Packers are still must-see TV

The Packers aren't going to the playoffs, but it will be interesting to watch the team grow during the final 11 games of the season,'s Steve Lawrence says.

At 1-4, the Green Bay Packers' remote playoff aspirations are about dead. But that doesn't mean there aren't good reasons to closely watch the final 11 games of the season, a stretch that kicks off Oct. 22 at Miami.

Watch the team grow. Contrast that hideous outing in the season opener against the Chicago Bears and an ugly second half in a Week 4 loss at Philadelphia with what we watched Sunday in the loss to St. Louis.

The zone-blocking scheme finally showed signs of life against the Rams. The secondary made too many errors, but it helped hold a potent Rams offense in check. The defense made two key fourth-quarter stops to give the Packers a chance to win. Greg Jennings might be in the rookie-of-the-year picture if not for the national media being in full-blown drool mode over Reggie Bush.

Who knows what Green Bay's final record will be, but you'd have to consider it a successful season if there are a lot of good vibes surrounding this team as we start to think about 2007.

Packers GM Ted Thompson has preached patience with this team. One e-mailer told me that patience was for third-graders. He's wrong. If the Packers weren't patient with Brett Favre a dozen years ago, he might have been benched in favor of Mark Brunell. There is a place for patience in the NFL. This team is a work in progress. Watch for that progress.

The coaching staff. The coaches have come under a lot of heat, and, in some cases, it's been warranted. As we watch the team's young players mature during these final 11 weeks, watch to see if this coaching staff can improve, too.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is a protégé of Jim Bates, yet the defense has taken several steps backward this season despite better personnel. Let's hope Sanders used the week off to his advantage.

Now that opposing defenses have a scouting report on what head coach Mike McCarthy and coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski like to do on offense, will they be able to zag once opposing defensive coordinators start to zig?

This bye week was a big week. The coaches know they made their share of blunders, including the defense's penchant for playing with 10 or 12 players. Now, with a week to catch their breath, let's see if they've grown into their jobs.

Ruvell Martin. Ready or not, Martin has to play as big as he is tall. With Robert Ferguson out indefinitely with an injured foot and Koren Robinson almost certain to be suspended before Ferguson is healthy, Martin, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, is going to be thrust into a huge role as the No. 3 receiver.

Veteran defenders. Is Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila worth the $5 million he's due to make next season? He's having a nice season, but should he be the third-highest paid player on the team? Al Harris squawked during the offseason about wanting a new contract, but his play has dropped considerably since last season. Is Marquand Manuel an answer at safety? Those are three big questions that demand answers in the final 11 weeks.

Hodge or Poppinga? The Packers have a promising linebacker on the bench in rookie Abdul Hodge. They also are high on another young linebacker, starter Brady Poppinga. If the Packers see a bigger upside in Hodge than Poppinga, then they'd be wise to shake up the linebacking corps now - starting Hodge means Nick Barnett would have to move to the strong side - so the trio can hit the ground running during the minicamps and training camp.

Brett Favre. Unless the coaching staff decides it's time to see if Aaron Rodgers is indeed the quarterback of the future, Favre has a chance to break Dan Marino's career record for touchdown passes. At this rate, he'll finish with 418, which is two shy of Marino's mark.

Favre in defeat showed he's far from finished at the ripe not-so-old age of 37. The staff has done a great job, with its never-ending barrage of rollouts and its use of extra blockers, of giving Favre a chance to succeed, and Favre has done a great job of reining himself in. Of his five interceptions, two came with the game hopelessly out of reach against Chicago and another came off a dropped pass against Philadelphia.

Beyond all of that, Favre's youthful exuberance after a big play never gets old. If this winds up being his final season, you'd be fool for straying from the couch during the final 11 Packers Sundays of the season.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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