Rehashing the 2012 Season for the Packers, and Looking Ahead

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 15, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws the ball in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The 2012 postseason for the Green Bay Packers ended just like the 2011 postseason did. With a very profound and troubling loss. More on that later.

Like the 2011 Packers, this year's squad also won the NFC North title. But except for the brilliance of the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there wasn't a lot of things that were similar at all to the 15-1 Green Bay team of 2011.

For the first time in the Mike McCarthy-era, the offense of the Packers was not ranked in the top ten of the league. The Packers finished 13th in the NFL in total offense in 2012, after finishing at No. 3 in 2011.

The defense definitely improved (at least in the regular season), as the Packers improved to 11th in total defense, after finishing dead-last (32nd) the year before.

Special teams was better than average overall, except for the kicking funk that Mason Crosby went into for several weeks.

Bottom line, the Packers finished 11-5, and should have been 12-4, if not for embarrassing officiating display put on by the replacement refs in the game versus Seattle, ending with the infamous "Fail Mary" call.

Rodgers backed up his NFL MVP season with another great campaign as his threw 39 touchdown passes, compared to just eight picks, for 4,295 yards. That all adds up to a quarterback rating of 108.0, which was tops in the NFL for the second straight year.

Those numbers are truly outstanding when one looks at the injury situation that was surrounding Rodgers on offense.

Rodgers had to play without his No. 1 (Greg Jennings) and No. 2 (Jordy Nelson) options at wide receiver for a number of games. Between the two of them, Jennings (abdomen) and Nelson (ankle/knee/hamstring) missed 12 games, plus were ineffective in a couple of other games due to injury.

Nelson finished with 49 receptions for 745 yards and seven touchdowns, while Jennings had just 36 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns.

But Rodgers saw the play of a couple of other receivers go up a notch to help bridge the losses of Jennings and Nelson at times.

Second-year wide receiver Randall Cobb definitely had a breakout season, as he had 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. But nobody in the NFL found the end zone more than James Jones did for the Packers.

Jones had 64 catches for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jones also cut down on his drops, as he only had three all season.

Tight end Jermichael Finley finally became consistent down the stretch of the season, and he ended up with 61 catches for 667 yards and two trips to the end zone. There was an article by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel several weeks back that seemed to indicate that Finley wouldn't be back in 2012.

But ever since that story was published, Finley became the type of player the Packers have expected to see on the field, as he played with a lot more focus and productivity. My guess is that Finley will be back in 2012, thanks to his late season surge.

Backup tight end Tom Crabtree only had 12 catches, but did score three touchdowns (one on a fake field goal attempt).

The passing offense of the Packers was truly proficient in 2011, when the passing offense finished third in the league. But in 2012, with the injuries to the two top receivers for the team among other issues, the Packers finished just ninth in the NFL in passing offense.

Rodgers also saw a number of running backs lining up behind him in the backfield. First it was Cedric Benson, who was signed as a free agent in training camp. But Benson suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 5, and the Packers then utilized both Alex Green and James Starks, and although both showed flashes, the consistency wasn't there. 

Finally due to injuries, the Packers brought up DuJuan Harris from the practice squad and signed former Packer Ryan Grant off the street. Those two were the Packers main backs late in the season and also in the playoffs.

Harris especially showed some real ability, and he definitely opened some eyes with his play, both in the regular season and in the postseason.

Even with all the various players lining up at running back, the Packers improved their rushing offense to 20th in the NFL, after finishing 27th in 2011.

Rodgers also had to deal with some issues in the offensive line of the Packers. First, Rodgers was sacked 51 times in 2012. Add to that, right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season in the ninth game of the season.

That injury initially caused some issues on the offensive line, as left guard T.J. Lang moved over to right tackle, and backup Evan Dietrich-Smith slid into the left guard position. Lang had established himself as a decent left guard, and the move to right tackle saw his performance slip.

Dietrich-Smith also had some issues at times, but overall did an okay job at left guard. Finally, an ankle injury to Lang put the Packers in a tough spot. The number one draft pick from 2011, Derek Sherrod, was not available due to a leg injury from late in the 2011 season, when he broke his leg in two places.

