Sunday School: What We Learned vs. Minnesota

Our W. Keith Roerdink steps to the lectern to dispense his five lessons from a 38-26 loss to the Vikings. Topping this week's lesson plan is the return of Brett Favre and the return of Aaron Rodgers getting sacked again and again.

1.) Despite the score, Favre lost something at Lambeau Field

Brett Favre came into Lambeau Field on Sunday and looked every bit the three-time league MVP and future Hall of Famer while throwing four touchdown strikes in a 38-26 win. That he did it as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, however, took the joy out of it for just about everyone not wearing purple. Favre returned to the place where he was a legend -- where he was bigger to many than the guy the stadium was named after and the former coach whose name adorns the road out front -- and more or less peed in the Kool-Aid. After the game, Favre looked like he knew it, too. When couples divorce, it's the kids who are hurt the most. When the team you love and the quarterback you admire split up, it's the fans who suffer. Favre gets that, which is why he spent much of his time talking about Packer fans after the game.

"It was kind of mixed emotions coming in because I know how special these fans are," Favre said. "And it was always nicer to be the home team. It was loud; it's what makes Green Bay such a special place. I want to lead this Viking team to the Super Bowl, believe me, I do. And I'm going to do everything in my power. But I also know that the Packer fans that make this organization so special, so unique, will never change. And how could you not miss that?"

To be sure, Favre knew he'd be booed coming into Lambeau Field wearing enemy colors. But he likely wasn't ready for the decibel level that Packers fans had in store for him. He heard it when he came out in pregame warm-ups. He heard it when he came out with his new team. He heard it just about every time he lined up under center, though the intensity decreased as the Vikings' margin of winning increased. If Favre was expecting some pockets of cheers for all he accomplished in green and gold, they were drowned out.

There are 30 other jerseys that he could've shown up wearing and likely received the reverse scenario. But not the Vikings. Even arriving as a Bear would've been easier to swallow. In 18 years of covering the Packers, I've never heard any player get booed like Favre did. Not Randy Moss when he was with the Vikings. Not Michael Irvin with the Cowboys. I'd imagine you'd have to go back to the Mike Ditka-coached Bears teams of the 1980s to find something close to what unfolded.

If the Oct. 5 meeting at the Metrodome was about sticking it to Packers GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy and proving he could still play, it's hard to say what this game was about, other than getting a win on the road against a division rival. But every step closer the Vikings get to the postseason is another sign that Favre's time in Minnesota will become more of a chapter to his story and less of a footnote, especially if he ends up in the Super Bowl.

Anyone who reads this space regularly knows that I've supported Favre about as much as you can while keeping a job for something called the Packer Report. But there was something uncomfortable about watching Favre have the performance he did against his former team. It's not about Favre vs. Rodgers. That's simply not an apples-to-apples comparison. Green Bay would have the same issues with the offensive line, defense and kick coverage even if Favre were at quarterback. Would Favre have taken 31 sacks? That's doubtful. But it's hard to say that Green Bay would be much better this year. And they definitely wouldn't in the years to come. Rodgers is 15 years younger, and in just a season and a half has established himself as one of the league's better signal callers. About the only thing you could say is that with addition by subtraction, the Packers might have two more wins this season against a Vikings team that wouldn't have had Favre at quarterback.

Favre said that even though he's switched sides, he hoped everyone watching him can see that he still plays the way he always has, with excitement and passion for the game. We can. But it's not the same. And it only makes the struggles the Packers are having seem that much harder to take.

2.) Offensive line issues are getting old – figuratively and literally

Jared Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers three times on Sunday.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Aaron Rodgers is on pace to get sacked 70 times ... assuming he makes it to the end of the year. Seeing him limp to the podium in his postgame press conference, it's hard to imagine he can take this beating much longer. He's his own worst enemy at times, however, and needs to take the blame for nearly half that total. Rodgers needs to go through his progressions, and if no one is open, either run or throw the ball away. At what point does it sink in that your line can't give you more than a few seconds of protection? Apparently not at 25 sacks, which is the league-leading number Rodgers entered the game with. Perhaps 31 sacks will be a motivator.

There's nothing to be gained by taking 8- and 9-yard losses, not to mention a beat-down, every time he lines up against a decent defense. It's up to the coaches to adjust their quarterback's internal clock. Although adjusting the offense to include more shallow crossing routes, quick outs and three-step drops might be nice, too.

The other half of the problem rests squarely with the five guys assigned to keeping that No. 12 jersey clean. Five years later, Green Bay still hasn't found comparable replacements for guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera. Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are serviceable, but by no means Pro Bowl caliber. The bigger problem lately has been at tackle. Fortunately, 10-year veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are returning from injury. It remains to be seen if either player can resemble their younger, dominant selves. But Tauscher at 75 percent will be an improvement over Allen Barbre on the right side and Clifton will be a step up from promising rookie T.J. Lang, who had a crucial miss on Jared Allen late in Sunday's game, leading to another Rodgers sack as Green Bay was driving.

