5 Questions the Green Bay Packers Still Must Answer in the Playoffs

Trent Stutzman@@trentstutzmanContributor IIIDecember 13, 2012

5 Questions the Green Bay Packers Still Must Answer in the Playoffs

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    At 9-4, the Green Bay Packers have all but wrapped up a playoff spot. If they beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, they clinch the division and could potentially land a first-round bye.

    Even if they lose, the Packers’ divisional record gives them the tiebreaker over the Bears, and they would still be in the driver’s seat for a Wild Card slot.

    Assuming Green Bay doesn’t endure a colossal collapse, it’s time to start looking forward to the playoffs and the big weaknesses they must fix if a successful run in January is to be accomplished.

    Here are the five biggest questions Green Bay must answer for such a streak.

Can They Stay Healthy?

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    This may be a concern for just about every single team that ends up making the playoffs, but it’s fairly unique to the Packers that they are starting to heal up just at the right time.

    Greg Jennings finally returned after missing seven straight games, Sam Shields has recovered from his ankle and shin problems, Clay Matthews will likely play this Sunday against Chicago and Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson should return at least by the Week 16 matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

    The Packers were able to overcome the rash of injuries that plagued the team in 2010 to win a Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean it can happen again.

    You have your best chance of winning when your best players are on the field, and that’s been a problem for Green Bay this year.

Can the Defense Hold on Third Downs?

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    While the defense has definitely improved since last year, it’s still got some work to do.

    Green Bay’s defense has lived off the reputation of forcing turnovers, with the offense capitalizing and scoring points off them.

    When they live up to this reputation, it works like a charm. Just look at the two wins against Detroit this year. In both cases, a defensive touchdown (first an interception return by M.D. Jennings, then a fumble return by Mike Daniels) completely swung the momentum in Green Bay’s favor and changed the entire outlook on the game.

    But in the playoffs, the Packers will be facing teams that take much better care of the football. Considering that Green Bay ranks 21st in holding opposing offenses on third down, that’s a problem.

    The Packer defense must learn to force more punts and not live off of turnovers so much. Against responsible offenses, it’s the best way to get off the field.

Can the Running Game Continue Its Recent Success?

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    After struggling mightily to establish a running game through the first eleven games of the season, Green Bay has now rushed for 292 yards on a 4.79 rushing average over the past two contests.

    The run-blocking deserves the greatest credit for this improvement, but the three-headed monster of Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and the recently-returned Ryan Grant had great vision to hit the holes, and they all used something to extend runs, whether it be agility, speed or power.

    Granted, Grant only had one run, but it was an impressive one nonetheless.

    A strong running game will provide the offense with a great balance that will open up more passing lanes for Aaron Rodgers and help pound out tough yards in the nasty weather that usually accompanies December and January games.

    Two consecutive games with this kind of performance give the impression that it’s not a fluke, but Packer fans everywhere would feel much more comfortable heading into the playoffs if this standard of rushing was upheld for the final three games of the regular season.

Is Mason Crosby out of His Slump?

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    It’s been no secret. Mason Crosby is having the worst year of his career by far.

    But in the last three games, he seems to have begun to shake it off and improve.

    While a 6-of-9 stretch isn’t very successful by any means, it’s still an improvement upon his total 2012 success rate of 63 percent. Of those three misses, two of them seemed to be on target, only to curve away at the last second. Only one was booted completely off course, which seemed to be what he was doing at an alarming rate during his rock-bottom slump.

    Still, the concerning stat comes from long range—he’s only 1-of-8 this year on kicks from 50 yards or longer. He must improve that mark and return to being one of the surest long-range kickers in the NFL.

    Playoff games come down to a field goal difference all the time. If Green Bay doesn’t want to be on the lesser side of that difference, Crosby must completely shake his slump and get back to his usual self.

Will the Youngsters Be Ready?

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    The Packers have relied on many first and second-year players to get where they are now. These players include DuJuan Harris, Alex Green, Don Barclay, Randall Cobb, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Dezman Moses, Casey Hayward, Davon House, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian. Of those 11 guys, only Cobb has played in a playoff game.

    Experience always plays a huge role in the postseason in every sport, and football is no exception.

    If the Packers are to be successful in this year’s playoffs, the youngsters must put away their big-game jitters and play their hearts out.

    I’m most confident that this question mark will be taken care of over any other, given the leadership Green Bay possesses in Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson.

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