The Green Bay Packers have not quite had the success of last season. Coming off a Super Bowl championship, Green Bay went 15-1 in the regular season and lit up the record books. This year they began the season 2-3 (well, we all know it was really 3-2, but whatever) and have had to fight almost every game to the whistle.
A lot of people don’t view them as serious Super Bowl contenders, but the Packers are still a dangerous team. The near-constant injury situation has clouded over a lot of their strengths.
The secondary, to me, has been the most impressive unit to me because it is full of young, inexperienced, backup players who have not skipped a beat in the absence of veteran corner Charles Woodson. The poor play of the defensive line has added extra pressure to this group, and they’ve responded well.
Led by guys like rookie Casey Hayward and second-year man M.D. Jennings, the Packers secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.7% completion – fourth best in the league. When the offense has struggled, the secondary has come through again and again with big turnovers.
As bad as the defensive line has been without Clay Matthews, they’re really good with him in the lineup. The havoc that guy can wreak on offenses opens up opportunities for his teammates, and his stout play against the run helps to stabilize one of the weaker areas of the team.
On offense, rookie DuJuan Harris has only offered a very small sample at running back, but it’s been an impressive sample. Ryan Grant, who was resigned by the Packers just two weeks ago, has not had a lot of carries, but is a player the team trusts in any situation. These two, along with Alex Green, give the Packers something to work with after they lost their starting back, Cedric Benson, and James Starks has dealt with injuries on and off (mostly on).
There’s a lot to like from the offense that returned mainly intact from last year’s extraordinary run. Wideout James Jones, after dealing with the dropsies the past three seasons, has come to life as a sure-handed, circus-catch receivers, and leads the league in receiving touchdowns with 12. The gorgeous and multi-talented Randall Cobb has been everywhere on the field, returning kicks and punts, carrying out of the backfield, and being Rodgers’ go-to guy for big plays and third downs. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, have missed several games apiece because of injuries, but have been solid when they have the opportunities.
Oh, and they have Aaron Rodgers. Though he’s not as statistically eye-popping as the last two seasons, he’s still tops in the league in his accuracy and ability to make big plays out of seemingly nothing. As long as the Packers have Rodgers behind center, there’s good cause for confidence.
Though perhaps the Packers rely too much on the “get hot at the right time” mentality, they are indeed coming together in a lot of ways late this season. It’s frustrating that they have struggled to put together a complete, 60-minute game in all three phases, but, by the same token, it’s encouraging to see them find different ways to win. One week the running game will step up and help the team control the clock, another week it’s the secondary forcing turnovers, or the offense lighting it up through the air.
The team is weaker in areas where they’ve been stronger, i.e. passing, but are much improved in areas like running, tackling, and special teams (minus Mason Crosby. Sorry, Mason.) They don’t have that ‘unstoppable’ feel of seasons past, but it would be foolish to overlook them.
There’s no doubt that this team has big holes, but they have the talent and, I believe, the coaching staff and work ethic to continue to improve and excel. They’re hungry after last year’s embarrassing playoff exit. They feel they have something to prove to all who discounted them early in the season. They have played well with their backs against the wall. Maybe it’s the huge homer in me, but I think this team has a strong chance to return to the Super Bowl.