We can talk all thank the stars that Brett Favre came back. Fans can wonder which running back will step up. The media can speculate whether Greg Jennings will earn the second wide receiver spot. Will the defense rank in the top 10 again this year? All of those issues are secondary concerns if the offensive line struggles. Without a solid performance from the O-lineman, the season is toast. The running game will go nowhere, Favre may not survive the year and without the ability to control the ball on offense, the defense will get worn out.
I watched the game on TV and like most fans; I was disappointed in the performance of the Packer offense. Fortunately for me I have TIVO and was able to watch the game again the next day. I used the power of the rewind button to watch each lineman on each play. After this exercise I had a better feeling about their performance. Don't get me wrong, there was little to be proud of, but it was not as bad as it looked in real time. I was having flashbacks to my scouting days.
Favre was sacked three times early (and hit many times more). In my humble opinion, two of those were the fault of a running back. A third time, Mark Tauscher's man came free on a stunt and leveled Favre. It is possible that Tauscher and Spitz, playing right guard at the time, should have switched, but Tauscher looked guilty. On the first running play, Chad Clifton's guy got underneath him and pushed back into Davenport killing that opportunity. Clifton and Tauscher are supposed to be the guys the team can count on.
Spitz looked OK, as did Scott Wells. Colledge did struggle and seemed unsure of himself. He played high and out over his feet at times. He fell a few times and was easily beat on double moves because of this awkward position. He played tackle in college and looks like he was having a hard time adjusting to this level. Obviously it is too early to give up on him, and it is possible that the coaches are just sending him a message. Spitz is further along, but he benefits from having played in a more advanced system in college.
The new zone-blocking scheme is a work in progress and I am not an expert on its execution. I saw many times where all five guys up front were doing what I think they should have been doing, only to have the back make the wrong choice. The linemen take the first guy across their face and the back has to make a decision as to where he will take the ball. The runner has to find the seam or make a cutback when he sees an opening. A few times, I saw a cutback opportunity that was left untaken. It looked like the offensive line got no push up front, but in reality, the running back made the wrong read.
It is still too early in the preseason to panic and I hope that the Packers are not doing that with this latest shuffle. Last year they shuffled the offensive line all preseason and those guys never jelled and it showed in their performance on the field.
I get the sense that the Packers know they have a chance to be better than people expect them to be. Missed opportunities hurt them against the Chargers. Eventually they will have to make those plays, but the first preseason game is too early to begin the funeral march. The offense struggled in San Diego, but it looked better the second time around, thanks to the magic of a digital video recorder. Now if TIVO could slow Philip Rivers down.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.