Gameday Notebook: Packers Aren't Alone

Packer Report publisher Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook in time for today's game. Today's novel leads with some good news: More than half of the playoff teams since 2002 started 1-1 or 0-2, so the season did not end vs. Cincinnati. Plus, scuffling offenses, Steven Jackson, Greg Jennings and much more.

Through good times and bad, coaches and players attempt to keep themselves grounded by saying, "It's never as good as you think it is, and it's never as bad as you think it is."

Fans should keep that logic in mind, especially after a loss. Fortunately, most Packers fans are smart enough to resist the temptation to buy Super Bowl tickets after an early-season victory. Unfortunately, most Packers fans are reaching for the panic button and demanding heads roll after Sunday's disappointing loss.

But keep this in mind: Through two games, only nine teams are undefeated. Fourteen teams, including the Packers, are 1-1. Seven of those 1-1 teams won their opener but lost the following week. Of those seven teams, five of them lost to a team that failed to reach the playoffs last season. So, if the sky is falling in Green Bay, it is elsewhere, too.

None of this is to say there isn't reason for concern at 1265 Lombardi Ave. On offense, no quarterback should have to become so intimate with the hallowed Lambeau Field turf. On defense, to make Cedric Benson look like Ickey Woods is just, well, ickey.

But that's early-season football for you. One of the chic Super Bowl matchups had Green Bay facing New England. Just like the Packers are a late touchdown pass from being 0-2, the Patriots are one miracle rally from being 0-2. The Miami Dolphins, who won the AFC East last year, are 0-2. The Pittsburgh Steelers, getting sort of a mini bye after opening on a Thursday, lost to Chicago. The Tennessee Titans, the best team in the NFL last regular season, are 0-2 after losing to Houston while coming off a mini bye of their own. The San Francisco 49ers, a horrendous team last season that still can't manage to sign its first-round pick, is 2-0.

The glass-half-full outlook would be to consider last week's bumbling loss to the Bengals to be a bump in the road and a needed glass of cold water to the face of a team that perhaps was beginning to think quite highly of itself.

Starting fast is a great goal, but consider this final statistic. Since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, 48 of the 84 playoff teams — a surprising 57.1 percent — started the season either 1-1 or 0-2. So, losing isn't the end of the world. It's only the end of the world if the coaches and players don't learn the lessons from those first two games.

Scuffling offenses

Take away points scored or set up by the defense, and Green Bay has manufactured 24 points this season. That's scoreboard-churning success compared to St. Louis, which has scored seven points.

For both teams, the issues start up front. You know all about what's going on in Green Bay: 10 sacks allowed, 3.6 yards per carry for Ryan Grant and problems at both tackle positions.

The Rams also have injury problems. The No. 2 overall pick, right tackle Jason Smith, is out with a knee injury. So, an offensive line that has started the same five for three consecutive games only 10 times since 2003 is shuffling the deck, as well.

"Like anything else, it's a step here, a step there, a missed block here, maybe a missed read (there)," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "Somebody flinches a little bit. We're really stressing details this week. I believe that's what it's all about. I think the difference is in the details. Most teams, when they line up on opening day before you have any injuries or if you don't have any injuries are really even across the board, there are some that certainly have some stars on their teams, but to me the difference is in the details. You start playing games, the teams that play together and focus on the details and don't make the minor mistakes that kill you, those are the teams that win."

Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked four times this season after averaging 37.7 sacks over the previous six seasons, saw some reasons for optimism in last week's 9-7 loss at Washington.

"It's easy to say — every team and every offense will say, ‘It's just a couple plays here or there and we would have 21 points,'" Bulger said in his own conference call. "But we've been in the red zone, we just haven't converted — penalties and turnovers and not executing. I think we had three drives over 10 plays last week, which was encouraging. We're moving the ball. Again, it's a couple penalties at crucial points and turnovers and not executing. If we were just going three-and-out every down, I'd be a lot more worried. But this business is bottom line, and we've got to put more points on the board."

Maybe Bulger's onto something. The Packers have only one drive of 10 plays or more and six three-and-outs. The Rams have four drives of 10 plays or more and five three-and-outs.

Zero for 85


Greg Jennings had four catches for 66 yards and a TD at St. Louis in 2007
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
It's probably no coincidence that Greg Jennings was shut out by Cincinnati and the Packers' offense struggled.

Not only was Jennings held without a catch for the first time in his career, but he had caught at least two passes in every game since the 2006 finale.

"You don't handle that. For me, it's a no-no," Jennings said. "That's me, personally. That's the competitor coming out. There's really no reason that should happen. It happened. Is it frustrating? Yes. Not because I'm an individual. That's because I'm a competitor. I felt like I wasn't able to help my team. As a playmaker, as a guy who thrives on making plays and moving the chains, not to get that opportunity, it was devastating."

Jennings was the target of five passes, including a brutal drop on third down that killed the Packers' first possession.

"I hope he's disappointed, because he views himself as a guy who can make an impact on a ballgame and be a difference-maker on the field for his unit," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I think his attitude has been great. He's ready, like all of us, to get to Sunday and get a chance to play again."

Trading places

Two roster casualties in Green Bay landed on their feet in St. Louis.

Smith, a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2006, was one of Green Bay's two free-agent acquisitions during the offseason but was surprisingly among the Packers' final cuts. He figures to play for the Rams for the first time today.

