Through their sloppy, ineffective, play the Packers are starting to showcase three glaring weaknesses that could make or break their 2009 season just three games in. Surprise!
Maybe I should have specified what kind of surprise it was going to be. Unless your name happens to be Antwan Odom, it's not a good one.
Let's take a look at the three weaknesses and the importance for the Packers to overcome them this week against the St. Louis Rams and for the 2009 season in general.
You may want to strap in for this one as it's most probably going to be a bumpy ride. As a Packers fan, your conductor isn't in a particularly good mood. Justifiably so, it seems.
All aboard? All right.
Weakness Number One: Mr. Allen Wade Barbre, Offensive "Tackle."
Though spelling his name Barbre, Allen Wade pronounces it "Bar-ber."
I'm assuming Allen Wade is spending too much of his time correcting people who pronounce his name "Bar-bray" to devote much thought to playing offensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers.
The obvious solution to this is to bite the bullet and switch the last two letters of his name around. This should take the pressure off and allow Allen Wade some time to study his playbook.
Either that or he could maybe just go cut hair somewhere and quit totally screwing up my favorite football team; he could do that.
Barbre's play has been nothing short of awful at the right offensive tackle position for the Packers in 2009, and it's negative effects on the team have been far reaching and pervasive.
Barbre's inability to block someone, anyone, man-to-man is extremely disruptive to the Packers offense.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is running for his life this season, having already been sacked 10 times in two games. When he's had an extra second to actually throw the ball, Rodgers has been fairly accurate with a 56.7% completion rate for 445 yards. The fact that he has yet to throw an interception this year is a credit to Rodgers' toughness and increasingly mature play, as it's extremely hard to make good decisions with your eyes crossed and your ears ringing all afternoon.
The fact that Rodgers' has only thrown two touchdowns in 2009 is due primarily to him deciding to keep his team in games instead of risking everything on one play. I believe this to be a sound strategy and it relaxes me a bit as a fan to know that the Packers have someone as smart and talented as him manning the QB position.
What doesn't relax me one bit is my growing certainty that Rodgers won't be staying healthy enough to man anything for 16 games this year.
The play of his offensive line, especially Barbre, will lead to an eventual Rodgers injury. Even if it doesn't, and Rodgers grits his teeth and plays through numerous smaller aches and pains (which is probably already the case), the Packers need to understand their star quarterback will be much more safe and effective with help.
Speaking of help, Allen Wade Barbre springs to mind there as well. He needs a lot, and so far this season he's gotten it. I know, I know; it makes me sad too.
In two games this season the Packers have thrown guards, tight-ends, and fullbacks over to Barbre's side to help stem the bleeding. This plan seriously blew up in the Packers faces this past Sunday.
These are tight-ends and fullbacks that are also needed elsewhere. Maybe to help out someone else, like Chad Clifton with his assignment on Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Odom?
Oh wait, don't worry about Clifton, he's been hurt. Hurt trying to stop Odom one-on-one, which is a total coincidence. Don't worry at all Allen, we'll just put guard Daryn Colledge in there against Odom and keep sending all the help we can to the right side. Yep, yep, things should work out just fine.
Well, they didn't. Odom ended up dropping five sacks, all by his lonesome, on the Packers and poor Aaron Rodgers (2 on Clifton, 3 on Colledge). Odom must have wished he could have stayed out there for an extra quarter or two this past Sunday; who doesn't like going to Hawaii for free?
Fullbacks and tight-ends are also useful catching passes. Having them available to do this instead of tied up doing someone else's job would benefit Rodgers as well.
Running back Ryan Grant might also appreciate some help doing his job. With backup Brandon Jackson still limited by an ankle injury, Grant is the only RB currently on the Packers roster (DeShawn Who? What? Where?). Grant could certainly use the services of his fullbacks to open holes for him and maybe a right tackle who can actually block, or something. I mean, we're wishing here right? Might as well go for broke.
Barbre has also had a negative impact on the defense, leaving them out on the field far too long with his drive-killing play.
The play of Barbre and the rest of the Packers offensive line will be, in my opinion, the entire game against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, September 27, 2009. This is a game the Packers are certainly capable of winning; but in regards to their season it's really a case of how they win.
If they even do. The play of Barbre against veteran Rams defensive end Leonard Little will tell a huge tale for the Packers in the game and 2009 in general. Little is an aging veteran with some memorable games already in his career, who'd always take one more. Leonard's veteran savvy and scary intensity will most likely give Barbre fits and Packers fans will probably hear his cries of "Help! Help!" all the way in Wisconsin; about midway through the first quarter most likely.
Will this be the case, over-matched early and often? If it is, then it leaves Colledge against Rams second-year end Chris Long one-on-one, all day.
Long has shown some promise for the Rams with four sacks and 16 pressures last year, and is looking for one big game to finally prove himself worthy of his high draft status. Something tells me he's watching tape of the Packers like wolves watch sheep right now, and Colledge better prepare himself for a "Long" afternoon. I really hope he's up to it.
