Green Bay has a good offense and its defense was good enough last year to win the division. I believed (and still do) that Jim Bates will make the defense better this year so improvement would be axiomatic. A good defense and a decent defense spells playoffs in my mind, especially in the weak NFC North.
But after the last two weeks, I have serious doubts. I have not had a change of heart concerning the Packers level of talent or ability. Losing Javon Walker hurts, but every team has injuries and the Packers can expect no less. Brett Favre and the rest of the skill position players are still formidable. The offensive line is, and let me stress this, good enough to win in this league. Will they set team records in rushing like two years ago? Of course not, but they can get the job done. I have already addressed the defense, it will be better. Ryan Longwell is as good as they come in this league and the special teams, while giving me the willies some games, will not be the difference between the playoffs or not either way.
What has caused me to shake my head and swear under my breath is the way in which the Packers have lost these two games. The Lions and Browns will be near the bottom of the standings once the season develops. This was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule, before playing the Falcons, Eagles, Steelers and Panthers.
The awful truth is that the Packers have looked just that, awful. They have no rhythm on offense. The defense cannot tackle. They commit turnovers while creating none. They are penalized too much and the penalties are of the mental variety. False starts, hands to the face, and illegal formation penalties are unforgivable; especially when they come in bunches like they have for the Packers the past two weeks.
The offense cannot get the running game established. Some people point to the new guards as a reason for this, but Ahman Green has only carried the ball 28 times. They were behind in both games, but not enough to get them out of the run. Rushing 14 times per game is not enough. Green is averaging 4 yards per carry, so it is not like he is getting stuffed. The Packers need to pound him in there. Last year he had a down year and he still carried the ball at least 16 times per game. In 2003, by far his best year, he averaged over 22 carries per game. The Packers need to be more like the Steelers, and continue to run the ball, even if it is not working. Willie Parker has already carried the ball 47 times this year. Last year, Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley combined averaged almost 28 carries per game. Coach Sherman is too quick to give up on it or thinks he can out game plan the other team. Run the ball. Even with Favre, this team is a running team and Green needs to get his carries to keep the defense off guard and open up things for Favre and the passing game.
I hate to say this, because I like and respect Mike Sherman, but this team looks very undisciplined and disorganized and that falls on his shoulders. Missed tackles may be the result of physical limitations, but I believe that coaching can improve this skill. The penalties and missed assignments are mostly coaching related. The players commit those errors, but coaches prevent them. To lose in this fashion to two basement dwellers does not bode well for the rest of the year. I know it is early and there is a history of this, but it is still unnerving.
Under Coach Sherman, this team has underachieved early in the season before, only to bounce back and win the Division, but these first two games seem different to me. In the past, Favre would have one of his bad games. I remember the 2003 opener when he threw four picks against the Vikings or last year when the Pack just got beat by the Colts on a fast track. Turnovers have plagued the Packers for a few years now and in some cases they just get outplayed. I can rationalize both of these scenarios. But mental mistakes or a lack of effort or a lack of confidence in the players by the coaches is not what I want to see this year.
The Packers may not be the most talented team in the league, but they are better than this. If they do not turn things around, then it is because they are not prepared and if they are not prepared, then it is someone's fault and I think we know who that is.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.