Most people didn't give the Carolina Panthers a chance going into yesterday's game against the Green Bay Packers. But the Panthers sure gave themselves a chance in a 30-23 win by getting off to a fast start, while missed opportunities by the Packers kept Carolina in the game.
However, the Packers prevailed, and they played a solid game on the road against a team that appears to be on the rise. But that doesn't mean that I don't have concerns about Green Bay. Here are five things that the Packers will need to improve on before they play in a rematch of the NFC Championship game against division rival Chicago.
The Packers defense hasn't looked like the Packers defense of 2010, as they have given up 57 points in their first two games, and have allowed the opposing quarterbacks to each throw for over 400 yards in both games, one of whom is a rookie.
While it seemed that the Packers were able to contain both the Saints and the Panthers on the ground and through short pass plays, they allowed big plays in both games. This helped both opponents stay in the game despite a solid offensive performances by Green Bay.
I have faith that the Packers defense will get back on track. But so far, with injuries to Tramon Williams, Nick Collins and Ryan Pickett, and with the loss of Cullen Jenkins, I am beginning to worry about the Packers being able to do what they did last year defensively.
One thing the defense did well on Sunday was causing turnovers, as the Packers forced four of them by the Panthers, three of which came in the third quarter. But the Packers offense failed to capitalize, scoring only nine points on three field goals off these turnovers. While there were a few poor plays in the red zone, the biggest culprit seemed to be penalties.
The Packers committed seven penalties for 57 yards, several of which were in the red zone. This cost them several chances to score touchdowns and put the game away. But the Packers had to settle for field goals, giving the Panthers a chance to come back, which they almost did.
Penalties made this game closer than it should have been, and the Packers are going to have to play more disciplined football, especially against the Bears. As many Packer fans may remember, the 18 penalties the Packers committed against the Bears last year in Week 3 cost them.
Aaron Rodgers put up 308 yards and two touchdowns, and overall, he had a pretty good day. But in the first half, the Packers had a difficult time moving the ball, only managing seven points against a less-than-stellar Panthers defense.
As I mentioned previously, the Packers also failed to get touchdowns on three occasions they were in the red zone. While some of this was due to penalties, dropped passes were also an issue.
While the Packers' offense is looking good, they need to capitalize on the opportunities given to them, and they need to avoid dropped passes and ill-timed three-and-outs.
Special teams for the Packers has certainly improved in the past two years, but Randall Cobb's fumble at the beginning of the game could have been even more disastrous than it was had the Panthers been able to get a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal.
The Packers have been known to make some special teams mistakes, including the fumble on Sunday, and allowing a couple of big returns by Darren Sproles last week against the Saints.
The Bears have one of the best special teams in the league, headed by one of the best returners in the league in Devin Hester. Last year, Hester returned a kick for a touchdown, which proved to be the difference maker for the Bears. The Packers need to not only contain Hester, but they also need to avoid making key mistakes on special teams like the one Cobb made on Sunday.
Last season, the Packers started the season 3-3, despite having great expectations on the year. While they eventually finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl, the Packers have been noted for having slow starts to their seasons. While a loss to the Bears would put them a 2-1, it still might be considered a slow start given the sloppy win they had in Carolina.
It's not just how they start the season, it's also the slow starts during games that are a concern. On Sunday, the Packers were trailing 13-7 at the half against a team they were favored to beat by 10 points. Last year, they experienced slow starts against Minnesota, San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago, and while they prevailed in three of those games, the Packers shouldn't have to play catch-up in every game.
If the Packers win against the Bears, they will be 3-0 and will face Denver at home the following week. This gives them a great opportunity to start the first quarter of their season undefeated. However, they need to shore up a few issues if they want to have a better chance of having a great start to the season.