Packers must win this bye week

While the Packers don't play, Mike McCarthy and his staff have a critical week in front of them. The offense is sputtering and the defense has issues, too, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

Traditionally, the Packers have been a better team after the bye than before it. Since 2000, the Packers sport a 43-24 (.641 winning percentage) record after their mini-vacation compared to a 22-23 mark (.489) before it.

In six of those seven seasons — including last year, when the Packers were 1-4 before the bye but finished 8-8 — the Packers' post-bye record has been better than their pre-bye ledger.

That sounds like a good omen for a team that enters this bye with a surprising 5-1 record, though I'm never sure how much stock to put in such things.

What I am sure of is the Packers have plenty of work to do if they want to stay atop the NFC. The onus will fall on the coaches, since Mike McCarthy sent the players home for the week.

Barring Anthony Munoz coming out of retirement, turning back the clock 20 years and signing with the Packers or Brandon Jackson going to bed one night and waking up the next morning as Adrian Peterson, don't expect any miracles to salvage a pitiful running game. But, there are some things the Packers can do to offset that problem the best they can.

For instance, I can't remember the last time the Packers ran a good-looking screen play. That play was a staple of the Mike Holmgren offenses of the 1990s, and was especially useful during his first couple of seasons, when his teams couldn't run, either.

Once during Sunday's game, the Packers' linemen didn't pass-block long enough before sprinting to the flank to be the convoy. Sometimes, the timing between the linemen and the back has been off. Other times, the back started to run before he caught the ball.

When the Packers get back to the practice field next week, Jackson should be fully recovered from a shin injury, meaning the Packers will be overloaded in the backfield. McCarthy and Co. must figure out each back's strengths, and taylor the offense to suit their talents. Giving each back a tightly defined role with a short list of plays should increase their comfort level.

Jackson, for instance, showed some skills as a receiver during the preseason. A two-back set with Jackson or Vernand Morency with DeShawn Wynn could offer some interesting possibilities, as would a three-back set with Jackson, Morency and Wynn. Neither grouping could be a staple of the offense, but it could be a nice change-up a couple times a game.

Then there's Ryan Grant, who Ted Thompson acquired for a sixth-round pick before the opener. Thompson loves draft picks as much as Mikey loved Life cereal, so there must be something Grant can do to help the offense, as well.

Offensive line coach James Campen says he's going to spend his bye week trying to cure his group's problems. Too bad his linemen aren't staying with him. Still, with a few days to step back without the weekly game-planning crunch, maybe he can find enough answers to turn the Packers' running game from horrible to at least adequate.

Certainly, part of his task this week will be finding a starting five. Due to injuries, the Packers have started seven guys up front this season. Campen must find a winning combination.

There are problems in the passing game, as well. Brett Favre has played six consecutive subpar quarters. Defenses have taken away Donald Driver, and James Jones didn't catch a pass against Washington. Clearly, defenses have countered McCarthy's short-passing game. McCarthy needs to find some answers, especially to get the ball to Driver, who's deadly in the open field.

Defensively, the Packers enter the bye on a high. The obvious chink in the armor, however, has been their play against opposing tight ends, and that challenge will continue after the bye against Denver's Daniel Graham and then Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez. A few weeks after that, for a possible showdown with Dallas, the Packers will face Jason Witten.

This is a big problem for defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. His solutions to stop Chris Cooley in the second half last week — double teams and sometimes matching him up against cornerback Charles Woodson — present problems of their own, and replacing Brady Poppinga with a fifth defensive back significantly weakens a strong run defense.

The bad news entering the bye is also the good news. At 5-1, the Packers have plenty of flaws. The question is, will those flaws catch up with them, or can McCarthy and his staff find enough smoke, mirrors and gauze this week so the Packers can finish with 11 or 12 wins?

The Packers don't play this week. They must win, anyway.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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