Posted August 02, 2013

NFL Training Camp Snapshot 2013: Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers, NFC North, Snapshots
Clay Matthews lead a defensed that ranked 11th in both points and yards allowed last season.

Clay Matthews lead a defense that ranked 11th in both points and yards allowed last season. (Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI)

With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.

The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl just three seasons ago, so pretending in any way that this is a team in crisis would be erroneous.

Yet, it’s the 2009, ’11 and ’12 playoff exits that the Packers are concerned with as a new season approaches. Each of those years, Green Bay’s untimely demise fell mostly at the feet of its defense — Arizona put up 51 on the Packers in an OT win during the ’09 playoffs, the Giants dropped them 37-20 in 2011 and the 49ers ran them ragged for a convincing 45-31 final last season.

You can count on the Packers to score points most weeks, one way or another. They can thank the presence of Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best QB in the league, for that consistent luxury.

The question remains, though: Will this team be able to get the stops it needs, when push comes to shove?

Biggest storyline: Did the tweaks on defense work?

Green Bay’s D landed 11th in both points and yards allowed last season, so it was not a total wasteland on that side of the ball. The Packers were exposed badly, though, in a playoff loss to San Francisco, in which the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers offense made them look like they were running in quicksand.

Rather than start from scratch after that embarrassing setback, the Packers are hoping that a couple personnel changes could pay dividends. One of those “changes” is the return of Nick Perry. Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2012, Perry had a so-so first six games before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. The second is the arrival of rookie Datone Jones, who should drop right into a defensive end spot in Green Bay’s 3-4 front.

Both Perry and Jones ought to provide an uptick for the Packers’ athleticism quotient on defense and, if all goes according to plan, will limit the pressure placed on Clay Matthews, who was asked to do too much on his own in 2012.

The secondary also returns intact for Green Bay. It is a relatively young group, buoyed last year by the impressive play of cornerback Casey Heyward and safety M.D. Jennings. But the backline can only do so much if the Packers’ front seven falters. The success of those tweaks on the D-line and at linebacker may make or break the Packers down the line.

Most intriguing positional battle: Running back.

Little question that this is the spot to watch as the preseason unfolds in Green Bay. The Packers return three of their top four rushers from 2012 (not counting Aaron Rodgers, who actually finished second on the team with 259 yards). Normally, that would be a positive; here, it’s a reminder that Alex Green led this team with a measly 459 yards on the ground last season.

So, Green Bay spent a second-round pick on Alabama RB Eddie Lacy and a fourth-round choice on UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin. That duo may wind up forming a 1-2 punch in the backfield, but Green, DuJuan Harris and James Starks all remain in the mix. Starks even has drummed up some chatter early in camp with a series of impressive showings.

The Packers know they can win without a dominant run game — they had the 24th-best rushing attack during a 2010 Super Bowl season and finished 27th in going 15-1 the next year. Drafting Lacy and Franklin still indicates a desire to pound the rock more reliably. Now, Green Bay just has to figure out which back will be getting the ball.

New face, new place: Johnny Jolly.

Technically, this is more of an “old face in the same place” story, but let’s go with it. Jolly last played for the Packers in 2009, when he was a 16-game starter. He spent the next three seasons dealing with multiple drug-related arrests and what was an “indefinite” suspension handed down by the NFL.

The league finally reinstated the 30-year-old Jolly in March, then he promptly rejoined the Packers, who still held Jolly’s rights after tendering him a contract as a restricted free agent three years ago.

Jolly, 340 pounds at last check, will have to battle for a roster spot with the Packers. But the door appears to be at least slightly open, as Green Bay tries to bulk up its defensive-line depth. (The selection of Jones in the draft helped there quite a bit.) Given how few additions came to Green Bay via free agency, Jolly’s re-emergence stands out as a story to watch.

Impact rookie: David Bakhtiari, offensive lineman.

Jones, Lacy and Franklin all could be major contributors for the Packers this season. Bakhtiari’s potential to develop into an important cog could come as a much bigger upset.

The 109th-overall pick in this year’s draft, Bakhtiari was a left tackle at Colorado but worked out for teams at guard and center before the draft. He’s jumped into the mix at right tackle, where the Packers are searching for some sort of answer.

