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Packers' Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Playoffs

Bob FoxContributor IOctober 7, 2016

Packers' Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Playoffs

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    On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North crown by defeating the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, 21-13. That was the first step for the Packers as they get ready for the postseason.

    That victory assures the Packers of hosting at least one game at Lambeau Field in the 2012 playoffs.

    Right now the Packers are the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. If that scenario stayed the same at the end of the regular season, that means the Packers would be playing a NFC Wild Card Playoff game versus the No. 6 seed in the NFC.

    If the Packers were fortunate enough to win that game, then the Packers would then have to go on the road to play the No. 2 seed in a NFC Divisional Playoff game, who presently are the San Francisco 49ers.

    That situation could change, if the Packers were to win the last two games of the regular season against Tennessee at home and Minnesota on the road, and having the 49ers drop one of their two last games of the season.

    That is a distinct possibility, as San Francisco will be playing the Seattle Seahawks this upcoming Sunday night in Seattle at Quest Field, where the Hawks are undefeated this season and play before a very raucous crowd.

    The Packers know all about how tough it is to play in Seattle this season, as the Packers were beaten there in late September. The loss happened due to the "Fail Mary" pass on the last play of the game, and then the replacement refs blew the call on the play as well, and the Packers lost 14-12.

    If the Packers were able to wrestle the No. 2 seed away from the 49ers, then Green Bay would still host at least one playoff game at Lambeau Field, plus would also get a bye the first week of the postseason.

    That's an important consideration, concerning the injury situation right now with the team.

    Bottom line, the Packers have a number of concerns heading into the postseason, and I am going to discuss five of them.

Injuries to Key Players

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    Just like the 2010 season, the 2012 Green Bay Packers have suffered a number of injuries to key players, who have been lost for the season.

    It all started in the very first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, when starting right inside linebacker Desmond Bishop tore his ACL in his knee and was lost for the season.

    The Packers have also lost other key starters for the year this season, including D.J. Smith, who was Bishop's replacement. Smith also suffered an ACL tear.

    The Packers also lost starting left outside linebacker, and this year's first round pick, Nick Perry, due to a wrist injury for the season.

    On offense, the Packers lost starting running back Cedric Benson for the season with a foot injury, and then lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season with a hip injury.

    Add to those injuries, the Packers have had to play several games without key players in the line up.

    This would include right outside linebacker Clay Matthews, right defensive end C.J. Wilson, strong safety Charles Woodson, left guard T. J. Lang, wide receiver Greg Jennings and wide receiver Jordy Nelson. 

    The Packers can not afford any more injuries to their key personnel, especially along the offensive line, where the Packers are now starting undrafted rookie Don Barclay at right tackle, in place of Bulaga.

    The offensive line needs to stay healthy, as they are the players who protect the most important attribute of the Packers...quarterback Aaron Rodgers

    Rodgers has already been sacked 45 times already this season. If Rodgers were to get injured, the Packers would have virtually no chance of of having success in the postseason.

Getting the Injured Back on the Field

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    As mentioned in the previous slide, the Packers have had to play without several key players in their line up.

    A good example is Clay Matthews. Matthews missed four games, and the Green Bay defense just wasn't the same. The Packers had very little pass rush, and the defense was missing their best player.

    Matthews returned this past Sunday against Da Bears, and had a great game back. Matthews had six tackles, two sacks and a pass batted down.

    The Packers also recorded two more sacks in the game, as Chicago was held to just 190 total yards.

    Greg Jennings missed most of the season due to an abdominal injury and is slowly, but surely, getting more involved in the passing offense of the Packers the last two games.

    The Packers are still missing the services of wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) and safety Charles Woodson (collarbone).

    Just imagine the Packers offense, with receiving weapons like Nelson, Jennings, Randall Cobb and James Jones all on the field at the same time. Aaron Rodgers would be drooling like Pavlov's dog.

    The Green Bay defense would also be helped by the arrival of Wilson, who is a steady run stuffer on early downs, plus has 2.5 sacks.

    Woodson would also certainly help the secondary of the Packers, who overall have done pretty well in the seven games that Woodson has missed.

    Woodson would be lend a steady, veteran presence in the defensive backfield, not to mention his above average ball-hawking skills.

Kicker Mason Crosby

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    Mason Crosby is most definitely in a funk. In Sunday's game against the Bears, Crosby missed badly on a 43-yard field-goal attempt and then hit the left upright on another 42-yard miss.

    After starting the season 5-of-5 in field goals, Crosby has made only 12 of 24 field goals.

    Crosby has only made 59 percent of his field goal attempts. No other regular kicker in the NFL is below 71 percent.

    "Mason needs to make those kicks," McCarthy said on Sunday after the game via Packers.com. "We left points on the field today. Also, you factor in some of the decisions you make after that..."

    Still, McCarthy was also emphatic about the future of his kicker.

