.  However the statistics don't tell the tail of Green Bay's success.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has preached about giving this backs enough carries to balance out the attack, while not distressing over the overall yardage gained.
The focus is simple for Green Bay: get James Starks the football early and often.  And, when the time comes, power the ball into the endzone to RB John Kuhn inside the five yardline.
Still, Rodgers in the five-wideout shotgun formation has proved deadly to opposing secondaries this season.  A formidable run game complements the passing attack for Rodgers, along with simplifying the rest of McCarthy's game-plan.
If Green Bay runs with authority, they should be fine.

2. Jay Culter's high-risk/high-reward contingency
It's amazing how much disrespect Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been granted this season.  In fact, a quick look at the numbers suggests his overall production in just his second year as Chicago's head man.
With over 3,200 yards through the air in the regular season, along with 23 touchdowns and a surprisingly impressive 86.3 quarterback rating, Cutler has obviously improved his game under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
However -- as I'm sure you're all aware of -- Jay has been known to make those hazardous, uneducated throws an elite quarterback would not have otherwise attempted.
Three things Green Bay's electric defense must do:
1.  Pressure Cutler with the exotic blitz schemes shown in Saturday night's dismantling of Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
2. Mix up Clay Matthews' role within the defense.  Matthews has been a force for the Packers in the pass-rush game this season -- and with Cutler anticipating Matthews pressuring on almost every down, the perfect counter could be to drop him back into coverage once in a while.
3.  Tramon Williams must limit Johnny Knox out of big-play opportunities.  Averaging almost 20 yards per reception, Knox knows when to hit the home run -- so what better counter than putting Williams on him the entirety of the contest?

3. Greg Olsen in Chicago's passing attack
Last week, Chicago showed how significant a threat their tight ends can be in their offense when given any room to maneuver.  However, if there's one team who knows how to shut down big-time tight ends, it's Dom Capers and the Green Bay defense.
Olsen comes into Sunday’s third meeting with the Packers looking to follow up a top-notch performance in the NFC Divisional playoffs against Seattle. He caught a 58-yard touchdown pass on the Bears’ third play from scrimmage, added a 33-yard grab on Chicago’s second TD drive, and went on to finish with three receptions for 113 yards.
If Green Bay can shut down Olsen for a majority of the game on Sunday, Jay Cutler will be severely limited during key plays.

4. Tim Mathsay vs. Devin Hester
It should be no surprise by now how much game-changing ability Chicago return-man Devin Hester maintains on a day-to-day basis.
However the one, simple thing Green Bay can do to extend their chances at victory can be to, well, not punt to him.  Nevertheless, it's proved to be a much taller task to accomplish than previously thought.
Averaging over 17 yards per punt return, Hester can break away at any given time -- as he's proved to us all in the past.
When the Packers line up to punt Sunday afternoon, make sure to tune in; because it may turn out to be the game's most important play.

The outcome
Far be it from me to say that Sunday's NFC Championship game between two of the biggest rivals in the sporting world will be one of the most-watched games in NFL history; however that may just be the case.
For Jay Cuter and the Bears, its been a turnaround season for ages.  From a disheartening 7-9 campaign in 2009, to an NFC North title in 2010, its safe to say Chicago has only begun what will become yet another competitive Bears squad that will challenge for the Super Bowl for many years to come.
But for Mike McCarthy and the Packers, Sunday's duel at the Windy City will serve as the official turnaround from the Brett Favre era.
Along with overcoming critical injuries to several Pro-Bowl worthy role players (including 15 total players placed on injured reserve), Green Bay has had it's hardships unlike any other team in the NFL.  Yet, look where they are.
It's a credit to McCarthy and the entire Green Bay coaching staff how far they've reached and how much they've been able to accomplish with so many set-backs.
However, the issue at hand is the outcome of Sunday's football game.  And with Rodgers making his presence felt throughout the league, along with a compelling defense led by the mastermind himself in Dom Capers, Green Bay has been untouchable so far this postseason.
Look for that to continue on Sunday as the Packers beat the Bears 21-17.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Three Months Later, Packers & Bears Have Changed

Fourteen weeks is a long time, and that distance between the first Packers-Bears meeting of 2010 and the rematch this Sunday at Lambeau Field is evident in how different the two teams look now compared to then.

