Special Teams + Stout Defense= Success
Rookie kicker Mason Crosby had an impressive NFL debut Sunday kicking three field goals including the game-winner with 2 seconds left, to lift the Green Bay Packers to a 16 - 13 upset victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a game the Packers were fortunate to win because the offense scored zero points. In was a game which might typify their 2007 season, the Packers' defense was outstanding as were their special teams.
The Packers celebrated their 50th year of playing professional football in Lambeau Field (originally called City Stadium; the name change came in 1965) by jumping out to a 10-point lead. Crosby made his first field goal attempt from 53 yards and the special teams recovered a muffed punt in the end zone to accumulate those points. There were ominous signs, however, as the offense could only muster a total of 20 yards in the first quarter.
By the second half things really got ugly for the Packer offense. The offensive line could not control the Eagles' stout defensive line. Brett Favre was pressured constantly and holes were not getting opened for the rookie running backs. It was painful to watch the Packer offense spit and sputter. I am beginning to wonder if veteran tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton fit the zone-blocking scheme that the Packers have committed to. It didn't look like it on Sunday. To state the obvious, the Packers' offense needs lots of improvement.
On the other hand, the Packer defense played super against a potent Eagle offense. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly and safety Atari Bigby started their first NFL game and both played like seasoned veterans. Jolly has a knack for getting his big paws in the air and swatting down passes. Incredibly, he did it three times against the Eagles.
The Packers have tremendous talent on the defensive line. Holding the high-flying Eagles to 13 points is no easy task, especially when the offense could not sustain drives and score points. I suspect the defense will get even better as they gain confidence.
Remember the first games from last year when the defense was torched for several explosive plays every game? The Eagles managed none Sunday.
The Packers' special teams were opportunistic, capitalizing on two muffed punts. The Packers have been very poor in punt and kick coverage the past few years. There is a big difference this year. Tracy White, Jarrett Bush, and several others distinguished themselves Sunday by making aggressive coverage plays.
Next week the Packers travel to New York for a date with the Giants. The Giants are not anywhere near as good a football team as the Eagles. Nonetheless, the Packers cannot expect to win many more football games relying exclusively on their defense and special teams. Coach McCarthy needs to challenge the offense to carry their share of the load. If he can do that, and the defense and special teams can maintain their intensity, the Pack should start 2007 with two wins.