Green Bay Packers: 5 Biggest Concerns Going into the Final Stretch of the Season
The Packers are 13-0, and six victories away from being the first undefeated team in NFL history since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. However, this late in the season, there are certainly some concerns that are beginning to sprout up that have many people questioning whether or not this goal will be attained, from untimely injuries to inconsistent play in certain areas.
The Packers are the best team in the NFL this season, and have a great shot of going all the way back to the Super Bowl as long as they keep their composure, but here are five concerns that I have as we reach the final three games of the regular season, and beyond.
As we reach December, the weather grows colder, especially up in Lambeau Field, where the Packers will be potentially playing four out of their remaining six games if they were to reach the Super Bowl.
The Packers offense is known to flourish indoors, where the weather is controlled, and we haven't seen how this offense would respond to the snowy conditions of Lambeau Field in December and January.
Still, the Packers will certainly have an advantage playing at Lambeau, particularly against teams like New Orleans or Atlanta, who generally play better in domes and rarely have to play in that type of weather.
However, it is certainly possible that this offense could slow down a bit in the wintertime, and teams with strong defenses, like the Lions or Bears, could limit them to less points, giving their offense an opportunity to take advantage of a defense that is struggling more than usual.
4. Health of the Offensive Line
The offensive line has been dealing with injuries since the beginning of the season, losing Chad Clifton in Week 5 against Atlanta, and then losing Josh Sitton against the Giants two weeks ago. And while Clifton and Sitton are looking like they could come back soon, this offensive line will need to stay healthy as the Packers begin their playoff push.
Marshall Newhouse and Evan Dietrich-Smith both have done a good job replacing their respective starters, but Clifton provides the leadership and the experience that the offensive line needs to improve, while Sitton is arguably the best offensive lineman on the team.
If Clifton and Sitton come back healthy, it will be big for the Packers, as their job is one of the most important: keeping their franchise quarterback upright so he can make the plays to win them games.
3. Improvement in Getting to the Quarterback
Last year, Clay Matthews and the Packers defense was one of the best in the league at pressuring the quarterback. This year, they are having a harder time getting to the quarterback, as they rank near the bottom of the league in sacks.
This has become fairly apparent in many of their games, as quarterbacks have had more time to throw and carve up a sometimes struggling Packers secondary.
I think that this year, a big part of the Packers' defensive struggles have been due to the fact that the Packers simply aren't applying the same pressure to the quarterback as they were last year. Some of this could be attributed to the loss of Cullen Jenkins in the offseason, an aging but vital piece of the Packers' defense last year.
With Pickett likely out next week due to a concussion, the Packers defensive line will be even more depleted, and they will likely have to rely on their linebackers to get to the quarterback faster. The good news is that next week, they face Tyler Palko and the Chiefs, an offense that has struggled mightily this year.
2. The Loss of Greg Jennings
Greg Jennings is Aaron Rodgers' No. 1 receiving target, so losing him for the rest of the regular season could be an issue for this Packers offense that has looked unstoppable.
The Packers will still likely be in good shape in terms of their receivers, as Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley will likely be able to carry the load well. And the Packers caught a break with an injury that looked much more serious at first.
Still, losing a No. 1 receiver changes this offense, and while the receiving corps will likely step up in Jennings' absence, defenses may be able to limit the Packers' passing game more than they have during the course of the season.
1. Stopping the Big Plays
The No. 1 weakness of this Packers defense this year has been allowing big plays that surrender big yards, and consequently, big points.
While the secondary has struggled this year, the defensive line is also partially to blame as well, as they have struggled in getting to the quarterback. Both of these issues has resulted in some games that have been high-scoring shootouts, and if the Packers continue to get into these kind of games, the probability will rise that they will lose at some point.
This could be highly concerning in the playoffs especially, where they will play against talented offenses, including the Saints, Falcons, and even Giants. All of these teams gave the Packers a hard time at some point in the game, and will likely do it again if the defense doesn't improve.
The one saving grace for this defense is the ability to turn the ball over. They are ranked first in the league in turnovers, which is one of the big reasons they have been able to win so many games.
In many ways, this Packers defense is playing like the Saints did in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl: giving up lots of yards, but forcing turnovers that turn out to be the difference in the game.
Whether or not this kind of defense can win a Super Bowl again remains to be seen. But the Packers are going to need to improve on the defensive side of the ball if they want to avoid high-scoring affairs like they have in some of these games.