For the Packers, the changes lie in personnel more than anything, because of the number of injuries the team has been forced to overcome. Those changes have had a significant impact on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, for the Bears, with the defense and special teams rather consistent and impactful all season, the adjustments have mostly been in their offensive approach as coordinator Mike Martz has adapted his scheme to what the Bears do best.
Here’s a closer look at those key variations compared to Week 3:
Green Bay offense
On that Monday night at Soldier Field in late September, tight endJermichael Finley caught nine passes for 115 yards, accounting for more than one-third of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 316 yards on the evening. After the following week, Finley was on pace for a 1,200-yard campaign through one quarter of the season. But in Week 5, he was lost for the year with a knee injury and the Packers’ passing attack needed to take on a different identity.
There was an adjustment period, but eventually Greg Jennings (72 receptions, 1,168 yards, 12 TDs) emerged as the go-to guy with a plethora of complementary pieces around him. Jennings, Donald Driver,James Jones and Jordy Nelson all have at least 40 receptions, the first time four Packers wide receivers have reached that mark in the same season. Add in a fifth 40-reception target in running back Brandon Jackson and the passing game has five players, regardless of position, with 40 catches for the first time in 30 years.
“That’s why we’re a team, it’s a collective effort,” Jennings said. “Obviously it doesn’t take one guy to get it done, it takes a group effort, and that’s what we pride ourselves in doing is everyone stepping up and making plays when their number is called.”
Meanwhile, the Packers offensive line has probably been more stable than in recent years, but the one major change was rookie Bryan Bulaga taking over at right tackle for Mark Tauscher, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 4.
In the first meeting with the Bears, the Packers and Tauscher admittedly had a tough time with Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers. He was a big reason running backs Jackson and John Kuhn combined for just 43 yards on 13 carries (3.3 avg.), and he drew a holding call on Tauscher that nullified a touchdown pass to Finley.
Now it will be up to Bulaga to handle him, most certainly with some help from the tight ends and/or backs. For the season, Peppers has eight sacks, two interceptions among nine passes defensed, and three forced fumbles. He’s a nine-year veteran with the most complete game in Chicago’s front four -- against the pass, he has the power to bull rush and the speed to get around the edge; against the run, he has the strength to hold the point of attack and the quickness to get penetration and be disruptive.
Coming off a week in which he faced Giants’ double-digit sacker Justin Tuck, Bulaga has another order just as tall on his hands.
“He’s got it all and he’ll do it all,” Bulaga said. “You can’t overset or overdo one thing because he’ll do the other. You have to use all of your tools and just play your game.”
Green Bay defense
In some ways it seems as though the entire defense has been revamped due to injuries over the last three months, but perhaps the key to making so many changes work has been the solid play in the middle. The Packers have gone from employing Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar for most of the snaps at inside linebacker to A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop with no noticeable drop-off.
“I’ve really got a lot of confidence in both A.J. and ‘Bish’,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Both those guys since I’ve been here, they‘ve been through the ups and downs, play time (against) this team (or) that team. I think they really complement each other. I think A.J. has done an outstanding job out front of the huddle, making the calls and checks. I think we’ve seen Desmond’s playmaking ability, that he brings some explosiveness. And I think they’ve been working very well together.
“I don’t think there’s many teams in the league that probably could go through what we’ve gone through at that inside linebacker and still get the kind of play that you’re getting out of A.J. and Desmond.”
That pair ranks 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Hawk adding three interceptions and Bishop three sacks.
The best illustration of how different Green Bay’s defense will look against Chicago this time is to recap a number of significant plays from the first meeting. Safety Derrick Martin had an interception, linebackerFrank Zombo and defensive end Cullen Jenkins each had a sack, Barnett had an interception nullified by a penalty on Zombo, Chillar was called for pass interference on Chicago’s final drive (yet tight end Greg Olsen still made a leaping 21-yard catch), and safety Morgan Burnett was flagged for pass interference later on that final drive to set up the Bears’ game-winning field goal.
