Lombardi blog: September edition

Thoughts on the Packers offense and defense as it prepares for the opener

September 7, 2007
Lay of the Land - Defense
Here is an analysis of the Packers defense:

Defensive Line
A few years ago, this position was not so much a weakness but a distraction. Cletidius Hunt, Jamal Reynolds and Joe Johnson were notorious busts. Surprisingly it currently appears to be the strongest position on the team. I read somewhere where a pundit claimed that Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman could combine for 30 sacks. When was the last time two Packer players combined for so many sacks? Maybe back before they kept sacks as a stat (in 1982). But since then it has not happened. In 1989, Tim Harris had 19.5 sacks. The next highest guy had three. In 1998, Reggie White had 16 and Vonnie Holliday had eight. Last year Kampman had 15.5 and Corey Williams had seven. Throw in KGB on passing downs and pressure could be the word of the day on Sundays around Green Bay.

I do not have the Elias Sports Bureau backing me up but I looked it up. These results are unofficial of course, but the Chargers' Shawne Merriman with 17 and Shaun Phillips with 11.5 came close last year. The Dolphins Trace Armstrong with 16.5 and Jason Taylor with 14.5 in 2000 were the last tandem to do it.

In the interior line, Ryan Pickett, Williams, Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole and others all combine for a formidable run stopping combo. As Williams demonstrated last year, they can also get some pressure up the middle in passing situations. The only disappointment is first round draft pick Justin Harrill, who has not impressed. Give him time I keep telling myself.

Linebacker
The three starters Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga are solid. Not spectacular but they are a good trio of linebackers. The concern here is depth. The Packers went deep at D-line and DB and that leaves them thin at Linebacker. Pray that nobody gets seriously injured. Tracy White and the rookie Desmond Bishop are not ready for full time action. Maybe Korey Hall can go both ways?

Defensive Backs
There are four questions that need to be answered at this position:

1. Can Al Harris and Charles Woodson keep defying mother nature and the injury bug and continue to play at a high level? If the answer is yes, then all is good. If not, look out.

2. Did Atari Bigby all of a sudden develop into a NFL starting safety, or were the Jets and Dolphins who cut him in the past just dumb? Will he be an upgrade from Marquand Manuel?

3. Will Nick Collins play like he did as a promising rookie or like last year when he was frankly a liability?

4. Who will the nickle corner end up being and can he be counted on? Will it be Jarrett Bush, Will Blackmon or maybe Frank Walker? Because of their stoutness against the run and perceived weakness at safety, teams will throw the ball against the Packers and the nickel and dime defenses will see a lot of action.

Answer those questions and we can know if this unit will be any good. Last year, it was solid on the edge and weak in the middle.

Overall, the defense is the stronger unit on the team and will be counted on to keep games close. All of this is pointless unless the team can avoid the mental errors it made last year.

Substitution problems, communication breakdowns and the like must be avoided at all costs. Assistant Head Coach Winston Moss and Coordinator Bob Sanders will be on the hot seat if these problems persist into the meat of the season.

September 6, 2007
Lay of the Land
Given that the season is only a few days away, let us take a look at the roster. First the offense:

Quarterback
Brett Favre still has it and as long as he stays upright, which is not guaranteed, he is good enough to still win games. His only weakness is his propensity for comitting turnovers and if he can limit that, the Packers have a chance.

Favre's quick release and escapability will be needed because the with young running backs and a young interior offensive line, he will get some heat. Aaron Rodgers looked good in action this summer, but hopefully he will carry a clipboard for at least another year.

Running Back
The Packers will more than likely start two rookies, Brandon Jackson and a converted linebacker Korey Hall on Sunday. Running back is the one position where a rookie can make an immediate impact but this is not ideal. Are any of the teams that the Packers play going to worry about Jackson or Vernand Morency (assuming he shakes his injury)? It is axiomatic that you cannot win in the NFL with a subpar running game. To have more than a mediocre season, the Packers will have to improve here.

Pass protection is one of the things that young running backs struggle with. Keeping in a tight end like last year to help on passing downs really limits the offense's opportunities.

Tight End
Bubba Franks looked better than in the past in the pre-season and Donald Lee shows flashes here and there, but this is still an area of weakness until Franks or Lee proves otherwise. I assume that they will add another body here. Franks is still solid as a blocker.

Offensive Line
The tackle positions are pretty good with Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. I like Scott Wells. Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz should get better, but the Packers inability to run the ball falls on the line's shoulders as much as the backs. I have heard the explaination that the game plan was vanilla and once the regular season starts, they should do better but I will wait and see. I do not see alot of depth, so pray for healthy guys. Like I wrote above, Favre makes these guys look good in pass pro with his amazingly quick release.

Receivers
Assuming Donald Driver is healthy, this could be a position of strength. Driver is as good as they come. Greg Jennings was sort of invisible during the preseason, but he should show up and James Jones looked very good in all four games.

Summary
Favre is still a top quality NFL QB and the receivers will be more than adequate. If Coach McCarthy can work in the tight end, anything is possible. The running game will hold this team back unless the young guys develop, but even then, adequate is about all a fan can hope for. It looks like the team will have to throw the ball to be comptetitive and to paraphrase Woody Hayes, "When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad."

Being one dimensional is never a good thing to be and if the pressure gets to Favre, he tends to press and that is when he takes too many chances.


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.

Lombardi blog archives:
August 2007 edition
July 2007 edition
June 2007 edition
May 2007 edition
April 2007 edition
March 2007 edition


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