Players, coaches, the media and most often the fans like to say “every season that didn’t include a Super Bowl Victory is a failure”. I get the sentiment, as long as your team wins the Super Bowl, everything is forgiven; it doesn’t matter how many mistakes were made or how many games were lost, as long as your team takes the Lombardi trophy at home, everything else is forgiven. However, this is really a shortsighted assessment of any team’s season; would anyone argue that the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans had equally failed seasons because neither will win the Super Bowl this year? Of course not, the Chiefs saw a massive rebound from the worse record in 2012 to one of the best and saw jumps in all analytics to boot. On the other hand, the Texans were predicted by many pundits to be a Super Bowl contender but lost 15 games in a row and saw their head coach fired mid-season. Furthermore, fans of the New England Patriots can realistically expect to be in contention for a Super Bowl every year for the foreseeable future, but the same cannot be said for the Oakland Raiders, who are still in the middle of a massive rebuilding process; getting into the playoffs but not the Super Bowl might be considered a failure for the Patriots, but just getting into the playoffs should be considered a successful season for the Raiders.
All that basically points back to the 2013 Packers; should we consider this season a success or a failure? Or more realistically, do you see the Packers season as a glass half empty or a glass half full?
The Packers were an average team (8-7-1)
Glass half empty: The Packers took a major nose dive this season after posting a 11-5 season in 2012, 15-1 season in 2011 and winning the Super Bowl in 2010. Especially in the middle of the season it looked like the team was lost and without a goal as they were man handled by the Eagles, Giants and most notably the Lions. The defense again fell apart and the Packers were forced to learn how to run the ball behind Eddie Lacy, which didn’t happen overnight. Hell, they couldn’t even truly beat the Minnesota Vikings who threw Christian Ponder back in a quarterback. Finally, the Packers again proved that they are incapable of beating the 49ers with the 3rd consecutive loss.
Glass half full: The team handled adversity and found a new balanced identity, which will be a huge advantage in the future. Arguably, any team whose built around a star quarterback will suffer greatly when they are injured, even on defense. In the end, the Packers were humbled by some very bad losses but also had some great comebacks, most notably Matt Flynn’s gritty 2nd half win against the Cowboys and the last minute score from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb in Chicago. The Packers have gotten better and better against the 49ers; last year’s playoff loss was an embarrassment for everyone involved while the season opener was a team that got beaten because they hadn’t found their identity yet. Last weeks loss was a much better game where it took a last minute field goal by the 49ers to win the game; the defense was considerably better this time around and the offense managed to get into a rhythm in the 2nd half.
The Packers are nothing without Aaron Rodgers
Glass half empty: The Packers were atrocious when Rodgers went down and even worse had no plan B; Graham Harrell showed no improvement and didn’t even make it through pre-season, Vince Young was one dimensional and didn’t understand the offense, Seneca Wallace showed nothing to prove he was a even a viable backup and Scott Tolzein might have promise but was definitely not ready for the spotlight. Even Matt Flynn was borderline terrible, losing 3 games and racking up 5 interceptions. For a team with a long history of grooming quarterbacks staffed by QB gurus like Mike McCarthy and Tom Clements, quarterback development should not have been an issue
Glass half full: There never is truly a plan B for any team with a star quarterback; if you look around the league, Drew Brees’ backup is Luke McCown, Peyton Manning’s backup is Brock Osweiler and Tom Brady’s backup is Ryan Mallet. Basically you have two guys who have thrown a collective 28 passes in their entire careers and a guy whose been on 4 different teams with a career QB rating of 68. Outside Joe Montana/Steve Young and Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers, no team has had two superstar quarterbacks on their roster in the modern era. Also any team that’s lucky to have a star quarterback will mold the team to maximize that quarterback’s potential. Considering that the Packers offense contains a lot of quarterback movement and longer developing routes, I’m not sure Peyton Manning would be all that successful in the Packers offense; now if you think Peyton Manning is going to have issues what can you really expect from Scott Tolzein?
Injuries plagued the season again
Glass half empty: Again the Packers suffered a spate of injuries to key players; Aaron Rodgers essentially missed half of the season while Randall Cobb missed even more. Perhaps most scary is what happened to Jermichael Finley, who might have ended his career in Cleveland. Add to that Clay Matthews recurrent hand injury that basically ruined his performance, Nick Perry’s up and down season with a leg injury and Casey Hayward never really even getting to play, people often forget that Bryan Bulaga was supposed to be the left tackle this year but was injured during family night and who knows what’s going on with Derek Sherrod at this point. This team is obviously injury bugged and the strength and conditioning staff should be fired.
Glass half full: Injuries are part of the game of football; who are you going to blame for the freak injuries the Packers were dealt? Could anyone have prevented Jermichael Finley’s injury? He was just hit at a funny angle and hit the ground the wrong way. How about Randall Cobb’s injury? Perhaps you can blame Matt Elam for going low but then again even Cobb thinks it wasn’t intentional and Elam has claimed he was following league rules by trying to avoid the head. Injuries are overall statistically random, some teams end up relatively healthy while other teams get hit by injury after injury. The Packers had an the most injured team in 2010, one of the healthiest in 2011 and were sort of in the middle for 2012, only Packers fans only have an emotional investment in the Packers hence Packers injuries seem to occur more often. As far as I’m concerned, the only time a team can be blamed for an injury is not doing due diligence during the draft and getting an already injured player (see Justin Harrell) and cases like Tampa Bay where the facility caused a MRSA outbreak.
The defense was terrible again
Glass half empty: The biggest concern for the Packers last offseason was the the terrible defense and not being able to run the ball and the Packers only solved one of the problems. The Packers had the 30th ranked defense in the league according to Football Outsiders, ranking 28th against the run and 30th against the pass. Add to that a lack of consistent pass rush with Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Mike Neal all in and out of the lineup and a severe digression in the performance of Morgan Burnett and it’s pretty obvious to see why the defense suffered again. Dom Capers has again shown that he hasn’t lived up to the “mad scientist” persona that has followed him around and its obvious that he’s gotten too old for the game.
Glass half full: Again the defensive collapse likely has something to do with the loss of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were actually pretty average before Rodgers broke his collarbone, ranking 18th in defense again according to Football Outsiders; while we aren’t talking about the Seattle Seahawks defense, an average defense coupled with the Packers offense would have been more than dangerous enough to make a serious run into the playoffs. The real reason why quarterbacks are so important in the NFL is that the quarterback influences every aspect of the game, even on defense. Aaron Rodgers can help the defense by not giving the ball away, thus giving the defense more time to rest and he can help by getting yardage and forcing the other offense to make longer drives. He can also force offenses to be one dimensional when the are forced to play catch up and also demoralize the opponent’s defense which will rub off on the rest of the team (see the playoff game in Atlanta in 2010). As for Capers, while some of the blame does fall on play calling, missed tackles and more importantly miscommunication are not the fault of the defensive coordinator, it is the fault of the players.
Personally, I think whether you see the Packers’ glass as half empty or half full is more on your own perspective rather than any rating of the Packers. If you are the type of fan who thinks the Packers should dominate the NFL like you dominate Madden, then I’m pretty sure you fall into the category that this season was half empty. If on the other hand, you felt like this team showed a lot of character late in the season and managed to pull themselves out of a hole and miraculously get into the playoffs then you probably think the glass was half full. In truth, as with most things, probably falls somewhere in the middle, the Packers glass was never half full nor half empty, it’s what you make of it.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.