Green Bay Packers: Ziggy Ansah

Season predictions revisited

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
4:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the 2013 NFL season officially in the books, it’s time to look back at how things turned out as opposed to how yours truly predicted.

On Sept. 3, ESPN NFL Nation’s season predictions went live (although truth be told, our deadline was much earlier than that).

This isn’t an exercise designed to throw myself a bouquet or be self-deprecating but rather to illustrate how things over the course of a 17-week NFL regular-season plus the playoffs.

Here’s how my predictions looked and how things turned out (see chart to the right):

Notes: Although I picked the Broncos to win the Super Bowl before the season, I didn’t subscribe to the I-picked-them-to win-in-September-so-I’m-sticking-with-them theory. With the benefit of seeing the entire season play out, I changed my Super Bowl pick to the Seahawks last week.

In each conference, I correctly picked two of the four division winners and four of the six playoff teams. But two of my predicted division winners – the Texans and Falcons – combined to finish 6-26. The Texans (2-14) finished last in the AFC South, while the Falcons (4-12) finished tied for last with the Buccaneers in the NFC South.

In the awards section, I hit on both Eddie Lacy as offensive rookie of the year and Peyton Manning as MVP but missed on Chiefs coach Andy Reid as coach of the year (although he finished second to Carolina’s Ron Rivera) and Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah as defensive rookie of the year (he did not get a single vote despite leading all rookies with 8.0 sacks).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Eddie Lacy that the San Francisco 49ers saw in Week 1 at Candlestick Park isn’t the Eddie Lacy they should be studying this week.

The Green Bay Packers running back was tentative, indecisive and a fumbler.

[+] EnlargeDavid Bakhtiari
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsPackers rookie LT David Bakhtiari started 16 games this season and gained valuable experience.
He has been none of those things since then.

The David Bakhtiari that the 49ers saw in the season opener isn’t the David Bakhtiari they should be preparing for this week.

The Packers left tackle allowed outside linebacker Aldon Smith to sack quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice and had his hands full with the pass-rusher most of the game.

He has allowed multiple sacks in a game only once since then.

Almost an entire season has passed since the 49ers last saw the Packers, and perhaps the biggest difference in Green Bay is in their two rookie starters on offense. Lacy became the 1,000-yard power back that general manager Ted Thompson hoped he would be when he picked in the second round last April, and Bakhtiari held together an offensive line that could have fallen apart when veteran Bryan Bulaga blew out his knee less than two weeks into training camp.

Chalk it up to first-game jitters (in Lacy’s case) or just plain old inexperience (in Bahktiari’s case), but neither got off to the kind of start they wanted in the 34-28 loss in their NFL debuts at Candlestick Park.

“I can’t even start to describe how I felt that game,” Lacy said. “That was the first time for me, but it’s in the past, so I’m not too much worried about it.”

For Lacy, his 41-yard rushing game (on 14 carries) was his third-lowest total of the season in a game he finished. The fumble, who landed him on the bench for part of the game, was his only one of the season.

“He admittedly was very nervous for the game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So, yeah, Eddie's playing much better, just like any rookie in this league, you know he's got 16 games under his belt now. He knows what to expect, and he's comfortable in the offense, he's comfortable being asked what to do, so yeah Eddie is in a different place today.”

Even his sprained right ankle, which has bothered him the past three weeks, appears to be feeling better heading into Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Lacy finished with a Packers’ rookie record of 1,178 yards rushing -- the eighth-best total in the league -- and scored 11 touchdowns despite missing nearly two full games because of a concussion.

So what will the 49ers see when they watch film of what Lacy has done since they saw him last?

“I think they’re going to see a confident, hard-running Eddie Lacy,” Packers fullback John Kuhn said. “He's going to be determined, assertive. There’s things that he’s learned throughout the course of the year, he’s a great running back and I think they’re going to have their hands full.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsPackers coach Mike McCarthy says running back Eddie Lacy has learned from his rookie mistakes.
Since Week 5, when Lacy returned from the concussion that kept him out of nearly two full games, he has rushed for 1,127 yards -- the second-best total in the league behind only Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (1,139).

“He’s a totally different back,” Packers receiver James Jones said. “It’s night and day. He’s a totally different back -- way more comfortable, way more confident. They’ll have to account for him. I know by them watching film and seeing what he’s done during the season they know he’s not the same player he was Week 1. It’s good for us to have him in the position he is now.”

Bakhtiari, who grew up not far from Candlestick Park, is too California cool to show any signs of nerves like Lacy had in the opener. The most he would admit to was this: “I generally have been pretty calm throughout the whole process. Given my level, it was a little higher than usual, but I wouldn’t say I was completely freaking out.”

The fourth-round pick settled into the job relatively easily. After giving up four sacks in the first four games, he went seven straight games and 10 of out of the next 12 without being changed with a sack, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He allowed only four more sacks after the first month of the season.

Among the opponents he faced in his sackless streak were Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, Minnesota’s Jared Allen (twice) and Chicago’s Julius Peppers. Later in the season, he blanked Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware. His lone disastrous performance came in the Thanksgiving loss at Detroit, where he allowed three sacks (including two by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah).

“Against different body types and very good pass-rushers, he's done a very good job of handling that,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “And he’s done a very good job of handling success but at the same time he’s had some rough games like Detroit, which was his worst game, and he came back and played his [expletive] off. He’s done a very good job for a young guy to not let success creep into it in a negative way and handling it the right way, but he’s also bounced back every time something’s happened."

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