The Packers' Ideal Road to the Super Bowl
Bottom line, the Packers aren't as bad as they looked Sunday night, nor are the Giants as good as they played that night.
The Packers still have five games to play this season, and four of those games are against divisional opponents.
Bottom line, the goals of the 2012 season are still attainable. The first, is to make the playoffs, no matter how. The second, is to win the NFC North, which would help getting through the NFC playoff a bit more ideal. The third and final goal is to win it all. Bring another Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.
For that to happen, I've listed five things the Packers need to do to make the road to the Super Bowl that much easier.
Win the NFC North
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Da Bears (8-3) now lead the Packers (7-4) by one game in the NFC North again, by virtue of their win against the Vikings at Soldier Field on Sunday, and the Packers loss to the G-Men. But if the Bears lose to the Packers later again this season, that will give Green Bay, a big step forward in winning the division.
Of the five games the Packers still have remaining on their schedule, four of those games are against NFC North opponents, in fact. It starts this Sunday versus the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
The Packers will play three of their remaining games at home in Green Bay, where the Packers are 4-1 this season. The only road games the Packers play down the stretch will be at Chicago and Minnesota.
Playing NFC North opponents bodes well for the Pack. The reason? Aaron Rodgers.
Against the Vikings, Rodgers has thrown for 2,189 yards, 19 touchdown passes and just three picks for a 116.5 quarterback rating. Rodgers is 5-3 lifetime against the Vikes and has won the last four meetings between the two teams.
The Packers play the Lions in two weeks at Lambeau Field. The Packers have already beaten the Lions in Detroit, and Rodgers has his way against Detroit too. Rodgers is 7-1 lifetime against Detroit, and has thrown for 2,112 yards, 18 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
Oh yeah, the Lions haven't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991.
The Packers will play the Bears the week after the Detroit game at Soldier Field. Rodgers has good fortune against the Bears as well. Rodgers is 7-2 against Chicago in the regular season, plus won the 2010 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.
In terms of his regular-season stats against the Bears, Rodgers has thrown 16 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions for 2,195 yards.
Jay Cutler of the Bears, on the other hand, is just 1-5 (regular season) against the Packers and has thrown seven touchdown passes compared to a whopping 15 picks for 1,303 yards.
Bottom line, history and Rodgers' track record against NFC North opponents, both say the Packers should be able to win the division.
That will ensure at least one home playoff game at Lambeau Field in the NFC playoffs. Even if the Packers win the NFC North, it appears that the Pack will most likely be only a No. 3 seed, which means playing Wild Card weekend.
That scenario might actually work out better for the Packers, based on their success in the 2010 postseason (4-0 and winning Super Bowl XLV), and their lack of success in the 2011 postseason (0-1, and having a bye week because they were the No. 1 seed).
Keeping Aaron Rodgers Healthy
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For the Packers to even think about getting to the Super Bowl XLVII, much less winning it, the health of QB Aaron Rodgers is paramount to their chances of getting there.
But the state of the offensive line, which has been revamped due to Bryan Bulaga's season ending hip injury, is not doing it's job protecting Rodgers since that injury.
In fact, Rodgers has been sacked 37 times this season already, including getting put down five times in the game against the Giants last Sunday night.
Rodgers is putting up MVP numbers again this year, even with the shortcomings of the offensive line. Rodgers has thrown 28 touchdown passes, versus seven interceptions, for 2,838 yards. That adds up to a 105.6 quarterback rating, which is the best in the NFL.
Overall in his career in the regular season, Rodgers has a 104.4 quarterback rating, which is the best ever mark in NFL history.
Rodgers is just as good in the postseason, where he also has the best ever quarterback rating mark of 105.5.
The Packers will only go as far as Rodgers takes them, so it's imperative that he stays healthy.
Getting Healthier as a Team
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The Packers won Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season, even as the team had 15 players on injured reserve. This year seems to mirror that season, as the Packers have had to place six players on the IR, and that list might be getting bigger.
It's expected that the Packers will place offensive tackle Derek Sherrod on IR, after watching him limp around in practice the past couple of weeks, after trying to come off the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform) after breaking his leg in two places last season.
Plus, it also appears that running back Cedric Benson could also be heading to IR, as he is contemplating surgery on his foot now, after initially injuring the foot in Week 5 against the Colts. Right now Benson is on the injured reserve; designated to return list. But it doesn't appear likely that he will return.
Besides the injured reserve list, which includes starters Desmond Bishop, Bryan Bulaga and Nick Perry, along with D.J. Smith, Brandon Saine and Johnny Jones, the Packers have also had a number of key players go down with injuries this year for an extended time.