"We saw an active guy, very physical football player that ran real well," Spagnuolo said. "Our special teams coach evaluated him, thought he did real well on special teams. He's played a little bit in the league. He's aggressive, I like the edge he's got to him. I just think he's a football player. I'm anxious when we can get it worked out, one way or another, whether it's numbers on the 45 and him getting the stuff mentally, I'm anxious to get him out there."

Popular receiver Ruvell Martin caught 52 passes and scored six touchdowns for the Packers from 2006 through 2008. He has not played yet for the Rams and may not know enough of the playbook to play today, either.

"What a terrific guy, terrific character person and certainly great size," Spagnuolo said. "He's got great hands, that stuck out right away when we worked him out, and he's going through the same process. He's a week behind Anthony as far as being in the system here. It's only been a few days for Ruvell, but some of the language sounds the same to him, from where he's been before, but it's a little bit of a challenge for anybody to jump into a team and play right away but he's progressed pretty well."

Two of the Packers' defensive stalwarts, nose tackle Ryan Pickett and inside linebacker Brandon Chillar, were acquired in free agency from St. Louis.

Pickett, the No. 29 overall pick by the Rams in 2001, spent five seasons there and started 59 games. In three seasons for Green Bay, he's started and played in 46 of a possible 48 games. Chillar, a fourth-round pick in 2004, started 40 games in four seasons. Arriving in Green Bay last year, he started seven games and has a full-time role in the Packers' nickel package this year.

Action Jackson


Steven Jackson takes on Nick Collins in 2006.
Harry How/Getty Images
The Rams' offense is built around running back Steven Jackson.

As Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said before last week's game, "They have one of the best backs in the business. The guy at Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) is off the chart. I put Jackson just right underneath him. He is big, strong and fast and he can go the distance every time he touches the football. If the hole is not there inside, he will bounce it outside. He can catch passes out of the backfield. I think this guy is a home-run hitting type of back."

In two games, Jackson has 171 yards on 33 carries, a 5.2-yard average per attempt. His yardage projects to 1,368 yards for the season. Those are excellent numbers.

"We're definitely going to be challenged this week by the Rams with Steven Jackson," Packers coach McCarthy said. "He's a big back, dynamic back. We're definitely going into the game with that in mind. But frankly, I could stand up here every Wednesday and talk about run defense because it's always the starting point of whoever you play."

However, Jackson's early numbers are somewhat misleading. Jackson had a long run of 22 yards in Week 1 and 58 in Week 2. Those are the home runs the team wants him to hit. The problem is that too many of his other carries weren't productive. Jackson's 31 other attempts totaled just 91 yards for a 2.9-yard average. Against Seattle, 11 of Jackson's 16 carries were for 3 yards or less and 10 gained 2 yards or less. Against Washington, eight attempts were for 3 yards or less and six of those were either 0 (five) or minus-1 (1).

When those plays occur on first down, it often results in long-yardage situations on second and third down — the same problem the Packers have been battling.

Against Seattle, Jackson had 19 yards on eight first-down attempts. Against Washington it was 10 carries for 25 yards on first down with four no-yardage attempts and one for minus-1.

Still, he's a heck of a starting point, especially facing a defense that couldn't stop Cincinnati's Benson.

"I think if we can get the lead, we can feed him the ball a lot more," Bulger said. "It was tough in Seattle to get him the ball as much as we wanted because we were down for most of the game. Last week, they were loading the box with eight guys. It's up to the receivers and myself to take the load off of him. He's a premier back in this league. I'd put him in the top three. When he has a hole or if he gets any space, he's fun to watch."

Quoteworthy

Bulger, on what he sees in the Packers' defense: "The two corners. Just being a quarterback, I tend to look in the backfield more. Those guys are experienced, they're athletic, they're smart, they're the whole package. It's going to be a test, not only for our receivers, but for myself to know where they're at all times. The linebacker corps, (A.J.) Hawk, we know he's great; ‘Chils' (Chillar), I played with him here with ‘Pick' (Pickett). I played with (Aaron) Kampman at the Pro Bowl. So, they've got studs everywhere, it's not just at one level on their defense. We've got a heck of a matchup. Then you throw in the 3-4, which you don't face every week. It's going to be a tough challenge.

McCarthy, on the offensive line: "They're going to rise to the challenge, and they need to, and we all do. Starting with me. We're going down there to play football the way we're supposed to play football. Hey, we didn't play very good last week. That's last week, we're 1-1, and we're excited about this opportunity in St. Louis. We're going to line up and play just the way we did every day. Nothing is going to change. We're not changing any plays, any practice schedules, any linemen, any safeties. We're going down to St. Louis to win a game, and we're going to play our type of football. That's our approach."

Four-point stance

— Four former Packers assistants have landed with the Rams: receivers coach Charlie Baggett (1999), defensive coordinator Ken Flajole (1998), running backs coach Sylvester Croom (2001-03) and strength coach Rock Gullickson (2006-08). Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is the nephew of late former Packers defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur.

— Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene ranks second in Rams history with 72.5 sacks. He was a fifth-round pick by the Rams in 1985.

— Rodgers has a streak of 125 consecutive passes without an interception. That's second in the NFL behind Washington's Todd Collins (203). Rodgers' season-opening streak of 157 passes last year ranks third in team history, behind Brett Favre (163) and Bart Starr (294). Starr's streak is second-longest in NFL history.

— The trek to St. Louis is about 500 miles, and Green Bay will travel 12,260 miles to its road games. That's the fourth-lowest total in the league. Five West Coast teams, paced by Seattle (29,054), will accumulate the most mileage. 


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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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