NFC North Preview: Green Bay Packers

[With the preseason finally concluding in the NFL, it seems as good a time as any to finish previewing the upcoming season, mainly the division of most importance to me: the NFC North. This week: The Green Bay Packers.

Previous previews: Detroit Lions. Chicago Bears. Minnesota Vikings.]

Way back in January, I remember watching the Wild Card playoff game between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers alone in my house. I’m not sure exactly why I was alone, but there I was – just me and a stash of Leinenkugel’s Original beer.

I do not like Leinenkugel’s Original beer. That didn’t matter though after the Packers ended the first quarter with two turnovers, down 17-0. It also didn’t matter after a brief foray into a comeback that the Cardinals quickly shot down, as they went up 31-10 in the third.

No, at those points in the day, Leinie’s was my one and only true friend in this world. It might’ve been the only thing keeping my heart from punching its way out of my chest during the rest of that freaking game.

Then came the comeback: the onside kick; Larry Fitzgerald; the second comeback; the missed field goal; the missed opportunity; and whatever the hell that last play was. It was there, and it was gone, and the season with it.

God, going through all this stuff makes me wonder if the game actually happened. Then again, maybe that was the beer.

Ever since that game ended, I can’t seem to stop it from rattling around in my head. The more and more I think about it, I see that Wild Card playoff game as the framework for this upcoming Packer season in a nutshell.

I believe the same promises, the same pitfalls, the same emotional blender from that game, which covered all corners of the sport of football – and revealed so much about this Packer team – will shape this coming season.

And here we are. The Packers have spent the summer in the crosshairs of high expectations, right where they left off.

Green Bay Packers Offense

For its part, the offense, so cold-blooded and efficient for most of that playoff comeback, shouldn’t miss a beat.

Of course, it begins with Aaron Rodgers. Equal parts calm and cocky, he is perfect for this offense and franchise and has plenty left to prove.

As a whole, the offense should be able to go wherever they want on the field with a better (they have to be better, right?) offensive line, a deep receiving corps. and tight end Jermichael Finley.

jermichael-finley-packers

Finley, who blossomed at the end of last year, could be one of the toughest players to defend this year. His oft-used Twitter acronym, “Y.O.T.T.O.”, which stands for Year of the Take Over, suggests he is aware of this. That, or he’s really into predicting alien invasions.

If the running game can be honest, we’ll call it a balanced attack.

Green Bay Packers Defense

dom-capers-packersSo if the offense is the sure thing, the rest is a blind guy throwing darts at a wall. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement. The defense isn’t as ragged as Kurt Warner and the Cardinals made them out to be. They aren’t “29-33, 379 yards and five touchdowns” bad, but they were exposed that day, and it is a problem.

With veterans Al Harris and Atari Bigby out at least six weeks, it looks like the secondary will be made up of rookies Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields, with veterans Tramon Williams, Nick Collins and Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson – and no, it does not get old saying that – being relied upon even more. The backups feature more unproven young bucks, meaning growing pains should be expected and Woodson will have to continue playing utility knife.

A good pass rush would help a secondary possibly in need of fewer seconds of coverage time, but, uh, the Packers could use some new blood there, too. Clay Matthews was brilliant in pass rushing last year, but the combed-over Dom Capers needs to dig more sacks up out of his 3-4 scheme.

Nothing may have stopped Warner that fateful day, but something more than one sack for a loss of four yards might’ve helped a bit. Onus will be on Cullen Jenkins and another linebacker to emerge alongside Matthews.

Green Bay Packers Special Teams

Then there are special teams. Sometimes I wish the Packers would just forego this idea of the necessity of special teams altogether, because there are times it seems as though they’d be better off doing such. The eventual choice at the always-up-in-the-air punter position, between Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan, will hopefully bring some continuity to the unit due to head coach Mike McCarthy’s insistence that punters be field goal holders as well.

If this has been Mason Crosby’s problem then I am a) still not believing it, yet b) optimistic that a consistent holder will help the inconsistent Crosby. Because damn, missed field goals are the worst. As are shanked punts, and, oh, momentum-killing kickoffs returned to the 42-yard line.

In summary, special teams: that annoying little part of football that always ends up being a big deal. I do not trust you, special teams, but when you give me memories like this (about the 36 second mark), I must respect your importance.

Overview

Looking back, I don’t think I appreciated that playoff game enough. I mean, it was a playoff game and I was watching alone. I should’ve been watching somewhere, with someone, anyone. What the hell was I thinking? I’m thinking maybe I was nervous; or maybe I wasn’t nervous enough; maybe I substituted hopefulness for overconfidence. Whatever the case, I took it for granted. I wasn’t ready.

And with the team that’s being built here, nothing should be taken for granted; every bit of the quest should be enjoyed. The hype doesn’t mean a thing. All one can do is hope that a team like this catches enough breaks, avoids costly injuries, and plays as close as they can to their fullest potential.

Just the thought of everything working out shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Packers are not perfect, but they have something here, something that makes everything about this season exciting. I’m ready to see where they take us.

Only one thing’s for certain: I won’t be drinking Leinenkugel’s Original this time around. That stuff is gross.

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– Dom Capers photo courtesy of http://www.steelersuk.com/
– Finley photo courtesy of AP Photo/Paul Connors.

Twitter: twitter.com/griffingotta Email: griffingotta@gmail.com

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