Lombardi: Questions galore

It wasn't long ago that the Cincinnati Bengals were the laughingstock of the National Football League. That was hard to tell on Monday night when the Bengals whipped the Green Bay Packers before a national television audience. PackerReport.com's John Lombardi lists a number of questions that are still unanswered for the Packers and gives an analysis of how the wheels fell off in Cincinnati.

For the better part of the 1990's and early years of this decade, the Packers were a formidable team with a tough defense and an offense predicated on running the ball. They had a great QB and were expected to make a run at the Super Bowl almost every year. On the other had, the Bengals were the laughingstocks of the NFL. They made bad draft picks, hired unknown coaches and played bad football.

As the 2006 season approaches, it is hard to tell who the Packers are and who the Bengals are. The names of the teams are apparent, but the behavior of each is where the confusion begins. Which one is heading to the playoffs again and which one is gunning for a high draft pick that may or may not pan out?

After a good showing last week against the Falcons, there was optimism in Packerland. The Monday Night tilt in Cincinnati was reason enough to be pessimistic. The question is, which team with show up on Sundays in the fall?

Which Brett Favre will we be treated to? The one who looked sharp against the Falcons, or the one who forced the ball and looked indecisive in Cincy? When Favre is on his game, the Packers have a chance.

Which defense will show up, the one that was near the top of the NFL last year, or the one that was shredded by a gimpy quarterback and failed to tackle anyone? I was queasy watching the Bengals gain extra yards after contact time after time.

Will Charles Woodson be a needed plug across from Al Harris (who silenced Chad Johnson) or the overpriced disappointment that he was the last few years in Oakland? He played poorly on his trip back to his home state of Ohio. Who would have thought that Ahmad Carroll would be a possible alternative?

Will Jon Ryan be the guy who hit the ball a ton or the guy who shanked his first punt 33 yards? Will he even be the punter come the regular season?

Will the defensive line ever get a sack or put more than a little pressure on the passer? Carson Palmer is no Mike Vick and the best the Packers could do was almost get him.

Will A.J. Hawk be anything more than a serviceable linebacker? So far he has made a few good plays, but has not lived up to his reputation or his draft position.

Will Ahman Green bounce back or will the Packers struggle to run the ball with a bunch of guys who are hurt all the time? Green looked all right on Monday. I saw some quickness and he seemed to be on the mend. He only carried the ball eight times, but it was a good first showing. He needs help upfront and time to jell with the offensive line and get his timing back.

The offensive line was not as good as it played against Atlanta. It had a few penalties and did not open many holes for the running backs, but it was not a total failure. It will take some time for these guys to make it work. Growing pains now will hopefully pay off in the future.

Donald Driver had one tough pass bounce off his hands, but played well considering the outcome. Greg Jennings has solidified his position as the second receiver and had a nice punt return. Bubba Franks showed up early, but he is still underutilized.

No one made any positive plays. Favre had a fumble and took a chance on Driver that ended up being intercepted. Two turnovers, one of which resulted in a TD and another that lead to points have to be eliminated. Last week the Packers had a positive turnover ratio and won. This week they were in the negative and lost. I know of no other stat that is so damaging to this team. They have to eliminate the turnovers and do a better job of creating them.

In the first half (when it counted) the Packers were 2 for 8 on third down for a 25% efficiency rating. The Bengals were 6 for 7 for 86%. Against Atlanta, the Pack was over 70% efficient on third down. The Packers need a game plan to insure that they are in manageable third down situations and running the ball effectively is one such way to do so. Here are the Packers third down situations on Monday:

-Third and Seven – pass to Jennings for 11yards – drive continues
-Third and 15 – interception – turnover
-Third and 15 – incomplete pass – punt
-Third and two – Green for a gain of one – fourth down attempt is successful
-Third and one - Davenport for no gain – punt
-Third and seven – Clifton false start penalty – play nullified
-Third and 12 – incomplete – punt
-Third and 10 – incomplete – punt
-Third and six – Touchdown to Driver

-Third down is kind of a microcosm for the game.

Nice plays by Jennings and Driver
Favre presses and throws a pick
The running game falters
Penalties place them in tough situations.
Four Fourth and long situations that are tough to convert

I was mildly impressed with the coaching and play calling against Atlanta. Coach McCarthy kept running the ball and they protected Favre well. Favre made good decisions and made plays. I do not have as much confidence after the Bengals game. There was no rhythm or logic to many of the play calls. They ran a reverse on the third or fourth play that seemed inappropriate. I know that preseason is designed to run plays and explore the playbook and test the young players, but the third game should be a dry run for the season. I also assume that there are quite a few wrinkles in the game plan, on both sides of the ball, that are being held back in lieu to giving them away to the Bears.

I think fans need to be prepared for a rollercoaster ride of a season. There are enough positive things to make fans hopeful, but enough question marks and holes to make those same fans cringe. Brett Favre said that his team is talented but lacks experience. With talent comes hope. With youth and inexperience comes heartache.

John Lombardi

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 johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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