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Notebook: Focus On Fundamentals


Head Coach Mike McCarthy believes the game of football is 95 percent fundamentals.

So when he analyzes what the Packers need to correct to turn around their current two-game losing streak, it starts and ends with the basics in all three phases of the game.

"The fundamentals is always the key," McCarthy said. "If you're looking for a common thread, it's the little things that matter."

Those little things apply to offense, defense and special teams, and those are what the Packers are focused on this week in preparing to face the New York Jets.

On offense, it's primarily the blocking. Poor footwork can lead to missed blocks in the run game or in pass protection. Cut-blocking is a big part of the zone scheme for running the ball, and the coaches emphasize taking a certain number of steps before going down to throw a cut-block. Come up one step short, and the block won't be executed properly.

Those fundamentals are a big reason the Packers have averaged only 47 rushing yards per game the last three weeks.

"There's just common errors that we've had before that are correctible and we just have to continue to do it," McCarthy said. "Confidence does play into that. Reps is a big part of it. We just have to continue to work it."

The same goes for the defense, where McCarthy has pointed to alignments as an important factor. Lining up one step too far one way or the other can make the difference in getting off a block, or being in the right position to make a tackle.

Alignment problems may have been the starting point for the 200-yard rushing performance turned in by Shaun Alexander on Monday night, a huge departure from the solid run defense the Packers had played in the season's first 10 games, when they did not allow a single back to crack 100 yards.

Special teams haven't been immune to fundamental errors, either. Getting out of coverage lanes and missing tackles contributed to a 36-yard punt return by the Patriots and a 45-yard kickoff return by the Seahawks in the last two games.

Because the bulk of the team's errors involve fundamentals, McCarthy will not blame the overall youth of the team, or recent injuries that have forced more young players to play key roles, for the team's struggles. It's about getting everyone, rookies and veterans, to become consistent with the fundamentals at their positions.

"We just have to continue to rep it," McCarthy said about the basics. "That's the thing about fundamentals and techniques, it just doesn't happen overnight. You just have to stay the course."

Barnett optimistic

After taking part in practice Wednesday and a full-pads practice Thursday with a club cast on his broken right hand, middle linebacker Nick Barnett appears optimistic he'll be able to play on Sunday.

{sportsad300}Barnett missed just the second game of his four-year career last week and admitted it was difficult watching Alexander have such a big game against the defense without him in there.

But the pain in the hand has subsided considerably since last week, and Barnett continues testing the club in practice to get ready. He has been upgraded from doubtful last week to questionable on this week's injury report.

"I'm hopeful I'll play, but I'm not going to say it's 100 percent I'm playing yet," he said after Wednesday's workout. "But I'm going to try to do everything I can, everything possible to play this week."

McCarthy said Barnett was "flying around" like he usually does and even batted down a pass in the flat with the club during Wednesday's practice.

The bigger tests are in defending the run and tackling because Barnett can't grab anything with his right hand. He said he will have to focus more on running through tackles and tackling ball-carriers low so the club won't be a factor in his effectiveness.

Barnett also said he doesn't plan to play part-time, coming out in certain situations like obvious running downs when the club might hinder him. As a middle linebacker who plays every snap, Barnett's approach is to play full-time or not at all.

"If I'm out there, I'm out there," he said. "If I'm going to play, I want to play everything. So we'll see how it goes. But I don't want to be out there subbing and running in and out. I want to play the whole thing. That's how I keep my head into it."

Injury update

Safety Nick Collins is doubtful with a hamstring injury sustained in the fourth quarter against Seattle and missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

As for the rest of the injury report, the only other players listed as doubtful are tackle Mark Tauscher (groin) and linebacker Ben Taylor (hamstring), though Taylor practiced on Thursday. Tauscher has missed the last two games and McCarthy said it would be "stretching" to think he'll be able to play this week.

Tight end David Martin also missed the first two practices this week and is still questionable with his rib injury.

No time change

The NFL has informed the Packers that the Dec. 17 home game against the Detroit Lions will remain a noon kickoff.

The only game still subject to the league's flex scheduling is the season finale at Chicago on Dec. 31. That game is currently scheduled for noon.

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