There are no bigger fighting words in the NFL than to call a team “soft.” The “S-word” has been whispered in the direction of the Green Bay Packers in recent years. Naturally, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy takes exception to any such insinuation.
McCarthy told reporters in a recent press conference, “We’re an athletic football team. We’re a tough football team. We’re a versatile football team and I think we’ll have more flexibility this year.”
A more fair description of the Packers may be “confused” rather than “soft.” The Packers defense, often decried as “weak” and “soft” by NFL fans and a few choice media members, finished the 2012 season ranked 11th in yards allowed and points allowed. When you post results that beat 21 out of 31 other competitors, that’s not the mark of a soft defensive team. The Packers’ schedule certainly wasn’t soft, having played six games against 2012 playoff teams, plus one game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and two games with the 10–6 Bears.
The impression of the Packers’ defensive deficiencies is left by anecdotal evidence, namely, their defensive let-downs against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round playoffs and their week 17 loss to a very determined Minnesota Vikings team. Adrian Peterson scorched the Packers with 199 yards on 34 attempts. However, the list of teams he didn’t do that to is pretty short. In his 2097-yard season, Peterson put up 212 against the St. Louis Rams, 154 against the fifth-ranked Chicago Bears defense, 171 against the Detroit Lions and 182 against the fourth-ranked Seattle Seahawks defense.
Admittedly, the Vikings rode Peterson to a victory over and through the Packers defense to nab one victory among their three 2012 match-ups. The Packers’ defensive meltdown against the 49ers was less a function of softness and more about poor game-planning. While Colin Kaepernick slashed the Packers for a record 181 quarterback rushing yards, it was due to the fact that the Packers were repeatedly out of place and too slow to keep pace. These are significant problems but not ones you can hang in the category of “softness.”
The Packers received next to nothing from their top two defensive draft choices in 2012. First-round draft pick linebacker Nick Perry was reduced to only six games played due to injury and second-round selection defensive end Jerel Worthy started a mere four games before being shelved with a knee injury. The return of these two high draft choices and 2013 first-round selection defensive end Datone Jones should greatly increase the Packers’ athleticism on the defensive front. It should also be noted that nose tackle / end B.J. Raji is in a contract year, which Green Bay is intent to let play out for now, adding a little extra motivation for No. 90.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers took steps to increase their toughness. They imported run-blocking tight end Matthew Mulligan and anticipate the return of tight end Andrew Quarless from a knee injury. Adding to that, the Packers uncharacteristically drafted two running backs for the first time since 1995. This evidence suggests the Packers will integrate more smash-mouth in their offensive game-planning in 2013.
Soft or not, the Packers are poised for a new look on both offense and defense in 2013.