The Green Bay Packers are probably THE most hyped team in football right now, but which five key players will the team rely on to step up to the plate and make the most telling contributions in the 2010 season? Find out the five that I feel will need to be at their very best for Green Bay to have a shot at Superbowl glory in 2011.
This is a Green Bay Packer team that is certainly dicing with being over-hyped for the 2010 NFL season, with so many respected sports writers taking the ‘green and gold’ as their pick to go all the way to Dallas this year. Aaron Rodgers has been talked up all pre-season as a player breaking into that mythical group of top 5 elite quarterbacks in the NFL, mostly due to his impressive numbers in his first two seasons as a starter. He was the first quarterback to post more than 4,000 yards passing in each of his first two years, and he has a 100 plus passer rating in 32 starts for Green Bay. Many observers are equally impressed with his attitude; Rodgers is personable and smart, and quickly achieved what many thought would be one of his biggest challenges; transforming the Packers into his team, after so many years being led by Brett Favre.
So Rodgers has a great deal of hype to live up to also. History has shown in the NFL that is incredibly difficult to replace one great quarterback with another; the oft-quoted, only real success story being Steve Young’s succession of Joe Montana in San Francisco during the early 90’s. But Rodgers is far from Canton right now. His CV is missing a playoff win, and until #12 leads Green Bay deep into the post-season, there will be those doubters who are ready to knock his status as an elite quarterback. Rodgers showed he could put up points in the clutch against Arizona in 2009, but he did fumble the ball to result in a heartbreaking loss in overtime. The Packers are readily expected by most to make the playoffs again this year, and it will be on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers to step up and start forming his own legacy.
The Green Bay Packer offense possesses a significant array of aerial weapons, but perhaps none are quite as intimidating as Jermichael Finley. At 6”5 and 250lbs, Finley is a dominating physical presence at tight-end. Last season, in his second year, Finley had a breakout campaign in which he caught 55 balls for 676 yards, including 159 in the playoff loss to Arizona.
Finley has the chance to be even better this season, as he should emerge as one of Aaron Rodger’s favourite targets. If he can build on what he achieved in the latter half of the 2009 season, he may have a legitimate shot at making the Pro-Bowl.
The high importance of Finley to Green Bay making a run at the Superbowl this year is attributed not only to his play-making abilities, but also the match-up headache he poses for opposing defensive coordinators. If Finley can attract the attention of the best defensive backs an opponent can field, then it should create time and space for the Packers other significant receiving threats – namely Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. If Finley can step up and improve once more this season, it will mean only good things for the Green Bay offense.
Clay Matthews had a stunning rookie year in 2009, posting 51 tackles, 10 sacks and earning a trip to the Pro-Bowl. This guy is a beast on the field; brute strength allayed with great speed, posing a formidable threat to the verticality of any quarterback in the league.
The Green Bay defence has in some quarters been pointed out as a potential weak link in what would otherwise be a potential championship team. It is in the secondary that many see reason to worry, with injuries to Atari Bigby and Al Harris meaning that rookie Morgan Burnett will start at safety, and rookie Sam Shields will start at cornerback in the nickel packages. To give these young men the greatest chance of success, Green Bay will have to generate a solid pass rush and get pressure onto the quarterback to prevent the defensive backs being picked apart like in the 2009 playoff loss to Arizona.
The Packers cannot afford to see Matthews suffer a sophomore slump in 2010. If they want to go all the way, Matthews will have to be the key man in the pass rush. Fortunately for Green Bay, they have a player with the skill sets and physical attributes to be one of the foremost pass rushing linebackers in the NFC.
One reason not to worry about the Green Bay secondary is the presence of the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, cornerback Charles Woodson. This is a guy who does it all; he is tough and physical in man coverage, and is regularly brought up to the line of scrimmage in blitzing schemes to bring pressure on the quarterback.
Woodson had the best season of his career last year, but he will have to be ready to do it again if the Packers are going to be realistic Superbowl contenders. Their defense in 2009 feasted on creating turnovers, and Woodson was the ringleader. Not only did he make 9 interceptions, he mastered the art of tackling the ball when an opposing player is charging him down, and this created numerous fumble recover opportunities.
Green Bay will not reach the same level of forced turnovers this season if Woodson does not perform. He is probably one of only a couple of indispensable players on the defensive side of the ball, and the team will look to him to make plays in 2010.
Special teams have been a problem area for Green Bay over the last few years, but they have solidly stuck by their franchise kicker in Mason Crosby. Crosby possesses a real strong leg and impressed greatly in his rookie season, finishing as the leader in the NFL in points scored.
If history has taught us anything in the NFL, it’s that at some point during a team’s Superbowl run, the kicker is going to be called upon to deliver in the clutch. Think Garrett Hartley for New Orleans last year, Adam Vinateri (in 2002 and 2004) for the Patriots, and so on and so on. If Green Bay is going to make a title push, then Crosby will along the way have to stick one through the uprights in a real pressure situation.
2009 was not Crosby’s finest year, but frankly the special teams all round were sub-par for the Packers. Given his significant achievements in college (he holds numerous distance and clutch records), and his stellar first season, the Packers coaches know that Crosby has the ability and the temperament to deliver. In 2010, this is certain to be tested.