None of the six defensive players mentioned there will be on the field on Sunday for Green Bay. Zombo (knee) and Jenkins (calf) are both out with injuries, while the other four are on injured reserve. But through waiver-wire pickups, free-agent signings and continued growth of several young players, the Packers still rank second in the league in scoring defense and third in interceptions.
“We’ve played through a lot of different people playing a lot of different positions,” Capers said. “I’m proud of the way our guys have responded, because there’s never been an excuse when we’ve had an injury. The next week we’ve had a different guy line up in there, and everybody on the team expects them to go in and do their job. They know there’s a sense of accountability on this defense.
“It’s a great example that if you get a group of guys that are unselfish, and they understand their job and there’s a sense of accountability of them taking care of their business, that there’s nothing really that you can’t accomplish. I think we’ve got that. I like the attitude, the approach, the unselfishness, and the guys understand that if everybody does their job, everybody’s going to get a chance to make plays.”
Chicago offense
Analysts wondered from the beginning whether the union of Martz and his wide-open offense would work with quarterback Jay Cutler and the current Bears. The early results weren’t the most promising, with Cutler suffering through a nine-sack game (which kept him out a week with a concussion) and a four-interception outing as the Bears struggled to a 4-3 record at their bye week.
But since then, Chicago is 7-1, and unlike some of their past playoff teams, the Bears aren’t simply asking their offense not to screw up what the defense and special teams accomplish. This offense is producing, and doing so impressively, as Martz has found better run-pass balance.
“I think he’s going through a normal process that happens to coordinators when they go into a new place,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it during the beginning, but they’ve continued to improve on offense throughout the season and they’re playing their best football right now.”
The Bears made some adjustments up front, shifting right tackle Chris Williams to left guard, flipping Roberto Garza from left guard to right guard, and inserting rookie J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. They’ve also committed more to running the ball with Matt Forte, who has topped 90 yards on the ground in four of the past six games, compared to once through the first nine games of the year.
According to the Chicago Tribune, over the last eight weeks the Bears have run the ball 238 times and passed it 231, making them the only team in the league to run more than pass over that span. That’s a 51-49 run-pass ratio.
Contrast that with Cutler’s first six games (he missed Week 5 with that concussion), when the Bears ran the ball 114 times and passed it 196, a 37-63 ratio. Cutler had seven touchdown passes against seven interceptions over that time and has posted 16 TDs with just seven interceptions since.
“I think they know what they want to do now,” Bishop said. “I think they know how they want to attack, and they stick to what they do and they’re getting really efficient at it. I think early on it was here and there, doing different personnel (groups), but I think Week 16, they are who they are.”
And that’s an offense taking advantage of everything the defense and special teams do for it, particularly in the area of field position.
“All you have to do is look at the game last week against the Jets,” Capers said. “They’re down by seven at halftime, and they go out and within nine plays they’ve scored three touchdowns. They took the ball over on the 32, the 40 and the 49. They go 32 (yards), one play, touchdown; 40, three plays, touchdown; 49, five plays, touchdown. There you go, it’s a whole different game.”
Sunday’s late-afternoon rematch will clearly be a whole different game, too, whether or not the playoff stakes for Chicago change as a result of other NFC scores earlier in the day.
The Packers have endured and survived to give themselves a chance, while the Bears are simply waiting to see exactly how their postseason will begin.
“We’ve had an up-and-down season,” Rodgers said. “We’ve overcome a lot of challenges, a very resilient group of guys in this locker room. I’m very proud of the number of men who have stepped up and played a big role for us. Some men who we didn’t really count on at the beginning of the season, we didn’t think they were going to play as a big a role as they have. But I’m very proud of those men and the obstacles we’ve had to overcome.
“Them? They’re kind of on a roll. They’ve been playing pretty consistent most of the season. Had a couple hiccups, but they beat a good Jets team and beat the Eagles as well. They’re playing very well, wrapped up the division, and we’ll see what happens Sunday.”

