Green Bay Packers
- 2012 Record: 11-5 (1st in NFC North, lost NFC Divisional Round to San Francisco)
- 2012 Point Differential: +97 (7th out of 32)
- 2012 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): +1.2 (t-9th)
- 2012 Predictive Yards per Play (offense): 5.56 (7th)
- 2012 Predictive Yards per Play (defense): 4.66 (10th)
- 2011 Predictive Yards per Play (offense): 6.17 (2nd)
- 2011 Predictive Yards per Play (defense): 5.71 (31st)
2013 Predictive Yards per Play Offensive Projection: 471.98 points
2013 Predictive Yards per Play Defensive Projection: 360.38 points
The Packers have officially reached the same level of preseason public trust that the 2000s Colts did under Peyton Manning and the ’80s and ’90s 49ers did under Joe Montana and Steve Young. Which is, as long as the starting quarterback (in this case, Aaron Rodgers) stays healthy for the vast majority of the season, the team will make the playoffs. Is it a nice feeling to know that you have the best quarterback in the league on your team? I wouldn’t know since I’m a Bears fan. I assume that it is, though.
Thus, writing a season preview for the Rodgers-era Packers – just as it was the Manning-era Colts or the Montana/Young-era 49ers – is largely an exercise in futility. For the main question any writer tries to answer in these writeups is this: “Will [INSERT TEAM HERE] be good this year?” But everybody who has a passing knowledge of football knows as long as Aaron Rodgers doesn’t get catastrophically injured, the Packers are going to be good. The only question is “How good?” And that’s not a question that often provides a satisfactory answer until the playoffs, which are largely a crapshoot and are nearly impossible to make accurate predictions for hours ahead of time, let alone months.
But it seems likely that one of the biggest factors in determining how far the Packers go this year will be how well, if at all, they’ve figured out the 49ers a season after that team both began and ended Green Bay’s season with a loss. The closing loss, a 45-31 defeat in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, provided the vast majority of offseason stress and rumination up old Wisconsin way this spring and summer. In that game, the Packers gave up 579 yards of offense – 323 of it on the ground, as the team had no answer for Colin Kaepernick’s quarterback keepers on the read option or the 49ers brute strength on simple dive plays up the middle. It was an embarrassing loss for an organization that hasn’t had much familiarity with the subject in recent years.
So for the first time since their Super Bowl run following the 2010 regular season, the Packers enter a season no longer firmly regarded as the unquestioned king of the hill in the NFC. Even though they lost in the same round of the playoffs in 2011, their 15-1 record and Rodgers’ season-long brilliance produced such an aura around the team that their playoff defeat to the Giants felt more like a self-inflicted wound than a thorough outclassing. That aura carried over through the 2012 regular season even after their Week 1 defeat at home to San Francisco and a 2-3 start – by the time the team won nine of their last eleven games to win the NFC North, the Packers were once again generally considered the leading Super Bowl contender in the conference.
That long, brutal defensive showing on January 12th, however, certainly clouded up that perception. And now, probably for the first time since 2010 when Rodgers and the Packers were still trying to escape the shadow Brett Favre’s last gasp in Minnesota cast over the region, Green Bay has a true bona fide nemesis entering a season. And that nemesis has the perfect offense to take advantage of Green Bay’s relative lack of size and overaggressiveness and a nearly ideal defense for slowing down Aaron Rodgers and his variety of weapons.
So how do the Packers get over the hump in 2013 against San Francisco? The easiest way would be to react to the read-option defensively like they’ve seen it before, which was certainly not their method of defense back in January. Kaepernick was allowed to scamper so freely and unmolested that Dom Capers – one of the best defensive coordinators of the past 20 years – came perilously close to losing his job over it. It was that much of a disaster. Dialing back the Packers’ devil-may-care defensive aggressiveness should be an easier task to accomplish over the course of an offseason instead of one week (especially considering the amount of scrutiny it received north of the Cheddar Curtain), so expect a considerably better-coached unit when the Packers face off again against the Niners in the season opener September 8th.
