Hello all, this is my first post on APC. I read Walterfootball a couple of times a week and right now, he is looking into every team's offseason. He is doing the AFC North right now, and should have Green Bay's write up by this time next week, but I figure I'll show you all mine right now. If you read this site, you are clearly well informed on the Pack, and what I wrote is not so geared towards people in the know when it comes to our favorite team, so bear with me (actually, should we go with pack with me? That sounds weird too.) BARE WITH ME PEOPLE. There are going to be plenty of predictions out there, but I figure why not put mine into the mix.
2013 Green Bay Packers Season Preview
Early Draft Picks:
2013 Green Bay Packers Offense:
The 2012 Packers offense was entirely reliant on the arm of Aaron Rodgers, which fortunately for them meant it was good enough to be division champs. However, embarrassing losses to the Giants and the 49ers (especially including the playoff game) highlighted the need to regain balance between run and pass if Green Bay intends to get back to the Super Bowl.
The Packers return 4 starters along the offensive line, but the unit itself will look very different from last season since Coach McCarthy has decided to flip the left and right sides of the line. Overall, this unit was very mediocre last year, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times, and avoided more with his legs. Sacks are probably always going to be a bit on the high side with Green Bay with a team that relies heavily on throwing the ball, and a quarterback like Rodgers that holds on to the ball a bit longer than you’d like. However, Rodgers will be dead by 33 if they continue to allow him to get abused like he has.
Bryan Bulaga has been the best tackle on the team the last couple of seasons, in spite of a few injuries that have left him off the field for a significant amount of games the past two years, so moving him to the left side makes sense in light of Marshall Newhouse’s play. Newhouse has been passable at times, but sometimes seems to have switched bodies with Jamarcus Webb. Newhouse will have to fight off a slew of players, including 4th rounder David Bakhtiari, if he intends to keep the job at right tackle. Josh Sitton has been one of the better guards in the NFC the last few years, according to people that know things, but he is also flipping sides so there might be a bit of a transition period with him as well. TJ Lang has been thoroughly average at guard, as far as I can tell, and during his time in Green Bay has been asked to play all over the line. I expect he will transition to right guard without much issue. At center, Evan Dietrich-Smith steps in for the now-retired Jeff Saturday, to the great relief of Packer fans everywhere. Saturday was abused relentlessly all year, and his selection to the pro-bowl highlights the fact that fans generally have no idea who is a good offensive lineman or not, aside from whom ESPN says is good.
The receiving corps has been a major strength for the Packers in recent years. Few teams could match their depth up and down the chart. In 2012, that depth was tested in a major way. Greg Jennings half of the year, leading to career lows in catches and yards, and Jordy Nelson missed 4 games plus large portions of two others. In their place, James Jones and Randall Cobb performed very suitably. Cobb set career highs in all major categories, and gave the Packers good reason to let Jennings walk when he wanted a fat new contract. Jones led the NFL in touchdown catches and his play over the course of the year alleviated fan’s concerns that his hands would forever hold him back. He will also be playing for a new contract this season. Green Bay added two more receivers late in the draft, and brought back the little-used Jarrett Boykin, who should see an increase in snaps as the Packers new #4 wideout. Packer fans should feel confident in this group even without Jennings and fan-favorite Donald Driver.
The tight end group is an interesting spot for Green Bay. The mercurial Jermichael Finley is back, after many speculated that he would be released after a 61-catch, 2-touchdown season. His play was uneven last year, but the coaching staff seemed to like what they saw from him down the stretch (when his drops started to become less frequent). He is a constant match-up problem when he is on his game, and maybe this season (his last under contract) is the one where he lives up to his immense promise.
Behind Finley, Andrew Quarless returns after missing the 2012 season recovering from a knee injury, as well as DJ Williams and Ryan Taylor. The latter could be a long shot to make the team, as they added Matthew Mulligan and Brandon Bostick into the mix. During OTAs, many thought Quarless looked like the clear number two at the position, with the rest jockeying for third. A good year from Quarless could mean that the front office will jettison Finley after the season.
