Lombardi: Find some playmakers

PackerReport.com's John Lombardi points out the many problems with the Green Bay Packers. Perhaps the biggest of the Packers' problems is that they do not have any bonafide playmakers to help them score points.

This Green Bay Packers team is not very good. They are young and inexperienced at too many positions to list to keep this column manageable.

They have a good quarterback who is on the downside of his career who presses too much and commits stupid turnovers.

They have a receiving corps that consists of a tough, overachieving veteran who drops too many passes as of late, and an up-and-coming rookie. After that they have a problem and a stiff.

They are bankrupt at running back. Ahman Green is still effective, but a shadow of his former self. Injuries have taken their toll. He runs hard but seems to have lost his burst. William Henderson has been benched for a guy off the practice squad and the only bright spot is a guy they traded for a couple weeks ago, Vernand Morency, who contributed to two turnovers.

The offensive line is so questionable, that the Packers operate out of the shotgun and keep extra blockers in to protect the passer.

Defense
On defense, a unit that was a bright spot in last year's collapse is now the side of the ball that is killing this team. Up front they are pretty stout. Aaron Kampman, KGB, Ryan Pickett, Colin Cole and Cullen Jenkins are playing well enough to win. They are not good enough to make a difference on their own, but with some help, they can get the job down. Sacking Donovan McNabb four times should be enough. They had a stat at the end of the broadcast that made my head spin. The Packers sacked McNabb four times and Favre was not sacked at all and the Packers lost. In the history of the NFL, that had only happened one other time.

The linebackers are average. I hate to put it that way, but they are. A.J. Hawk is getting better, but was a non-factor for most of the game. Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga were pretty much invisible. It actually looks like the Packers made some adjustments to get Poppinga some help in pass coverage with a safety rotating down to take the TE on many occasions.

The big area of concern, of course, is the secondary. Ahmad Carroll should be waived immediately. He is either getting beat deep for a TD, or committing a penalty. For the sake of accountability, he should be released. I do not know the cap implications of such a move, but if they are too onerous, he should at least be inactive every week. How he gets on the field is beyond me. His play has regressed so much that it is head scratching. If there is not a player on the street right now who can do a better job than him, I give up.

Al Harris and Charles Woodson are not killing the Packers with their play, but are not doing much to justify their big salary (Woodson) or big salary demands (Harris). Marquand Manuel is not very good. I gave him the benefit of the doubt early on because he is new and missed a lot of camp with injuries. Adjusting to a new team and system is difficult, especially if you do not get the reps, but after four weeks, that is no longer a good excuse anymore. Compounding that is that most of his mistakes are physical. He takes wrong angles to the ball and is not very good in space. The next time he makes an open field tackle, it will be the first time. What makes his performance inexplicable is that Ted Thompson should have known what kind of player he was. He saw him every day for how many years in Seattle? How he gave him a big contract is a mystery. The Packers have been killed by big pass plays this year and the Eagles' game was no different.

Special teams
The kickers are actually a bright spot. Jon Ryan and Dave Rayner have actually done a good job, but the coverage teams are awful and the return team has been essentially a non factor.

The Eagles game is the perfect metaphor for this team. There is enough there to give a fan some hope, but ultimately disappointment was the flavor of the day. At halftime, I was elated with the team's performance. Expectations were for a big win over the Eagles and the Packers were in the game.

In the first half, the Packers passed the ball well and ran it enough to keep the Eagles honest. The defense forced a turnover and got a break when the Eagles committed one all on their own. Morency fumbled himself and that lead to the Eagles only score, but things looked pretty good for Green Bay. Even if the Eagles ultimately won the game, it would have been a good show on the Packers part.

Unfortunately, the second half was another story. Twenty-four unanswered points and two turnovers later the Packers were on the sad side of another blowout. The team looked disorganized, especially on defense. Woodson was on and off the field after getting dinged, and Carroll got beat regularly. McNabb had more rushing yards in this game than he did all of last year. The offense does not have the firepower to stay close.

Coach Mike McCarthy mentioned that the Eagles made the big plays and the Packers did not. Hard to do when they do not have any big-play players. Think about it. Brandon Miree was on the practice squad a week ago, Morency was Texan at the start of the season. Driver is a very good player, but he was off Monday night. Greg Jennings is a rookie and Bubba Franks, David Martin and Donald Lee did not make any plays. I do not think I have seen Franks gain any yards after the catch all year. Favre used to be a playmaker but he is not himself with so little talent around him.

I still think that there is a chance this team will still surprise some folks and win a game no one thinks it can. If it plays a game like it did the first half on Monday, the Packers can compete. But if they play like they did in the second half, they will be lucky to keep it even close with anyone. There is no margin for error with this team. Unless they play a near perfect game, they are in trouble.

What can the Packers do to get better? Find some playmakers. It may be too late for this year, but who is going to score touchdowns for this team? Who is going to make a play on third-and-7? Who is going to come up on a force play and get the ball carrier down? Who is going to open a hole on the 1-yard line on fourth and goal? Until someone does, it will be more of the same.

The thing that worries me most though is what I saw at the end of the game. Faced with first and goal on the Eagles' 1-yard line, the Packers failed to score on four chances. Given a chance to salvage some dignity, they failed. Given a chance to show that they still had some pride, they did not even get a good push up front. The Eagles were the ones with pride. They wanted to prevent the Packers from scoring more than the other way around. The quickest way for this team to bottom out is to give up. If the losing keeps up, there is that risk. I look for leadership on this team and without leaders who can keep these kids in the game; it could spiral out of control. That could be a disaster. Football is about talent, but it is also about attitude and if Coach McCarthy loses the locker room, then all bets are off.


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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