Gregor’s Packer Analysis
Before we get to the pre-season comments, why is the NFL moving Thursday Night Football to Wednesday because of the Democratic National Convention? First, there are plenty of networks that cover politics, and ESPN and the NFL Network aren’t in that group so they could show football. Next, there’s no drama. We already know Obama and Biden are the candidates for President and Vice President. What’s next, moving game times because of a Gilligan’s Island marathon next Sunday?
The exhibition season, in general, is when we find out if the guys we’re going to cut are better or worse than the guys they are going to cut. Now we know they’re worse than San Diego’s and Cleveland’s backups, but better than Cincinnati’s and KC’s. We don’t see much of the starters, we don’t see all the plays, the blitzes, the personnel groups, etc. But we do get some information.
Week 1 against the Chargers showed us that with Marshall Newhouse out and Derek Sherrod still not back from injury, the Pack doesn’t have an NFL caliber left tackle to protect Aaron Rodgers. So Ted Thompson signed Reggie Wells who has played multiple positions on the O line in his career (and was eventually released). James Starks showed the ability to fumble, drop a pass, and get hurt. He still has potential and shouldn’t be written off, but with injuries and ineffectiveness at RB (not just Starks), Ted signed Cedric Benson. We learned that Desmond Bishop will miss most or all of this season (all) and maybe more with a torn hamstring. It sounds like a tough injury to come back from, and Bishop was the Packers best inside linebacker last season. But that gives DJ Smith a chance to play, and he did well last season filling in for Bishop.
Week 2, some of the concerns were gone. Newhouse was back and the O line was back at full strength. Even though the running back situation is a problem with numerous guys sitting out, the starting offense isn’t a concern with Rodgers and the Pack’s receivers (even with injuries to Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley giving him a few less options in the early pre-season). Green Bay’s defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks and passing yards allowed in 2011. So the emphasis in the draft was on defense, including Kenny Perry at OLB, corner Casey Hayward, safety Jerron McMilliann and D linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels. They addressed needs, the question is are these the right guys.
Week 3 showed us that when the starters play for a full half or longer, they look pretty good. The rumor that Cedric Benson was washed up might have been started prematurely. Then week 4 showed that the knock on him that he is prone to fumbling is still accurate.
The pre-season is where late round draft picks, street free agents and undrafted rookies get a shot. Over the years, guys like Donald Driver, Mark Tauscher, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields went from unknowns to making the team, and in some cases the Pro Bowl. This year, linebacker Dezman Moses is getting a lot of buzz and made the team, along with Jarrett Boykins.
The last few years the panic that ensues after an injury to Aaron Rodgers, even hypothetically, was alleviated a little by the way Matt Flynn played. Graham Harrell didn’t do anything to alleviate that concern for the first three games, although in fairness he had no blocking and didn’t get much help from the receivers. Finally in the last pre-season game against the Chiefs we saw some of what the coaches said was there. Still, is he ready for the regular season when the other team plays their starters and uses all of their personnel packages, blitzes, etc.?
Not saying he can’t get there, just saying he’s not there now. In fairness, Flynn looked like a guy with a below average arm who couldn’t make all the throws early in his career. QB school and a lot of work moved him from a 7th round draft pick to a big money free agent, now in Seattle. Harrell needs to be ready, because the offense is set, and Dom Capers didn’t forget how to coach. With some new pieces, the defense will be better. If Rodgers misses a few games, the backup has to be more like Matt Flynn or Matt Hasselbeck than TJ Rubley.
A few years ago, New England lost Tom Brady in the first quarter of week one and Matt Cassel helped them to a 10-6 record. Hard to see that happening if Rodgers goes down in week one. It was at least possible last year with Flynn. Not so much with Harrell. At least not yet.
The final cuts weren’t that surprising, other than Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel not making the team and Boykins making the roster as the 6th receiver. Going with seven offensive linemen is rolling the dice that there are no injuries early and Sherrod can come back mid-season. If that happens, the Packers should be doing well. We saw what an injury to Marshall Newhouse did—derailed the offense and left Aaron Rodgers unprotected. Same can be said if Bryan Bulaga gets hurt—the backups are interior linemen, not tackles.
The NFC looks wide open, starting in the North where 3 teams have a chance to win the Division (Packers, Bears and Lions). Also expected to contend for the NFC Title and Super Bowl are Philly and the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Giants in the East and San Francisco in the West. The South has some good teams, but Atlanta keeps disappointing in the playoffs, and the Saints are without Head Coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the season. Hard to see them advancing to the Super Bowl with an interim coach and without a key playmaker. And even though a member of the Carolina Panthers said they would make it to the Super Bowl and took out a full page ad in the local paper, it’s hard to see them beating all the other teams listed here. Not that it can’t happen, but it probably won’t happen.