Packers-Panthers keys to the game

"We just need to clean up a few things," has been the rallying cry of the Green Bay Packers throughout the early part of this foundering 2005 season. Well, it's time to put up or shut up, and that's the first of this week's five keys to Monday's game at Carolina.

1. Clean up your acts

Whether it's a missed block, a missed assignment, a bad snap, a sloppy penalty by a defensive back or a Brett Favre interception, there's been plenty of blame to go around as the Packers have staggered to their 0-3 start.

The players say that once they stop making foolish mistakes, the wins will start coming. The results of the first three games suggest the players are right. The Packers trailed Detroit by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, lost to Cleveland by two and Tampa Bay by one.

The Lions and Browns, however, aren't exactly NFL heavyweights, and losses to the Browns and Buccaneers came at home.

Are the Packers making bad mistakes, or are they just bad?

Monday's game will be a good gauge, because, despite their 1-2 record, the Panthers aren't to be confused with the likes of Cleveland and Detroit. Their defense boasts the best personnel in the NFC, with the possible exception of Chicago, and their power running game will test a defense that got worn down by Tampa Bay's Carnell Williams last week.

2. Control yourself

Favre is forced to walk a fine line every week. On the one side, Favre likely has figured out that his supporting cast isn't good enough to get the job done. Until the running game gets going — assuming it does — Favre knows the offense just doesn't have the talent to consistently march 10 plays for 75 yards and a touchdown. Thus, it's up to him to make something happen, and make something out of nothing.

On the other side, throwing it up for grabs in hopes of a lightning-strike touchdown works well with Javon Walker in the lineup. Walker, of course, is out for the season, and Robert Ferguson doesn't appear to be the type of player who can go up and make a play on a jump-ball type of pass.

For a player with a gunslinger's mentality, patience is a virtue that's hard to learn. Favre must somehow be patient, and take his shots deep only when the reward greatly outweighs the risk.

3. Grind Peppers

The stats this season don't show it, but Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers is one of the most feared players in the game. How athletic is Peppers? The former University of North Carolina basketball player is used as a wide receiver periodically at the goal line.

The Packers have plenty of issues along their offensive line, but right tackle Mark Tauscher isn't one of them. Tauscher, however, will be put to the test against the fleet-of-foot Peppers, who has 12 sacks, two interceptions and one touchdown last season.

While most teams use double teams or chip-blocking techniques to slow big-time pass rushers, that's not the Packers' style. Besides, with the rush Favre has received up the middle, there will be nobody available to help Tauscher, anyway.

4. Not a "Caddy," but not a jalopy, either

The Panthers don't have a "Cadillac" Williams in the backfield, but Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster form a thunder-and-lightning combo. Davis is the hammer and featured runner, while Foster is the big-play threat, a speedy and shifty player who serves as an excellent change-of-pace runner.

The Packers' run defense has been excellent this season. They held the record-setting Williams in check through three quarters last week, but the offense's bungles caused the defense to wear down by the fourth quarter.

If the Packers can slow Carolina's running game, the pressure will fall on mistake-prone quarterback Jake Delhomme (40 interceptions in 36 career starts) to make plays.

5. Stopping Smith

Carolina's methodical offense gets some big-play juice from wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith broke a leg in last season's opener against Green Bay. He's back with a vengeance this season, however, and already has 23 catches for 342 yards and four touchdowns. His catches and touchdowns lead the league, and he ranks third in yards.

Most likely, the Packers will try to stick Al Harris on Smith as much as possible, and that would be an outstanding matchup. The Panthers, of course, will try to free Smith from Harris, so it will be interesting to see if the confidence Ahmad Carroll gained with his interception last week will serve as sort of a career turning point.

Smith also returns some kicks and punts, and he's a huge threat with six career return touchdowns.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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