PLAYERS MAKING PLAYS PACKERS 33 CHIEFS 22 Jerry Gilbert
The Green Bay Packers are at the halfway point of the 2007 season with a record of 7-1. Neither national expert nor devoted fan would have predicted this feat last summer. Brett Favre stumbles as he tries to explain the success to reporters, often sounding as if he expects it to end at any second. He is right. With no running attack, no star in the return game and offensive and defensive units prone to damaging penalties, what could possibly insure continued success as the season progresses?
The answer is that the 2007 Green Bay Packers have enough talented players, so that one of them has shown up often enough to earn victories. Most prominent has been the Franchise Quarterback, Brett Favre. He was under constant pressure and mostly ineffective against the Eagles in the opener, but there was that one improvisational drive that made the difference. He was also missing in action against the Redskins. However, in every other victory, a key ingredient has been the play calling, deceptiveness and the "only he could do it" passes of Brett Favre.
The upset in Kansas City is an example. Burdened by a bad day form his offensive line, Brett Favre nevertheless completed pinpoint passes to his reliable Donalds, Driver and Lee and also to his emerging young wide receivers, Greg Jennings and James Jones. Each of them has made a great catch at some point, which also has made a difference. Being optimistic, one would hope that a potentially better receiver than any of them, Koren Robinson may also make a great play or three as the season continues. Any sign of life from the running game could make this offense a potent unit.
A discussion of the special teams begins with the specialists. Who can forget the fake punt that was called off, except that nobody informed the punter? Jon Ryan's heroic broken field run for a first down is perhaps the season's finest example of an athlete making a play when it was needed. Less noteworthy but still important was kicker Mason Crosby's field position saving tackle against the Chiefs. Coverage units won the Eagles game. Charles Woodson's timely punt return was a turning point in Kansas City. Over all, the Green Bay special teams are about average. Timely kicks, blocks and tackles have made their impact way above average. It is on defense that we see the most examples of playmakers. Last Sunday, against the team with the best home record, since 1990 104-86, Greg Jennings caught the go ahead long pass, but Charles Woodson's interception sealed the victory. A hard tackle that stops the runner short of a first down or prevents a completion is a trademark of this unit, as is the consistent pass rush pressure of Aaron Kampman, Corey Williams and KGB. Nick Barnett is the leader in tackles and attitude. Whether it is Al Harris breaking up a pass or A. J. Hawk tackling a runner for a loss, these players believe that they can always stop the opponent. Next Sunday rookie Aaron Rouse will start in place of the injured Nick Collins. Rouse will be required to make some plays.
Relying on timely heroics is a recipe to come up short from time to time. The Packers will likely lose a few games in the second half of the season. Detroit and Dallas will present a major challenge, and Minnesota and Carolina will come into Lambeau Field with something to prove. On the bright side, they only need to win about half the remaining games to insure a spot in the playoffs, and none of these teams is significantly better than Green Bay.
This suggests a hopeful scenario. The Packers are 7-1 with an under performing offensive line and a defense that could play much better. If the offensive line plays as well as it did at the end of last season, the improvements in the Packer receivers should be enough to score some points. Barring injury, Donald Driver, Koren Robinson and the youngsters should continue to rack up yards and touchdowns. Cut out a few penalties and coach Bob Sanders defense could be a shut down unit. A return to form by Cullen Jenkins would be a big help.
On paper, the Green Bay Packer are a year or two away from competing for a championship. On the field their record says they are on track to win the conference. But this is only the half way point, and there are many potential losses remaining on the schedule. However if the playmakers continue as they have been playing the Green Packers will win their share.