Friday, September 17, 2004

Off to a Good Start

I literally had no idea what to expect from the Packers Monday night. The last couple of years, I have gotten into the bad habit of not following football in the off-season. It was particularly true this year. I didn't follow off-season transactions, didn't watch any of the draft, didn't read hardly any football news in the paper or on the internet. I suppose I could blame it on the bad taste left in my mouth by the ending of the Eagles' playoff game, but I don't really think that was the cause of it.

Anyway, then the pre-season arrived. I knew that I would only get to watch one Packer game, the nationally televised game against the Seahawks, since the NFL Sunday Ticket package does not carry pre-season games. So I set the VCR to tape the game, but I messed something up, and the game didn't tape, so I didn't even get to watch that game. Instead, I just had to go with the box scores and articles about the pre-season games. Oh, I know, it is a mistake to put too much emphasis on pre-season games, but that was all I had to go on, and it didn't look too promising. The fact that the Packers were playing the defending NFC Champions did not serve to increase my confidence level, either. I figured it would be a pretty good way to get a sense of whether this Packer team is in a position to be a contender this year.

If that was what I was looking for, I got exactly what I wanted and needed. The Packers looked good, despite losing Grady Jackson after only a few plays, and despite (obviously) playing without Mike McKenzie. When Jake Delhomme threw his first pass right at Michael Hawthorne, McKenzie's replacement, completing the pass for about 20 yards, I was concerned that Hawthorne might be the Packers' Achilles Heel. But after that play, I was quite impressed with the defensive backs, and in general with the new high-pressure defensive approach by new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik. Now, it is true that the Panthers didn't look very good, but they still are the defending NFC Champs, so it is hard to dismiss them as a mediocre team.

I am still getting used to the Packers relying so heavily on the running game. Throughout most of the Favre era, they have relied so heavily on Favre's arm, with all the pluses and minuses that come with that kind of reliance. It is such a delight to watch them march up and down the field, pretty much relying on the running game. As long as this offensive line stays healthy, we can probably count on a lot more of that power running.

Week Two is almost too early to have the Bears visit the Packers at historic Lambert Field (oops, make that Lambeau Field, I guess I am watching too many campaign speeches). I'm not really ready for a Bears' game just yet. Judging by the parts of the Bears game I saw on Sunday, though, the good news is that the Bears might not be ready for the Packers, either. I'm sure that our neighbors in the Land of Lincoln were not too happy about the debut of their new coach, since the Bears managed to provide the Lions with their first road victory in several years. I remember when Lovie Smith was hired, and the emphasis that was put on his mission being to go out and beat the Packers. I have nothing against the guy, as he seems like a nice-enough person. It will take me awhile to build up any real animosity for him. But I would sure like to see him sitting at 0-2 after two games. The Packers have enough tough games coming up later this year (one of them the week against the Bears game). They need to make sure they don't falter in one of those games, like this one, that they should win easily.