From Tortoise to Hare at Start

After scoring just 13 points on their opening drives last season, the offense has been dominant at the beginning of their three preseason games. What's the difference? We've got the inside info from Joe Philbin and Aaron Rodgers.

The 2008 Packers will be remembered as the team that went 0-7 in games decided by four points or less.

But it wasn't so much how they ended those games as how they started them. In the seven four-points-or-less defeats, Green Bay scored 10 first-quarter points. On their opening drive in those games, the Packers scored three points and punted six times.

Overall, the Packers scored a woeful 13 points on their first possessions last season. Only the 0-16 Lions, who scored 10 points on their 16 opening drives, did worse. The Packers' 61 first-quarter points tied for 20th in the league and 14th in the NFC. They scored more seven points in the first quarter only once all season — against Detroit in the finale.

We dredge up this horrible history in light of the Packers' red-hot starts to games in the preseason.

Against Cleveland, the offense scored touchdowns on both of its first-quarter possessions. Against Buffalo, the offense scored touchdowns on two of its three first-quarter possessions, with the only empty possession dying on a failed fourth-down run from deep in Bills territory. And against Arizona on Friday night, the offense scored a touchdown and a field goal on its two first-quarter possessions.

"I think it's been a point of emphasis for us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said a couple days before dissecting the Cardinals' defense. "A lot of that is comfort with the plays called. It's execution in the plays called, as well. And the offseason talks that we've had in the quarterback room, there's been a focus on calling things that we feel really comfortable with, and that's what we've done (in the preseason). I don't know if it's because we didn't want to show too much, but the plays we've called have been high-percentage passes. We've made them work, we've put in ourselves in good situations and I'm hoping it's something we can carry over."

Just how bad were the Packers on their opening drives last season? In their first four four-points-or-less losses, the offense totaled 9 yards and had no first downs. Nine yards! In all seven of those close losses, the offense averaged 18.6 yards on their opening drive and totaled five first downs. Get rid of the three first downs, 79 yards and three points against the Jaguars, and the other six opening drives managed a grand total of 51 yards, two first downs and four three-and-outs.

Hello, punter. Good-bye, momentum.

So, how do you rectify such a glaring problem? If an offense is struggling in end-of-game situations, you simply spend more time at practice running the two-minute drill. But what do you do when the base offense scored barely more points on opening drives (13) than it punted (11)?

Well, a reminder that the game starts at noon instead of 1 p.m. is a good starting point.

"Sometimes, believe it or not, we think there's some reflection on the practice field," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said last week. "Sometimes, you've got to get guys going. We've got to realize the importance and significance of it. Part of it's focus, part of it's an attitude and kind of a how-we-want-to-play-the-game type of thing. I think they've embraced that pretty well."

Embraced, indeed. In the first quarter of three preseason games, Rodgers is 16-of-25 for 231 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.6. He went 5-for-8 for 49 yards against the Cardinals; two of those incompletions were throwaways and the other was when Donald Driver missed being a hot read on a blitz.

All of those closes showed the Packers were close to being a good team, and this year's dominating start to the preseason amplifies that belief. If Rodgers and Co. can carry those fast starts into the regular season, this team could be something special.


Starting slow

The first drives and first quarters of the 2008 Packers:

Minnesota: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Win.

Detroit: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 7. Win/lose: Win.

Dallas: First-drive results: Fumble. First-quarter points: 3. Win/lose: Lose.

Tampa Bay: First-drive results: Touchdown. First-quarter points: 7. Win/lose: Lose.

Atlanta: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Lose.

Seattle: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 3. Win/lose: Win.

Indianapolis: First-drive results: Field goal. First-quarter points: 3. Win/lose: Win.

Tennessee: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Lose.

Minnesota: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 7. Win/lose: Lose.

Chicago: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 7. Win/lose: Win.

New Orleans: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 7. Win/lose: Lose.

Carolina: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Lose.

Houston: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Lose.

Jacksonville: First-drive results: Field goal. First-quarter points: 3. Win/lose: Lose.

Chicago: First-drive results: Punt. First-quarter points: 0. Win/lose: Lose.

Detroit: First-drive results: Turnover on downs. First-quarter points: 14. Win/lose: Win.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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