8

November

Packers are Rebuilding on the Fly

After dismantling the Cowboys on Sunday night, the Packers go into their bye week with a 6-3 record and in first place in the NFC North. It is not surprising that the Packers are in this position – many predicted they would win the division and maybe even reach the Super Bowl – but it is surprising how they got here.

Most observers thought Aaron Rodgers and an elite offense would carry the Packers and make up for an inconsistent secondary and spotty pass rush. That has not been the case. Due to injuries and inconsistency, the offense has sputtered and the defense – specifically the secondary and a pass rush led by Clay Matthews – can take credit for a lot of the Packers success thus far.

The stars have been complemented by a surprising group of unproven rookies and backups that has filled in admirably for injured starters. Raise your hand if you predicted the Packers would use a combination of high-profile stars, late-round draft picks and waiver-wire castoffs to be the best team in the NFC North after nine weeks? If your hand is raised, use it to slap yourself for lying.

Nobody could have predicted how the Packers got to where they are today, but one publication came close…sort of.

The Football Outsiders predicted the Packers to win the NFC North, but also called 2010 a “rebuilding year” for the green and gold. Most people equate rebuilding with losing, but the Outsiders defined it a little differently in the Packers’ case.

Writing in the Football Outsiders 2010 Almanac, Bill Barnwell called the Packers a good team with an odd mix of emerging young stars and proven, but aging, veterans. Barnwell breaks the Packers into two groups: Favre era players that are 30 years old or older (Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, Al Harris, Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson and Mark Tauscher) and the “Rodgers Gang,” which are all 27 or younger (Nick Collins, Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, Matthews, BJ Raji and Rodgers).

Barnwell contends that it is dangerous to rely so heavily on the older players from the Favre era. These veterans could “fall off a cliff” at any time due to injury or the natural regression of players once they reach a certain age. Barnwell also opined that Ted Thompson’s whiffs in the first and second round of recent drafts (AJ Hawk, Justin Harrell, Pat Lee) would make it difficult to replace anyone from the Favre era.

However, Barnwell gives Thompson credit for drafting well in later rounds and finding talent on the waiver wire. We are seeing evidence of that this season. Players like CJ Wilson (7th round), Sam Shields (undrafted), Desmond Bishop (6th round), Charlie Peprah (waiver wire) and John Kuhn (waiver wire) have stepped up to replace injured starters and keep the season from falling apart.

One could say that Barnwell was spot on with his rebuilding assessment. The Packers are definitely rebuilding, but instead of occurring over the course of a season or two like most rebuilds, the Packers are rebuilding on the fly.

The Packers have 10 players on injured reserve and have lost other key players to various injuries throughout the season. Barnwell’s modified version of rebuilding could have turned into a traditional rebuild – the kind where you go 6-10 and start thinking about next season in mid-November – very quick. But it hasn’t because the Packers have rebuilt over the span of a few weeks instead of a few years.

Of course, rebuilding on the fly is easier when you have Rodgers, Matthews, Woodson, Tramon Williams and a rejuvenated Clifton on your team. But even with those stars, the Packers might be 3-6 instead of 6-3 if the replacements for injured players failed to not only fill in admirably, but also make impact plays.

Bishop’s pick-six against Brett Favre and the Vikings might have been the most exciting moment at Lambeau Field since the snow globe playoff game in 2007. Peprah’s hits against Jets receivers late in the game forced incompletions and preserved an unexpected road victory. Kuhn’s rushing late against the Lions helped the Packers avoid an embarrassing loss to the Lions.

We are witnessing one of the strangest, and one of the most exciting, rebuilds in recent NFL history. So far it has been a lot of fun mixed with several moments of frustration that come with any rebuild. The key question is: Can this combination of young stars, old stalwarts and unknowns turn this rebuilding project into something special?

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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15 Responses to “Packers are Rebuilding on the Fly”

  1. PackerFanInTX says:

    I love your article, rebuilding on the fly is certainly what is happening in Green Bay. Your last sentence poses the question can this combination of young stars, old stalwarts and unknown turn this rebuilding project into something special? I would say that they have already turned this into something special – look at the last two games they were certainly something very very special.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Mr. Bacon Mr. Bacon says:

    I say this season is becoming one of the funniest, and amazing one’s for the Packers. Its like a odd version of Major League. Zombo, Wilson, Shields, Crabtree, Kuhn, Bishop. All of these guys wants to play real football. I am beginning to wonder if our opening roster was better off getting injured… The effort these guys are putting out is pure insanity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  3. titletown96 says:

    Adam Czech big props to you for digging out this story. I knew I saw it somewhere. Of course the Packers are rebuilding, Mike Sherman left the team with big problems that TT is finally getting straightened out…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. JimR_in_DC says:

    Great read and I love the comments. The only thing that (in my opinion) has marred the season so far is the inconsistent play calling. The team seems to be better coached, and Thompson has provided players that get the job done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. CharlesMartinGraduates says:

    The release of Al Harris provides further evidence to support the rebuilding on the fly strategy

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. PackersRS says:

    That was a great article Adam, great adaptation, but you kinda tried to force FO’s view into the current happenings. Everything that they wrote doesn’t come true if 10 guys aren’t on IR.

    And don’t tell me he predicted injuries, because he said that the Favre era players would get injuried. Barnett, Grant, Finley, Burnett, Neal, Martin, Jones, those aren’t Favre era players…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Blair Patterson says:

    After watching the Packers two last games (I have to let you know I live in the Philadelphia area so it is a treat when I get to see the Packers play on TV) they have shown me that they have what it takes. They shutout the Jets and won despite a weak offensive effort, and destroyed the awful Cowboys. However, they are playing with many back-ups and to perform like that without many starters is amazing. I think the Packers still have a shot at the Super Bowl especially because people aren’t really worried about them right now. Many people are saying how the Giants are the only team the Eagles have to worry about in the NFC but I think the NFC Championship game will come down to Green Bay and either the Giants or the Saints. It’ll be nice that the Packers have the bye week to rest up some players and get back out and continue to play great.

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  8. dgtalmn says:

    OK I slapped myself…what is next?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Dan says:

    Great article. Some points I find a little off, missing on 1st round picks, AJ Hawks. It could be said this team would be lost without his leadership. It could also be said that the defense is running much better since Hawk took over calling plays on the defense.

    Of course those are just knit picking, so I give an “A+” for the article.

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  10. Adam Czech says:

    Mr. Bacon: Love the Major League analogy (as long as Zombo doesn’t start sacrificing chickens in the locker room.

    PackersRS: I wasn’t trying to say that Barnwell predicted the injuries. What I was trying to say was that Barnwell ended up being spot on with his rebuilding assesment, but it has happened in a way that nobody could have predicted. I probably didn’t make that clear enough in the article.

    Dan: I disagree on Hawk. He’s been alright, but when you draft in the top 5, you can’t afford to spend the pick on someone that is just alright.

    Appreciate everyone’s comments on the article. Another one on Brandon Jackson coming soon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • PackersRS says:

      Again, the whole premise of the Packers beind in rebuilding mode is the absurd amount of injuries they have suffered. Then I point out that, even though Barnwell did point out that it could happen, he based it on older players being injuried, not younger players.

      Though he predicted the results right, the reason was completely off.

      It’s like the 08 season. A lot of people predicted the Packers to miss the playoffs. And they were right. But they based it on the QB play (Favre being with the Jets, and Rodgers starting), when, in fact, it was the D the main culprit.

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  11. spiderpack says:

    Great Article Adam. I remember reading the FO article back b4 the season.

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  12. Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

    I know I’m prejudiced, but this was just fabulous work here by Adam…

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