Assuming they start playing like a college-level defense against the read option, however, the 49ers still present a variety of matchup problems for Green Bay defensively. The Packers prefer to stock up on cornerbacks for their nickel and dime packages to give them better coverage options against the variety of three-and-four wide receiver sets that have become commonplace in the current NFL. Against any other team (with the possible exception of New England), this would be a sound and progressive strategy for facing modern offenses.
Against the 49ers’ bruising and powerful offensive line, however, the Packers’ going-small-and-speedy scheme simply gives up too many rushing yards to be a viable every-down defense. The decision to basically ignore run defense (and when you give at least 4.5 yards per carry for three years in a row, it’s tough to argue you’re truly invested in the topic) for the sake of defending the pass leaves a team susceptible to teams with legitimately great offensive lines. And San Francisco’s line, at least on the run side of the equation, certainly qualifies as a great one.
Green Bay picked 3-4 defensive end Datone Jones with their first-round pick in April’s draft but have otherwise stood pat defensively, so their lack of size and depth may very well be exposed again. In the big picture, it’s a risk well worth taking when most other teams in the league rely on passing to move the ball and score points. In a microcosm moment, however, that Achilles’ heel could once again be the reason why the Packers come up short of the Super Bowl.
Again, though, you can file the majority of this essay under “Majorly Picking Nits.” Aaron Rodgers is still the Packers starting quarterback, he still has one of the best receiving groups in the league and the Packers figure to have one of the better pass defenses in the league again in 2013. Every team, even the great ones, have flaws; it’s the goal of every coach and general manager to make sure those flaws are as minimized or trivial as possible. The Packers’ run defense is certainly the team’s biggest reason for worry and may very well be exploited by San Francisco (or Seattle or New Orleans or whoever) by the time the season is through. When you have to go that far down the checklist to find some issues, though, life’s pretty good.
|PY/P 2011-12 Weighted Avg.||2012 Consistency Index||Ball Control %||Projected Strength of Schedule||Projected Points Scored|
2012 key contributors who moved on in the offseason: RB Cedric Benson, WR Greg Jennings, WR Donald Driver, TE Tom Crabtree, C Jeff Saturday
2013 notable offseason additions: QB Vince Young, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Johnathan Franklin, OT David Bakhtiari, G J.C. Tretter
File starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga as a key 2012 contributor who also won’t be with the team in 2013 – Bulaga tore his ACL in early August, leaving a much-maligned offensive line (whose problems are occasionally exacerbated by Rodgers’ tendency to hang on to the ball too long) with another big problem to fix. The immediate options that the Packers have in replacing Bulaga are the following: insert fourth-round draft pick Bakhtiari into the starting lineup as Rodgers’ blind-side protector (dicey), move Marshall Newhouse back from right to left tackle (not at all desirable, unless you’re a fan of one of the other NFC North teams) or hope Derek Sherrod finally gets healthy and is able to play at a high level after not playing at all since 2011. Chances are Rodgers will have to scramble for his life quite a bit again in 2013…The team got great value picks out of Lacy and Franklin, both of whom went off the board at least a round later than expected. Lacy, in particular, was generally considered the best running back prospect in the draft (out of a very weak class, but still) and is probably the best running back to suit up for the Packers since Ryan Grant tore up his ankle in the 2010 season opener. The Packers’ offensive line is still largely the same as it was last year, though, so don’t expect the running game to magically start busting out ten-yard runs every play…Greg Jennings took the big bucks Minnesota waved in front of him in free agency and then proceeded to burn his bridges with Rodgers, who was only the biggest reason why Jennings got a huge payday in the first place. The irony, of course, is that Jennings needed the Packers way more than the Packers needed Jennings. With Randall Cobb’s emergence and James Jones’s progression from inconsistent head case to touchdown machine (not to mention the continued presences of Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley), Jennings was eminently expendable from the Packers’ point of view. And now he’ll likely learn the hard way that there’s a big difference in getting thrown passes from Christian Ponder instead of Rodgers…
