5 Things the Packers Must Improve to Win Super Bowl
After 10 games of the 2012 season, the Packers are 7-3 and now sit atop the NFC North division. The Chicago Bears are also 7-3, but the Packers beat da Bears earlier this season and have a better divisional record (2-0 versus 1-1).
Right now the Packers would be the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. Green Bay has also won five games in a row.
Not bad for a team that has seen one sure victory taken away by incompetent officiating from the replacement refs, and have also suffered quite a few key injuries.
However, there are six more games to play in 2012, as the Packers try and improve their squad for the stretch run of the current season, and also the postseason.
The ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl.
For that to happen, the Packers have to improve a number of aspects of their game. I'm listing five things that need to improve for the Pack, if they realistically want to win Super Bowl XLVII.
The Passing Game
Still, the Packers have a lot of things to improve on in the passing game.
Right now, the offense of the Packers is only ranked 18th in the NFL. History tells us that will improve, as every Mike McCarthy-coached team in Green Bay has always been a top 10 offense.
The Packers are ranked 11th in the NFL in passing offense, after finishing third in 2011.
There are a number of issues. For one, there has been the abdominal injury to wide receiver Greg Jennings, which has caused Rodgers' number one option to miss most of the 2012 season.
There has also been the pass protection issues. The Packers have allowed 32 sacks so far in 2012, and that has the Packers ranked 30th in that category.
Finally, there has been the lack of big plays. The Packers only have 29 completions of 20+ yards so far this season. That has the Packers ranked 19th in the league in that statistic.
Compare that to last season, when the Packers were second in the NFL in that category with 70 completions of 20+ yards over the course of the 2011 campaign.
The Packers do have six completions of 40+ yards this season, which has the team tied for fifth in the league. The Packers had 16 completions of 40+ yards or more in 2011.
So, the passing game of the Packers has some things to improve on, but there are a number of positive signs emerging as that situation evolves.
For one, there has been the emergence of Randall Cobb, who has 54 receptions for 574 yards and seven touchdowns. James Jones also has eight touchdown receptions at wide receiver and has not dropped a pass all year.
Plus, Jordy Nelson has been very solid, even after missing some time with hamstring/ankle issues, as he has 43 receptions and five touchdowns.
Finally we saw a sighting of tight end Jermichael Finley last week, as he finally had a big game, catching three passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
There is more work to do, but things definitely appear to be on the upswing.
Offensive Line Play
The Packers are 30th in the NFL in sacks allowed with 32. The team is also ranked only 24th in running the football. Most of that lies at the door step of the offensive line.
Yes, I know that right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season with a hip injury in the Arizona game in Week 9.
That injury has forced the Packers to reshuffle their offensive line, by putting T.J. Lang at right tackle, instead of his normal spot at left guard. Veteran Evan Dietrich-Smith has taken over left guard spot now.
The Packers can't afford any more injuries, as the depth on the offensive line is very young and very inexperienced. Right now, the backups are both undrafted rookies. One is Don Barclay, who is the reserve offensive tackle, and the other is Greg Van Roten, who plays inside.
Last year's number one draft pick for the Packers, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, is practicing after coming off the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform), but it appears that he won't be ready to come back this season, after breaking his leg in two places late last season.
That means the current group of linemen have to get better. The Packers will face three of the better pass rushing teams in the next four weeks, as the Packers will play the Giants, Vikings, Lions and Bears.
The line has to give Aaron Rodgers time to go through his various progressions in the passing game. If that happens, history tells us that Rodgers will deliver in a big way.
The running game also needs to improve, as I will talk about in the next slide.
The Running Game
The Packers are currently 24th in the NFL in rushing offense. Green Bay averages just under 100 yards a game (99.2) running the football.
The Packers are only averaging 3.8 yards a rush, plus have rushed for only two touchdowns all season, which is tied for the lowest total in the league.
The Packers have been forced to use a committee of running backs this season due to injuries.
First, Cedric Benson was the main man running the rock earlier in the season, until a foot injury in Week 5 put him on the Injured Reserve/Designated to Return list.
Up until the injury, Benson was showing signs of improvement. Overall, Benson has rushed for 248 yards and one touchdown.
