Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Packers have had three big problems this season; way too many turnovers, poor run offense, and awful special teams.

Fumbles and interceptions have both major problems. The two severe fumble offenders are QB Brett Favre and RB Samkon Gado. Gado might never have good hands while running, but that is something he can work on. Favre's problem is due in large part by his pass protection. Favre had a sack and fumble against Pittsburgh that was returned for a touchdown and it was the difference in the game. Pittsburgh blitzed their safety and cornerback from the left side and neither player was blocked. Against Chicago, Favre was sacked when the linebacker came off the left end unblocked because TE Donald Lee blew his blocking assignment. Favre always throws a lot of interceptions because he forces the ball into places that he shouldn't. But as the losses mount, Favre appears to be forcing the ball more and throwing it up for grabs more. Favre needs to stop the turnovers and stop beating himself.

C Mike Flanagan. I have been meaning to mention Flanagan's play the last few weeks, but I've skipped it since the arrival of Gado in the starting lineup. But Flanagan is the unsung problem on the offensive line this season. Most of the run offense problem drifts away from Flanagan and focuses on the loss of OG Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle in the offseason, plus all the injuries at running back. Football Outsiders says the Packers o-line is the 29th "best" in the NFL, right behind the metaphores of New England. The stats are broken down from left to right. For the most part, the Packers are just above or below average, except right up the middle, where the Packers rank dead last. Flanagan was injured for all of 2004 and I wondered back then if Flanagan should ever return to football. He was still struggling with the injury he suffered as a rookie back in the 1990s, which contributed to his lost 2004 season. At least once a game, Flanagan is shoved back 2 to 3 yards into the backfield immediately after the snap; the time it happened at Chicago it led to the quick handoff and fumble by Gado. LG Scott Wells and RG William Whitticker aren't headed to the Pro Bowl, but both appear to have a future and hopefully improve with experience. Whitticker was benched for the Chicago game, but did play at right guard later in the game. The Packers need to add two offensive linemen next offseason; one to replace Flanagan, the replacement can be a guard and Wells can move to center, and another in case Wells or Whitticker don't show improvement next training camp.

Special teams. Football Outsiders says it is the worst unit in the NFL. Ironically, 12-0 Indianapolis is next to worst in the NFL while awful Houston has the best special teams in the NFL. K Ryan Longwell has struggled with field goals and extra points, but has been solid the last few weeks, making his early season struggles to look like a fluke. Another irony, two the worst kickers are Minnesota's K Paul Edinger and Chicago's K Robbie Gould, who have been fantastic when kicking against the Packers. P B.J. Sander has been average to above average all season. The big problem is the kick and punt returns. Kick return is second to last in the NFL and punt return is one of the top 10 bad units. The blocking on these units can be awful at times and the many fumbles by the return men is another problem. This isn't a one player problem. Either GM Ted Thompson has to do a better job of building a roster with players who are good special teams performers too, or a new special teams coach needs to be hired. With Mike Sherman probably gone after this season, this unit will probably see a new coach in 2006.

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