    "We are not changing our kicker, so you can write that down right now," he said. "He is our guy."

    Perhaps. Do the Packers really want to go into the postseason with a kicker who is struggling as much as Crosby is right now? The NFC and AFC championship games last postseason were both decided by a field goal. 

    I'm sure the Packers will do whatever they can to get Crosby back to being the same kicker who made 24-of-28 field goals last season.

    But time is running out. If Crosby stays in his slump, will the Packers consider bringing in someone like Ryan Longwell again?

    Longwell is still the all-time leading scorer in Packers' history, plus knows the conditions of Lambeau Field very well.

    Longwell was good on 361 field goals in 434 attempts in his career. That means he made 83.2 percent of his kicks.

    Even last season with the Minnesota Vikings, Longwell was 22-of-28 in field goal attempts. Longwell certainly doesn't have the leg strength of Crosby, but was virtually automatic from 45 yards in or less in field goal attempts.

    Bottom line, the Packers have to at least be thinking about a change like that. Perhaps even having two kickers on the team, as Crosby still very good on kickoffs, thanks to his strong leg.

    Something has to give soon.

Getting the Team More in Sync

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    Yes, the Packers have clinched the NFC North and a spot in the NFC playoffs, but there is still a lot to improve on with the team. In all three phases of the game.

    Even behind the MVP-type numbers that Aaron Rodgers is producing again this year, the Packers are still only ranked 17th in total offense in the NFL.

    That's hard to fathom, based on the numbers Rodgers has put up. Last year's NFL MVP has thrown 32 touchdown passes, compared to just eight picks, for 3,588 yards.

    That all adds up to a NFL-best 104.7 quarterback rating.

    Certainly, Rodgers and the passing game looked very good against the Bears in Chicago. That will only improve as Rodgers can have his full arsenal in receiving weapons on the field, when Jordy Nelson comes back.

    The running game is definitely improving behind the three-headed monster at running back, with Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant. The Packers have been effective on the ground the past three games, and are now averaging 108 yards rushing per game and have a 4.0 rushing average as a group.

    Still, the Packers are only ranked 13th in passing offense and 18th in rushing offense. That has to keep improving.

    No Mike McCarthy-coached Green Bay team has ever been out of the top 10 in total offense in six years.

    The Green Bay defense is playing much better than they did last season, when the defense was ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense and in passing defense.

    Right now, the Packers are ranked 14th in total defense, which includes being ranked 14th in rushing defense and 16th in passing defense.

    The Packers have had trouble against the run the past few weeks, but that should improve once C.J. Wilson returns.

    The secondary will also improve once Charles Woodson returns as well.

    The key to everything is the pass pressure the Packers can bring. The Packers are second in the NFL with 45 sacks, and that will only get better with Clay Matthews back in the fold.

    Special teams also have their issues. The biggest one is the slump of kicker Mason Crosby. The return units could also get better, as the Packers are only ranked 14th in kickoff return average (24.6), and only 19th in punt return average (8.7).

    All in all, all three phases of the game have to improve if the Packers want to make a serious run at winning another Super Bowl.

    Mike McCarthy alluded to that in an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  today.

    The Packers have two more weeks to get back in sync in all phases of the game.

Making Lambeau Field a Tough Place to Play Again in the Postseason

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    The Packers used to be unbeatable in the playoffs in Wisconsin. Literally. Up until January of 2003, when the Pack faced Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons, the Packers were a perfect 13-0 in the state of Wisconsin in the postseason.

    That streak included two games in Milwaukee, one at State Fair Park in 1939, when the Packers won the 1939 NFL championship there versus the New York Giants (27-0), and also once at Milwaukee County Stadium, when Vince Lombardi and his team defeated the Los Angeles Rams (28-7), just eight days before the legendary Ice Bowl in Green Bay.

    The rest of the games were at Lambeau Field, where the Packers were 11-0, which included three NFL Championship Game victories (1961, 1965 and 1967).

    That all changed when Vick and the Dirty Birds beat the Packers 27-7  on a snowy night on January 3, 2003.

    The Packers have played six postseason games at Lambeau Field beginning with that infamous night, and the Packers have lost four of those six games.

    The Packers also lost to the Minnesota Vikings, and twice to the Giants. The first loss to the Giants was in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, when Brett Favre threw a costly pick on the first drive in overtime, as the Packers lost 23-20.

    Last postseason, the G-Men shocked the Lambeau faithful again, defeating the Packers 37-20.

    The Packers are assured of at least one game at Lambeau Field again this postseason, and the Packers need to establish the frozen tundra as a difficult venue to play at once again for opponents.

    Since the 2010 season, the Packers have been 21-2 in the regular season at Lambeau Field, so one would assume that dominance would carry over to the postseason.

    It hasn't. And it needs to change, if the Packers expect to advance throughout the playoffs to the ultimate goal of the team.

    That would be winning their 5th Super Bowl and 14th NFL title.

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