Opening the 2007 regular season against the Eagles on Sunday at Lambeau Field, a predictable script written in the preseason played out for the Packers. That script included what most Packers' fans feared – an offense lacking firepower with a special teams player who might just be the best scoring option.
"There's no way we can win games like that week in a week out. We have to help those guys out," said quarterback and offensive leader Brett Favre after a 16-13 victory. "That's no secret. We have to score points, and we have to keep them off the field."
When rookie kicker Mason Crosby's 42-yard field goal attempt sailed through the uprights with two seconds remaining, the Packers took advantage of an inexplicable late special teams blunder by the Eagles for a gift-wrapped win. The euphoria of the moment may have sent the Lambeau Field faithful into celebration, but the home fans (and head coach Mike McCarthy for that matter) also know there is much work to be done for an offense searching for answers. The unit must get better and needs to get more out of its personnel to help the other two units of the team. If it can do that, the chance to compete for a playoff spot looks a little more likely.
At the root of the Packers' offensive woes is a running game that appears to be going nowhere fast. With three rookies – Brandon Jackson, Korey Hall, and DeShawn Wynn – manning the backfield on Sunday, the Packers essentially abandoned the running game in favor of the pass. It was a game plan contrived out of necessity. The Packers finished with just 46 yards on 17 carries.
"I thought it was inconsistent," said McCarthy of the running game. "Early in the game, the communication that I was getting was that we weren't cutting, or this guy was getting beat and so forth… We have some work to do. I've said it before the last couple of weeks, when you don't commit to the run game, it's a little hard to be critical of it. We came into this game throwing the ball. That was our mindset. Running it to win was the game plan. So we're going to get that part done. We have work to do. It's always great to push harder after a win and we're going to push harder on offense, I can promise you that this week."
Inasmuch as youth might be expected to struggle early in the year, the Packers' coaching staff needs to be more creative and heady to take control of a tight game. Here are some suggestions which might provide some help starting next Sunday at New York against the Giants:
1. Get Vernand Morency and Greg Jennings back – SOON. Yes, injuries are essentially out of the coaching staff's control, but without a starting back and a starting receiver, the Packers showed they have virtually no chance of finding the end zone. The Packers have been vague with Morency's knee injury which forced him to miss all of the preseason, but McCarthy said on Sunday that Morency is working through some "unresolved soreness." It looks like he, along with Greg Jennings, have a chance to return against the Giants. Jennings injured his hamstring on Thursday, bad enough to keep him out.
When both players return, the Packers have to find ways to put them in play-making situations. They are two of a small list of players on the team who can make something happen.
2. Be more proactive with Crosby at all times. Crosby, the Packers' sixth-round pick, hit three-of-three field goals in his first game after winning a tight kicking competition over Dave Rayner in training camp. The Packers seem to have all the faith in the world in Crosby and need to better maximize his opportunities.
"He's never blinked," said McCarthy shortly after the game. "I thought his mental toughness was clearly something that was evident through that time (kicking competition) and I think he showed it today. I had full confidence in him obviously the way we played that series."
While the Packers essentially put the game in Crosby's hands running three times after the Eagles' J.R. Reed muffed a short punt with 59 seconds left in the game, on at least two other occasions they were careless and missed scoring opportunities for their kicker.
In the first quarter, from the Eagles' 38-yard line on a third-and-two, instead of safely trying to run for a first down, the Packers' offense went into pass mode. Favre looked deep down the middle for Bubba Franks and was intercepted by Sheldon Brown. Even had they not gotten a first down via a running play, allowing a Crosby an attempt at a 54 or 55-yard field goal would have given the Packers a better chance at some more points.
Then, at the end of the first half, the Packers mismanaged the clock, costing Crosby another long attempt. After Favre was sacked by Montae Reagor at the Eagles' 47-yard line, the Packers used their last timeout with 11 seconds remaining. Instead of letting the clock run down to a few seconds and giving Crosby a 65-yard attempt, a meaningless completion to Jackson down the middle of the field allowed the clock to expire. Certainly Crosby would have made the kick of his life at 65 yards, but because it was the end of the half, trying it was worth a shot. If Crosby has the leg everyone says he has, it needs to be used as a weapon.
3. Use Carlyle Holiday's talents. Holiday, the No. 5 receiver, saw limited action, but should be used more as a versatile weapon. Holiday played some quarterback in college and could be a valuable play-maker on gadget plays and in certain packages. It would be nice to see Holiday on a reverse or an option pass not just once or twice a season, but once or twice a game. Not only could it provide a badly-needed spark or momentum-changer, it would give future opponents something to think about.
4. Stick with the no-huddle. The Packers started the game with a quick or no-huddle offense, but because they were unsuccessful moving the ball, it may not have been quite as noticeable. Still, if the Packers implement more no-huddle, they will have a better chance to put points on the board. They seem to work better with some type of tempo and rhythm and have an offensive line that is fit enough to keep up with a fast pace. Furthermore, Favre seems to enjoy operating in a "two-minute" type situation, so why not give him more chances? The Packers' offense certainly has nothing to lose.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.