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Point, counterpoint: Did no OTAs, two-a-days impact season-openers?


! Staff Writer Mike Spofford says no.

Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season featured more passing yards than any week in league history, and more punt- and kickoff-return touchdowns than ever before, too. This is a problem?

Sure, maybe tackling wasn't its sharpest, particularly on the eight return touchdowns, two of which occurred in the Thursday night opener here at Lambeau Field, but no one is going to convince me that a dozen practices in helmets and shorts before Father's Day, when players aren't tackling, was going to improve the post-Labor Day tackling in this past week's games.

During training camp, regardless of whether players are in full pads or not, or practicing once or twice a day, they aren't tackling. The Packers normally would practice with live tackling in the "Family Night" scrimmage, and that was changed this year, but even if the weather had permitted a full scrimmage, two extra hours of tackling wasn't going to dramatically change the 477 yards Green Bay gave up to New Orleans.

Plus, if it was tackling that suffered, then that other key fundamental – blocking – should have, too. But we didn't see quarterbacks getting pummeled behind offensive lines that supposedly didn't have time to coalesce. Fourteen QBs threw for 300 yards or more, another league record.

It's Week 1. It's often the most unpredictable week of the season, and I think that remained the case. The defending AFC champions lost to a bitter rival by four touchdowns. The defending AFC West champions got embarrassed at home, 41-7, by a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999.

Maybe the game action wasn't compelling in those cases, but the results sure were. Those weren't just compelling results, they were eye-opening and thought-provoking. Are the Steelers in decline? Are the Ravens on their way? Are the Bills to be reckoned with? What's up with the Chiefs?

Remember, also, that the Patriots once lost on opening weekend to Buffalo, 31-0, and ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. It's a long season, so let's not rush to judgment on anything or anybody.

There were more lopsided scores than we're used to seeing, but there were still seven games in Week 1 decided by a touchdown or less, including three by three points or less. When the season begins with the past two Super Bowl champions flying up and down the field for 876 total yards, plus another 315 return yards, and the game comes down to a goal-line stop from the 1-yard line, what should have been different?

I will concede that the lockout hurt the teams with new coaches. If you count 2010 interim coaches Leslie Frazier in Minnesota and Jason Garrett in Dallas, new coaches without an offseason to implement their systems went 2-5 in their first games this past week. One of those two wins was against another new coach (Oakland over Denver). Last year in Week 1, new coaches went 2-1.

For all the established coaches in the league who didn't have players to work with all spring, I think there was more time spent at the drawing board, particularly on offense. Offensive coaches schemed their way to more new and different looks than usual. Defensive coaches can't necessarily do that, because it's hard to devise exotic fronts and personnel packages without knowing if an offense is going to give you occasion to use them. Offensive coaches dictate the chess match, and they took advantage.

Defenses need a little time catch up, and they will. They always do. It was only Week 1. If something needs to be fixed, the game will fix itself.

! Editor Vic Ketchman says yes.

Being a Packers fan would seem to have its privilege. In this case, Packers fans had the privilege of enjoying one of the few season-openers that had a heart-throbbing, down-to-the-wire, late-season quality to it.

Yeah, it was a beauty. Neither the lack of OTAs nor the absence of two-a-days in training camp seemed to impact the Packers negatively. The Saints, of course, conducted all of those players-only workouts, the ones to which Aaron Rodgers alluded, and the extra work might have helped them play at a similarly high level.

When the nation turned off its TVs last Thursday, it was truly ready for some football. Man, with a game that good, just think how good the weekend is gonna be.

Not so fast, my friend.

Yeah, the Sunday nighter between the Cowboys and Jets was good, and the Titans-Jaguars and Broncos-Raiders ("Raiders top Broncos in a sloppy opening game"— headline) games went down to the wire, but nine of the weekend's 16 games had a two-scores-or-more spread. In Week 8 of 2010, only five games had two-score spreads. Hey, it takes two teams playing at high levels to achieve the kind of game the Packers and Saints provided and, frankly, a lot of the opening weekend's schedule lacked those kinds of matchups.

That Steelers-Ravens matchup that we've come to regard as a game to be watched with one eye closed? It would've been better to have closed both eyes. The final was 35-7 and it really wasn't that close. The Steelers couldn't stop the run; they're 30th in the league in run-defense. When's the last time that happened? Might it be a reflection of not having two-a-days?

How about Atlanta's 30-12 loss to the Bears? The Falcons are a Super Bowl favorite; they owned NFC homefield advantage in last season's playoffs and made a big draft-day trade to move up and draft wide receiver Julio Jones, who was regarded as the missing link on offense. Twelve points? Would it have helped the Falcons had Jones and Matt Ryan been able to get to know each other in OTAs?

The Chiefs were a playoff team in 2010 but at some point between exiting the playoffs and the start of this year's preseason, the Chiefs lost their mojo. They were winless in the preseason and began the regular season on Sunday with a 41-7 loss at home to the Bills.

Football is a physical game. Even in 2011, which is to say the year of the pass and the catch, blocking and tackling are still at the root of the sport, and if you watched this past weekend's games, you no doubt saw missed blocks – 89 sacks, which translates into 44.5 per team over a whole season, up from 35.3 in 2010 – and tackles. It's only logical that those can be traced to a softening of the practice regimen.

Judge for yourself this weekend. The quality of play will almost certainly improve, for no other reason than teams spent Week 1 practicing how to play real football, which involves heavy contact and requires full-game conditioning. Until last weekend, the players hadn't spent much time doing either.

It makes you wonder how Mike McCarthy was able to have his team ready to play at such a high level.

So, what's your opinion?

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