Packers primed for Super Bowl run
WR G.Jennings, RB R.Grant,
S C.Woodson, LB D.Bishop
The 2012 season may not have resulted in another Super Bowl ring for the Packers, but it was a another strong campaign by a franchise that has enjoyed plenty of success in the last 20 years.
Green Bay has been a part of the NFL playoffs 15 times in the last two decades and after posting an 11-5 record last year, they reached the post-season for the fourth straight time.
The Packers battled through a very difficult early season schedule, taking on the 49ers, Bears, Seahawks, Saints and a resurgent Colts squad, leading to a 2-3 record. After that, Green Bay found their groove, won nine of their next 10 and captured their second consecutive NFC North crown.
Green Bay ended the year with a loss to the division rival Vikings, only to face them again a week alter in the wildcard round. The second meeting produced a much different result and the Packers headed into a Divisional Round matchup with the 49ers. However, the Packers defence let them down, allowing 45 points to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, leaving the Packers on the sidelines as the playoffs moved on without them.
Trouble on the line?
Aaron Rodgers excels at feeling pressure coming and moving to areas of the pocket where he can buy time and get the ball out of his hands. That's why it was so surprising when he was sacked 51 times, a number that led the NFL.
The Packers' inability to protect their MVP quarterback was a major problem for them last season and forced head coach Mike McCarthy into action.
McCarthy has flipped tackles Brian Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse, with Bulaga now guarding Rodgers' blindside. Guard Josh Sitton has moved from the right to the left side of the Packers' offensive line, with T.J. Lang taking over at right guard. Evan Dietrich-Smith will stay at centre, after he took the job from veteran Jeff Saturday last season.
Whether the changes will improve the Packers' protection remains to be seen, but it can't get much worse.
The Packers also decided it was time to find a true franchise running back, drafting Eddie Lacy in the second round and Jonathan Franklin in the fourth.
The two rookies will enter a competition with Alex Green, but this is Lacy's job to lose. Franklin is a smaller back and while he could serve as a nice complimentary piece early on, Lacy is the type of runner that can make an immediate difference.
Too often, the Packers have been forced to throw in short yardage situations because they have lacked a battery ram rusher. No offence to fullback John Kuhn, but Lacy will not only convert those goal line plays, he will also help eat up clock when the Packers have a lead.
What helps Lacy is that the Packers don't need him to carry their offence, simply to play a minor role in it. Rodgers has more options than most quarterbacks, with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley.
Even with Greg Jennings signing with the divisional rival Vikings, the Packers remain loaded with weapons through the air.
Two years ago, Nelson played in all 16 games and delivered with 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Injuries limited him to 12 games last season and he was held to 745 yards and seven touchdowns. If he stays healthy there is no doubt he will return to the elite production of 2011.
In his second season, Cobb provided a spark to the Green Bay attack, lining up out wide, in the slot and even in the backfield at times. In 15 games, he fell just shy of the 1,000-yard mark with 954 yards and eight touchdowns on 80 receptions.
Jones has never really capitalized on his chances in Green Bay, but last season he led the NFL in touchdowns with 14. That may have been helped by Nelson's absences from the lineup and isn't likely to be repeated this season. The good news is that it doesn't have to be with the multiple options the Packers have near the redzone. (-TSN.ca)
Searching for Pressure
The Packers defence was solid during the season, finishing 11th in both points allowed (21.0) and yards allowed (336.8) per game. However, for the second straight year their defence came up short when they were needed most, in the divisional round of the playoffs. In 2011, the Giants were able to hang 37 points on Green Bay, while last season they 49ers managed 45.
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Matthews was one of three Packers' defenders to receive a contract extension in the off-season, along with Brad Jones and Morgan Burnett. Matthews is the face of the defence and has done everything he can to push this unit forward.
Green Bay has stars at every level of the defence with Matthews at linebacker, nose tackle B.J. Raji on the line and cornerback Tramon Williams in the secondary. All three will need to be elite in the coming season, but the Packers desperately need to get a pass rush from someone not named Matthews.
Aside from drafting defensive end Datone Jones, the Packers did little to upgrade their defence, instead hoping that Jones can help create that pressure. Linebacker Nick Perry and defensive end Mike Neal will also be called on to get after opponents' quarterbacks.
More pressure will lead to more turnovers, an area where the Packers slipped in 2012.
If their defence can stay strong in the playoffs, Green Bay is always a threat to take home the Lombardi Trophy and this season will be no different. Their offence appears to be as potent as ever, so defensive Dom Capers will have to get his group to rise to the challenge. (-TSN.ca)
G. Van Roten
Special Teams: K M. Crosby, P T. Masthay, KR R. Cobb, PR R. Cobb
Special Teams: K M. Crosby, P T. Masthay, KR R. Cobb, PR R. Cobb
Fantasy - By The Numbers
With 84 touchdown passes in the last two seasons, an easy argument can be made for QB Aaron Rodgers as the best fantasy pick at the position. With Rodgers orchestrating the offence, the Packers have a trio of valauble receivers -- Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
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Nelson missed time with injuries last year, but has accrued 2,008 yards and scored 22 touchdowns in 28 games over the last two years. Cobb is an ace return man that had 954 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns last year, while Jones merely led the league with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2012.
TE Jermichael Finley hasn't broken through offensively as it might have looked like he would earlier in his career, yet he's still a viable fantasy starter who has 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Where the Packers' offence could be different this year is in the running game, if rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin upgrade what had been a weak spot in the Packers' arsenal. Lacy was a very powerful runner at Alabama and could be very productive right out of the gate.
S Morgan Burnett is quite possibly the best defensive back option for fantasy, which isn't all that valuable in the grand scheme of fantasy football, but he's the one Packers defender that is a top pick. Linebackers Clay Matthews, for sacks, and A.J. Hawk, for tackles, could have some appeal in deeper formats. (-Scott Cullen)