Last season, the Packers came into the season looking like Super Bowl favorites, and though players were dropping left and right, they faced adversity and stayed in the race all along the way.
But one injury seemed to hold them back nearly all season. The Loss of running back Ryan Grant seemed to significantly hurt the offense's ability to keep the team in games and even their ability to close out the game.
Statistically speaking, the Packers were fine in terms of running the ball. However, if you were to take away Aaron Rodgers' total rushing yards for the season, Green Bay would rank dead last in the NFL in total yards rushing for the season.
Green Bay tried third down back Brandon Jackson, but Jackson never showed anything to prove that he was a capable all down back. They signed running back Dimitri Nance, but Nance barely showed anything beyond slightly better pass protection than Jackson.
The only thing left was a sixth round draft pick, running back James Starks. Starks finally healed from his hamstring injury on time to be taken off the PUP list, but bad practice habits and his inability to contribute to special teams kept him out for most of the season.
Starks showed up just in time for Green Bay's game against Philadelphia, where he ran for 123 yards, and went on to help the Packers win the Super Bowl.
Mike Neal, in my mind, could become a very similar case.
Neal has yet to show what he can really do on the field, but the coaches are confident enough in him that they were willing to let veteran Cullen Jenkins depart. That alone to me speaks volumes about Neal's potential.
Neal is considered a legit pass rushing threat, and should that be the case, I have a very simple theory that Neal could be what helps the defense turn around. If Neal can rush the passer, that will open more lanes for Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji to get to the passer, effectively bringing Green Bay's pass rush back to life.
If that happens, the linebackers can start to focus more on stopping the run, and effectively containing the opposing team's running back.
And if that happens, the secondary will be able to work with much less pressure on them. This would give them a chance to start fixing the communication problems that have been so devastating, like when they gave up three touchdowns to Vincent Jackson in San Diego.
It's a simple theory, and quite honestly, it's really nothing more than just Football 101, but it works doesn't it? It will still take time before Neal actually fully heals from surgery, but I'm betting that before the post season starts, Neal will be a full go.
There are far more problems than just the lack of pressure up front, such as injuries to Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, and the loss of Nick Collins. Not to mention Peprah not communicating with his teammates effectively enough.
But my money's on Neal. I'm banking on him to turn Green Bay's defense around and bring it back to it's late 2010 form.
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