Commentary: Reasons for hope, concern

After two games, the Packers show reasons for both hope and concern. The team's 1-1 record is indicative of its play so far. Green Bay looked like a true Super Bowl contender against Carolina but like a very average team against the Bears. Packers fans just have to hope that the Pack moves in the right direction in the coming weeks.<p>

Reasons for Hope:

1. The Offensive Line is playing very well. Yes, Brett Favre and Ahman Green get all the attention, but there should be no doubt that the key to the Green Bay offense is the play of the offensive line. The O-line is gradually getting the recognition it deserves for opening up large holes for the runners and protecting Brett Favre in the pocket. Although center Mike Flanagan is still not 100% healthy, Chad Clifton, Marco Rivera, Flanagan, Mike Wahle and Mark Tauscher form what is arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. Backup tackle Kevin Barry also plays a valuable role as an extra blocking tight end. If the offensive line stays healthy, the Packers should be able to move the ball on just about anyone.

2. Mike McKenzie is back in the lineup. Sure, McKenzie is a bit rusty and the time he missed in mini-camp and training camp means it will take some time for him to learn the new defensive system installed by Defensive Coordinator Bob Slowik but getting McKenzie back can only help the Green Bay defense. McKenzie will also have to adjust to the league's decision to strictly enforce pass interference and to limit downfield contact against receivers, something that a bump and run corner like McKenzie has specialized in throughout his career. But having McKenzie back will mean the Packers have two solid starting corners and the depth in the secondary just improved by leaps and bounds. Despite his solid effort against Carolina, Green Bay couldn't rely on Michael Hawthorne over the long haul as a starter while rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas are still learning the NFL game. When McKenzie gets into game shape, the Packers' secondary will be much improved.

3. Javon Walker seems to be playing at a higher level this year. In fact, all of the Pack's top three receivers have looked improved. Walker topped 100 yards against Chicago while Donald Driver appears to be over his nagging injuries of a year ago. Robert Ferguson also seems to be more consistent this year. Although the passing game has still not fully found its stride, the receiving corps seems to be blossoming.

4. Nobody in the NFC North looks unbeatable. While the Lions are 2-0, they haven't faced top competition yet and are probably a year away from serious contention in the division. The Vikings looked like world beaters against Dallas but much less imposing in week 2 in Philadelphia. The Bears are also young and learning a new system. If the Pack stays healthy, there's no reason to believe they won't be in contention in December for the division crown.

Reasons for Concern:

1. The Packers really missed Grady Jackson and had trouble stopping the run against Chicago. The Bears were able to break some long runs and run consistently in the fourth quarter to put the game away. When the Packers needed a stop, they couldn't hold the Bears runners in check. If Thomas Jones looked this good against the Pack, look out for Edgerin James next week. James Lee has potential, but he's not the run stuffer that Jackson is. The Pack needs to stop the run better or there will be more problems in the near future.

2. The punting specifically and special teams in general need some work. Bryan Barker punted poorly in week one. While his average was up in week two, he had two touchbacks and his net average was nothing special. The Packers spent a third round pick on B.J. Sander. To carry two punters all year is wasteful. So far, poor punting hasn't hurt the Pack too much but this is something that could cost Green Bay a game before the season is over. The absence of Najeh Davenport also has hurt the Pack's kick return game.

3. KGB is MIA. In the first two weeks of the season, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has no sacks and has not put any consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Packers brain trust should have realized after last season that KGB is much more effective as a pass rush specialist than as an every down player. Unfortunately, the Packers have no other big-time pass rushing threat on their roster so Gbaja-Biamila continues to start. Unfortunately, the Bears offense adjusted to the Packers new blitzing scheme and gave second year QB Rex Grossman time to throw. The pass rush has to come from somewhere and KGB remains the leading candidate.

4. Brett Favre has not gotten on track yet. No, it's way too early to panic, but in the first two games, Favre has looked very, well, ordinary. Favre has not been happy with his own play which is a good sign. The Packers offense has been based on running the football which has gotten Green Bay between the 20s with ease but not into the red zone. The Packers have long been a passing team in the red zone. Unless Favre and company get back into their groove, situations like the Bears game where the offense has a lot of yards but not a lot of points to show for it could become commonplace.

Hopefully, the Packers will be able to find the consistency they need to emerge as a playoff team in 2004. The early reviews are mixed but the mistakes are correctable. There is more cause for hope in Green Bay than despair.

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