Fans of the Green Bay Packers are looking at the team holding a 10-4 record having clinched the division and the opportunity to play for a first-round by and saying things like, “I think we’re a better team this year.”
Puh-lease. This year’s team has at least as many problems as last year’s, except without the offensive power to make everyone completely forget about those flaws. I’ve been hearing fans and media saying the Packers are better because they’ve faced more adversity this season and have had to find different ways to win games.
That’s all true to a point, but barely scraping by a far inferior team (see the 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars) – adverse though it may be – is not a good thing. Whom exactly have the Packers beaten? They beat a good Chicago Bears team in Week 2 and had an impressive win over the Houston Texans in Week 6, but other than that? They’ve beaten mediocre-to-bad teams and have lost to real measuring stick teams like San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.
I’m not panicking at all and I’m not going to rule them out of the Super Bowl hunt, but let’s not bury our heads in the sand here.
You have a team that can’t protect its most valuable and necessary asset in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The reigning MVP has been sacked 45 times! Now the Packers have decided to bench 14-year veteran center Jeff Saturday and give the start to Evan Dietrich-Smith, who has played some time at left guard this season.
The offensive line has struggled with injuries all season, but this is more than just injuries. This is performance/experience/talent issues – I’m just not sure which. I think Dietrich-Smith will play well, but I can’t help be nervous with the Packers showcasing yet another lineup 15 weeks into the season.
Then you have a defensive line that, without Clay Matthews, can do absolutely nothing. If Matthews were to – heaven forbid – reinjure his hamstring, the Packers might as well not bother pretending to rush the quarterback.
Furthermore, without Matthews, the linebacking group is horribly weak. They can be run over at will. There have been bright moments, such as the performances of Brad Jones and Mike Neal last week against Chicago, but none of the linebackers have been consistent threats unless Matthews is being triple-teamed.
Offensively, the run game has been emerging in the last four or five weeks, but can that fledgling spark ignite in the playoffs when they will be facing much tougher opponents?
The passing game is far and away the Packers’ biggest strength, which is why it’s extra disturbing that it has looked mediocre at times (vs. San Fran, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville). The Packers do not rank in the top 10 in the NFL for total yards, passing yards, or points – they were top three in all those categories last year.
And another thing that has me concerned: all this talk about “getting hot at the right time.” After winning the Super Bowl when they went 10-6 in the regular season, only to follow it up by being 15-1 Super Bowl favorites upset by a Giants team that was 9-7 during the season has cemented this viewpoint. But the Giants and Packers need to understand that it’s not a switch. You can’t just turn it on at the right time. You can’t shrug off all the flaws and say you’ll play better when it counts.
And have I mentioned their kicker who’s converting fewer than 60% of his kicks?
This isn’t to say that the Packers don’t have a lot of good things going for them – they certainly do – but they don’t seem to have a real strength on which to hang their hat. The offense is getting going, and I think it will only get better in the coming weeks, but they’re not the high-scoring powerhouse they were last season. Not having at least one area that you know you can count on to come through is what is making me nervous. It tough situations, in tight games, who on the team can be trusted to shoulder the load?
I’ll continue to believe in my Packers, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be biting my nails through every game.