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NFL Green Bay Packers

5 Key Upgrades Green Bay Packers Must Make in 2013

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5 Key Upgrades Green Bay Packers Must Make in 2013

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers 2012-13 season is officially over after an embarrassing 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoffs. The Packers must now digest how their season abruptly ended and go to work on how they can make the team better for next year. In order to accomplish that goal they will have to make at least five key upgrades on the roster in the off-season.

Green Bay’s defense was not as bad this regular season as what was displayed in the postseason beat down at the hands of San Francisco. On the other hand, it is easy to say a team improved when they were ranked last statistically in several major categories the previous year. The Packers, without a doubt, improved their pass rush and pass defense but the overall physicality of the defense was lacking. Football is a physical sport and if the front seven are not able to overpower the offense as a whole there is a huge problem.

The offense played well as usual as they were able to average 27.1 points per game this season. However, the lack of an consistent running game for the third straight year is certainly discouraging. This problem can be chalked up as both an offensive line issue, as well as, a running back problem. Injuries, of course, played a major role in this once again as the players that general manager Ted Thompson had in mind to make an impact were placed on injured reserve.

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Outside Linebacker

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The outside linebacker position opposite Clay Matthews is hands down the weakest link on the entire football team. The Packers have tried very hard to get a playmaker on the other side but it is no doubt one of the hardest positions to fill. Obviously, the problem is that offenses are focusing their entire protection towards Matthews, which should give the other pass rushers an advantage. Unfortunately, that has not been the case the last two years as opposing right tackles have been able to win their one-on-one battles.

It was wise for Green Bay to select Nick Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft but unfortunately, an injury in Week 6 halted his production. Perry struggled in his debut against the 49ers in Week 1, even though he did record eight tackles. The Packers realized he was not mentally or physically prepared to take on the full-time job and were forced to use players such as Erik Walden in the mix. Perry will be the answer but the question is how long it will take him to be ready to take on the role and be as effective as Matthews.

With Walden becoming a free agent that Green Bay will most likely see leave town, it will be up to Perry and Dezman Moses to step up. However, the Packers should also consider signing a talented free agent outside linebacker, as there will be a solid crop on the market.

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Middle Linebacker

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Green Bay’s middle linebacker position was crushed with injuries that devastated the team. Desmond Bishop never saw a regular season snap while his replacement, the talented D.J. Smith, also went down with a season-ending injury after recording 39 tackles and two sacks in six games.

A.J. Hawk had a good year for his standards as he posted the second most tackles on the team (120) and recorded three sacks. However, Hawk is still nowhere near the production the Packers expected out of him at this point in his career considering he was selected No. 5 overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Middle linebacker’s No. 1 job is to stop the run and Hawk is clearly unable to do this consistently.

Green Bay will have to, at the very least, restructure Hawk’s ridiculous contract ($5.2 million for 2013) and even then there is no guarantee he will start. Bishop and Brad Jones (77 tackles, two sacks) can handle the middle while Smith should still be given a legitimate chance at a starting job.

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Defensive End

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Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

The Packers defensive line is simply not physical enough to hang with offenses such as the 49ers and New York Giants. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji can hold his own and causes all sorts of problems for offensive lines. However, Green Bay’s defensive ends hardly give him any support in rushing the passer or containing the line. Rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should be better in their second year, which could mean the Packers do not need to make any upgrades if those two players can be physical enough.

However, if Green Bay wants to bring in a free agent, something GM Thompson must realize by now, then there are a few good suitors. Dwight Freeney is definitely one person that comes to mind that would fit in well with the Packers. Even though Freeney will be 33 years old, he is a sack machine that knows what it takes to get to the quarterback. Another player that would be a great addition to the team is Osi Umenyiora. The 31-year-old recorded 43 tackles and six sacks last season with the Giants and has stated he intends to keep his options open this off-season.

Obviously, both of these players have spent their entire careers in a 4-3 defense but that does not mean they could not be effective in a 3-4, especially lining up on the same side as Matthews.

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Offensive Line

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It is unfortunate Green Bay’s offensive line is not better considering the draft picks and overall commitment that has gone into building it. Bryan Bulaga’s injury certainly effected the production of the line, but at the same time one has to wonder if rookie Don Barclay did a better job in run blocking. It is also unfortunate that Derek Sherrod has been unable to remain healthy, as I believe he would have contributed nicely.

The problem is Thompson will probably not restructure the line at all and will leave it as it is because it is simply too expensive to acquire veteran lineman. If anything, he will probably take a couple of shots in the draft and see what happens. However, there are some important statistics that every fan should know regarding the Packers offensive line.

It is a well-known fact that Green Bay cannot run block if their life depended on it. Even the best running backs in the world will not be able to gain solid per run averages when there are no holes to run through. The Packers averaged 3.58 yards per gain, good for 25th in the league. They were only able to muster 0.97 second level yards, which ranked 29th in NFL, and 0.28 open field yards which ranked dead last in the league.

The offensive line allowed running backs to get stuffed 19 percent of the time, but did have power success on 68 percent of their running plays, which is something that is a bit surprising to me. Power success is when a run of two yards or less on third or fourth down is converted. The stat also includes quarterbacks.

I think everyone would agree that the offensive line was built to be a more pass protection team, which makes sense when the best quarterback in the NFL is dropping back behind them. However, the Packers allowed Aaron Rodgers to get sacked 51 times, the most in the league. If anything on offense needs to be changed it is somewhere along the offensive line.

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Running Back

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers feel confident in their running backs, rightfully so, as DuJuan Harris and Alex Green emerged as solid rushers who could clearly do some damage with a decent offensive line in front of them. Harris averaged 4.6 yards per gain, the most of any running back on the team, while he also scored two touchdowns. Green carried the ball 135 times for 464 yards, the most on the team, but he never found the end zone. It is safe to say Green Bay will most likely not bring back Cedric Benson, while James Starks should be a solid threat if he can finally remain healthy.

On the other hand, Thompson might feel it necessary to bring in a free agent back. This could be as easy as re-signing Benson or Ryan Grant. However, the Packers could also do something Rodgers has wanted all along and go after a top notch back.

One person that Green Bay could sign is Steven Jackson, who has a voidable year for 2013. Jackson is willing to hit the free agent market if the St. Louis Rams do not give him a good contract. Granted, the Packers might not be interested in dishing out a mega-deal for Jackson but one certainly cannot argue with eight straight years of 1,000 yards rushing.

Another player who would not be nearly as expensive is Rashard Mendenhall, who dealt with injuries and inconsistent play in 2012. Green Bay would probably be better off with what they got but it is certainly something that should be considered.