CONSOLATION CONTENDERSby Jerry Gilbert
Like many of you, I play Fantasy Football, and in our league, as in most others, the teams good enough to defeat other good teams, vie for the league championship. Meanwhile, the lesser teams in our league compete in what we call the "Toilet Bowl". Other leagues may refer to it as the "Consolation Bowl".
Looking back on this season for the Green Bay Packers, they have been a Consolation Bowl type of team. Pair them with a bad team such as Arizona, Detroit or San Francisco, and the Packers seem dominant. They appear to be a pretty good football team. However, when the opponent is the Bears, Eagles, Patriots or Jets a different team shows up. At the start they appear over-matched. By the end they prove to be inferior.
Contrast this with other lower down teams. San Francisco has beaten some good teams such as St Louis and Seattle. The Cardinals outplayed the mighty Bears for three and one half quarters on national television. The Lions have kept it fairly close in most games.
This is also a very different team than the one that represented Green Bay last season. In 2005, the Packers, though winning only four games, kept the score close in nearly every contest. That was the losing squad that had outscored its opponents on a season long basis almost all season. The 2006 version, either wins big or loses big. Only these few games have been close, the victories over the Lions and Vikings and the loss to the Rams. For the most part, this group lays down for the big kids and terrorizes the little ones.
Explaining how a team can go from gutsy loser to playground bully in one season is not easy. Part of the answer is youth. Against superior talent, the young Packers do not have a reservoir of experience to help bridge the gap. The hope was that free agents, such as, Charles Woodson, Marquand Manual and Ben Taylor could provide veteran leadership. Taylor has been injured. The others have been disappointments.
I have no doubt that Nick Barnett and AJ Hawk look in the mirror to find the person to blame after a badly played game. Aaron Kampman is a total professional, but it is not clear whether he inspires his teammates. The proof has been in the performance. There are many admirable players on defense, but they have not found the secret of performing at a high level on a consistent basis. Until some leaders emerge, there is no penalty for letting down at the wrong time. Leroy Butler and Reggie White would not allow players to under perform. This team has not found their replacements.
The story is similar on offense. William Henderson is willing, but character is not enough. Bubba Franks has been required to block on most plays because of the youth in the line. Yet when Bubba has been asked to make a big play, he has mostly failed. Ahman Green and Donald Driver have been stellar, even in the embarrassing losses. No other player on offense has been a consistent positive force. That is why the offense has been mediocre. And when adversity strikes, Brett Favre becomes a gunslinger. Out goes the game plan, and the offense cannot mount a comeback
The other problem is coaching. When a team is not ready to start the game, there is no one else to blame. On the other hand, three cheers for defensive backfield coach Kurt Schottenheimer. It only required 10 games for him to teach his players where to stand as the play begins. That joke of a coach is directly responsible for a couple of losses. Most other position coaches get a pass. Their charges, often because of injury, are very young. Running back coach Edgar Bennett has stood out. Both Vernand Morrency and Noah Herron have produced good numbers when called upon to play.
For Mike McCarthy, we can understand his excuses but not accept them. He was hired to build a team, and created a playground bully. He can out coach the bad coaches, but against a Holmgren or a Bellicheck, Mike McCarthy is not ready to compete. If this team does not play consistently well for the rest of the season, a change in head coach should be a consideration.
As with fantasy football players, there is always next year for the Packers. However, before this season ends, we need to see a team that can stay in the game with good teams, while continuing to beat up on the weaklings. Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago will present opportunities to show what they can do.