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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Packers 2004/05 Season Preview

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By PackerChatters Staff

The Green Bay Packers enter the 2004 season lamenting over what could have been. Of course we all know about what "could have been" adds up to, disappointment.Many observers will quickly point to the 4th and 26th situation as the defining moment of the Green Bay Packers but we would like to add a few more thoughts. The 4th down mistake did not lose the game for Green Bay-The game was essentially lost when Brett Favre threw an ill advised pass in overtime. Remember the defense had stopped Philadelphia in the opening drive in overtime – a superb 3 and out and a loss of 4 yards. Of course if the defense does not mess up the 4th and 26 down, the game most likely ends with the Packers running the clock out.

For our observation, the reasons why the Green Bay Packers came up short of playing for the NFC Championship were 3 fold:


Green Bay’s defense just had breakdowns almost every game. They would be playing solid defense and be rolling along and wham, suddenly a huge play would deflate the team. The Packers ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in several key passing and running categories, but they allowed a whopping 48 passing plays of 20 or more yards (tied for 26th) and eight plays of 40 or more yards (tied for 20th). And we believe most of this was due to concentration and worry. Players looked very worried about making the correct read and correct assignment instead of just flat out playing football. The defense they were working under required too much thinking and fewer instincts. There has to be a medium of being assignment sure and playing with your skills and instincts. We believe under Bob Slowik we will see this.

Green Bay’s offense had moments in some games where they just did not execute. Games they should have put teams away they frittered away chances after chances. The Arizona and Philadelphia games were filled with mistakes by the offense and not the fault of the defense. The Kansas City game the offense had some poor execution and failed to capitalize in the first half. But it was a game changing interception by Brett Favre that turned the game around. As good as this offense is, and it is a powerful unit, it had moments where it cost this team dearly. Game 1 last year is classic for what ailed the Packers. They had 5 turnovers in that game and still came very close to pulling it out.

Special teams play including the punting. The Green Bay Packers got sporadic Special Teams play for most of the year and it showed in the standings. Confidence in the punting part of their game caused Mike Sherman to spend a very high draft selection on a new punter. Mike Sherman realized how important it was to obtain field position.

Measures taken by the Green Bay Packers and the outlook for 2004:

The first thing Mike Sherman did was to relieve Ed Donatell of his job as Defensive Coordinator of the team. The schemes and packages used by Donatell did not blend with the type of athletes the Green Bay Packers had and it showed. It was remarkable that the defense did play as well as it did considering the huge obstacle of not having the right players for the defense they utilized. Sherman hired his aggressive assistant defensive head coach to replace Donatell.

Next Mike Sherman brought in Kurt Shottenheimer as his secondary coach and we believe he brought him in for his aggressive style of play.

This is the key for the Green Bay Packers this season. The Packers will play a more proactive style instead of the read and react style they have played the last couple of seasons. The Packers have players with the athleticism to operate this more aggressive style of play.

Overall the defense was not as bad as depicted. In fact adjusted to strength of opponent the Green Bay Packers had the 8th best defense. They played some mighty fine offensive teams. They also were the 4th best in red zone defense. Also in spite of the early part of the year when the defense was learning (as the Packers had 3 LB’s playing new positions and a new DE and NT as well) the Packers held 6 teams with 14 points or less. They were one of the better teams in 3 and outs. The Packers were 9th in scoring defense and the 2nd half of the season only the Packers were one of the best in scoring defense.

Free Agency: the Green Bay Packers will return 20 of 22 starters on offense and defense and will also have back as well integral players like Donald Driver WR, Kevin Barry OL and Najeh Davenport RB. So the Packers really did not have the need to spend for free agents over the off season. They made one key signing and it was a major move. They signed Mark Roman S (Cincinnati) and he will move right into the spot vacated by Antuan Edwards. Mark Roman brings solid tackling skills and above average instincts and coverage skills to the safety spot.

The other key signing was keeping Chad Clifton LT and keeping unity along their very good OL. Even though they might have over paid this was a crucial activity for the Green Bay Packers. A solid move by Mike Sherman.

Green Bay also signed QB Tim Couch in a move that might foreshadow the next starting QB for Green Bay (hopefully not for a few more seasons).

The Draft brought good prospects in Batman Carroll and Joey Thomas (two corners who are very talented but not complete players yet). The Packers also selected a punter early in the draft in hopes of solving some poor field position woes. Also selected was Donnell Washington DT with the proverbial ton of promise and upside but a notorious slow starter and a player who has the reputation of uninspired play at times. Mike Sherman took some huge gambles in the draft but gambles with a high end to them that could produce some super players. Mike Sherman may have drafted another OL starter down the road in round 7 (Scott Wells C/OG)

KEYS AND BATTLES IN TRAINING CAMP:

1) The Packers really need to get Tim Couch comfortable in this offense and settled in as the backup. Can Couch come in and keep the team on an even keel until Brett returns in case of an injury?

