Lombardi: I Thought It Would Be Worse

The Packers opener versus the Bears was bad. It was real bad … but I thought it would be worse. That is to not say that I am pleased or optimistic. What I mean is that I expected them to struggle and the bright spots (and there were some) were unexpected.

The Bad

The Bears Offense
The Packers could not stop the Bears offense until it got into the red zone. Remember, this is the same Bears offense that struggled last year to pile up any points, even with Rex Grossman in the lineup. We can take some solace in the fact that the Packers created a turnover in the end zone and forced Chicago to kick four field goals, but it is a hollow victory.

The Bears averaged 5.6 yards per play and even though it took them a lot of carries to get over 100 yards rushing, they did. The defense played well in spots, but was inconsistent. Aaron Kampman and the rest of the front seven did OK. Cullen Jenkins made some plays as did Nick Barnett. A.J. Hawk was OK, but did not have much of an impact on the game. Gunther Cunningham, the longtime NFL coach, once said that it took a rookie linebacker three years to learn the position in the pros. Here's hoping Hawk learns it sooner.

The defense got some pressure on Grossman and held the Bears to a 109 yards rushing on 36 carries. That works out to a 3.6 average rush. But the secondary played badly. Marquand Manuel got beat on the first TD and missed a couple of tackles. Al Harris and Charles Woodson were regularly beat by Bears receivers. Desmond Clark, the Bears Tight End, caught five passes, most of them on Brady Poppinga. It is a lot to ask of Poppinga to cover Clark who was a wide receiver in College, but that is what he needs to do. It is not as if Clark is one of the league's better tight ends. As the Sam linebacker, Poppinga has to shut down the TE or at least cover him.

Bubba Franks
Speaking of tight ends, where was Bubba? Did he even play in this game? Donald Lee has a nice reception but I do not remember even seeing Bubba in the game. I thought the new regime was going to work the tight end into the game plan more. Did he get hurt?

Packers Offense
Green Bay's offense never got any rhythm. Favre only attempted five passes by half time and they only had 20 offensive plays. The first drive was a three and out. The second one lasted four plays. The third lasted five plays. The fourth never got started as Noah Herron fumbled the kickoff and the last one went nine plays and ended in a missed field goal. The Bears in contrast had 36 plays in the first half and had drives of six plays (touchdown), 10 (Barnett pick in the end zone), nine plays (FG), 10 plays (FG) and four plays (FG). The last drive was of the Herron fumble and they got the ball on the Packers' 16 yard line. The Bears had rhythm and were in sync and the Packers were not.

The Packers had dumb penalties at crucial moments. In addition to that there were several that were declined. A pass interference call on Al Harris, who did not have a good game, was declined. Marquand Manuel had a face mask penalty nullified by offsetting penalties. Mark Tauscher had a holding penalty declined. Back to back holding penalties by Chad Clifton, who did not have a good game, and Scott Wells were accepted. Charles Woodson was called for holding on an incompletion resulting in a first down. Nick Collins got a roughing the kicker penalty. Ahmad Carroll was good for his usual penalty – a false start on a punt.

Special Teams
This was not a surprise to me but the special teams were awful. Jon Ryan had a bad day, with the exception of his 118.8% passer rating. His kicks were line drives and did not help the coverage teams at all. I do not know why Dave Rayner tried a 53-yarder on his first attempt as a Packer. Try and give the guy a chance.

The coverage teams were poor, especially the punt coverage unit. Obviously, giving up an 84-yard punt return for a TD is bad enough, but the special teams are not strong and it is the result of the make-up of the team.

Most good college players, who make it in the NFL, never play special teams in college and if they did, it was early in their careers. They are too good to risk injury, especially when you have 80-something players available. In the NFL, these guys have to play teams. Consequently, these guys are clueless as how to cover a kick. They have never done it. Therefore they will make mistakes. Look at the Patriots roster. They have vets on their special teams like Larry Izzo. He knows how to play special teams.

