Stills: Evaluating the Packers

PackerReport.com's Ken Stills offers his assessment of Green Bay's preseason victory over Atlanta on Saturday. The former Packers safety breaks down each area of the team - defense, offense and special teams.

What a change one week can make! The Packers came out in their second pre-season game and played with a lot more intensity and looked very sharp in a 38-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. You probably can attribute that to the fact that a lot of players who are on the bubble used the game as their last opportunity to show what they can do. I guarantee you that Head Coach Mike McCarthy let them know they need to have a better showing after their performance against San Diego.

You have to believe in the last two games that Green Bay will stick with their starters and try and build some momentum and continuity heading into the season opener.

One constant in both preseason games has been the Packer defense. Last week against San Diego the defense allowed 17 points and this week it held Atlanta to 10 points. The critics might say, "Well it's against their backups." I don't believe that. Whether it's against the first offense or second unit every team has NFL-caliber players. If you can hold most offenses to 10 to 17 points a game you have a good chance of winning most games.

Defense
I've often mentioned that one of the main components of any success football team is the defense.

Through two preseason games the Packer defense, run by Bob Sanders, has shown the ability to stay in its ‘base' 4-3, or rush four down linemen while playing man to man coverage in the secondary and get pressure on the quarterback. In the game Saturday against Atlanta, the defense forced three interceptions and had five sacks. The Packers defensive staff has a solid preseason game plan - line the players up and let them play. Nothing fancy just play defense and get after it.

Once the season starts I truly believe the defense will be a major reason why Green Bay wins twice as many games as it did last season.

Offense
The Packer's offense had a certain snap and crispness that it didn't have in the first pre-season game. The offensive line looked like it was coming off the football with a lot more intensity. With another week of installing and learning the offensive scheme the offense should take a positive step toward getting ready for the regular season opener. I mentioned in an article earlier this year that this would be the toughest assignment for the offensive unit, getting the offensive line to work with some cohesiveness.

The offense as an overall unit performed well. The running backs ran very hard, combining for 126 rushing yards and doing a solid job on pass protection pickups. If Vonta Leach could catch a pass out of the backfield the running backs would have had an outstanding game. The quarterbacks are very solid, combining for 245 yards passing with no interceptions. Aaron Rogers looked very sharp. He has good leadership skills. His huddle control and game management through-out the game were very apparent. The second group seemed to run smoothly on all cylinders without missing a beat.

No need to say anything about my guy Brett Favre. I believe this guy has a few more seasons in him. He shows all the characteristics of the Pro Bowl quarterback which he is. Given time, protection and the right tools, Brett can be very dangerous.

Special teams
Special teams showed some improvement. This is a group from last season and already in the first preseason game that needs to make the biggest leap in helping this team get back its winning ways.

The Packers averaged 45 yards per punt against Atlanta while the coverage teams did a solid job of covering the kicks. The Packers kicked off six times and held Atlanta to 25 yard per return while returning three kicks of their own for a 16.7 yard average. This is still an area where the Packers can improve.

Kickoff return is essentially the first offensive play of the game. This is the first opportunity to give the offensive positive field position. The Packers need to put more emphasis in their returns. If they need to spend more time in practice or come up with some new schemes this is an area they must improve in. Whenever an offense has a chance to start in plus territory they become more effect. They can open up their playbook putting their offensive personnel to use.

On the opposite side of that coin is the kickoff cover team. This is the first defensive play of the game, if you're kicking off. If the cover team can force the offense to go the length of the field the odds are the other team won't score many points.

Football has always been based on field position and special teams plays a huge part in each game. As a special teams coach we always talk about each punt being a 40-yard play on average. You exchange 40 yards or so every time you punt. That's a huge chunk of yardage. Kick-off coverage is a 45-yard play, so you can see why having a solid kicker and special teams is a must. Guys like Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt are guys that have taken advantage of the position, making huge moves in the off-season and teams have recognized their value by giving them huge pay checks.

Special teams will be where most young players make the roster. Most of the top draft picks will start on offense or defense, but being able to make an impact on special teams will be a contributing factor to their value of their team. You saw the speed of Greg Jennings, the Packers' second round pick, on his 85-yard touchdown reception. With speed like that in the proper returns, the Packers special teams could have some renewed life.

With two pre-season games remaining the Packers need to continue to refine and re-tune the offense, defense and special teams. In order for them to improve each week they must continue to play every game with the same intensity that they did this past weekend.

You can expect the starters, along with a few players the head coach needs, to make a final evaluation on getting the majority of the reps this week. Winning games in the pre-season isn't as important as evaluating personnel.

Would the Packers like to win this rest of their pre-season games? You bet. Coach McCarthy needs the confidence and so does his team.


Ken Stills

Editor's note: Ken Stills played safety for the Packers from 1985-89. E-mail Ken at KSt2983113@cs.com.


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