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Friday, November 05, 2004
At the Break......We're Average!
As we enter the longest week of the season....bye week....I thought I'd take a look at what we've done, what we've got, and where we might be heading.
The Packer team that opened the season with a win over Carolina certainly looked like a Super Bowl contender. Sharp on offense, with a dominating ground game, and effectively aggressive on defense, the Packers crushed the Carolina Panthers in their own crib.
But we all know what happened next. Grady Jackson went down with an injury, followed by James Lee, and the Packers were forced to start a 277 DE at nose tackle. Enter big rushing numbers in losses to Chicago and the Giants. Complicate this with a "Must blitz theQB at all costs" mentality by Bob Slowik and you had the recipe for the disaster that followed: Four straight losses and a 1-4 record that had many fans calling for Sherman's dismissal.
The offense, which is the strength of this team, led the resurgence. They had two consecutive games with no turnovers (a significant change from the 14 turnovers they had in the four losses) and racked up big points in wins against Dallas and Detroit. The offensive outburst helped an ailing defense by giving them leads and long fields to defend, and they responded with solid defensive efforts in both games.
Then came the Washington game and the seams began to show again. The offense ran of 17 first half points against a pretty solid defense.....but that was the end of the good news. Four turnovers placed Washington inside our 25 on two occasions, both resulting in touchdowns. Late in the game, protecting a 13 point lead, Favre incomprehensibly threw it away not once, but twice. It is beyond baffling how a veteran QB can't understand that in that situation the #1 priority is ball security. We didn't need any more points, we only needed to keep the clock moving and punt the ball. We failed in both regards, but managed to hang onto the victory with some timely help from the officials.
So....where are the Packers at the midway point? They're an average team. Offensively, they move the ball well most of the time but lead the league in turnovers. Defensively, they don't give up huge points most of the time but they give up big yards and big plays. They compound this problem by not making very many big plays themselves--they rank near the bottom in sacks and takeaways.
And where are they headed? The Packers face the meat of their schedule in the four weeks following the bye: At home against Minnesota (a game they'll have to win if they are to have any shot at winning the division), plus St. Louis, an improved Houston team, and the best team in the NFC, the Eagles.
If the Packers go 2-2 in this stretch, they can make the playoffs. But I think that the only objective evaluation I can truly make about the Packers is that they are what they are: a marginal playoff team, just like last year. A team that is good enough to beat just about anyone when they play well, and a team that isn't good enough to beat a good team when it doesn't.
Regardless of whether the Packers squeak into the playoffs or not (and I don't believe they will), this is a team that is going to have to look at some extensive remodeling at the end of the season. You've got some high-salary veterans who aren't earning their checks. You'll have a 36 year old QB commanding 13% of the salary cap. You'll still have the most turnover prone 1-2 punch in the league in Favre and Green. None of these are problems that can be fixed in the draft, and regardless of what other changes are made, it is difficult to see the Packers becoming an elite team again unless these areas are addressed,
So we have what we have: A team that will be in the playoff hunt, but not any better than that.