Yes, the Steelers were without the league's top-rated passer in Ben Roethlisberger and bruiser back Jerome Bettis to start the game. Then backup Willie Parker turned an ankle in the second half. And yes, they won 20-10 with Charlie Batch (no, I didn't know he was still in the league, either, until last week) who is arguably the fourth (or fifth) best quarterback on his team behind Big Ben, Tommy Maddox and former college-QB's-turned-receivers Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. But Batch, who threw for a whopping 65 yards and posted quite possibly the lowest rating ever for a winning signal caller with 39.8, still got the job done. But the Packers were without their top three running backs, three of their top four receivers and their back-up tight end. That's not an excuse. It's a fact. A very disturbing, very troubling fact.
And it's not going to get better anytime soon. The Packers deepest position, running back, is now their most deficient. Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport are out for the year and Tony Fisher's rib injury seems worse than initially thought. The receiving corp is minus it's top deep threat, Javon Walker, promising rookie Terrence Murphy and currently, Robert Ferguson. Ah, the good old days when all you worried about was the two new guys playing guard.
So just who were those guys lining up at the playmaking positions in Green Bay's offense on Sunday? Well, at running back, ReShard Lee was your starting halfback, well, for two plays anyway until a costly fumble put him on the bench. That move gave way to the heretofore unheard of Samkon Gado. The Nigerian-born back didn't conjure any memories of ‘Nigerian Nightmare' Christian Okoye, the former Chiefs back, but he did muster 62 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries through holes that the Olsen twins would've been lucky to squeeze through, so domo arigato Mr. Samkon Gado (domo, domo). Giving Gado a breather was Walt Williams, who was about to take a 9-5 job at a chemical plant before the Packers called him back a couple weeks ago.
There's a chance that USC has a better backfield at the moment than Green Bay. And speaking of the Trojans, you may want to start keeping on eye on them because with the worst record in the league, the words, ‘Welcome to the 2006 NFL Draft, Green Bay is on the clock' might not be too far off. And USC quarterback Matt Leinhart and running back Reggie Bush figure to be the top two picks.
Antonio Chatman started opposite Driver at receiver. Chatman, at just 5-foot-9 and a buck-83, has developed some nice chemistry with Favre and made some impressive catches, but on a team with postseason expectations, which is what the Packers had way back in August, he's a No. 4 or even No. 5 receiver. And the team's current No. 3 receiver, Andrae Thurman, is a guy the team wasn't even sure about keeping on the practice squad. Some guy named Taco Wallace is now No. 4 on the depth chart. Mmm … tacos.
Tight end Donald Lee was in the starting lineup when the Packers opened the game in a two tight end set along with Bubba Franks, who is a legitimate Favre weapon when he's at full-strength. Lee is the No. 3 tight end normally, but seeing him get snaps that would go to a healthy David Martin isn't necessarily a bad thing. He's got some drops to go with a few big plays, but you also see the chance for some consistent production, unlike Martin, who's been nothing more than a tease during his five years on the roster.
Chatman, Thurman, Gado, Williams and the two Lees -- six players who might normally start the fourth quarter of a preseason game if they're lucky. But midway through the most forgettable of Favre's 14 seasons in green and gold, this is his ‘Black Sheep Squadron' that he's taking into battle. Favre conceded that it's more difficult to win without Green, Davenport, Walker and Ferguson, but maintains it's doable. Based on Sunday's difficulties, doable and probable seem pretty far apart.