Turnovers and penalties have ruined many scoring opportunities for the Brett Favre-led offense, and that's why it is no better than average through eight games this season. While it is a fact that injuries have depleted two skill positions, that's only part of the reason why the offense, that was supposed to be the strength of the Packers this season, is 17th in the National Football League.
Favre has been great at times, and, at times, he has reverted to some bad habits of trying to force passes into very small or no openings. That often has resulted in interceptions, and Favre leads the league with 14. That stat has caused him to slip to 18th in passer rankings among the NFL's top quarterbacks even though he is third in the league in touchdown passes with 15. He had five interceptions combined in back-to-back home losses to the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Favre's interceptions combined with Green Bay's staggering number of penalties (30 on offense, 63 as a team) has forbid the Packers from putting points on the scoreboard. Green Bay's offensive performance thus far was summed up last Sunday when, on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, the Packers committed back-to-back false start penalties to make it third-and-12. Then Favre was sacked, fumbled the ball away and Pittsburgh ran it back for a touchdown.
The Packers have had 15 false start and 11 holding penalties marched off against them. Many of these penalties have come against the veterans on the team. For example, offensive tackle Mark Tauscher has been flagged twice for holding this season, two more holding calls than he has had in his six-year career.
The injury epidemic hasn't let up any, forcing Coach Mike Sherman to call on undrafted rookie Samkon Gado to be his fifth starting running back of the season this Sunday at Atlanta. The Packers also lost playmakers Javon Walker, Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport to season-ending injuries in just the first six games. Still, Green Bay, averaging 323 yards per game, has out-performed the opposition from a statistical standpoint on a consistent basis.
The Packers have won the total-yardage battle in six of the eight games. For the season, they have the edge in total-yards average (323 to 296.4), first downs (156 to 145) and time-of-possession average (30:19-29:41). They're even ahead in points differential, 168 to 159, the only 1-7 team in NFL history to claim that distinction.
Nevertheless, other than a 52-3 thrashing of New Orleans on Oct. 9, the mistake-prone Packers have been left to kick themselves after all of those agonizingly close defeats. Five of them have been decided by a touchdown or less, adding up to a total of 16 points.
"I think the difference is, because I've been on some good football teams, is that you believe, not in the first quarter, but you believe in the rest of the game that you can get it done - that regardless of circumstances or any adversity that you face, you will overcome it," Favre said. "I don't know if we believe that collectively as a team, especially offensively. Right now, there's some doubt, and when there's doubt, you lose by a point or you lose by a last-second field goal."
A number of Green Bay's games probably wouldn't have been close if not for the turnovers and penalties committed by the offense.
Poor-play calling, at times, also has caused the offense to backfire. The Packers ran often against the run-defense-strong Steelers when passing would have been more effective. The Packers passed often against the pass-defense-strong Bengals when they probably would have had more success running the ball.
The Packers rank fifth in the league in passing, though, that is somewhat misleading because they have always been playing from behind. Green Bay is ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards per game (71.9) and last in total attempts (193). Though the Packers only have two fewer negative plays (snaps in which the offense lost yardage) than two other teams in the league (Denver and New England), they have scored seven points on eight game-opening drives.
"I have confidence in the second half that we can do some things," Sherman said. "We've played well enough to win but have played bad enough to lose, but we're playing well enough to win just about every ballgame. We just haven't gotten over the hump. Another thing that has to happen for us is we have to get some explosive runs on offense. We haven't had enough of those. We've had a couple for the season, but that's not enough."
Green Bay's longest run from scrimmage in the first half of the season is Favre's 20-yard scamble in Week 2 against Cleveland. In five games, Green's longest run was 13 yards. Gado's 62 yards rushing against Pittsburgh was a single-game high for Green Bay this season.
Despite the injuries at receiver and running back, the Packers' offense should be able to score more points than it has in the first half of the season. In order for that to happen, Favre has to play within the structure of the offense and make better decisions. If he can do that, and the offense concentrates on reducing penalties, the offense will have a better second half of the season.
Mid-season grade: D
Saturday: Special teams
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.