Season Preview: Green Bay Packers

The Packers made the playoffs last year. The Packers make the playoffs every year. So presumably they’ll make the playoffs this year? Rob Molyneux gives us the lowdown from Lambeau…

What to expect?

As long as Aaron Rodgers is lining up behind center, we should expect a team that challenges. There’s a possibility I used those same words last year but whether I did or not, that’s the reality when you have one of the genuinely great players at the most important positions in any sport. (I had to stop myself from saying “all of sports”, maybe I should’ve!)

Beyond that, it’s not too easy to know quite what to expect really.

There are intriguing questions at Running Back, with Ty Montgomery entering this year as first choice having converted from receiver part way through last season. Behind him are three rookies, each of whom have shown a bit, but not too much in pre-season. I like the look of Montgomery, but it has to be a question mark whether he can play the position to a high level for a whole year.

The other area of intrigue is the secondary. Injuries ravaged the team at Cornerback especially last year, and the pass defense overall was sub-par. A No.1 pick in the draft, a free agent pickup, and the position group entering the season in full health should hopefully improve that, but should doesn’t guarantee anything.

All in all, I think Packers Fans can expect a fast, high scoring offense, and probably a few screw ups in defense along the way to make sure everything stays interesting!

Did the Packers address all of their needs this offseason?

For a draft and develop team the answers to that will again mostly be proven in time, with a lot of hope put in their first two picks to improve the underperforming secondary. After losing premier Corner Sam Shields to retirement after his latest concussion saw him lost for almost the whole of last season, an already suspect secondary was the glaring hole on the team. CB Kevin King was taken with the first pick of the second round with Safety Josh Jones taken later in the same round.

Both have serious speed, and the height/length of King is being talked up by coaches and pundits as a plus. Hard hitting Jones is seen as a potential LB/S hybrid – a role that is becoming more and more common in this copycat league.

Both will need to look like they belong to know if the defense will improve enough this year.

With all of that said, General Manager Ted Thompson – known to be prudent in his use of free agency – has had a change of approach this year.

The additions of a number of genuine veterans will be a welcome change for many Pack fans, and it’s hard to not like what he’s brought in; TE’s Marty Bennett & Lance Kendricks, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, CB Davon House, OG Jahri Evans and most recently OLB Ahmad Brookes all fit obvious needs across a well rounded overall squad.

I think – on paper at least – the front office appear to have given Mike McCarthy the tools he needs to push for a championship this year.

Sam Shields has called time on an impressive career

Who should fans feel most excited about?

Obviously it’s Rodgers. As long as he’s healthy, it’s always Rodgers. The guy is just a phenomenon and having “run the table” at the back end of last season – all the way to the NFC Championship Game – he continues to be the man on which the Packers hopes rest.

Beyond the obvious though, I’m excited about Jordy Nelson – a full season removed from his ACL injury – and Montgomery.

It’s unclear whether the latter can be a full time runner for a whole season having never being asked to play that role before, but he’s such a strong and agile runner, and a legitimate threat in the passing game, that I simply expect him to have a huge year.

Almost every game he’s played at the position he’s been able to break out a long one at some point, and with so many weapons for Rodgers to pass to, defenses will not be able to load up against him as they might have been able to in the past. 

Were there any surprise departures?

I’m not sure any of the guys that moved on in free agency were all that much of a surprise, but that’s more due to the way Green Bay (and Ted Thompson) operate, rather than them not being good players that will be missed.

I expected them to re-sign Jared Cook at Tight End, after he played a big role in that late season resurgence, but to be frank, Bennett is an upgrade, so that was a positive surprise.

The biggest losses – which is perhaps the easiest way to answer this question – will be reliable guard T.J. Lang, departing after his buddy Josh Sitton was a surprise cut a year earlier, versatile DB and punt returner Micah Hyde, and the retiring Shields.

What is the biggest strength of the Packers?

Does it get boring if I just say Aaron Rodgers for every question? Probably, but it’s true.

Tom Brady is almost certainly the greatest QB of all time, and he’s still playing this year, but in my opinion Rodgers is currently the better player. He has everything. A great arm, a great mind, the ability to run, to catch teams on the hoof. He really does have it all.

And so; as goes Rodgers, go the Pack. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that the offense as a whole is the strength.

Beyond that, the group of Safeties is very good. Morgan Burnett is one of very few survivors from the last Superbowl victory so carries a wealth of experience and leadership and is proven to be a reliable player. HaHa Clinton-Dix was voted to the pro-bowl last year (and voted 2nd team All Pro) and is a player on the rise. Josh Jones has joined the ranks and a number of other contributors have proven adequate when called on last year due to injury.

More generally, I would say that this team doesn’t really have too many glaring weak spots, so perhaps the greatest strength is a lack of any obvious weakness – a real consistency of quality throughout.

The best in the NFL? Hard to argue against it.

And the biggest weakness?

The real weaknesses lie beneath the surface. The backup offensive line looked really poor through pre-season. While the first team unit is one of the best in the league, it’s an tough position and attrition is the expectation. Will the backups be able to play to the level required if/when they are called upon?

That same lack of depth can be noted particularly at outside linebacker. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are very good first choice options but both have a severed history of injuries. Prior to the signing of Brookes last week that backup rotation looked very sparse, so hopefully that’s an improvement, but a 33 year old deemed surplus to requirements in San Francisco isn’t exactly the second coming of Von Miller.

Breakout star to watch?

Clinton-Dix is ready to be a genuine stud player, but having been recognised by his peers last year he’s not really eligible to be considered breakout.

I’m going to double down on my earlier comments and pitch for Montgomery. Maybe it’s blind optimism, but if he can be a breakout star, this team is going places.

What will the Packers record be?

The Pack have reached the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons. I expect that to become a record equalling nine this year.

In that run, they’ve only got to the big dance once, falling at the NFC Championship hurdle in two of the last three seasons.

A key to Aaron Rodgers only reaching one Superbowl game in that span can possibly be placed at the fact they’ve been on the road too many times. A step back towards a championship could be made by grabbing a home field advantage for the playoffs.

I’m pitching for the Pack to finish 13-3. Whether that will be enough to get them playing at Lambeau throughout January I don’t know, but it will certainly see them continuing to be the Kings of the North.

Rob Molyneux

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Rob Molyneux
Liverpool FC and Green Bay Packers fan, residing up in Leeds. If you're in the same neck of the woods give me a nudge come Super Bowl time, I'm sick of watching it on my own!
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