Want good news? Packers are 2-1

Who wouldn't have taken 2-1 a month ago, when there were more questions than answers? Even without Al Harris, the future looks bright for this year's team, Packer Report's Bill Huber says.

The Packers are coming off a loss against in which they were outclassed by the Dallas Cowboys.

Certainly, as a Packers fan, the loss was a tough one to swallow, knowing that Green Bay seems at least a couple of steps behind an elite club like the Cowboys.

But sometimes, it's helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture. Looking back a month ago, when the offense was sputtering under first-year starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the preseason, who wouldn't have gladly taken a 2-1 record through three games?

Didn't the Vikings seem imposing three weeks ago, with a rampaging Adrian Peterson on offense and a tough-talking Jared Allen joining an already-strong defense prepared to crash Rodgers' first-start party?

Didn't that game at Detroit — where even Brett Favre posted a career losing record — seem a bit scary, being sandwiched between the Minnesota and Dallas games?

So, all things considered, 2-1 and first place in the NFC North isn't so bad.

Especially when those things to consider include:

Ryan Grant's hamstring problems have reduced his explosiveness and availability. He looked more like his old self against the Cowboys, though.

— Center Scott Wells missed the first three games. As long as his back is finally healthy this time, his insertion back into the starting lineup means the Packers' five best offensive linemen finally will be together.

— Nobody in the Packers' locker room will use it as an excuse, but the secondary was riddled with injuries against Dallas. Starting cornerback Al Harris departed with what turned out to be a ruptured spleen. Fellow starting cornerback Charles Woodson is playing on a broken toe. Starting safety Atari Bigby missed the game with a hamstring injury. The other starting safety, Nick Collins, missed about half of the game with a bruised back. Is it any wonder they gave up a few big plays?

Of course, losing Harris for the season, which seems likely given Chris Simms' history with a similar injury, would be a major blow. Sure, Harris couldn't handle Plaxico Burress in the NFC title game, but even at 33, he remains an upper-echelon NFL cornerback.

But at least the Packers have some options at that position. The Packers would be lucky to win four games if someone like Rodgers or defensive tackle Ryan Pickett went down for the season, because there is no depth at those positions.

Likely getting the first crack to replace Harris will be Tramon Williams, who at 5-foot-11 and 25 years old lacks Harris' height and veteran guile. While he's given up a couple of big plays, including a killer touchdown against the Cowboys, the Packers like his skill and aggressiveness. He spent plenty of time against Terrell Owens and did a fine job.

Next in line would be Will Blackmon, who at 6-foot-1 has Harris' height and is perhaps the defense's best athlete. A couple of injury-plagued seasons, however, marred his progress at the position. Rookie Pat Lee, who showed flashes of ability during the preseason, also could get into the mix.

The bad news, obviously, is none of those guys are as good as Harris. The good news is there's 13 regular-season games remaining for a player like Williams, Blackmon, Lee or even Jarrett Bush to grow into a legit NFL starting cornerback, because with or without Harris, the Packers look like the class of the division.

The NFL, after all, is a quarterback-driven league, and as most of us suspected all along, the Packers still have the division's top quarterback. Plus, aside from Seattle and Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks before the bye, the Packers won't face another big-time quarterback until Nov. 24 at New Orleans. That's plenty of time for the new secondary to mesh.

The bigger problem than losing Harris might be the league's worst run defense in terms of yards allowed per attempt. Without Harris, the safeties likely will have to focus just a bit more on the pass, which will further exacerbate the problem.

But that's an issue for another day. The Packers, with all of their issues, are 2-1 and with plenty of room to improve.

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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