Green Bay’s search for true balance should pay big dividends this season
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By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – What are the 2017 Packers’ realistic chances of reaching Super Bowl LII?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the New England Patriots’ prospects, I’d have to place Green Bay at a solid 9 or 9 ½ .
Expectations haven’t been this high since the 2012 season. That came one year after the Packers’ high-octane offense rolled through alleged NFL defenses at an incredible pace.
The Packers finished 15-1, but when the postseason began they were unceremoniously bounced out.
It would have been reasonable to believe Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy would’ve responded by trying to build a legit running game and defense.
Instead, they stood pat for the most part.
The quarterback and receivers (including tight end Jermichael Finley) were fantastic, of course, but the offensive line was overrated and the running backs were lame.
Defensively, the Packers added rookies Mike Daniels and Casey Hayward and that was it. Second-round pick Jerel Worthy was a bust and rookie free agent Dezman Moses was good enough – or the others were bad enough – that he opened as the starting left outside linebacker in Dom Capers’ 3-4 base defense.
Furthermore, they got zero help in free agency.
Fast-forward to 2017.
Clearly, Thompson and McCarthy showed they could learn from their past mistakes, including overrating the 2011 roster.
This offseason, they made a concerted commitment to rebuild the defense, shore up the offensive line and add a handful of promising if not experienced running backs in the draft.
Let’s compare the Packers’ response to disappointing seasons in 2012 and 2016. I think you’ll be surprised at just how active the Packers were this offseason compared to four years ago.
Offensively, the Packers had a terrific receiving corps in 2012. Greg Jennings could still run, Jordy Nelson was a budding star and James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and an aging Donald Driver rounded out the group.
At tight end, they were strong with Finley, but they had no pass-catching threat behind him. Every time he was beat up or tired they had to go to the slower-than-slow Tom Crabtree. They also had to scrap a significant portion of the playbook.
Today, the Packers have Nelson, a burgeoning star in Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and promising rookies Deangelo Yancey and Malaki Dupre.
These receivers are better. Take it to the bank.
At tight end, it isn’t even close between 2012 and this year.
Martellus Bennett is a more complete tight end than Finley. Whatever you lose in speed and a downfield threat you gain in run blocking, consistency and toughness. Also, Bennett shouldn’t be underrated as a receiver.
Behind him, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers are both good enough to play a lot.
There’s no more scuttling of half the playbook because an injury to one tight end.
At running back, the Packers went with – are you ready for it? – Dujuan Harris, an aging Ryan Grant, Alex Green and James Starks as the running back stable.
That was the Packers’ response to having a weak running attack in 2011?
Compare that crew to Ty Montgomery and rookies Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. Montgomery alone makes the unit markedly better.
The 2012 offensive line wasn’t much better.
The Packers opened with Marshall Newhouse at left tackle (again), as well as T.J. Lang at left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith at center along with an aging Jeff Saturday, Josh Sitton at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.
Bulaga missed seven games with injuries, leaving Don Barclay to try to play right tackle. It was a bad idea.
This year, it’s David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans and Bulaga. The depth is also notably improved with players such as Jason Spriggs in the wings.
Defensively, the Packers played in free agency by signing Ricky Jean-Francois and Davon House, while re-signing pass rusher Nick Perry.
Then, they added Kevin King, Josh Jones, Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel in the first four rounds of the draft. That’s so much better than in 2012, plus Mike Daniels is still here.
If you’re worried that expectations may be too high in Green Bay, take a look at the 2012 season and you’ll feel much better. In fact, the anxiety should melt away with every passing game.
That’s because the Packers’ road to Super Bowl LII is going to be driven by the offense, to be sure, but by a much better balanced offense AND a defense with true promise.
In 2012, the Packers went 12-4, won the NFC North and then were obliterated by San Francisco in the divisional round.
Barring incredible bad luck, I don’t see that scenario again. In fact, it is fairly remarkable Green Bay went 12-4 with that crew in 2012.