Keys to the game: New role for the Packers

The Green Bay Packers are 3 1/2-point underdogs when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Packers underdogs? At home? Against a team that finished 5-11 last season, including 1-7 on the road.


Sad but true, the Packers find themselves in a new role. After more than a decade of being the hunted on a nearly weekly basis, the Packers are now the hunter.

It's a role they not only better get used to, but it's a role in which they must flourish.

Take a look at the next 10 games. Home vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, home vs. New Orleans, at Minnesota, at Cincinnati, home vs. Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, home vs. Minnesota, at Philadelphia and at Chicago. The Packers will be favored twice, tops: home games against the Saints and Vikings.

If the games play out like Vegas will predict, the Packers could be staring at a 2-10 record heading into the final quarter of the season.

Playing the role of the underdog begins Sunday against the Buccaneers. Here are this week's five keys to victory.

1. Flatten tires of the "Cadillac"

Much of the hype leading to Sunday's game has centered on Tampa Bay rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. And for good (if not great) reason. Williams has burst onto the NFL scene, leading the league in rushing after two weeks.

The Packers have many problems, but stopping the run hasn't been one of them. They held Detroit's Kevin Jones in check in Week 1 and made Trent Dilfer beat them in Week 2 by shutting down Cleveland's ground game to the tune of 23 rushes for 55 yards. The strategy will be much the same: Stop Williams and make Brian Griese beat them.

2. Tackle someone!

If not for two badly missed tackles, the Packers would have won last week. Then again, if not for gasoline, your car would be just another place to listen to the radio.

The Packers' secondary isn't good enough to play keep-away from opposing receivers. That puts a premium on sound tackling in the secondary. Joey Thomas and Nick Collins put themselves out of position on Braylon Edwards' 80-yard touchdown reception, and Mark Roman showed horrendous technique by diving at the shoelaces of tight end Steve Heiden on the backbreaking 62-yard score.

If you can't win with talent, you had better win with technique and desire.

3. Turnover turnaround

The Packers' minus-5 turnover ratio is tied for 28th in the league. They are one of only three teams (Seattle and Houston) who have yet to force a turnover. Even with superior talent, it's nearly impossible to win games when you come out on the wrong end of the turnover battle. In the Mike Sherman era, the Packers are 10-28 when they lose the turnover battle but 38-1 when they win it. The Packers, obviously, don't have superior talent, so losing the turnover battle makes it nearly impossible to win.

It would help if the Packers could put some heat on the passer, but that appears to be asking too much, considering they haven't mounted a consistent pass rush in several years. If the linemen can't put heat on the passer, they must get their hands in the air in hopes of deflecting the ball and setting up an interception.

4. Start strong

The Packers are 4-6 in their last 10 home games. They have lost both games this season, and even Brett Favre has admitted to feeling more pessimistic now than during last year's 1-4 start.

This is a team that needs something good to happen.

The Buccaneers have lost 13 straight in Green Bay, with their last win at Lambeau coming in 1989. So the Packers have a little something in their favor, though with the Lambeau mystique being trashed over the past couple of seasons, the Buccaneers aren't going to be intimidated.

The Packers need to start strong, get the crowd behind them, keep the pressuring of winning the game off Favre, and try to get the Bucs out of their run-first gameplan.

5. Corner quandary

The Packers' defense will be geared toward stopping Williams, which makes the play of the cornerbacks vital, as they won't get much help from the safeties.

If Williams gets on a roll, the play-action pass will become available. Tampa Bay's receiving corps isn't great, but the starters are well above average. Michael Clayton is big and physical and is developing into a star. Al Harris will have his hands full.

On the other side is where trouble lurks, with big-play receiver Joey Galloway facing Joey Thomas or, if his head hasn't cleared, Ahmad Carroll. Thomas was toasted by Edwards for an 80-yard touchdown last week while Carroll's trouble with penalties is well documented.

For a Packers team that can't rush the passer and hasn't forced turnovers, they simply can't afford to give up long touchdowns or keep drives alive with foolish penalties.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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