Green Bay Packers Offensive Analysis
The Green Bay Packers finished last season in disappointing fashion, but it wasn't because the offense didn't produce. Aaron Rodgers played at an MVP level, and the receiving corps was arguably the best in football.
All signs point to another strong offensive performance for the Pack in 2013, but not so fast. A number of key players from last season are gone and new faces abound.
Can the Packers continue to be a power on offense or will they fall into mediocrity?
A position-by-position analysis of the roster may paint a clearer picture.
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Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.
With him under center, the Packers can contend for a Super Bowl every year. It's probably safe to pencil him in for another 4,000-yard, 35-plus-touchdown season. But if Rodgers is lost for an extended period of time due to injury, the Packers have three options at quarterback.
Fourth-year pro Graham Harrell, second-year man B.J. Coleman and former first-round draft pick Vince Young battle for what will likely be two vacant spots on the roster.
So far, Harrell has maintained hold of the backup position. But only by default. Coleman's poor performance in the Family Night scrimmage aided in his demotion to fourth string for the preseason opener against Arizona. Young doesn't yet possess enough understanding of Mike McCarthy's complicated offense to be a reliable backup option.
Harrell will be given every opportunity to be the backup to start the season. If Young can progress within the offense, expect him to claim the third spot, leaving Coleman out of a job. Or the Packers could just as easily cut both Young and Coleman and roll the dice that Rodgers won't get hurt.
It's no secret the Packers haven't had a 100-yard rusher in a long time. After years of ignoring the issue, the Packers finally drafted reinforcements in Alabama's Eddie Lacy and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.
While Franklin possesses potential, Lacy looks like a star in the making. In Green Bay's second preseason game, Lacy displayed uncanny tackle breaking ability while averaging five yards a carry. Beyond breaking tackles, Lacy runs with great patience and vision. Assuming his body holds up, the rookie from Alabama will be Green Bay's first featured back since Ryan Grant in 2009.
Behind him, DuJuan Harris hopes to continue to build upon his strong finish to the 2012 season. Coach Mike McCarthy recently stated that he views Harris as the starter, and the former car salesman has indeed maintained his starting position through camp. However, it's only a matter of time before he is delegated to third-down duties behind Lacy.
Veterans James Starks and Alex Green will battle Franklin for one, possibly two, roster spots. Chances are good Franklin makes the team due to his high draft position. From there, Green is more likely to make the team than Starks because of his value as a pass-catcher.
This is the deepest running back group the Packers have had in well over a decade. It will be interesting to see if that leads to a tangible improvement in the run game, but chances are good that it will.
The Packers suffered a massive loss with the season-ending knee injury to left tackle Bryan Bulaga. Depending on whom you ask, Bulaga is either the best or second-best lineman on the Packers' roster. In his absence, the Packers will rely upon a rookie, David Bakhtiari, at the second-most important position in football.
Though slightly undersized, Bakhtiari possesses quick feet and a wide stance. His solid play through training camp has eased Packer Nation's fears, but no doubt he is a downgrade from Bulaga.
The lone bright spot on the Packers line is left guard Josh Sitton. Sitton has played at a Pro Bowl level the past few seasons and should continue that into this year.
At center, former backup Evan Dietrich-Smith looks to solidify a position that has been in flux since Scott Wells departed to St. Louis after the 2011 season.
The right side of the offensive line is below average. Guard T.J. Lang and tackle Marshall Newhouse moved from the left side to the right this offseason after it was determined they weren't consistent enough to protect Rodgers' blind side. Unfortunately, the Packers don't have many better options at either position.
However, that may change with the emergence of Don Barclay, whose strong performance in camp has him locked in a battle for the starting right tackle position.
Barclay is a better run blocker than Newhouse and has shown he can handle himself in pass protection as well. If Newhouse doesn't start impressing, look for Barclay to get a chance to start Week 1.
This group is by far the weakest link offensively for the Packers and could really hinder the team's chance to reach its potential.
It appeared Jermichael Finley was on the fast track to stardom as recently as 2009. Since then, he's been a relative disappointment. Dropped balls have plagued Finley, and coupled with his too often poor attitude, he's been an easy target for fan criticism.
However, Packer Nation caught a glimpse of the tight end's otherworldly potential last Saturday against the St. Louis Rams. In that contest, Finley racked up 78 yards on four catches, including one for 33 yards. Watch for Finley to have a big year in 2013.
Fighting for the backup position is Andrew Quarless and D.J. Williams. Williams is the best bet to win, but Quarless has value. Much like Finley, Quarless can spread the field from both the tight end and receiver positions.
Barring injury, all three men will make the final roster.
No position group has endured more change this offseason than the receivers. Stalwarts Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are long gone, and for any other team in the NFL that would mean big trouble.
Nelson excels at go routes and intermediate crossing routes. Jones is a cut above at slants and hitch routes. Cobb can pretty much do it all. He possesses great speed and versatility and creates a difficult matchup for any slot corner.
All three receivers add a unique dimension to the offense, allowing the Packers to spread the field and keep the defense guessing.
After the Packers' Big Three, Jarrett Boykin showed last season that he deserves a shot at the fourth receiver position. He'll get action in every game he's available this season.
It's very possible the Packers keep only four receivers, but if the Packers decide to keep a fifth receiver, it will likely be Jeremy Ross. However, he needs to display above-average ability as a kick and punt returner in order to make the cut.
After analyzing the Packers' offensive depth chart, here are my takeaways and predictions:
- The Packers will be a top-10 offense in 2013 if for no other reason than they have the best quarterback on the planet.
- The running game will improve with the addition of Eddie Lacy. Don't be surprised if he wins Offensive Rookie of the Year.
- The offensive line will struggle, especially over the first half of the season.
- Don Barclay will start at right tackle
- Randall Cobb will have slightly more catches but will tally fewer total yards than he did last season.
It's too early to tell what the 2013 Packers can achieve, but on paper, their offense can hang with anyone. Now it's up to the defense to hold up its end of the bargain.