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Cerebral Football: Featuring James Jones And Sam Shields

James Jones

Getting better mentally and physically.


The great ones all say the same thing like it’s their mantra. It’s not like they collude at the annual “Elite NFL Players’ Conference” and get everyone on board with the company line to tout to the masses. They all say the same thing because it’s the truth of any profession and it’s the truth about the best players in the NFL.

If you want to be the best, you always need to improve as a player. You need to work hard and continue to learn and figure out new ways to learn. You have to learn from your mistakes and try to never make the same one twice.

Continue to improve.

James Jones was the definition of the word maligned last season, this offseason, and the first couple games of the year. The Packer faithful were split on whether Jones should even be brought back in 2011 or be let go via free agency. Those opposing his return were certainly more passionate and vocal in their assessment than those defending him.

The word drop followed him everywhere he went, which actually tended to mask the crucial mental errors he was also making on the field. There was the late fumble at Chicago early in the season, where Jones was carrying the ball in his inside hand, making a strip much more likely and that’s exactly what happened. Several instances after this occurrence, Jones still wasn’t switching the ball to his outside arm, putting himself, the ball, and his team in the exact same situation.

Then there was the lack of awareness late in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers were in the midst of their final drive attempting to either run out the clock or put the Steelers away and Aaron Rodgers drops a perfect back shoulder throw to Jones. Instead of pivoting inside, which there was clearly room to do, Jones pivoted outside, stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock with under four minutes to play. This mistake simply wasn’t discussed in enough detail in any forum. The Packers ended up winning the game and everyone remembers the back shoulder throw, not the 40 seconds of time (or time out) it saved the Steelers when Jones stepped out of bounds.

I’d probably drop a lot of Aaron Rodgers passes zinged my way so it’s difficult for me to complain about receiver drops — as inexcusable as they are for a professional — but as someone that understands the game I feel it’s reasonable for me to expect players should learn from their mistakes, correct them and never make them again. Part of this is coaching, part is thinking, most is common sense.

The bottom line on James Jones is this — I became a huge fan because of one play this year. No, not the 70-yard TD he caught versus Atlanta. Nope, not the bootleg left versus the Rams. It was just a simple play where James Jones demonstrated all at once that he learned from past mistakes and is improving his mental game.

Four minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Packers lead 22-14 facing 2nd and 10 at Atlanta’s 45-yard line. Jones runs a five-yard stop route, makes a great catch, sheds a tackler, switches the ball from his right hand to his outside left hand, gets the first down and avoids a tackler before very intentionally staying inbounds and keeping the clock rolling. I was so excited I almost hit the ceiling .

You might remember it, you might not, but in that play I became a believer in James Jones.

Let’s take another guy that has mad, mad, mad skills. I don’t think we’ve even begun to see what this young man is capable of. The man I speak of is cornerback Sam Shields.

In the NFC Championship game at Chicago, Packers fans remember those lasting images. We remember B.J. Raji’s interception, we remember the defense, and we remember Sam Shields’ interception to end it.

But that’s not all we remember, is it? Who can possibly wipe clean the lasting image of Mike McCarthy practically running out and tackling Sam Shields as he begged him to hit the deck in order to effectively end the game? Shields made a big play and then proceeded to make a selfish, me-first, no-thought-process decision by trying to return the interception for a TD, when that would do the team zero good. His decision after making a great play put the team at unnecessary risk.


Like James Jones carrying the ball in the wrong hand, Shields would not learn right away. The corner had an interception versus Denver in the fourth quarter with his team leading 42-17 and proceeded to run around in the end zone before returning the ball 60 yards to the Broncos’ 40. This was a play that was glossed over, but once again demonstrated a me-first mentality and made no sense from a team football perspective. If he takes it coast to coast in that spot does anyone really care? What if Clay Matthews got hurt blocking someone? Shields should have been condemned for that play and obviously was not. You take a knee in that spot 100 times out of 100 and get off the field. Nothing good will ever come of that decision, up 42-17.

Maybe pick sixes are part of contracts, so there’s heavy incentive for guys to return them, but you have to know and understand the situation as it relates to winning football games. Part of me wishes Shields would have fumbled in the end zone versus the Rams, further demonstrating how asinine his attempt to return it was. Instead it was even worse, as it appears Shields has a concussion and may miss time.

The moral of the story is this: Great players know when to take a knee or when to stay inbounds. They know when to get off the field, when to try to make a huge play for their team and they know WHEN their team needs that big play. In all three of these situations, Shields did his job well and should have taken a knee.

