If the NFL ever gets around to playing football again, it seems like most followers of the Green Bay Packers will be concerned with two things: The Packers lack of established depth on the defensive line (assuming Cullen Jenkins leaves) and the absence of another outside pass rusher to complement Clay Matthews.
I’m not too worried about either of these things. Ted Thompson has proven he’s capable of finding depth if needed. And adding a second outside pass-rusher seems like more of a luxury than a need. How many teams have two big-time outside pass rushers? Not many. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get another one if you can, but the Packers should be fine with Matthews on one side and a healthy competition to win the job on the other side.
The main thing I’m worried about are guys like Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and BJ Raji coming back down to earth. All three of these guys played out of their minds last season. All three also are very talented. It’s not a total surprise that this trio played as well as it did, but it is fair to say not many expected them to shine like they did.
There’s no quantitative analysis or any obvious signs that any of these players will regress. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if all three got even better. But when people ask what concerns me about the Packers in 2011, I always come back to the regression angle. A lot of players — a lot of previously unproven players — had great seasons in 2010. Can we expect a repeat in 2011?
Is it reasonable to expect Williams to turn in another pro-bowl caliber season? Is it realistic to expect Shields to again be one of the most underrated third cornerbacks in the league? Can we count on Raji to again anchor the interior defensive line with minimal help?
These are young players. And even though they grew up a lot last year, it’s not a given that they will continue to progress or maintain their high level of play established in the breakout seasons.
Obviously, to win the Super Bowl a team needs a lot of talent. It also needs a fair share of good fortune. Having three young players like Williams, Shields and Raji put together standout seasons at the same time is a testament to the Packers coaching staff and Thompson’s eye for talent. It’s also a sign that the football gods were rewarding the Packers with a little bit of good fortune (it’s only fair after the same god’s punished the Packers with all those early injuries).
Next season will tell us a lot about Williams, Shields, Raji and the future of the Packers. Players like Matthews, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Josh Sitton and Ryan Pickett have put together multiple good seasons and proven themselves as players you can build a team around.
If Williams, Shields and Raji progress and also establish themselves as franchise cornerstones, the Packers will be dangerous for a very long time. They will be scary good. If they come back to earth a bit, the Packers will still be good, but probably not scary good.
When the NFL decides to leave the courtroom and return to the playing field, I’d much rather have the Packers be scary good.——————