Friday, December 31, 2010

Uneven Season Has Forged Resilient Team

Earlier this week, Head Coach Mike McCarthy called these Packers the most resilient team he’s coached in his five seasons here.

It’s a quality that has served them well in multiple respects as they head into a potential playoffs-or-bust regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
First, the team has shown the ability to overcome as many if not more significant injuries than any team in the league this year. The Packers have seen 14 players go on season-ending injured reserve, including six opening-day starters and a handful of key reserves. Other starters, and even some of the replacements for the original starters, have also missed games here and there.
Statistically speaking, opening-day starters have missed a collective total of 77 games, not including the contests in which they got hurt. Over the course of 15 games, that’s an average of five starters missing each week. Reserves and fill-in starters have missed nearly that many more games.
That’s the 2010 obstacle with a capital ‘O’ that has required a combination of factors to overcome, keeping the Packers in contention all season long. The roster depth built by General Manager Ted Thompson and his personnel department, week-to-week coaching adjustments by McCarthy and his staff, and an unwavering no-excuses attitude amongst the coaches and players have all helped get the team to 9-6 with a playoff berth to fight for in this final week.
“It just speaks for the guys on the team, how hard everyone’s been working, just how everyone’s been staying at it and not giving up,” said rookie right tackleBryan Bulaga, who stepped in as one of the new regulars following veteranMark Tauscher’s season-ending shoulder injury four games in. “When a couple guys go down here or there, not everyone just puts their head down. The guys that are behind them step up and play good football.
“A lot of it is Coach McCarthy. He does a great job putting the offensive scheme together every week. He’s a great head coach. He helps put together the team obviously too, so he picks the guys on the team with Mr. Thompson as well. They put the pieces in place, and then it’s up to us to go out there and execute.”
And therein lies the rub. Because for as much as this 2010 season has been about rising above repeated misfortune in the injury department, at this point it’s being analyzed just as much, if not moreso, as one of missed opportunities.
All six of Green Bay’s losses have come by either three or four points, and whether playing shorthanded or not, that’s a lot of chances to win that have slipped away. There have been late-game turnovers and penalties, overtime failures, last-minute drives that don’t quite reach the end zone, and the list goes on.
“I wouldn’t say we’re too proud, because even with all the injuries, we still should have won some of those games we lost,” receiver James Jonessaid. “We put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to dig our way out. We still hold our own destiny, so we have to go out here and get a win, get in the playoffs.”
That’s yet another reflection of the Packers’ resiliency, albeit of the double-edged-sword type. This Green Bay team has been forced to bounce back psychologically from a number of tough defeats, but losses they see as ones of their own making.
“We feel very confident with the guys in this locker room that we’re going to be competitive every week,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But you look at the games we’ve lost, it’s self-inflicted wounds most of the time.”
Still, the team rebounded from back-to-back overtime losses in Weeks 5-6 to knock off NFC North rival Minnesota in a down-to-the-wire game that jump-started a four-game winning streak.
Then after losing three of four games beginning in late November, the Packers came out last week needing a win to stay alive for a playoff spot and put together their best performance of the season in whipping the fellow Wild Card contending Giants.
Perhaps the previous game, at New England, said as much about this team as any and set the stage for last week. Traveling to play the hottest team in the NFL in a stadium where Tom Brady seemingly never loses and with backup quarterback Matt Flynn forced to take the reins from Rodgers, it would have seemed acceptable to take some pride in pushing the Patriots to the limit in a 31-27 setback.
But this team was downright frustrated, if not angry, it didn’t win that game, and psychologically it simply absorbed another tough loss from which to move on. It wasn’t about taking pride in anything, because the pride was left on the field with an admirable but ultimately unsuccessful performance.
The internal message the players took from that loss was they still weren’t playing well enough, and continuing to push ahead helped produce the dominant showing that followed upon returning to Lambeau. Now the message is that more of the same is needed, with everything in the big picture still there for the taking.
“We set a goal back in March as a team, no matter who’s out there, and we’re still fighting for that goal,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I guess you could say we’ve done a great job based on injuries, but we don’t want any moral victories. We want to complete our goal that we set back in March.
“It’s a fun time. We all know our backs are against the wall. This is Game 2 of our playoff stretch, and we know it’s win or go home. With the guys we have on this team, with the character, this is a game we embrace. The animal instinct inside all of us, we’ll come to fight.”
McCarthy’s resilient bunch wouldn’t know how to react any other way.
“It obviously starts with your head coach and your leadership with the guys in the locker room, and he’s done a good job of keeping us focused each week on the different themes and things he wants to emphasize,” Rodgers said. “This is a group that has a lot of confidence in each other and plays well together.
“But unfortunately we just haven’t been as consistent for the entire season that we would have liked to. We’d love to be sitting here clinching a berth and maybe playing for the division. But the fact of the matter is we have a chance to still get in the tournament and do some damage if we can take care of business at home this weekend.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Notebook: Matthews Aware Of Gronkowski

For as notably as Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has burst onto the scene in his rookie season in 2010 with seven touchdown receptions -- third most among all tight ends in the NFL -- Packers linebacker Clay Matthews isn't surprised. Not in the slightest.

