Packers try to address their blemishes

The Packers aren't anywhere near their hot start of last year, and they are trying to address the reasons for close losses as they prepare for an all-important game against the Vikings.

As close to perfect as the Packers were at the midpoint of last season - they were 7-1 and running away from the rest of the NFC North - they're a team dotted with blemishes as they get ready to play division rival Minnesota in game No. 9 for the third straight year.

They can't stop the run. They've had trouble running the football. Early-season injuries took a toll. They've had more failure than success in games that go down to the wire.

Head coach Mike McCarthy didn't mince words Wednesday when he was asked where he thought his team was with half of the 16-game schedule complete.

"Where do I think we are? I don't want to be rude, but we're 4-4," McCarthy said. "We're 4-4 for a reason. We haven't made plays in critical times of football games. We've been competitive in every outing this year. We've had opportunities to win those games. We did not.

"It's the details," he added, pointing to a 19-16 overtime loss at the unbeaten Tennessee Titans on Sunday. "(It's a) very good description of the things we need to do to win tight games. We have to win the close, tight games. We haven't done that this year."

Considering 11 of the last 12 meetings between the Packers and the Vikings have been decided by no more than seven points, Sunday's matchup at the Metrodome in Minneapolis would be a good time to start getting things turned around.

The Packers know they can't afford another letdown, what with them locked in a second-place tie with Minnesota in the division. Both teams trail the front-running Chicago Bears by a game, and the Packers have a home game against the Bears around the bend Nov. 16.

"As a team, we're just hungry to get better," Packers nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We're not happy with our record. We feel like we're much better than a 4-4 team. It's not a good place for us. So, we're definitely going to come out and try to win this game (Sunday)."
Pickett called it the most important game of the season, which perhaps was overstated in that seven more weeks of football will be left to play.

Tight end Donald Lee stopped short of saying the Packers are in must-win territory right now as they try to regain their hold on the NFC North.

"I wouldn't say must, but it's very important that we do win the game," Lee said. "We want to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. This is a step toward that."

The Packers won't be taken seriously as a challenger for NFC supremacy, never mind the league title, until they iron out the deficiencies that have plagued them to this point.

Their run defense ranks 27th in the 32-team loop, allowing an average of 146.4 yards per game. Now, Green Bay will have to deal with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the No. 2 rusher in the league.

"The reality is they've got a great running offense (and) we've got a great opportunity to get better this week," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "I feel like we can play great run defense. We've proven it, even this season. We just have to become more consistent, and that's our focus."

Thankfully for Green Bay's offense, a mostly solid first half of the season by Aaron Rodgers in his first year as a starting quarterback at the pro level enabled the unit to overcome a sluggish running game. Ryan Grant's production has picked up the last few games, but the Packers rank 21st in the league with an average of 101.1 rushing yards per outing.

"He's a fine young quarterback," McCarthy said of Rodgers. "I say it over and over again, the beauty of Aaron is he's going to get better. I believe that with my heart, I believe that with my eyes. He's going to continue to get better."

Rodgers certainly isn't a polished leader of the offense, and he was reminded of that when McCarthy came down on his shaky decision making in the recent game against the Titans. The Packers scored only one touchdown in four red-zone visits.

"You can't get down there, you can't have 400 yards of offense and only score 16 points. It's unacceptable," said guard Daryn Colledge, putting the blame on the entire offense.

SERIES HISTORY: 95th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 49-44-1. Green Bay is 5-0 under Mike McCarthy against the Vikings and seeking its third straight season sweep of its NFC North rivals. The Packers have won the past two meetings and four of the last five encounters at the Metrodome. The teams have met once in the postseason, with the Vikings' scoring a 31-17 win at Green Bay in an NFC wild-card game in the 2004 season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Losses for the Packers in six games played indoors in Mike McCarthy's three years as head coach. Green Bay's under-roof winning streak is seven games, dating to the middle of the 2005 season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think anyone will be lacking for motivation. It's no secret - it's a big game for us, a big game for them - and we'll see who wins." — Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman on the game Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings, a matchup of 4-4 NFC North rivals trying to stay in contention for the division title.


NOTES

  • QB Aaron Rodgers was limited to light throwing in practice Wednesday as he continues to deal with a sprained throwing shoulder. He has managed to play with the injury the last four games and should be good to make the start Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.

  • LT Chad Clifton went through individual and team phases of practice Wednesday, albeit on a limited basis, and is on track to rejoin the starting lineup Sunday. Clifton didn't play in the Packers' overtime loss at the Tennessee Titans last Sunday after he had an allergic reaction to anti-inflammatory medicine he received a few hours before the game.

  • CB Charles Woodson went through the extended jog-through portion at the outset of practice Wednesday but was held out of team drills, as the precautionary routine has gone every week since the starter suffered a broken toe in the Sept. 8 season-opening win over the Vikings. Woodson hasn't been affected by the toe in recent weeks and will be ready for Sunday.

  • LB Desmond Bishop was a full participant in practice Wednesday, his first on-field work since he suffered a strained hamstring in a post-bye workout Oct. 27. The backup and special-teams contributor was deactivated for the last game but could be ready to resume playing Sunday.

  • DE Michael Montgomery was credited with 15 tackles in the last game from film review by the coaches, an increase of five tackles from what Montgomery had on the stats sheet. His career-high total is a season high for a Green Bay player this year.


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