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Packers have thrived in the Rodgers/McCarthy era despite lack of blue-chip talent

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Green Bay has been the most stable winning team in the NFC over the last decade, but has done it without many elite players.

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals
Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have had historical success despite a lack of talent around them.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Brett Favre had Reggie White. Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski. Joe Montana and Steve Young had Jerry Rice. Peyton Manning had (pick a Colts offensive player or a Broncos defensive player). Who does Aaron Rodgers have?

When the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, they did so with just one All-Pro player: Clay Matthews. Since that season, the Packers have had two first team All-Pro seasons from Aaron Rodgers, which is its own kind of sick joke. They also got one from Charles Woodson back in 2011, and one from John Kuhn in 2014.

In all, the Packers have just six such selections since 2008.

This not only exposes the problem with these All-Pro teams—Charles Woodson was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and Aaron Rodgers was the MVP the 2011, and they were both pretty good in 2010 too—but also the quality of the Packers roster over the last decade.

They’ve had quality players at seemingly every position, but rarely those field-tilting guys who can go get you first downs, touchdowns, sacks, or interceptions seemingly by themselves.

The amazing thing about all of that is they’ve won despite the underlying truth behind a flawed roster. Which teams have had the most first team All-Pros since 2008? Here’s the list as discussed recently on Reddit.

In others words, these are the perennial contenders in the NFL. There are 13 appearances in the Super Bowl between that group, including seven winners. Those are just the teams in double digits. Nine more teams have more than the Packers, including the hapless Browns and middling Titans.

And yet, until an injury to Rodgers cost the Packers a playoff trip, they were on the verge of a record-setting streak heading to the postseason. Their three NFC Championship Game appearances are tied for the most in the conference over that time period and if we go back just one more year (though it doesn’t include Rodgers, it does include McCarthy), the Packers would have the most.

Green Bay has had Pro Bowl players and top-level talent. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Nick Collins, Mike Daniels, David Bakhtiari (it’s a crime he’s never been first team All-Pro), Bryan Bulaga, Davante Adams, HaHa Clinton-Dix, T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, among others have been top players at their positions without ever being the best.

Even Nelson is his prime for the 2011 or 2014 season was never in the Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. stratosphere.

We’ve discussed ad nauseum about the failures of the Packers defense in the playoffs and the lack of field-tilting talent on that side of the ball plays a key role. It wasn’t a coincidence Green Bay won the Super Bowl when Rodgers had guys like Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, B.J. Raji and Tramon Williams patrolling the defense.

It’s easy to make the case with just a little more luck on the defensive side of the ball—if Nick Perry could stay healthy, or if some of their offensive draft successes were swapped with a defensive hit or two—this team would have more Super Bowl trophies in the case.

That’s ultimately what we’re saying here right? What has prevented the Packers from being the NFC version of the Patriots with the best QB in the league?

This is part of the answer.

On the other hand, we should be marveling at the greatness of Rodgers, and potentially rethink our criticisms of McCarthy, a coach who has more trips to the conference title game than Pete Carroll or Mike Tomlin or basically anyone in the league not named “Belichick,” and he has done it over a decade.

We knew Rodgers’ greatness superseded deficiencies on this roster, papering them over and allowing this team to thrive simply by virtue of his unthinkable ability to manipulate time and space with the football.

It’s genuinely hard to argue the Packers truly have been deficient when they’ve been as successful as they’ve been in the Rodgers era. What the Patriots do and have done for years isn’t an anomaly, but the exception that proves the rule.

While we can take this as a contradiction of Ted Thompson’s success in his time with the Packers—and I think there’s some fair criticisms to be made in that regard—his consistent ability to find quality players has helped keep this team in contention every season.

Mike McCarthy, given a constantly churning roster, has directed the ship through plenty of troubled waters and through the playoffs. Is he blameless in their failings? Of course not. His conservative game plan against the Seahawks in 2014 cost the Packers a Super Bowl trip and his pig-headed loyalty to Dom Capers denied his team the opportunity to evolve and grow defensively despite perpetual failings in big spots.

And we know what Rodgers is, was, and can still be. Despite all the praise heaped at his feet, this may be the clearest evidence yet that we don’t appreciate him enough. The idea that Tom Brady has, without help, taken all these bum teams to the Super Bowl is laughable. These numbers prove it. For whatever failings as evaluating tools the All-Pro selections have (and they’re myriad), you have to be really good to be voted first team. Brady has had excellent players his entire career. Rodgers has had a bunch of solid ones and just a few great ones.

The end of Rodgers’ career may very well be defined by how well Brian Gutekunst can manage that line. Finding just one blue chip player, particularly on defense, could be the difference between sustained goodness, which the Packers have, and sustained greatness.