Packers are perfect only in record
By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – Not under Mike Sherman, Mike Holmgren or legendary Vince Lombardi have the Green Bay Packers gotten off to a better start through three games than Mike McCarthy’s 2011 team.
Oh, Sherman was 3-0 in ’01, Holmgren 3-0 in ’98 and ’96 and Lombardi 3-0 in ’62, ’65 and ’66. But none of those 3-0 starts included two road victories and three within the conference.
By that measure, the Packers are off to the best start in the National Football League following their 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field. Heading into the Monday night game, the other 3-0 teams – Detroit and Buffalo – either don’t have two road or three conference victories.
Considering that 75.9% of the teams that started 3-0 since 1990 have made the playoffs – the number jumps to 85% for 4-0 – the Packers have accomplished a lot, especially for a team that is traditionally slow out of the blocks.
The part that makes it all kind of peculiar, however, are some other numbers.
Like 29, which is where the team ranks in total defense, or 21, where it ranks in scoring defense, or 2, where it ranks in allowing the most plays of 20 or more yards, or 16, where it ranks in opponent’s passer rating.
Or how about 19, which is where the club ranks in penalties committed or 32, where it ranks in net punting average.
Yes, the Packers are 3-0, but they don’t always look like a 3-0 team.
“Our quality of play needs to improve,” McCarthy said Monday. “Everybody’s fully aware of that. We have a lot of work to do.
“We’re 3-0. It’s a good place to be in, to know you’ve won all your games, but you know that you’re not really scratching the surface of how good you can be as a team.”
When asked what was the single biggest factor in the Packers starting 3-0, McCarthy referenced adversity football. In other words, making the best of a bad situation.
“We’re getting some yards, no question about it,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has the least to be concerned about given the offense’s rankings of eighth in yards and fifth in points. “We had 24 first downs, 390 yards (against Chicago).
“But I think when you watch the film, you notice there are things we’re not doing very well and things we have to straighten out in quick fashion. On a piece of paper, I think we did some good things. I’m not discounting that our guys played hard and all that good stuff, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Given quarterback Aaron Rodgers ranks No. 1 in the NFL in passer rating (120.9), the rushing offense ranks a respectable 11th and the red-zone offense is tied for sixth in touchdown percentage, you’d have to dig pretty hard to find something bad to say about Philbin’s group.
But there were a half dozen pre-snap penalties, a lost fumble, an interception and a few botched assignments that have to be addressed.
On defense, coordinator Dom Capers has much more tangible evidence of his unit’s shortcomings. Until this season, his unit had never been ranked any lower than 18th and it prided itself on not giving up big plays.
This year, offenses are having their way throwing the ball.
“I just see the elements there, starting with the run defense,” Capers said of returning to normalcy. “The areas that we have to continue to improve in is we have to tackle better and we have got to eliminate the big plays.
“We can have a big quarter and next thing you know we give up a play. The way you score points in this league is through making big plays. I just feel like if people don’t make many big plays against us, they’ll have a hard time scoring points.”
The red-zone defense has been stingy. Only two teams have allowed the opposition to drive inside the 20-yard line more times than the Packers (13), but only three teams in the league have done a better job keeping them out of the end zone (30.8%).
“I like the improvement we’re making,” Capers said. “This is the first week I’ve really seen elements of what we want our defense to look like. The encouraging thing to me is, when you see it, then it just becomes a matter of consistency.”
On special teams, the Packers rank in the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage and near the top in kickoff returns. Kicker Mason Crosby is 5 for 5 on field goals and tied for eighth in touchbacks.
Coordinator Shawn Slocum feels good about the continuity he has had in his lineups.
“I think we are in much better shape,” he said, comparing things to last season. “I think the group has really good energy right now. You see the way we cover kickoffs – that’s the way it’s supposed to look.”
Yep, the way a 3-0 team would do it.
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