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Monday, September 26, 2005

Game Review: Bucs 17 Packers 16

by Mark Lawrence
PackerChatters Staff

Tampa Bay, a 2-0 team on the rise, came to play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field. Tampa Bay was favored by 3 points - an insult the Packers have not faced at home in several years, and very few times in the past decade.

Tampa Bay is a team that had been in free fall since their SB win three years ago. However, just before hitting the ground they drafted a rather extrordinary RB, Cadillac Williams. This young man has seemingly single handedly turned the Bucs around.

The Packers are a team that has been an offensive juggernaut for a decade, and struggled on defense for several years. This too has been turned around. The Packers, having hired a new DC and drafted several defensive players, are now playing respectable if not dominating defense. Today, the Packers defense held the Buccs offense to 20-24 points (making allowances for the Bucs shutting down with a two minutes to go at the Packers 20 yards line). More to the point, the Bucs were held to 17 points until the last 5 minutes of the game.

Green Bay's offense is starting a rookie at right guard, a rather pedestrian FA at left guard, and a far less then 100% and possible over the hill veteran at center. There are few things in the NFL that are tolerated less than being soft up the center. Javon Walker, the Packer's pro-bowl WR is lost for the year to an ACL injury. Ahman Green, the Packer's pro-bowl RB, was held to 58 yards on 20 carries, a bit under 3 yards per carry. Traditionally the Packers have handled the Bucs defense with a healthy dose of running. Why so few carries this day?

24 carries, 24 passes for Green Bay, 38 carries, 26 passes for Tampa Bay. Numbers like these make you wonder immediately about time of possession and turnovers. As well they should. Green Bay's 11 possessions resulted in a fumble, TD, 3&out, int, TD, 3&out, bad FG, 6&out, int, FG, int. Two of the three interceptions were off the hands of Green Bay WRs who neither caught the ball nor batted it down. One cannot survive long on offensive performances like this.

Defensively, Green Bay help up well for most of the game, holding Tampa Bay scoreless for a bit over two quarters and holding Cadillac to 80 yards on 24 carries, a very respectable 3.3 yards per rush average. However, in the 4th quarter with the game on the line, the Green bay defense having been on the field for 29 minutes finally folded up, yielding 92 yards in 11 carries to Cadillac for a rather crushing average of 8.3 yards per carry.

What is holding up the 0-3 Packers? There is no long runs to force the safeties up into the box. Green had a long run on the day of 13 yards, and indeed that 13 yard run was his longest of the season to date. Since losing Walker, defenses have had no particular reason to honor the Green Bay long passing game. Playing without a threat of a big offensive play has choked Green Bay's opportunities down to nearly nothing.

The defense continues to improve each game - this game they held the opponent scoreless for a bit over half the game, there were only two plays of over 20 yards given up and both those in the 4th quarter, and the defense committed only 4 penalties, none of which were committed by the defensive backs. Indeed, Ahman Carrol redeamed himself with a very impressive interception.

The Offense continues to sputter due to poor blocking, poor protection, lack of downfield threat, and lack of breakaway speed. The offensive line seems to be slowly improving. However, the loss of playmaker Javon Walker and the poor performance of playmaker Ahman Green have hamstrung this offense. The outlook for improvement is mixed: as the temperature comes down, one can hope that Green's asthma eases up and that his performance improves. As rookie Terrance Murphy improves, one can hope that he can provide a much needed downfield threat. The outlook for winning a game soon is not completely hopeless.

Next up, the Carolina Panthers on MNF. Both teams desperately need a win, the Packers so that they have some hope of salvaging their season, and the Panthers to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Panthers will no doubt be motivated to avenge their rather embarassing home loss to the Packers on MNF a year ago. One must expect that the Las Vegas line will favor the Panthers by about 5 points. However, Packers HC Mike Sherman has a long proven record of winning difficult games in difficult circumstances, especially on the road.
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