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Did the Pro Bowl Changes Actually Work?

As I write this, it is late in the second half of the 2010 Pro Bowl. I am watching it. I have watched the entire game so far, and will watch until the end of the game. I initially only planned to tune in for the first quarter to watch Aaron Rodgers start and play a few series, but I ended up getting hooked. Let me reiterate. I got hooked on watching the Pro Bowl. Now let me explain.

The television coverage is actually entertaining me. Tirico, Jaworski, and Gruden don't seem like their usual cliched, bland selves. They're actually having a fun time watching the players enjoy themselves. Basically, they didn't get in the way of me enjoying a football game like announcers often do, and that is part of why I didn't turn it off immediately after Donovan McNabb took over under center in the second quarter. What's really doing it for me, though, is the variety and quantity of interviews, game audio, and even coach-to-QB helmet communication that has been displayed during this game. I was fascinated to hear the transmission into Rodgers' helmet before the play, I was interested by hearing him relay that information into a playcall in the huddle, and I was laughing as Rodgers had to tell his receivers what route to run because they didn't understand the alternate terminology.

So I would argue that ESPN did a good job of televising the game and giving the viewing audience entertaining coverage of a meaningless game. The question is did the NFL make the game as a whole better by moving it before the Super Bowl and putting it in Miami?

According to Tirico, the game is sold out. So there's point number one for the NFL. It will be interesting to see the TV ratings when they are released early this week. More so than the attendance at the game, I think that will tell the true fan interest in the game. On the negative side, arguably the two best offensive players in the game, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, are not in the game because of their teams advancing to the Super Bowl. In hearing interviews, they are clearly honored to be named to the teams and would have played if they could have. The same cannot be said for Bryant McKinnie, however. His release from the game is clear that not all players take it seriously, and is a significant black mark on the event. What do you think? Is this year's Pro Bowl an improvement?

As for the Packers' performances in the game, Aaron Rodgers looked good. He benefited from the AFC defensive line clearly not playing with 100% effort, as right tackle David Diehl (who replaced McKinnie) let ends Mario Williams and Shaun Ellis have almost unimpeded runs at Rodgers, only to see them slow down and avoid hitting Rodgers. That said, Rodgers made some good throws, including a long touchdown to the Giants' Steve Smith and a quick screen to DeSean Jackson for another score.

The defensive players, Nick Collins and Clay Matthews, are significantly limited in their range and abilities that they could use in this game, and therefore are not making much of an impact. Matthews has made a few tackles, but is not allowed to blitz from the 4-3 OLB position according to the game's altered rules. Similarly, Collins has been playing almost exclusively as the deep middle safety, never moving into the box to help with the run or really showing his versatility.

All told, I am actually enjoying watching this game for the first time in my life. Whether it's listening to Chad Ochocinco's in-game chatter with the NFC defenders, being amused by Jared Allen's claim to Michelle Tafoya that having fun this week made him forget about last week's loss (which he quickly admitted was a blatant lie), or simply seeing the smiles and exuberance of some of the first-time Pro Bowlers, I am having a good time. Now, please don't remind me that the only reason I tuned in at all was because my favorite QB from my favorite team was starting. I don't want it ruined for me.