The good and the concerns

Favre, Jones and Jennings, and defense shine; running game still on a milk carton

The Packers are doing something only Miami and St. Louis have done every weekend this season – taking it easy.

The Packers, however, are on a bye week, while the Dolphins and Rams have taken it easy on their opponents, losing every game they have played. Because it's the bye week for the NFC North leaders, it's time to look back at the first six weeks and look at five good things which have happened and five areas the Packers need to pick it up if they are truly a contender for the NFC title.

The NFL passing game. Brett Favre has had some spectacular games and he's needed to since the Packers' running game is on the side of a milk carton. Favre has displayed in the first six weeks what we've known all along – when he's good, the Packers win, and when he struggles, the Packers struggle. He needs to continue to play at a high level, which he has done most of the first six weeks.

The cornerbacks. Al Harris and Charles Woodson have held up on the island. This isn't new, but it's needed as much as Favre is needed to play well. With their ability to lock up receivers one-on-one, it allows defensive coordinator Bob Sanders to try other things with the nine remaining defenders. As long as these two stay healthy, expect good play the rest of the way.

Jones and Jennings. Yes, James Jones had crucial fumbles in a loss to the Bears, but his sudden effectiveness as the No. 3 receiver has been huge. He's a rookie, but just like Greg Jennings last year, he's not playing like one. As for Jennings, many whispered if he would lose his starting job to Jones when he was hurt during the early part of the season. Some questioned if he would be a factor. It didn't take long for Jennings to show his spark he had at this time last year is still there. He caught Favre's 420th TD pass, which tied the all-time record and No. 421 to set the all-time touchdown passes record. Jennings is real good and his play has only reminded us of that.

The Bears stink. Chicago is 2-4 and the defense ranks 27th in the NFL. With its offense lacking a quarterback who can lead a team week after week, the defense can't be this bad if Chicago wants to defend its division title. Good news Packers fans. With the Bears' defense looking ill, the Packers could have an easy ride to the division title.

Nick Barnett. The linebacker seems to make every play on defense. He's shooting gaps, chasing down running backs and making a run at the Pro Bowl. He has always been an energetic player who made big plays, but now he's doing it every week. Outside of the cornerbacks, Barnett has developed as a main cog on defense.

The running game. You knew this was coming. Outside of seventh-round pick DeShawn Wynn's recent play, the running game has been futile. Only Wynn averages at least 4.0 yards per carry and veteran Vernand Morency and Brandon Jackson have been injured. And when healthy, not so effective. The running game needs to improve as the weather gets worse. Throwing the ball 40-45 times in December and January is not how coach Mike McCarthy wants to play. He doesn't want to play that way in a dome, either. This will be the offense's key down the stretch. One-dimensional teams don't fare well in the playoffs.

Offensive line. The same five starters returned from 2006 and it was expected after a year in the zone-blocking system the line would only improve, making the running game become more of a factor. It hasn't happened. Even reliable tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have struggled at times, and injuries also have been a problem. Offenses are built from the inside out and right now what the Packers have inside isn't doing its job.

The schedule. After the bye, the Packers have two straight road games at Denver and Kansas City – two places never easy to play at regardless of how the home teams are doing. Also, the Packers have a Thanksgiving Day date at an improved Detroit team and the following Thursday a road game at Dallas. Also, there is a trip to Chicago to be taken. Six of their final 10 games are away from Lambeau Field, so it won't be easy down the stretch for the Packers. This is where a running game would help a lot. The less a team has to deal with pass blocking in noisy stadiums, the better off you are.

Staying confident. Against the Bears, Favre threw a bad interception and McCarthy appeared to go conservative, playing not to lose and the Packers lost. He has to remain confident in Favre, because unless the running backs pick it up, that's all he has on offense.

Health. This is a concern for any team. It's possible this is the reason the running game hasn't been good. Morency (the season-opening projected starter), Jackson (the supposed back of the future) and Wynn (talented but a tease) each have dealt with injuries. Furthermore, the offensive line is banged up with center Scott Wells out. That shakes up the line, moves people into new positions and chemistry is a huge issue on an offensive line. It's hard to run effective when the people you're counting on aren't always there.

There is the good and the concerns for the final 10 games. Because the division isn't strong, the Packers should be able to weather any storm it meets. Still, improvement in some areas is necessary for a run in the postseason.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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