Greg Gillis' Packer Preseason Preview - Part 2In the last issue, I addressed the defense, and closed it with a few points to ponder, including: "What happens if the Packers lose Ryan Grant?" and "It’s fun to watch, but is this the right offense for an outdoor team in Green Bay?"
By: Greg Gillis, Pierce County Herald
In the last issue, I addressed the defense, and closed it with a few points to ponder, including:
What happens if the Packers lose Ryan Grant?
It’s fun to watch, but is this the right offense for an outdoor team in Green Bay?
But let’s start with some positives. No question Aaron Rodgers is one of the top five QBs in the NFL, at least in the regular season. Some say that until he wins a few playoff games or gets to the Conference Championship game or Super Bowl he can’t be included with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre or Drew Brees as one of the top QBs in the game. I don’t know, 45 points in his last playoff game doesn’t sound like he let the team down to me…
The offensive line looks pretty good in pass protection since the second half of last season. The numbers from last year support that, with 261 yards passing per game (7th) and a QB rating of 101.8 (4th). The offensive line that was brutal in the first half of the season before Mark Tauscher came back at right tackle. Chad Clifton was solid at left tackle after missing time before Tauscher was back. To give up 51 sacks for the season isn’t good, but 41 of them were in the first 9 games. Play makers like Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, and go to guys like Donald Driver give Aaron Rodgers some good options. When he has the time, someone will make a play.
The numbers are deceiving when it comes to the running game. That also improved when Tauscher returned, but the Pack averaged 4.3 yards per carry (11th), and 118 yards per game (14th). Yet, when looking at 3rd and 2 or 3, there was just as much chance that the Packers would throw to pick up the first down as run. Mike McCarthy, who calls the plays, is saying he doesn’t believe in the running game.
Which brings us to Ryan Grant. In one of the pre-season broadcasts, they showed a stat that he has more rushing yards since he became the starter than any other back in the NFL. McCarthy said that he would have no issue if Brandon Jackson were the starter. That reminds me of the running back situation when Ahman Green got a better offer in Houston and left the Packers with a backfield of unproven running backs. Yes, the Packers were comfortable with their running backs. Which is why they traded for Grant at the start of the season, and moved him to the starting role a few weeks later, without the benefit of mini-camps, OTAs, or training camp. Ted Thompson traded a draft pick. How many other draft picks has Ted traded for a player in 6 years? And now they like the backups? Really?
In the Indy game, Brandon Jackson got quite a bit of playing time in the first half. Nothing changed my opinion of him. He made some tremendous blocks on blitz pickups. He caught the ball on a swing pass and looked good moving down field. He ran between the tackles and either went nowhere or fumbled. One of the better 3rd down backs, but no way an every down back. Others who were supposed to give the Packers depth are Kregg Lumpkin and Quinn Porter, both of whom were limited at various times in the pre-season due to injury. The guy getting all the press as a steal in the 6th round, James Starks, has an injury and didn’t play in the pre-season. Starks is starting 2010 on the PUP list with Al Harris and Atari Bigby. Porter was placed on season ending IR.
So while Grant has been productive, it’s pretty clear that McCarthy doesn’t have faith in the offensive line and the running game on short yardage situations. It’s also clear the production drops off pretty quickly when Grant isn’t in the backfield. Yet the passing offense is best suited for domes and warm, dry, calm conditions. Rain isn’t good. Wind isn’t good. Cold isn’t good. If it’s cold, windy and snowing, that can be a disaster. Yes, they played well against Seattle in the snow, but it wasn’t very windy and it wasn’t cold—it was near freezing. Thirty degrees with no wind isn’t bad. The offense usually has an advantage in snow, assuming it’s not so cold that gripping the ball is a problem, or so windy that you can’t control the pass.
Other cold weather cities have thrived in recent years. The Patriots have three Super Bowl wins in four appearances in the last 10 years. The Giants beat the Patriots in the one they didn’t win. The Steelers have made the Super Bowl twice in recent years, winning both games. These teams all have very good to great defenses, and a running game that is either good (Patriots), or very good / excellent (Giants, Steelers). They also have very good or excellent QBs, but don’t have to rely on them to win.
The Packers would be on a level with the Patriots as far as a passing offense goes, but would fall short in rushing offense and especially pass defense against good QBs compared to other recent cold weather teams that make the Super Bowl.
While the Packers have a real shot at the playoffs, until they can demonstrate the ability to run the ball when they need to (like 3rd and 2) against good teams, and can stop good passing attacks they couldn’t stop last year (like the Vikings, Steelers and Cards), questions remain about making the Super Bowl. I really like their chances to make the playoffs, and anything can happen once you’re in the playoffs. Ironically, they are probably better off playing at Minnesota or some of the other domes or warm weather locations than they are playing at home (New Orleans is one team I’d rather play at Lambeau even if the conditions are poor). While the crowd noise is a big advantage for the Pack, the playing conditions in January aren’t. To make the Super Bowl, the Packers need a running game they can count on, a pass rush, and some frequent flyer miles in the playoffs.