The Packers may actually manage to run up the middle against the Rams defensive tackles and if the fullbacks are at all available to block, Ryan Grant might find some daylight.
This could take pressure off Rodgers, giving him time to throw effectively. Again, this will all come down to the play of his tackles.
Even if Long and Little end up running all over the Green Bay backfield Sunday afternoon though, the Packers could still win.
Rodgers manages a game well, even under pressure.
The Green Bay defense has a habit of generating take-aways and points; at least, Charles Woodson does.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they're weak at numerous positions and are just a beatable team by anyone's standards.
Which doesn't mean they won't win against the Packers; it just makes it unlikely. My point is that the Packers don't just have to beat the Rams; they have to beat them first and foremost with the play of their offensive tackles. The Packers tackles have to stand up (literally; they fall down a lot) and prove they can offer their QB some protection for somewhere between 85 and 100 percent of the time they're out on the field. I'm not asking for miracles here, but the current 30 to 35 percent ratio is just not cutting it for me.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, as of right now there's no help in sight for the 2009 Packers offensive line.
We've already mentioned the fullbacks and tight-ends, they're better off doing the jobs they were actually signed for and there's no real need to mention them here anyway because it's not the type of help I'm talking about at this point.
No, the Packers need either a miracle where everyone on the line suddenly realizes they've been reading the playbook upside down and backwards the whole time and quickly get's their (expletive) together or they need an upgrade in personnel.
Either/Or is just as likely to happen for the Rams game this coming Sunday, so dwell on that for as long as it takes you, then we can move on to the Packers next glaring weakness.
Weakness Number Two: Injured Safeties Leave No Roster Room
Something weird is going on here. The Packers have made a few roster moves in the last 24 hours and while they're necessary now, looking back a few weeks they don't seem to add up.
Let's take a look at the hard facts right now and leave the weirdness alone until weakness number three.
The first fact is that the Packers have suffered injuries to both starting safeties, Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. Bigby is officially listed as out, while Collins was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice and is a question mark for Sunday against the Rams.
Third-year pro Aaron Rouse is also limited by injury and the fact that Green Bay released him on Wednesday. The latter will probably have a huge impact on his play for the Packers on Sunday against St. Loo.
Replacing Rouse on the 53 man roster is fourth-year safety Matt Giordano, a free agent who has spent his most notable time with the Colts, gathering four starts in something like two years in Indy.
Giordano is currently listed as Collins' backup and will probably get the nod Sunday if Nick is unable to go. Relative unknown Derrick Martin, a recent acquisition from Baltimore, will most likely start in place of Bigby.
The Packers other option at safety is fourth-year man Jarrett Bush. I'm using the term "option" fairly loosely here, with Bush's only real advantage to Rouse (and the only reason I see to keep him on the roster instead of Rouse) being his ability to avoid injury. This has to do with Jarrett's instinctive talent of taking several plays off every game, effectively conserving his energy and maintaining his health. A quick penalty is always good for a breather as well. What is it with people who have that last name?
Aside from Giordano and Rouse, the Packers also made another move with an addition to the scout team by welcoming back undrafted rookie offensive tackle Dane Randolph. This wasn't a complete shock as fifth round draft pick Jamon Meredith, another OT, was recently signed from the practice squad by the Buffalo Bills.
With the shuffling at the safety position and the injury to Clifton, the Packers seem certain to head into St. Louis featuring the same offensive line that finished the Bengals game. Barring a trade, their roster has no obvious room for adjustment in the form of offensive tackles and any new additions wouldn't be ready to help against the Rams anyway.
Which brings us to our third, and last, glaring weakness of the Packers in 2009. It's a big one.
Weakness Number Three: Lack of focus.
This seems to be the term that defines the 2009 Green Bay Packers on the field.
From the linebackers, to the special teams, to the offensive line the Packers can't seem to get their players to focus. Sloppy, disorganized play has ruled the day for the Pack in 2009 and blame is starting to show up. As Packers fans, we need a place to put it.
Does it belong with the players? Some of it, sure. Certain individuals need to start playing professional football instead of Pop Warner; there's no doubt about it.
Let me ask you something though; why is someone like, say, Allen Barbre even on the field for the Packers? His terrible play is mostly his own fault, but why is it being allowed to disrupt the entire team on Sunday?
Lack of focus, that's why. If, by lack of focus, you mean poor coaching and suspicious management and talent evaluation, that's it right there.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy waltzed into this season with a huge hole in their team's offensive tackle position and this decision has bit them and their team squarely on the behinds so far.
I have to admit, I've been a definite Thompson booster in the past and have attributed numerous of his puzzling decisions to the fact that he's a savvy football operator and competent GM.
I'm starting to fear that so many of his decisions seemed puzzling because they were, in short, bad.