Matthews played against Gronkowski when the two were Pac-10 rivals at USC and Arizona, respectively, and he considered him one of his toughest individual matchups at the college level. When the two went head-to-head in 2008, Matthews' senior season and Gronkowski's sophomore year, Gronkowski had just two catches for 12 yards in USC's tight 17-10 win, but it was his complete game that impressed Matthews.

"I think he was underrated," Matthews said. "Not only was he a talented receiving tight end, but he could block as well, and it's clearly evident that he's able to do that even on the professional level. He's one of those guys you really have to gear up for.
"I'm glad I've seen him before, knowing that I'm really going to have to focus on him personally with his blocks if I'm matched up against him and what not. But I think he's a great overall, well-rounded player, and his name will be highly regarded at the tight end position for years to come."
The reason Gronkowski's been a bit of a surprise early on was he missed all of last season at Arizona with a back injury, and then he entered the NFL Draft a year early. The Patriots selected him in the second round last April (42nd overall) and then two rounds later drafted another early-entry tight end, Florida's Aaron Hernandez, who in some ways was the bigger name because he had won a national championship with the Gators as well as the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in 2009, the year Gronkowski was hurt.
The pair has formed an impressive rookie tight end duo. Hernandez has more receptions (41 to 31) and yards (532 to 365) this season, but with the seven TDs to Hernandez's four, Gronkowski has been the more frequent red-zone target.
It's worth wondering what Gronkowski's numbers might be if he were the sole featured tight end in New England's offense, but Matthews says there's no need to focus on his statistics. His personal experience, and this year's game film, have proven to him his read on Gronkowski two years ago wasn't off the mark.
"There are certain guys when you can personally play against them, you kind of predict where they're going to end up or how it's going to unfold," Matthews said. "I got to congratulate him after he was drafted, before the season started, and you could see where his head was at.
"I told him best of luck, congrats on getting drafted, and here we are 14 weeks later going up against each other, just like in college. I have my work cut out for me, and hopefully he does as well."
Another casual link between the two young stars is their athletic families. Both Matthews' father and grandfather played in the NFL, while Gronkowski has two brothers also currently in the league. Dan Gronkowski has played tight end for the Lions and Broncos the past two years, while Chris Gronkowski is a rookie tight end with the Cowboys this season. Their father, Gordon, was a collegiate offensive guard at Syracuse.
"Obviously he's from a football family as well, and with what appears to be a blue-collar mentality, he's going to work hard and get to where he's at," Matthews said. "I think that's exactly what he's done."
Tuck rule redux?
Packers cornerback Charles Woodson has played at New England just once since the infamous "Tuck Rule" game in the 2001 AFC playoffs. With the Raiders in 2005, Woodson opened the season against the Patriots in New England.
But if the forecast for snow Sunday night in Foxborough holds, the scene will undoubtedly remind Woodson even more of the play that allowed New England quarterback Tom Brady to "steal" Woodson's championship ring.
To recap, with the Raiders and Patriots playing in a heavy snowstorm in the 2001 AFC Divisional playoffs, Woodson thought he had caused the game-saving turnover late in the fourth quarter by blitzing on a pass play and stripping Brady of the ball, which was recovered by an Oakland teammate. But because Brady was trying to stop his throwing motion and "tuck" the ball back into his body when he was hit, the officials determined after a replay review that the "tuck rule" applied, making the play an incomplete pass, not a fumble.
Given the reprieve, New England proceeded to drive for a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and the Patriots eventually won the game in overtime. They also went on to win their first of three Super Bowl titles.
"You know, I've had that flashback more times than I would like," Woodson told Boston-area reporters in a conference call this week. "I catch that game on the classic football channel sometimes. That's a bad memory for me, but you know, it is what it is. This week, we're just going to try and concentrate on getting this win, whether it snows or not."
As for the championship Woodson is still chasing while Brady, his former college teammate at Michigan, has won three Super Bowls: "Yeah, he did steal my ring and I'm still waiting around to get mine," Woodson said.
Injury update
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday there was no change in quarterback Aaron Rodgers' status, and he didn't expect to have an update until late Friday or Saturday. Rodgers (concussion) did not practice for the second straight day.
McCarthy did say Rodgers' playing status would not be a game-time decision, though. He plans to make a decision on Saturday before the team boards the plane for New England.
Left guard Daryn Colledge (knee) returned to practice on Thursday on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday. Talking to reporters afterward, he indicated he planned to be a full participant in practice, but a knee brace he has ordered did not arrive in time.
Still, he sounded confident he would be able to play on Sunday, which would run his consecutive games streak as an NFL player to 81 games, including playoffs. Colledge has not missed a game in his pro or college career.
"I know I've played with worse and I've done different things," he said. "It's a different knee, and that's why we're waiting on a brace, but I expect to continue the streak."
A first last week for Colledge was watching the Packers' game on TV while sitting on a training table in the Green Bay locker room at Ford Field. After Colledge left the game in the first quarter, the medical staff recommended he stay off the knee, so he didn't return to the sidelines and he watched the rest of the broadcast with his quarterback, who also didn't return to the field after halftime.
"Aaron and I spent the second half together on the table watching the game, which was tough," Colledge said. "You want to be out there playing with your guys."
In addition to Colledge, three other players on the Packers' injury report were upgraded on Thursday. Tackle Chad Clifton (knees), guard Josh Sitton(knee) and cornerback Pat Lee (ankle) all went from limited to full participants. Meanwhile safety Anthony Smith (ankle) and Woodson (toe) went from full to limited.
The rest of Green Bay's injury report remained the same.
For New England, Brady (right shoulder/foot) and cornerback Devin McCourty (rib) were upgraded to limited participants on Thursday. The Patriots had no other changes.

