5 Encouraging Signs Heading into Green Bay Packers' 2012 Season
The Green Bay Packers were 15-1 in the 2011 NFL regular season. One of the very best seasons in the storied history of a team which dates back to 1921 and has seen the franchise win 13 NFL championships and four Super Bowl titles.
No Green Bay team ever won 15 games in the regular season before. Obviously the Packers won the NFC North title and were the number one seed in the NFC playoffs in 2011.
Unfortunately, all that led to a one-and-done episode in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs, when the New York Giants marched into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 37-20. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLVI.
That didn't make the Packers feel any better about what happened in that painful loss to the G-Men.
Most oddsmakers have the Packers as the favorites to win the NFC title in 2012. I happen to agree with the folks in Las Vegas.
Here are five reasons why.
The Defense Has Added Some Real Talent
Leading up to the 2012 NFL draft, I had a feeling that Ted Thompson was going to be aggressive during the draft. I mentioned that a number of times in stories I had done leading up to the draft as a matter of fact.
Thompson definitely exceeded my expectations, as he traded up three times to select players he saw as great fits for the Packers. Before this draft, Thompson had traded up three times...total...in the seven years he had conducted the draft for the Packers.
Most notable was the trade up he made in 2009, when he traded away three draft choices to move up and select OLB Clay Matthews. Thompson traded up in three straight drafts from 2008-2010. Before those years, he had never traded up in his first three years running the draft for the Packers.
Bottom line: I expected to see Thompson as being aggressive in this draft, knowing that the Packers had so many holes to fill on a defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL in 2011. Still, even with that, the team finished 15-1 in the 2011 regular season.
Why? The prolific production by an offense led by QB Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP. But the defense became exposed again in the divisional playoff game against the New York Giants, in which the Packers lost to the eventual Super Bowl XLVI champions.
Thompson knew he had to improve the personnel that defensive coordinator Dom Capers would be able to utilize each game in 2012. Before last year, Capers had fielded two top-five defenses in 2009 (second) and 2010 (fifth) in the three years he has been the coaching leader of the Green Bay defense.
Thompson knew that going into this draft. Give Capers some talent and he will deliver a very good defense.
Thompson was rather patient in the first round Thursday night, when he waited and saw that a few defensive options were falling his way at the No. 28 pick. Thompson was more than happy to select OLB Nick Perry with the 28th pick of the draft.
When the second and third rounds of the draft took place on Friday night, Thompson became Trader Ted...twice. First he traded his second-round (No. 59) and fourth-round (No. 123) picks to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to the 51st pick of the draft.
Thompson saw a run on defensive linemen coming after he saw the San Diego Chargers select DL Kendall Reyes with the 49th pick of the draft. He immediately traded up and selected DL Jerel Worthy.
Then a short time later, Thompson once again threw away caution and traded up yet again. He traded his third-round (No. 90) and fifth-round (No. 163) picks to the New England Patriots to move up to the 62nd pick of the draft.
There he drafted Casey Hayward, a ball hawking CB from Vanderbilt.
As the third and final day of the 2012 NFL draft proved on Saturday, Thompson wasn't done trading either. But first he surprised some folks with his two selections of the fourth round, both of which were compensatory picks.
Thompson picked DL Mike Daniels out of Iowa and then S Jerron McMillian out of Maine. I'm sure some folks were scrambling to find out information about these players.
Daniels is a bit undersized (6'0", 291 lbs), but is very explosive and quick for his size. I've heard some compare Daniels to Warren Sapp in that regard. He has proven to be quite the athlete, as he has run the 40 in 4.86, has a vertical jump of 36.5 inches and a broad jump of 10'4".
I have heard a number of people question Daniels' fit in the 3-4 scheme that Capers uses. First, because of the way the NFL has evolved into a pass-happy league offensively, the defenses have had to adjust. The Packers rarely play their standard 3-4 defense. In fact, they only used their base defense about 10 percent of the time in 2011.
Most times the defense is in the nickel look, where an extra defensive back is used. Coordinators like Capers also use a number of sub-packages, in which players like Daniels and newly acquired free agent Anthony Hargrove would be used on passing downs in the defensive front, where as players like Ryan Pickett would be utilized on early or rushing downs.
Daniels had 15.5 sacks in his career at Iowa, including nine his senior year. Daniels also had 27 tackles for losses as a Hawkeye defender as well.
McMillian is very similar to Nick Collins, as he doesn't come from a big time college football program. Be honest here, how many people ever heard of Collins in 2005, when Thompson selected him out of Bethune-Cookman (FL)? Not many, I can assure you.
