Packers Preview: Will The Road To Super Bowl XLV Go Through Green Bay?
Do the Packers have the horses to get to Super Bowl XLV?
Offensively, there's no doubt about it. The Packers finished 2009 3rd in scoring, averaging nearly 29 points per game, and sixth in yards with all the weapons coming back. Any doubt about Aaron Rodgers was erased as the quarterback threw for more yards, more touchdowns and less interceptions than in 2008. Furthermore, Rodgers proved he can win in the clutch after fourth quarter failures plagued the Packers in '08. This year Green Bay's offense might be even more potent with tight end Jermichael Finley playing to his potential. But what about those 51 sacks given up last year? Remember, Mark Tauscher wasn't on the roster for the first eight games. 37 of those 51 came in the first eight games before Tauscher suited up. Of course the Packers addressed the offensive line with the first round selection of Bryan Bulaga. There should be a significant drop in sacks and that will only open up an already explosive offense.
2009 had that Jekyll-and-Hyde feel to it defensively. From a statistical standpoint the Packers were dominant with a turnover margin of +24 and a scoring defense that ranked 7th. Yards were hard to come by as the Packers had the top rushing defense and ranked second in yards given up. But that only told part of the story. In key losses to Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Arizona the Packers were picked apart. The Packers gave up 15 touchdown passes in those four losses. The biggest damage came at the end of the year when a depleted secondary gave up a combined 8 TDs and 882 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. Part of the problem was indeed injuries but another issue was the inability to generate pass pressure. Rookie linebacker Clay Matthews put his stamp on the year with ten sacks but the next best sack generator was Cullen Jenkins with only four and a half. In the draft the Packers went for depth in the secondary with safety Morgan Burnett and up front with end Mike Neal. Burnett should compete for playing time and Neal will have an opportunity following the suspension of Johnny Jolly. As the defense goes, so goes the Packers. If the Packers can continue to force turnovers and get a bit more pressure on opposing quarterbacks that should be enough to get the Packers deep into the playoffs.
As usual, the schedule is loaded with landmines, especially in the heart of the season. Starting with Week 6 the Packers face Miami and Minnesota at home, the Jets on the road and then Dallas at home before a Week 10 bye. After the bye the Packers have a tough two game road stretch against the Vikings and Falcons. However, the Packers should have the opportunity to pick up wins late in the season. As I've said on the air, the NFC should be wide open this year and there are no great teams in the conference. It isn't out of question that the Packers can improve by one game in 2010 and that 12-4 might be enough to grab home field advantage in the playoffs. With better pass protection and a stronger pass rush the Packers can fill the void at the top of the NFC.