Packers Address Problems With QB-Center Exchange

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After botching shotgun snaps in consecutive games, center Scott Wells and the rest of the offensive line remain confident they have corrected the problems.

"It's frustrating to have two games in a row with something like that," Wells said, "but I know it's not (a lack of) ability. It was just a communication breakdown and it's something that can be fixed."

On Monday the Packers began the process of fixing their snapping problems out of the shotgun formation. 10-year veteran center Mike Flanagan explained to backup centers Wells and Chris White how to operate in loud stadiums on the road. From now on, Brett Favre will hike the ball on a verbal snap count. If it becomes too difficult to hear in the stadium, the entire offensive line and quarterback will come up with an agreed-upon system where all parties know what the other is doing.

"It's been addressed," Wells said.

Against the Minnesota Vikings, Wells fired an errant snap because of the crowd noise. Wells could hear the beginning of Favre's cadence during the game but not the second part. So Favre suggested Wells time out the cadence in his head. The Packers, however, lined up in a shotgun formation on a 3rd-and-11 at the start of the fourth quarter. On that play, the Packers used motion, which meant Favre used a longer cadence.

"The timing was off," Wells said. "I snapped it off a normal cadence."

Tony Fisher ended up recovering the snap for a four-yard loss, and Ryan Longwell missed the 42-yard field goal on the next play in the 23-20 Packers loss.

Head Coach Mike Sherman said Wells, a second-year player, had not yet become accustomed to playing in a place as loud as the Metrodome.

"That's just a matter of experience," Sherman said. "He can say what he wants about the Tennessee Volunteers, which is a great place to play football, but it's not quite the same noise decibel level. I can't even get it that high in the Don Huston Center what is inside the Metrodome."

To avoid the problems from the Vikings game, the Packers keyed the snap count by having Favre raise and lower his leg in the Cincinnati Bengals game. Favre, however, thought Wells could still hear his verbal calls. Out of the shotgun formation on 3rd-and-12 with 11:00 minutes remaining in the game, Wells snapped the football early, causing a fumble that Tony Fisher recovered for a 16-yard loss.

"Brett and I weren't on the same page," Wells said.

Despite the two gaffes, Wells played effectively in place of Flanagan. He made the right calls against the Bengals and New Orleans Saints, two teams that employed complicated defensive line strategies with a lot of stunting.

"I don't see him staggering in confidence whatsoever," Sherman said. "He's played very well."

Although the Packers have worked to correct their snapping problems, they likely would not have become an issue this week. They will play in Lambeau Field where the home crowd quiets when the Packers have the ball on offense. The coaching staff said they may use less shotgun formations as well. Flanagan, listed as probable with a hernia, should start, and his experience should help. Last Sunday marked the 48th game Flanagan has started in front of Favre, and snaps between the two have become nearly perfect over time.

"He and Flanagan have a unique bond," Wells said. "They can do it in their sleep."

According to Sherman, Flanagan played extremely well against the Bengals in his first game action since Oct. 3 against the Carolina Panthers. His play should remain at that level as he approaches 100 percent after recovering from hernia surgery.

"He probably played his best game," Sherman said. "Mike's going to continue to get better and better."

Flanagan should receive the start, but the Packers left open the possibility that Wells could replace him during the game as he did during the fourth quarter on Sunday. The coaching staff will have a better indication once the game begins.

"It's gonna be just a feel thing," Sherman said.

Back up duty is more challenging for Wells both physically and mentally.

"It's tough to stand on the sidelines and stay into a game in all aspects," Wells said. "It's a lot easier when you're out there playing. You know what's going on. You're able to make the adjustments."

Whether Wells or Flanagan plays the majority of the snaps, they will face a tough challenge. The Steelers enter the game as the ninth-ranked defense in the NFL. Defensive end Aaron Smith had seven sacks and reached the Pro Bowl last year, and nose tackle Casey Hampton reached the Pro Bowl in 2003.

"They have a very active defensive line," Wells said.

The Steelers linebacking corps is just as stout. Outside linebacker Joey Porter racked up seven sacks and made his second Pro Bowl last year. Middle linebacker James Farrior collected 119 tackles and made his first Pro Bowl last year. They employ a 3-4 defense, and starting four linebackers gives them more flexibility. They can blitz all of them, send them all in pass coverage or mix and match. That can make the line calls difficult for the center.

Having faced the 3-4 defenses of the Vikings and Cleveland Browns during the regular season and San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots during the preseason, the Packers, however, have becoming used to that alignment.

"We've had several games against people who run that," Wells said. "We should be pretty in tune and on key with our alignments."

That goes for either Wells or Flanagan.

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