With the Packers on the bye week, there really isn’t an opponent per say, but the break offers a good chance to take the periscope and do some introspection. How are the Packers doing – have they improved from last year?
The Past: Last year the Packers had the misfortune of getting week 4 off, the earliest bye week possible in the NFL. At the point, the Packers were very much a paper-tiger; while they had one of the best offenses in the NFL and an improving defense, another home loss to the San Francisco 49ers and a somewhat surprising last minute loss to the Cincinnati Bengals left the Packers at 1-2, not exactly the best way to start your vacation. However the Packers were able to pick it up after the bye, winning 4 straight games until week 8, when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone against the Bears. From there, the Packers spiraled out of control until the resigning of Matt Flynn, who managed to lead the Packers to two wins, good enough to leave a recovered Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb the chance to win the division against the Bears in the season finale.
The Present: The Packers got perhaps the best bye this year, basically spitting their season evenly in half. Perhaps even better is that the Packers don’t really need the bye to heal up their players; there haven’t been as many huge injuries as there were last year, where Rodgers and Cobb missed significant time while Jermichael Finley and Johnathan Franklin’s career ultimately ended. Again the Packers go into the bye with a loss to a good opponent that they could have probably beaten, but the Packers do have some advantage in the second half of the season where they play a lot of games at home.
On offense, the Packers remain a pass first, pass second and maybe then run it a bit type of offense; Aaron Rodgers again leads one of the most explosive passing games with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and rookie surprise Davante Adams. Eddie Lacy has been gotten past a slow start and has logged a 4.1 yard per average, but has made strides outside the running game in 3rd down pass protection and the screen game.
On defense, at least one thing has been corrected; the Packers have one of the better pass defenses in the league with both Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers applying pressure and a deep defensive secondary who are tied for 3rd in interceptions. However the biggest Achilles’ heal for the Packers is their run defense, which currently ranks 31st in yard allowed per game. Some of this has to be attributed to the fact that the Packers have gotten smaller and quicker on the defensive line but also has to do with the fact that there has been a lot of flux in the inside linebacker position; Brad Jones started the beginning of the season, Jamari Lattimore took over after injury and really Sam Barrington has now taken over for Lattimore due to injury.
The Future: The Packers are one of the most well managed teams every year thanks to general manager Ted Thompson and lead contract negotiator Russ Ball. The Packers currently have $7.8 million free cap space, which is plenty to cover any injury replacements and might even be enough to facilitate a mid-season re-resigning, which is one of the Packers favorite strategies. For 2015 free agents, Randall Cobb probably leads the Pack as the Packers priority free agent followed by Bryan Bulaga. The Packers have some options with Tramon Williams, Davon House and Jarrett Boykin; all could be resigned for decent contracts or be allowed to test free agency. The 3 injury concerns could also play a factor; BJ Raji will likely take a even lower deal than what he got this year, Derek Sherrod likely will take near the league minimum after showing next to nothing this year and Don Barclay has been just good enough to warrant a second chance or even a decent contract. Outside of 2015, the next biggest potential free agents are Mike Daniels and James Starks in 2016 and Josh Sitton, TJ Lang, Micah Hyde and Eddie Lacy in 2017. Overall, the Packers always manage to get their stars to take slightly below average deals so the Packers will be able to retain their choice of players in all likelihood.
The Packers 2014 draft has turned out relatively well; 1st round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has shown flashes but at the very worst is likely a very solid rookie safety, which is really good enough for the 1st year. 2nd round pick Davante Adams has taken advantage of Jarrett Boykin’s injury and is now definitely the 3rd wide receiver and has gained the trust of Aaron Rodgers. Past that and it’s a little bit more of a mixed bag; 3rd round pick Richard Rodgers has been good and bad, sometimes all in the same game while fellow 3rd round pick Khyri Thornton was terrible during the pre-season and was thankfully placed on IR. 4th round pick Corey Linsley is one of the highest ranked centers in the league according to PFF but mostly as a run blocker and not in pass protection. The rest of the 2014 draft class is composed of Carl Bradford, Demtri Goodson, Jeff Janis and Jared Abberderis, all of which have played little to no snaps with Abberderis on IR. Overall, the Packers didn’t get many pleasant surprises with their later round picks but did seem to hit on their premium picks which is where it really counts.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.