Packers Sign QB Harrell From Practice Squad, Place S Smith On Injured Reserve

The Green Bay Packers have signed QB Graham Harrellto the active roster from the practice squad and placed S Anthony Smith on injured reserve. The transactions were announced Saturday by Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson.

Harrell, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound first-year player out of Texas Tech, signed with the Packers in May 2010 and has been on Green Bay’s practice squad for all 13 games this season. He finished his collegiate career atop the NCAA record books in several passing categories.

Smith played in four games for the Packers this season after being acquired from Jacksonville in a trade on Oct. 18.

Notebook: Rodgers Doubtful For Sunday

Starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t practice for the third straight day due to a concussion he sustained last Sunday at Detroit, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t rule out the possibility that Rodgers could still play Sunday at New England.

Rodgers was listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report, defined as “at least a 75 percent chance he will not play,” but McCarthy wasn’t ready to make any declarations of who will be the Packers’ starting quarterback on Sunday night.
“Just as I’ve stated all week, we’re prepared to play the game withMatt Flynn as our starter,” McCarthy said. “We’ve started that process since Monday. As far as an update on Aaron Rodgers, he’s progressing through the medical process. He was able to attend probably three-quarters of the practice today, and he’ll continue to work through that process today and tomorrow.
“I’m hopeful to make a decision by tomorrow, but the door is open for Aaron Rodgers to play in the game. It really comes down to two things. No. 1, he has to be cleared medically, and Dr. John Gray will have the final say on that. And if he does make it to that point, then (I) will make a decision on whether he plays or not. Right now he’s still working through the medical part.”
The first hurdle that Rodgers has to clear as part of the concussion protocol is a conditioning test, but McCarthy declined to say whether the quarterback had done that yet.
“He’s working his way through the process,” McCarthy said. “I really don’t want to get into specifics of that. There are stages that you work through. If you’re educated on it, that’s great. This is really a standard policy as far as the details.
“If Aaron wants to share the step-by-step process that he’s going through, that’s fine. But he’s making progress, and I talked to him today. He looks good, would like to play. But once again, him and Dr. John Gray are working through this, and until he’s cleared medically, then it comes to me.”
McCarthy had stated throughout the week that Rodgers’ availability would not be a decision that the team would take up until game-time, but on Friday he said that it wouldn’t necessarily be one that is made before the team departs for New England on Saturday afternoon. McCarthy said Rodgers will make the trip with the team.
“There’s not a written script for this,” McCarthy said. “The goal as I stated Monday, Wednesday and Thursday would be to make a decision by Saturday. But with the late start Sunday, we can leave the door open for that.”
The concussion that Rodgers suffered last Sunday was his second of the season, with the first coming in Week 5 at Washington. McCarthy said Friday that Rodgers will be wearing a different helmet moving forward, but didn’t provide specifics on what those differences were. Rodgers was in the locker room during the media-availability period on Friday, but declined comment.
If Rodgers is unable to play on Sunday night, Flynn will be making his first career start. He saw the most extensive action of his career at Detroit last Sunday as he played the final series of the first half and the entire second half, completing 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards and an interception. Practice-squad quarterback Graham Harrell would likely be added to the active roster if Rodgers is ruled out, but McCarthy said earlier in the week that he didn’t expect to make any roster moves until Saturday.
A different yearIt hasn’t been the kind of season wide receiver Donald Driver has become accustomed to over the past several years, but you won’t hear the veteran complaining about his statistics.
Driver entered this season with six straight 1,000-yard seasons, a franchise record, and as one of only two NFL players (Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne) to hit the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past six seasons. With three games to go, Driver has 449 yards receiving on 40 catches (11.2 avg.) for the season.

