It’s officially game week for the 2009 Green Bay Packers as a season full of hope, potential, and excitement begins next Sunday night, when the Packers take on the rival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
Starting today and leading up to gameday on Sunday, I will be bringing you up to date and filling you in on everything you need to know about your Green Bay Packers. The five part series will cover everything Packers, and by gameday you will be caught up and ready for the 2009 season. Here’s what to look for over the course of the next five days:
Tuesday, Part One: Just How Good Can the Offense Be?
Wednesday, Part Two: How Will This Year’s Defense Be Different From Last Season?
Thursday, Part Three: What Does Their Schedule Look Like and How Will They Fare?
Friday, Part Four: How Does Aaron Rodgers Match Up Against the Rest of the NFC North?
Saturday, Part Five: Which New Players Are Looking To Rebound, and What Will the Newcomers Contribute?
Sunday, Part Six: Packers-Bears Pregame: Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers, Round One
The Packers finished last season with just six wins, but you wouldn’t know it based on how the offense played. Under loads of scrutiny, first-year starter Aaron Rodgers controlled the offense with poise and control and finished in the top ten in most statistical categories.
After Brett Favre left the organization with a bang, both Favre supporters and those skeptical that Rodgers could get the job done, were upset at management. It was they who pushed out a legend, leaving the team with a big fat question mark at the most important position on the field.
He answered those calls with over 4000 yards passing and 28 touchdowns and was awarded a huge contract extension. This season, much of the pressure that faced Rodgers last year is gone, but he must produce to get the newest monkey off his back. Still, many believe he is ready to break out and should avoid a sophomore slump in his second season starting. After all, this will be his fifth season with the Packers.
Protecting Rodgers this season is a revamped offensive line that is looking to build on a questionable 2008 season. Last year, the Packers allowed 34 sacks which ranked 14th most in all of the league. Inconsistency at RT and a weak middle of the line led to the Packers middle-of-the-pack rushing attack.
Fast forward to this season and the Packers look to have much more stability on the OL. Two new faces in Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre will man the right side of the line. Both do well as run-blockers but also sport decent pass blocking skills.
Jason Spitz has officially made the transition from RG to C, unseating the less than stellar Scott Wells. The all-important left side of the line looks solid with Daryn Colledge and Chad Clifton manning the line. The unit needs to improve from last season if the Packers are going to establish a run game late in the season.
The Packers were a pass-first team last year and will be that way again in 2009, but it’s worth noting that eight of the 16 teams ahead of the Packers in rushing last season made the playoffs.
Timing is everything in the West Coast Offense and the Zone Blocking Scheme, two schemes run by the Packers, so giving Rodgers time in the backfield will go a long way towards the success of the offense.
Another factor that will lead to the success of the team comes from the players that will be running behind the new look OL. Ryan Grant broke onto the scene in 2007 when he rushed for 956 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He took a step back in 2008 and the 26-year-old will now look to bounce back this season given a full offseason with the team and a healthy hamstring.
Brandon Jackson and Deshawn Wynn do not offer much behind Grant, but both have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and can spell Grant on third down.
One of the most interesting decisions involved in the Packers’ roster cuts was keeping three fullbacks in Korey Hall, John Kuhn, and Quinn Johnson. It isn’t known who will start for the Packers this Sunday, but odds are all three will see a decent amount of reps on offense.
Johnson plays the role of bruiser. Kuhn has the ability to run the ball. Hall has shown ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. It says a lot that the Packers decided to keep three fullbacks on the team, showing how much faith they have in all three. While none of them are overpowering, they are all worthy of starting spots and will contribute this season in their own ways.
The real headline for the Packers’ offense this season lies in their receiving corps, dubbed by many as one of the top three in the entire league.
Led by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, the Packers are sure to be at the top of the list in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Jordy Nelson and James Jones are both waiting in the wings of the ageless Driver but are both progressing nicely.
TE Jermichael Finley made headlines last season for criticizing his QB, but this year is making different headlines for his connection with Rodgers. He has unseated Donald Lee as the go-to guy at TE and is a legitimate receiving threat on every play.
He is able to split out wide if the Packers go with five WOs and is an above average blocker. Lee allows the Packers to go with two TE sets and is still a very good blocker, especially in the backfield.
So just how good can this offense be? They have an improved OL, one of the brightest young stars at QB, and as deep a receiving corps as anyone in the game. Head coach Mike McCarthy is an outstanding playcaller and understands his players, putting them in great positions to succeed.
Much of the success that the offense has will fall on the shoulders of the OL. Rodgers can have as accurate an arm as he wants. If he has no time to throw it, however, it will be a moot point. Many wonder if Clifton still has enough left in his 33-year-old knees, and the right side of the line is not dominant by any stretch.
Still, big things are expected of the Packers’ future on offense. A top ten offense last season that accumulated over 5600 total yards has only become better and should remain at the top of the league in yards. Grant is healthy and Finley, Sitton, and Barbre are all upgrades from last year at their respective positions.
Look for Rodgers to pass the 4,000-yard mark once again and pass for over 30 touchdowns. His offense is that good and, depending on how quickly the defense does or does not mesh, early season shootouts may be in store for the Packers.