I know the draft is over and OTAs are in full swing, but I need to revisit last season for a minute. If we judged the 2011 Packers the same way professors judge college students, what would be the Packers final grade point average?
Let’s go to the report card.
Aaron Rodgers was the MVP and the Packers scored whenever they needed to. This would have been an A+ if not for the sputtering performance in the playoff loss to the Giants.
Special Teams: B+
Mason Crosby had a career season and Randall Cobb took a couple kicks back for touchdowns. There were also very few moments where special teams coverage made me want to put my wife up in a hotel for the evening so I could destroy the house and go on a drunken rampage.
No pass rush. Poor tackling. Giving up a ton of big plays. The only thing that prevented an F were forcing turnovers and doing a somewhat decent job of keeping teams out of the end zone at the end of drives (at least early in the season).
Grade Point Average: 2.67
An ‘A,’ a ‘B-plus,’ and a ‘D-minus.’ That doesn’t look so bad. Yes, the poor grade on defense stands out, but it’s not hard to envision a team with an ‘A’ offense and a ‘B-plus’ special teams going 15-1. The D-minus on defense really drags down the GPA, though. If I had told you that the 2011 Packers would have a GPA of 2.67, would you have guessed that they would finish 15-1?
Maybe if I have some time later this summer, I’ll run similar studies for the most dominant regular-season teams of the past 10 years and see where their GPAs end up. For now, I did a quick study of the last team to finish 15-1 in the NFC North: The 1998 Minnesota Vikings with a young Randy Moss, rejuvenated Randall Cunningham and an active defense led by the chicken-chasing John Randle.
I gave the ’98 Vikes an ‘A’ on offense, a ‘B-minus’ on defense and an ‘A-minus’ on special teams. That’s a 3.47 GPA.
Now, back to last season’s Packers. Let’s break down the team in specific position groups and see how the overall GPA changes.
No explanation necessary.
Running Backs: C-
James Starks battled injuries, Ryan Grant had a few moments and Alex Green blew out his knee. The Packers don’t need dominant running backs, but this group was nothing to write home about.
Wide Receivers: A
Jordy Nelson let everyone know that he’s officially arrived and Greg Jennings was his typical efficient self before a late-season injury. With James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb either meeting or slightly exceeding expectations, this is another ‘A’ category for the Packers.
Tight Ends: C
Jermichael Finley kept dropping the ball and never got rolling. Andrew Quarless blew out his knee and Tom Crabtree never became a dominant blocker. Teams did gameplan around Finley, however, so a ‘C’ might be a little harsh, but I’m sticking with it. We have high standards at ALLGBP.com University. No grade inflation here.
Offensive Line: B-
Marshall Newhouse wasn’t terrible filling in at left tackle, but he had plenty of moments where he looked like a young player who wasn’t quite ready to start. Josh Sitton was hurt during the first part of the season and didn’t get going until later, but overall, the line was solid. Of course, having a QB like Rodgers does a lot to cover up flaws at left tackle and injuries to your standout right guard.
Defensive Line: F
Forget about losing Cullen Jenkins, I was more disappointed with B.J. Raji’s regression. Nobody on the d-line had a good season besides Ryan Pickett, and he’s a one-dimensional player. U-G-L-Y.
Clay Matthews was much better than his sack total indicates, but A.J. Hawk and the rotating cast opposite of Matthews fell off a cliff. Desmond Bishop battled a few injuries, but was otherwise decent; however, it wasn’t enough to rescue this group from a below-average grade.
The Packers set a record for passing yards allowed, but finished ninth in the league in passer rating allowed thanks to an NFL-best 31 interceptions. The turnovers were nice, and shouldn’t be discounted, but this secondary stunk. Opponents completed 73 passes of 20 yards or more, 11 WRs had 100-yard games and the Packers finished 26th in third-down defense.
Special Teams: B+
Grade Point Average: 2.18
Would your mom put your report card on the refrigerator if you had a 2.18 GPA? Probably not. (Well, my mom would. She’s the best mom in the world and would be proud of me for spelling my name correctly on the majority of my assignments.) Once you get past the position groups on offense, that report card gets ugly in a hurry and the GPA takes a nosedive.
Now, let’s grade the ’98 Vikings position groups: QB: A; RB: A-; WR: A; TE: C-; OL: B; DL: B; LB: C+; DB: C; ST: A-. GPA: 2.96.
When I started this post, I originally wanted it to be a quick 300-word rant about whether the Packers mediocrity in several position groups in 2011 gave me hope for the upcoming season, or made me more depressed that my favorite team wasted an MVP season from its quarterback and an amazing run of games from the entire offense. I wanted to decide what my level of confidence should be for the upcoming season: High because the offense will roll again and the defense can only get better, or low because the offense will inevitably regress and the defense is beyond repair.
Somehow, this post took on a life of its own and turned into some sort of 1,200-word study involving report cards, GPAs and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
When I was finished, I re-read the post and was able to answer the question I originally set out to answer: I’m confident that with minor improvements on defense, this team will again be dominant in 2012. The offense is young, features several players that still have room to grow, and only a few players on the decline. Ted Thompson focused on defense in the draft, and even if the defense doesn’t take a major leap forward, it has to at least improve a little bit. It can’t get much worse, right?
I also reached another conclusion, one that seems obvious but sometimes gets taken for granted: When you have an elite quarterback, anything is possible. In today’s NFL, an elite QB makes up for a terrible defense, a shaky offensive line and average running backs.
This post wasn’t meant to start a ’98 Vikings vs. ’11 Packers argument, but there is a big difference between the two teams. While both squads had elite quarterbacks, only one had a franchise quarterback. Cunningham never recaptured the magic he created in 1998. Rodgers has been playing at a high level for the Packers since 2008 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
As long as Rodgers takes the field for the Packers, Green Bay moms will have the chance to proudly several report cards, regardless of what the final GPA is. Maybe there will be a few more Super Bowl trophies to display, too.——————