I hope people got a chance to watch the Packers game, because that was hilarious. Not only did the Packers manage to beat the City of Brotherly Love 16 - 13, but they did so with their offense only contributing three points to the cause. Hell, the 9 to 7 victory over Minnesota last year was a more impressive offensive showing. To be plain, the offense was so inept, the Packers should have lost the game. With Westbrook and McNabb, Philadelphia is a more talented team, and if the two teams played 10 games, I'd pick the Eagles to win 6 or 7, at least at this stage in the offense's development. The Eagles will definitely challenge Dallas for the NFC East. Here are some take aways:
First, the defense looks close to as good as advertised. They got almost no help in terms of time of possession from the offense, but only gave up thirteen points to a team with a top tier quarterback, offensive line, and running back. (That same team put up 31 points on the same personnel, minus Bigby, last season.) Thanks to players like Johnny Jolly (three batted passes) stepping up, McNabb completed less than 50% of his passes, and threw for under 200 yards-- both surprisingly bad stats for such a good player. The box score says the defense only had one sack, but they tackled McNabb for little or no gain on several scrambles, and flushed him repeatedly. (Though, sadly, KGB looked ineffective; get healthy Mike Montgomery!) If McNabb wasn't so damn mobile and strong, the D would have had at least four sacks. Against a worse offensive line and less mobile quarterback (hello, Jack Kitna!), the pass rush should be fun to watch. Barnett's interception was one of the best plays I've ever seen him make, and he had a pretty good game otherwise, swooping around to make 9 solo tackles, though he did give up the D's one touchdown. Al's elbow injury was scary (easy there, Atari!), but he came back on and played decently, so hopefully it's manageable. If folks can stay healthy, this could be an excellent unit this season. The early results are good.
Second, the offense was as bad as the pessimists feared, but the fault does not necessarily lie where people expected. The pundits predicted that the Packers would struggle on offense because of inexperience, injury, and lack of talent at the skill positions. Yes, Driver did seem to struggle to get open against the Eagles' good corners, Jackson dropped a pass that could have been a ten yard gain, and Bubba continues to not look fast. But these issues were not the source of the offense's ineptitude.
Here's the main problem-- the offensive line played like garbage. Especially the Packers' lone Wisconsin alum-- Mark Tauscher. Yes, I'm calling you out, Grizzly Adams. Tauscher gave up at least one sack directly, gave up too many pressures to count, let ends breeze past him on several run downs, and took a pathetic ankle dive at a Philly DT during a broken play that led to Favre being sacked again. Clifton got soundly beat for another sack, and Colledge either thought Wells was helping him out or just got owned on an additional sack. If it weren't for Favre's in the pocket shenanigans, like the one that resulted in the 18 yard shuffle pass to Wynn, the team would have given up even more than the four officials sacks noted in the box score. Brandon Jackson didn't look explosive, but he had almost nowhere to run the entire game. On the whole, it was a terrible outing by what is supposed to be an improved line.
And Philly's defensive line is just pretty good, not elite. If this had been the Bears or the Chargers (two of the Packers' next four opponents) it would have been far worse. Tauscher needs to get his act together, and the line needs to play far better, and quickly. Based on last night's performance against the Cowboys, the Giants, the Packers next opponent, don't have too fearsome a front four. But after that, things will get rough quickly in the form of the Chargers Vikings, and Bears. Uh oh.
Now, the offense should be improved with a healthy Greg Jennings and Vernand Morency, both talented guys who have at least some experience. (The return of Jennings, for example, will boost the entire passing game. Not only will he be a threat in his own stead, but he'll force opposing teams to cover James Jones with their nickel backs, rather than their starting corners. Advantage, Pack Attack.) It sounded like Vernand was close to playing this week, and I don't think Jennings' pulled hammie was too serious.
Third, the special teams are much improved, but no one can expect this sort of luck every week. The first fumble/touchdown was a great play by Jarrett Bush, just leveling Philly's returner a millisecond after he caught the ball, and then crazy luck in favor of the Packers, with Sega helping hurl the ball into the end zone and Tracy White ending up on top of it. That's a lot of things playing out for the Packers on that one play-- a receiving team will often jump on a fumble, and punt returners should call for fair catches in when the gunners are that close. But still, Bush made it happen with his great hit, and the other players were aware enough to chase the ball.
The second and deciding punt/fumble was a total fluke though. The best play was by Brady Poppinga (my favorite name on the Packers) dodging the returner so as not to draw a penalty. The initial camera angle made it look like Brady bumped him, but really he made a heady move to twist out of the way to avoid contact. Then the Philly returner flubbed it on his own. Craziness.
The returns looked decent, especially with back up guys at the returner spots. When Blackmon gets healthy, and with the apparently improved special teams blocking, returns could actually be exciting, and not just an excuse for FOX to run another three minutes of commercials.
Crosby looked good as well, as everyone must have noticed. His 53 yard boot in the first half rewarded my decision to draft him in both of my fantasy leagues. (The theory was, he has a big leg and the Packers are going to have difficulty scoring TDs this season, and all kickers are basically even. ) So far, the choice of Crosby over Rayner has played out well for the Packers, but it's a long season.
In summary, I guess we have what we thought we'd have, albeit for slightly different reasons. The skill positions aren't great, but the offense's troubles are mainly in the line, and it's the veteran guys, like Clifton and Tauscher, who need to get their acts together. The special teams look younger and more aggressive. The defense is solid, and has a chance to be special. But it needs help from the offense, at least in terms of ball control and time of possession.
A crazy first game, leading to a win over a superior opponent. The Packers are undefeated at home this season. First time anyone's been able to say that since 2002.