By Jake McCormick
2008 record: 6-10 3rd in NFC North)
Total offense: 351.1 YPG (8th)
Passing yards per game: 238.3 (8th)
Rushing yards per game: 112.8 (17th)
Points per game: 26.2 (5th)
Training camp is only a week away and guess what? The words “Packers” and “Brett Favre” have been uttered together maybe three times in the past two months. One year removed from the final season of “Days of Favre’s Lives” in Green Bay, the Packers’ offense is taking shape around second year starter Aaron Rodgers. I would argue they weren’t the problem with the team’s fall from 13-3 in 2007 to 6-10 in 2008, but that doesn’t mean the offense couldn’t have pulled a few games out of a helmet to keep the defense from shouldering too much pressure and responsibility. Despite the bad record, the Packer offense is one of the best in the NFL and will undoubtedly put up yards and points. It’s just a matter of whether starting running back Ryan Grant and quarterback Aaron Rodgers can harness their potential and prove they can be models of consistency.
Last year I missed my fantasy football draft and accidentally selected Aaron Rodgers in a later round. 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns, 204 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns later, I can safely say I stumbled on the steal of the draft. Aside from countless questions about whether he could equal Favre’s statistical production, Rodgers faced criticism surrounding his durability. That question was put to rest when he played more than half of last season with a pretty serious shoulder sprain. However, Rodgers only proved that he can put up great fantasy numbers and still needs to showcase his ability as a team leader in pressure situations.
It’s unfair to expect Favre-like heroics so early in his career as a starter, but the Packers had problems in 2008 closing out games and Rodgers needs to give fans and his teammates confidence that he can come through in the toughest situations. Favre wasn’t automatic in the beginning, but learned from experience while facing low clutch expectations typical of a young quarterback. With the twin soap operas surrounding Favre-Vikings and Cutler-Bears, the Packers are so under the radar right now that Rodgers will be free to relax a bit and just play his game. P.S. Rodgers has had more than a few fashion statements in his time as a Cheesehead, but my vote for the best goes to his long hair and dirty moustache because it makes him look like James Franco from Pineapple Express. As long as he continues to show he has better decision-making skills than Saul, the offense will only improve with Rodgers under center.
I knew Ryan Grant wouldn’t start crushing skulls until late in the season because of his contract complaints before it even started. Typically karma kicks in and players in money disputes receive a signing bonus complete with injuries and slow production because they find it more important to make $3 million instead of $900,000. Although Grant rushed for more than a career high 1,200 yards last year, it sure didn’t feel that consistently dominate week to week and he only managed to find the end zone four times. I know this because my roommate had him on his fantasy team and did nothing but complain that 50 to 75 yards a game doesn’t cut it in our intense league.
Seeing as Grant has his new deal, he should be playing with a chip on his shoulder. His success on a week-to-week basis is essential if the offense is going to keep the opposition guessing. Brandon Jackson outplayed Grant more than a couple times last year, and should provide some competition Alien vs. Predator style. Minus the decapitation, bad dialogue and acid blood, of course.
Wide receivers/tight ends:
This is easily the strongest and deepest part of the Green Bay offense. I did naked cartwheels in the streets of Madison when I heard that Greg Jennings will be in a Packer uniform for another three years. OK I lied … it was in my hometown of Stoughton, where no one is driving around at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. Regardless, Jennings has been training with Larry Fitzgerald this offseason and has developed into one of the best deep threats in the league.
If there’s one thing I learned from Call of Duty it’s that every long range weapon needs a shorter, more precise one just in case. Donald Driver is one of the most durable receivers in the league and will take a lick going across the middle just so he can get up and shimmy down. Driver is a class act and his offseason questions about a contract extension shouldn’t be treated like a Randy Moss or T.O. saga because he puts the team before personal interests more than a full blooded communist in the U.S.S.R.
With Driver and Jennings running perpendicular to each other, the most intriguing battles will take place for the slot receiver and tight end positions. James Jones showed promise during his 2007 rookie campaign, but was nagged almost all of last season by a knee injury. As a result, the head-scratching 2008 second round pick of Jordy Nelson quickly proved that insurance can be affordable if you know where to look (this only applies to sports, of course). Both players produced similar rookie stats, but I have to give the edge here to Nelson because he plays like a bigger and less annoying Wes Welker. Either way, a four receiver set of Jennings, Driver, Nelson and Jones will spread opposing secondaries as thin as they can get. Donald Lee is the starting tight end as of today, but coach Mike McCarthy is pretty high on JerMichael Finley. Both players can stretch the field and have some work to do as blockers, but Finley is the tight end of the future and should see just as many balls thrown his way as Lee.
This is easily the biggest puzzle challenge for Green Bay. A consistently good line is the most important part of a functioning offense because even the best of the best need more than two or three seconds to work their magic. Left tackle Chad Clifton and left guard Daryn Colledge are the only guaranteed starters, and the aging Clifton is coming off another offseason knee surgery. Otherwise, the versatile Jason Spitz will compete against the undersized Scott Wells for the starting center position, and if he loses he’ll most likely be shifted to right guard. If Spitz mans the ship, then Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre will get a shot at the interior right side.
The biggest hole to fill is the one left by my favorite lineman and Wisconsin alumnus Mark Tauscher. Tascher and Clifton were a money tandem as the left and right tackles for a good five years, but Tauscher has also shown signs of career fatigue. Rookie T.J. Lang, Breno Giacomini and Barbre will duke it out for the right tackle spot, but the entire line needs to find some gelling consistency if they want to keep Rodgers from cleaning the turf from his jock every other play. As long as the line stays healthy, which I might actually start praying for because history doesn’t lie about the present, they will give the Packer playmakers the time necessary to showcase their abilities.
The Green Bay Packer offense is still filled with developing players, but it’s hard to argue that the team can improve its end of season stats dramatically. The running game is key to the offense’s overall success and if Ryan Grant or Brandon Jackson can’t deliver, teams will start cheating on the pass like they do with the Arizona Cardinals. As long as Aaron Rodgers can continue his anti-Favre impression by making smart decisions with the football, the Packers will put up 25 points a game again. It’s just a matter of whether they can perform at a high level for four quarters instead of three and a half.
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