|McCarthy has high expectations. (US PRESSWIRE)|
The Packers won 13 games in a row to start the 2011 season, and finished 15-1 before losing to the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. The year before, they were Super Bowl champions. But with Aaron Rodgers firmly rooted as one of the league's best quarterbacks, coach Mike McCarthy is quite comfortable calling his 2012 team his most experienced and talented yet.
"I just feel with all returning players, our fourth year in the system defensively, fifth year in the system with Shawn (Slocum) . . . we have a lot of experience with the players in this system," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I just feel as a whole, it was a very athletic offseason program and I've been impressed with the quality of depth and the competition we're going to have."
McCarthy isn't one for hyperbole, which should be obvious from his muted comments above. It's not like he's in the business of making outrageous claims solely to convince his team (and himself) that they really are winners (like, say, this guy). It's just that he has expectations, they're exceedingly high, and it doesn't hurt that he's a great coach with great players to work with.
"I think I said it the first day I was here," McCarthy said of those expectations. "It's always about winning the world championship in Green Bay. I don't think you ever settle for less than that. Just take a look at last year, 15-1 doesn't cut it. … That's not what I'm looking for, and it's not what our players want and that's really all that matters."
While the Packers' offense is capable of hanging 40 points on just about anybody, it's the defense that has to improve. According to Football Outsiders, last season Green Bay ranked 24th in total defense (23rd against the pass, 26th against the run). Which explains why the organization when heavy on defense in April's draft: their first seven selections were on that side of the ball -- linebacker Nick Perry (1st round), defensive tackle Jerel Worthy (2nd), cornerback Casey Hayward (2nd), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (4th), safety Jerron McMillian (4th) and linebacker Terrell Manning (5th).
McCarthy was asked if his optimism about the 2012 season comes, in part, from the Packers loading up on defenders.
"I've always had this optimism," he said. "I've never lined up in a football game or coached in a football game or a sporting event that I didn't think I was going to win. I think that's part of how my parents raised me. I would like to think our team plays that way. This influx of talent? We have an influx of talent every year. It's what you're able to do with it. My job is to create opportunities for these players to come together and form a team, and it's maybe not always the most talented team, but it's the best football team. The most-talented player doesn't always stay; it's the best football player that stays. It's just important to stay in tune with that, and this is a very good group to pick from."
And good thing, too. Earlier this month, former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson was frank about the Green Bay's D in 2011. "Look at the Packers and how they tackle," he said according to the Journal Sentinel. "They are terrible. It's the worst I've ever seen in my life. I love Charles Woodson, but it's either the spectacular play or the guy's getting an extra six or seven yards. They are all trying to make that big play."
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.