Packers having fun and winning

Players go on instincts and adrenaline; why Grant is vital to beating Lions, says PackerReport.com correspondent Tyler Dunne

Maybe Brett Favre can't ‘Crank that Soulja Boy' with his 24-year-old teammates. To him, Superman is a noun. Not a verb.

Heck, when Favre was that young (as 24 of his teammates are), fantasy football scores were calculated by hand, the Internet was in its infancy and George Bush Sr. was our nation's president.

So why is this 38-year-old prancing around the field, leaping into linemen's arms and flingin' the ball with the velocity of a NFL Combine spectacle? Shouldn't a 10-plus year generation gap hinder the progress of the NFL's youngest team? Wasn't Favre the scratch on a CD bound for a five-year project under Aaron Rodgers?

No, and not anytime soon.

This CD has only skipped once in 10 games and the song is lasting longer than anyone expected. The Packers entire team is playing with nothing to lose, a credo Favre has lived by for 17 seasons. On the field, age is only a number and Favre is the perfect leader for a batch of inexperienced, energetic, win-hungry 20-somethings.

Look at last Sunday's matinee at Lambeau.

Special teams units formed mini mosh pits during media timeouts before kickoffs, bopping to any song blasting the speakers.

In the first quarter Tramon Williams immediately faded back into punt coverage when John Kasey took a direct snap for a pooch punt, didn't think twice about picking up the bouncing ball and raced 94 yards for the score. Five months ago Williams was a practice hero that barely anyone expected to make the team.

Relegated to the depths of the running back depth chart, Vernand Morency could have easily asked for a trade as Detroit's Tatum Bell reportedly did. Instead, he is relishing a special teams kamikaze role. Sunday he unloaded every ounce of his 212 pounds into Carolina's Ryne Robinson on a third quarter return, sending the rookie airborne. Morency then clenched his fists together, tilted an imaginary baseball bat behind his head and belted an imaginary pitch into the crowd.

As our dads told us before every pee wee football game, "Just have fun."

The pre-kick dancing will subside after a slap-on-the-wrist warning from an official during the Carolina game, but a freelance mentality is set in the Packers' genetics. Green Bay is playing on instincts and adrenaline rather than overanalyzing and hesitation.

And it has Favre ecstatic.

"This is the most relaxed, care-free team I've ever been on," Favre said. "That's the way I play. That's the way I am before a game. That's the way I am during the course of the week. I like to joke around and have a good time but I get very nervous when I see other guys doing that, especially young guys. I think it's a great way to approach a game but I think you have to know what you're doing…obviously, they're doing something right."

If there is one team that always has fun on one day of the year, regardless of their record and regardless of their talent it is the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. To avoid a 2003 repeat, when the 3-8 Lions upset the 6-5 Packers 22-14, Green Bay's loose hinges must remain oiled. As the team's national exposure increases and expectations rise each week, the team's uninhibited style of play will be tested.

Playing with no pressure starts with Favre. A first quarter touchdown pass and a leap into Mark Tauscher's arms would set the tone on the scoreboard and in the subconsciousness of every player.

Here are some other keys to reaching a double-digit win total for the ninth time in 13 seasons:

The ‘Iron Triangle,' Ryan Grant and Play Action
No, not Japan's political structure. Usually it is equilibrium. Sometimes, scalene. Either way, the Iron Triangle is posing match-up problems.

At Denver four weeks ago, Mike McCarthy began toying with a three-back set in which fullback John Kuhn joins Korey Hall and Ryan Grant in the backfield. Lined up in a triangle behind Brett Favre, the trio has been punishing defenses- something the Packers running game couldn't do in their first six games.

Essentially, Kuhn replaces a tight end in the package. Rather than starting the play on the line as Donald Lee, Bubba Franks or Ryan Krause would, the extra 3-5 yards of depth gives Kuhn and Hall a running start to pick off linebackers. And anyone who believes the 50 pounds difference between a back and a tight end is a detriment to blocking should simply rewind Maurice Jones-Drew's pancake of Shawne Merriman.

Like Kuhn, Grant also has a running start in the Iron Triangle. Rather than handing off, Favre often pitches the ball to Grant in this set. This allows the downhill second year back to gain acceleration before crashing into a lane, while also avoiding exchange problems (see: fumbles at Minnesota and Kansas City). For a back that dances such as Brandon Jackson or Morency, this package wouldn't be nearly as efficient. Grant runs as if he is sprinting down an escalator with his shoulder pads low, ready for violence. Similar to the Packers' U-71 running package in 2003-04 with extra lineman Kevin Barry, the triple-back set perfectly fits the personnel.

"He seems to fit in well with what we're trying to do," Favre said. "He runs hard. I think all of our guys run hard, but I mean, he runs hard."

Grant sprained his ankle against Carolina, but it looks like he'll be good to go against Detroit's eighth ranked rush defense that only surrenders 98 yards per game. McCarthy said Grant "seems to be doing OK," after Wednesday's walk through.

His presence will be crucial alone. Defenses are beginning to respect the Packers running game as evident by the Packers third offensive drive against the Panthers. A play-action fake to Grant duped Carolina's ‘D' (and the camera man), allowing Donald Driver to cut into his post route wide open for a 47-yard gain. Five plays later, at Carolina's four-yard line, Favre's play fake to Grant froze nickel back Richard Marshall and the quarterback hit Greg Jennings on a delayed slant for the touchdown.

Defenses can no longer sit nine of their 11 defenders back into coverage. Game-by-game, the Packers become a little more smashmouth and a little more balanced.

In their first six games, the Packers passed 247 times with only 121 runs - a 33/67 run/pass ratio. In the last four games, they've passed 139 times and ran on 113 plays, good for a 45/55 ratio. The balance has helped the Packers control the clock and use play action plays more wisely. Early in the season, a poor rushing attack depreciated play action, which McCarthy used more often than he'd like.

With Grant, its value is back. Rather than using play action every possession, McCarthy turns to it when DB's begin creeping up and he wants to go for the jugular i.e. a fourth quarter 44-yard bomb to Driver over the Kansas City's Ty Law and Bernard Pollard… a goal line fake to Grant off left tackle, putting lead in the shoes of Minnesota's Chad Greenway and Tank Williams…and of course, Favre's 82-yard sideline rainbow to Jennings in overtime at Denver - arguably the Packers' season turning point from a ‘good' team to a ‘great' team.

It will be tempting to stay in the shotgun against Detroit's 30th ranked pass defense. Donovan McNabb (381 yards, 4 TD), Josh McCown (313, 2), Jeff Garcia (316, 2) and Jason Campbell (248, 2) all had sandlot field days against Detroit.

So can Favre. But it starts with a healthy Ryan Grant tipping the first domino. Balance in all aspects of the game is vital against the Lions, who will play especially spirited on Thanksgiving.

After all, you can't eat Turducken without turkey, duck and chicken.

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University and a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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