Recently things have gotten, as I mentioned earlier, weird.
Thompson and his staff had an obvious lack of focus regarding the Packers offensive line entering the 2009 season and it's showing.
The inability to re-sign veteran tackle Mark Tauscher led to the promotion of third year man Allen Barbre (previously mentioned) into the starting right OT position for the Packers. How could this terrible decision be allowed to happen? Lack of focus? I guess.
The trade of fourth-year tackle Tony Moll to Baltimore for safety Derrick Martin is also a suspicious move. Nothing at all against Martin, who's played reasonably well for the Packers and is currently needed as a starter, but something isn't right here.
The Packers traded away the only real depth they had at the OT position with Moll. The guy they kept, Breno Giacomini, is so highly valued by the team that he hasn't even dressed for the first two games and will probably not see the field at all against the Rams either, in favor of the terrible Barbre.
I'm not saying Moll is better than Giacomini or Barbre, but as Packers fans we'll never get to know that. The failure of Thompson to provide his team with options at an important position seems like a lack of focus to me.
The release of veteran free agent safety Anthony Smith before the season started is another troubling move by Thompson. Smith had a fine preseason for the Packers and his release precipitated the Moll trade.
By signing Giordano and releasing Rouse the Packers have shown an extreme lack of focus. The team spent over a day after he worked out for them discussing the possibility of adding Giordano, with the biggest obstacle apparently being who would be released to make room on the roster.
With the eventual casualty being Rouse, it makes one wonder why Smith was ever cut in the first place. If Rouse was so very much on the bubble anyway, releasing him at the end of camp and keeping Smith and Moll on the roster would seem to have been a healthier, more focused, choice for the Packers.
As it stands, the Packer's only reasonable chance to solve their roster woes seems to be a trade. From what I can see, the team needs a new starting right tackle and he probably won't come cheap.
If he's even entertaining the idea, Thompson will have to give up not only draft picks but active roster players in order to upgrade the OT position this season for the Pack. Other GMs will be able to smell his desperation and any trade the Packers manage to make will end up sending more overall value the other way than the team will get in return. Such is usually the case with glaring weaknesses and quick fixes regarding the same.
What Thompson will most likely do is eventually release Barbre and either scan the waiver wire or sign a veteran/rookie free agent to take his spot on the roster. Then Ted will close his eyes, cross his fingers, and hope for the best.
Someone else on the Packer's staff who seems to be holding to this philosophy is head coach Mike McCarthy. Again, I have been a McCarthy booster in the past and I hope my happiness over him not being Mike Sherman has not blinded me to his short-comings.
If a team is troubled by a lack of focus on the important aspects of their careers, such as football and the proper playing of, there should always be someone there to offer sage advice and counsel.
Why not make that guy the head coach? Seems like it would work, right?
Unfortunately for some NFL teams, head coaches are busy individuals who sometimes fail to recognize when their team is lacking direction and focus.
The team is practicing poorly? They got their butts whipped last Sunday? Well, they're a bunch of grown men, I'm sure they can figure it out for themselves. I gotta go, we're installing a new jacuzzi tub back at the house!
Situations like that are awful for NFL teams, their players, and their fans. Is McCarthy toeing the "neglectful coach" line? Time will tell, I suppose.
The St. Louis Rams will also tell. Their defense and the ability, or lack thereof, by five Packers to keep it out of the backfield will show Packers fans a lot about their hopes for this season.
The Packers seem to be balancing on a thin edge right now between emerging contender and team in turmoil. How it will eventually turn out is anyone's guess, but someone needs to start righting the ship.
Addressing the offensive line issue seems as good a place as any to start. This would most likely mean making roster room and the Packers may need to stop focusing so intensely on special teams. Seriously, three fullbacks? Three?
As far as their lack of focus on everything else, this isn't a problem that will be fixed by talking. Someone has to pull the reigns tight on the Packers and not allow them to make the mistakes they're becoming known for. Things such as penalties and sloppy play.
Who is going to take control of the Packers in 2009? Aside from Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, who've already stated their cases on the field, the obvious candidate would be head coach Mike McCarthy.
If he can't get it done, then I would suggest fresh eyes for the 2010 campaign. I'd prefer to not hear anymore talk about poor practices and a lack of focus from the Packers coaching staff. What I'd like is to see improved play on the field.
With two games in the next six weeks against Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings have the Packers Javon Walkered themselves with their inattention to talent and depth at the offensive tackle position? This is a scary possibility.
Will Rams legend Deacon Jones, whose jersey is being retired by the team Sunday, knock Allen Barbre down in the parking lot before the game a few times just for kicks? As far as I understand, the Deacon could always spot a duck.
Will the Packers select an offensive tackle with their first pick in the 2010 entry draft? Almost certainly.
Turmoil or triumph? Failure or focus? Victims or victors? 2009 Green Bay Packers tell me! What path will you choose?