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Monday, October 31, 2005

Still Rebuilding......

by Mark Quarderer

And so we find ourselves now at 1-6 and preparing for next week's game against one of the very strongest teams in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Who could have predicted we'd be 1-7 at the halfway mark? Certainly not me. I thought we'd struggle a little more this year on offense because we'd be facing better defenses with a weaker line and a diminished running attack but I certainly didn't foresee the rash of injuries at WR and RB that have gutted us at the skill positions.


Of all the sad words of tongue and pen, these are the saddest: It might have been. I think that was Rudyard Kipling but it certainly applies to the Green Bay Packers.

If only Longwell and Sander had been able to get the ball through the uprights.
If only Carroll OR Thomas could cover and not make critical mistakes.
If only we hadn't had the injuries.
If only we could get solid, consistent quarterbacking.

But that's all water under the bridge now. We're 1-6, headed to 1-7, and very possibly to something like 3-13.

We're Rebuilding

Earlier this year, in training camp, I posted a piece that said that we were clearly rebuilding and surprisingly it actually provoked people who had a dissenting view. From my perspective, I don't see how you can look at this team and not see that it is in a rebuilding mode. You can call it remodeling or a transition year or whatever you want but the bottom line is that the team that takes the field in September of 2006 is going to bear very little resemblence to the one that walked off the field 20 months earlier after the playoff loss to Minnesota.

Although there are still people...solid, thoughtful people....who insist that Sherman's dismissal is not a foregone conclusion, I'd be willing to put a pretty good bet down that he will not be the head coach of this team after this year. As I've mentioned earlier, it would be human nature for TT to not want his predecessor and his cronies driving from the backseat. It would be human nature for Sherman's pride to be hurt after his demotion. It would be human nature for him to want to go elsewhere and prove that he can get the job done.

The offensive line, which got off to kind of a rocky start, is slowly but surely improving. Mike Flanagan is hurt and not the player he once was and in all probability he won't be back next year. Heir apparent Scott Wells is undersized and stumpy but plays with a lot of energy and tenacity and certainly shows signs of being a guy who will grow into a starting NFL center. Waiting in the wings are Junius Coston and Chris White, a guy who looked pretty good in training camp this year. Adrian Klemm is not Mike Wahle but he's not Morty Feinbaum either. His pass blocking has been pretty good and as a straight ahead run blocker he's not bad. He doesn't pull as quickly as Wahle but that doesn't mean he's a loser. Will Whitticker is continuing to look like a rookie at the other guard but you've got to like his size, his smarts, and his work ethic. I don't know if he'll ever be a Pro Bowler but I tend to think he can develop into a solid starting offensive lineman. Clifton and Tauscher are in the prime of their career and one of the best pairs of tackles in the league.

Our TE situation looks better than it has in years. Bubba Franks is signed for several seasons and David Martin and Donald Lee both look like they can fill the backup roles.

At WR, we're decimated by injures but conventional wisdom would say that every one of our injured receivers can make it back from their injuries by next season. I'm not so certain and I wouldn't be surprised if we drafted a WR on the first day as insurance. I also remain unconvinced that Ted Thompson is going to be willing to part with the kind of money that Walker will be seeking and so we may lose him to free agency after the 2006 season......and there's always the possibility of a holdout as well.

The main problem on offense is in the offensive backfield. Henderson certainly looks finished to me and shouldn't be invited back next year. I wouldn't invite Davenport back either. If Green can come back from his injury (and quite frankly, I'm very skeptical about this) he'll never be able to be a guy that you can count on to carry the load of a feature back. Best case scenario for the Packers is that he plays next season as a backup for a backup's salary and plays well. Tony Fisher is a fine 3rd down back but I really think the Packers need to revamp the running back spot by getting a new feature back, a more reliable backup than Davenport (like Green, perhaps), and a #3 RB who can return kicks.

And of course, you have to talk about our quarterback. So far, through seven games, he's had one good game (vs. New Orleans), a good half against Carolina and MInnesota, a good quarter against defenses protecting the lead (Tampa Bay and Cleveland) and he played so poorly against Detroit and Cincinnati that he gave the team very little chance of winning. This is a phenomenon that I've been tracking since 2003 and to put it plainly............you generally aren't going to get four good quarters of quarterbacking out of Favre anymore. He'll be on fire for a quarter or a half but he appears to lose focus during stretches and the offense doesn't end up moving the ball or scoring points.

It very much reminds me of the current Toby Keith hit: "I aint as good as I once was, but for once I'm as good as I ever was." He still shows stretches where he gives us some great quarterbacking......but it just doesn't happen consistently anymore. His lack of weaponry is clearly a factor in that but the interceptions he threw against Cincinnati had a lot less to do with weaponry than they did with judgment. Currently, he leads the league in interceptions and with Culpepper and Bulger both sidelined with injuries that could well be a lead he'll hang onto this season.

Again, I'm wondering why this team would want to rebuild around a 36 year old error-prone guy like Favre who'll be 39 or 40 when the rest of the team peaks. From my perspective, the team would be better off to get Rodgers ready to be our QB next season and take the salary cap savings that Favre's retirement would bring and fill a hole or two in free agency. I know the thought of sitting Favre to play Rodgers is anathema to true Acolytes, but if we don't get Rodgers some time on the field and Favre DOES retire then we're going to regret not having Rodgers make some of his mistakes this year when they don't hurt us. (in fact, they'll probably help us get Reggie Bush.)

Defensively, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, you're only as good as your weakest link and currently our weak links are at the corneback spot opposite Harris and at the nickel back. In other words, Joey Thomas and Ahmad Carroll. Thomas just doens't look like he can cover NFL guys; Carroll clearly can but just makes so many mistakes that it hurts the team. Better play at those two positions would have made the difference in at least two games this year, maybe three.

We continue to stop the run pretty darn well. Currently, we are 4th in the NFL in average yards/rush at 3.4. Next week, we face another one of the best running attacks in the league......probably the stiffest test we'll have all season. Truthfully, I didn't think we'd be this good against the run this year and I have to give all credit to Bates and his assistants for the work they've done with this group. It kind of bolsters my argument that it's not about "playmakers" as much as it's about having solid guys playing together and executing their assignments without making critical mistakes. This group could use a 3 down defensive end to compliment KGB on passing downs and replace him on running downs, thereby strengthening us against the run and pass.

The Long Dry Spell

I remember the Long Dry Spell from 1972 to 1992. If you ask most Packer fans, they'll tell you that we were bad during that stretch but the truth is that we were mediocre for the most part with some bad teams and some good teams that just never realized their promise but teased us into believing that prosperity was just around the corner.

Favre is given a great deal of credit, rightly so, for bringing the Long Dry Spell to an end. We've enjoyed over a decade of pretty good teams that made the playoffs for the most part. We got another Lombardi trophy.

But we're going nowhere now, and we've really been on a treadmill to nowhere for quite a while, having won exactly two playoff games in the last seven years and I don't think we're going to win any this year.

Are we headed for another Long Dry Spell? Some apparently believe so, but I'm not one of them.

How long before we'll be legitimate challengers for the trophy again? I think that depends on how soon the team starts focusing on the future instead of clinging to the past.

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