McMillian impressed the Packers with not only his play on the field, but also at his pro day, when he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash. McMillian was considered to be a tackling machine, as he had 229 tackles, nine interceptions, 13 passes defensed and 5.5 sacks in his career at Maine.
After the selections of Daniels and McMillian, Thompson let his silver hair down again and traded up again to get a selection in the fifth round, which he had originally traded away. Thompson traded a sixth-round pick (No. 197) and two seventh-round picks (Nos. 224 and 235) to the New England Patriots to get the 163rd pick of the draft. Ironically, Thompson also traded that pick to the Pats when he moved up to select Hayward in the second round.
In the fifth round, Thompson selected LB Terrell Manning out of North Carolina State. Manning was considered by many to be a third or fourth-round value and that is why Thompson once again pulled the trigger to nab the former Wolfpack linebacker.
Manning had left college as a junior, but his last two years showed some real ability. He had 151 tackles, including 25 tackles for losses, 10 sacks and four interceptions. Right now it looks like the Packers will plug in Manning at ILB. Manning looks pretty good in pass coverage, which was an issue last year with the ILB's of the Packers.
Thompson also signed a number of talented undrafted rookies. The group includes LB Dezman Moses, S Micah Pellerin and S Sean Richardson.
In addition to that, Thompson added three defensive linemen via free agency when he signed Anthony Hargrove, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling.
Now you will understand if you see Capers smiling quite a bit at training camp.
Aaron Rodgers Thinks He Can Play Better
Aaron Rodgers was the NFL MVP in 2011. Why? It's pretty simple.
Rodgers threw 45 TD passes to just six interceptions for 4,643 yards and also had a QB rating of 122.5 of 2011. 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.
Rodgers was also named first team All-Pro and was named the starting QB for the NFC in the Pro Bowl in 2011, as he led the Packers to a 15-1 regular season record.
Rodgers was asked how he can be better in 2012. "Just eliminate the mistakes. I think you have to account for the human error in the game," Rodgers said. Via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"I'm going to make some mistakes. But like (offensive coordinator and former quarterbacks coach) Tom Clements used to tell us, he gave us four points—'do what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, as well as you can do it, and all the freaking time.' So if I can do those four things, do what I'm supposed to do all the time, when I'm supposed to do it, as good as I can do it, all the time, I think it's going to be the type of season I can look back and be proud about."
How long did it take Rodgers to get over the painful playoff loss to the New York Giants? "It took a few days. I left Green Bay that week, I think Thursday," Rodgers said. "So once I got back to San Diego and got a chance to relax, that's when you start settling into the offseason. It's frustrating still. It's tough to watch the playoffs, but you learn to get over that pretty quickly."
What's the motivation moving forward? "Winning more Super Bowls. That's the No. 1 thing," Rodgers said. "Especially after you win one and you go 15-1 in the regular season and then you lose in the first round, you deal with that disappointment. I think you just appreciate that experience you went through in the 2010-'11 season. Just wanting to win more championships. That's what you get remembered for as a team and individually."
What do the Packers need to do to get back to the Super Bowl? "You have to play the right way at the end of the season. We did in 2011 in January," Rodgers said.
"We were playing the right way coming into the (playoffs) with two big wins. We were healthy at the right time. The Giants did that last year. They squeaked into the playoffs and had a lot of confidence. They knew once they got there that the playing field was even. Anybody could take it. Then they played close to flawless football. We turned the ball over four times, gave up a Hail Mary and didn't play the way we wanted to. We have to play the right way, get a little bit of fortune with injuries and make the most of those opportunities."
Mike McCarthy Has a Chip on His Shoulder
Mike McCarthy led the Green Bay Packers to a 15-1 record in the 2011 NFL season. The Packers were the top seed in the NFC playoffs because of their record. All of this led to a one and done situation, as the New York Giants came into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 37-20.
McCarthy is still steaming over that loss.
"It'll always bother me," McCarthy told NFL.com last week. The Packers leader then paused, before firing off five straight sentences about the respect he has for his Giants counterpart Tom Coughlin, to be sure his adversary on that afternoon got his due: "I think he's one of the top coaches in the league. I just really like the way he goes about it, always have." But then it was right back to describing how he felt, and still feels, about the 37-20 beatdown on the Packers' home turf.
"I felt in '07, we were beaten in the overtime game, they made one more big play than we did," McCarthy said, referencing that season's Packers-Giants NFC title game. "And for them to go on the road, I don't want this to come out the wrong way, because that win is special, that's a great win for their football team. The margin of victory they won with, too, is definitely to their credit. But I feel like we beat ourselves in this playoff game. Or better yet, we didn't give ourselves a chance to win the game.
