In yesterday’s APC walkthough, the staff examined their bold predictions for the upcoming season, ranging from the Green Bay Packers’ running game to the defensive pass rush. If it’s anything like last year, these bold predictions could be outdone by unforeseen developments and wear and tear on the roster.
During the 2016 regular season, there were several notable outcomes that were either the complete opposite of what was expected to happen after the preseason, or that couldn’t have been guessed by anyone but the coaching staff.
Here are this writer’s top three.
3. What if I told you that the Packers would rank 31st in pass defense?
Heading into 2016, Green Bay looked prime to be at least a middle-tiered NFL defense. The Packers had Sam Shields back as its top cornerback, two promising rookies from the year before in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, and a reliable duo of safeties in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett. The 2015 defense allowed 227.6 passing yards per game, ranking sixth in the league, and even more development was expected from the young secondary heading into the following season.
But that certainly wasn’t the case.
Green Bay lost Shields for the season in week one and saw sophomore slumps from its second-year players. The Packers had allowed Casey Hayward to leave for the San Diego Chargers in the offseason, believing they had enough depth and talent to withstand Hayward’s departure for a larger paycheck. But while Hayward had an All-Pro season, his former teammates did not. Additional injuries to Rollins and Randall, as well as inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez, left Green Bay thin in the secondary as it shifted players around to fill holes. By the end of the season, Green Bay’s most reliable corners were the corner/safety hybrid Micah Hyde and second-year undrafted player LaDarius Gunter. As such, the Packers finished second-to-last in pass defense, surrendering 269.2 yards per game.
While the moving parts helped develop depth at corner and safety for 2017, as well as create defensive packages for safeties in the box, not many people could have expected such a steep decline in pass defense over the course of a single year.
2. What if I told you the Packers would begin the season 4-6, but still make an NFC Championship Game appearance?
As Green Bay floundered in the early part of the season behind injuries and a defense that struggled mightily, the divisional rivals Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings each started 6-4 with Minnesota winning its first five games. Almost all predictions had Green Bay running away with the division crown amid low expectations in Detroit and the season-ending injury to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. But after consecutive routs at the hands of the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins in weeks 10 and 11, Green Bay’s postseason chances were in doubt.
However, the loss to the Redskins spurred a a six-game winning streak to finish the season, complete with an NFC North title. Aaron Rodgers silenced all midseason doubters by finishing the regular season with a six-week stretch that was among the best of his career and made him an MVP candidate. Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense adjusted to its personnel and finished the season with as much of a “bend, but not break” tendency as it could muster.
Before the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta that will not be discussed here, Green Bay held off the New York Giants in the wildcard round, as well as the highly touted Cowboys offense with a last second field goal. After a disastrous beginning to the season that very few fans and national media figures expected, the Packers still were able to play a game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
1. What if I told you that Ty Montgomery would become Green Bay’s starting tailback?
Going into the 2016 season, the Packers were expecting a rejuvenated rushing offense led by Eddie Lacy, a player that had been reportedly doing P90X workouts throughout the offseason to be in better running back shape before a contract year. Behind him, the Packers had veteran mainstay James Starks and undrafted Brandon Burks.
At first, the results seemed positive, as Lacy started the first five games and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. But then October happened. Starks’ season came to a halt in mid-October when he had surgery for a torn meniscus. The very next week, Lacy was lost for the season with an ankle injury that was not believed to be quite as serious at first glance. Immediately, Green Bay traded for Knile Davis to help fill the hole at running back, but the former Chief never made a difference with the Pack. Green Bay also tried to alleviate the issue with the signing of Christine Michael in November, but despite a few good rushes, was not a true impact player.
Outside of Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and the position coaches, it’s hard to imagine anyone believing Montgomery would become Green Bay’s new running back last season, let alone pull off the transition from wide receiver to running back in half a year. But that’s what Montgomery did, leading the team with 457 rushing yards and a 5.9 yard per carry average while showing surprising power between the tackles.
In a season that was full of unexpected results, Montgomery’s position swap leads the list. It will factor greatly into the success of the Packers’ 2017 season and perhaps for several more years to come.