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NOT THERE YET PACKERS LOSE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Jerry Gilbert
One day after the Green Bay Packers came within one under thrown pass of winning the NFC Championship, I am over the shock and gloom, and objectivity has almost returned.

The comparison to the victorious New York Giants exposes the limitations of the Packer team. The Giants featured three veteran playmakers on offense and many on defense. They managed a balanced offensive attack while Green Bay was limited, by a combination of defense and weather, to short and intermediate passes. Ultimately, Eli Manning, Plaxico Burris and Amani Toomer made enough plays to beat the Packers. The Packer offense was one play or one defensive stop short of finishing the job.

In general, the Packer defense played pretty well except for untimely penalties. They mostly controlled the run, and on occasion pressured the passer. Manning completed some passes that no cornerback could have stopped. Those passes need to be tipped at the line, or the quarterback needs to be too hurried to make a good throw. The touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw, which was nullified by a borderline holding call, is another concern. The Packer defense was not quite up to the challenge.

Special teams were another mixed bag. There were two fine returns, but the coverage team was only fair. The Giants also had a couple of successful g runbacks. Mason Crosby was solid when called upon, but Punter John Ryan, who learned to kick in Canada, had nothing to offer in the frigid conditions. A net win on special teams could have made the difference.

In the big picture, this team is similar to the Green Bay teams of the early nineties, which would do well in the regular season and then lose to a superior Dallas Cowboy team at some point in the playoffs. That team got over the hump as young players matured, and a few veterans, such as Keith Jackson and Desmond Howard, were added. The Packers deserve to be on the same playing field with the best in the NFL, but there are not enough reliable playmakers to win every game.

For all his accomplishments, Bret Favre is part of the problem. It is worth remembering that Desmond Howard, not Favre, was the MVP of the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots . Even then, Favre did not do it alone. For every 4th quarter winning drive, there have been two or three that end in an interception. On Sunday, had either intercepted pass been thrown where it needed to be, the outcome could have been different. The weather was below zero, and the ball was slippery, but those were the cards on the table. The Packer quarterback did not execute.

The offense has other issues. Tailback Ryan Grant is a very inexperienced player who will get better as a runner and, hopefully, much better as a receiver. The attempted screen passes against New York were brutal. Wide receiver Greg Jennings is also very young. Giant veteran Amani Toomer, though past his peak as receiver, was much more of a factor in the game. As to the offensive line, while you cannot say enough about Mark Tauscher, the other four could have played better, as evidenced by the lack of holes for running backs and pressure on Number 4. Tauscher has shut out a Pro Bowl pass rusher for two consecutive weeks.

Turning to the defense, it is not ready to show up for sixty minutes. The unit has no answer for big athletic receivers. Drafting a cornerback who can match up against this type of player could be a priority. At safety, Nick Collins seems to be disappearing, except for a stupid penalty here and there, just as Atari Bigby is showing up. Tall rookie safety Aaron Rouse could be part of the answer in future seasons. At linebacker, Brady Poppinga was a monster in the first quarter and then disappeared. We are waiting, with some optimism, for A.J. Hawk to become a difference maker. He is still a very young man. It would be a good idea to seek a veteran playmaker to supplement this group. A proven cover backer or blitzer could provide a big play in certain situations, perhaps enough to win a game.

I am optimistic about the future for the Green Bay special teams. Coach Mike Stock seems to be a good teacher, and General Manger Ted Thomson has stocked the team with athletes who enjoy special teams. The special team won the opener against Philadelphia and contributed to other victories. With experience, coach Stock could make them a dominant unit. The Kickers are also very young and could become much better. You have to like the tackling ability of Mason Crosby, and expect that he could be a weapon with the on sidekick.

A Packer Fan cannot help regretting what might have been. On the other hand, 14-4 is a pretty good record for a team that came into the season with huge questions in every facet of the team. Who would run the ball? Who would catch it? Could the defense prevent big plays? Remaining unanswered is the question of winning in bad weather. One would hope that as the team matures, they would improve in that category. All in all, however, I am pretty happy with the 2007 season, and anxious to see what happens in the off season.

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