After Benson's injury, the Packers utilized second-year running back Alex Green over the next four games, as Green has rushed for 272 yards, but only had a 3.1 yards per rush average.
That opened the door for James Starks, who was supposed to be the main guy at running back this season, until a turf toe injury in the first preseason game sidelined the back for several weeks. That led to the signing of Benson as a free agent.
Last week, Starks gained 74 yards running the ball against the Lions, and overall has 154 yards rushing.
The Packers also utilize Randall Cobb as a back once in awhile, and Cobb has paid big dividends. Cobb has 115 yards rushing and a robust 14.4 yards per carry average.
Aaron Rodgers is also one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL, and he has also contributed 165 yards rushing.
That being said, the Packers have to try and continue running the football and having some balance in their offensive attack.
The Packers have attempted over 20 carries in the run game the last five weeks, and guess what happened? The Packers won all five games.
Plus Rodgers has benefited too, as he has thrown 17 touchdown passes in those five games, compared to just two interceptions.
The Packers have to get their rushing average better, but more importantly, have to keep running the rock for balance.
When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, Starks led all NFL backs with 315 yards in the 2010 postseason. That statistic helped Rodgers have a great postseason himself, as he threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks.
That all led to Rodgers being named Super Bowl XLV MVP and the Packers bringing back the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay.
The Packers have been pretty good as of late picking off passes, as the Packers now have 12 interceptions this season, which has the team tied for 6th in the league.
That still needs to improve. The Packers led the NFL with 31 picks in 2011, so the team has to start getting an average of two picks per ball game.
That happened last week, as the Packers picked off Matthew Stafford of the Lions twice, once by rookie Casey Hayward (who has five interception this season), and one by M.D. Jennings, who returned his pick for a score.
The young secondary looks like it will be getting some help soon, as cornerback Sam Shields (shin/knee) is expected back this week, and safety Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) should be back in a few weeks as well.
Meanwhile, the group of Hayward, Tramon Williams, Davon House, Jennings, Morgan Burnett and Jerron McMillian have played exceptionally in the secondary overall.
The team is only ranked 21st in pass defense, but there has been definite improvement over the past couple of weeks.
The secondary is helped by the pass rush of the Packers, which has 33 sacks this season, which is second in the NFL.
However, the Packers have only forced six fumbles this season, a statistic that shows that 27 other teams in the NFL are doing better than the Pack in that area.
The good news is that the Packers have recovered four of those six forced fumbles.
That needs to improve. We saw how important that stat was last week, when linebacker forced a Stafford fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Mike Daniels.
Just remember Super Bowl XLV regarding the importance of turnovers.
The Packers picked off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice (including one for a touchdown), but the biggest defensive play of the game was when Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett forced a fumble by Rashard Mendenhall that was recovered by Desmond Bishop.
The Steelers were in Green Bay territory when that fumble occurred and were driving for the go ahead score in the 4th quarter. Instead, the Packers got the ball back and scored a touchdown of their own.
The Packers ended up winning Super Bowl XLV by a score of 31-25.
Making Field Goals
Kicker Mason Crosby is definitely in funk. After starting the 2012 season by going 5-of-5 in field goal attempts, Crosby has all of a sudden gotten the yips kicking field goals.
In his last 13 attempts, Crosby has only made six of those, and for the season is only 11-of-18 in field goal attempts. That gives Crosby 61 percent average in making field goals. That's not good.
In the other parts of the kicking game, Crosby has fared pretty well. He hasn't missed an extra point, as he is 30-of-30. Crosby also has 27 touchbacks on his kickoffs, and hasn't kicked a ball out of bounds. The average starting point for teams after a Crosby kickoff is the 23.1 yard line
Crosby has also been successful on his one and only onside kick attempt.
The Packers will be sticking with Crosby to work out his issues, at least according to head coach Mike McCarthy.
Crosby did have a career-high best 85.7 percent average last year, as he connected on 24-of-28 field goal attempts. This was after Crosby had signed a $14.75 million dollar deal over five years prior to the 2011 season.
Time will tell if Crosby can figure out his issues, but special teams coach Shawn Slocum is confident that he will, according a blog in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
We shall see.