2013 NFL Preview: Green Bay Packers

Packers Will Contend; Is O-Line Good Enough?

Can the Packers overcome injury and win 3 straight NFC North titles?

Can the Packers overcome injury and win 3 straight NFC North titles? (Credit ElectricArkie)

If offensive intimidation and execution was everything, the Green Bay Packers would be coming off their third consecutive Super Bowl championship. As it stands, the Packers haven’t made it past the NFC Divisional round since winning Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 NFL season.

Green Bay is still favored to win the NFC North and contend for the best record in the NFC. But regular season dominance hasn’t meant much to the Pack the last two seasons – a 15-1 Packers squad lost to the eventual Super Bowl-winning NY Giants in the 2011 playoffs, and an 11-5 Green Bay squad lost to the SB runners-up San Francisco last season. In each year, the Packers’ inability to close out games on defense and to keep Aaron Rodgers protected from the pass rush were the team’s undoing.

The Packers did their best to fix these issues during the 2013 NFL offseason. They picked up DE Datone Jones and offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter early in the 2013 NFL Draft, and re-signed star LB Clay Matthews and S Morgan Burnett to long-term extensions. But it seemed fate was still out to mess with Green Bay; LT Bryan Bulaga is out for the season with a torn ACL and WR Jordy Nelson will miss 4-6 weeks after a knee injury in the preseason.

In the face of injury and doubt, it’s always nice to know that your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, your WR corps is as deep as any in the NFL, and your head coach (Mike McCarthy) leads a tradition of winning. But will the Packers be able to overcome all the doubters and issues and win their 3rd consecutive NFC North championship?

Green Bay Packers: 2012 team stats

Team record: 11-5 (1st in NFC North)

Total offensive rank: 13th (9th pass, 20th rush)

Total defensive rank: 11th (11th pass, 17th rush)

2013 Green Bay Packers: offensive preview

The primary question to be addressed in the offseason for Green Bay was the imbalance between passing and the run game. The Packers’ answer to this issue was two-fold, and it came in the form of RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the 2013 NFL Draft. Lacy and Franklin will compete for playing with DuJuan Harris, who is reportedly impressing more people in camp than anticipated. Harris currently (August 19th) sits atop the depth chart. But someone must step up; no Packers RB had more than 81 yards in a regular season game last year.

If most NFL teams lost a talent like Jordy Nelson to a knee issue for 4-6 weeks in the preseason, it would be reason to panic. But the Packers are so deep at WR, they aren’t sweating much – they were even able to let Greg Jennings leave in the offseason. Beyond Nelson, who projects to be the Packers’ #2 WR, the team features Randall Cobb, James Jones, and the improving Jarrett Boykin. Jermichael Finley, who has generally underwhelmed the last 2 seasons at TE, will step up his game as he plays in a contract year.

And then, of course, there’s the ongoing saga of Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line. Rodgers was sacked 51 times in 2012 – some of which is attributable to Rodgers’ tendency to hold the football a touch too long – a number that is simply unacceptable in the NFL. With Bulaga out, and the Packers’ tendency to let Rodgers get dusted up, it will be a feat if Green Bay only allows 35 sacks this season. Still, Rodgers has the best arm in football, and a better deep-ball touch than anyone in the NFL. The passing attack will be its usual, lethal self – if the O-line holds up.

2013 Green Bay Packers: defensive preview

The Packers are never bad defensively; trouble is, they’re usually better than they’ve been recently. The rush defense got more grief than it should have in 2012 because of one man: Adrian Peterson. While Green Bay only allowed 3 100-yard rush games in the 2012 regular season, 2 of those belonged to AP – which were 210 and 199 yard performances. However, opposing RBs did average 4.5 yards per carry against the Packers, a number that must improve in 2013.

First round draft pick Datone Jones from UCLA has reportedly already won the starting left defensive end job for the Pack; he will start on the front line of the base 3-4 scheme with DE B.J. Raji and DT Ryan Pickett. Clay Matthews (13 sacks last year) will rush from one edge linebacker position; his projected counterpart across the defense, Nick Perry, is a relative unknown (played just 6 games last season).

Longtime Packer CB Charles Woodson has left Lambeau Field, and the secondary will move forward with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as starting corners. Morgan Burnett plays free safety and was an important player to get extended for Green Bay this offseason; he will be paired with the generally reliable M.D. Jennings at strong safety. In terms of depth, the Packers are excited about the maturation of second-year CB Casey Hayward.

2013 Green Bay Packers: schedule features 6 2012 playoff teams

The first 4 road games on the Packers schedule for 2013 are against 2012 NFL playoff teams – the 49ers (NFC champions), Bengals, Ravens (Super Bowl champions) and division rival Vikings. In between those contests come 3 home games against the NFC East champion Redskins, the hungry division rival Lions, and the improving Cleveland Browns. Most teams curse having a Week 4 bye, but after opening vs. San Francisco, Washington and Cincinnati, Green Bay may welcome it.

The Packers have 3 fantastic NFC North clashes that highlight the last 6 weeks of their season. It begins Week 12 as former Packer Greg Jennings leads the Vikings into Lambeau Field. The Packers play in Detroit on Thanksgiving four days later. And to close the season, Green Bay travels to Soldier Field in Chicago Week 17 to play the rival Bears. All these games, plus clashes with the Falcons, Steelers, and Cowboys? It’s a great – but tough – schedule for Cheeseheads everywhere.

Here’s the full 2013 Packers schedule in order, home and away:

Home: Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Atlanta, Pittsburgh

Away: San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Minnesota, NY Giants, Detroit, Dallas, Chicago

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