Todd Korth: I think the team’s improvement begins in the trenches. The Packers have started two rookie guards throughout the season and three rookie offensive linemen because of an injury to right tackle Mark Tauscher last Sunday against the Patriots. As the season has progressed, the offensive line has continued to improve.
On defense, the Packers have performed well against the run, thanks to veteran tackles Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins and Colin Cole, and they often have been able to get to the quarterback behind Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
DF: Brett Favre, that disastrous game against the Patriots aside, has been enjoying a career renaissance of sorts. Like his team, Favre is on the upswing. Why is this happening?
TK: The big question heading into this season was if Favre would play more within himself, or continue to fire away and take shots all over the field in hopes of making a big play. Wisely, he has chosen to play within Mike McCarthy’s offensive scheme, and it has resulted in a pretty decent season for him so far. His interception total is way down (7) and he has been effective in connecting with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.
For the most part Favre has been fairly accurate with his passes, but perhaps a sore groin caused him to badly miss wide open receivers last Sunday against New England. With an extra day between games this week, look for Favre to shake off his elbow injury and get back on track with his accuracy.
DF: Former Seahawks running back Ahman Green has alternated between great performances – in his four 100-plus-yard games, he’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry - and in the four sub-100 games, the yards per carry has been a far more mortal 2.6. What’s up with the feast-or-famine?
TK: Green and the Packers’ offensive line were up against two of the better rush defenses in the league in the past two weeks. The Vikings are ranked No. 1 and the Patriots are No. 3 in the NFL against the run. It didn’t help that the Packers fell behind 21-0 in the first half on Sunday to the Patriots and, thus, were forced to abandon the run as they tried to play catch-up. Plus, McCarthy only called 17 run plays against the Patriots, with 15 going to Green.
DF: How has rookie receiver Greg Jennings fit in with the team? Does Favre miss Javon Walker at all?
TK: Favre would love to have Walker at receiver. What quarterback wouldn’t? But Ted Thompson dealt Walker to the Broncos on the first day of the NFL draft in April and, before it was all said and done, got five draft picks in return. Jennings, selected in the second round, was one of those picks and he has turned out to be a gem. He has taken some of the pressure off of Donald Driver and has a bright future ahead. Jennings suffered a sprained ankle Oct. 22 in a game at Miami, and that has bothered him in recent weeks as he has tried to play through the injury. Still, he is a legitimate threat and has a chance to flirt with, or break, the team’s rookie receiving record of 55 catches set by Sterling Sharpe in 1988.
DF: I’ve written recently that one of the more underreported stories in the NFL this year is the drastic improvement of the Green Bay offensive line. How have the personnel come together, and why has this one-year turnaround taken place?
TK: The line was a big concern in training camp but it has improved with each game, despite injuries at a few positions. Veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher have held down the ends. Rookie guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, and third-year center Scott Wells, a first-year starter, have been holding down the fort in the middle. McCarthy has often kept a tight end or fullback in on running and passing plays for extra protection, which has given Favre added protection.
Tauscher injured his groin Nov. 12 at Minnesota and sat out of last Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Rookie Tony Moll, who started four games at right guard early in the season for Spitz, stepped in and did OK against a tough Patriots defense. Tauscher’s status for Monday night’s game may not be decided until game time. If he is unable to play, Moll will get the nod again.
Thompson and McCarthy decided to revamp the interior of the line this season after trying, with little success, to plug the vacancies once filled by Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle with veterans. The Packers allowed veteran center Mike Flanagan to depart for Houston last off-season, and promoted Wells. Thompson then drafted Colledge, Spitz and Moll to compete for the guard positions. Moll can play guard, but his future is at right tackle. So far, so good for Thompson and McCarthy.