Three Reasons Why the Packers Will Win Super Bowl XLVII
The Green Bay Packers entered the 2011 season as many people’s Super Bowl favorites following their victory in Super Bowl XLV the previous season, which they won with an injury-plagued roster. For almost all of the regular season, the Packers seemed destined to repeat–nobody had an answer for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and their high-powered offense, which led the way to a NFL-best 15-1 record. Rodgers would have one of the greatest single-season performances for a quarterback, setting (or tying) numerous franchise and league records en route to the NFL MVP. The team would score a total of 560 points, second only to the 2007 New England Patriots’ 589 points.
However, all those accomplishments don’t mean a thing if you don’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end. The Packers were one-and-done, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who would, ironically, go on a late-season/playoff hot streak that was reminiscent of the Packers title run the year before. The loss was stunning–yet humbling–for the Packers, showing them that it doesn’t matter how great were in the regular season, every team’s record is 0-0 come January.
Now, with the 2012 regular season on the horizon, the Packers seemed poised yet again to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. But will they prosper this year? My vote is yes, and these are my top three reasons (in order) detailing why the Packers bring the trophy back to Titletown.
1. Aaron Rodgers & Co.
Rodgers is widely regarded as the best player in the NFL right now, and he very well should be. The reigning MVP has just entered the prime of his career at 28-years-old, and possesses a perfect combination of skills that make him such a deadly quarterback. Rodgers sees everything, exploiting any weakness in the defense’s coverage, and doing so with precision and pinpoint accuracy that is second to none. He’s also incredibly mobile, able to sense the pressure around him and extend the play, oftentimes taking off running which results in a big play. Lastly, and this may be Rodgers’ greatest attribute, is that he protects the football and rarely turns it over. In his four seasons as the team’s starting quarterback, Rodgers has thrown just 37 interceptions, while throwing 131 touchdowns in that same span.
But Rodgers, despite his top tier quarterback status, can’t do it alone–he needs a wide receiver on the other end of the throw. Lucky for him though, is that he has six of them. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley (technically a tight end, but that’s not important here), make up what is arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL. Composed of athleticism, size, speed and big play potential, this group is nearly impossible to shut down because there’s no defense with the right quality and quantity of personnel to do so.
Individually, the “big three” of the Packers receiving corps–Jennings, Nelson and Finley–gives opposing defenses more than enough to game plan for. Jennings possesses nearly every attribute wanted in a receiver and is as reliable as anyone. After six seasons in the league, he knows how to beat the defense, and still has plenty in the tank at 28-years-old. Nelson has quietly evolved into a great receiver, and is often underrated and overlooked. Joining the Packers in 2008, he was the team’s fourth receiver and struggled with being consistent for much of his first three seasons, but always showed potential. His improvement was seen during the 2010 playoffs, with his breakout game coming in the Super Bowl, where he caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. This performance carried over into the 2011 season, where Nelson established himself as Rodgers’ go-to guy. Finley has always shown flashes of being one of the best in the league, however, injuries and inconsistency has held him back. In 2011, he finally played in all 16 games, but would have games on opposite ends of the spectrum. What often holds Finley back–aside from critical drops–is being the focus of opposing defenses. His combination of size and speed make him the most dangerous of Rodgers’ targets.
In addition to the “big three”, Jones and Cobb add even more speed onto the field, with Jones being a down field threat, and Cobb being able to turn a screen into much more. Driver, even with a reduced role in the offense, comes through and clutch situations, and his veteran leadership is just as important to the receiving corps as his on-field skill. This six wideouts give Rodgers the ability to throw it anywhere on the field, making it very hard to account for everyone. Barring a major setback, it’d be impossible to not see the Packers offense among the NFL’s best.
2. Defense Returning To Championship Form
The Packers defense–under the coaching of defensive coordinator Dom Capers–had very opposite seasons from 2010 to 2011. During their championship season, the Packers defense ranked second in scoring and fifth in both pass and total defense. This drastically changed in 2011 though, where they ranked 19th in scoring, and dead last in both pass and total defense. In 2010, the Packers secondary played crucial roles in helping win games, especially during the playoffs; this was nearly non-existent in 2011. They saw huge success with the play of (at the time) no-name undrafted cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Along with free safety Nick Collins, each of them had a game-sealing interception during the team’s elimination game span from Week 17 against the Bears to Super Bowl XLV versus the Steelers. Additionally, pick-sixes by Williams and Collins against the Falcons and Steelers, respectively, proved to be huge momentum swings that propelled the Packers’ victories. No such memorable game-changing/sealing plays like these came from the defense in 2011.
