Random thoughts

Despite loss of talent, Packers can turn season around

If somebody had told me that after seven games that the Pack had outscored their opponents by a 158-139 margin, I would have believed they would be 4-3, or something similar. But 1-6?

I know some people are wanting to move on to the Aaron Rodgers era, especially after Brett Favre had one of his worst outings ever last Sunday. But Favre still has plenty left in the tank. Consider the hand that he has been dealt. Gone are guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera. Center Mike Flanagan has struggled and missed time because of injuries. Tight end Bubba Franks has been hurt most of the season. Wide receiver Javon Walker and running back Ahman Green have been lost to season-ending injuries. That's a lot of Pro Bowl talent missing. Yet Favre has had the Packers in a position to win every one of their games. All Favre needs is more talent surrounding him. He can't do it himself, as much as he tries.

Mike Sherman is paying for some of the errors he made as general manager this season, but he is still a good football coach. There are those who question his coaching strategy in crunch time (see the Philly playoff game a couple years back). But overall, Sherman has been a winner. Even in this season of losing, he has stayed composed and focused. A 1-6 team needs a leader that doesn't cave in to adversity. Like Favre, Sherman needs better talent to succeed. But some of that lack of talent can be attributed to his previous decisions as GM.

Favre is suffering through the first losing season of his 14 year career in Green Bay. That is remarkable in this era of free agency. This is not rare. Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino all led teams to losing records at some point in their careers. What is rare is that it took so long for this to occur in the first place.

Jim Bates has done a fine job overall with the defense. A few of pieces to the puzzle are still missing. Bates could still use a dominant rushing defensive end, a true middle linebacker and a shutdown corner opposite Al Harris. Now I know Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is supposed to be that defensive end in Bates' system, but so far he's not playing like it. Nick Barnett is a good linebacker, but he is much better suited on the outside. Ahmad Carroll shows flashes of great ability from time to time, but his lack of consistency is alarming.

The Packers are facing the most challenging part of their 2005 schedule. After the Steelers, the Packers travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons, then play the Vikings at home and then play back to back road games in Philadelphia and Chicago respectively. The true character of this team will be determined in this five-week span. Believe it or not, I think the Packers can come out that tough stretch with a 3-2 record. That would leave the Pack 4-8 with three of their last four games at home in December and January. 8-8 could win the NFC North. So could 7-9. Heck, would you believe 6-10?

The difference between 1-6 and 4-3 can be special teams play. Kicker Ryan Longwell has had his issues. The return and coverage units have been sub-standard. The Packers need these units to get better, especially with the injury issues. One bright spot has been linebacker Brady Poppinga. He has been hitting anything that moves on the coverage teams.

The Packers biggest question mark in the off-season, besides Favre's future, will be who will be at running back in 2006. Ahman Green suffered a quad injury that is very difficult to return from. Even before the injury, there were signs that the wear and tear of several seasons had eroded his skills. Najeh Davenport went out for the year with a broken ankle. Davenport's checkered injury history in Green Bay does not bode well for his future as a Packer. So where will Ted Thompson find that stud RB? Will it be in the draft? Someone like Reggie Bush? Could that player be a unrestricted free agent? How about somebody Thompson already drafted, like Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks? Time will tell, but for the Packers to be successful now and in the future, they need to solidfy that position.

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