In baseball, hope springs eternal when pitchers and catchers report (unless you root for the Cubs) – but with the Green Bay Packers starting Rookie Orientation and Organized Team Activities, it is that time of the year when each team can boast that they have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl.
Getting there involves a grueling 16-game stretch that involves not only luck and skill, but also overcoming the occasional injury and conspiracy of the men in white and black. Facing the challenges of the read-option as well as players with a “me” first attitude are all part of the quest. In the end, there can be only one and for Packers fans the question is, will we be the one?
Right now most oddsmakers are putting the Packers at 12-1 favorites to make the big game. San Francisco, Denver, New England and Seattle are all favorites ahead of the Pack. For the most part, I can’t disagree with those choices, except for Seattle. Russell Wilson had a phenomenal rookie year, but one year does not make a career and for the Seagulls and to repeat last year’s performance, he will need to duplicate what he did and that may be too much to expect. Plus, I can only hope karma comes up and helps them to lay a big egg this next season after the Inaccurate Reception debacle and Pete Carrol and his on-field antics.
What will it take for the Pack to make it to New York? It will take four things.
First of all, the Packers must have right attitude. They need to shed the persona of a “soft” team and play the game with a chip on their shoulder. Mike McCarthy may play down the fact that his team is soft, but I think most of us can agree that the “killer instinct” to finish teams off was missing last year.
I am not calling for dirty play or unecessary roughness, but we need to see more swag from the team. They have to play like they are the champions in order for them to be the champions. They need to put all the other teams on notice that this Packers team is not like the last two that folded in the playoffs. This team will run you down until the final second and that when all is said and done, you will have faced the Green and Gold horde and you will have lost.
The second piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place is the defense. This is a make-or-break year for Dom Capers. Many (myself included) called for his head after last season’s playoff loss to the 49ers. I still belive that his time is up and he needs to be replaced. I do not believe that Capers has the ability to design and call a defensive plan that can stop opposing teams, especially with the likes of the 49ers and Washington Redskins on the schedule this season.
In addition the defense needs to do a better job of tackling. Perception is reality and more often than not, this team could not tackle. They played angles, ran guys out of bounds and pushed people to stop plays, but in the end they failed to wrap guys up and stop them from making the gains that prolonged drives and kept and the offense off the field (NFL Conspiracy Note: I could find no statistics for missed tackles from last season).
Understandably it is difficult to stop Adrian Peterson – he is as elusive as Barry Sanders and Walter Payton were – but that is no excuse in not stopping average players. How many times did we, as Packer fans, watch a game and have to hear Troy Aikman or some other mouthpiece comment on how poorly we tackled or how because we could not tackle we were making players look like all-stars.
The bottom line with the defense is simple – tackle.
The third key to getting back to the Super Bowl is to establish the offensive line so it can keep Aaron Rodgers upright and create holes for the running backs. McCarthy has decided to move tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton to the left side to better protect Rodgers. This move is permanent with no challengers.
The right side of the line is where the spots are open to battle. Right now, T.J. Lang will move to the right guard spot and Marshall Newhouse will have the right tackle spot. However, Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod (assuming he is medically cleared), and rookie David Bakhtiari are also challengers for those spots.
Clearly the intent to move Bulaga and Sitton was based on the fact that Rodgers led the league in being sacked and for this team to win and win often Rodgers needs to be protected and able to pass, not run for his life when his blind side breaks down.
I also think that these moves will solidify the line and with the outlook of a running game, prevent teams from focusing solely on the passing game. This will open the passing game and will allow greater flexibility and movement within the offensive schemes.
The last thing the Packers will need to do to get back to the Super Bowl is to defeat the 49ers.
The season will not be lost if they do not beat them in the season opener, but from a psychological standpoint they need to prove to themselves that they can match the Niners stride-for-stride and beat them at their own game.
Once the team gets past this emotional hurdle, the pressure will be off them and they can focus on the remainder of the season.
If they are unable to beat the 49ers, then there will be that cloud following them until they do (similar to the Cowboys and Packers of the 1990s).
Granted, so much can happen during the course of a season that can alter a team’s direction. But if the Packers maintain their overall level of performance from the past three years and improve in the areas I noted, I truly believe that the Packers will make it back to the Super Bowl and in the birthplace of Vince Lombardi, once again hoist the championship trophy.