The Green Bay Packers In 2009: It's Hard To Not Be Excited
Winning in the preseason means absolutely nothing. But it does give Packers fans reason to be excited. With NFC North additions of Jay Cutler and Brett Favre and an improved Detroit Lions team, the North looks to be one of the more competitive divisions in all of football this year.
What Have We Seen So Far?
Well for starters, an efficient and extremely focused Aaron Rodgers. In two games he is 13/19 for 200 yards, three TDs, and zero INT's. Out of six potential drives, five ended in touchdowns, with one ending in turnover on downs in a make-able field goal position (in a regular season game, chances are high that would have been a field goal try). He is establishing himself as the QB to beat in the NFC North.
A healthy Ryan Grant: This time last year, Ryan Grant was enjoying his new salary he held out for by sitting on his butt with a bum leg. This year, he is healthy, running strong, and has a stable of running backs behind him to create a depth the Packers have not enjoyed since the Ahman Green/Davenport days.
A healthy Jermichael Finely: The second year pro was nagged by injuries that kept him out of his rookie season until the Packers fate was well decided, but when he finally got in he showed flashes to justify his roster spot. This year he might just be the TE sleeper every fantasy owner is looking for. He has great hands, and great vision to find himself open down field, and has shown he makes for a terrible mismatch in the center of the field to opposing defenses. Combined with Packers deep wide out core, the potential for Rodgers to duplicate his 4000 yard season from a year ago is very good.
Improved special teams coverage: New Special Teams' coach Shawn Slocam has his unit gang tackling much better than last season. A focus in training camp on ball awareness has proven effective.
Dom Capers 3-4 scheme: Most of the analysts said the change to the 3-4 would take two years. The Packers didn't have the right personnel. The scheme was too complicated to learn in one offseason. Linebackers used to playing in the 4-3 would be lost. The pressure packages would be ineffective. Aaron Kampman was unhappy with his new position.
So far, all of that appears false. Again, it's the preseason, so it's hard to judge. They are seeing vanilla offenses for the most part, but they are creating pressure, getting to the QB, knocking him off balance, confusing him, and getting turnovers.
Bottom line is, the defense has bought everything Dom Capers has been selling, and it's showing out on the field.
What We Haven't Seen
The status of Nick Barnett in the new defense: If he doesn't take to it as fast as Desmond Bishop or Brady Poppinga, I hope the coaches have no problem sitting Barnett until he is ready.
BJ Raji looked impressive in his debut, but let's also remember he is fresh and was going up against lineman who have been in camp for a month already. Let's see how he looks in two weeks.
An improvement from the punters: One of these two needs to step up and start being consistent. Many opposing offenses had short fields to deal with last year as a result of inconsistent punting.
A clear-cut backup QB: Much depth is needed at the all important position.
Solidification on the offensive line: Much like the punters, we need some players on the offensive line to step it up. We need a solid group to protect Rodgers and open holes for the running game. What we have seen so far is an improvement from last year, but they still have a long way to go.
Overall, Packers fans have a lot to be excited about. I think the analysts should stop overlooking the Pack. Most admit they will be a good team, but it is time to start including them in the talk about the division title.
It will be dogfight in the North with three very good teams. But the Packers have an opportunity to easily distance themselves from the pack early on, with wins against their division opponents in weeks one, four, six, and eight.
The regular season is upon us, and that means the accomplishments of the preseason will be easily forgotten. But if the confidence and swagger the Packers have now continues, it's easy to see them in the running come December.
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