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Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Game Preview: Packer (0-0) at Lions (0-0)
by Thomas Pyc
The long sweltering summer is winding down. Baseball season has been going on long enough that the Brewers have provided some hope but are now wavering around that .500 mark as average teams do. It is time for something new, something true and something that has taken this country’s title of ‘America’s Sport’. Folks, it’s time for football season. No other contest has taken place in the NFL every year since 1932 but the Packers and Lions.
The Green Bay Packers have everything to prove this year. Despite winning 3 consecutive NFC North titles and avoiding a losing season since 1991 the national consensus is a down year for the Pack. Sound familiar? It should, it has been the annual prediction for the past few years.
On the other side of Lake Michigan are the up-n-coming Detroit Lions. For the third straight year the Lions went with a wide receiver in the first round to help bolster the receiving corps for the underachieving quarterback, Joey Harrington. The Lions look good on paper at most positions but on the field is where it counts.
Lions’ Offense vs. Packers’ Defense
The Lions picked up a new offensive coordinator in the offseason (previous Packer Offensive Coordinator Sherm Lewis departed). Ted Tollner is the new man behind the curtain. He prefers to run a one back, three wide receiver stretching the field. With wide receivers like Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, Kevin Johnson and Mike Williams Tollner is going to be able give defensive backs nightmares. Tight end Marcus Pollard is also capable of being a solid threat for Joey Harrington but the most dangerous offensive weapon could easily be running back Kevin Jones. Jones finished strong last season and has kept up the routine during training cap (knocking out two defensive backs). The most questionable part of the Lions’ offense is easily the blocking. Fullback Cory Schlesinger is out and the offensive line has had its troubles this offseason. The right tackle, Kelly Butler, has been the weakest leak to this point but the other tackle, Jeff Backus, has had an awful showing this summer as well. Look for the Lions to setup the run with the pass and avoid deep drops for Harrington.
On the other side of the ball is Jim Bates and his crew. This group is tough to gauge because during the offseason most coaches like to hold back some of their strategy. Changes have been made to the defensive roster and the injections of youth and speed provides some hope for fans. Each level of the defense (line, backers and secondary) has a new face on the starting unit. Bates’ defensive units have been fast and hard-hitting in the past but building such a cohesive force could take some time. The Packers secondary (CBs – Al Harris, Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas along with Safeties rookie Nick Collins and Mark Roman) will have their hands full but during the training camp and preseason they were the strength of the defense. The recently Cletidus Hunt should be able to tune in and watch what a hustling defensive tackle is in second year man Corey Williams. The linebacking corp is currently experiencing some injury and roster shuffle but middle linebacker Nick Barnett will have to clog up the running lanes no matter who is lining up next to him. Overall, there is a great deal of speed on Jim Bates’ crew but no one really knows what to expect. The Packers’ defense acquired some speed and implemented a new scheme. It’s tough to imagine them being any worse than last year’s unit.
The Lions' Defense vs. The Packers’ Offense
There are two players on the Lions’ defense that seem to constantly cause trouble for the Packers, cornerback Dre Bly and defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers. Both players are probably the best in NFC North at their positions. Bly seems to have Favre’s number and Rodgers was able to create headaches for last year’s stellar offensive line. The secondary of the Lions’ has not been considered a solid unit for several years but that could easily change this season. Safety Kenoy Kennedy does not play the ball that well but is definitely an enforcer. Terrence Holt mans the other safety spot and has been a playmaker during the offseason. Add a group of solid cornerbacks (including former Bears CB RW McQuarters) and opposition will definitely through its share of interceptions. The weakness (if one had to choose) is the linebackers. Boss Bailey is finally back but is still a liability in coverage and Teddy Lehman is injured (James Davis plays in his place). Earl Holmes plugs the holes in the line but really does not offer much else.
When the main gripe of the offseason is that the starting guards have not been made, you really need to change your focus. Seventh round pick is slated to start against the previously mentioned Rogers and if he can pass that test there’s no reason he should not be consider a staple for years to come. There’s not much change to the rest of the Packers’ offense. Brett Favre is sleeker but just when you thought he would be without distraction his boyhood home was destroyed and his mother and grandmother’s lives were threatened. Before Katrina happened Favre was in midseason form. Running back Ahman Green got more carries this offseason to break him of his early season fumbles and in the entire league there are not too many receiving cores better than Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson. Throw a skinnier, faster Bubba Franks in there and the loss of two solid guards should not be felt as much as many fans feel. The Packers’ offense should be able to come out of the blocks strong with the continued cohesiveness at the key positions.
The Bottom Line
Both of these teams look good. Putting too much value into the preseason is dangerous for this matchup because momentum can never be fully achieved during the preseason, not to mention the lack of a true game plan. The Lions bring a very dangerous kick and punt returner to the table that could keep them in the game considering how dreadful Packers’ special teams coverage has been. To put this in perspective, and sum this preview up, the Packers bring more experience to the offensive side of the ball and their defense has no where to go but up so a win at Ford Field is definitely conceivable but never a given.
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