PACKERS RANK: #4 So here’s the skinny… I still am not sure how the PACKERS went 15-1 last year. No matter how great we all think AARON RODGERS is, it is almost incomprehensible that a team whose Defense allowed an NFL record 299.8 ypg in passing lost only one game? How does a team that averages 97.4 ypg rushing at a clip of 3.9 ypc win 15 games? How do you stop NFL passing attacks when your D can muster only 29 Sacks for the League’s 32nd ranking in Sack Pct?
There are a litany of improbabilities for rationalizing the PACKERS 2011 successes, but conversely they did a lot right. They scored the most points in the League with 560, while ranking a respectable 19th in points allowed. They managed a total of 38 defensive turnovers, tied for first in the League, while only turning it over themselves 14 times. Their +24 Turnover Differential was second only to the 49‘ers. They also had one of the best teaching Coaching Staffs in football, which allowed them to once again find success with one of the youngest rosters in the League.
But enough of last year and second guessing what happened. The real question right now is how will they fare in 2012. My PACKERS readers will probably crucify me for only ranking them 4th overall, but until I see some of the promised defensive improvement I have to be somewhat skeptical. And their lack of a real running game clearly showed up in their Play-Off loss to the GIANTS, resulting in that very disappointing one and done post season.
I am also a bit concerned about the affects of the biggest coaching staff and front office turnover since WHITEY and COACH MAC started their collaboration in Green Bay. But most of that change is in the Front Office not within the actual coaching staff. The Coaching Staff merely went through some internal shuffling and promotions. I am sure MIKE McCARTHY will have his coaching troops organized and in sync with his wishes this year, as usual.
It was said recently that the PACKERS won’t be the youngest team in the League this season. If that is true they still should rank in the top 10 with ease. The team is without 8 vets who were on their roster last January. THOMPSON went out and actually brought in 5 VFA, which is a serious haul for him. The roster is also currently featuring 27 Rookies. There are only 4 players over 30-years of age on the team as of the opening of Training Camp. Even if all 4 make the team the roster should be chock full of players in their first 3-4 years in the NFL and 25 or younger.
This will still be a very young roster. It is the TED THOMPSON way. It will also be predominantly home grown with players who one way or another started their NFL careers as PACKERS. My roster dated Friday, July 27th shows that 72 of 88 players on the team were Drafted or originally signed by the PACK. Go check some other rosters, and prepare to be awed at that “home-grown” number.
Under the direction of MIKE McCARTHY and in the capable hands of AARON RODGERS expect the PACKERS Offense to be highly productive once again in 2012. A-RODGE has his top 6 receivers all back, with another half dozen talented guys trying to move up the pecking order and/or make the team for the first time. Just as a tidbit for non-PACKERS die-hards… did you realize that JORDY NELSON finished the 2011 regular season as the leading receiver with 68 catches for 1263 yards? He did edge out GREG JENNINGS who had 67 catches for 949 yards.
The only reason this team doesn’t have a 100-catch receiver is that RODGERS has too many targets to keep happy to throw that many to any one guy. I would expect more catches from the TE group this season if JERMICHAEL FINLEY (55/767) stays healthy and D.J. WILLIAMS gets more playing time in his second season. Also expect the team to find even more ways to get the ball into the hands of RANDALL COBB, though not necessarily through the air. Could this be the year that some semblance of a Wildcat Package becomes a regular feature, under the direction of COBB? Perhaps, but I am going to present to you that COBB gave the PACKERS their best Return stats in over a decade as a Rookie.
That aspect of Special Teams is way too valuable to ignore when it comes to field position. Any effort to involve COBB more in the Offense cannot come at the cost of his return duty touches, unless someone else shines in those areas. To say that the PACKERS running attack was pedestrian at best would be more than just a pithy pun. The running game could not be counted on in key spots to take the pressure off of RODGERS to pass less than his 502 attempts. JAMES STARKS was their main man, but he showed little burst or quickness in averaging 4.3 ypc. JOHN KUHN is a FB. A good one, but a FB not a RB.
The key this year will be a “healthy” ALEX GREEN last year’s Rookie hope who lost the season to a knee injury. If his knee is 100% recovered he has much more speed and elusiveness than STARKS and better hands and instincts as a receiver. A better running game would allow the Offense to improve upon their 11th ranked Time of Possession and take one or two possessions away from the opposing Offense per game. That too would help their Defense.
