Fewer turnovers – In the first three wins, Ahman Green greatly minimized the turnovers and that was crucial. Turnovers and penalties can just kill a team as they did in the loss against Chicago Bears. That fumble by Green near the goal line literally turned the game around and sent the Packers into a tailspin the continued for several weeks.
Play calling – With the play-calling combination of Coaches Sherman and Tom Rossley, I think the players and the coaches are on the same page more than ever. Further, the play-calling is more balanced and the players are really responding. I know the players also have a big part in it because coaches can draw up the "Xs and Os" but it's the players who have to execute and make the plays. Brett Favre has a lot more input now than he did earlier in the year, and it shows.
Offensive line – I think Grey Ruegamer is feeling a lot more comfortable now that he's had all these chances to start. He's jelling with his teammates on the line after not playing very well in the first few games that he started. That affected the running game and his timing with the other linemen. Now, the entire offensive line is playing a lot better and for them to give up only 5 sacks through 10 games is very impressive.
In my first special report on this season, I pointed out that the Packers needed to have a little amnesia and wipe their awful start from their minds. They've been able to do that and the results have been very nice to watch.
The Packers needed to get back to what they do best – run the football – and, in games six through 10, they did just that. Green needs to be the focal point, but the "running back by committee" approach definitely works for this team. When Green is such a threat, it makes Green Bay's offense that much more difficult to stop. Najeh Davenport, when he can stay healthy, is such a great change of pace and it makes it that much more difficult for opponents to key on Green. Tony Fisher adds another great dimension, especially on third downs and as a check down receiver out of the backfield. At fullback, William Henderson is having a great year and he's a great receiving fullback out of the backfield. He runs the naked bootleg play-action fake extremely well and Brett loves to go to him from that little naked dump-off pass. With Henderson and Nick Luchey, the Packers have two great fullbacks and you don't see that very often in today's game.
Against Houston, with all of the injuries to the backs, it was also great to see the wide receivers, particularly Donald Driver and Javon Walker, raise their games up a couple of notches. The receivers as a group have come into their own as one of the best receiving corps in the entire NFL. I like the way Driver and Walker are performing as a duo. Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman can also be very effective when called upon. I know Ferguson has been bothered by injuries, but he's certainly capable of coming up with some big plays, as a receiver and as a kick returner. Add all of this to a quarterback like Brett who still has a great arm and knows how to lead and you've got a very potent offensive attack.
After the Mike McKenzie situation erupted there were plenty of question marks about the defensive backfield. Would rookies like Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas be able to contribute? Would Bhawoh Jue be able to make a successful switch from corner to safety? The pass rush – or lack thereof – was also a major concern, especially when nose tackle Grady Jackson was felled by injury.
As I look at this defense today, having Jackson back in the middle is the number-one difference in the way this unit is playing. The defense is still giving up too many points and is allowing yardage in some key situations, but as a whole, the defense is playing better of late. The linebackers are also playing better and they, too, are benefiting from Jackson's return as a run-stopper in the middle. The young guys in the secondary are still learning right now and they're giving up some plays that, hopefully, they won't as the season wears on.
I like the overall effort of the defense and I like the intensity, especially with Carroll. He's not afraid to go in there and mix it up and he's a guy that's not going to shy away from contact after he makes a mistake. He's not going to feel sorry for himself or get into a rut. He's going to just get right back up and give it his best. He's got all kinds of room to improve, but right now I love his intensity. He's turning out to be a better player than I think a lot of people imagined. For NFL rookies, defensive back is the second-most difficult position to play (next to quarterback). While the Packers don't have a Reggie White or a Santana Dotson in the lineup, they've been getting decent production from guys like Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins in addition to KGB and Cletidus Hunt. As a group, they're working very well together.
You've also got to give Bob Slowik and the entire coaching staff tons of credit because they've made some big adjustments, going away from what they prepared the entire off-season to implement a whole new aggressive, blitzing-style scheme. It worked in the first game, but after the second and third games, they realized that maybe they don't have the right personnel to make that scheme work, particularly with all the injuries and the youth. They had to alter their scheme and find out what they do best and find a new identity. They've done a pretty good job at doing that.
The special teams have picked up their game quite a bit, especially with Davenport and the kickoff returns. Davenport and Ferguson have done a nice job in giving the team some good field position. Just the way the coaches have been mixing it up with some reverses and fake reverses, they've set up the offense with decent field position overall. I also like the job Antonio Chatman has done with the punt return game and I really like the job he does coming in as a fourth receiver on the short crossing routes. His athletic ability makes him extremely dangerous on the run after the catch. Of course, let's not forget Ryan Longwell's contributions! His game-winning kicks against the Vikings and the Texans were absolutely huge and so I have to give the kicking game some pretty high marks. Punting has been a different story and that's a situation that Sherman is going to have to rectify. Though Bryan Barker's punting average is among the lowest in the NFL, he's been outstanding as a holder for Longwell. He saved a very bad snap on Longwell's winning kick against Houston.
After starting out at 1-4, you have to give Mike Sherman and his staff an A+ for turning things around. Winning five straight is huge, and I couldn't be happier for them. I think we'd all have to admit that we're surprised at how the Packers have righted the ship. I don't think there were many people who thought the Packers could have done it – except for those guys in the locker room, the players and the coaching staff.
I like the way Sherman handles things. He was under so much scrutiny and heat the first several games and we all heard the critics saying he couldn't handle both the coaching and the general manager duties. I'm extremely happy for him and his coaching staff because, as I've said before, the coaches don't put in any less time when the team is losing than when it is winning. They put in the same effort, week in and week out and I think Sherman did a heck of a job picking up the slack with play-calling when Coach Rossley had his health problems. Sherman has done an outstanding job in calling the plays and I think he deserves all of the credit he's getting right now.
The Packers have dug themselves out of a very deep hole. But now the hard work really starts. Their ability to keep their winning approach and to believe in themselves will speak volumes about whether they'll make the playoffs and possibly get to the Big One!
Editor's Note: Don "Majik" Majkowski played for the Packers for six seasons (1987-92). He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards (4,318). In addition to his duties with Packer Report, fans can catch Majik every Monday morning on WSAU-AM 550 in Wausau. He also is a frequent guest on "Pack Attack" on WAOW-TV 9 (Wausau) and occasionally contributes sideline reports for WITI - Fox 6 (Milwaukee). He was recently quoted in The New York Times on the mystique of playing at Lambeau Field.