Paper Tigers: Too Much Talk

Many of the same errors that plagued the Packers on Sunday showed up in Week 4 at Minnesota and Week 2 against Cincinnati. If that's the definition of "cleaning up" those problems, perhaps the Packers should invest in a new broom.

Shut up and play football.

Don't like the plays that are called? Deal with it.

Make a good play? Shut your yap and make another rather than head-butt someone to give away a first down and, eventually, a touchdown.

If you think you're a championship contender, then play like one rather than shrink from the spotlight in the two biggest games of the season.

If you think penalties are a problem, then make the players run until they're going to puke. If they insist on playing like amateurs, treat them as such.

If you think sacks are a problem, every unemployed offensive lineman who has enjoyed the slightest amount of success in the league should be brought to town for a tryout. It's not like Breno Giacomini is contributing anything.

It was the same old, same old on Sunday against Minnesota. Many of the same errors that plagued the Packers on Sunday showed up in Week 4 at Minnesota and Week 2 against Cincinnati. If that's the definition of "cleaning up" those problems, perhaps the Packers should invest in a new broom. Either the coaches are lousy teachers or the players are lousy students.

Maybe it's the memory of the team's 2007 run to the NFC championship. The players talk like they're good. They act like they're good. Too bad that they don't consistently play like they're good.

"I think these are definitely experiences, these two games against the Vikings, I think these are definitely experiences that we can draw from," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, a day after a 38-26 loss to Minnesota. "There are so many more positives to our football team in my view than the negatives, but the thing I don't like about is the valley between our positives and our negatives is too big right now. The way we play at an extremely high level — our bad plays need to be closer to our good plays is the point I am making."

Nick Barnett is tired of drawing from experiences. Ditto for Charles Woodson. Talk much longer, and it will be a repeat of 2008, when talk, talk, talk, talk, talk turned into loss, loss, loss, loss, loss down the stretch.

"I don't want to be learning too much more this year," Barnett said after the game. "We've already learned one time in a big game like this and lost like this. I'm done learning. It's time to move on and make plays and win games. We're here to win games."

Across the locker room, defensive end Cullen Jenkins complained that the defensive players aren't being allowed to do what they do best.

Nonsense, Barnett said. Barnett has been up and down — mostly up, lately — as he continues to come back from last year's torn ACL. But at least he gets it.

"We'll handle that when we get in our defensive room," Barnett said. "No one's scared to talk around here. We'll get everything on the table. Right now, we've just got to focus on making plays. I don't care if we call, whatever, ‘everybody run to the goal line.' Run to the goal line, come back and make a play."

Jenkins is a good player, and maybe he's got a point or two. But Dom Capers has been a superb defensive coordinator for a lot longer than Jenkins has been a good defensive end. Capers unleashed plenty of blitzes on Sunday, but almost none of them got within the ZIP code of Brett Favre.


Aaron Rodgers was on the run again.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Aaron Kampman didn't get a sack in two games against a rookie offensive tackle. The defensive line didn't get any pressure. Third-quarter blitzes by Barnett and Clay Matthews III were about the only impact plays made by any of the linebackers. Not only did blitzing defensive backs not work, but doing so takes a good player out of coverage.

At some point, if the players really are as good as they believe, they need to win a one-on-one matchup. Those individual wins have come few and far between in the three losses.

"I've said it before, and I'll confirm it here, I'll confirm it today again in the team meeting: I'm not interested in having Pro Bowl players and having a 27th-ranked defense," McCarthy said. "Our interest and our focus is on being a top-three defense in the league. It's utilizing all of our players. Sometimes players are asked to do things, to sacrifice so someone else can benefit from it, and that's part of the deal. That's the way we operate. We have a lot of good players on defense. It's not about one guy getting his."

One guy who is "getting his" is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, both in terms of bumps and bruises as well as bloated stats. Rodgers' stats make him look all-world — and, no question, he is a very good quarterback — but he's 10-13 as the starter. He threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns, giving him another glittering passer rating of 108.5. Big deal. In the first half, when this game was decided, he was 5-of-11 passing for 38 yards. Take the sacks into account, and the passing offense gained 18 yards in the first half.

Obviously, it would help to get some pass protection. He's been sacked 31 times in seven games. During his last six seasons in Green Bay, Favre wasn't sacked more than 29 times. Some of it is on Rodgers for holding the ball, but how do you explain the crucial fourth-quarter sack, when the Packers inexplicably didn't block Jared Allen? C'mon, it's Jared Allen, the one guy that you must absolutely account for at all times.

The final prong in the Packers' three-pronged attack to big-game meltdowns was the special teams. Even with a gift-wrapped fumble that set up the Packers at the Vikings' 21-yard line in the first quarter, the Packers lost an average of 17 yards of field position on every possession. A rash of injuries has taken its toll on the depth, but to give the Vikings the ball at midfield, on average, on five kickoffs is inexcusable. Ditto for an incredible nine holding penalties on special teams this season.

After Sunday, Green Bay ranks ninth on offense and, as McCarthy volunteered, fourth on defense. Minnesota, meanwhile, ranks 10th on offense and 19th on defense. The Packers are the very definition of paper tigers.

"I'm very confident we'll continue to improve," McCarthy said. "This football team works very hard. We are young in some spots, so there will definitely be improvement in those areas. It's not even midseason yet. I understand the urgency of our fans. I think we've got the best fans in the world. Losing two games at home doesn't sit well with anybody, trust me. It's something that is emphasized over and over and over again, but we're a good football team that has an opportunity to improve."

A good team? Prove it.

Improvement? Do it.

Urgency? Learn from the fans.


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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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