Identifying the Packers' 5 Biggest Flaws Ahead of 2014 Season
As the Green Bay Packers prepare for the 2014 NFL season with the recent OTAs, the current minicamp and then training camp in late July, the team certainly is aware of the issues that dogged the Packers in 2013.
The Packers were able to finish 8-7-1 and still win the NFC North, but a number of problems caused inconsistency in the level of play throughout the season, especially during the second half of the year.
The coaching staff will be doing everything in its power to correct those issues before the new season begins.
In this slideshow, I'm going to list five of those problems which hampered the team last season.
The biggest problem the Packers had in 2013 was injuries. Fifteen players ended up on injured reserve, plus a number of key players missed large stretches of the season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed seven games due to a fractured clavicle. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews missed five games due to a broken thumb. Wide receiver Randall Cobb missed 10 games because of a leg injury. Outside linebacker Nick Perry missed five games due a foot injury.
In training camp, the team was hit with a number of hamstring issues. Safety Morgan Burnett missed the first three games of the season due to that affliction. It was even worse for cornerback Casey Hayward, as he only played in three games during the season before he was ultimately placed on injured reserve.
The Packers should have known it was going to be that kind of year when offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Family Night scrimmage at the beginning of training camp.
A number of players on the Packers are currently utilizing yoga to keep more flexible. Yoga helps in a number of different areas, but it especially helps players trying to avoid hamstring injury issues. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a nice piece about that situation recently.
A couple weeks back, head coach Mike McCarthy made a short, succinct comment about how important it is to stay injury-free in 2014 via Packers.com:
"A healthy football team is a good football team."
The 2014 Packers would like to be able to prove that statement is correct.
Stopping the Run
Through the first eight games of the season in 2013, the defense of the Packers was pretty effective in stopping the run. Going into their Week 9 matchup against the Bears, the team was ranked fourth in the NFL in stopping the run.
The team had only allowed an average of 83.6 yards a game up until that contest.
But things started to fall apart in the game against da Bears at Lambeau Field. For one thing, quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a fractured clavicle, which forced him to miss seven games.
Over the next few games, the inconsistent play at quarterback for the Packers caused the defense to be on the field far too often.
In addition to that, the run defense of the Packers against the Bears showed its ugly warts. There were three primary reasons: shoddy tackling, taking bad angles and simply being beat by blockers.
Running back Matt Forte ran for 125 yards that game, with much of that yardage coming in the second half.
The following week, running back LeSean McCoy of the Eagles rushed for 155 yards against the Packers.
Green Bay just could not stop the run late in both of those games. In the Chicago game, the Bears went on a drive that lasted 8:58 late in the fourth quarter, with most of the damage coming via the run.
In the game against the Eagles, Philadelphia kept the ball for the last 9:32 of the game, as McCoy gashed the Packers for big yardage time and time again.
When it was all said and done, the Packers finished 25th in run defense in the NFL, as the team allowed an average of 125 yards per game via the ground.
That has to change in 2014. One of the things which will help is putting B.J. Raji back at nose tackle. But the defensive ends have to be stout against the run as well, plus the linebackers and defensive backs have to take the correct tackling angles and use better technique in chasing down the opposing ball carrier.
Allowing Opposing Quarterbacks to Look Good
Besides having issues stopping the run, the Packers also had issues with their pass defense. The Packers finished 24th in the NFL in that category as a matter of fact.
There were a couple of troubling trends. For one thing, not one of the safeties on the Packers had an interception last season. In addition to that, the Packers as a team only had 11 interceptions, which was the lowest amount in the five-year tenure of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Before last season, the Packers had averaged 25 picks per year under Capers from 2009-12.
In addition to that, the Packers allowed opposing quarterbacks to have an average quarterback rating of 95.9 and to throw 30 touchdown passes. That is abysmal.
The Packers also allowed 61 catches of 20 yards or more and eight of 40 yards or more.
Now the Packers did have 44 sacks, which was tied for eighth in the NFL. That number needs to go up in 2014.
The success of Capers' 3-4 defense is predicated on having an effective pass rush, not only to cause sacks but to pressure opposing quarterbacks into making bad throws.
The key in 2014 is to keep all hands healthy in the defensive backfield, especially cornerback Casey Hayward. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should be a difference-maker as well.
Plus, the Packers should be able to mount some serious pressure with players like Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Nick Perry going after the quarterback.
Keeping No. 12 Upright
The Packers had to alter their offensive line alignments when tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp. The Packers ended up starting rookie David Bakhtiari at left tackle throughout the season and overall he held up well.
The offensive line from left to right was Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Don Barclay.
With that being said, the Packers did allow 45 sacks, which was ninth-most in the league.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked 21 times, and one of those takedowns resulted in a fractured clavicle and seven missed games.
In his career in Green Bay, Rodgers has been sacked a whopping 232 times. Part of the reason for that is that Rodgers holds the ball too long looking for a big play. Other times Rodgers will take a sack instead of forcing a throw.
But more times than not, it's because one of the offensive linemen has been beaten by a pass-rusher.
In 2014, the Packers should have Bulaga back and he is slated to play right tackle. The only other change is at the center position, where Dietrich-Smith left via free agency and second-year center JC Tretter will get first crack at winning that job.
On paper, the line looks like it will be pretty solid overall in 2014, especially if the center position holds up well. The depth looks to be much better than it was last season if everybody remains healthy.
But nobody's health is more important than that of No. 12, which is why the line has to do a better job of protecting him this season.
Not Being Special on the Kickoff and Punt Coverage
That's is a drop of eight spots from the team's 2012 special team rankings.
The biggest reason for the plunge was the coverage issues that the team had with kickoffs and punts.
If you take a closer look at Gosselin's 2013 ratings, you will see a couple of issues regarding that situation.
The biggest issue was where their opponents started after a kickoff. The Packers were dead last in the NFL in that department, as teams started at their 25.6-yard line.
The Packers also gave up a return for a touchdown on a kickoff.
The punt coverage was also not very good for the Packers, as the team allowed a punt return of more than 30 yards five times last season.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a nice article in late December about the coverage issues the team had last season.
The Packers should be better in all phases of special teams in 2014. For one thing, head coach Mike McCarthy decided to hire Ron Zook to help coach the special teams in early February.
Perhaps the hiring of Zook was a not-so-subtle reminder to let special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum know he is on notice and that the team is looking for some real improvement from his units.