Three keys for 2006

The Green Bay Packers have little room for error this season if they are thinking playoffs. When you're coming off a 4-12 season and many questions exist as the season approaches, many would suggest the Packers might as well be prepared to have an open January.

But, if the Packers want to be busy past New Year's Eve and get back to the playoffs, it's really simple what has to happen. The Packers need to get off to a positive start, the new coaching staff has to coach beyond its experience and it has to have luck – good luck, that is.

Fast start. Four of the Packers' first five games are against teams which had losing records in 2005. After opening at home with Chicago on Sunday, the Packers host New Orleans, travel to Detroit and Philadelphia and host St. Louis. A 3-2 record is necessary for this team to become a serious playoff contender.

If the Packers open under .500 five games into the season, with the youth and inexperience, it's predictable what will happen. The team will press, force plays (Brett Favre) and 2006 will quickly become a disappointment.

I know, the Packers opened the 2004 season 1-4, but rallied to win the division and make the playoffs. That was a different team. Favre had more reliable targets, Ahman Green hadn't slowed down yet, the team had more experience and the Vikings collapsed down the stretch.

This year, the Packers' roster is so wet behind the ears that whatever happens early – good or bad – will likely be the road this team travels through December . Veteran teams can regroup, but teams with youth usually go with the flow.

Coaching. OK, not only is the start of the season key, so is the way the coaching staff reacts during games. Head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders never have held the positions they are in this season with the Packers.

This doesn't have to be a negative, as remember that coaching staff in 1992 – Mike Holmgren (coach), Sherman Lewis (offensive coordinator) and Ray Rhodes (defensive coordinator) also were in the same position, not ever holding those positions until they arrived in Green Bay. That worked out pretty good.

Nonetheless, how does McCarthy call plays in a two-minute drill? How does he react when his team is tumbling? How is his time management? With so much happening on the sidelines, can he truly be a head coach and attend to matters that don't include the offense?

As for Jagodzinski and Sanders, how will they react in game conditions? Jagodzinski won't be calling plays, so he has less pressure, but he will be aiding McCarthy in play calling.

Sanders has to figure a way to make a questionable defense play well, in addition to pulling the trigger on blitzing and knowing when to play a base defense.

There's a lot on the table for this threesome, and likely how they handle their new jobs will go a long way in determining the Packers' success in 2006. It'll be a season of learning for them, and if there's too much learning, the Packers will be in a similar spot as they were in 2005.

Luck. The last item we turn to is good luck. Look at any team with a good record in 2005 and it had more good luck than bad. Look at the Packers, and most of their luck was bad. Their running backs fell quicker than a jaw drops when Anna Kournikova walks by a construction site.

Those "up-for-grabs" passes Favre threw in 2005 were interceptions instead of the touchdowns they were in 2004 (of course, it helped having Javon Walker).

And, the Packers had no good luck in close games. Among its 12 losses, eight were by seven points or less. That means one turnover here, a missed tackle there or a dropped pass could've been the difference in each game. Think if the Packers won half of those games; they would've been 8-8. There are many reasons why 2005 was such a bummer in Green Bay. There are many who believe 2006 will follow suit.

Notwithstanding, if the Packers can get off to a nice start, get smart coaching and have more good luck than bad in 2006, who knows, this team might be the feel-good story of 2006. There is one every season.

In 2005, it was Cincinnati and in 2004 it was San Diego. The Packers in 2006? Why not?

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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