No game this early in the season should be labeled as a "must win," but that's the kind of mindset the Packers need to take into their home opener with the Cleveland Browns this Sunday (3:15, CBS). It's a game they can and should win, especially in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field. It's a game they should win because they are catching the Browns at a very good time.
The Browns are similar to the Packers in the sense that they are a team going through a big transition. They have a new head coach in Romeo Crennel, the architect of the outstanding Patriots defenses that helped bring three Super Bowl trophies to New England. The Browns cleaned house, bringing in new coordinators (Maurice Carthon for the offense and Todd Grantham on defense) and 26 new players. This is a team still searching for its identity, going through an experimental phase to become familiar with new offensive and defensive schemes. Crennell brings a 3-4 defensive scheme from the Patriots and he's really trying to find the right pieces to his puzzle. That's going to take some time.
Because the Browns are going through this learning phase, I think the Packers have a good opportunity to be successful. The Browns brought in an old, familiar face at quarterback in Trent Dilfer. He's a guy perhaps better known for not losing games than for winning them. Is Dilfer capable of throwing the ball 30-40 times and winning games? I don't know, but he's got a Super Bowl ring on his finger. He's an older veteran, but not really a long-term answer at quarterback for the Browns.
Cleveland did have some interesting statistics in last week's loss to the Bengals. Wide receiver Frisman Jackson had 8 receptions for 128 yards and Antonio Bryant had 5 catches for 65 yards. Dilfer also spread the ball around to tight end Steve Heiden (3 receptions, 32 yards) and wideout Dennis Northcutt (4 catches, 16 yards). The Browns have some talent at the receiver position and Dilfer's smart enough to get all of them involved. They've also got a pretty well-balanced offense with three good running backs in Reuben Droughns who came over from the Broncos, Lee Suggs and William Green. Suggs and Green are younger guys who figure to be part of the re-building process. No doubt, the Packers will have to take this offense seriously and play even better than they did last week against the Lions.
This week Green Bay is going to have to play smarter. They need to eliminate the penalties that just killed them in Detroit. On defense, the guys know the rules. They can't get away with any ticky-tacky techniques because the refs have shown they will throw the flags. On offense and special teams, the Packers can improve on some of the blocking assignments to eliminate the penalties. The good news, again, is that these are correctible problems. The guys can do a much better job of not jumping offsides or delivering illegal blocks. The offense must also do a much better job with their third down conversions in order to score more points. Too many drives were killed last week by not being able to convert 3rd and short yardage situations.
I also think the Packers need to look at the Javon Walker injury situation in as positive a light as possible. Yes, they've lost a big time weapon for the offense. But now is also an opportunity for other players like Robert Ferguson, Antonio Chatman and Terrence Murphy to step up and show what they can do. Ferguson will be thrown into the number 2 receiver spot and he'll have every opportunity to carry the load.
The Packers will probably also go back to running the ball a little bit more than they did last week. Ahman Green is a heckuva great back. If we can get the running game going, it will open up more of everything else Green Bay can do offensively. The result will be a more balanced attack against the Browns.
No doubt, there is a sense of urgency for the Packers this week and they need to respond with everything they've got. The Browns are the perfect opponent for Week 2. Coming back to Lambeau Field for a much needed win should definitely help the Packers. There's nothing like some good 'ol home cookin' to get this team back on the right track. No doubt, the fans will be ready for good things to happen!
- Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.*