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5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Green Bay Packers in 2012

Bob FoxContributor IMay 23, 2012

5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Green Bay Packers in 2012

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    Why should fans of the Green Bay Packers be optimistic about the 2012 NFL season? Well, there are a number of reasons. Everything starts at the top, however.

    The Green Bay organization is as good as it gets in the NFL. It starts with Mark Murphy, who has done a very nice job taking over as team president from Bob Harlan in 2007.

    The front office, led by Ted Thompson, also does a fantastic job in putting all the championship pieces of the puzzle together for the Packers in terms of acquiring talent.

    Here are five other reasons to be optimistic in 2012.

Recent History

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    The Packers had a 15-1 record in 2011 and were the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Unfortunately, they were upset at home by the eventual Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. The 15 wins in the regular season was the best ever for the Packers, who first joined the NFL in 1921.

    In 2010, the Packers were only 10-6 in the regular season and barely got into the postseason as the No. 6 seed. But the Packers were able to beat the top three seeds in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl, as well as winning at very difficult road venues in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago.

    The Packers capped their amazing postseason by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

    Over the last three years, the Packers have been a combined 36-12 in the regular season and 4-2 in the postseason, including winning one Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

The Defense Will Return to Top-10 Status

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    The defense of the Packers was ranked 32nd in the NFL in 2011. That was definitely an anomaly, at least based on the track record of Dom Capers, who is the defensive coordinator for the Packers.

    Mike McCarthy hired Capers to run the Packers defense in 2009. Capers hired a great defensive staff to assist him in teaching the 3-4 scheme to a squad, which had been used to playing a 4-3 alignment.

    The results? The Packers finished second in total defense in the NFL in 2009. The Packers followed that up in 2010 by finishing fifth in total defense.

    But then came the 2011 season. But even with the Packers being ranked dead last in the NFL in defense, the defense still led the NFL with 31 interceptions. That is a remarkable statistic, especially with a sometimes-nonexistent pass rush.

    Ted Thompson decided to do something about fixing the defense. First he signed two defensive linemen (Daniel Muir and Anthony Hargrove) in free agency.

    But that was nothing compared to what Thompson did in the 2012 NFL draft. Thompson's first six selections in the draft were defensive players. Heading the class was OLB Nick Perry, who was selected in the first round.

    Thompson traded up twice in the second round to select DE Jerel Worthy and CB Casey Hayward. In the fourth round, Thompson picked another defensive linemen in Mike Daniels and also a sure-tackling safety when he selected Jerron McMillian.

    In the fifth round, Thompson traded up yet again and picked LB Terrell Manning.

    Will these new additions help? I would definitely think so. Capers bases the various packages he uses in his defense on the ability to cause pass pressure.

    The Packers were second in the NFL in sacks in 2010. They won the Super Bowl that postseason. In 2011, the Packers fell to 27th in sacks and the defense fell to the 32nd ranking in the league. The Packers were also one and done in the playoffs.

    The Packers already are showing a new wrinkle, as they have switched Clay Matthews to ROLB, while Perry has taken over as LOLB in the first practice at the team's spring organized team activities. The Packers plan to move Matthews around a lot. I think that tweak will make a difference, as will his new young teammates on defense.

    Bottom line, I see Capers and his staff putting together another top-10 defensive squad on the field.

Aaron Rodgers (NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP)

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    The Packers are led by the 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. The season Rodgers put together in 2011 was one of the best seasons ever by a NFL quarterback.

    During the 2011 NFL season, Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes to just six interceptions for 4,643 yards and also had a QB rating of 122.5. Rodgers also had a completion percentage of 68.3. 

    The 122.5 QB rating was the best in the NFL and also broke the all-time record set by Peyton Manning in 2004, when Manning had a 121.1 QB rating. 

    The QB rating system also determines which QB wins the passing title in any given year. Therefore, Rodgers won the overall passing title in the NFL in 2011. 

    Rodgers was also named first-team All-Pro and was named the starting QB for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. It all led to Rodgers being named MVP.

    It was a well-deserved honor. But there is much more.

    Rodgers not only had the best-ever QB rating in a single season in 2011, but Rodgers is the all-time leader in QB rating in both the regular season and the postseason.

    Rodgers has thrown 132 touchdown passes vs. just 38 interceptions for 17,366 yards and has a 104.1 QB rating in his career during the regular season. Rodgers is the only QB in NFL history to have a QB rating of over 100 based on 1,500 passing attempts.

    Add to that: Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdown passes vs. only four picks for 1,781 yards and has a QB rating of 105.5 in his career during the postseason. Again, that is the best ever in NFL history.

    Rodgers just turned 28 years old in December. Rodgers has now won an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP award.

