Packers regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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Final Power Ranking: 1
Preseason Power Ranking: 1

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson became one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets in an offense filled with many weapons.
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Jordy Nelson had a standout performance in Super Bowl XLV, but few were expecting the kind of breakthrough season he produced in 2011. On a team stocked with elite talent from receiver Greg Jennings to tight end Jermichael Finley, it was Nelson who led the Packers with 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Only two players in the league, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, caught more touchdowns. Nelson continually got behind defenses who either misjudged his speed or were drawn elsewhere. He deftly handled a midseason discussion about race and his position, and ultimately proved to be one of the league's top downfield threats. He averaged 18.6 yards per catch, and his touchdowns included distances of 93, 84, 58, 55, 50 and 40 yards.

Biggest disappointment: There aren't many options for a team that won 15 regular season games, the sixth time that's happened in NFL history. But few people in the Packers organization were thrilled by the performance of the pass defense, which allowed an NFL-record 4,796 yards and pushed the Packers to the bottom of the NFL in total defense. (They ranked No. 5 in 2010.) It didn't cost them a game in 2011, partly because they mitigated the yardage total with a league-high 31 interceptions and partly because their offense was one of the league's best. The big concern, of course, is that a hot quarterback could capitalize in the playoffs and end the Packers' dreams for a repeat Super Bowl.

Biggest need: The Packers tried to piece together their right outside linebacker position this year with 2010 street free agent Erik Walden, second-year player Frank Zombo and reserve Brad Jones. Walden didn't make much of an impact as a pass rusher, managing three sacks in 16 games. Zombo was hurt most of the season and Jones was ineffective. Previously, we figured the Packers could skate by as long as All-Pro Clay Matthews was on the opposite side. But offensive attention shifted to Matthews this season, limiting him to six sacks, and no one picked up the slack. The Packers finished tied for No. 27 in the NFL in sacks (27) and it might be time to devote another high draft choice to the position to provide a pass-rushing alternative.

Team MVP: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the favorite to win the NFL MVP, making him a pretty decent candidate for the team award. In a year of obscene yardage totals from Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, Rodgers was the league's most efficient and least mistake-prone quarterback. He set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating and became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards while also throwing six or less interceptions. It's true that the Packers' offense continued humming along when Rodgers sat out the regular season finale, but those who saw large chunks of his season know that he was operating on a never-before-seen plane for the first two-thirds of the season. Rodgers has perfected the art of the back-shoulder throw and helped deliver the phrase "throwing open" into the public NFL lexicon.

Penalty watch: We could devote an entire post to the milestones surpassed and records set for this team. Two that didn't get nearly enough attention: 14 turnovers and 76 penalties, both of which qualified as the lowest figures in a 16-game season in franchise history. Penalties don't always correlate with wins and losses. But viewed together, we can say with some confidence that the Packers didn't make many mistakes this season.

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