Things started bad for Brett Favre and Co. and ran a deep post past worse well before half time. After an apparent interception was reversed on Green Bay's second offensive play of the game, Corey Chavous plucked a deflected Favre pass out of the air on the teams next series for Green Bay's first official turnover of the game. Favre would throw three more picks in the game, including two more by the end of the half.
But miscues in the passing game that included balls careening off receivers' hands, tight ends tripping while running their routes or players running the wrong route all together, were only part of the problem. The running game, or lack there of, and the play calling were the others.
Green Bay has five Pro Bowl players on their offense – nearly half the starting unit – with Favre, guard Marco Rivera, tight end Bubba Franks, receiver Donald Driver and, uh... hmm... who's the other one? Ah yes, running back Ahman Green. But apparently Green was somehow forgotten by Offensive Coordinator Tom Rossely and Coach Mike Sherman, as well, because he didn't even get a carry until a mere 1:42 remained in the first quarter. In keeping with the theme for the day, Green put the ball on the ground on his second carry – after 248 consecutive carries without a fumble. The Packers finished the quarter with four yards of offense.
Sherman said afterward that the game plan was to throw down the field and attack Minnesota's cornerbacks. This plan apparently left no room early on for the occasional carry by one of the NFC's most gifted rushers. What else was in the game plan? Well, a low-percentage reverse play by Donald Driver that yielded one yard when Green Bay had a first down at the Vikings 10-yard line. That drive ended with a field goal.
The following third-and-one play was also part of the game plan. With a first down at the Minnesota 37-yard line, Green Bay brought in bruiser backs Najeh Davenport and Nick Luchey to join fullback William Henderson. This line-up surely had the record-setting crowd, not to mention some of the old-timers on hand for the "Re-Birth of a Legend," grinning -- at least until Rossely called a pass play in lieu of running Minnesota over for the first down. That was the play where David Martin tripped after running a crossing route with Driver. The result was a familiar one: Interception. Minnesota ball. Green Bay would get the ball back once more before the half ended, but again it ended with a turnover.
This kind of play calling would draw jeers if you were playing Madden 2004 on your Playstation 2, let alone if you're the offensive coordinator of an actual NFL team. Despite the ground game being a strength throughout the preseason, the Packers had just nine carries for 28 yards compared to 92 yards on 18 carries by the Vikings at the intermission. Green Bay finished with 62 yards rushing.
The Packers first touchdown of the day came with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter. While the ensuing comeback made the final score look closer than this game ever was, Green Bay never should've been down by 24 points to begin with. Furthermore, the lack of urgency displayed on that first touchdown drive was unforgivable. Keep in mind, when the Vikings are up 27-3, they'll allow you to take time off the clock and give up the short and medium-range gains.
Green Bay obliged with a methodical, seven-minute drive down the field. That should've been the time for quick strikes, sprints from the huddle or no huddle at all. This was before Driver and Robert Ferguson went down with injuries. Once that happened, the team was forced to huddle up because you had a 5-foot-9 ex-Arena Football player and your third tight end as your No. 2 and No. 3 receivers. If there had been better clock management early on, Green Bay may have had one final shot at the end instead of watching the Vikings' quarterback Daunte Culpepper kneel down to end the game.
Of course Green Bay also could've gone for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter to pull within 11 points. Instead, Sherman opted for the point after by Ryan Longwell and a 12-point deficit that meant the Packers would need two touchdowns to win instead of one touchdown, another two-point conversion and a field goal to tie.
But now the Packers biggest problem isn't effort, execution or even play calling. It's having enough warm bodies on offense to line up against the Lions. With Driver, Ferguson and Karsten Bailey sidelined, former Packer receiver Antonio Freeman figures to line-up opposite Walker. For you armchair capologists, Freeman is already counting $4.3 million on this year's salary cap from the last time he wore a Packer uniform. If this current predicament doesn't encourage the Packers to make use of Green, Henderson, Davenport and Luchey, nothing will.
It's a long season and the Packers have far too much talent on offense to write them off after just one game. But it's okay to be concerned. The Packers certainly are. Fortunately for Green Bay, the next three games on the schedule is probably the easiest stretch they'll have all year. Right now, that seems to be the only thing they've got going for themselves.
(Editor's note: W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column each Thursday.)