The Green Bay Packers are really, really good.
They head into their much-deserved week off as the last undefeated team in the NFL with a 7-0 mark. Offensively, they’re amongst the top five in the league in total offense and passing yardage. They own the rights to arguably the best player in the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Oh, and they’re the defending Super Bowl champions.
So with all of that in mind, they must be sitting pretty heading into this week off, right?
Even though you could very easily make the case for the Packers being the best team in the NFL thus far, they are still not playing anywhere up to their full potential. Whether it’s wide receivers dropping passes that they should be catching, or the rushing attack not being where it needs to be, or the defense figuring out how to plug the holes – there’s a lot of things left to be worked on if you’re Green Bay.
With that in mind, here are the three major things that the Packers must figure out during their week off:
Can Aaron Rodgers stay this amazing? The defending Super Bowl MVP has been playing lights out football in 2011, there is no denying that. Against any competition, in any arena under any circumstances, Rodgers has single-handedly masked all of Green Bay’s defensive woes and mild running back concerns via his inherent ability to surgically dissect opposing defense.
But how long can he keep playing at this level?
Currently, the Packers running attack is ranked 23rd in the league and puts up about 99 yards per game. The reason that is even more unimpressive than the figure would initially indicate is because with Rodgers at the helm, the team’s running backs should theoretically be exploiting opposing defenses with impunity. Every single defense that lines up against the defending champions has one thing in mind: slow down Rodgers. Nobody, nobody will stack the box against the 3rd ranked pass offense in the league, currently putting up about 323 yards per game.
With the weather cooling and more teams beginning to disregard the Packers’ ability to run the ball, this week off is the perfect time for head coach Mike McCarthy to figure out how to exploit opponents ignoring the squad’s ability to rush. You cannot successfully stake claim to a second consecutive NFL championship if Rodgers is currently tied for a team leading two rushing touchdowns.
Can this defense be fixed? The Packers defense is currently broken, plain and simple. It ranks 27th in total defense, 31st in passing yards allowed and has shown a certain propensity for giving up big plays. On the bright side, though, it does rank 9th in rushing yards allowed and 1st in interceptions – so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Nevertheless, clearly all is not right with a defense that will need to be at the top of its game as the season progresses and the offense inevitably drops off a bit in production. Injuries and nicks that players have had to deal with are a huge part of the problem. The absence of Sam Shields and Nick Collins has been an undeniable factor, and neither Charles Woodson nor Morgan Burnett are playing at full capability.
That being said, something must be figured out. In order for Green Bay to be a legitimate threat to repeat, the defense must regain some semblance of dominance – particularly in the pass defense realm. It certainly doable, and if anyone knows how to make a lot out little in terms of team personnel it’s the Packers, but this week off is going to be crucial to figuring out how to plug the defensive holes.
Will going undefeated weigh down the Packers? As cool as it is to be undefeated in the NFL, it gets tiresome after a certain point. Expectations become burdening, and the noise from the media becomes impossible to block out.
Chances are, the Packers will not go undefeated. They’re not a complete enough team to accomplish the historic feat, and their schedule isn’t particularly conducive to it happening. Games against the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Bucs and Detroit Lions are all potential losses, and the fact that they’re coming later in the year only makes them more lethal. Plus, with all of the parity in the NFL these days, a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders or even the Minnesota Vikings who gave the Packers a legitimate run last weekend isn’t out of the question.
The coaching staff must use this week off to emphasize the importance of not getting distracted by trivial nonsense like the chase for perfection, and keep everyone’s mind focused on the task at hand: capturing another title.