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The Cowboys may be America’s Team, but Green Bay is known as Title Town. Every year Packer fans get excited about the upcoming season, and every year there are people who doubt they’ll be able to do anything significant. However for the guys calling the shots it’s still business as usual. General manager Ted Thompson has a philosophy that keeps him away from free agency and instead builds the team around young talent. Every year he gets as much as he possibly can out of the draft and expects McCarthy to mold the young guys into winners. It’s a strategy that seems to have worked pretty good so far. The team has four straight winning season, four straight playoff appearances two NFC North titles and a Super Bowl ring. I don’t care what any other team may have accomplished in that period, those are still impressive numbers.
The offense is only going to go as far as Aaron Rodgers takes it. He is clearly one of the elite quarterbacks in the league who is in the prime of his career. He has the arm strength, accuracy and mobility to make highlight reel plays anytime he’s on the field. Yet his best asset, like any NFL QB, isn’t his physical attributes but instead is his football IQ. McCarthy trusts Rodgers enough to let him make decisions at the line as he reads the defense and the offense excels because of it. However, defenses have started to challenge Rodgers by dropping back in a cover 2 and blanketing receivers. That and the other team grinding down the clock with their offense are two classic moves we saw teams use on Peyton in years past. The Pack needs the running game to step up just a little to help the passing game get even more deadly.
Thompson added two big guys at running back to help shore up the position; Lacy from Alabama and Franklin from UCLA. Lacy is a powerful runner who should instantly help the team in short yardage situations. Ultimately McCarthy would like to have a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield. Lacy is probably going to be one of those guys which only leaves one other spot. My money would be on DuJuan Harris stepping in to that role.
The wide receiver position in Green Bay is certainly a lot better than the backfield. Cobb will likely be the focal point of the passing game this year which should allow him to improve on his 80 catch season last year. He has great feet and awareness of where he is on the field, but he could catch the ball a little better.
Jennings is now in Minnesota and that means the two other threats on the outside will be Nelson and Jones. Jones led the league last season with 14 catches for touchdowns and he still has room for improvement. One thing he, and all the GB wideouts for that matter, have to work on is defeating bump and run coverage. In the past they have been thrown off their routes and lost their timing when cornerbacks are physical with them at the line of scrimmage.
Dom Capers had a defense last season that ranked slightly better than average. The Pacers ranked 11th in total defense and tied for 8th in interceptions. But that doesn’t erase the feeling of getting smacked for 579 yards by the 49ers in the playoffs last year.
The defensive line will hopefully improve this season as young players like Neal and Worthy continue to develop. The stalwarts of the line; Raji and Pickett contine to get better. Raji is a worker who can penetrate and also hold position. Pickett is solid at end who has the potential to be immovable against the run. Both guys will need to get to the quarterback well and keep blockers off Matthews better if the defense is going to improve.
Matthews is the face of this defense and for good reason. He is a four-time Pro Bowler who managed to accumulate 16 sacks in only 14 games last season. He is equally effective against the run and leads the defense both on the field and in the locker room. Last year the team picked up Perry to play opposite Matthews. He was making the transition from college end to NFL linebacker but ended up missing most of the season due to wrist surgery. He comes into this season healthy and ready to produce. If Bishop returns to form, before his hamstring injury last preseason, this unit will see big improvement over last year. He is a hammer on defense with his ability to run through blockers and attack the middle of the field.
Thompson likes to keep his teams young and only pay for premium players at premium positions. It’s a formula that usually has a lot of success in the modern salary cap era of the NFL. The one caveat is you have to be very good at spotting talent in the draft and developing young players, which the Pacers are. As long as Rodgers is there and Thompson is able to get young talent for that offense they will be contenders. If the defense steps up at anytime they are a threat to win the big game. One thing that has to make Pacers fans feel good is that for as good as they did last season, Packer starters missed a total of 93 games last season. Statistically it has been shown that injuries among teams don’t have much consistency. Having a lot of injuries one year doesn’t make you any more or less likely to have a lot next year. However, 93 is such a high number of games missed that the team has looked into training methods and how they handle injuries. If they can stay healthy, imagine how much more production they’ll get.