The Green Bay Packers, a sound football team with the smartest (scholastically speaking) quarterback in the business, finally won the Western Conference NFL championship last week. They managed this by defeating the Los Angeles Rams, a team which was far from sound. Eight Rams of varying ability had been wounded severely the week before against the Baltimore Colts and had to miss all or part of Saturday's game. Bart Starr, the Phi Beta Kappa from Alabama who plays quarterback for Green Bay, picked away at the consequent soft spots in the Ram defenses and wound up with a 35-21 win, which, while decisive, was not distinguished.
This was the first division title for Green Bay in 16 years, but the team accepted its championship with a curious lack of emotion. The Rams had almost completely stifled the very strong Green Bay running attack, and the Ram passing offense had been effective. A proud team, the Packers were not proud of their performance in this game. Too, some of them may have been looking ahead with some foreboding to the championship game in Philadelphia this week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The kind of pass defense that cost 21 points against the Rams could cost a good deal more against the best passing quarterback in the league, the Eagles' Norman Van Brocklin. The best defense against the Dutchman is ball control-keeping possession of the ball through a steady progression of first downs. The Packer attack against Los Angeles was at times spectacular, but it was not notable for its sustained drives. In the first half, although Green Bay scored four touchdowns, the offensive unit ran only 16 plays against 33 for Los Angeles. The same disproportion against Philadelphia could be fatal.
Starr, who is rapidly developing into one of the very best quarterbacks in the league, revealed a talent, previously undetected, for throwing long passes. One Packer touchdown came on a prodigious heave that traveled 55 yards in the air and settled accurately into the arms of Boyd Dowler on the Ram 40. Dowler, a fine high hurdler in his college days at the University of Colorado, outran the lone Ram defender. The play call itself points up the quick mind of Starr; on the previous play the only really good Ram defensive halfback, Ed Meador, had been shaken up and forced to retire to the sidelines. It was over his substitute that Starr lofted his long pass.
One touchdown came on a blocked punt. "We knew we could block a punt on them," Defensive Coach Phil Bengtson said. "The kids were anxious to do it right away, but we wanted to wait for the right position. Too close to the goal the ball is apt to bounce out of the end zone for a safety. Too far away and it won't reach the end zone."
The Rams finally had to punt from their nine, and the Packer defense, shaking off a negative sign from the coaches, blocked the punt by Joe Marconi, a good but slow kicker. Paul Winslow barely captured the ball before it went out of the end zone, indicating that the coaches had a theoretical point in wanting to wait (15 to 20 yards out would have been just right, they figured).
Now the Packers face a team whose strength matches the only small weakness discernible in the Green Bay armor—pass defense. Such a weakness, of course, is only relative, and obviously the Packer defenders are good players. But whether they will be good enough to stop Van Brocklin's keen, probing aerial game is highly doubtful.