When I worked for the Oakland Raiders, I hung a large sign behind my desk bearing the following quote from Eric Shinseki, former chief of staff of the United States Army: "If you don't like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less." At the time, the Raiders didn't welcome change. I thought that this sign would somehow resonate with the organization -- but I was clearly wrong.
Shinseki, however, is right. Change is a huge part of maintaining success in any venture. Teams that dominate one season will be targeted by other teams the next. The competition will spend countless hours studying them, breaking down why they did well and finding ways to prevent them from succeeding again. A winning team that maintains the status quo from one year to the next has, in reality, already fallen behind. To me, that's what Week 5 of the 2012 season was all about.
The Green Bay Packers had an explosive offense last season, ranking first in points scored and third in total yards. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, finished 2011 third in points and second in yards. This season, the Packers look the same, in terms of their design, but they're not having the same success; the Patriots, on the other hand, changed their approach and have improved. The Packers were clearly expecting to build off of their 2011 campaign, while the Patriots seemed to feel a need to redefine themselves.
The Packers went into the offseason wanting to fix their defense, likely figuring their offense was in good shape -- which was a completely logical conclusion to reach. But Green Bay's offense is far from being in good shape right now. The Packers lack power in their offensive line, they lack a running back who can gain the tough yards, and they lack consistency, in terms of performance and health.
Green Bay is still a dangerous team, but scoring points is clearly more difficult this season. Since the Packers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15 last season, they've scored more than 28 points in just two games -- against the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions last season. This year, their highest-scoring effort was a 28-point outing against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4.
The Packers can still score, but not like they used to. Though personnel problems are also to blame, this is largely a result of their decision to keep the same approach from last season. One thing I've learned about the NFL: Nothing ever stays the same. Change is essential, and a big part of staying ahead.
This truism has been illustrated by the Patriots, who went into the offseason figuring that their dink-and-dunk spread offense had run its course. They knew they needed to stay ahead of the NFL, so they spent time with Oregon coach Chip Kelly in an effort to understand how he runs his no-huddle run game. They invested additional time in becoming more physical with their line and, naturally, they added more tight ends.
New England's offense is completely different from what it was a season ago. If teams try to stop the Patriots' passing game with a nickel defense, New England will run it all day. If opponents stay in their base defense, then the Patriots can light them up with their spread passing attack. What has to worry the rest of the NFL is that the Pats are this explosive despite playing without one of their best offensive weapons in tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Green Bay still has quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so not all is lost. But the Packers will need to fix some of their problems if they expect to go deep into the playoffs. This will be difficult to do. It will be hard to become more physical with their line. It will be even harder to find the right back. It wouldn't, however, be hard for their players to become more consistent. Tight end Jermichael Finely has to catch the ball regularly, veteran receiver Greg Jennings has to get healthy and the Packers need to find ways to further utilize Randall Cobb.
The challenge for coach Mike McCarthy is to combine his creative process and his attention to fundamentals. As long as Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers have a chance. But it won't be easy, because it is hard to change during the season.
THINGS I LOVED
I loved watching Drew Brees break Johnny Unitas' record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. And I loved that the moment helped put Unitas' legacy in context; I now have a greater appreciation for what Unitas accomplished during an era when the NFL was all about running, and teams that threw more than 15 times per game were considered too aggressive. Brees boasts pinpoint accuracy and a sensational ability to keep looking down the field. Congratulations, Drew. Unitas might have lost the record, but he's surely gained more respect from today's generation.
I loved that the Indianapolis Colts fought back to win one for Chuck Pagano. I really loved that they were able to run the ball 89 times. I also loved the way star quarterback Andrew Luck's mental toughness seems to be spreading throughout the team. The Colts are clearly rebuilding, but having a quarterback with Luck's mental toughness will make that process much faster. We all hope Pagano is back soon; watching his team compete, fight and never quit must have given him extra strength. Sorry, Packers fans; I loved watching it.
I loved that the Miami Dolphins finally won a close game after two overtime losses. The Dolphins are not the most talented team, but they're also not an easy team to beat. They have enough good defenders to create problems for their opponents, which is what they did to the Cincinnati Bengals, intercepting quarterback Andy Dalton twice in a 17-13 victory. The Dolphins keep playing hard; as rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill improves, so will Miami.
THINGS I HATED
I hated how Kansas City Chiefs fans reacted to Matt Cassel's injury. I know most Chiefs fans are really frustrated with their team. I know that, in his fourth year in Kansas City, the reality for Cassel is that he's not the man for the job. I know that the Chiefs need another quarterback, and that they have to be looking for one right now. However, when a player is hurt, that's never a time to cheer.
I've hated how the Tennessee Titans have played, going back to this summer and stretching through the first part of this season. Tennessee used to be a physical team, a tough team; but now the Titans seem soft. They do have a few good players, but winning in the NFL is not just about collecting talent. It's about building a tough-minded team -- which the Titans have not done.
I hated how the Carolina Panthers played in a game they needed to win if they had any chance of turning their season around. Throughout the offseason, it was clear that the key for the Panthers was to start fast and be in the early running for the NFC South title. But so far this year, Carolina has been nothing but slow. What happened to the run game? In Sunday's 16-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the highly paid running back duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams rushed a combined 10 times for 22 yards. Ouch. The Panthers went outside of conventional thinking this offseason by investing heavily in their run game, giving Stewart a contract extension and adding Mike Tolbert despite having recently given Williams a new deal. Based on the talent level of the rest of the team, I'm not sure that was the best way for them to allocate their dollars.
THINGS ON MY MIND
» The Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin is a great player, and he might even be a better running back than receiver. He needs to touch the ball at least 15 times per game. For a smallish guy, he runs with great power.
» Harvin's teammate, Kyle Rudolph, is slowly becoming another tight end who can take over games, whether via his ability to control the end of the line of scrimmage or his pass-catching skills.
» The Jacksonville Jaguars look like a really bad team right now on both sides of the ball. Last season, their defense was something of a bright spot, but so far this year, they haven't looked good in any area. Between the Titans and the Jaguars, someone's got a shot at landing the first draft pick in 2013. Tennessee and Jacksonville face off twice this season, but those contests will be worth watching only for the draft-order consequences, not the quality of play.
» The New York Giants are attacked down the middle of their defense every week, thanks to a lack of speed at middle linebacker. I'm not sure Chase Blackburn can handle the job when the Giants play teams that can run outside.
» Veteran Colts receiver Reggie Wayne might have lost a step, but his route-running and his ability to catch the ball are still top-shelf. Wayne is so crafty, and can still win at the top of his routes -- which is something of a lost art in today's league.
» The Atlanta Falcons continue to find ways to win on the road, having developed the mental toughness that was missing last season. Away victories can do more for a team than anything else.
» The Denver Broncos need a defensive tackle to help secure the middle of the field. Right now, they're a few linemen short.
» Can the Buffalo Bills rebound? They've been pounded by physical teams for two weeks in a row. It's hard to win in the NFL with an all-finesse approach.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.