The team played very good overall, but there was one area that killed them in this loss to Atlanta. Although it sure would have been nice if rookie TE Jermichael Finley had not committed a holding penalty when K Mason Crosby made a 43 yard field and then missed a 53 yard attempt after the penalty.
There are a lot of important aspects to having a good football team, but the two most important are:
- Passing offense. Maybe the Packers aren't quite as good as last season, but either way QB Aaron Rodgers leading a very good passing attack. This is not the problem. Obviously you need offense to create points, but with a great passing attack, you always have a chance for a late comeback too.
- Run defense. Four 100 yard rushers allowed in five games. The only team without one? Detroit. This part of the team is so important because you can't let teams have the ball at the end of a close game and let them run the clock out. You have to stop them and give the offense another chance. In the last two losses against Tampa and Atlanta, both were sealed at the end when the defense couldn't stop the run.
Obviously injuries are a big part of the team's problem. Losing S Atari Bigby for the last three games and the injury LB A.J. Hawk is playing through are not helping. DE Cullen Jenkins is good against the run and now lost for the season too, but DE Mike Montgomery is a good run stopping replacement.
It's really time to focus on one player who hasn't been listed at all on the injury reports this season; LB Nick Barnett. After Rodgers threw his INT in the 4th quarter today, Atlanta went right to the running game and RB Michael Turner. On one key play, Turner ran right and had a clear running lane, except Barnett was right in front of him, unblocked. Barnett missed the tackle, he didn't even force Turner to go back inside, instead Turner ran past him down the sidelines and set up a 1st and goal which led to a TD. Barnett has been a near Pro Bowl performer in his career, but right now the Packers could put backup LB Desmond Bishop in for Barnett, and I doubt we'd notice a difference.
But It's not just Barnett. After the failed onside kick, now this was a team failure, Atlanta just handed the ball off three times, got the first down, and ran out the clock. The Packers deserve their 2-3 record right now. This is basically the same defensive front seven that held their opponents to under 4 yards/carry in 2007, but in 2008, their opponents are averaging over 5 yards/carry.
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Until the Packers figure out how to stop the run, expect them to lose at least a couple more close games this season.