With the New Year no longer so new, many people have given up looking back at 2009 and taking inventory on what happened. But we can't do that with football, at least not on January 1st. The NFL season doesn't really line up with the Julian calendar in terms of chronology; the year is split between in-season and off-season. They're almost like two seperate years by themselves. However, it's impossible to look back upon one until the other has finished. After all, if we judged offseasons immediately, every team would win the Super Bowl.
That said, the Packers' wins over Seattle and Arizona (which resembled more of a demolition, really) serves as a waypoint in the 2009 season that lets us take stock of the 2008 offseason. The preliminary results of 2009 (11 wins, a 5-seed, top-10 offense, top-5 defense) are already in the books, but how did we get here? We start, oddly enough, last January with Green Bay starting the 2008 offseason in January, after a disappointing 6-10 season that was underwhelming at best, horrendous at worst.
The 2008 season
Coming off a 13-3 finish in 2007, big things were projected for Green Bay despite the
defection departure of the team's biggest star. Any post-season hopes were derailed by two things: injuries and an inability to win close games. How bad were the injuries? The seasons of Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, Cullen Jenkins, Chad Clifton, and Mark Tauscher were all ended prematurely. How bad were the close games? An 0-7 record in games decided by 4 or fewer points despite scoring 5 more touchdowns and 2 more field goals than opponents and a +7 turnover differential.
Allowing game-winning scores left and right and boasting a bottom-rung ranking against the run forced the team to sacrifice someone. As it turns out, there were several someones, as defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and 5 of his assistants were released on January 5th.
After lengthy courtships with Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams, and Jim Haslett, Green Bay settled on Dom Capers as their new defensive coordinator. But that wasn't the lone addition that made the 2009 defense what it is today: bringing in Mike Trgovac and Kevin Greene were arguably more important in that they helped the development of players like Johnny Jolly, Clay Matthews, and Brad Jones.
This could fall under the previous point, but it's important enough to stand on its own. There was much hand-wringing and gnashing-of-teeth about the switch around these parts, mainly because Green Bay didn't have the personnel for such a change. The line was built for a four-man front, the linebackers did not have the skills for a 3-4, and taking the secondary away from the successful bump-and-run scheme seemed counterproductive. But, the man installing the 3-4 (Capers) and his men (Trgovac, Winston Moss, Greene) are the best in the business, which gave us some hope for quick results.
It turned out to be a relatively short hiatus, but Tauscher looked like he was done at this point. After all, the team could surely find a replacement for an aging tackle with knee issues...right?
The defensive scheme change forced many players out of their old spots and into new ones. Ryan Pickett was moved from 4-3 DT to nose tackle, Cullen Jenkins was moved outside to 3-4 DE, A.J. Hawk was moved inside with Nick Barnett, but most notably was the switch to OLB by Aaron Kampman. The highly-successful 4-3 DE was expected to turn himself into a pass-rushing linebacker, and his switch was widely regarded as the lynchpin of the defensive shift. Needless to say, when offseason comments were noticably vague, people worried about whether or not Kampman was on board with the change.
This really wasn't that important, I just wanted to revisit the insanity that is Cole's $21 million contract for the Seahawks. It does speak to the ability of Ted Thompson to keep the roster intact instead of blowing the team up following a disappointing year. It's refreshing to see a GM show faith in the team he assembled instead of panicking to appease the unruly public. After all, if Colin Cole is your team's biggest FA loss, you're doing something right.
Ah, the April NFL Draft. Where else can you see tortured Jets fans, annoyingly boistrous Cowboy fans, and absolutely dumbfounded Raider fans? Besides all that, this is the place to see what was widely regarded as the most successful draft for 2009. For all the uncertainty behind the 3-4 defense, those concerns were alleviated when B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, and (later in the season) Brad Jones were all brought in. Finding T.J. Lang and Quinn Johnson were added bonuses, even if we never understood carrying 3 fullbacks on the roster.
Among the resigned in the offseason was star WR Greg Jennings, who earned a 3-year addition to his contract that both gave him a deserved payday and the chance at another major deal while he's still in his prime. Jennings' 2009 season may have seemed more inconsistent than we're used to, but he still put up 68 catches for 1113 yards.
Ryan Grant's 2008 season was forgettable to say the least. His offseason was equally forgettable, and people were concerned that Grant didn't have the makings of a feature NFL back. Even his 2009 campaign wasn't very high-profile, but he still posted 282 carries for 1253 yards, a 4.4 ypc average, and 11 touchdowns. It's not Chris Johnson, but it's good enough for me.
After the offseason, Green Bay began their other year by playing the NFL-mandated exhibition games. The Packers lit the world on fire with a 3-1 record and looking invincible in the first half when their starters were in.
After the preseason, Green Bay was the chic pick for postseason contention. After the first 8 weeks, they were 4-4 and had lost to Minnesota, Cincinnati, Minnesota again, and Tampa Bay. They had shown poor playcalling, spotty pass defense, and an inability to protect the quarterback that completely scuttled any success the offense or defense was having. Nobody believed this team could turn it around.
But they did turn it around, going 7-1 to close out the year and clinch a postseason berth. Here's a snapshot of some of the 2009 statistics and where Green Bay ranks:
- Points/game: 28.8, third
- Yards/game: 379.1, sixth
- Third down %: 47%, third
- Points allowed/game: 18.6, seventh
- Yards allowed/game: 284.4, second
- Third down % against: 36%, ninth
- Turnover differential: +24, first
- Time of possession/game: 33:03, second
These rankings don't even include the fine performances put forth by Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, and the rest of Green Bay's playmakers. So what do you think? How did we get to where we are now? And more importantly, where are we going?