Commentary: Rossley deserves another chance

Living in Green Bay means the Packers are the main topic of conversation 365 days a year. Flip on a radio sports talk show and chances are the announcers are talking about the Packers. It's all Packers all the time. They don't call it Titletown for nothing, baby!<p>

These days the subject of most barbs aimed at the Packers is offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. If there is a scapegoat for the Packers' faster than expected exit from the playoffs this year it is Rossley.

Most people want Rossley out of the picture because of his questionable play-calling, especially late in the season. That's when the Packers stumbled to score just 10 points against the Buffalo Bills, 17 against the New York Jets and seven against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Wild Card game.

There indeed were times when the Packers' offense became predictible with little creativity. That was especially frustrating after the Packers averaged 29.7 points per game through their first nine games. At that point, the Packers were 8-1 and Rossley was not a household name in Green Bay.

But injuries to a handful of starters forced the Packers to change their offensive attack in the second half of the season. The offensive line was hurting without its two starting tackles. Running back Ahman Green was playing through a knee injury as was guard Marco Rivera and center Frank Winters. The Packers were beat up physically and averaged just 17.3 points in their final eight games as a result. Rossley became the scapegoat.

For a team that won 12 games despite injuries to key starters on offense and defense, and lackluster special teams units, it's a little premature to point the finger at the offensive coordinator. Remember, the Packers have won 33 games in the last three years under the play-calling of Rossley and Mike Sherman, 34 if you count a playoff win last year. That's a Lombardi-like pace in a much more balanced league now than in the late 1950s and early '60s.

The Rossley doubters out there need to look at the big picture. The Packers' coaching staff got as much as it could from its younger backups, but at times the team was very limited on offense because of new personnel. It's tough to run a play when a backup misses a blocking assignment, or runs the wrong way on a pass route. It's hard to blame the coordinator for that.

Sure, there were some plays called by Rossley in the final two or three games that came under heavy scrutiny, and rightfully so. The team ran draws out of the shotgun formation. Or it passed on third and one. The shovel pass never worked, but the Packers always seemed to use it once or twice a game. Those definitely are questionable calls. At the same time, if there is a lack of execution by any of the 11 players on the field, it's difficult to be successful on any one play. With backups in the lineup, total execution is less likely.

The Packers' offense featured four Pro Bowl players, five if you count the versatile Mike Flanagan, who probably would have made the Pro Bowl if he had played center all season. Favre passed for more than 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns and the team averaged just under 25 points per game. Those are very good numbers.

Donald Driver's shoulder injury was a big blow to the offense line the final two games as was running back Najeh Davenport's season-ending eye injury in November. The absence of Davenport, a tailback/fullback, left the Packers with little punch, particularly in short yardage situations when Green was hobbled. Driver gutted it out in the playoff game against Atlanta, but he was clearly limited because of the shoulder injury.

Believe it or not, the Packers have a good thing going with their offense behind Rossley. And don't forget that Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks' offensive coordinator in 1999, has a big hand in the play-calling as well. If the offensive line can get back to normal and stay healthy next season, and the younger receivers get a little more comfortable with Favre, the offense should be able to pick up where it left off after the first nine games of this year.

There is no reason for Sherman to replace Rossley. Continuity at this point and a little better luck with injuries is all the Packers need to improve their productivity.

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