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Flaws and all, Packers streak toward playoffs

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Associated Press
December 14, 2009
— The Green Bay Packers aren't perfect, especially on offense and special teams. But as far as the standings are concerned, they've been untouchable for a month and are streaking toward the playoffs.

With Sunday's victory at Chicago, the Packers have won five straight games to climb to 9-4, putting them on top of the NFC wild card standings. Just one more win in their last three games might be enough to punch their ticket to the postseason.


It wasn't so long ago that the Packers were sitting at 4-4, and coach Mike McCarthy isn't letting them take anything for granted.


"We don't have any breathing room right now," McCarthy said.


McCarthy said it doesn't make sense to even start talking about the playoffs until the Packers hit the 10-win mark, something they could do with a road victory over reeling Pittsburgh on Sunday.


Even then, McCarthy said, nothing would be assured.


"Seriously, we are focused on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers and getting to 10 wins," McCarthy said. "I'm sure when I stand up here next week the playoff picture probably would have changed. There are three games left. There are a lot of things that happen in the last three weeks of the season. The scenarios will change; they always do. Everybody is fighting to get in and that's the type of game we are preparing for this week."


The Packers appear to have shaken off their biggest problem this season: sacks. Aaron Rodgers has taken only six in their last four games. And Green Bay had only four penalties Sunday, a significant accomplishment for what has been the league's most-penalized team.


Still, there are recurring problems: They're not scoring enough touchdowns when they drive into the red zone. And when they settle for field goals, kicker Mason Crosby's shaky performances are making things far more dramatic than expected.


According to STATS LLC, the Packers have made 48 trips to the red zone and scored 24 touchdowns 50 percent for the season, putting them in the middle of the pack in terms of red-zone touchdown efficiency.


Ryan Grant scored on a 62-yard run on the Packers' first play from scrimmage Sunday, but they then had to settle for field goals on their first two drives inside the Bears' 20-yard line.


"I'm not going to sit here as a play caller and blame it all on the players or the execution," McCarthy said. "We need to perform better in the red zone."


Crosby missed a 42-yard attempt Sunday, giving him a miss in three straight games. He failed to connect on a 38-yarder against Baltimore last Monday night and a 43-yarder against Detroit on Thanksgiving, although there was a problem with the hold against the Ravens. Crosby has hit 24 of 32 field goal attempts for the season.


McCarthy would not comment on the idea of bringing in other kickers for tryouts.


"I'll just say this: I have all the confidence in the world in Mason Crosby," McCarthy said. "As far as what players, what position, we bring players in here all the time on Tuesday, and I've never commented on it in the past, and I won't today. But I have all the confidence in the world in Mason Crosby."


For all the Packers' nagging problems on offense and special teams, their defense is shaping up as their identity exactly what McCarthy envisioned when he hired Dom Capers to be his defensive coordinator in the offseason.


The Packers continued to stuff the run and come up with turnovers on Sunday, holding Matt Forte to 51 yards rushing and intercepting a pair of passes from Jay Cutler.


Capers kept the Bears off guard by unleashing his "psycho" package Sunday, an alignment featuring only one defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs.


How many more new wrinkles could Capers unveil before the end of the season?


"He's got a big book," McCarthy said.



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