Packers Pro Bowl selections
Seven members of the Green Bay Packers were selected to this year's NFC Pro Bowl squad:
• QB Aaron Rodgers
• LB Clay Matthews
• DT B.J. Raji
• FB John Kuhn
• C Scott Wells
• WR Greg Jennings
• CB Charles Woodson
• K Mason Crosby (first-team)
• LB Desmond Bishop
• Returner Randall Cobb
• TE Jermichael Finley
• WR Jordy Nelson
• G Josh Sitton
• CB Tramon Williams
Looks like Ndamukong Suh’s NFC peers dislike him.
Based on the NFC Pro Bowl team, where two-thirds of the weighted vote is based on the balloting of players and coaches, the Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle with the serious anger-management issues is a dirty, bad guy. That opened the door for defensive tackle B.J. Raji to be one of seven Green Bay Packers players to make this season’s NFC team.
Only San Francisco and New England had more Pro Bowlers, with eight each.
Though Suh isn’t having the exceptional season he had as a rookie last year, when he led all defensive tackles in sacks with 10, there’s no other explanation for him not being on the Pro Bowl team. He’s still a dominating player and one of the best two or three defensive tackles in the NFC.
Pro Bowl voting is weighted one-third to the fans’ ballot, one-third to players, and one-third to coaches. Last week the NFL listed publicly the fans’ top choice at each position for both conferences, and the NFC’s leader at defensive tackle was San Francisco’s Justin Smith, who was first in the overall vote as well. We don’t know where Suh finished.
But it’s a given that a strong showing in the players’ vote, which was conducted last week, would have been enough to get Suh on the NFC roster. Instead, he’s a first alternate. So it’s safe to say he has enemies in the NFC.
Some teams, for instance, have position groups determine who gets all the votes for the corresponding defensive players in their conference, and vice versa. So receivers choose defensive backs, offensive linemen choose defensive linemen, and the like.
If enough offensive linemen on a given club refused to vote for Suh because they think he’s a dirty player, there’s a team’s worth of votes lost. And how do you think the Packers voted after Suh stomped on offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm on Thanksgiving Day?
Raji, like Suh, hasn’t played as well as he did last year. Down the stretch and into the playoffs last season Raji was borderline dominant. He had four of his 6½ sacks in the final six regular-season games, then another in the playoffs, plus he had an interception return for a touchdown in the NFC championship game at Chicago.
He hasn’t been the same force this season but was voted to his first Pro Bowl just the same. Not that sacks are everything, but he has only three in 15 games, and he hasn’t been the consistent difference maker against the run he was late last year. Still, based on recent conversations with two coaches of Packers opponents, he’s respected by the competition for playing his blocker-eating role in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme. He was voted the backup to San Francisco’s Smith and Dallas’ Jay Ratliff.
The Packers’ four Pro Bowl starters are quarterback Aaron Rodgers, cornerback Charles Woodson, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and fullback John Kuhn. The backups are Raji, receiver Greg Jennings and center Scott Wells. Kicker Mason Crosby is their lone first alternate.
Rodgers led all players in the fans vote, and the only question was whether the Packers’ loss the day before the players and coaches voted last week would cost him the starting spot to New Orleans’ Drew Brees. It didn’t.
As for Woodson, who made the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight season and eight time in his career, if you’re talking about pure cover cornerbacks who line up on an outside receiver, he’s no longer Pro Bowl level. But put him in the slot in a nickel defense, where he lines up the majority of the time in a cat-and-mouse game against quarterbacks, and there’s a good argument he deserves it even at age 35.
Woodson’s speed has declined, which shows up in coverage and on blitzes, and though he’s still a fearless tackler, his skills in that area are slipping noticeably also. That’s probably one of several reasons the Packers aren’t a top-five defense this season. But he’s as smart and instinctive a player as there is in the league, and he still makes plays on the ball that can turn games. He’s tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven and has one forced fumble and one fumble recovered. He’s also broken up 20 passes, which ranks second on the team behind Tramon Williams’ 22.
The NFC’s other cornerbacks are San Francisco’s Carlos Rogers and Chicago’s Charles Tillman. The best NFC cornerback left off probably was Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson, though he made it as the return specialist.
Choosing outside linebackers is complicated by the difference in schemes — in their 3-4 defenses, Matthews and fellow starter DeMarcus Ware of Dallas play as much like ends as outside linebackers. Chicago’s Lance Briggs, on the other hand, is a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker.
Matthews’ sacks are down — he has only six with one game remaining after finishing 2010 with 13½. But he’s playing the run better and remains an impact rusher even though he’s not getting the sacks. Should San Francisco rookie Aldon Smith (14 sacks, second among outside linebackers in the NFC) have made it? Probably, but like Matthews he plays in a 3-4. When comparing them to Briggs, it’s not the same position. So who goes?
