Let's put it like this, expectations are riding high for the 2010 Green Bay Packers football team, even in early May. Some prophesize a Super Bowl victory, some an NFC North title, yet others simply say 10 or 11 wins. Expectations have not been this high since the Mike Holmgren era in Green Bay when (don't say it!) Brett Favre was under the center.
Aaron Rodgers is coming off of his best season, though it be only his second. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes, starting all 16 games plus one playoff game, threw for an incredible 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns, and only had seven interceptions, which translates to a 1.3 INT rate. Add to this the most rushing yards among NFL QB's in 2009. His control was precise, his balls had a distinct zip on them, and he commanded the team.
Ryan Grant rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second straight regular season, third if you include postseason. The undrafted running back out of Notre Dame has only received playing time for three years, all in Green Bay. The powerful, downhill freight train only fumbled once, a key stat for running backs.
Receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings had good seasons, as well, catching 70 and 68 passes, respectively. Skilled and young tight end Jermichael Finley caught 55 passes.
Cornerback Charles Woodson was named Defensive Player of the Year. This accolade came as a result of his nine interceptions, three of which he returned for TD's, and four forced fumbles.
With all of these bright spots and more returning to the Frozen Tundra for 2010, there are still questions surrounding the Packers team. Here are the five main ones.
This regards special teams in particular. In 2009, they were, to put it bluntly, awful. Punter Jeremy Kapinos joined the Green Bay parade of punters (a new one has been added for 2010), averaging over 43 yards per punt, but his net was weak, many of his kicks lacked hangtime. Kicker Mason Crosby, formerly the NFL points leader, nailed only 3/4 of his kicks, missing nine. He will be looked more into further on.
Kick returning was once again abysmal. On 17 punt returns, receiver Jordy Nelson racked up a meager 90 yards. Defensive back Tramon Williams was more effective as a punt returner, but was hampered with injury, and could not return them for part of the year. The average kick return was only 22.1 yards. The returners must give Green Bay a field position advantage in 2010. It would be ludicrous for a Super Bowl run to be ruined by a botched return, shanked punt, or flimsy kick.
For a good part of 2009, Crosby was as untrustable as a sly fox. Over an eight game stretch in which he kicked a field goal, he missed one in seven games. Some of these cost Green Bay quite a bit. In Pittsburgh in Week 15, his missed field goal from under 40 yards cost the team in a 37-36 defeat.
He regained his stroke for the final two games, making each of his three boots, including one from a fairly long distance.
Every point that the Pack can receive in 2010 will be crucial, and Mason Crosby has a chance to regain the loyal Cheeseheads' trust by nailing field goals and winning games.
Dear Opposing QBs,
Face it. Charles Woodson and Al Harris will shut your top two receivers down.
This memo is making its way around the NFL as more and more teams come to the utter realization of the notion that this cornerback tandem is the best in the league (though the Jets' Revis and Cromartie are quite a duo). Good teams have wide receiver depth throughout their corps, and along with a consientious quarterback, this can hurt the Packers.
Look at the NFC Wild Card game against Arizona. Steve Breaston and Early Doucett were the Cardinals' top two receivers, picking the Packers apart. Kurt Warner, a veteran QB, knew Woodson is always a threat to cause havoc and found the soft spot.
With both Harris and Woodson back, the nickelback will prove pivital. Tramon Williams will most likely assume these duties. Others that will have to fill the void will be Will Blackmon, Derrick Martin, and Brandon Underwood.
The 6'5'', 318 offensive tackle out of Iowa was projected to go as high as fifth by some. But he slowly slipped down to 23rd and was, without hesitation, scooped up by Green Bay. After an awful season in terms of sacks allowed (Green Bay gave up the most in the NFL by far), Bulaga seeks to offer protection for the Pro Bowler Rodgers.
He is a very big lineman, and some have compared him to greats Orlando Pace and Bryant McKinnie. If Bulaga can protect Rodgers and help even further solidify the running game, then the Packers become even greater a threat. The offensive line is definitely in question heading into the season, and the new tackle hopes to make things better. And, as a bonus, he just looks like an olden-day Packer.
In 2009, the fourth quarter and overtime broke multiple hearts in Packerland. In many of the losses, the Packers had chances to win and blew them. This eventually cost the Green and Gold the season.
In Week Two, late-game blunders led to a loss against the Bengals. Later on, they blew a lead against lowly Tampa Bay, and a late-game pick thrown by Rodgers sealed the deal, ending a possible winning scoring drive. The worst came late in the season in Pittsburgh, as a touchdown as time expired won it, 37-36, for the Steelers. Must I bring up the overtime loss to Arizona? Didn't think so.
The best teams win close games with clutch play. Undoubtedly, the Packers have clutch, experienced players. They need to come through in order for Green Bay to go really far this season. If the fourth quarter becomes Green Bay's strongest, then look out, NFL.