Marshall Newhouse had first crack at that starting gig, with Bryan Bulaga sliding to left tackle. However, Newhouse struggled on Rodgers’ blindside in 2012 and is far from a sure bet to stay with the first-team offense into the regular season. Bakhtiari, Don Barclay and Derek Sherrod all figure to see time there during the preseason. And Bakhtiari probably is the most athletic of the group, which could make him the choice, especially as Green Bay tries to awaken its rushing attack.

Looking at the schedule: This is … not going to be easy.

The Packers won the division last season on the strength of a 5-1 mark against their NFC North rivals. Repeating that performance, with Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota all looking relatively tough, will be difficult.

Finding wins outside the division may not be all that easy, either. Green Bay opens at San Francisco, site of its playoff implosion, in a game that will test the Packers’ defense right away. They host Washington the next week (with RGIII looking likely to be in the lineup), then visit AFC North contender Cincinnati before an early bye week.

During their 13-games-in-13-weeks close, Green Bay has to travel to Baltimore, New York to play the Giants, Dallas and all three NFC North spots, and they will host Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Should the Packers reach double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive season, they will have earned it.

They’ll also be a dangerous playoff team, if they get there. The defense remains full of playmakers; and the offense, despite losing WR Greg Jennings, is loaded with weapons.

12 comments
JohnnyNacho
JohnnyNacho

Losing their left tackle so early will be another tough year for that offensive line.  No doubt Rodgers have a successful year in leading Green Bay.  However, taking major hits again this year will likely be the case.  Rival Bears' quarterback Cutler has had to endure countless hits over the years and they start to add up.  The sacks don't just tell the story but the endless hits as well.  Staying healthy begins to be a challenge.

tom50mal
tom50mal

Injuries will tell the tale with the Packers this year.  Same can be said of any of the other contenders.  All we can do as fans is keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.  In the end, the best team -- and the luckiest one -- will win.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

This won't be the Packers year for a SB run. I'm looking/thinking that the next 2 years will have better opportunities for them. The O-line and D-lines, and not to mention the secondary need more attention.

KristopherLohmuller
KristopherLohmuller

5-1 against the Lions (who haven't really improved), the Vikings (still don't have a real QB and AP isn't going to get 2000 yards this season) and the Bears (Jay Cutler can't seem to keep Clay Mathews from hitting him) isn't a stretch. Cincinnati is always a toss-up team. Packers only seem to lose to the Giants at home recently. Baltimore still can't score enough points and their offense actually got worse. The rest of the AFC North isn't that great. Only games you can really state right out they may probably lose are the Niners, Falcons and Ravens (though see my comment). I'd be more surprised if this team loses more than 5 games that I would be if it reached 10 wins.


I think they will win the North and how things go against the Niners and Falcons will determine the top three seeds.

ImmaFubared
ImmaFubared

The Packers still have a weak or at least un tested O line. Rogers spent a lot of time on his arse last year. Now they are expected to be star quality against Cincinnati , 9ers, Giants, Lions, Vikings. 

After the draft I had them at 6-10 with them possibly losing the first 5 games and going 0-5. Running game has proved nothing. Defense has proved nothing and the d backs are so so. No big time playmakers to speak of. 

doghockey
doghockey

@KristopherLohmuller This Baltimore team that you speak of?  Is this the same team that, just last year,  averaged 2.2 points per game fewer than your green and gold juggernaut, and gained about 100 fewer total yards over the course of then entire season?

Rick58
Rick58

Really, you had them going 6 - 10? It's funny I've never read any of your predictions online before. Are you a contributing writer somewhere or just some dbag who thinks his opinions make those of us who know our team think you are on to something? There is also the possibility you have no idea about this or any NFL team and are simply here to try and get a rise. So which possibility is it Immafubared, because your name is giving me everything I need to answer that question, but please humor us.

KristopherLohmuller
KristopherLohmuller

@ImmaFubared Packer's D last season gave up fewer yards per game than Baltimore, Minnesota, Atlanta, Washington, and New England. So almost half the playoff teams, including the Super Bowl Champion, gave up more yards per game. The Packer's only real problem last year was that they didn't force many fumbles and one guy picked them apart because Capers didn't adjust for him.

KristopherLohmuller
KristopherLohmuller

@ImmaFubared Considering they will most likely once again go 5-1 against the NFC north, you really are expecting a bunch of losses to crappy teams.

lukeortman
lukeortman

@ImmaFubared If the Packers finish 6-10, I will give  you a year of Aaron Rodger's salary.