Training camp is only a few days old but the talk of how good the Packers will be this year is already taking center stage. Aaron Rodgers kind of started it by saying the Packers will be better on both offense and defense this year. They will have to be if they want to hold off the Bears and Lions in the NFC North division.
On offense the Packers can only get better in two areas – the running game and pass protection. The running game is in the hands of young and fragile James Starks with no proven back on the roster now that Ryan Grant is gone. The Packers are taking a huge gamble on Starks and if he goes down in week one the Packers may run even less than they did last year when they only ran 35 percent of the time.
That puts a ton of pressure on the other area that needs to improve. With that many pass attempts Rodgers is going to get hit way more often than is preferable for a player of his status. In Brett Favre’s prime he was rarely sacked over 10-15 times a year, Rodger hit the turf 39 times last year alone. That has to stop, running game or not.
The problem is Rodgers has so many weapons at his disposal with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver, not to mention James Jones and the intriguing Alex Green. Like Constanza says, “why go out the door when the window is right there?” The temptation to pass is too strong for head coach Mike McCarthy. Rodgers did, however, “only” attempt 503 passes in the regular season, that would have been 550 for sure had he played the last game. By comparison Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford all attempted over 600 passes with Stafford an astonishing 663. Wow!
Defensively if the Packers are not better there will a revolt in Packers’ Nation. Dead last is unacceptable. Ted Thompson obviously agreed, judging by his offseason acquisitions. I think they will be better just by having a chip on their shoulder and not having the complacency that came from winning the Super Bowl and having an offense that can score at will. When the chips were down the defense failed big time – first in Kansas City when the offense had an off day and then in the playoffs giving up big play after big play in getting crushed by the Giants.
The Packers may have as many as five new starters on defense, for sure they will have a new outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews, they will have a new cornerback opposite Tramon Williams, replacing Charles Woodson, who has moved to safety. The defensive line will have a new starter as well from the likes of Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels or by mid-season with one of their suspended players.
I’m not sold on A.J. Hawk remaining the starter or even on the team for that matter. I could see D.J. Smith or one of the other younger more athletic guys beating him out. The Packers may have been dead last against the pass last year but they were not much better at all against the run. Again, the Kansas City game comes to mind. The offense finally scores and pins the Chiefs deep and they literally run the clock out on the Packers’ defense.
I think the Packers will return to the middle of the Pack on defense and even better if Nick Perry is as advertised. I think the Packers will be about the same on offense, I don’t trust Starks and can’t really see Rodgers improving on his record-breaking year of a year ago. If he even comes close he’s probably the MVP for a second straight year.