Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Packers 10, Pittsburgh 20. The Packers have found different ways to lose this season. Sometimes the offense is MIA (Detroit), sometimes the defense is MIA (Cleveland), and once neither the offense or defense came back out of the locker room after halftime (Minnesota). But usually the Packers lose because the running offense is bad, they lose the turnover battle, and the special teams are bad. Against Pittsburgh, the Packers' leading rusher averaged 2.5 yards per carry, they had 3 turnovers (all of them led to points) and forced 1 turnover (led to no points), and missed a short field goal attempt. Just a typical 2005 Packers' loss.

The defense played very well in this game and have gotten better each week this season, but the lack of turnovers created by the defense has been one of the factors that has killed the team this season. When the Packers force more than one turnover in a game this season, they are 1-0. When they force zero or one turnover in a game, they are 0-7. It is not the sole reason for the Packers struggles this season, but it is a hard stat to ignore.

First half: After a half of football, the Packers dominated on both offense and defense and were down 13 to 3. QB Brett Favre was almost perfect on 3rd down in the 2nd quarter, RB Samkon Gado stepped off the practice squad and had a very good first half, and Pittsburgh offense did nothing after a big 43 yard reverse on their first drive of the game. But RB ReShard Lee's fumble and Favre's fumble led to Pittsburgh scores.

When Chicago played at Lambeau in 2004, RB Ahman Green was about to run in for a touchdown but LB Brian Urlacher stripped the ball and it was ran back for a touchdown. The Packers lost by the swing in the score on that single play. The same thing happened in this game. Pittsburgh overloaded the left side of the line with two blitzers while the Packers played with an empty backfield. Favre couldn't avoid them both, fumbled on the sack, and it was ran back for a touchdown. It was at least a tying 10 point swing and possibly a winning 14 point swing. The whole game was decided, in the end, by this one play.

This half also had a lot of penalties; most of them were false starts and illegal shifts. Most of them were probably due to so many new players playing together, but they were all unacceptable mental mistakes. K Ryan Longwell missed another field goal he would have made in any of the past few seasons, as the special teams continued their decent to the worst in the NFL. The one bright spot remains P B.J. Sander (when he is punting, but not when he is holding). The kick return unit has been anemic for the last few seasons, and it hasn't even been good since ex-Packer CB Allen Rossum was still on the roster. The kick coverage has been hampered by Longwell's short kickoffs for a few seasons.

Second half: The offense struggled as the running game disappeared and the passing game vanished in the 4th quarter. The defense was outstanding for most of the game, until RB Duce Staley came in and some success running the ball. The defense continues to get better, as CBs Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll, SS Mark Roman, FS Nick Collins, LB Nick Barnett, DE KGB, and DE Aaron Kampman remain in on almost every play, while rotating linebackers and defensive tackles during the entire game. LB Robert Thomas had a first half interception, while DT Kenny Peterson had an impressive second half as parts of their respective rotations. Unfortunately in the end, the defense couldn't stop Staley and the offense turned the ball over twice on downs to end the fourth quarter.

The Packers are not likely to fix the running offense this season, but they could still improve their special teams, which is ranked 28th according to footballoutsiders.com, although the Packers have been needing to improve the special teams for at least the last three seasons and still haven't done it. With Chicago on a winning streak, four games ahead of the Packers, the Packers should start looking towards next season, but that is probably not going to happen. With Mike Sherman playing for his job and Favre playing in maybe his last season, they probably won't give up until week 17 is over. Plus the Packers aren't out of the division race yet; they still have the easiest of their division games (home against all of them and at Chicago) still to play and every one of the other teams in the division has major shortcomings, but it will be hard to keep up the intensity while trying to fix the running game and special teams for the rest of the season.

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