No position has received quite as much attention this offseason for Green Bay as running back. Two of the teams picks through the first 4 rounds went to the position, so it is clear that the team is making the run game more of a priority going forward. A number of draftniks felt that the two they drafted. Lacy and Franklin, were the top two backs in the draft as well. Lacy brings a physical edge, and spin move, that hasn’t been seen in Green Bay in quite a while. The battle for the starting position is far from settled, but Lacy should get carries in short-yardage and near the goal line right away, eating into John Kuhn’s snaps. Franklin is the smaller of the two draft picks, at around 205 pounds, but his quickness and ability in the pass game (blocking and receiving) will get him on the field quickly. Both were extremely productive for their respective college teams, and if they pan-out like the front office hopes, this offense will be nearly unstoppable. Dujuan Harris is back as well, after providing a bit of a late season spark. James Starks is likely to be cut, and Alex Green is likely to see a significant decline in snaps after a 135 carry, 464 yard effort last year.
Aaron Rodgers was his typical, superhuman self last season , throwing for nearly 4300 yards and 39 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions. However, the inability to run the ball clearly affected the pass game. Teams constantly played safeties deep last season, neutering the offense’s big play ability as well as play-action. Teams rushed Aaron Rodgers with reckless abandon in 2012, the run game was no threat, so why not go after him?
This year, with the addition of Lacy and Franklin, we could see a very explosive Green Bay offense, assuming the offensive line does not decline significantly. Part of the problem with the run game last year was an inability of the backs to get yards once they reached the second level, which should not be such a problem this season. Much of this offense’s success will be dictated by how well the o-line manages the flip, but the team now has their best lineman on the left side, which could be beneficial going forward.
2013 Green Bay Defense
The Green Bay defense was pretty uneven on their way to being 11th in yards allowed and giving up a respectable 21 points per game. They shut down terrible offenses like Tennessee, and then held Jay Cutler in check both times they played them. Then, Colin Kaepernick happened in the playoffs and the packers gave up 579 yards in an embarrassing loss. `
The whole defense has been a frequent target for criticism, somewhat unfairly. There were some pretty bright spots for the Green Bay defense last season, beginning with rookie Casey Hayward. Playing mostly in the slot, the rookie showed tremendous ability and excellent ball skills. He was also able to nab half a dozen interceptions. Sam Shields really elevated his play as well in what became a very deep green bay cornerback group. Morgan Burnett played well most of the year, and he seems poised to become a leader for this defense. Brad Jones was rewarded for his play inside with a new three year deal, and the front office felt good enough about his play to release Desmond Bishop (though his injury plus salary might have been the primary motivation).
Clay Matthews was dominant last year, when he was on the field. Matthews missed four games, and a good part of a fifth, to injury last year, and Green Bay will need him healthy if this defense is going to take the next step. He collected 13 sacks in 12 games last season, but he was important in the run game as well, the packers gave up nearly 2 yards less per carry when he was on the field.
Helping Matthews on the other side will be second-year linebacker Nick Perry. Perry played 6 games of his rookie season before a wrist injury cost him the rest of the year. He will be counted on to improve, which he seemed to be doing before his injury. If he plays up to or near his immense promise, this unit could really surprise people in 2013.
Up front, the packers have a lot of questions. BJ Raji was better than in 2011, but he had zero sacks. This is a contract year from Raji, and while there were some questions about what kind of shape he was in for OTAs, I have to think he wants a long-term deal from Ted Thompson. The Packers have said they are going to wait till after the season to talk about a new contract for him. Ryan Pickett is 34, and likely coming into his last season as a packer. He has been valuable along the line for them in the past, but you have to question how much he has left in the tank. At end, rookie Datone Jones is going to be counted on heavily to contribute right away. He had 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks playing the same position at UCLA last season, if he can generate similar penetration for this line, and I think he will, this defense will be much better than last season.
Outside of Jones, the defensive end position is in flux. Jerel Worthy tore his ACL in week 17 against the Vikings, and his availability is a major question. That will mean more snaps potentially for Raji in obvious passing situations (when the Packers often play 2 down linemen). CJ Wilson is a marginal player, and the role of Mike Neal has been a major question of the offseason. Right now, the packers are very short on big bodies up front.
More on Mike Neal, the coaches asked him to trim some weight from his 294ish pound frame, and he is apparently practicing closer to 280 these days. He has been practicing some at outside linebacker as well, a surprise because he has not played the position, and he was the only down lineman who could generate any pass rush for Green Bay in 2012. His hybrid role will be an interesting storyline this year.