The OL looks solid if they are healthy. DEREK SHERROD’s broken leg is the biggest issue here. It is also important that JEFF SATURDAY, brought in to replace the VFA loss of WELLS, still has something in the tank at age 37. It would also be nice if JOSH SITTON could bounce back from his weakest season since his Rookie year. In essence JAMES CAMPEN, OL has some major work to do in coaching this unit up so that RODGERS has time to throw & stays healthy, and the RB corps has some decent holes to run through.
DOM CAPERS went from the penthouse to the outhouse in short order last season as far as most fans were concerned. PACKERS faithful were enamored with the blitzing, stunting aggressive PACKERS D in 2010. But the 2011 unit just couldn’t stop opponents with any consistency. Their passing D was absolutely embarrassing at times last season. And their lack of pocket pressure was appalling. A lot of emphasis this off-season went to bolstering the DL unit. JERELA WORTHY & MIKE DANIELS were Drafted to help out. ANTHONY HARGROVE & DANIEL MUIR were signed as VFA.
Anther big source of help could come from 2011 Draftee LAWRENCE GUY, who sat out last season injured. MIKE NEAL continued to spend more time in the hot tub than on the field in 2011, and is starting to remind some of JUSTIN HARRELL. He is also scheduled to spend the first 4 games of 2012 on the suspended list under the guise of PED use. Methinks his days in the Green & Gold are numbered. The PACK spent too much time with only 2 DL on the field, primarily because of a lack of viable DL available to play most Sundays. It’s time to go back to more 3, and even 4 DL formations. There needs to be enough depth that players like RAJI & PICKETT get more downs off and are fresh when on the field.
By the way HARGROVE, whose specialty is pass pressure may miss half of the season because of the SAINTS Bounty Gate fiasco. The PACKERS LB group is a bit underrated when/if everyone is healthy. BISHOP & MATTHEWS are elite at their spots. NICK PERRY, this year’s First Rounder, is converting from DE to OLB, but is more than athletic enough to handle it. A.J. HAWK had a mediocre 2011 season and will be under severe pressure for playing time from second year man D.J. SMITH.
The surprise prospect of OTAs was URFA/DEZMAN MOSES from TULANE/IOWA. Even though MATTHEWS Sacks were down his overall pressure total of 53.5 (sacks, knockdowns, hurries) still led the team, and was only down by 1.5 from his stellar 2010 campaign. The equation seems elementary my dear PACKERS fans; get someone like PERRY to ramp up some consistent pressure from the side opposite CLAY and his Sack total will rise again. The secondary took the brunt of the abuse last season and quite frankly deserved more than its share. The team got a whopping 25 INT from its secondary.
But by the same token they were scorched deep over and over again. I think it was due in large part to gambling for the Pick all too often, and shoddy tackling, especially on the Corners. Some miscommunication in the secondary did indeed come into play with the absence of NICK COLLINS, but I think that excuse was overused before the season was done. Watch for CASEY HAYWARD/R to apply the heat to what use to be SAM SHIELDS CB slot. SHIELDS needs to wake up and improve this Camp or the darling of 2010 could be off the roster completely by September.
With the surprise cutting of CHARLIE PEPRAH it appears that CHARLES WOODSON may be spending more time as a true S this year. His biggest plus back there should be his ability to read the offense and relay info to his teammates, thus taking some mental pressure off young S/MORGAN BURNETT. This move will also allow youngsters like HAYWARD & DEVIN HOUSE to battle for more playing time on the Corner.
Special teams should be solid, if not spectacular. There are plenty of young athletic players to man key spots and a few vets who earn their keep primarily with their ST play. The kicking trio of CROSBY/K, MASHTAY/P & GOODE/LS are all capable if not spectacular. And they all are used to dealing with the nasty Winter weather in Lambeau late in the season. One of the reasons some of their stats are not as gaudy as others around the League are those weather conditions and rock-hard frozen footballs they have to work with the latter part of the season.
There is no reason that a healthy PACKERS team cannot repeat as NFC North champs this season again. I would expect a 12-Win season to be more realistic, but still get the job done. But that Defense has to get off the field after 3rd Down stops and the offense needs to control the clock with a better running attack. They open the year with two tough home games. We’ll know a lot more about their 2012 prospects after those two games.
Note: You can see more of Paul’s Power rankings here, and read more from Paul on the Packers and the NFL Draft on his website, Pigskin Paul’s Place.