There are reasons for the defense’s shift from 2010 to 2011, with many of those changes being addressed this offseason so that the Packers 2012 defense can be as vital to victories as the offense. For starters, outside linebacker Clay Matthews went from 13.5 sacks in 2010 to just six in 2011. The biggest reason for this was due to those complimenting Matthews’ pass rush. The loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins to free agency, and cornerback Charles Woodson’s decline in blitzing from 2010 to 2011, made Matthews the sole pass rushing threat on his side (and pretty much the entire defense), becoming consistently double-teamed by opposing offenses. To reverse that trend, the Packers drafted outsider linebacker Nick Perry and defensive end Jerel Worthy to create a havoc-wreaking pass rush opposite Matthews. Having a dangerous pass rush will in turn help the secondary–which will see Woodson at safety roughly one-fourth of the time–and the acclimation of rookie cornerback Casey Hayward. With an increase of this complementation of one another in the defense, they will make opposing offenses struggle more often, ultimately leading to the defense getting off the field on third downs, which was perhaps the biggest problem for the Packers defense in 2011. They could simply not get off the field in 2011, allowing opposing offenses to convert 43% of third downs, a significant increase from 36% in 2010. This problem was most evident in the playoff loss to the Giants, where the defense constantly gave up first downs on third-and-longs, allowing drives to eventually into points, or, at the very least, take time on the field away from the Packers offense.
With these offseason additions and slight shifts in strategy, the 2012 Packers defense appears to be headed for a season along the lines of success they had in 2010. If they can be as threatening and game changing as they were during their title run, it’s only going to help the offense, especially in establishing a running game (which I’ll get to in a moment). With all these pieces working in perfect harmony together, they will be extremely difficult to defeat.
3. A Balanced Offense
The biggest reason the Packers were able to win three consecutive NFC North crowns from 2002-2004 was not the arm of quarterback Brett Favre, but the legs of running back Ahman Green. During that span, Green was an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses, racking up 1,100+ rushing yards each of those three seasons, while opening up the play action in a whole new, and very deadly, way for Favre. Since then, the Packers have lacked that consistently effective runner. What made Green so special was that the offense could rely on him to pick up yards on the ground. Without that reliable rusher, today’s Packers have been seen throwing, often from the shotgun, in third-and-short situations that would normally be placed into the hands of the running back. Also, Rodgers runs the play action as effective as anyone, but without the right back to sell run to the defense, they’re not going to buy it, no matter how good Rodgers’ fake is.
This is all going to change in 2012 though, because for the first time in years, the Packers have a running back to add balance to the offense. 29-year-old veteran Cedric Benson, let go of by the Bengals this offseason following his third-straight 1,000+ yard rushing season, was acquired by the Packers this preseason, and provides the type of power running game the offense needs. This was originally suppose to be the role for running back James Starks, who showed plenty of promise during the Super Bowl run with consistent and effective rushing. However, inconsistency and injury has kept him from becoming what the Packers thought he would, instead turning to the established Benson.
The important point to remember here though is that the Packers don’t need a back to carry the offense and top 1,000 yards. Having the league’s best passer in a pass-first offense (and league for that matter), is already going to have defenses working around the clock planning how to stop it. But it’s going to be hard for Rodgers and the offense to do much if opposing defenses don’t even acknowledge the run, which is what has happened the past few seasons. What Benson brings the Packers is a balance to the offense, and another player that has to be accounted and game planned for. And if Benson is anything of what he was in his brief preseason appearances, the Packers are going to have that critical balance that eventually leads to the Super Bowl. With consistent, powerful inside running by Benson, Rodgers is going to tear apart defenses with the play action. When an offense has the ability to open up the field this way, defenses are in for a very long day.
The 2012 Packers are knocking on the door of greatness. They have improved themselves, fixing the flaws of last year’s team, and will be back with a vengeance after an embarrassing end to a 2011 season that seemed so promising. With Rodgers leading the way, the offense and defense will strive to match his skill. Come February, the Packers will be bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown.