I can recollect the days of the media writing about the failures of past opening day games and the ineptness of our football team for the upcoming season. In the meantime, coaches and players had the feeling that with hustle, concentration and lack of mental mistakes, we had a chance to win. That happened on Sunday.
The defense started by playing aggressive up the middle forcing quarterback Donovan McNabb to roll out of the pocket and honestly to his strength. McNabb is not the scrambler that he used to be and the Packers challenged the Eagles, counting on the speed of linebackers Brady Poppinga, A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett running him down from the inside out.
The one thing missing was safety support. I know it looks ugly with alleys or running lanes opening up, but it is by design. When that hole opens up the safety should be there right with his ‘Riddell' making the hit. Both safeties were fooled by play-action at times throughout the day and were reluctant to attack the line of scrimmage on run support. There were times when safety Atari Bigby was some 20 yards downfield on the snap of the ball. In obvious passing situation, yes, but not all the time. He's too good of an athlete to give in. You never want to take away a player's aggressive style of play, but more film study of the offensive lineman sets and earlier recognition of pass versus run and he'll be making better plays nearer the line of scrimmage resulting in fewer first downs.
Veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher appeared to have had the worst games of their professional careers. They were ran by, manhandled and embarrassed. Coach McCarthy keeps reassuring us that we have the talent to run the zone blocking scheme, but I have my doubts after watching Clifton trying to cut the aging but still athletic Jevon Kearse. What's frustrating is that they proved late last year and during the preseason that this scheme can work. I just hope that it's not going to take all year before they finally get it right.
Emotions are rampant in all phases of football, but more so in special teams. The Eagles returner, J.R. Reed, before going out onto the field was told not to let the ball hit the ground so they wouldn't lose precious field position. Trying to help his team win he makes a grave mistake and costs his team a chance to win, and maybe his job.
Throw in the hustle of Jarrett Bush and rest of the coverage unit earlier in the game, along with the attitude of "it's mine until the referee takes it away from me" of Tracy White, and the touchdown scored gave the Packers a great opportunity to win on opening day on national television at Lambeau Field.
Former safety Johnnie Gray played for the Packers from 1975-84. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.