Contrast the Packers' offensive line issues to the team that just beat them. Minnesota has a formidable front built around tackle Bryant McKinnie, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2002 draft, and Steve Hutchinson at guard, a five-time first-team All Pro. They made the latter the league's richest lineman in 2006 when they signed the former Seahawk to a seven-year, $49 million deal. They've also appeared to have hit the jackpot with rookie tackle Phil Loadholt, a 6-foot-8, 332-pound monster out of Oklahoma. Is it any wonder Favre has been sacked 13 times less than Rodgers? And as great as Adrian Peterson is, don't think that offensive line is a big part of his success.

Until the Packers devote similar attention to their line with high draft picks or established -- and expensive -- free agents, expect Rodgers to continue getting abused and the running game to continue running to darkness.

3.) Pack's 3-4 scheme putting pressure on selves, not opponents

Tramon Williams brings down Sidney Rice.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Seven games into the season, we're left scratching our heads and wondering where the turnover-causing, havoc-wreaking, pressure-from-everywhere-but-Section 102 defense from the preseason has gone. Dom Capers is a very good, very smart, highly proven defensive coordinator. The Packers are a team with a great deal of talent spread across their defense, from Aaron Kampman, to Charles Woodson, to Cullen Jenkins, among others. And despite the warnings of many an expert that it would take time for the Packers to transform their 4-3 personnel into a 3-4 scheme, there was overflowing optimism. Key word being "was."

In their first loss to the Vikings, it was Woodson complaining about the scheme and how its lack of aggressiveness wasn't catering to the strengths of its players. Four weeks later, it's Jenkins who's wondering aloud if players like himself, Woodson, Kampman and Johnny Jolly are being put in the best position to succeed, saying he felt "handcuffed" during the 38-26 loss.

It's a fair question when, for the second time in a month, they've failed to sack Brett Favre. They rarely even pressured him, with the exception being the time linebacker Nick Barnett got a hand on the ball, sending it wobbling up in the air. It's not like defenders can't get to Favre, he's been taken down 18 times this season, including five by Cleveland in the season opener. So again, just what exactly is the problem? Green Bay is on pace for the same meager season-ending sack total they notched under previous coordinator Bob Sanders. That wasn't what anyone really had in mind when Capers and linebackers coach Kevin Greene were brought into the fold.

It's not a question that only Capers needs to answer. Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler made three Pro Bowls under three different defensive coordinators, so there is an equal responsibility on playmakers to step up and make plays regardless of the scheme. But until Capers and his players get on the same page, whether that means Capers flexing his scheme to the talent on the field or his players growing in the role they're asked to play, this defense is going to be up and down depending on the strength of the offense they're lined up against.

4.) Jolly's penalty, lack of response, a sign of bigger issues

That the Packers lost to the Vikings by more than four points makes Jolly's head-butt of Chester Taylor, and coach Mike McCarthy's lack of a reaction, no less troubling. Jolly made one of the defense's biggest plays when he recovered a fumble on an errant Vikings snap. But the very next drive, Jolly's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a third down turned a planned field goal into a Minnesota touchdown four plays later.

Jolly more or less blew it off, noting that it didn't cost Green Bay the game and saying that he "plays on edge every game."

"Frankly, I didn't see it. I was told what happened," McCarthy said. "Not very smart. We had them stopped. Personal fouls in that situation and the way it happened, from my understanding, it's unacceptable, to extend the drive like that and it cost us four points."

Sure McCarthy said the right things after the fact, but wouldn't it have been more meaningful to grab him by the facemask and get in his ear hole with a few words not fit for print? Certainly that's what a coach like Mike Holmgren would have done -- and did do -- to players who made mind-numbing penalties on his watch. They were scared to come off the sideline and feel his wrath. But under McCarthy, penalties seem to be an accepted part of the game. They get lip service after the fact, but apparently even the players aren't that worried about it. And as long as that's the attitude around 1265 Lombardi Ave., this problem won't go away.

5.) Big wins against bad teams mean little

Nobody seemed satisfied with a 26-0 win over Detroit. A 31-3 win at Cleveland felt a little better, and it looked like the Packers had worked out some kinks and gotten back on track after what amounted to two in-season preseason games. But how much did those victories over two of the NFL's have-nots mean when Green Bay lined up against an uber-talented Minnesota squad? Well, as everyone could clearly see, it meant absolutely nothing. Wins against bad teams count the same in the standings as wins over good ones. Ugly wins carry the same weight as pretty ones. But the quality of the win and the quality of the opponent is very telling.

Over the last two seasons, Green Bay has only two wins against opponents who entered the contest with winning records -- Indianapolis was 3-2 when they met last year and the Bears were 5-4. Of course, it's important to note that seven of Green Bay's losses last year were by four points or less and two of them were in overtime. Still, the Packers are short on big wins in big games against big-time opponents. A victory at winless Tampa Bay this coming Sunday -- even a blowout -- will do little to convince anyone things have changed. It's going to take a "statement win" over Dallas in two weeks to prove they've righted a ship that's currently taking on water.

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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at

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