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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Buffalo Post-Mortem



by Mark Quarderer
PackerChatters Staff

The Packers second preseason game gave this observer a lot to be happy
about, but there’s still some significant areas of doubt regarding this
team.

On the plus side, I guess you’d start with the opening possession by the
first offense. Working against a pretty good Buffalo defense that had most
of its starters in uniform, they moved the ball down the field pretty
effectively and converted the drive into a touchdown. The drive was a good
mix of pass and run, using multiple formations, had good tempo and rhythm,
and really looked very much like the effort of an elite NFL offense.

I think this much is true: The only things that are going to stop the
offense this year are if the opponent plays 14 men on defense, or the Packer
offense themselves. This is a group which I have taken to task in past
seasons for being a very error-prone group…penalties, fumbles,
interceptions, dropped passes, etc, but it’s very clear that if they don’t
stop themselves they aren’t going to be stopped very often.

The Packer offensive line continues to look like the strength of this team,
talented and deep. Although Klemm and Whitticker started for the 2nd
straight game, there wasn’t any real dropoff when Wells and Reugamer came in
the game. My best guess as to the interior of our line this year is
Klemm-Flanagan-Whitticker with Wells and Reugamer as backups. White and
Coston are both strong candidates for the practice squad and it looks like
O’Dwyer is probably the odd man out.

Driver had a drop near the end zone on the initial drive. The defender did
make a nice play by hitting Driver before he could put the ball away, but
IMO, this is a catch that Driver can make, and should. Driver was
obviously Favre’s target du jour as Favre eschewed an easy toss to Javon
Walker for the first down to throw to a well covered Driver in the back of
the end zone. Chatman also had a nice catch and run for a first down. A
very high percentage of Chatman’s catches result in first downs and although
he continues to take a beating in the Packer fan forums for his supposed
limitations he’s doing a very solid job as a returner and receiver.

The Packers caught the Bills unaware when they lined up in an empty
backfield, then shifted Ahman Green and snapped on a quick count. He bust
up the gut for 11 but other than that it was another relatively unproductive
night for Ahman Green. This is most definitely an area of concern because
I just do not see how the Packers can be legitimate contenders for anything
if they can’t establish Ahman Green early and often. Najeh Davenport had a
number of carries and once he turns the corner and gets headed upfield he’s
a pretty good looking runner. However, he rarely defeats the first tackler
and doesn’t get as many yards after first contact as you’d think a guy like
him would get.

At this point, I would think that running the ball has to be an area of
concern for the Packers.

Another area of concern has to be the backup quarterback positioin. For
the second straight week Rodgers has looked tentative and mechanical. The
interception he threw was a simple case of him turning, locking onto the
receiver, and the defensive back anticipating the throw all the way. He
doesn’t really appear to be seeing what’s going on downfield and is
satisfied with short dump offs. The problem with that is that unless you
hurt teams downfield they’ll sit on the short routes and that’s what is
happening with him right now. He doesn’t look very much like the
confident, aggressive quarterback who sliced and diced the defense of the
number one team in the country last year. A pocket analysis would be……he’s
thinking too much.

Whatever the cause of the problem is, it’s difficult to see how the Packers
can enter the season with him as the #2 quarterback at this point.
Unfortunately, Craig Nall isn’t really a lot better at this point and even
though he looks a little more self-assured out on the field he doesn’t have
nearly the upside of Rodgers.

When you saw how Rodgers looked last night, and then you saw how JP Losman
looked last night……..it shows that a year of experience counts for quite a
lot.

Rodgers could simplify everything by coming out and having a good game and
moving the team, but he hasn’t done it so far and unless he does it soon the
Packers are going to have a difficult decision to make: Do we put Rodgers
at #2 so he gets the practice reps with the first team, or do we relegate
him to the scout team?

Defensively, I think the Packers showed a variety of things that have to be
considered encouraging.

First, they held JP Losman to a QB rating in the first half of 61.7….that’s
good. And they didn’t surrender a single long play. They got some good
pressure on Losman. They covered well. And they landed some very nice
hits that elicited a spontaneous “Oooohh!!” from the crowd. The Generals,
Washington and Lee, did a good job of clogging the middle on the run.

This really looks very much like the “bend but don’t break” defense that is
part and parcel of what Bates is trying to do. Unfortunately, at some
point you have to make a play to get off the field. Buffalo’s first three
possessions all resulted in scores, although two of them started well inside
Green Bay’s territory courtesy of some sloppy special teams play (more on
that later).

Buffalo converted a first and twenty , a second and 17, and a third and 7.
Although the Packer defense did an excellent job of containing Buffalo, when
you have an offense on the ropes you have to close the deal and the Packers
just didn’t do that.

A big part of that problem was mistakes by the defense. Although they
weren’t penalized a lot, they had a couple of critical penalties, none more
damaging than Hannibal Navies call for holding which negated a safety.
Buffalo went on to get a field goal on that drive. On another TD drive, the
Packers helped out the Bills by jumping offsides.

And of course, the most successful play the Bills ran on this night was the
quarterback scramble. I have long argued that containing the QB and not
letting him hurt you with scrambles is probably more important than getting
sacks and I can’t think of a single thing in the game that would change my
mind on this.

I repeatedly get on our offense for making critical mistakes, but on this
night a few critical mistakes by the defense undid what was for the most
part a pretty good effort.

Our special teams had a rocky night. We gave up a long kick return, a long
punt return, and our kick returner repeatedly got hit inside his own 20.
That’s not good. However, the worst of the worst would be the Roy Manning
“ineligible downfield” penalty which negated a fumbled punt recovery.
Again, in this game, mistakes hurt…..probably a lot more than people think.

A poster in a former work place of mine once said “One Oh Shit wipes out
1000 Attaboys.” While I don’t think the ratio is quite that bad, it’s
clear that two or three or four good plays don’t balance out very well
against one critical error.

Next week is the third preseason game of the year, against World Champion
New England. Traditionally, the third game is when you really put your
best team out there and try to play your best, resting your key people in
the fourth game. In my opinion, the Packer offense needs to show it can
duplicate what they did against Buffalo, they need to establish the run, the
defense needs to make fewer mistakes and actually make a play or two and
they’ll need to play better than they did on special teams. After this
game, there’s going to be some cuts as the Packers trim their roster and
some of these guys on the bubble are going to have one last chance to show
why they belong.

But the Packer season isn’t going to be defined by the bubble guys. The
Packers are going to be defined by what our skill position players on
offense do this year. If they move the ball and look like they did on the
first drive against Buffalo, the Packers are going to have a very good
season. If they look like the error-plagued and ineffective group that
turned it over 4 times and scored 17 against Minnesota last January, we’re
probably going to have a tough time.

And that’s the view from the pool.
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