Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bye Week a Fair Time for Progress Report

As I have stated a couple of times, this season is really the "Where's the Beef?" year for Thompson, and unfortunately, Mike McCarthy. After a couple of seasons of cap-clearing and "Wait and See", 2007 is the year I think we can and should give a solid progress assessment to the direction Ted is taking the team.

The reason I include poor Mike in there is that he only signed a three-year contract. This means at the end of 2007, he is a lame-duck coach. It is very rare that a coach makes it to his final year of his contract. If he is worth keeping around, he is extended. If he's not, he is often let go, as the spectre of being a lame-duck coach can hurt free agency and the morale of the team.

So, Mike has a bit of onus on him, too, though I don't know if it deserved. He really has been given a lot of youth to work with instead of a lot of proven veteran talent, so it puts an unfair burden on him to show he's made progress, which can be very subjective.

Anyway, with all the talk about our 4-game winning streak and how even Harlan has stated that he wants to use that as a springboard for this season, I am offering that our first six games are critical in establishing where this team is at. Very few of our rookies are being projected to start this year, so we should have veterans at nearly every position, the only exceptions being possibly Jackson at RB (though he likely will be part of a rotation) and Harrell at DT (though he will likely be a part of a rotation).

We have a bye in Week 7. How fair of a six-game set will that be for us to make some initial progress grades?

Four of the six games are at home. So much has been talked of re-establishing our dominance at home, and this is four chances to establish a winning record to start the season.

Two of the games are against our biggest inter-division rivals, the Bears and the Vikings, with the Bears at home (where they beat us last year) and at the Metrodome (where we got a rare win). Rivalry games are where your true colors come out and the measuring stick gets a lot more exacting.

Last year, we made a point about "quality wins", in which the Packers were not all that good against teams with winning records. As it turns out, the Packers went 7-2 against teams with losing records last year, which means they went 1-6 versus teams with a .500 record or above.

To improve over last season, they need to play competitively against better teams. The first six games offer three teams with winning records from 2006, one with a .500 record, and two with a losing record.

These six games will address those three issues, all of which are indicators of a quality team: winning at home, winning in the division, and beating the teams you should.

This microcosm will be a litmus test for the season, a check to see if the four-game winning streak was the rule or the aberration.

Is there a benchmark we should set for that progress report? I think it is too early to judge without seeing a training camp and a final roster, but I'll tentatively put out that the Packers should be at least 3-3 at the bye week. I, of course, reserve the right to change that prediction based on what I see this summer, but I think if we're going to judge this team, as we should, by wins and losses as the ultimate grading tool, we should see at least .500 ball with four games at home.

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