Games Like These Get People Fired

A two-game sweep in which the Packers allowed 68 points and yielded 14 sacks is more about what's wrong with Green Bay than it is what's right with Minnesota. Can a team that has struggled to find solutions find them in time to make something of this season?

Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings looked a lot like last month's loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Can't protect the quarterback.

Can't run the football and can't find the list of run plays on the sheet.

Can't pressure the passer.

Can't stop committing stupid penalties.

Can't punt and can't return kicks.

These are the types of performances that get people fired.

For all the hype about Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field, the man behind center wasn't the reason why the Green Bay Packers lost again to the Vikings. Sure, Favre had all the answers, with seven touchdown passes, no interceptions and no sacks in the two games. But a two-game sweep in which the Packers allowed 68 points and yielded 14 sacks is more about what's wrong with Green Bay than it is what's right with Minnesota.

To start with, professional football always has and always will be about winning in the trenches, and the Packers are helplessly undermanned on the offensive side of the ball.

General manager Ted Thompson has invested plenty of resources in center Scott Wells (contract extension), guard Daryn Colledge (second round), guard/center Jason Spitz (third round) and guard Josh Sitton (fourth round). Wells, Colledge and Spitz have played a lot of football but are barely more than average starters. And while Thompson has invested on the interior line, he's ignored the tackles – a dangerous proposition for a pass-first offense built around a quarterback.

How important is a good offensive line? Look no further than the Vikings. Minnesota's offense is better than Green Bay's offense because the Vikings' offensive line is better than the Packers' offensive line. The Vikings can run it and they can throw it. Even with a 40-year-old quarterback, the Packers failed to get a sack on any of his 59 dropbacks in two games. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Vikings have a first-round pick at left tackle, a marquee free agent (and former first-round pick) at left guard and a touted second-round pick at right tackle.

What a contrast that is to Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers is the football equivalent of the poor sap sitting above a pool of water at the carnival dunk tank. Rodgers has been sacked 31 times, a scale of abuse that's illegal in most states. Sure, some of it is on him, but put yourself in his shoes. Is the pressure coming from the right? From the left? Up the middle? From everywhere? And how do you make your reads when your head's on a swivel against a hard-charging defense that has no reason to think about a run game because Mike McCarthy doesn't call enough run plays and because Ryan Grant doesn't have a snowball's chance of finding daylight, anyway?

While defenses take turns ringing Rodgers' bell, the Packers' defensive players take turns blitzing into brick walls. Hand up or hand down, Aaron Kampman has gotten nowhere in either game against Vikings rookie Phil Loadholt. Rookie Clay Matthews III got mostly nowhere against veteran Bryant McKinnie. The cornerbacks – mostly Charles Woodson but sometimes Al Harris – got several chances but didn't get home, either. Under aggressive defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers rank 27th in sacks with 12. That puts them on pace to equal the 27 sacks tallied last year under vanilla defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.

Those are the big problems, but they are hardly the only problems.

The Packers got rid of punter Jon Ryan last summer because he was a poor directional kicker who excelled in kicking it long and low. He's Ray Guy in comparison to the current punting situation, though. The Packers rank 31st in net punting, with Jeremy Kapinos' net average of 35.8 yards on Sunday actually an improvement over his season figure. Jaymar Johnson's 20-yard return set up the Vikings' second touchdown of the game. Throw in the two touchdowns set up by kickoff returner Percy Harvin, and the Vikings' special teams won Sunday's matchup by the equivalent of the mercy rule.

The Packers' return game is abysmal. Sure, it doesn't help that injuries have sent Will Blackmon, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain and Pat Lee to the infirmary, but the Packers are unable to produce a good return without cheating. Tramon Williams' 45-yard punt return against Detroit a couple weeks ago represents more than half of the Packers' punt return yardage for the entire season.

And those penalties. In the two games, the Vikings were penalized five times. The Packers have had that many in a quarter this season. Green Bay was penalized six times on Sunday, a decent number, but, oh, how those stung. Johnny Jolly lost his cool in the first quarter, and his stupid shove of Chester Taylor gave the Vikings a first-and-goal and turned a field goal into a touchdown. Brady Poppinga was flagged for holding on the ensuing kickoff. Three games in a row, the Packers have been hit with a 15-yard face mask. Now that's what you call consistency.

Simply put, football – all sports, really – is about having playmakers. The Vikings have more of them. They have an old one at quarterback, and he's surrounded by them with running back Adrian Peterson, a superb trio of receivers and a rock of an offensive line. They've traded for them (Jared Allen), bought them (Steve Hutchinson, Bernard Berrian, Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield) and drafted them.

Building through the draft – aka, the Thompson Way – is all fine and dandy, but you need to hit it big in April to be playing in January. In 2006, Thompson used the fifth pick on linebacker A.J. Hawk while the Vikings used the 17th pick on linebacker Chad Greenway. Advantage: Vikings. In 2007, the Vikings used the seventh pick on Peterson while the Packers used the 16th pick on Justin Harrell. Advantage, Vikings. In 2008, the Packers traded out of the first round to take receiver Jordy Nelson while the Vikings traded their pick altogether to get Allen. Advantage, Vikings. In 2009, the Packers used their first-round picks on B.J. Raji (No. 9) and Matthews (No. 26) while the Vikings used the 22nd pick on Harvin. Advantage, for Sunday at least, Vikings.

Inferior in the trenches. One-dimensional on offense. Can't rush the opposing passer and can't protect their own. Undisciplined. Undermanned. It's a losing recipe – especially against an above-average team – and it's a recipe for wholesale changes this offseason unless solutions are found quickly.


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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