Kuhn is going to his first Pro Bowl in part because, well, quick, name another fullback in the NFC. There are better blockers, but Kuhn can carry the ball in a pinch and leads NFC fullbacks in touchdowns with six.
Wells is in his eighth NFL season and made his first Pro Bowl as backup to Carolina’s Ryan Kalil, who is the league’s highest-paid center and at age 26 is hitting his prime.
The receivers Jennings (67 receptions, 14.2-yard average, nine touchdowns) will back up all are big-time playmakers: Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (85 catches, 16.9-yard average, 15 touchdowns), Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (71 catches, 17.8-yard average, eight touchdowns) and Carolina’s Steve Smith (73 receptions, 17.9-yard average, six touchdowns).
First alternate Crosby is behind San Francisco’s David Akers.
The Packers’ other alternates are linebacker Desmond Bishop, returner Randall Cobb, tight end Jermichael Finley, receiver Jordy Nelson, guard Josh Sitton and cornerback Tramon Williams.
2012 Pro Bowl Rosters
Game is Sunday, Jan. 29, in Honolulu
Wide Receivers — s-Wes Welker, New England; s-Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh; A.J. Green, Cincinnati; Brandon Marshall, Miami.
Tackles — s-Joe Thomas, Cleveland; s-Jake Long, Miami; D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets.
Guards — s-Logan Mankins, New England; s-Brian Waters, New England; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore.
Centers — s-Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh; Nick Mangold, New York Jets.
Tight Ends — s-Rob Gronkowski, New England; Antonio Gates, San Diego.
Quarterbacks — s-Tom Brady, New England; Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh; Philip Rivers, San Diego.
Running Backs — s-Ray Rice, Baltimore; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville; Arian Foster, Houston.
Fullback — s-Vonta Leach, Baltimore.
Ends — s-Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis; s-Andre Carter, New England; Elvis Dumervil, Denver.
Interior Linemen — s-Haloti Ngata, Baltimore; s-Vince Wilfork, New England; Richard Seymour, Oakland.
Outside Linebackers — s-Terrell Suggs, Baltimore; s-Von Miller, Denver; Tamba Hali, Kansas City.
Inside/Middle Linebackers — s-Ray Lewis, Baltimore; Derrick Johnson, Kansas City.
Cornerbacks — s-Darrelle Revis, New York Jets; s-Champ Bailey, Denver; Johnathan Joseph, Houston.
Free Safeties — s-Ed Reed, Baltimore; Eric Weddle, San Diego.
Strong Safety — s-Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh.
Punter — Shane Lechler, Oakland.
Placekicker — Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland.
Kick Returner — Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh.
Special Teamer — Matthew Slater, New England.
Long Snapper — TBA.
Wide Receiver — s-Calvin Johnson, Detroit; s-Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona; Steve Smith, Carolina; Greg Jennings, Green Bay.
Tackles — s-Jason Peters, Philadelphia; s-Joe Staley, San Francisco; Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans.
Guards — s-Jahri Evans, New Orleans; s-Carl Nicks, New Orleans; Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay.
Centers — s-Ryan Kalil, Carolina; Scott Wells, Green Bay.
Tight Ends — s-Jimmy Graham, New Orleans; Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta.
Quarterbacks — s-Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay; Drew Brees, New Orleans; Eli Manning, New York Giants.
Running Backs — s-LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia; Matt Forte, Chicago; Frank Gore, San Francisco.
Fullback — s-John Kuhn, Green Bay.
Ends — s-Jared Allen, Minnesota; s-Jason Babin, Philadelphia; Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants.
Interior Lineman — s-Justin Smith, San Francisco; s-Jay Ratliff, Dallas; B.J. Raji, Green Bay.
Outside Linebackers — s-DeMarcus Ware, Dallas; s-Clay Matthews, Green Bay; Lance Briggs, Chicago.
Inside/Middle Linebackers — s-Patrick Willis, San Francisco; Brian Urlacher, Chicago.
Cornerbacks — s-Charles Woodson, Green Bay; s-Carlos Rogers, San Francisco; Charles Tillman, Chicago.
Free Safeties — s-Earl Thomas, Seattle; Dashon Goldson, San Francisco.
Strong Safety — s-Adrian Wilson, Arizona.
Punter — Andy Lee, San Francisco.
Placekicker — David Akers, San Francisco.
Kick Returner — Patrick Peterson, Arizona.
Special Teamer — Corey Graham, Chicago.
Long Snapper — TBA.