Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Packers regular-season wrap-up
By Kevin Seifert
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 3
The emergence of Tramon Williams this season has helped strengthen the Packers' secondary.
Biggest surprise: The Packers were knocked out of the playoffs last season when an injury-depleted secondary gave up five touchdown passes to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. From a personnel standpoint, they did little in the offseason to bolster their personnel, instead counting on a number of players -- Al Harris, Brandon Underwood and Will Blackmon, among others -- to return from injuries. None of them contributed in a meaningful way in 2010, but the Packers are still in much better shape at the start of the postseason. Why? Tramon Williams developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback (he's an alternate), and rookie Sam Shields emerged out of nowhere to give the Packers a reliable nickelback -- just as the Packers planned.
Biggest disappointment: Tight end Jermichael Finley was lost in Week 5 to a season-ending knee injury, joining tailback Ryan Grant as the two most damaging injuries the Packers suffered this season. The Packers spent the offseason re-centering their entire offense around Finley, and he was on his way to a breakout season with 21 receptions for 301 yards in the first four games. (By my math, that put him on pace for 84 receptions and 1,204 yards.) All indications are that Finley will make a full recovery by next season, but the Packers were forced to make fundamental changes to their offense after his injury.
Biggest need: Grant's injury revealed the Packers to have dangerously thin depth at the position. In essence, they have spent the season without a featured back. Brandon Jackson proved to be a better receiver (8.0 yards per reception) than runner (3.7 yards per rush). John Kuhn is a fan favorite but in reality a specialist, and the Packers have seen only glimpses of promise from rookie James Starks. Even if Grant makes a full recovery, restocking this position is a significant priority.
Team MVP: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers rolled with wholesale injury replacements all season but still managed to hold opponents to the second-fewest total points (240) in the NFL. The Packers had five different starters on the defensive line, 10 different starting linebackers and saw their strong safety position split by rookie Morgan Burnett and veteran Charlie Peprah. Capers' time as a head-coaching candidate might have passed, but what he did this season merits acknowledgment from around the NFL.
A "slump?": Quarterback Aaron Rodgers started the Pro Bowl in 2009 but qualified only as an alternate in 2010. He missed one game because of a concussion and threw four more interceptions than he did last season. Despite what he has referred to as some "inconsistency" in 2010, Rodgers still had one of the best seasons in the NFL. His 8.3 yards-per-attempt average ranked No. 2 in the league, his 101.2 rating ranked No. 3, his 65.7 completion percentage tied for No. 5, and his 28 touchdown passes tied for No. 6. We should all be so inconsistent.