We can only hope that Sam Shields takes a page out of James Jones’ book and learns from his past mistakes. He’s far too talented and valuable to the Packers to be getting injured on a play that should have ended with a very quick knee, a big fat smile and high fives all the way to the bench.

James Jones is becoming a touchdown machine and fan favorite. Sam Shields has all the tools to be one of the greats. He just needs to think.

Feel better Sam.

Andrew Chitko

Andrew Chitko is an excellent handicapper and a below average bettor. Although he is capable of uncovering keen insight in to sides and totals, he will almost certainly derail his profit margin chasing ridiculous parlays that have almost zero chance of cashing. Despite his self-awareness on these matters, expect the trend to continue until he hits a 12-teamer for a six-figure score. If he steps out of line and is convinced he has a lock, mortgage your house and bet the other way.



  1. Jurgens October 18, 2011

    Great post!

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      Thanks. I appreciate it.

  2. Dave October 18, 2011

    hell of a story indeed

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      Thanks Dave!

  3. iltarion October 18, 2011

    Sam Shields’ return against the Broncos led to a TD for the Packers. It wasn’t a stupid play.

    Shields would have been best served to take a knee against the Rams, but it isn’t as simple as always taking a knee when you get the ball in the endzone. We have a playmaking secondary with Charles Woodson as its leader. Its natural for the guys to want to make big plays when the ball is in their hands.

    It was obvious when Mike McCarthy addressed the question about Shields’ play that he doesn’t want to discourage his defenders from making plays. He just said he expects anyone handling the football to make good decisions.

    I guess a good rule of thumb is that if you have to run sideways to get out of the endzone, then you shouldn’t be returning it.

    Good points about James Jones though. Jones has made more big plays against the Vikings than any other team. I am hoping to see some more this Sunday.

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011


      Sam Shields’ return against the Broncos led to a TD for the Packers. It wasn’t a stupid play.

      So you’re saying we needed that touchdown when we were up by 25 in the fourth quarter? That all the injury risk that Shields put himself and his teammates in versus Denver was worth it because he had a good return and it led to a meaningless touchdown?

      At 42-17 in the fourth quarter, regardless that his return eventually led to a touchdown, was a horrible decision for Shields.

      Run through every possible scenario that COULD have happened, then tell me how, in any way, bringing out that ball in the fourth quarter up by 25 points is going to help the Green Bay Packers football team. Simply put….it’s not going to. I dare you to give me one example that is any more positive than taking a knee that does not also take on extreme amounts of unnecessary risk.

      The only meaningful results for the Packers under these circumstances are negative…as in someone gets unnecessarily hurt. His return will have no bearing on the win/loss column and was only about an individual trying to run up his stats….just as it was in the St. Louis game and the NFC Championship game last year.

      1. Derek October 19, 2011

        no doubt. a man needs to get on the ground in that situation, especially with the lead.

      2. iltarion October 19, 2011

        You can get hurt walking your doggie.

        Morgan Burnett broke his hand in a practice drill. Vic So’oto hurt himself lifting weights.

        Yes, Shields’ return against the Broncos was unnecessary; the game was already won. However, that’s kind of the problem with the “situational football” that you write about; it often overlooks the bigger picture.

        You don’t want your players to over-think on the football field. You want them to react. Do you want your playmakers reacting cautiously, afraid of injury? Or do you want them to be aggressive?

        An aggressive mindset isn’t something that you just turn off once you get ahead by 20 points.

        You like Bill Belichick a lot. So you should have noticed that no team in the NFL likes to run up the score more than the Patriots. Why? It is that aggressive mindset. He wants his offense to attack at all times. Regardless of the score.

        Dom Capers wants his defense to do the same.

        Whenever Sam Shields gets the ball in his hands, he is typically the fastest guy on the football field. You want him being aggressive and trying to make plays.

        Ed Reed always returns the ball, no matter where he is when he catches it. Is he an idiot? Is his coach? No, you want him making plays.

        Same as with Randall Cobb on returns, the Packer offense is good enough to overcome being backed up. Therefore, taking a shot at a big play is worth it every time.

        Maybe Cobb should be taking a knee instead. Afterall, he could get hurt.

        1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

          Bill Belichick would be laughing as hysterically as I am after reading that. I stand corrected…Shields injury was completely unavoidable.

        2. Steve October 21, 2011

          Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison summed up what sets Belichick apart in the coaching profession.

