Stills: Too inconsistent

Former Packers safety Ken Stills was in Pennsylvania for the Packers' Monday Night game against the Philadelphia Eagles. After Stills took a "pounding" from Eagles fans during the game, he gathered his thoughts on the Packers and, from his point of view, explains why the team is struggling.

Over the past few weeks I've tried not to write about the team directly, but to write about some of the surrounding factors of what makes a team and an organization run the way it does. I've talked about the Green Bay Packers draft, its draft choices and their impact on this year's team. We've talked about the transition this team is going through; hiring a new coaching staff, the development of young players and the impact on the team from the salary cap and collective bargaining agreement.

Well, you can only go so long before you just have to face reality and start to focus on the facts: This is a very inconsistent Packer football team. Let's put aside the outside peripheral thing and get down to the nuts and bolts as to what's really going on.

I'm the one guy who wants to see Green Bay do well, but Monday night's game was somewhat of a disappointment. I was in Pennsylvania for the game, surrounded by Philadelphia fans, sporting my Green Bay shirt and I got pounded. Philadelphia fans are serious about their football.

Drive-killing penalty early on hurts offense
As the game started, Green Bay's first drive ended because of a penalty and at that second I asked myself, "What are they doing?" Here's a team that nobody's giving a chance to win the game and you start off with a penalty on a key third down play in the first series. What was a manageable third-and-short was now a difficult third and long. The head coach's play-calling just went from a "pick'em call" to a probable pass play. Against a Jim Johnson defense, that's exactly what Philadelphia wants - your offense to start passing so they can bring pressure and smack your quarterback.

Even with the clumsy start, the Packers still had a decent first half and led at halftime 9-7. Neither team looked like they wanted to do much in the first half. Philadelphia moved the ball up and down the field and should've had two early touch downs but fumble those away. They did the Packers a favor. Otherwise this would have been an early blowout.

The second half was a different story. Philadelphia came out and executed its game plan. Throwing passes between the minus-30 yard line and the plus-30 yard line and pounding the football in the red zone. Their game plan worked to perfection. What started out as a close contest ended up being an easy victory for the Eagles. Donovan McNabb converted two huge third down plays in the first series of the second half and from that point on it was all Eagles.

As far as the Packers were concerned at times in the first half the offense looked pretty solid. It had a couple of drives where their backs were up against the wall and they came out and moved the football down the field. They showed a balanced attack of run and pass, putting first downs together and moving the chains. There were also times when I think we were all asking, "What kind of play calling was that?"

Brett was very inconsistent with his throws; the running game was a non-factor and the coaching wasn't much better. We know both teams were playing without their starting tailbacks, but when Green Bay gets into the red zone, running the football has to have some priority. On Green Bay's first series inside the red zone the Packers threw three consecutive passes and ended up with a field goal. When Philadelphia got into the red zone they handed the ball off (yes, they fumbled twice at the 1-yard line, but had opportunities to score) and ran quarter back draw.

Is the running game that bad without Ahman Green? That question was answered in the final drive of the game. Aaron Rodgers was at quarterback and Green Bay had four tries to get one yard from the one yard line. What were the results? Four carries, zero yards.

Nothing special about special teams
What about the Packers special teams? Philadelphia got big returns every time their special teams touch the field, whether it was punt return or kick off return. Their cover teams were solid and the average start position for the Packers was inside the minus-30 yard line. Whenever Green Bay had a chance to make something happen, I constantly saw a player getting knocked backwards, not making the key block or not giving any effort at all.

It is imperative that special teams have an impact on the game. As a special teams coordinator, I emphasize the importance of winning two of the three phases in every football game in order to have a chance to win the game. Whether its offense and special teams, or defense and special teams, it's important that you win two of the three phases.

Green Bay special teams haven't done anything to help this organization win games. They are a non-factor.

The PAT rush team is an embarrassment to football. The effort this group gave during that particular play is awful. We shouldn't even have 11 players on the field. Just give them a free kick. That's how embarrassed I was watching Monday night.

The kick-off return team looks stagnate. As Philadelphia starting scoring there were plenty of opportunities for Green Bay to set up and work their kick returns. The Packers need to implement two or three kickoff return schemes, not just one middle return. It is important that the return team get the football back to at least the minus-35 yard line. All of the Packer returns barely cross the minus-25 yard line.

Statistics show that teams score fewer points when they have to cover longer fields. The shorter the field, the higher the scoring percentage. Special teams are a major factor in helping the offense with field position and scoring opportunities. On the other side, special teams can also help a defense with pinning the offense into a tight situation and in effect, nullifying the offenses play calling.

No excuses for poor play of secondary
The Packers defense in the first series of the game played with a high level of intensity. They forced Philadelphia into a three and out situation and even sacked McNabb on third down. The defense sacked McNabb four times Monday night and, at times, looked like they were going to compete with the Eagles for four quarters. At one point in the third quarter the Packers' secondary knocked down consecutive passes and also forced McNabb to bring the football down and run because of tight coverage. That didn't last long, as McNabb found his stroke with his receivers and the Packers secondary was exploited.

We all know the Packers secondary is struggling. If they weren't getting called for illegal chucks downfield they were getting called for holding. I wish I had an excuse for the secondary, but I don't. Right now this group coached by Kurt Schottenheimer is not performing at the level expected in the NFL. The front seven has been working their tails off to get pressure on the quarterback. There were some rush lane issues and loss of containment on the quarterback that needed to be addressed, but four sacks on McNabb is a pretty good night.

Do the little things get magnified when teams lose? Yes, they do. When professional football players and teams make mistakes that high school teams don't even make, like false starts on the first series of the game, or when they don't give 100% on every play when effort has nothing to do with talent, then those things should get magnified. That should happen, even when you win.


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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