Head Coach Mike McCarthy has spoken often about how important a fast start would be for the Packers' 2006 season.
Narrowing the focus to Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, McCarthy's desire for a fast start doesn't just apply to the first half or the first quarter. More like the first series, or even the first snap.
Because the Packers have so many young players, particularly with three rookie starters on offense alone, the opening moments of the game could be critical psychologically. Playing against the defending NFC North champs, who boast one of the league's top defenses, the Packers can't become vulnerable from a confidence standpoint in the earlygoing or they'll almost certainly face an uphill climb the rest of the afternoon.
"For our particular situation, I think our guys need to have success, and that will start with the first play," McCarthy said. "They've been told about the speed of the game, and there's some natural anxiety that goes with that, and I understand that.
"I think just the way we start the game is important. I think if we start the game strong, we're going to be fine. That's been my experience, particularly dealing with young players."
That's not to say a less-than-perfect start can't be overcome, but if the Packers' young players can at least avoid any regrettable mistakes as the game begins, they won't get mentally bogged down by dwelling on them.
"If we go out there and start off fast, don't get any penalties or turnovers, we'll be OK," veteran receiver Donald Driver said.
Facing the Tampa-2
The Bears' defensive success in recent years is rooted in the Cover-2 defense, also known as the Tampa-2 from its roots with Tony Dungy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bears' head coach Lovie Smith learned the Cover-2 as Tampa Bay's linebackers coach and then took it with him as the defensive coordinator in St. Louis and now as the head coach in Chicago.
In essence, the defensive scheme revolves around keeping two safeties deep in coverage, with the middle linebacker also dropping deep to cover the middle of the field, allowing the cornerbacks to play tightly because they have help deep and over the middle. It's predicated on getting a consistent pass rush from the front four and not having to blitz often.
"They drop seven into coverage, they don't get out of place, you know where they're going to be. They're somewhat predictable," quarterback Brett Favre said. "If you had plenty of time to throw, yeah, you'll find seams. That's the way to beat it is to protect, have plenty of time to throw."
Favre and Head Coach Mike McCarthy also indicated the best offense against the Tampa-2 is to not allow the defense to run the scheme. Generally, the Bears use it in long-yardage situations and when they're playing with the lead.
"Every time they're in Tampa-2, you'd like to be running the football," McCarthy said. "That would be to the advantage of the offense for the most part. When you're throwing the football, their whole perimeter has their eyes glued to the quarterback."
All the Packers' NFC North games this year will feature the scheme. The new coaching staffs with the Vikings and Lions also have installed versions of the Tampa-2 this season.
"We'll get plenty of work at it, that's for sure," McCarthy said.
Backup by committee
McCarthy didn't specify on Friday whether Samkon Gado or Noah Herron would be the No. 2 running back behind Ahman Green. He said it depends on what the offense will want to do when Green needs a rest, but he anticipates both Gado and Herron will play.
"We'll play to Samkon's strengths and Noah's strengths," McCarthy said. "Some people use running-back-by-committee,...it will be based on what we're doing."
Missed practice, should play
Starting left tackle Chad Clifton missed practice on Friday because he was sick. McCarthy said Clifton would be listed as probable on the injury report, and that he expects him to play.