This seems crazy to say after the disastrous 2011 campaign for this unit, but Green Bay’s secondary is probably the strongest group on this defense. Tramon Williams is still the number one guy at corner, and while his run defense was atrocious, he is still capable in coverage. This group has real depth, with Sam Shields and Casey Hayward each providing lots of quality snaps. Shields has a contract to play for, and both sides appear motivated to get a deal done. Davon House is a name to keep an eye on, he has more size than his teammates at this position, and he seemed poised to break out last year before he was derailed with a shoulder injury.
The defense’s biggest position battle is going on at safety across from Morgan Burnett, between Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings. McMillian was last year’s 4th round pick, and he saw a good amount of time when Charles Woodson got injured. He has shown more physicality than Jennings, and he showed some ability covering tight ends, but Jennings still has the upper hand in coverage. This battle will be one to keep an eye on in camp. Burnett finally seems ready to fill the big shoes that Nick Collins left behind 2 years ago.
I had to delete a paragraph here to keep within the word count. In summary, I think this is a top 12 unit this coming season.
2013 Green Bay Schedule and Intangibles
The Packers appeared to be uniquely screwed when the season schedule was released in April. They open with 3 consecutive playoff teams, facing two of them on the road, and have the AFC North and NFC East to face this season. The only teams that Green Bay will face this season that had a losing record in 2012 are the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns. Add the 49ers and Falcons into the mix and you have yourself a pretty daunting slate. Green Bay will play 7 games against teams who made the playoffs, and 9 games against teams with double digit wins last season (5 games on the road and 4 at home). A week 4 bye is also there to screw them over, that bye is probably my biggest concern. With any luck, our Packers will be able to rest up and get refreshed after a few extra days off post-thanksgiving.
With all that being said, this schedule (outside of the early bye week) probably scares me a whole lot less than most people. Cincinnati, its fantastic defensive line, and the fact that they were a playoff team in 2012 do not scare me too much, and I am not going to overrate Baltimore because they won the Super Bowl in such fluky fashion. Ladarius Webb (Baltimore’s best defensive player IMO) returns from a knee injury, but they have so much to replace on that side of the ball, and on offense, that I could see them missing the playoffs. As for the NFC East slate, I think they could very well go 3-1 in spite of another trip to the house of horrors otherwise known as the meadowlands. I think Green Bay will clean up at home in division games, and I would guess that they will take care of business in probably 2 division road games. A week one tilt in San Francisco is no picnic, but I can’t wait to see Atlanta have to play in Green Bay in December. I would guess that they’ll split those games, with Atlanta getting walloped.
Green Bay’s home field advantage has shown pretty well the last few years (aside from the playoff loss to the Giants in January 2012), with a 28-4 record the last 4 regular seasons. I think that continues in 2013, as most of the tough games are on the road.
Mason Crosby had his struggles last season, but he has been one of the more reliable kickers in the game the last few years. Advanced metrics tend to suggest that he has been one of the best, based on some of the conditions he regularly kicks in. Not everyone can kick in Green Bay, and I, for one, am glad that Coach McCarthy has showed so much faith in Crosby over the years. Despite the fact that they brought in competition this offseason, I am certain that Mason will retain the placekicking duties this coming season. Tim Masthay is about as reliable a punter you will find in the NFL, I have no concerns there.
I am not going to do a rookie forecast like Walt does, this preview is much longer than any one that he does. I am also not going to do positional rankings like he does, but I will say that the Quarterback group is relatively strong, the outside linebackers will be good, as will the receivers and the secondary.
2013 Packers Analysis
People forget that between the end of the 2010 season and a large part of the 2011 season, the Packers won 19 straight games (including playoffs). Some pretty big names have departed in some manner since then, but this roster is still absolutely loaded. The losses that were sustained this offseason are greatly outweighed by the additions of Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones. If this team can attain some level of balance on offense they will be unstoppable, and it will really help the defense in terms of time spent on the field. I believe the 2013 Packers could have a date with destiny, and may very well be Super Bowl champions. Anything less than a conference championship game appearance, even in a tremendously tough NFC (Holy crap is the NFC good by the way, I think any of probably 10 teams could/would make the playoffs in the AFC), should be considered a major disappointment. Go ahead, call me a homer.
Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC North), deep run in the playoffs.