The next time you’re sitting down to dunk that Bavarian creme filled long-john into your morning cuppa while you watch ESPN or NFL Network, take note of how often you hear any Packers news. If you hear any at all, it will probably be about Aaron Rodgers and hey, that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how little we hear about the Packers wide receiver corps or our Rookie of the Year winning running back who is just now seeing the game “slow down” for him…pretty exciting. Now, I know that the National coverage is going to have less focused Packers news but here’s the part that bothers me a little bit. There has been a LOT of talk this offseason about the great wide receiver corps in the NFL and it seems that everybody is talking about how great the wide receiver corps of the Bears and Lions are and ignoring the perennial NFC North champs on a regular basis. I bet the last time you heard a story about a Packers receiver…it was about James Jones becoming a “former” Packers receiver. Unless you’re watching statewide coverage, you probably won’t see the Packers offense getting the kind of love that Denver or Seattle get and it even seems that the Bears and Lions are getting more pub. But the Packers offense is primed for it’s best year in awhile (and that’s sayin’ something, folks!) and here are three reasons why:
Reason 1: Balance
Last season was Eddie Lacy’s rookie year and he pretty much single-handedly balanced out a Packers offense that had relied on Aaron Rodgers and his stable of receivers to get the job done for a long time. But think back to the Super Bowl run of 2010 and you’ll recall that James Starks had a role in that success as he temporarily balanced out the Packers offensive attack. Well, Starks is healthy and now playing the two man in a “one-two punch” backfield where another guy – DuJuan Harris, also will compete for reps. Guys think about it…A fresher Eddie Lacy complemented by James Starks who knows he has to make every rep count because he won’t be carrying the ball as much…boom!
The Packers wide receiver corps (and I am including TE’s here) finished the season without Jermichael Finley and saw James Jones exit in free-agency. Packers fans were a little worried…until the draft. This year’s draft included 3 wide receivers and a tight-end, with Davante Adams as a second-round pick. In just a few short days, Ted Thompson had infused the Packers receiver corps with new, young talent that could build value for years to come.
I see balance on offense as more than just the running game getting 50% of the reps that the passing game does. I think a balanced offense is one that has the tools to have success against whatever imbalance the defense gambles with. Included in that is the play of the quarterback…it’s a triangle so to speak and a triangle is the strongest geometric shape after all. Well, the Packers quarterback play goes without saying. Aaron Rodgers is as good as it gets in this business. The only problem Green Bay had was that Aaron Rodgers was missing for much of last season. That fact alone opened the door for other teams in the NFC North to take a shot at the title. Which leads to the only real question mark that this offense had coming into the 2014 season. The offensive line.
Reason 2: Depth
The Packers are deeper on the O-line than they have been in years. Yes, we lost our starting center but that question mark aside (Tretter or Linsley will be fine…see reason 3) this line is primed for some really good things but is also more prepared in case of an injury. With Sitton and Lang holding down the guard spots and Bakhtiari firmly entrenched as the blindside protection, the competition will be interesting at the right tackle position now that Bulaga is back healthy. Add to that the return of first round pick Derek Sherrod who is finally healed and the picture at O-line looks pretty good.
The rest of the Packers offense is deep as well. We mentioned the wide receivers that were picked up in the draft, the running back group and…(heaven forbid, fingers crossed, knock on wood) if Aaron were to have to sit a game, we know that Matt Flynn can do the job in a pinch. This group of guys has the potential to be special. Front to back, side to side, up and down the only hole in this offense is the center position and that will be helped along by reason number three.
Reason 3: Innovation
Mike McCarthy is the quintessential manager coach. His organizational ability has been noteworthy since the time he took over the Packers in 2006. He always has a plan and is able to break down the short-term steps to reach his goals. But McCarthy is also one of the most adaptive coaches in the league and at times (at times, mind you) he is more creative than he will ever get credit for.
For example, how did you react in years past when you saw BJ Raji trot out onto the field on offense. I doubt there were many who boo’ed at the time. Especially when he scored from 1 yard out against the Bucs. Mike McCarthy thinks everything through but he is not afraid to innovate. This past season the defense in particular was criticized and McCarthy took action. He has no fear of evolving his team to utilize his best players and he even gets creative from time to time. But what is the innovation on the offense this year? McCarthy reworked the schemes and terminology to make them easier for the rookies to comprehend and recall. This put the most pressure on Aaron Rodgers who will have to re-learn a few things. But the trade-off is that the Packers should be able to plug young players in faster than they could in the past (could be important for our gap at the center position).
In a game where too many coaches try to complicate, McCarthy is simplifying. This is an innovative approach that could make our younger players more effective sooner. But maybe it’s not such a new approach after all…seems like there was one great NFL coach who taught his team to do a few things perfectly and dare other teams to stop them…as I recall, his name is on the Super Bowl trophy.
So the Packers offense is balanced, deep, and innovative. Maybe they don’t get the love that Manning and the Broncos or Wilson and the Seahawks get. No love…no problem! The bigger a chip this team plays with, the better. Of course, we all know there will still be bumps in the road, but we also know that this team is one that will NOT be content with just another NFC North title and first round playoff loss. There is a lot of football to be played between now and then, but while the list of goals for the Packers should (and likely does) start with winning the NFC North…it doesn’t end there. Taking the North is a means to a greater end…and this year’s team could just be the one to get ‘er done!