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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Game Review: Panthers 32 Packers 29

by Mark Lawrence
PackerChatters Staff

The 0-3 Packers traveled to the 1-2 Panthers for a repeat of last season's MNF game. Last year, the Packers exposed the Carolina offensive line as unable to handle blitzes, and Carolina receiver Steve Smith was knocked out of the game and out of the season. This year it was the Panther's turn.

As has become all too typical this year, Green Bay left their running game somewhere in the '04 season. Ahman Green ran 14 times for 36 yards for a completely uninspiring 2.6 yard average, with a long run of 10 yards. He was knocked out of the game in the 3rd quarter with a bruised knee. His replacement, Najeh Davenport, was equally unimpressive with 10 yards on 4 carries.

The Packers found themselves deep in a whole for most of the game - a 19 point hole, to be precise. Of course this plus the absence of anything approximating a running game turned them completely one dimensional. What was needed, clearly, was superb pass protection and an incredible performance by the Packers wide receivers.

Bubba Franks, the Packers superlative blocking TE, missed his first game as a Packer ever. About halfway through the 1st quarter left tackle Chad Clifton and center Mike Flannigan were injured and removed from the game on successive plays. This lead to a completely makeshift left side of the line, with Klemm moving over the tackle, Ruegamer coming in at guard, and Wells taking over at center. The new guys did a really poor job for the rest of the first half as they settled in. However, by the 4th quarter, their performance seemed to me to be substantially better than the starters. While I hate to judge before all the facts are in, it would appear to the casual observer that the Packers would be best served by keeping Wells at center, and possibly by keeping Ruegamer at left guard. Klemm did a perfectly creditable job at left tackle, but I see no indication that he was an improvement over Clifton.

Just before halftime rookie WR Terrance Murphy was taken off the field on a back board due to a severe helmet to helmet hit and numbness in his hands and legs. It seemed at the time that there were almost no wide receivers left in Green. #2 Robert Ferguson had a really quite distressing play where Favre put the ball right into his hands, only to watch a Carolina DB wrestle it out and cause a turnover. It has become abundantly clear that Ferguson simply doesn't get the idea of fighting for the ball. It seemed the Packers were down to two functional WRs, the undersized Donald Driver and the positively diminutive Antonio Chatman. Down 19 points, makeshift OL, no running game, and more or less no WRs. It was getting difficult to see how things could become worse.

Meanwhile, the Packers defense allowed 16 unanswered points in three Carolina possessions. There was absolutely no pass rush, and the coverage seemed to consist almost entirely of making certain that anyone would be allowed to catch the ball except for Steve Smith.

However, Favre is fond of saying that in times like these other players simply have to step up, and some did. To my personal astonishment, KGB caused a game-changing turnover which Favre converted into 8 points in two plays taking about 1 minute of real time. Suddenly the Packers seemed to be awakening from the dead.

Previously the Packers backup TEs have been noteworthy mostly for their poor practice sessions and complete absence from game day. On this day, David Martin finally showed up and caught 5 passes for 53 yards and a TD. He actually caught what was thrown at him and looked like a legitimate starter in the NFL, clearly for the first time in his career. 3rd string TE Lee even caught a pass for a TD.

Bret Favre, who has not been very good at comebacks this millennium, managed to get the Packers to the Carolina 48 yard line with 1:39 on the clock and needing 3 points to tie up the game. Things were getting positively exciting. He promptly threw two incompletions and a short completion, leaving the Packers at 4th and 3 with the game on the line and 1:04 remaining. Inexplicitly he chose to run a no-huddle play, and in the confusion Driver was unable to beat his coverage to convert the first down. Inexplicable because it's axiomatic in the NFL that when on the road you play for the tie and overtime, and the Packers had over a minute to make about 20 yards to get into solid field goal range.

The Packers are not playing like a particularly good football team, and yet they have lost their last three games by 2, 1, and 3 points. It would not be rational to think this team is a couple good breaks away from being a contender for the championship, but it is certainly true that this team is very close to being competitive.

Packers fans can take several good points away from this game. Favre seems to be consciously taking better care of the ball, taking fewer risks and making fewer interceptions. The backup OL and TEs seem to have stepped up their games, and look to me to be ready to give this team some new options. The Packers defense continues to be pretty good against the run.

Unfortunately Packers fans must temper this with some more negative observations. There continues to be an almost complete lack of pass rush, and the Packers DBs are not very successful in providing solid shut-down coverage. The Packers continue to have almost no running game, and it's becoming clear that this is substantially due to Ahman Green losing half a step and his backups not being able to provide a suitable replacement.

Next up is the very inconsistent New Orleans Saints coming to Lambeau field. In any other year out of Favre's career I would consider this a relatively easy game. This year, it's simply impossible to count on much of anything from the Packers.
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