Coming off a Super Bowl victory is always a particularly unique challenge but in 2011 the Green Bay Packers were certainly up to the task as they steamrolled their way through the regular season albeit with far more emphasis on offense than defense. The team’s pass rush, which had seemed so good in 2010, just wasn’t there in 2011 and the secondary appeared to collapse in ways as the Packers found themselves with statistically one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
This was never going to be a massive issue in the regular season as the passing game in Green Bay dominated opposing defenses and made a mockery of some very good teams. This is no real surprise when you look at stud quarterback Aaron Rodgers who is entering his prime and looking every bit like a future hall of famer with his sharp passing, excellent decision making and amazing agility not to mention the leadership he has displayed.
2011 Record: 15-1
Key Additions: Jeff Saturday, Anthony Hargrove,
Key Losses: Chad Clifton, Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah, Matt Flynn
Offense: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the face of the Packers franchise and is one of the five best quarterbacks in the league – whether he is higher depends on who you ask. This is very much a passing offense with a host of young and very talented receivers all of whom are capable of breaking open a game at any time.
Greg Jennings is the clear #1 here with a very strong all around game but nipping at his heels is Jordy Nelson who himself has shown he can bear the load when Jennings has missed time and also standing out in his own right as an offense force. Complimenting these two are James Jones – who has been rumored to want out of Green Bay due to the crowded situation – and 2011 rookie Randall Cobb whose elusiveness has seen him rocket up the depth chart and may start in the slot this season.
At tight end, Jermichael Finley adds his massive frame to the mix as one of these hybrid types to give the Packers an extra big body down the field. Throw in veteran Donald Driver who still has some of the best hands in football and entering what is likely his last year and you have the most formidable receiving corps in football.
By contrast, the running game is something to be pitied as the talent here is miserable. James Starks has failed to show anything as the team’s starting running back despite having the majority of the work to himself recently. Young Alex Green is hoped to be the man to finally give the running game some legitimacy if he can emerge but there’s no sign of that yet. The answer may be in little known Brandon Saine who showed in limited action last season that he does possess a spark of something special – whether or not that can translate into being a full time starter is unknown but he’s got potential.
The offensive line is very much a work in progress as the Packers move to rebuild their unit. 2011’s leader Chad Clifton has hung up his cleats leaving a big question mark at left tackle as it appears 2011 rookie Bryan Bulaga is more likely to be productive on the right side than the left. The only other name of note here is center Jeff Saturday who enters from Indianapolis to anchor the questionable line and hopefully teach the young developing talent a thing or two.
Defense: This is a defense with question marks all over the place. The one spot there is little doubt is the middle of the defensive line as B.J. Raji has matureed well and cemented his spot there. Outside him Ryan Pickett is yet clearly on the back end of his career and youngster CJ Wilson isn’t quite mature enough. The team did draft Jerel Worthy who may prove to be a starter at some point down the line but for now the ends are a spot to be concerned.
There is more concern in the linebacking corps. Desmond Bishop is one of the most productive linebackers in the game for sure and racks up tackles like nobody’s business but his teammates took a step back in 2011. A.J. Hawk had a terrible season and at times was clearly outplayed by backups Rob Francois and D.J. Smith prompting speculation that Smith may take the starting gig from him this preseason. On the outside, Clay Matthews followed up his star studded rookie campaign with a mediocre year in 2011 as he found opposing offenses constantly double teaming him due to the ineffectiveness of the defensive line. Throw in the fact that his opposite Nick Perry, while supremely talented as shown by his being drafted in the first round this year, is in the midst of a position change since he’s spent his college career playing as a 4-3 defensive end and as such this linebacking corps while having plenty of ability has a hell of a lot of improvements to make.
In the secondary it is more of the same as opposing passing offenses feasted on the Packers in 2011 prompting some dramatic changes. Veteran Charles Woodson, so long the team’s premier ballhawk and big play master, is now moving into strong safety after the team cut Charlie Peprah and Nick Collins. This leaves Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush as the starting corners and while both have shown the ability to makes plays both are also extremely inconsistent and have been found wanting when it comes to reading plays and judging the movement of opposing receivers. perhaps most disappointing of all is free safety Morgan Burnett who could so easily be the best player of this bunch except for the series of unfortunate injuries he has battled in recent seasons. Burnett does have the skill set to be a dominating safety that is up there with names like Polamalu and Reed in terms of talent and big things are expected from him in 2012 if he can stay healthy.
Coaching: Mike McCarthy has been given a lot of credit for Green Bay’s ascendance in recent years and he deserves every bit of it. This team may be completely focussed on Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers should get the accolades as the franchise quarterback but even the best quarterbacks require a coach who understands the need to focus his team around what is good and that’s exactly what McCarthy has done. Looking ahead, McCarthy’s main focus should be on ensuring that his team all understand what their place in the organisation is and keeping his players focussed on the main goal – getting another Super Bowl ring. If he can find a way to get the defense working better and leaking less points that would be an added bonus but not necessary something that McCarthy should worry about given the overall success of the team.
Breakout Player: I’ve been saying it every year since he was drafted – Morgan Burnett is a multiple Pro Bowl player waiting to happen and he needs to be on a secondary that has struggled to contain it’s opposition recently. It’s more a hope than anything else that I say I think 2012 is the year that Burnett finally achieves that nationwide credibility simply by staying healthy because his ability speaks for itself.
2012 Prediction: Tough to predict a repeat of 15-1 but I do think this offense is gonna keep rolling and there’s no reason to think otherwise at this point. Be fun watching Packers games in 2012 as the offense tries to outpace the defense points-wise. I’ll say they get a solid 13-3 with the upside for a bit more if things go right.
Overview: When all is said and done, this is Aaron Rodgers team and that’s gonna be the reality in Green Bay for a long time. This is one of those scary-good teams that the opposition would prefer not to face – unless you play for the Lions, Bears or Vikings of course – and you can expect 2012 to be another season where this offense thrills the fans even as the running game, offensive line and defense seek to find consistency.