Instead, the Packers turned to undrafted rookie Don Barclay to handle the right tackle job in the 12th game of the season versus the Minnesota Vikings. After some initial issues, Barclay did a solid job holding down the fort on the right side of the line through the rest of the season and also in the playoffs.

When Lang was able to come back from his ankle injury, he slid back to left guard, while Barclay remained at right tackle. Then, in the 15th game of the season for the Packers, the coaching staff decided to put Dietrich-Smith at center, which put veteran Jeff Saturday on the bench. 

Saturday had been signed as a free agent by the Packers after the team lost Scott Wells to free agency. Ironically, just a short time after his benching, Saturday was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Bottom line, with Dietrich-Smith and Barclay on the offensive line, the Packers had two better than average run-blockers on their line. Right guard Josh Sitton is also a good run-blocker, and a lot of the successful runs were to the right side of the line.

Overall, the line held up okay, especially when one looks at the lack of quality depth, due to the injury situation. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse had a much better season than he did in 2011, but the group as a whole has to improve in pass-blocking, as evidenced by the 51 sacks allowed in 2012.

But without Barclay's solid play, the Green Bay offense would have been in deep trouble.

You could say the same thing about a number of other rookies from the class of 2012, most of whom played on the defensive side of the ball.

The Packers did jump up 21 spots defensively in 2012 thanks to some of those rookies. The two biggest reasons the Packers finished 11th in total defense was because of the pass rush and the improved play by the Green Bay secondary.

The Packers finished fourth in the NFL in sacks in 2012 with 47, after finishing 27th in 2011 with just 29. The Packers were led once again by right outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 13 sacks. Matthews accomplished that, even after missing four games due to a hamstring injury.

Four rookies helped the pass rush situation as well. Defensive end Jerel Worthy had 2.5 sacks before suffering a season-ending knee injury late in 2012. Another defensive end, Mike Daniels, also had two sacks, plus scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

The number one draft pick of the Packers in 2012, outside linebacker Nick Perry, had two sacks, but he only played in six games due to a season-ending wrist injury. But another undrafted rookie, Dezman Moses, chipped in with four sacks, as he along with Erik Walden (three sacks), took over at Perry's left outside linebacker position.

The linebacker position was dealt a devastating blow in the first preseason game, when right inside linebacker Desmond Bishop suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Bishop's replacement, D.J. Smith, also suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6 against Houston.

Smith was replaced by Brad Jones, who did a decent job. Jones had 77 tackles, two sacks and was the best linebacker in pass coverage for the team.

Left inside linebacker A. J. Hawk had a much better year in 2012, compared to the 2011 season. Hawk had 120 tackles and three sacks.

The Packers also got some pass rush help from Mike Neal, who chipped in 4.5 sacks, and looked a lot more like the player who flashed some serious potential in his rookie season of 2010.

Defensive end Ryan Pickett did not have a sack, but Pickett had a very solid season defending the run. Nose tackle B.J. Raji got off to a slow start in 2012, but played very well down the stretch for the defense. Raji also didn't have any sacks, but he along with Pickett, helped the Packers to finish 17th in run defense in 2012, as opposed to finishing 14th in 2011.

In 2011, not only were the Packers dead-last in total defense, the team also finished 32nd in pass defense. That really improved in 2012, as the pass defense of the Packers finished 11th in the NFL, plus had 18 picks, led by the six interceptions by rookie Casey Hayward.

The 2012 season was going to be a big test for the Green Bay secondary, as the team knew that they would not have Nick Collins back at safety due to his release from the team because of the neck injury he suffered in 2011.

The Packers decided that they were going to put veteran defensive back Charles Woodson at strong safety in the base defense, but then have Woodson move over to the slot corner position in the nickel and dime schemes.

Woodson's safety spot would be taken by either M.D. Jennings or rookie Jerron McMillian. The other safety spot would be manned by Morgan Burnett.

The two corners would be Tramon Williams on one side, with four players battling for the other corner position. The four players were Sam Shields, Davon House, Jarrett Bush and the rookie Hayward.

