As close to perfect as the Packers were at the midpoint of last season – they were 7-1 and running away from the rest of the NFC North – they're a team dotted with blemishes as they get ready to play division rival Minnesota in game No. 9 for the third straight year.
They can't stop the run. They've had trouble running the football. Early-season injuries took a toll. They've had more failure than success in games that go down to the wire.
Head coach Mike McCarthy didn't mince words Wednesday when he was asked where he thought his team was with half of the 16-game schedule complete.
"Where do I think we are? I don't want to be rude, but we're 4-4," McCarthy said. "We're 4-4 for a reason. We haven't made plays in critical times of football games. We've been competitive in every outing this year. We've had opportunities to win those games. We did not.”
"It's the details," he added, pointing to a 19-16 overtime loss at the unbeaten Tennessee Titans on Sunday. "[It's a] very good description of the things we need to do to win tight games. We have to win the close, tight games. We haven't done that this year."
Considering 11 of the last 12 meetings between the Packers and the Vikings have been decided by no more than seven points, Sunday's matchup at the Metrodome in Minneapolis would be a good time to start getting things turned around.
The Packers know they can't afford another letdown, what with them locked in a second-place tie with Minnesota in the division. Both teams trail the front-running Chicago Bears by a game, and the Packers have a home game against the Bears around the bend Nov. 16.
"As a team, we're just hungry to get better," Packers nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We're not happy with our record. We feel like we're much better than a 4-4 team. It's not a good place for us. So, we're definitely going to come out and try to win this game."
Pickett called it the most important game of the season, which perhaps was overstated in that seven more weeks of football will be left to play.
Tight end Donald Lee stopped short of saying the Packers are in must-win territory right now, as they try to regain their hold on the NFC North.
"I wouldn't say must, but it's very important that we do win the game," Lee said. "We want to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. This is a step toward that."
The Packers won't be taken seriously as a challenger for NFC supremacy, never mind the league title, until they iron out the deficiencies that have plagued them to this point.
Their run defense ranks 27th in the 32-team loop, allowing an average of 146.4 yards per game. Now Green Bay will have to deal with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the No. 2 rusher in the league.
"The reality is they've got a great running offense, [and] we've got a great opportunity to get better this week," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "I feel like we can play great run defense. We've proven it, even this season. We just have to become more consistent, and that's our focus."
TE Donald Lee
Morry Gash/AP Images
Thankfully for Green Bay's offense, a mostly solid first half of the season by Aaron Rodgers in his first year as a starting quarterback at the pro level enabled the unit to overcome a sluggish running game. Ryan Grant's production has picked up the last few games, but the Packers rank 21st in the league with an average of 101.1 rushing yards per outing.
"He's a fine young quarterback," McCarthy said of Rodgers. "I say it over and over again, the beauty of Aaron is he's going to get better. I believe that with my heart. I believe that with my eyes. He's going to continue to get better."
Rodgers certainly isn't a polished leader of the offense, and he was reminded of that when McCarthy came down on his shaky decision making in the recent game against the Titans. The Packers scored only one touchdown in four red-zone visits.
"You can't get down there, you can't have 400 yards of offense and only score 16 points. It's unacceptable," said guard Daryn Colledge, putting the blame on the entire offense.
NOTES & QUOTES
McCarthy devoted some time earlier this week to intervention.
McCarthy had a simmering fire to douse in the wake of critical comments rookie tight end Jermichael Finley made about Rodgers following the Packers' 19-16 overtime loss at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Finley, a third-round draft pick who entered the game with zero catches, was the intended target on two critical incompletions in the first half. Both were touch passes from Rodgers that Finley couldn't reel in – the first on a fourth-and-1 call at the Titans' 44-yard line, and the other on a second-and-goal play from the Tennessee 5 in a drive that ended with only a field goal.
Finley told a reporter after the game that Rodgers "didn't throw it good at all" on the fourth-down pass.
McCarthy took exception to Finley's published comments Monday, then said Wednesday he had a talking-to with the player.
"It's over with," McCarthy said. "So, he made a mistake."
Finley hasn't spoken to the media since Sunday. …
The Packers have had the rival Minnesota Vikings' number of late. Green Bay is riding a five-game winning streak in the series into Minneapolis this weekend for the teams' annual grudge match at the Metrodome.
"There's no real secret formula in this series," Kampman said. "We know each other extremely well. We've played each other, obviously, twice a year. We've seen each other in the playoffs. This is a team that we know very well. They know us very well. So, it's basically come down to execution."
The longest string of dominance by the Packers against Minnesota is six consecutive wins, attained at the outset of the series from 1961-63.
The Vikings own the longest winning streak in the series – a seven-gamer from 1975-78. The streak was stopped by a 10-10 tie in their final meeting of the 1978 season at Green Bay. Minnesota then won the teams' first matchup in 1979, extending its unbeaten run to 8-0-1. …
Colledge didn't get the result he wanted in the presidential election Tuesday.
The avowed Republican was supporting the ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, who is the governor of Colledge's home state of Alaska. Democratic rival Barack Obama beat McCain in a landslide vote to win the presidency.
"Anytime you lose a race, it's tough," Colledge said. "But, I think everybody is excited for change. I'm excited to see what [Obama] has. I thought he gave a great speech [Tuesday] night. He seems willing to go out and get the work done. That's what's going to be important."
McCarthy said the election outcome was discussed in a team meeting before practice Wednesday.
"When we hit that topic, everybody clapped and was excited about the future," McCarthy said.
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