This Packer team may be the best that Coach Vince Lombardi has had. The offensive line is stronger with a versatile coterie of running backs behind it. The Bears have Mike Ditka at tight end, but the Packers have two Mike Ditkas—Ron Kramer and Marv Fleming. Most clubs are looking for a massive, quick-running back who can block. In Jim Taylor, Tom Moore, Paul Hornung, Dennis Claridge, Frank Mestnik and Elijah Pitts, the Packers have six. Claridge, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound rookie quarterback from Nebraska, can also play halfback and fullback. His arm is strong enough and accurate enough so that he will be a sound third quarterback behind Zeke Bratkowski. He should be even better than Hornung on the pass-run option.
Max McGee, Boyd Dowler, Kramer, Fleming and rookie Bob Long are tall, fast receivers for the accurate throws of Starr and Zeke Bratkowski.
The defensive line has two quick, deadly rushers in Henry Jordan and Willie Davis, one of the smartest tackles in the league in Dave Hanner, and a sound young end in Lionel Aldridge. Behind Hanner is promising Ron Kostelnick. Dave Robinson, 6 feet 3 and 245, is taking over one of the linebacker spots in place of retiring All-League Bill Forester. That would be a sticky assignment on most teams in the league, but Robinson has coaches on the field with him in old hands Ray Nitschke, on his left, and Jesse Whittenton behind him.
With this wealth of physical talent, only injuries could cost the Packers another championship. But injuries should be no bugaboo, since at every position they have depth.
Success has brought wealth to the Packers, and the individual players have a lot of money. Last year Emlen Tunnell, the Giant coach who once played with Green Bay, said, "They may not be hungry anymore." He was kidding, but he could still be right. Lombardi does not think so. If the Packers want it badly enough, the championship is theirs, for this is an almost flawless team, with all the weapons of attack any pro club ever had and a seasoned, smart defense.
John Unitas, in his ninth year with Baltimore, is still—with Bart Starr and Y. A. Tittle—one of the three best quarterbacks around. Behind Unitas stands the best No. 2 quarterback, Gary Cuozzo. If the Colts were as well equipped elsewhere, they would come close to winning the Western Division championship, but they fall a little shy.
The running backs are better than they have been. Tom Matte runs ingeniously, blocks enthusiastically and throws an acceptable option pass. He shares halfback with Lenny Moore, a talented runner and a fine receiver. Jerry Hill is a small Jim Taylor, with the same explosive charge and a fine balance; Marv Woodson and Tony Lorick—two rookies—promise to be wonderful runners. Another rookie—newly acquired Joe Don Looney—is a big question mark. Unitas and Cuozzo have good pass catchers in Raymond Berry, Jimmy Orr, John Mackey, Butch Wilson and rookie Neal Petties. The offensive line is elderly in some spots and young in others, but it is adequate.
Unfortunately, Coach Don Shula's defense is not quite strong enough. The principal weakness is also the most damaging—the Colt corner backs are not quite up to fulfilling their function of covering fast receivers. Gino Marchetti combines with Ordell Braase to give the Colts a fine pair of defensive ends, but there is a soft spot at one tackle, and the Colt linebackers are not among the best.
Baltimore should have good ball control. But control never offsets a defensive weakness against the thrown ball.