2) The Packers need to finalize their 6-7-& 8 slots along the OL with Steven Morley, Scott Wells & Kevin Barry the leading candidates. The 9th OL will probably be Brendan Curtin but Joe Hayes and Grey Ruegamer will be in there fighting for a spot. And who knows maybe a different rookie will impress.

3) Green Bay have their top 3 receivers and expect great things from them this season but there are some concerns over their #4 and #5 WR. In fact huge expectations are in store for Javon Walker and Mike Sherman is excited over having Robert Ferguson and Donald Driver in his lineup. Just who will win out for the #4 and #5 WR spots? Antonio Chatman is making an early push so far. Scotty Vines and Carl Ford along with Sam Breeden and Shockmain Davis are in the mix.

4) Is this the season that William Henderson will call his last or will the Packers decide to go with Nick Luchey and a rookie FB?

5) The Packers have to find their #2 TE and it will come down to Steve Bush and David Martin most likely. Tony Donald and Keith Willis could have something to say about the #3 TE

6) Improved run defense along the DL has to be a major importance for Sherman and his coaches. Currently there are a bunch of players and the Packers will have to find the best 9 or 10 from this group. Some veterans and some rookies and 1st year players. From 15 players the team will likely keep 9 to 10 DL. The Packers currently have no super stars along their DL with KGB coming the closest. But what they do have are some hard working players who get a lot done with hard work and effort. Collectively they play pretty good defense in stretches. Now the coaches have to get those stretches to be more consistent. Green Bay could really use getting a Super Player on their DL. A leader who will take control and make the big plays. Currently they have decent to good players in Grady Jackson, Cletidus Hunt, Aaron Kampman and KGB with some depth in Larry Smith, and Tyrone Rogers. The Packers have some youth in Kenny Peterson and Corey Williams and James Lee. We expect some good things from Peterson this year.

7) Mike Sherman wants more pressure and not just from his DL. Plans are to have several blitz packages from their LB unit and training camp should be interesting as we watch the use of the LB’s in pass rush duties. Mark Duffner is busy trying to build some depth behind his starting 3. This could be the weak link this season. An injury to one of the starters and it could devastate the plans of Mike Sherman and Bob Slowik. Green Bay has a very good young MLB in Nick Barnett and a player who is better than average at WSLB in Diggs. Add the athletic Hannibal Navies and the Packers have a good starting unit at LB

8) The secondary. Here is where the most action will take place. Mike Sherman and Bob Slowik have to deal with the apparent loss of CB Mike McKenzie and the replacement of Antuan Edwards. They believe they have filled Edwards slot with Mark Roman (free agent from Cincinnati), but it will be the edge corner spot that will prove to be the test. Mike Sherman drafted two corners in the draft (Batman Carroll and Joey Edwards) but the consensus thinking is Sherman and Slowik will prefer to go with Michael Hawthorne at the start and gradually work Carroll and or Thomas in as the season progresses. Whoever replaces McKenzie will have some shoes to fill. While Mike was no longer among the top 16 corners in the NFL he was still a solid player. When he kept his head in the game he made plays. But to take the position that a rookie can not come in and perform well is somewhat foolish in my thinking. Remember 5 years ago McKenzie started as a rookie as he beat out Craig Newsome and fellow rookie Fred Vinson. As a rookie McKenzie had 6 INT’s and 18 passes defended and 65 tackles.

Honest questions surrounding the Packers

Will Brett Favre still be Brett Favre or is he in a steep decline?

Will the stout running game be the focal point of the Packers offense this season and can it carry the team in the 4th quarter?

Will Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker explode with great seasons as evidenced by their strong finish last year?

Will the OL stay healthy and generate solid efforts and execute better this season – no letdowns this year in crucial moments of the game?

Will Mike McKenzie fiasco eventually prove to be the ruin of Mike Sherman in how he handles this mess?

Will the drafting of a punter in round 3 be a bust as some think?

Will the change of schemes work and the Packers become a swarming, stuffing, stifling defense?

Did Mike Sherman and his solid scouting staff make mistakes in the draft and Batman Carroll proves to be too small – should the Packers have gone with Chris Gamble CB and Antwan Odom DE instead of the prospects of Carroll and Thomas – will the secondary be the down fall of the team?

Can Mark Duffner develop solid depth in his LB unit?

Will the DL improve their run defense and generate some kind of pass rush?

Will injuries wipe out hopes like they did a couple of years back?

The answer to these questions will determine the kind of season Green Bay will have. Positive results, we believe will see the Packers finish with a 12 win season and do quite well in the playoffs. Very positive results and we see Green Bay possibly making the Super Bowl.

But if we see some negative results of these questions, it will be a hard and difficult season. Mike Sherman is a good enough coach that he could overcome some problems but certainly, questions #1, #7 and #10 would basically bring the Green Bay Packers down. Questions number 8 and 11 added to 1, 7 & 10 would possibly bring the Packers a losing season and it might not be pretty.

We are optimistic enough that point # 9 is the only concern we have at the moment. The DL will come together and the secondary will make huge strides as the season progresses. We also believe this offense could be very lethal and think the Packers could win the NFC North


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