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Monday, September 12, 2005

Game Review: Packers @ Lions

by Mark Lawrence
PackerChatters Staff

The Packers, with two new offensive guards and a retooled defense, went into the Detroit dome where Favre is now 5-12, I believe. Both teams entered the season with many questions. On the Packers side, the biggest questions seemed to be "Do they have a defense?" and "Do they have any special teams?" On the Lions, the question seemed to be "Do they have an offense?" The answers turned out to be rather surprising, and there was an important question which was missed.

Favre was rushed all game. There were only a few plays on which he seemed to have the time to be a proper quarterback, and on those plays it seemed that there was almost inevitably a penalty. The Packers wracked up a total of 14 penalties, split with beautiful symmetry between the offense and the defense. On the offensive side, there were false starts by Clifton, Franks, and Whitticker; holding by Barry and Flannigan; illegal blocking on Ferguson; and pass interference on Walker. There were a certain number of yards assessed for these penalties, but much more importantly it seemed they came particularly on big gains and negated a disproportionate amount of the Packers offensive gains.

At least as bad was the profoundly poor pass protection given to Favre. It seemed he was hit, rushed, or sacked on nearly every pass. Favre seemed to keep up his demeanor for about two and a half quarters, sitting on the sideline with a neutral to very slightly positive expression on his face. Late in the third quarter that expression turned into the thin lipped expression we all know and dread. In spite of this, I thought he had a decent, if not outstanding game.

Favre threw one interception which was challenged and upheld (I thought it clear the ball hit the ground). He had one "fumble," which fumble was a ball that came out of his throwing motion early. The ball travelled forwards about 5 yards and sideways about 10 yards. Those of us who happen to have been mislead by the "laws" of physics think this is a clear indication that his hand was moving forwards and it was an incompletion. Ah well, tuck rules, forward moving fumbles, what do I know. Favre had a clear chance to rush for a 1st down and possibly a TD, but chickened out. Apparently he still feels old, the Favre of '96 would certainly have taken on a safety one on one without hesitation. There was a final "interception" on a desperation hail mary with 12 seconds left in the game - I don't count those.

Ahman Green had a creditable game. He rushed 12 times for 58 yards, not counting another 32 yards on three rushes that were called back by the aforementioned penalties. His average of 4.8 yards per rush (6 ypr if there were no stupid penalties) was heartening. Incomprehensibly, however, this production was never followed up and there were only a total of 18 rushing attempts to 44 pass plays. It's difficult to understand, when your rushing game is working well and your passing game is troubled why your play calling would be over 2/3 passing. By contrast, Pittsburgh beat the Titans today 34 to 7, and Ben Roethlisberger threw only 11 passes all game long.

It would seem that the Packers offense is having serious troubles, and those troubles start right in the center of the line. The two guards and the center are playing with very poor coordination, and having a lot of trouble with stunts and slants. Forget blitzes, that's football 201. They're still flunking football 101. The straight ahead U71 running package never got on track. Green's good runs were all off tackle.

The Packers special teams had one disturbing miscue, when new punted and field goal holder Sander failed to make a placement on a field goal. This was apparently first game nerves, however, as on his next try Sander and Longwell cooperated to make a very nice 50 yard field goal. The Packers punting game got a depressingly good workout and was very good - six punts for an average of 41 yards, an average return of 2 yards and a long return of 5 yards. It would seem that drafting Sander is going to work out well. The enormous problems demonstrated by the Packers coverage units never materialized in this game. Special Teams are not an issue, in my opinion.

The Packers defense had a rough 1st quarter, showing decent run coverage but a lot of confusion on pass rushing and pass coverage. The defense, however, settled in as the game proceeded and gave a reasonably creditable showing overall. There were two big pass plays given up, one in the 1st quarter and one in the 4th quarter. The Packers defensive line, which has recently been called "four guys picked out of the phone book," played well, holding Detroit's running back to 87 yards on 25 carries, 3.5 yards average, 15 yards long. On pass plays the pass rush was better than it has been in a couple of years, with newcomer Colin Jenkins clearly outplaying chronic under performed C.Hunt, and Aaron Kampman hustling all game long and showing very reasonable effectiveness.

Mark Roman, the much maligned Packers strong safety, had a very creditable game with 8 tackles and two assists. The Packers new defensive backs had some teething pains, but surprisingly few - this is a group which has the look of coming together in only a few weeks and being ready for challenged like Minnesota. Ahmad Carroll was flagged for three of the defenses seven penalties. I thought that one of these flags was well deserved, and two were substantially due to his reputation and not so much due to his actions. It's clear that Carroll has to clean up his act dramatically for at least a couple of months just to get back to even.

The Packers linebackers played a mediocre game overall. Nick Barnett played an average game, with a few high spots and a few low spots, including a roughing the passer penalty. I found the penalty incomprehensible. Paris Lennon played an excellent game given his lack of experience starting. Robert Thomas, who joined the Packers only a week ago, looked very athletic and very confused. He will be good, but this week would not be highlight reel material for him.

The Packers new defense did do a wonderful job of swarming to the ball, and agressively attacking the offense. There is little sign of them agressively going for turnovers yet, but there was clearly a bit of confusion in the LBs and CBs. I'm ok with the notion that we get the confusion on basic responsibilities cleared up first, then we can try to add new responsibilities.

Overall, the second big question of the Packers, do they have a defense, was answered with a resounding "almost." They held the somewhat toothless Lions to 17 points, which should be a very adequate performance when you have Favre, Green, Walker, and Franks to run up the score. This defense looks very much like it will perform perfectly reasonable this year, and only improve as time goes on and the new guys settle in. On this basis of this one game, one would certainly not say it was the defense holding the Packers back from a good showing in the post season.

Pro bowl wide receiver Javon Walker apparently suffered a complete tear of his ACL in this game, and will almost certainly miss the rest of the season. The Packers run a very complicated set of receiver routes, and it is simply not credible that new draftee Murphy will be able to play an important part in this offense this year. Perhaps he can be taught a few plays from flanker, a couple of go and post routes that make use of his speed, but to hope he can replace Walkers productivity is unrealistic. Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are simply going to have to step up into the #1 and #2 roles. A.Chatman is already a quite reliable #3 WR.

The Packers offensive line must become much better at working together, and they must do this very quickly. There is little evidence that there is a lack of individual talent or strength - there are questions about how completely Packers center Flannigan has recovered from his knee surgery last year, but guards Whitticker and Klemm have all the tools. It makes no sense to me to talk of replacing the guards when it seems clear that what is needed is better cooperation and communication, not better athleticism. The other sloppy penalties must also stop, and they must stop now.

On defense, the Packers had five pass interference calls. These must be cleaned up. The Packers defensive backs were faced today with perhaps the NFL's most athletic receiver trio, and the Packers backs ran with them step for step. These young men must learn to trust in their athletic skills and play the ball instead of pushing the boundaries of holding. I believe this will happen, but unfortunately it's not likely to happen in the next six days. If the Packers nickle and dime backs develop the reputation that Carroll already has, it will be a long November.

The Packers were seemingly lucky this week, as the Detroit Lions simply do not have the look of a playoff team so their one game lead is not crushing at this time, and the Vikings also lost. Next up, another toothless team, the Cleveland Browns. This is both a "should win" and a "must win" for the Packers if they want to keep pace with the Vikings and make progress towards catching the Lions. There are those who say the Packers players don't think games really count until October. One can only hope those people are mistaken.
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