Way back in October, after the Green Bay Packers pounded the Houston Texans to rebound from an embarrassing second-half collapse against the Indianapolis Colts, I wrote an article describing why Green Bay’s early-season struggles and injuries could actually be good in the long run.
It appears that theory is coming to fruition.
Every team goes through a rough patch that lasts for longer than one game at some point in the season. It’s inevitable. The question isn’t whether it will happen, but when.
That’s why the best regular season team rarely wins the Super Bowl. Look at the Packers of 2011. For 13 games, they were untouchable. Then, the Kansas City Chiefs ended their unbeaten streak. The Chicago Bears, who were pitiful without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, outgained Green Bay by 78 yards. The Detroit Lions posted 41 points and 575 yards on the Packers’ defense. And the New York Giants spanked Green Bay in the first round of the playoffs.
Or look at the 2007 New England Patriots. Even though they won their first 18 games, they struggled to get there, barely beating the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles late in the year. Then, they were of course upset by the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Luckily for the 2012 Packers, their slump occupied the first five weeks of the season. Since then, they have posted a 7-1 record despite multiple key contributors missing a big chunk of that stretch, namely Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and Sam Shields, among others.
And despite such an impressive record over the past eight games, I believe their best play has yet to surface.
While the defense is much improved from a year ago, the offense is still far from its 2011 form. After scoring the second-most points in NFL history last year, they now are 10th in the league in points scored and 17th in total yards gained.
Most of that is due to opposing defenses dropping seven guys into coverage without worrying about Green Bay’s running attack, and for good reason. Despite these defensive tactics, the Packers have been unable to establish any running game.
Until the past two weeks, that is. During those two games, Green Bay ran for 292 total yards on a 4.79 yards-per-rush average. If this continues, defenses will be forced to take more men out of coverage to help stop the ground attack.
This newfound rushing attack will not only open up more passing lanes for Aaron Rodgers to dominate through the air, it will also help in December and January when nasty weather dictates ground-and-pound football over high-scoring air raids.
But most importantly, Green Bay’s health seems to be peaking at just the right time. In addition to no new injuries occurring in the Detroit game, Woodson will likely return against Chicago, while Matthews and Jordy Nelson will either do the same or come back the week after against the Tennessee Titans.
Jennings also just returned against Minnesota and is still trying to regain stamina and chemistry with the offense after missing the previous seven games.
These returns are occurring at the perfect time to get each of those players back in the groove for a few games and properly prepare for the playoffs.
Although the injured reserve list totals nine, Green Bay would be relatively healthy for the postseason as long as no more major injuries occur between now and then.
With health, a steady balance on offense and the yearly slump out of the way, the Packers are primed to make a deep playoff run, no matter what seed they end up with.