    I believe there will be more to come...in both cases.

The Many Weapons on Offense

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    Aaron Rodgers is the leader of the offense of the Packers. He is also the reigning league MVP. The year before that Rodgers was Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers is clearly the captain of the offensive ship of the Packers.

    But Rodgers also gets a lot of help with all the weapons at his disposal. For instance, look at these statistics for his receivers...

    Jordy Nelson: 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 TDs.

    Greg Jennings: 67 receptions for 949 yards and nine TDs.

    Jermichael Finley: 55 receptions for 767 yards and eight TDs.

    James Jones: 38 receptions for 635 yards and seven TDs.

    Donald Driver: 37 receptions for 445 and six TDs.

    Randall Cobb: 25 receptions for 375 yards and one TD.

    The entire receiver corp will be back, including the Dancing with the Stars winner...Donald Driver. At least according to his agent.

    Add to that, the Packers will also have a number of other talented young WRs battling for a position on the roster, including Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, Shaky Smithson and undrafted rookie Dale Moss. 

    In addition to that, the RBs can also catch the football for the Packers. All told, as a group they had 74 receptions for 636 yards and three touchdowns in 2011.

    The other TEs besides Finley also helped out with 12 receptions and two more touchdowns.

    The Packers can be effective running the ball too, although not at the level they want to be. For instance, in the 2010 postseason, James Starks led all NFL RBs with 315 yards rushing. The Packers would like to see production like that on a consistent basis. 

    In 2011, the Packer RBs as a group ran for 1,295 yards and seven touchdowns. Rodgers showed once again that he is a dangerous man running the ball, as he rushed 257 yards and three touchdowns.

    Right now it looks like Starks will get the opportunity to be the lead back, as the Packers have not shown any inkling of re-signing Ryan Grant. Starks will be backed up by two second-year players in Alex Green and Brandon Saine. A couple of undrafted rookies, Marc Tyler and Duane Bennett, also hope to make some noise at RB as well. 

    Bottom line, the Packers have always had a top-10 offense under Mike McCarthy. The Packers were third in the NFL last year in total offense. I don't see that changing. They may actually be even better.

Coaching

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    Since the Mike McCarthy era started in 2006, the Packers have been 63-33 in the regular season, 5-3 in the postseason, have appeared in two NFC Championship games (winning one) and have also won Super Bowl XLV.

    McCarthy has been able to do this because of all the talent Ted Thompson has assembled. That, and because of the great coaching staff McCarthy has put together.

    The Packers have been an outstanding offensive club in the McCarthy era. That is due to the great QB play the Packers have had since 2006. McCarthy and new offensive coordinator Tom Clements (formerly the QB coach) have put together a quarterback school which really helps the understanding of the QBs in terms of knowing the offense of the Packers.

    The Packers have consistently been a top-10 offense in the NFL since McCarthy arrived in 2006. The team was led by Brett Favre the first two years of the McCarthy regime and Aaron Rodgers the last four seasons.

    The offensive staff under McCarthy has also stayed consistent. Clements, WR coach Edgar Bennett, OL coach James Campen, RB coach Jerry Fontenot and new QB coach Ben McAdoo have all been with McCarthy since the beginning.

    The offensive coaching staff has seen a couple of coaches leave. Most recently, former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin left to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and in 2011 former WR coach Jimmy Robinson left for a similar position with the Dallas Cowboys.

    The defensive staff is led by Dom Capers, who McCarthy hired in 2009. The defense had a rough year in 2011 for a number of reasons. The biggest being a season-ending neck injury to S Nick Collins in the second week of the season. Also, the loss of DE Cullen Jenkins to free agency was key.

    There were also other injury issues.

    But the bottom line is the 32nd-ranked defense of the Packers in 2011 was a rare occurrence. In 2010, the Packers were ranked fifth in total defense. In 2009, the Packers were ranked second. Capers got some help from Thompson in the 2012 NFL draft to get the defense back to being a top-10 defense again.

    Capers has also surrounded himself with very capable assistants. This group includes assistant head coach/ILB coach Winston Moss, OLB coach Kevin Green, safeties coach Darren Perry, CB coach Joe Whitt Jr. and DL coach Mike Trgovac.

    The special teams is led by coach Shawn Slocum, who has also been with McCarthy since 2006. There have been a few bumps in the road on special teams with the Packers under Slocum, but the units were definitely better in 2011 (especially in the return game and the lack of penalties).

    McCarthy also seems a lot more comfortable with the media the past couple of seasons and is more open with his responses to questions. That tends to happen once a team wins a championship and becomes a perennial championship contender.

    That has happened under McCarthy.

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