"The '07 game was a heck of a football game and they made one more play than we did. We didn't give ourselves a chance to win this one. You'd rather someone beat you."
McCarthy had a similar feeling, when the Packers were beaten 51-45 in the 2009 Wild Card playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers made a number of mistakes in that game, although the game winning touchdown scored by the Cardinals was due to a missed call by the officials.
On that infamous play, Aaron Rodgers was hit by CB Michael Adams on a blitz and he then fumbled and kicked the ball to Karlos Dansby who caught the ball without it ever touching the ground and he scored from 17 yards out to end the game.
However, as Rodgers was hit by Adams, he was grabbed by the face mask by Adams and taken to the ground. That should have been clear personal foul. But that refs didn’t make the call and Dansby’s TD stood.
Bottom line, McCarthy and the Packers learned from that painful loss and went on to win the Super Bowl the very next year.
McCarthy hopes history repeats itself in 2012.
A Real Offseason in 2012, Compared to 2011
The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV on February 6th, 2011. About five weeks later, on March 11th, the NFL owners imposed a lockout that lasted until July 25th. What did that mean to all teams in the NFL, including the Green Bay Packers?
It meant no OTAs, no minicamps, no workouts and no player could use the facilities of any team in the league. It also meant a very discombobulated training camp for all teams in 2011, as the coaching staffs of the various teams had to force-feed information and techniques to the players, especially the younger players.
Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff pride themselves on being great teachers, as well as being great coaches, and the activities leading up to training camp are key areas in which the players can grow and become better at their craft in the NFL.
"We're a draft and develop program," head coach McCarthy said recently, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "This is essential to our development. I've been real happy with it, particularly with our second- and third-year players. They're here; they're into it. You really see the benefits when you see the third- and fourth-year players."
McCarthy knows how important this time is for the players on the team.
"I always look at this as how you can get an edge," McCarthy said recently during a recent off-season conditioning program. "I think you can get an edge on how you schedule your team and how you train your team.
"So really, working through this process is something every head coach is looking at and trying to get nailed down to maximize this new system."
McCarthy hopes that the OTAs, minicamps and workouts the team have had thus far will help when training camp rolls around in late July.
"I wanted to incorporate that up and downess in our training camp, so we'll go like three morning practices, a day off, three morning practices, then we'll transition to a night practice, night practice and then two afternoon practices," McCarthy said.
Free Agent Acquisitions
When it comes to utilizing free agency as far as adding players to the roster of the Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson rarely dips his toes into the free agency water. Thompson believes in building the team through the NFL draft for the most part.
But when Thompson does try free agency, his track record is pretty solid.
Case in point: CB Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Since 2006, when Thompson signed Woodson via free agency, Woodson has played magnificently over those five years.
Since his arrival in Green Bay, Woodson has 37 interceptions, nine of which were returned for TDs. Woodson also has averaged almost 85 tackles per season, plus has 10 sacks, forced 14 fumbles and also recovered one that he returned for an additional TD.
One would have to say that Woodson is right up there with Reggie White as being the best free agent signing in the history of the Packers certainly and perhaps in NFL history as well. Thompson was in Green Bay when the Packers signed White in free agency, as Thompson was then the director of pro personnel for the team.
Thompson also signed DT Ryan Pickett in 2006, and Pickett has been a steady force for the Green Bay defensive line since then. Thompson also signed LB Brandon Chillar in 2008, and Chillar was fairly effective when he played, but was limited due to a shoulder injury. In fact, Chillar was placed on injured reserve late last season due to the shoulder injury. Chillar was not on the team in 2011.
Thompson has also signed a number of "street" free agents. That list includes CB Tramon Williams, LS Brett Goode, LB Robert Francois, TE Tom Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, P Tim Masthay, S Charlie Peprah, CB Sam Shields, LB Erik Walden, LB Frank Zombo, OL Ray Dominguez, S M.D. Jennings, LB Jamari Lattimore, RB Brandon Saine and LB Vic So'oto.
This year, Thompson has surprised a number of people with his aggressiveness in free agency. Thompson has signed C Jeff Saturday to replace C Scott Wells, who also left via free agency to join the St. Louis Rams.
In addition to Saturday, Thompson signed three defensive linemen in free agency as well, as Daniel Muir, Anthony Hargrove and Phillip Merling all became new Packers in 2012.
Thompson has also signed some talented rookie free agents too, as players such as LB Dezman Moses, S/CB Micah Pellerin and S Sean Richardson were among the undrafted rookies he signed.
What does this all mean? Thompson has probably the deepest and most talented roster he has ever assembled in all the years he has been the main man in the front office of the Packers.