The Packers had one of the most admired offenses in the league last year, and looked unstoppable right until the playoffs, when they fell to the Giants. Their 15-1 record was best in the league, so the question entering training camp is: how do you improve on that?
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy think they have the answer. It is to look at all aspects of the game, particularly in the trenches. Their offense was so good last season, particularly the passing game, that it helped to cover up some weaknesses in other phases of the game.
“One of the things that winning does is it masks some of the issues you might have,” Rodgers said. “When you have a real successful season, the little things get swept under the rug and the big things become little things. It’s hard to knock a team on energy and enthusiasm and effort when you’re still going out and winning. But it can catch up to you at some point, and it did with us.”
So as everyone does, the Packers have looked to get better, and have brought in some talent to help in the trenches. But first things first. Like everyone else this time of year, they need to start with the hard work of installing the playbook. Monday’s focus was on the Red Zone, and the limited practices under the new CBA mean that teams are under the gun to make every second count.
“These practices are most difficult for your football team,” McCarthy said. “Today [Monday], emphasis was Red Zone. So you’ll notice we pushed the envelope as far as getting as many different plays as we possibly can in the periods, so we got a lot of reps today.”
“It’s not going to be as crisp as you’d like, and I think that was evident today. But this is the way these practices go, and once you get through the installs, things will get a little cleaner for everyone.”
If Green Bay is having trouble, you can only imagine how the rest of the league is struggling to get their playbook installed. Last season, Green Bay set the standard offensively. They led the league in points scored per game with 35 – edging out New Orleans (34.2) and the Super Bowl runner up Patriots (32.1). Rodgers won the NFL MVP, and had one of the best seasons any quarterback ever has, setting a record for quarterback efficiency with 122.5 while throwing 45 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions.
How do you improve upon that? Well McCarthy thinks that they will provide better protection up front for Rodgers, which is a scary thought considering how well things went last season. Continuity and health on the offensive line means that McCarthy can avoid answering his least favorite question from years past. “Every year we sit here and try to determine when we were going to establish a starting offensive line,” McCarthy said. “When five men practice every single day together, obviously continuity comes quicker, and we’re able to do that right now.”
In addition, both McCarthy and Rodgers think the defense will be better as well, particularly up front. The Packers used three of their first four picks in the NFL draft for defensive linemen. They picked up DE Nick Perry from USC in the first round, then DT Jerel Worthy of Michigan State in the second round, and in the fourth round, they came back with DT Mike Daniels of Iowa. Rodgers thinks this gives them a new attitude, “We’ll be better up front [on defense], I think. Different attitude, I think. We brought in some guys with some nasty to them.”
“And I’m not just talking about [Anthony] Hargrove,” Rodgers went on to add. “These are energy guys. Daniel Muir, Jerel Worthy, [Mike] Daniels. Those guys are bringing some energy this year, and I think they are going to inspire some of the other guys, like B.J. [Raji] and [Ryan] Pickett, who aren’t big energy guys — good players, but not emotional energy guys — maybe to pick their level up, too.“
His coach also commented on the defensive front. McCarthy said, “We’re getting the schemes taught, and the fundamentals, and you’re getting to see the differences particularly with the new defensive linemen. I’ll say this, we have a lot more depth there and competition is as high as it’s ever been in my time here.”
Green Bay was dead last in the NFL last season in yards allowed, with 411.6 per game, only slightly worse than the 31st ranked Patriots who gave up 411.1 yards per game. (That would have been the dream Super Bowl matchup for fans of offensive football… and fans who just hate punters.)
So despite their 15-1 record, Rodgers thinks there’s plenty of room for improvement. “We’re going to be a better team this year,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to play better.”
Does that mean they are shooting for a perfect season? Rodgers had the answer for that, too.
“It might not be 15 wins, but I think we’re going to be a more sound team.”