In the calendar year 2011, the Green Bay Packers went 19-1 in games that counted. Even after their one loss to the Kansas City Chiefs -- a loss that exposed the team's holes -- they were universally regarded as the best team in the NFL. A year after winning the Super Bowl, they finished the regular season 15-1. They lost in their first playoff game, to the eventual Super Bowl Champions. The league's best offense played an average game one week after Michael Philbin, the son of then-offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, passed away.
This is about as good of a two-season stretch and a calendar year as any team could possibly hope for. You can count on one hand the teams that have had better two-season stretches. There really isn't a single team that has had a better calendar year. In 2011, the Packers were far and away the most accomplished team in the NFL.
The team has played just two games in 2012. They are 1-1. From what I've read on this site and on this site's facebook page, it occasionally feels like that one loss -- a loss that happened shortly after a tragedy that affected the team -- is all that matters.
Even though the Packers were great last season, the pass rush was admittedly poor. The three-headed monster of Mike Neal, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson didn't fill the hole that Cullen Jenkins left. Erik Walden, Frank Zombo and Brad Jones weren't effective at right outside linebacker. A.J. Hawk did not have as good of a season in 2011 as he had in the previous season. Nick Collins' neck injury left the team with an unexpected hole, and Charlie Peprah was average.
These are real problems for the Packers. We won't know until next week if Collins can return, but there's no way that the team is currently counting on it. Defensive end and outside linebacker have always been needs that Ted Thompson needed to fill in free agency or the draft. Scott Wells wanted too much money and he was allowed to walk. Center needs to be filled, along with those three defensive positions.
That's four out of 22 starting, every down positions. This doesn't count kicker and punter, kick and punt returner, slot receiver, No. 2 tight end and nickel corner; these positions are so important to the Packers (and most teams) that they might as well be considered starting spots. That's four out of 29 positions where the Packers need help.
Go down every NFL roster. Pick out their best player at those 29 spots. You will be hard pressed to find another team that needs serious help at four or less of those spots. That a team like the Packers, a team that has drafted well enough to have too much quality to fit under the cap and that has suffered serious injuries over the last two seasons, only needs four guys to feel like they are set at every position is unbelievable. Because of cap issues and aging players, some quality teams are hemorrhaging talent. The Packers lost a center to free agency and might lose a safety to injury. That's it.
And yet, the sentiment I felt from most Packers fans when Wells left was "WHY WON'T YOU PROTECT NO. 12, THOMPSON?" Whenever a decent 3-4 defensive end or pass-rushing outside linebacker signs for another team? "WHY IS THOMPSON SO CHEAP?" It's astonishing to me.
This guy was right to draft B.J. Raji and Bryan Bulaga in the first, right to trade up for Clay Matthews, right to take Greg Jennings over bigger names, and most notably, right to usher in a new era with Aaron Rodgers. He grabbed Jordy Nelson in the second and picked up guys like T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton and Desmond Bishop in late rounds. He signed Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as unrestricted free agents. He shelled out the big money for Charles Woodson when he felt the team was one player away from contending. These players won a Super Bowl, then went 15-1 the following season.
There is a lot of very respectable and very reasonable criticism of Thompson around these parts. He is not infallible; he has made a lot of mistakes. But his hits to misses ratio is spectacular, and he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Hell, he deserves the benefit of the doubt until the team has consecutive losing seasons. He will sign somebody in free agency. He will draft some good players. He will also draft some players that are not good. And everything will be just fine.
Those who are jumping down Thompson's throat for not having a center, outside linebacker and defensive end in March aren't just kneejerkers, they're wrong.