Game commentary

Let's state the bottom line first: The Green Bay Packers are 2-1 heading into Sunday's home game at Lambeau Field against the undefeated Carolina Panthers. That and Brett Favre's outstanding performance against the blitzing Detroit Lions' defense gives the Packers a silver lining to a very hollow winning record thus far.<p>

Other than that, the Packers (2-1) have some big-time problems to fix, starting – again – with their defense and special teams. Those two areas nearly cost the Packers a humiliating setback to the lowly Lions Sunday at brand new Ford Field in Detroit. If those two areas do not improve in a hurry, this will be a playoff-less season for a team picked by many to be NFL champs.

Through three games the Packers have been playing like chumps in two of the three major areas of a football team. Despite a 34-17 lead with 10 minutes left in the game, the defense was unable to land a kill shot on the Lions until 30 seconds remained when cornerback Tod McBride hauled in an overthrown pass by rookie quarterback Joey Harrington. On the play prior to that, Lions' tight end Mikhael Ricks was unable to hold onto a long Harrington pass in the end zone that could have won the game.

Phew.

If the Packers had the ball any less than 38 minutes, 54 seconds in the game, it is obvious that Green Bay, which has surrendered 100 points already in three games, simply would have given up even more points.

Again, it was much of the same story for the defense: Lack of emotion, poor communication in the defensive backfield, shoddy outside containment on run plays, and surrendering too many explosive plays. Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman says an explosive play is a run of 12 or more yards and a pass of 16 or more yards. Green Bay gave up six explosive plays against the New Orleans Saints in a 35-20 loss on Sept. 15. The Packers gave up four explosive plays to the Lions, but you could add a fifth by penalty when linebacker Na'il Diggs was flagged for a 21-yard pass interference penalty on Ricks in the end zone, setting up a touchdown that closed the Lions to 34-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

So make it an unofficial 11 explosive plays in two games. The Packers' defense is getting shelled.

After a woeful performance against the New Orleans Saints a week earlier, Sherman stuck with his starters on defense against the Lions. Green Bay got off to a good start on defense Sunday, forcing the Lions to punt on their first two possessions, but after giving up 271 yards to the Lions, maybe its time the Packers shake things up a little bit on the defensive unit.

Sherman declined to make any major changes on defense for Sunday's game, but it is very apparent that the Packers are getting next to nothing from some prized free agent acquisitions this season in linebacker Hardy Nickerson and defensive end Joe Johnson. Nickerson had just three tackles against the Lions and those didn't come until late in the fourth quarter. Johnson again was rarely seen around the ball.

Maybe it's time to work second-year fireball Torrance Marshall into the lineup in place of Nickerson for some added punch at linebacker. Maybe it's time the Packers give rookie defensive end Aaron Kampman a shot in place of Johnson for a quarter or two. At this rate, what would that hurt?

Maybe it's time the Packers give rookie Marques Anderson, who had an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery, a shot at playing safety, or at least more time in passing defenses. The only reason Anderson suited up was because second-year pro Bhawoh Jue, who is the top backup at cornerback behind Tyrone Williams, was unable to play because of a sprained ankle. But Anderson made the most of it and certainly earned the right for more playing time.

As for special teams, enough with the excuses. The excuse for giving up kickoff returns in each of the final two preseason games was that it was because of new personnel ... that the coverage units would improve once the Packers utilize players on a regular basis. But, again, it seems that a new player on each kick or punt coverage unit blows containment enough to give an opponent a good runback or touchdown.

The Lions completely fooled the Packers on the 72-yard punt reverse early in the game to Az-Zahir Hakim that gave Detroit a 7-0 lead.

After the Packers took what seemed to be a commanding 34-17 early in the fourth quarter, the kickoff coverage team allowed Detroit's Larry Foster to ramble 50 yards to set up a touchdown.

The kicker on special teams came in the final two minutes when the Packers were penalized twice on the kickoff for offsides. That's unexcusable.

What to do? Maybe it's time to make a change with the special teams coach. Frank Novak, for whatever reason, is not getting his point across to the players on the coverage units. Granted injuries to starters will give Novak fits because of the ripple effect, forcing him to make personnel moves on the run during games. But Novak and the rest of the coaching staff need to take a much closer look at these units and regroup, whether it's player or coaching personnel.

You would think that beating the Lions and gaining a tie for first in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears would be cause for celebration. Instead there is cause for concern.


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