House initially won the job, but hurt his shoulder in the first preseason game of the year. That opened the door for either Hayward (who had a very strong training camp) or Shields. Shields eventually won the job and ended up playing as good (three interceptions), or even better, than 2010, when he tuned heads his rookie year at cornerback.

Shields also missed six games due to a knee/ankle injury. House came in and did a solid job in Shield's absence.

Woodson was only able to play in seven games, because he broke the same collarbone he broke in Super Bowl XLV. But Woodson was very ably replaced by Hayward in the slot, as Hayward had a phenomenal rookie year, with the six interceptions and a team-high 27 passes defended.

Burnett was very solid at free safety, as he led the team with 123 tackles, plus has two picks, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Tramon Williams had a much better season than he did in 2011, when he played hurt most of the year. Williams had 61 tackles, two interceptions and 18 passes defended. However, Williams did not have a strong finish with his play in the regular season, plus he had some lapses in the playoffs.

Punter Tim Masthay had a very nice season for the Packers, as he had a 43.5 punting average (38.9 net). Masthay also had 30 punts go inside the opponents 20 yard line. The Green Bay punter also threw a touchdown pass to Tom Crabtree on a fake field goal attempt.

Kicker Mason Crosby started out the season strong by making 5-of-5 in field goal attempts, but then things went south. Over his next 28 attempts. Crosby only made 16 of those kicks. Crosby went nine straight games with missing at least one field goal in a game.

Crosby straightened his issues out however, as he made his last six field goal attempts in the regular season and postseason.

Overall, special teams was pretty good, especially in kickoff and punt coverage, but the return teams were not as good as they were in 2011.

In the postseason, things started out well enough as the Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field in a NFC Wild Card Playoff game. That was an important victory for the franchise, as the team had lost four of the last six postseason games played at Lambeau Field before that win.

Then came last Saturday night in San Francisco. The Packers gave up 45 points, 579 total yards and 444 yards of total offense by quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

That game brought back memories of the 37-20 loss to the New York Giants last postseason in a NFC Divisional Playoff game, when the G-Men had 420 total yards and physically dominated the Packers at Lambeau Field. Or the 2009 postseason game, when Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals scored 51 points and had 531 total yards in a NFC Wild Card Playoff game the Packers lost in overtime in Arizona.

All of those defensive efforts were coordinated by Dom Capers. If the resume of Capers was based solely on those three games, there is absolutely no doubt that he would be replaced as defensive coordinator of the Packers. It still might happen, even with the very solid job Capers and his staff did in the 2010 postseason, when the Packers won it all.

In four years as the defensive coordinator of the Packers, the defense has finished 2nd, 5th, 32nd and 11th in total defense in the NFL under Capers.

Mike McCarthy will be giving his season-ending press conference later today, so we may get some more insight about this situation.

If Capers is replaced, I would assume that the 3-4 defensive scheme will still stay in place and that either defensive line coach Mike Trgovac or secondary-safeties coach Darren Perry would be named as the new coordinator.

Ted Thompson has been drafting and signing players that are more suited for the 3-4 scheme, so I still see the same defense carrying over to next season, no matter what happens with Capers.

Plus, there are questions about some of the current players on the roster, and whether or not they will be back in 2012.

Let's look at the free agents first. First, the unrestricted free agents.

Among this group you have wide receiver Greg Jennings, wide receiver Donald Driver, running back Cedric Benson, long snapper Brett Goode, linebacker Erik Walden and linebacker Brad Jones. I would not be surprised if only Goode and Jones were the only two re-signed in this group.

Plus, you have the restricted free agents. This group includes center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Robert Francois, linebacker Frank Zombo and cornerback Sam Shields. I would expect the Packers to try and lock up both Dietrich-Smith and Shields to long-term deals in the near future.

Speaking of long-term deals, re-signing both Rodgers and Matthews is a priority in the near future. The same holds true with Raji.

The Packers have a couple of players with fairly large contracts that would effect the 2013 salary cap. This would include both Woodson ($10 million) and Hawk ($5.45 million). If either player wants to return to Green Bay in 2013, it would almost have to be with a restructured contract. That's easier said than done.

Time will tell what will happen with the Green Bay organization in the coming days, weeks and months ahead, but one thing is for certain, it sure will be interesting. 


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