Green Bay Packers


By Pete Prisco | Senior NFL Columnist


There is nothing wrong with this side of the football. Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the league MVP, the Packers were first in scoring as the team rolled to a 15-1 record, even with a troubled defense.

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Pete Prisco • Pat Kirwan

Rodgers is the top player in the league right now, an accurate passer who seems to get better and better by the season. He threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions as he carved up defenses week in and week out.

He has a nice group of receivers led by Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but he needs to get more from tight end Jermichael Finley, who has the ability to be one of the league's best.

The offensive line is solid, but there will be a new left tackle with Chad Clifton gone. Marshall Newhouse has starting experience, so he gets the first crack. Derek Sherrod also is in the mix. It is a line that has an impressive right side with guard Josh Sitton and rising tackle Bryan Bulaga. Veteran center Jeff Saturday, who is perfect for their system, takes over for Scott Wells, who signed with the Rams as a free agent. In the short term, that's not a problem.

The running game, which was 27th in the league last season, has to be better. With Ryan Grant gone, it means more will be put on James Starks to liven up that part of the offense.


After a nice run to win the Super Bowl in 2010, the defense fell off a cliff last season, finishing ranked last in the league. The numbers across the board were horrible and certainly not something you would expect from a Dom Capers-coached unit.

Several top performers from 2010 had down years, including corner Tramon Williams, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Those three have to bounce back to their 2010 form if the Packers are to make strides on this side of the ball.

They also need another pass rush threat opposite Matthews to emerge, which is why they drafted USC defensive end Nick Perry in the first round. He will make the transition to play up as an outside linebacker. The Packers were 32nd in sacks per pass play last season.

Charles Woodson remains a leader in the secondary, but he doesn't cover as well as he once did, which is a concern.

Key Changes

Roster Additions:  OLB Nick Perry, C Jeff Saturday and DT Anthony Hargrove.

Roster Departures: RB Ryan Grant, QB Matt Flynn, C Scott Wells and S Nick Collins (retired).

Staff: Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin (departed to become Dolphins head coach); QB coach Tom Clements replaces him. Ben McAdoo takes over as QB coach with Jerry Fontenot the new RB coach.

The Packers shouldn't miss a beat with Clements taking over for Philbin. Rodgers has high regard for Clements and this is an offense that essentially runs itself with coach Mike McCarthy as the play-caller.

As far as player additions, that's not the Packers way. General manager Ted Thompson is a big believer in the draft as the way to build your team. That led to a lot of criticism early on, but it's proved to be the right way. Thompson is one of the NFL's best roster builders.

In Thompson and McCarthy, the Packers have a heck of a 1-2 punch, not bad for two men most in Green Bay didn't even want.

X-Factor: James Starks

During the Super Bowl run of 2010, Starks provided a nice punch to the running game. He rushed for 571 yards last season in 12 games, but his high was 85 yards. He has to show he can stay on the field after injuries have slowed him his first two seasons. Starks isn't going to rip off long runs, but in this play-action heavy offense he has to be able to make the defenses respect the running game.

Can they improve the pass rush?

When you have an offensive line the Packers do, and you are last in sacks per pass play, it's telling. They play with the lead a lot and still don't get home. The Packers coaches insist Matthews played at the same high level as in 2010, but I disagree. He had to be back to that form and Perry has to show early on that he can be a nice compliment. Another key will be the run defense improving, which means more from Raji.

Who runs it?

In this offense, the run game supplements the passing game. But at some point you have to be able to run it. Starks did a nice job in the 2010 playoffs, but he is more of a plodder than a guy who can rip off long runs. The Packers are high on Brandon Saine, an undrafted player who impressed as a rookie last season. One of those two has to emerge as more of a threat. Then again, the Green Bay short passing game is really this team's running game.

Can the left tackle hold up?

Newhouse was OK at times last season, but he was far from being in Clifton's class. The year of playing might help his confidence. If he struggles early, look for the possibility of the Packers plugging in Sherrod, a former first-round pick.

