Grading the Packers: Offense gets B

There is no statistical ranking for slow-starting offenses in the National Football League, but if there was, the Green Bay Packers would rank right down there with other sluggish attacks. The Packers showed early on this season an ability to put points on the board but as injuries mounted later in the season, the Packers struggled, especially early in games.<p>

While the Packers dominated opponents in the second and third quarters of games this season, they were outscored 69-50 in the first quarter during the regular season and 14-0 by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. The Packers were unable to score a touchdown on their opening series in their final 10 games overall, scoring a field goal just once.

Much of the problem for the Packers' inability to advance the football was its low third-down conversion percentage. The Packers converted 38.7% of their third downs in the regular season. Of the top 12 offenses in the NFL (the Packers were 12th), only the Denver Broncos were worse at 38.1% in that key category.

"You say, 'Well why didn't you convert third down?'" said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "I wish I had an exact answer for you. You have to understand this year, one problem was in my mind, Ahman Green was not 100% healthy. Last year he played 81% of the snaps. This year he played 63% of the snaps. He wasn't always out there on third down. (We) were trying to take some of the pressure off of him.

"I really felt when Najeh Davenport was injured it was a direct hit on us during the second half of the season. I felt comfortable that he could take some of those hits off of us. We have a young undrafted rookie (Tony Fisher) who did that as well, did a nice job, but I felt that we lacked depth there and consistency. We were changing players up, we had injuries when Chad Clifton went down. You move your center to left tackle ... there were a lot of issues in calling plays that you had to be aware of – who was on the field and what you could and could not do. In the last ballgame, Fisher was the only tailback left. There have been times when Ahman Green could not go back out on the field during the course of the season because of injury and whatnot. That all played a part in that as well as our lack of our ability to convert, the juggling of players. That all played a part in it."

The Packers lost both of their starting tackles – Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton – to season-ending injuries during the season. Wide receiver Terry Glenn suffered migraines after a blow to the head that he took in the season opener against Atlanta, and quarterback Brett Favre was slowed by knee and ankle injuries in the second half of the season. Green suffered a badly bruised knee on Dec. 1 against Chicago. He also missed a game in September at Detroit because of a knee injury. Davenport suffered a season-ending eye injury on Nov. 17 at Minnesota. Wide receiver Donald Driver (shoulder), guard Marco Rivera (knee), and center Frank Winters (knee) played through injuries.

So, the dropoff point production early on in games this season can be linked to injuries. But the Packers also have come under heavy criticism from Packers media and fans for their play-calling during those early series. Sherman feels that the injuries and the shuffling of players on offense affected the play-calling. Therefore, he doesn't plan to dismiss offensive coordinator Tom Rossley of his play-calling duties nor will he take on more responsibility in that area.

"I am very confident in it," Sherman said of the play calling. "You have no idea the frustration of the multitude of who's in the game, who's healthy, who's not, who do we have? Who can practice? Who can't practice on a Wednesday or Thursday? Who did the red zone? ... There are a number of times when we can't get guys out there because of the injuries until a Thursday or Friday practice and therefore your repetitions and introduction to the game plan is hampered a little bit. With the coaching, you have to overcome that."

Despite the injuries, the Packers averaged a respectable 347.5 yards per game, 12th among NFL teams. Green Bay was sixth overall in scoring at 24.9 points per game. The Packers were 12th in rushing (120.8 yards per game) and 10th in the NFL in passing (226.7 yards per game).

There are a lot of positives for the Packers offense in the upcoming season. Brett Favre will be back along with an upgraded receiving core. Ahman Green and tight end Bubba Franks each were named to their second straight Pro Bowl this season. And the offensive line, if it can stay healthy, has the potential to be one of the best the league has to offer next season.

If there is a silver lining to the injuries, it is that the Packers discovered reliable backups that have the potential to start like tackle in Kevin Barry, wide receiver Robert Ferguson, and running backs Fisher and Davenport.

Overall the Packers' offense was not excellent nor was it below average, thus earning a grade of B.

On Tuesday grades the Packers defense.

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