“You get to a point where you can still enjoy the game and you don’t have to get 100 balls,” Driver said. “You don’t have to have a 1,000-yard season to feel like you produced. I think I have done everything that I could. I have played well. Unfortunately I got the quad injury. It set me back a game and I missed one.
“I think you’ve still got to have fun. I think that is the biggest thing. When you start getting to a point where you start nitpicking everything and, ‘Oh, I want this, I want that,’ that’s when you start having problems.”
Driver originally injured his quadriceps in practice leading up to the Week 6 contest vs. Miami, but started the next three games. He aggravated it in the first half of the Week 8 game at the N.Y. Jets and was forced to sit out the next week against Dallas, his first game missed due to injury since 2003, before returning at Minnesota following the bye.
Driver has had his moments this season, most notably a spectacular 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown vs. San Francisco in Week 13, but he hasn’t posted a 100-yard game since Week 12 last year at Detroit. The last time he didn’t register at least one 100-yard game in a season was 2001.
Driver entered the season No. 2 in the franchise record books for receiving yards, trailing James Lofton by 606 yards for the Green Bay career record. Driver joked that a lot of people jinxed him by thinking he would break Lofton’s record around the midway point of the season. He needs 158 yards in the final three contests to set the record, but said he is OK if that chance doesn’t come until next season.
“I know (Lofton) doesn’t want that record to be broken,” Driver said. “It’s been up there for a long time. If I can get it, it would be a great accomplishment for myself. I would be happy that I took down a good man.
“It would mean everything. The same thing when I broke Sterling’s (Sharpe) record (for receptions). To come here as a seventh-round draft pick, no one thought that I would be a part of this team, of this tradition. Now when people say who are the Packers’ great receivers, my name gets mentioned in that same bunch. That’s going to put a big smile on my face.”
An honorEarlier this week, the Big Ten Conference announced the creation of 18 trophies for various awards starting in 2011, and Packers cornerbackCharles Woodson will see his name etched on one of them.
The conference’s top defensive honor will be named the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year after Woodson and Bronko Nagurski, a three-time All-American at the University of Minnesota from 1927-29.
As a junior in 1997, Woodson led Michigan to a perfect 12-0 season and a national championship, and he became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Two other former Packers were selected for trophies, with former wide receiver/kick returner Desmond Howard (1996, 1999) part of the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award along with former Wisconsin wide receiver/tight end Pat Richter, and running back Darrell Thompson 1990-94) on the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year Award with Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El.
Injury/participation updateDefensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) will be out for the second straight game, while Rodgers and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) are doubtful. McCarthy said third-year man Erik Walden will start at right outside linebacker in Zombo’s place, which would be the first start of his career.
Linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle) was added to the injury report on Friday and is questionable. Cornerback Pat Lee (ankle) and safetyAnthony Smith (ankle) are also questionable.
Safety Atari Bigby (hamstring), tackle Chad Clifton (knees), guardDaryn Colledge (knee), fullback Korey Hall (knee), linebackerClay Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), guardJosh Sitton (knee) and Woodson (toe/ankle) are all probable. Bigby last played at Minnesota in Week 10.
Colledge was upgraded to a full participant after being limited on Thursday.
“I thought he practiced well,” McCarthy said. “I fully anticipate Daryn to play and start in the game unless there’s a setback here in the next 48 hours.”
Linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) was also added to the report on Friday, but he is probable.
For New England, defensive lineman Ron Brace (concussion), tight end Aaron Hernandez (flu), cornerback Devin McCourty (rib), nose tackle Myron Prior (back), defensive lineman Gerard Warren (knee) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) are questionable. Hernandez was added to the report on Friday.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington (elbow), quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot), wide receiver Deion Branch (knee) and cornerback Darius Butler (thigh) are probable. Butler was also added to the report on Friday.