Super Bowl Bound: Statistics Paint a Pretty Picture in Packerland
There will be several contributing factors to the Packers’ success this upcoming season, such as the outstanding talent and depth stemming from the receiving corps and defensive line group, as well as additions made to the offensive line and secondary via the draft.
The special teams units stand to improve upon last season’s horrendous performance as their play has nowhere to go but up. And the defense, as good as it was for the majority of the 2009 regular season, is also expected to improve now that they have a full season of film and experience in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme to learn and grow from.
However, the reasons the Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl in the 2010 NFL season are as follows: Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Jermichael Finley, and Clay Matthews.
Rodgers had an incredible season last year. Statistically speaking, he had an MVP season, and if not for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and two losses to the Vikings, Rodgers could have taken that award home with him.
He’ll be a preseason favorite for league MVP honors this year, is already being listed as the top-rated fantasy quarterback for this season and will be featured on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s fantasy football edition, and he’s aiming to be even better this year. Regression is not his style.
As a first year starter, few expected him to put up the numbers that he did: 4,038 yards passing, 28 touchdown throws versus only 13 interceptions, and 4 rushing scores. Furthermore, even less expected him to match his 2008 performance the next year, let alone exceed it as he did: 4,434 yards passing to go along with 30 TD passes and merely seven interceptions. He even improved his ground game with five rushing touchdowns. Not only that—he silenced the critics who said he couldn’t win the close games by throwing a 50-yard bomb to Greg Jennings in the closing minutes of the season opener against the division-rival Chicago Bears to give his team the lead and the win.
He also led his team to the playoffs in 2009 after improving the team’s win totals by five games from the previous season. And he just keeps getting better and better.
Rodgers is also very well-respected amongst his teammates, coaches, and by the Packer fan base and his leadership will take this team far for years to come. A Super Bowl title in 2010 is just the start of his soon-to-be-historic legacy.
Coming from Oakland to Green Bay, Woodson has had an absolutely monumental revival of his career, a revival comparable to that of Imhotep’s in the movie The Mummy . Having collected 17 interceptions in 8 seasons with the Raiders where, once highly regarded, he was allowed to become a free agent, Woodson has amassed 28 interceptions in only four seasons with the Packers. In addition, he has collected eight forced fumbles, seven sacks, and eight touchdown returns as a Packer (a team record).
Woodson is the definition of a playmaker. His instincts are uncanny and his film study and field recognition allow him to see plays before they happen. He is a complete player as evidenced by his 258 tackles over the last four seasons. He plays the run and makes plays in the backfield and his success has been recognized throughout his pro and collegiate career (six Pro Bowls, one Defensive Player of the Year award, one Heisman Trophy).
Many young players in the secondary praise Woodson for his leadership and dedication to the game. Nick Collins, in particular, credits Woodson for helping him take his game to the next level.
Woodson showed Collins how to study film, how to read and react to opposing offenses, and how to take a chance on a play, to be aggressive. Collins played tentatively for the first few years of his career until Woodson opened his eyes and made him believe in himself and believe in his ability. Now, Collins is coming off of his second consecutive Pro Bowl season, thanks in part to his apprenticeship under Woodson.
For the most part, though, Woodson leads by example, showing the younger players how it’s done rather than explaining how it’s done. Woodson is the spark to the Packer’s defense and his playmaking ability will play a big part in the team’s run to the Super Bowl.
For Finley, settling into the number one tight end position on the team was a mild transition last year, on the depth chart at least. He jumped onto the scene with a 128-yard performance in the Monday night game against Minnesota, highlighted by a 62-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Unfortunately, two games later in Cleveland, a knee injury forced him out of essentially the next four games, including that game against the Browns.
He came back strong, though, in the second half of the season with a seven-catch game against the 49ers, a seven-catch game against the Ravens (including two touchdown grabs), a nine-catch game against the Steelers, and then a whooping 159-yard performance in the shootout against the Cardinals in the wild-card playoff game.
Finley has received constant praise from his quarterback, position coach, and head coach. He couldn’t be defended during last year’s training camp and during the season, a knee injury was all that slowed him down. He’s big, athletic, and rangy.
His catch radius allows Rodgers to be able to loft the ball up on fade routes when Finley is flexed outside in one-on-one match-ups in the red zone, creating a very favorable mismatch for the Pack and a high-percentage throw for Rodgers.
Finley’s athleticism has been proven not only on the football field but on the basketball court as well. He was offered a full scholarship from the University of Arizona to play both football and basketball.
Finley gives a good effort in the run game, sealing the edge of the line. He can bull over defenders (ask Tom Zbikowski of the Ravens) and can take a hit (see the lick Louis Delmas gave Finley during the second game against the Lions in 2009 that drew a flag).
But the most important trait Finley can claim is that he absolutely loves football and is determined to be the best the game has ever seen. Finley is a special talent. He’s rapidly improving. He has the ability to take over games; and in 2010, he will.
Matthews is ready to be a star in this league, and he’s only entering his second season as a pro. His best trait is his relentlessness and his fierce pursuit of the ball. Playing in Pete Carroll’s defensive scheme back at USC, which used a lot of 3-4 looks, helped Matthews transition better to the NFL and to Capers’ complex defensive scheme.
As a rookie, Matthews logged 10 sacks (a Packers rookie record) and earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. Matthews was dominant against the bigger offensive tackles he faced during the season, using his speed and flexibility to bend around the corner and avoid the long arms of the tackles. And when he has a clear lane to the quarterback, Matthews closes in a hurry and wraps up effectively.
Matthews will rarely miss a sack opportunity, and he’s smart when it comes to taking down quarterbacks with specific skill sets when it comes to breaking a tackle/sack or escaping the pocket.
He’ll go high on a bigger quarterback, like he did with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco last season, wrapping his arms around the quarterback’s arms, disallowing the quarterback to cock the ball back and throw it while he drags the quarterback to the ground.
For smaller, quicker quarterback’s like Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford last year, Matthews will simply close fast, lower the shoulder, and deliver a hit, essentially knocking the quarterback to the ground and possibly dislodging the ball if the impact is significant enough.
Matthews is also effective in coverage as evidenced by his seven passes defensed last season.
And it stands to mention that Matthews has excellent bloodlines. His father, Clay Matthews, played 19 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker and earned 4 Pro Bowl nods. His uncle, Bruce Matthews, an offensive tackle, also played 19 seasons in the NFL, was selected to an NFL-record 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even his grandfather Clay Matthews, Sr. played four seasons in the NFL.
Matthews fits the role of outside linebacker in Capers’ 3-4 defense to a “T,” and with his rookie season under wraps, he’ll be ready to make an even bigger impact for the Packers in his second season.
The Green Bay Packers have a lot to be optimistic about this upcoming season. Hopes are high. Expectations are high. The Lombardi Trophy is on the minds of all Packers faithful, and Rodgers, Woodson, Finley, and Matthews will see to it that it’s brought back to Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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