As I started the day on Sunday I read over Kevin Seifert’s quick take on the game against the San Francisco 49ers. It was a good read while I pondered over MVP and Dud choices. While I read it a quote from Charles Woodson really struck me…."we’re a better team now[.]" It’s a bold and pithy statement. It is also a statement I had trouble agreeing with right away. So I finished up the posts I had to write for the day and then went to brunch with my wife and some of her family. After that watch some of the games and popped in and out of the open threads while also doing some chores...you know just a normal casual Sunday afternoon. The whole while I let that statement marinate in my mind, mulling over whether I believed the Packers are actually better than what they were in week 1.
My initial thoughts focused around the mental side of the team. I agreed with B.J. Raji’s statement in the article that the Packers have a better sense of their identity than they did back in week 1. I don’t think this Packers team had a good sense of their identity until beating the Houston Texans back in week 6. But I don’t know if having an identity alone makes them a better team than they were in week 1. I hoped that the Packers are a tougher team than they were in week 1. Back in that game it seemed like the Packers were in a haze and slightly disinterested in playing. Worse yet, they then turned around in the media after the game with the whole "we beat ourselves" schtick just like after the playoff loss to the Giants last season. It smacked of a soft team that wasn’t able to grind out victories and really make a playoff push. The play of the team over the past year has changed that perception, including overcoming injuries, the Seattle Screwjob, changing personnel, and delivering in very important games. But neither of these things means that the Packers are better. Better prepared? Maybe. More confident? Okay, I can believe that. But actually better? I’m not so sure.
The Packers are definitely a different team than they were in week 1. This is not saying much in the grand scheme of things, every team in the NFL changes dramatically from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Players improve, players fall off, players get injured, heck coaches get injured….that’s not even taking into account the world of tape that is acquired which reveals the secrets and tendencies of every team to the diligent observer. Just being different does not make a team better or worse, it just means that the game should play out in a different manner.
So are the Packers better or worse?
I wish I could give a point blank answer backed by my normal amount of hubris and moderately informed opinions as per usual. Is it more important to the Packers that Jarrett Bush remain on the bench and Casey Hayward step up, or that the Packers have the dynamic pass rushing presence of Nick Perry opposite Clay Matthews? Before you answer also keep in mind Perry being available this limits the play of Erik Walden who has struggled in a full time role. Is it better to have a focused Jermichael Finley who is producing finally as well as a surging James Jones, or a healthy Bryan Bulaga protecting Aaron Rodgers? Is the running game that radically different with the committee of Alex Green, Ryan Grant, and DuJuan Harris or having the reliable Cedric Benson carry the ball 20 times?
Honestly, I could go either way on any of these questions. One thing I do know is that even if the personnel is not dramatically better or worse the team on the field in week 1, Packers do have a much better attitude and focus coming into this game than they did in week 1. They have fought through just about every game and overcome adversities that no other team the like of which few teams have faced this season. Nothing has been easy and the team has the drive and resilience to show for it. I'm still not convinced this is enough to be a better team, but it is more than enough to give me a better feeling coming into this game....let's hope it is also enough to effect the outcome of the game as well.