|PY/P 2011-12 Weighted Avg.||2012 Consistency Index||Ball Control %||Projected Strength of Schedule||Projected Points Allowed|
2012 key contributors who moved on in the offseason: ILB Desmond Bishop, OLB Erik Walden, OLB Frank Zombo, CB Charles Woodson
2013 notable offseason additions: DE Datone Jones, CB Micah Hyde
The Packers turned around from giving up the second most yards in a single season in league history to becoming an above-average defense again in 2012 largely thanks to a productive secondary headlined by Tramon Williams, Casey Heyward, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson. The Packers let Woodson walk back to Oakland in the offseason, ending a remarkably beneficial seven-year relationship for both parties. The three other corners mentioned above are all better cover corners at this point than Woodson (Hayward had six interceptions playing solely as a nickel corner); the question becomes who, if anyone, replaces his blitzing and all-around play…Clay Matthews picked up thirteen sacks in 2012, but seven of those came in the first two weeks of the season and nobody else on the team had more than 4.5. Capers was able to generate a 7.6% sack rate, anyway, with a variety of nickel and dime blitzes, but Nick Perry could definitely make his job easier by both staying healthy and developing into a solid edge rusher opposite Matthews… Is B.J. Raji secretly one of the most overrated players in the NFL? He didn’t record a sack last year in 14 games and it’s not as if he had a great impact on the Packers’ run defense. At any rate, the Packers’ defensive line is still likely the weak link of the unit but since they usually only have two down lineman in at a time, that’s not a huge deal…
|1||September 8||@||San Francisco 49ers|
|2||September 15||Washington Redskins|
|3||September 22||@||Cincinnati Bengals|
|5||October 6||Detroit Lions|
|6||October 13||@||Baltimore Ravens|
|7||October 20||Cleveland Browns|
|8||October 27||@||Minnesota Vikings|
|9||November 4||Chicago Bears|
|10||November 10||Philadelphia Eagles|
|11||November 17||@||New York Giants|
|12||November 24||Minnesota Vikings|
|13||November 28||@||Detroit Lions|
|14||December 8||Atlanta Falcons|
|15||December 15||@||Dallas Cowboys|
|16||December 22||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|17||December 29||@||Chicago Bears|
2013 Projected Strength of Schedule: +1.49 points per game harder than average (6th-toughest)
Mason Crosby’s massive slump in the second half of the season – and the Packers’ refusal to cut him despite the aforementioned massive slump – turned into one of the biggest running jokes in the league by the time December rolled around. And guess what? He’s still with the team! Unbelievable. Does it make sense to show an excessive display of loyalty to an embattled kicker when said kicker has only made about 77% of his attempts for his career? I would venture to say not, but then again I’m not Mike McCarthy or Ted Thompson…Despite Crosby’s struggles, the Packers still had average special teams thanks to Randall Cobb’s kick returning and the Tim Masthay-led punt unit. It’ll be interesting to see how many returns Cobb continues to field with his ever-increasing role on offense…The Packers get a chance for payback against the 49ers right away in Week 1, a game which sets the tone for one of the toughest schedules in the league. On offense, in particular, only Baltimore is projected by Predictive Yards per Play to face a tougher slate of defenses. Keep that in mind if you’re looking to bet on Aaron Rodgers’ MVP odds (and if it were legal to do so, of course).
2013 Predictive Yards per Play Wins Projection: 10.8 wins (1st in NFC North)
Whether they end up taming the 49ers or not, the Packers’ big picture plan continues to work and the team earns its fifth playoff spot in a row.
2013 Subjective Prediction: 11-5 (1st in NFC North)
Aaron Rodgers continues to be good at football and, as a result, the Packers continue to be good at football.