Third Down
The Packers were 1 for 11 (9%) on third down. Hard to keep drives going if you cannot convert on third down. They were 2 of 3 (67%) on fourth down. The Pack was 1 of 10 when they needed to extend a drive. Worse yet is they failed to convert two third and ones, a fourth and one and a third and three. Twice they stumbled on third and five. The other five third downs were third and nine or better. So half of them were manageable and they only converted one time and that was on third and nine. Someone needs to make a play. Players make plays. It took a fake punt to extend one drive.

Coaches and their First Game
According to the Media Guide:

-- Curly Lambeau won his first game as coach, a 53-0 thrashing of the Menominee North End A.C. Not quite the Bears.

-- Gene Ronzani lost his first game to the Lions 45 to 7.

-- Lisle Blackbourn lost his first game 21-20 to the Steelers.

-- Ray "Scooter" McLean lost his first game 34-20 to the Bears (Unless you count the time in 1953 where he and Hugh Devore took over for Gene Ronzani with two game to go in the season and lost to the 49ers 48-14 – who ever heard of Co-Head Coaches?).

-- Grandpa beat the Bears 9-6 in his debut.

-- Coach Bengtson and the Pack beat the Eagles 30-13 in his first outing.

-- Dan Devine lost his first game 42-40 to the Giants.

-- Coach Starr lost in his first shot 30-16 to the Lions.

-- Forrest Gregg was a winner 24-23 over the Cardinals in his first game.

-- Lindy Infante lost his first game 34-7 to the Rams.

-- In his first game, Mike Holmgren lost in overtime 23-20 to the Vikings.

-- Ray Rhodes won his first game 28-24 over the Raiders.

-- Mike Sherman lost to the Jets 20-16 the first time out of the gate.

So five of the previous 13 coaches in Packer history were winners their first time as head coach. Of the winners, only Lambeau and Lombardi eventually won it all. What does this mean for Mike McCarthy? Probably nothing, but it is interesting to think about. I suppose it is never good to lose, especially if my grandfather was right and winning is a habit and unfortunately, so is losing.

The Good
The Fake Punt

I loved it. What do they have to lose?

Ahman Green
I never would have guessed he would have run as well as he did. He had holes available and he hit them. He looked quick, but fast. I do not see him breaking any long runs, but it is still early. He looked like he had his power and burst back. He did not shy away from contact and he punished some tacklers. It was my belief that he was on the downside of his career when he got hurt and maybe his rehab has invigorated his body and spirit.

Donald Driver
He just keeps making plays. He got no help from any other receivers. Green had three catches, Robert Ferguson had two and a couple others had one each. Driver had seven catches for almost 100 yards. He just keeps making catches when the Packers need him. If the Packers had a number two receiver who was a threat, who knows how well he might do. I think Greg Jennings will be that guy, but it is too much to ask of him so early.

The Fans
The Packer set a record for attendance. 70,918 folks packed into Lambeau Field. It is nice to see that even coming off a poor season the fans still show up. It will be even more impressive to see how many show up in December if the Pack is in line for a high draft pick.

Final Thoughts
I know that it is easy to dump on the Packers after they got shut out for the first time in Favre's career, but I am not as down as that. I was not impressed with much, but I did expect it to be worse. Once I saw the youth on this roster, I realized that there was not much hope this year. No one expects to lose and no one wants to lost, but it is my belief that this team is built for down the road. They will get better. Experience will do that for these young guys. That is what we need to look for – improvement. Steady and obvious improvement. If this team does not get better on special teams or on converting third downs, then we can determine that this season was a disaster. If the do get better and I have to believe they will, then it will be worth it down the road.

Part of me thinks that this team probably wants Favre to retire. That way it could be in full rebuild mode and have no expectations. I am not carrying any water for Brett, trust me, but with him there is still hope, however misguided it may be. It might be false hope, but without him, no one would give this team a chance and it is getting close that no one will with him.

The Saints defense is not as good as the Bears, but it is possible that the offense is better. Drew Brees has shown more than Rex Grossman and with Duece McCallister and Reggie Bush, New Orleans has playmakers behind him. The Packer have a chance to win this one. They need to capitalize on their opportunities, convert some third downs and someone needs to step up and make a play.

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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