It was a devastating loss for the Green Bay Packers.
With Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback, Packers fans always feel like their team has a chance to win. But as this game reached its latter moments, it became all too apparent that Rodgers wasn't going to get a chance to perform any late game heroics.
OK, enough of my attempt at humor. We all really know which game I'm talking about, and the way Green Bay exited the playoffs last season has it hungry for revenge, with a burning desire to reach the NFL plateau once again.
Let's face it. The Packers defense—or lack there of—over the course of the 2011 season was what turned out to be the difference between back-to-back Super Bowls and a one-and-done in the postseason.
So what did general manager Ted Thompson go out and do? He loaded up on defensive acquisitions, especially when it came to the draft. The first five rounds consisted of six defensive players selected by the Packers.
As first-round selection Nick Perry grows into his new role as outside linebacker, teams will no longer solely be able to focus on Clay Matthews. This will in turn aid the pass rush—a pass rush that was THE biggest reason Green Bay's defense struggled so mightily a year ago.
But Perry's not the only rookie who will factor into the defensive equation.
Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy will solidify a defensive line that failed to do much of anything last season. Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji and Worthy will lead a deeper d-line with the main goal of plugging the middle and engaging as many blockers as possible.
To the naked eye, it was the secondary who appeared to be the main culprit last season. Sure, the unit didn't do itself any favors, but an injured Tramon Williams played a bigger factor than many realize, and a lack of a pass rush left the secondary collectively out on an island.
Now, Williams is healthy, and Charles Woodson is set to help out at safety alongside mainstay Morgan Burnett, while a bevy of young, talented cornerbacks fight for the right to take Woodson's place.
Each level—defensive line, linebackers, secondary—figures to get better one way or another, but just as every team must deal with them, injuries have already begun to take their toll.
Perhaps the most productive defensive player in Green Bay last season, Desmond Bishop is likely done for the season with a torn hamstring. That's not to mention potential starting cornerback Davon House is dealing with a shoulder injury.
But it's not all bad.
The blow could be subdued if DJ Smith is able to put up a strong 2012 campaign, and his never-ending motor should give him the ability to do just that. He was breathing down AJ Hawk's neck. Now he's ready to prove why.
And while House's injury could leave the Packers thin at corner for now, rookie Casey Hayward is showing signs he could be just as qualified as House to play CB2 if not slot, at the very least.
The defense on a 15-1 squad is sure to be better, but the Green Bay Packers were 15-1 in spite of its defense.
Just because the Packers' draft didn't benefit the offense doesn't mean this unit isn't improved. In fact, it will be better than a season ago, as unbelievable as that may sound.
Aaron Rodgers is in the prime of his career along with No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings. Entering his prime is No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson, and then there's Randall Cobb, one of the most electrifying young players in the NFL.
To go along with the best passing attack in the league, the addition of Cedric Benson gives the Packers' running game more of an identity. The team didn't have faith in James Starks assuming the main role in the backfield, and I don't blame them. He's unproven—Benson isn't.
But guess what? The Packers were 15-1 last season—and they're even better in 2012.
Green Bay has an improved pass rush, a revamped secondary, a prolific offense and revenge on its mind.
Don't let a slow start fool you—the Packers are going to win Super Bowl XLVII.
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