Much has been made of the games the Green Bay Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as the playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, last season.
The main culprit in those losses was the Packers’ pass coverage, or lack thereof.
The Packers could have improved the area in the offseason by looking at the cornerback position and, to some extent, the outside linebacker position, where a quality pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews would have covered up some deficiencies in the secondary.
More than a few observers listed cornerback and/or outside linebacker as the team’s biggest offseason needs.
And so, the Packers did pretty much nothing to address either position in the offseason. Typical Ted Thompson.
Pretty simply, the Packers have a lot of question marks at the aforementioned positions, specifically at cornerback.
Charles Woodson had a career year in 2009, but it would be hard to envision him duplicating that success at 33. Meanwhile, the Packers’ other starter, Al Harris, is coming off major reconstructive knee surgery and is 35.
Tramon Williams, who stepped in for Harris, has shown a propensity for making big plays and for giving them up (as well as holding penalties). And then there’s Jarrett Bush, who needs no introduction.
Beyond that, the Packers have relative unknowns. Brandon Underwood showed continuous improvement in his rookie season, but still has a ways to go to be a solid NFL corner. Pat Lee, a former second-round pick, has gone on injured reserve each of two seasons with the Packers. Finally, Josh Bell, who was an in-season pickup in 2009, reminded people more of Jarrett Bush than Charles Woodson.
Clearly, a lot of things have to go right — something that rarely happens in the NFL — for the Packers to have a stout pass defense in 2010. It’s the precise reason that has Football Outsiders predicting the Packers will have to win a lot of shootouts in 2010.
The Packers have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but the team has serious potential for a disaster with its cornerbacks. Any contribution from Harris will be a bonus, and the Packers cannot assume that Woodson will either remain healthy or reach last year’s level. Unless Williams and Bush take major strides forward, the Packers will have to win a lot of shootouts.
The game plan for beating the Packers was established last season by the likes of Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. It would be naive to think the rest of the league didn’t take notice.
While the Packers obviously have a lot of talent, the NFC North looks to be improved as well. With offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who masterminded the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” offense, Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler is bound to be flinging the ball all over the field. In Detroit, Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was solid as a rookie, will continue to improve. And we know what Favre did last season.
If the Packers’ offense can’t put up big points, the chic preseason favorite may be in for a long season.