After going 13-3 in 2007, many fans felt they had their 2008 Green Bay Packers figured out.
But here we are, almost two summers later, and now we’re all making biased predictions on a 6-10 team without a true identity.
We know Aaron Rodgers can get it done on offense, but what about the offensive line and—almost as important—what about Ryan Grant?
Read on for those issues, as well as three others to monitor as the Packers gear up for an August that hopefully is full of answers.
5. The Brett Favre Affect
Yes, he’s retired, for now.
But even though he won’t be wearing green and gold again, he still could very well play a key role in what happens with the Packers in the NFC North this season, and quite possibly the playoffs.
The truth is, with Favre, you can never say never, and it’s ringing especially true when discussing his retirement plans.
There are rumors going both ways, and they’ll continue to do so until the initial kickoff to the 2009 season.
Until then, prepare for an August full of Favre drama, and a possible impending signing with the Minnesota Vikings or some other team.
4. Ryan Grant and the Ground Game
Grant began 2008 with hamstring and YPC issues after a contract hold-out, so this time around, he should be far more ready for the rigors of an NFL season.
Without the proper reps and training last season, Grant’s body wasn’t completely ready for the pounding, and his vision was nowhere near it was in 2007.
Still, despite not being at his best, Green Bay committed to the run, and Grant ended last season with over 1,200 yards.
The disappointing side of that was the team’s average 17th ranking in the NFL in rush yards per game, as well as Grant’s inability to convert at the goal-line effectively (four scores).
While the Packers will attempt to maintain a balanced offense as always, they still plan to run Grant 20-25 times a game, while spelling him with Brandon Jackson.
But after last year’s slow start, combined with another season of uncertainty in regards to the offensive line, can we truly expect progression?
3. The Offensive Line
The Packers O-Line has been a constantly changing group, and could possibly change for the worse (or better) depending on how you look at them, with the loss of Mark Tauscher.
It still isn’t unrealistic to imagine Tauscher re-joining Green Bay, but with so many young, active bodies ready to compete, it’s probably time to let the 32-year-old walk.
Another issue for Green Bay is assessing if Chad Clifton is still good enough to keep around, or if he has enough left in the tank to warrant any kind of a commitment.
In the mean time, it’s fair to say that this could be the make-or-break season for several players on the inconsistent line, especially Daryn Colledge.
In all regards, this is a very talented group of players in a solid system, although their consistency and toughness is routinely questioned.
2. Is There a Sophomore Slump in Line For Aaron Rodgers?
True, Rodgers isn’t “literally” a sophomore quarterback, but as far as his starting experience goes, he’s a newbie.
Rodgers performed sensationally last year, as he took over for the departed Favre, and tossed 28 touchdowins, over 4,000 yards, and even ran for three more scores.
Rodgers helped make Green Bay one of the more productive and efficient offenses, as he guided them to a 5th overall ranking in points scored, as well as 8th in total yards per game, and 8th in passing yards per game.
1. Will the Transition to the New 3-4 Defense be Successful?
Dom Capers came into Green Bay to shake up a few things.
In their old 4-3 defense, the Packers had too many players in wrong positions way too often, and it was clear that several of the players didn’t always understand their roles fully, as some of them often looked lost.
With Capers’ new switch to the 3-4, the goal is to get the right guys in place, get after the quarterback, and end the season with a better ranking than 2008′s 26th against the run.
With rookies Clay Matthews Jr. and B.J. Raji, it’s not impossible to expect at least a slight improvement, as the 3-4 defense is designed for active linebackers (which Green Bay has) to make plays and rush the passer.
The success of Aaron Kampman’s transition from traditional defensive end to outside linebacker will also be something to watch, going hand-in-hand with the defensive changes.
If the offensive line and running game can pick up some slack, the likely much more comfortable Rodgers should be able to put up even better numbers.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009
Much like last season, Green Bay’s focus, whether you like it or not, might be on Brett Favre.
With Favre’s arrival in Minnesota seeming more likely by the day, Green Bay might have to game plan for their former star quarterback. So much for avoiding the topic.
Regardless, there are way too many other issues Green Bay needs to address and hammer out. The Packers need to focus on what is in their control, rather than dwell on hypotheticals.
So, without further “Brett Favre Saga-Haste”, let’s get back on track:
Addressing the 3-4
As we saw last season, Aaron Rodgers is not the problem in Green Bay. True, he failed to lead any dramatic comebacks as his former legendary teammate had, but it was more on his suspect defense than him.
In fact, Rodgers led comebacks in several games late in the fourth quarter, only to see his defense give up a score with two minutes left. That’s not the kind of defense a quarterback can depend on.
But to expect it to instantly get better during a transition to a 3-4 scheme—well, that’s insane.
If anything, we may see a bit of a drop-off.
Do they have the right players in the right spots? It’s close, but they have too many guys who either don’t fit perfectly, or they’re holdovers from other positions that they couldn’t win.
For example, Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop, Brady Poppinga, and rookie Clay Matthews will all be battling for the outside linebacker spot opposite of Aaron Kampman.
Is this good or bad news? Well, considering none of them are completely ideal for the position, do the math for yourself.
Chillar is best-suited for the middle (as is Bishop), while Poppinga and Matthews are perfect on the outside, but not necessarily for this type of scheme.
Both linebackers are quick and nasty hitters, but Poppinga has regressed in his block-shedding and didn’t register a single sack last season.
Matthews, on the other hand, has all the ability and pedigree a coach could ask for, but he is extremely raw and is still just a rookie.
Even if new defensive coordinator Dom Capers can figure the linebacker position out, he still has issues on the line.
Cullen Jenkins, if healthy, is a great defensive end for the new 3-4, but with Kampman switching to linebacker, there are no true contenders to fill in at the other end spot.
Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, and even Ryan Pickett have been mentioned as possible ends in this scheme, but none of them are sexy or leave you feeling good about this line.
Jolly is big and strong, but doesn’t have good speed or burst. The 3-4 scheme doesn’t demand elite pass-rushers, but it does ask for some pressure. Jolly might not be able to give them that.
As for Harrell, his progress report will forever be incomplete, as he’s yet to stay healthy and/or make any kind of an impact.
Pickett is still up in the air, as it hasn’t been determined if he’ll switch to end to allow rookie B.J. Raji take over in the middle or if Raji will have to wait.
Needless to say, there are a ton of questions, and we’ve only covered linebacker and the defensive line.
Factor in two cornerbacks who are in their mid-30s, and you’re one injured cornerback away from a crippled defense.
Can the Offense Carry This Team?
They couldn’t do it last season, but that was to be expected. Despite playing extremely well, you couldn’t reasonably expect Rodgers to lead the Packers to the playoffs in his first season.
However, with a year under his belt, we could see better execution, more big plays, and even some heroic late-game drives for Rodgers and this offense.
The success of this Packers team will undoubtedly hang on Rodgers, simply because it’s impossible to put too much stock in a defense we know almost nothing about.
The position battles are still fresh, all the players are still learning, and once we finally do know the starting lineup, there will be a time period needed for continuity to be established.
Rodgers threw 28 touchdowns and for more than 4,000 yards on a 6-10 team last season, showing that he was obviously not the problem.
However, this year, he has to be the solution, and I believe he can do it. Does that mean a division title, though? Probably not.
Unless this new defense can turn things around in one year, they’ll struggle enough that Rodgers will have to play at least as good as last year to keep their heads above water.
A 9-7 finish is very realistic and even probable, while a 10-6 finish is reachable if their defense even remotely shows up.