          “What really gives him an edge is the focus on situational football, Harrison told The Sporting News in September. “I never paid attention to that as much until I got to New England — and it’s a reason why in critical junctures of playoff games, we didn’t panic.

          “Every situation that came up, we’d gone over in practice. All of them. It’s those little things most coaches get away from, and Bill doesn’t.”

  4. Harry Hood October 18, 2011

    James Jones was ALWAYS one of my favorites. I was the happiest person to learn that he was coming back. Not many receivers like him.

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      Your instincts were sound Harry. I must admit I was pretty indifferent on his return but am glad at the staff’s decision to retain him now.

  5. Randy R October 18, 2011

    Best written article i’ve read on here..Kudos Andrew.

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      Thanks Randy…feel free to throw out ideas about future articles too.

      1. SoCal Fan October 19, 2011

        Great article and insight on both these under the radar playmakers. Wondering if Edgar Bennett’s transition to WR coach has led to less ball security (2 fumbles already this year vs 0 in 2010) by RBs. Perhaps this can also explain Jones’ decreased drops and greater awareness on ball security. Bennett deserves some credit for this improvement.

        By the way, would like to see an insightful article on Kevin Greene and his coaching up of Bishop and CMBIII. Another unrecognized yet impactful coach.

  6. Daaaave October 18, 2011

    I was never worried about Jones. The big drops came in such a flurry during the pressure packed post-season. I’ll bet he would not have had much time to woodshed his personal receiving skills versus just preparing for the next opponent. The most telling aspect of all of those blown plays was that he was not only open but likely would have scored on all of those plays. THAT’S why they paid him the money. A few drills in practice can cure the dropsies.

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      Drops will happen regardless of effort and concentration, but switching the ball to your outside hand and understanding the clock are ‘cerebral football’ issues that are pretty inexcusable. Although it’s near impossible for a player in the heat of a game to make optimum decisions every single time, being very aware of the situation (on offense and defense) when breaking the huddle is something that should be practiced and learned.

      I have nothing but growing admiration and respect for Mike McCarthy, but I don’t think anyone preaches situational football more than Bill Belichick. Here’s a cool video. Start watching at 3 min 13 seconds even though the whole thing is excellent.

  7. Greg October 18, 2011

    The worst thing for a receiver is losing the confidence of your quarterback, Rodgers’ endorsement was good enough for me. Talking about continual improvement: Jordy Nelson. He is handling his bizzzz

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      You’re right. So maybe not only is it ‘Trust in Ted,’ it’s also trust your all-world quarterback when he comes to the table. He never lost faith in Jones and it shows.

  8. Matthew October 19, 2011

    Its too early in the season to say JJ has turned it around. Im still wary of him and his potential to screw up in big situations. Lets see how things go down the stretch.

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      I totally agree Matthew.

      One of the Wisconsin newspapers wrote an article about how great a job Edgar Bennett is doing as the receivers’ coach and how wide receiver drops had all but gone away. The only problem was that it was written 3 or 4 weeks into the season when those numbers were still easily effected and volatile. The Packers receivers went on to drop a ton of passes since that story was written and the numbers now look like Bennett is an inferior coach now.

      Time will tell if JJ can keep the momentum going…but so far so good.

  9. Tim Vande October 19, 2011

    Shields came from U of Miami. What do you expect?

  10. PackerFanInFl October 19, 2011

    Nice article! But you left out and important part…the vikings are still a bunch of shit bags….I know its unrelated but I’m used to it getting worked in :)

    1. Andrew Chitko October 19, 2011

      My apologies sir. You are correct. Ha!

  11. Matthew October 20, 2011

    Oh and Andy, great article once again!

  12. Packman Joe October 21, 2011

    I almost had a heart attack when Mr. Shields ran it out in the Championship game, he fumbled at the end if anyone noticed. He’s still playing street ball. Against the Rams he got what he deserved, street ball is street ball! A good sit down with Sir Charles would go a long way. Good practice for Woodie’s future career as Packers DB coach, and a good learning experiance for Sam if he intends to receive a knighting! I love the Packers, I really do!

  13. Randy R October 21, 2011

    Iltarion….schooled by Andrew….Iltarion…Listen close…Agressive play is fine, but when you safely won the game, intercepting a pass in the end zone, with 11 players in front of you looking to take your head off. Common sense has to come into play….Lets examine the results…Starks..concussion..out for the Viking game..How does that help the Packers defense going into this game?

  14. Bill December 14, 2011

    I think Sam read this article!