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Butler's Breakdown: Making Best Of The Bye


As a player, whenever you come to the bye week on a winning streak, you wish you could keep playing. You don't want anything to disrupt the roll that you're on as a team.

When you enter the bye coming off a loss, it stings. But that's usually when you need it most.

It would have felt sweet to be going into this bye weekend coming off a win in St. Louis, but after two straight losses this break couldn't come at a much better time for the Green Bay Packers.

The players get four days off this week. And you might think they should spend the down time worrying about their 3-4 record, but I say just the opposite.

The Packers need to forget all about their record this weekend. Let the coaches worry about it, let the media talk about it, let your family and friends ask questions about it, but try to forget it.

Hopefully when the players come back to work on Monday, they feel like it's a new season.

Their record is what it is. Beating themselves up about it isn't going to help. In fact, thinking about it might cause them to make the same mistakes all over again in the second half.

In just over a week, the Packers will play what might be their most important game of the season at Minnesota. It's a crucial game because the Vikings are a divisional opponent, first of all, but also because that November 2 game has to mark the start of the Packers' comeback.

The Vikings spoiled the regular-season opener at Lambeau Field. Now the Packers get a chance to make a second-half charge, starting with a win over their rivals to the west.

Believe it or not, the playoffs are still very much in reach.

To get there, the Packers at least need to finish 9-7. To do that, they only need to win six of their remaining games. A 10-6 record would give the Packers even better odds of making the playoffs, but that's going to be a little tougher task.

Games against NFC opponents are crucial, and the Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers are all lined up in November.

For the Packers to keep their playoff hopes alive through that stretch will be difficult. But they can do it with a few adjustments.

On offense, the Packers need to get back to the fundamentals. They've already proven that they can be a powerhouse attack, but they have to quit turning the ball over and they have to make catches when Brett Favre puts it in their hands.

In talking to Donald Driver and Javon Walker, I know the Packers are hoping to get more yards after the catch. They haven't thrown downfield that much this season, so don't be surprised if they look to beat 1-on-1 match-ups deep with their speed.

That said, the top strength of the entire team is probably the offensive line, and the Packers should try and live and die with the line down the homestretch. Especially now that Favre is injured, they have to be able to run the ball.

As Green goes, so goes the Packers offense.

Defensively, the Packers need to focus on their tackling. That's always the best place to start when nothing seems to be going right.

Beyond that, players have to be determined to win their 1-on-1 match-ups, whether that's in the pass rush, against the run or in pass coverage.

Too many times this season the Packers have gotten blocked and stayed blocked. In the second half, they need to be able to fight off those blocks to be able to make plays.

Likewise, when they get chances to makes plays, they need to come through. That means catching the ball when you have a chance at an interception.

On special teams, the Packers have been much improved compared to last season. Ryan Longwell and Josh Bidwell have played like Pro Bowlers.

The coverage units have done a good job, too, and need to keep it up. They can't afford some of the missed tackles that they've had the past two games.

Meanwhile, the Packers need to find a way to break one with Antonio Chatman. He has the potential to be a very dangerous weapon, but what he needs to work on is catching the ball on the move.

If he gets good momentum at the start of the return, the initial tacklers will fly right by him. He should look at game tape of Desmond Howard and Dante Hall to see how that's done.

Finally, the coaching staff needs to figure out how to get the best play out of their best players. As I've said before, I think the Packers schemes have provided opportunities, but as a team you're always striving to get better.

The Packers will want to get the most out of their Pro Bowlers in the second half, and it's up to the coaches to see that those guys get the chances to make plays.

The coaches also need to pay attention to the chemistry of the team. They need to build a strong relationship among players and coaches and make sure this losing record doesn't tear the team apart.

GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman is a master at creating a family atmosphere in the locker room. If there's one person that can keep these guys together, it's Coach Sherman.

I'm sure players are frustrated right now, but the thing everyone needs to remember is that bad starts like this can be overcome.

I remember in Mike Holmgren's first year as head coach we started off 3-6 and finished the year 9-7. Like the Packers this year, in the first half of that 1992 season it seemed like we couldn't get a break.

But we stuck together and we turned it around. Eventually, things started to go our way.

Believe it or not, the difference between the No. 1 team and the No. 32 team in the NFL is about a fumble or an interception per game.

It's possible the Packers could win out their nine remaining games. Of course that's probably unlikely, but it is possible.

And even though no one likes to lose, winning out isn't even the goal.

What the Packers need to try and do is have a winning record the second half of the season. If they go 5-4 and don't make the playoffs, so be it.

But they definitely have the talent and the coaching to win six or seven of their remaining games, and if they do that they could be in a position to make a Super Bowl run.

One thing I do want to dispel is the idea that the Packers are 3-4 because they have a problem with intensity.

I've heard that a lot from Packers fans this year, and I just don't think that's the case.

Those guys on the field are out there fighting for their lives. Just because things haven't gone their way this season doesn't mean it's a problem with effort or desire.

More than anything right now, the Packers need to gain some positive momentum.

There's a lot of pressure to win in Green Bay, and every one of the players and coaches feels it.

If the fans want the team to keep playing hard and keep believing, I hope they'll continue to give the team the support it needs.

Packers fans are the most knowledgeable and loyal fans in the world. Now that times are tough, this is when all of us -- players, coaches, fans -- need to give our best effort.

Together we can do this.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to Monday, Packers fans will be able to submit questions to LeRoy for his Tuesday column.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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