Monday, September 19, 2005

0-2! Oh no!!!

Say it ain't so, Joe, say it ain't so.

Sorry, kid. The Pack drops it's second straight game of this season and its third consecutive home a team that consensus holds is one of the worst in the NFL...on a day when the team retires Reggie White's number. Go figure.

What are we to make of this? Well, consider this sad stat: in the last 20 home games the Pack is 10-10, 4-6 in the last 10 games, a far cry from that run in the 90's where the Pack had the longest consecutive home winning streak in the league. Lambeau is no longer the intimidating place it once was. In the last several years, it's even seen its first two playoff losses. But a playoff game is at this point even a long shot: only two teams have ever started 0-2 and made it to the playoffs.

An analysis of all the problem areas right now could fill a novel. Let's just list a few:
  • Horrible defense with absolutely no impact players. Can't cover. Can't tackle. Can't put pressure on the quarterback. Can't generate turnovers. Even if uber-D Coordinator Jim Bates was Svengali he would have a hard time transforming this defense into a competitive unit. The legacy of bad personnel judgments, free agent signings, and drafts by then GM Mike Sherman is finally coming home to roost. This is not even a rebuilding's still part of the slide.
  • Special teams that can't cover. Giving the other team starting field position from the 30-50 yard line each and every time -- albeit partially because of Ryan Longwell's well-known short kickoffs typically to the 10 -- means that an already weak defense is at an even greater disadvantage before it even takes the field.
  • A depleted offense. Losing Javon Walker was a huge loss. But losing Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera were perhaps even greater losses in many ways. The woeful line play shows more than just a group that hasn't gelled; it shows a line that just isn't very good. Center Mike Flanagan continues to look rusty and is likely on the downside of his career. Clifton and Tauscher are holding their own. Klemm and Whittacker...the verdict is still out, but it doesn't look like they will be close to providing the level of protection for Favre or the holes for Green that Wahle and Rivera did. Green and the other backs seemed to be stuck, no bursts, which again may be a result of just not being able to find any holes in the line. The receivers are serviceable but there doesn't appear to be anyone to provide the downfield threat that Walker did. And now the unidentified injury to Bubba Franks puts one of Favre's most trusted receivers in question for at least the near future.
  • Play calling on offense shows either no confidence in the O-line to protect Favre or no confidence in the receivers to be able to get separation downfield. Yesterday, judging from replays, it seemed that receivers were not able to get separation consistently. As a result, the ol' dink 'n dunk pass game came into play and did little but eat clock at a time when the Pack needed to gobble up big yards quickly. On the defensive side of the ball, the non-existence of a pass rush or blitz that gets the opposing team guessing about what's coming is indicative of two things in particular: no defensive line and no coverage ability in the secondary, both of which are required to make consistent line/blitz packages effective.
  • Coach Sherman's ongoing inability to raise the level of play of his team. Ultimately, the players are the ones who are getting paid to play and to make plays. But the coach has a responsibility to put players in a position to make plays and to get them to play beyond the mere level of their talent. While Sherman has one of the best winning percentages of all active coaches, it could be argued that a great deal of that was initially built on the talent he inherited. The talent he himself selected as GM has not sustained that early surge of wins. If the slide continues this year, expect new GM Ted Thompson -- despite Sherman's contract extension -- to cut bait and bring in his own man. Some pundits contend that that could be the return of Mike Holmgren. Whether that would be good for Holmgren or for the Pack...we'll have to wait to see.
  • Penalties. 'Nuff said.
That's the stark reality of the current situation. On the positive side of things...ummm...hmmm...well...the NFC North is the weakest division in all of football and we still have Favre. As one ESPN talking head said on its Cold Pizza show, "The Pack could start 0-5 and still win the division." Let's hope he's only right on the last part of that statement.

Next up: Tampa Bay. It doesn't get any easier from here on out.