But they might be coming back soon, which is a nice development. It appears that wide receiver Greg Jennings will be back this week, after missing most of the season to an abdominal injury. Jennings had a minor procedure done three weeks ago to relieve the issue, and has made great strides since then.
Certainly adding the No.1 receiving option to Aaron Rodgers' already talented passing arsenal would help quite a bit.
Right outside linebacker Clay Matthews is also close to coming back, after missing a couple of games due to a hamstring injury. It's vital that Matthews gets back on the field soon, as he is the Packers best player on defense, and he leads the Packers with nine sacks.
Overall, the Packers are third in the NFL in sacks, with 34, but missing a key component like Matthews, makes a huge difference. That was apparent in the lackluster pass rush the Packers had against Eli Manning on Sunday night.
Matthews will be tested this week according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It's not certain he will return against the Vikings this Sunday, but Matthews is getting close.
Another key player who will be coming back in the coming weeks is safety Charles Woodson. Woodson broke his collarbone in Week 7 (the same one he broke in Super Bowl XLV), and he is feeling much better.
But like Matthews, the Packers don't want to rush Woodson back. They want to make sure he is fully healed.
Bottom line, the Packers have to feel confident, knowing that they will be adding three Pro Bowl-type players back to their roster in the near future. A future that includes the stretch run of the 2012 season and the postseason.
Getting More Physical
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The Packers are currently 7-4 this season, which includes a 5-3 record in the NFC. In those three defeats, the Green Bay offense was physically overmatched by the defenses they faced in those games. In addition, except for one game (against Seattle), the defense of the Packers did not play with the same fervor and physical prowess of their opponents.
It all started on opening weekend at Lambeau Field, when the Packers were physically whipped by the San Francisco 49ers in a 30-22 loss. Then in Week 3, the Packers allowed eight sacks in the first half to the Seattle Seahawks.
The defense of the Packers played very well that Monday night as well, and it was only due to the incompetence of the replacement refs that the Packers lost 14-12. But even still, warning clouds were hovering over the Packers' offensive line then.
Then last Sunday night, the Packers were physically overwhelmed on both sides of the football, as the Giants whipped the Pack 38-10.
The Packers need to start taking it to their opponents, as opposed to having it taken to them. The offensive line is a good example. Offensive linemen love to run block. Why? Because they are the instigator and can get physical moving forward.
On the other hand, when they pass block, offensive linemen get in the defensive position going backward to protect their quarterback.
The Packers have been using the running game a lot recently to help balance their offensive tendencies. Plus, it helps the mindset of the offensive linemen. But it also must lead to success. So far, it hasn't.
The Packers are ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing, as they average only 100.7 yards a game. The ball carriers average less than 4.0 yards a carry as well, averaging only 3.8 yards a rush.
Add to that, the Packers are only ranked 18th in total offense this year in the NFL, and only 14th in passing.
Defensively, the Packers are ranked 18th in the NFL overall. That includes being ranked 10th versus the run and 22nd against the pass.
For the Packers to even think about getting to the Big Dance, the team needs to improve both offensively and defensively.
Especially in terms of being more physical.
Have a Game Plan Designed for Each Opponent
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Mike McCarthy learned a valuable lesson the other night in the 38-10 loss to the New York Giants. He realized his game plan was not very good. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and harassed all night long by the potent pass rush of the Giants.
"The way I called some of the game when your quarterback is under pressure like that affected me tonight," McCarthy said. "You have to protect your quarterback. It's the No. 1 responsibility of our offense.
"You'd be hypocritical to sit here and say we build our offense around making the quarterback successful starting with the runs, protections and passing game, and then we're going to go out and he's going to take that many hits. That's not what we're looking for."
McCarthy also pointed the blame directly to himself after the game.
"I'll start with just the facts," he said. "We were totally beaten this evening. Congratulations to the New York Giants. We were beaten in every facet, really starting with myself.
"I feel when your team performs that way, it starts with the head coach. We had mental errors. The penalties. It was out of character for our football team. Very disappointing loss on Sunday Night Football and a big NFC battle."
The Packers also didn't have a very good defensive game plan against the Giants either, as the G-Men did what ever they wanted, both running the rock and throwing the football.
The Packers need to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each of their upcoming opponents and utilize a game plan that will work to their advantage.
At the same time, the coaching staff also has to figure in the strengths and weaknesses of the Packers as well, as they formulate their game plans.
Bottom line, the Packers have not fared well against physical teams. That needs to change if the Packers expect to get some momentum for the rest of the 2012 regular season, and most importantly, the postseason.