Packers go back to work
GREEN BAY, Wis. — While the general consensus in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room Sunday evening was that the quick turnaround to Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bears was a good thing, it certainly put a crimp in Josh Sitton’s regular Monday night plans.
“Instead of taking the night off and watching Monday Night Football and having a few beers, I’ll be watching film tonight,” the Packers starting right guard said Monday evening. “So it’s just a little bit different.”
The disappointment of dropping Sunday’s season opener to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field was still fresh for the players, who according to coach Mike McCarthy had a light workout in the morning, then had afternoon meetings before position meetings adjourned around 6 p.m. They watched only limited film of Sunday’s loss, and will have only two practices (Tuesday and Wednesday) before playing again.
And while the turnaround might be good for moving on from the loss – although that opinion wasn’t universal – it also means the Packers have very little time to fix what ailed them on Sunday: An inability to stop the 49ers’ running game, a lack of a running game of their own and communication issues and poor play in the secondary.
Are three days in between games enough time to make such repairs?
“I don’t think we’re making any changes. We just need to execute better,” veteran center Jeff Saturday said. “If you did, if you flew that way, and everything had to change because (of Sunday’s game), yeah. But we’re not making any changes. We’ve just got to do what we do, better. And ultimately, we played a very good football team who outplayed us and I give them a lot of credit. They came in and played well the first week. It’s a good thing we’ve got 15 more to correct it.”
On offense, fixing the ground game would seem to be the top priority. Running back Cedric Benson carried only nine times for a paltry 18 yards, and it could be argued that he gained as many yards as were available to him. Some of that can be chalked up to the 49ers’ run defense – San Francisco was No. 1 in the league against the run last year – but considering how much the 49ers lined up in their nickel defense with two deep safeties, the Packers offensive line should have created more holes for Benson.
It got so bad that McCarthy junked the run altogether and started using short passes to receiver Randall Cobb out of the backfield as a surrogate ground game.
“Anytime you break down the run game, I think it’s extremely important to break it down into two components. No. 1, the course of the runner, the discipline of that course and the decision making of the runner … and the second part is the run-blocking unit. Every play has a design as far as what hole we’re trying to attack, what the course, the concept we’re trying to get done.
“Frankly, I thought San Francisco did a good job with their line stunts and doing some things that they haven’t done in the past. It’s part of the first game, the reality of a first game’s unscouted looks. … Give credit to them defensively, but there’s definitely things we can improve on.”
Said Saturday: “I think you kind of (had) the perfect storm – you’ve got a very good defensive front seven and guys (on the offensive line) who aren’t oiled up exactly right, so then you get down and kind of become a one-dimensional football team, which played into what they want to do. It just kind of worked against us, the way we started.”
On defense, the Packers allowed Frank Gore to gash them for 112 yards on just 16 carries, including his 23-yard touchdown run after Aaron Rodgers’ fourth-quarter interception. While they ranked in the middle of the pack last season in run defense (No. 14), that was largely because teams had so much success throwing the ball against them (No. 32, setting the NFL record for most passing yards allowed).
The pass defense was also an issue, and there could be personnel changes in the offing.
M.D. Jennings got the nod as the nickel/dime safety in sub packages when Charles Woodson moved to the slot, but Jennings was benched in favor of rookie Jerron McMillian after blowing the coverage on Randy Moss’ 14-yard touchdown. Veteran special teams ace Jarrett Bush got the start as the No. 2 cornerback in the base defense, but he was replaced by Sam Shields in nickel situations before coming back in whenever the Packers were in their dime personnel.
If Davon House, who hasn’t played since separating his shoulder against San Diego in the preseason opener Aug. 9, is able to go, it’s possible Bush could move back to being solely a special-teams player. Bush did not speak with reporters on Monday, saying he talked after the game.
“It’s tough. It’s a challenge, anytime you’re rolling players in and out. That’s where we are defensively as far as playing individuals based on personnel groupings,” McCarthy said. “We do have a number of our guys that are, frankly, our role players. They need to focus on their role and perform at a higher level in that role. And that’s something that we’ll continue to evaluate and game plan weekly. But as far as lining up with just one guy, there (are) only certain positions that you do that with.”
Whatever changes the Packers do make, they’ll have to make them quickly to be ready for the Bears, who coming off an opening-day victory over Indianapolis.
“Obviously (there is) the disappointment that goes with losing your first game with all the anticipation and build-up for this first game, but to stay focused on the reality, it is one game,” McCarthy said. “With that being said, we’re blessed to have this opportunity to turn right around and play a game Thursday night, and more importantly, to play the Bears.”