Insider's Take

"The whole thing is Aaron Rodgers. If he gets hurt, they're done. He's special and only getting better. The things he does are amazing, especially without a running game. He's the best player in the game today. They don't feature the running game, but it's average. The receivers are very good. They have two Pro Bowl types in Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson to lead the group. But they have three or four others who can make plays. Jermichael Finely is a Pro Bowl type of player if he can stay on the field. The offensive line is just OK. The right side is good, but the line doesn't have to be great with Rodgers and his ability to move. The defense had problems last year. They had some guys who tailed off after the Super Bowl. But I think Dom Capers is good at what he does and will get them to bounce back. I will say this: I think Nick Perry, their first-round pick, will be a bust. They need some young players to step up on that side of the ball. And they have to hope guys like Charles Woodson can still get it done at a high level. But with Rodgers and that offense, the defense doesn't have to be great."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Packers were 15-1 last year and ready for a trip back to the Super Bowl, but an offense that averaged 40 points a game at home all year only produced 20 points against the Giants and sent the Pack into the offseason.

Packers' Rivals: NFC North

2012 Preview • Schedule
Bears @ Packers: 9/13 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Packers @ Bears: 12/16 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Lions @ Packers: 12/9 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Packers @ Lions: 11/18 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Vikings @ Packers: 12/2 (1 p.m. ET)
Packers @ Vikings: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)

The Packers' offense is called by Mike McCarthy and nothing will change because Joe Philbin left Title Town to be the head coach of the Dolphins. McCarthy attacks with the passing game to set up the run game and typically calls 40 pass plays a game, but he still manages 24 run plays a game. The run game features the outside stretch play on early downs to set up the bootleg and half roll pass, and of course, the draw play in passing situations.

The Packers like to say they don't have a true No. 1 receiver, but rather a balanced distribution system. Seven different receivers caught over 25 passes each, which sure backs up the distribution theory. One area of concern on offense was protecting Aaron Rodgers. He was sacked 40 times last year, once for every 15 attempts. In the last four years, he's been sacked 155 times, or 39 times a season. That's a lot of wear and tear on his body. I also have some concerns about the backup quarterback situation with Matt Flynn gone to Seattle.

The Green Bay defense took a step back last year and were ranked last in total defense, giving up 412 yards a game and ranking last in passing defense. DC Dom Capers is a 3-4 defensive coach out of the mold of Dick LeBeau, which means blitz. Two years ago, with DT Cullen Jenkins, they developed a very interesting two-man defensive line package that was effective in the Super Bowl. Last year it didn't have the same bite.

The draft was committed to the defense and Capers should have all the tools to once again play his aggressive pressure defense with man coverage behind the front. Nick Perry gives the Pack a pass rusher opposite Matthews. Early on, Perry will get single blocked while protections slide to Matthews. Because the Packers led the NFL in points scored in the first half of games with 286, they usually went to the locker room at halftime getting their nickel defense ready to play the second half. They use some very interesting pressure calls when they can get CB Charles Woodson in against the slot receiver and let him blitz.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | Senior Analyst

Few front office executives spend more time on the road than Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who has long been touted for his best-player-available approach to the draft.

Packers Draft Analysis

So it came as a bit of a surprise when Green Bay focused so much of its attention on addressing a wildly inconsistent pass rush. The normally frugal Thompson traded up three times in 2012 (all for defenders), equaling the number of times he'd traded up in the past seven years combined as the Packers' head talent evaluator.

Former Southern Cal pass rusher Nick Perry doesn't boast Clay Matthews' speed or determination, but is surprisingly powerful and could offer help not only as a stand-up rush linebacker in the team's typical 3-4 alignment but also offer some assistance setting the edge against the run.

Jerel Worthy offered more value at No. 51 overall than any of the other players selected this year by Green Bay. Worthy has an explosive burst off the snap, which he used often at Michigan State to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. However, that was inside at defensive tackle, where his relatively short, stout frame (6-2, 308 pounds) is a benefit. Worthy's lack of ideal height and arm length could make him a relative square peg asked to fit into a round hole as a defensive end.

The rest of the Packers' picks:

1st Round - No. 28 overall - Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Southern Cal
2nd Round - No. 51 overall - Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
2nd Round - No. 62 overall - Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
4th Round - No. 132 overall - Mike Daniels, DT, Iowa
4th Round - No. 133 overall - Jerron McMillian, S, Maine
5th Round - No. 163 overall - Terrell Manning, OLB, North Carolina State
7th Round - No. 241 overall - Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
7th Round - No. 243 overall - B.J. Coleman, QB, Tennessee-Chattanooga


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