Aaron Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP. Clay Matthews is a perennial Pro Bowler and as good of a playmaker on defense as there is. The Packers receiving core is the deepest in the league. In his limited appearances, Cedric Benson appears to be a solid compliment to the passing game that Green Bay has been looking for. Charles Woodson’s move to safety will allow him to utilize his best skill, and attack the ball as well as open a spot for young cornerback talent to step up.
However, none of the aforementioned roster spots is the most pivotal to the Packer’s success this season.
Rodger’s will be great, that is as close to a guarantee as there is in the NFL right now. He’s just that good.
With rookie linebacker Nick Perry lined up on the opposite side, Matthew’s production and impact can only go up. Matthews won’t have to fight through a double team every snap now, and will be able to get into the backfield and blow plays up like he always has.
Depending on how Jennings comes back from the concussion he suffered in the preseason; he, along with Jordy Nelson should have great seasons, in addition to James Jones, a budding Randall Cobb and a still effective Donald Driver. The lone question mark in the receiving core seems to be Jermichael Finley and how productive he will be. When healthy and mentally prepared, Finley has the ability to be the best tight end in the league.
Benson is still getting used to the Packers offense and got limited carries during the preseason. However, the fact that he was picked up by a contender after he was out of work and few wanted to take a chance on him should motivate him to do as much as he can with this opportunity. When Benson did get the ball, he gouged the defense between the tackles and ran with great vision.
As the years go by Woodson just keeps producing. He is always near the top in interceptions and forced fumbles. He is one of the best tacklers on the team which for a player in the secondary is wildly important. He can still cover ground and run with receivers, but the move to safety will allow him the opportunity to help over the top more.
But the two most important positions for Green Bay this season are the kicker and the backup quarterback.
I know many of you may think this seems dumb, but just think for a minute.
Last season the Packers had six games decided by a touchdown or less, including their lone regular season loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. Seven if you count the season opener against the New Orleans Saints which could have gone to overtime with a touchdown and two point conversion.
The reason those games were close was because last season Green Bay either blew out the other team, or decided for some reason that they wanted to make the game interesting so they weren’t going to play very good defense. On paper the Packers had a great defense. They had a very similar looking roster as the year before when they won the Super Bowl. One glaring difference was the loss of Cullen Jenkins.
At the time I thought little of his absence. Like Aaron Kampman’s departure, I figured that the Packers were losing a good player that could definitely help, but someone would fill the role. Especially since BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett would still be there to get an interior rush. That did not happen. The Green Bay pass rush from 2010 was almost nonexistent in 2011, which allowed opposing quarterbacks a day and a half to wait until coverage broke down then hit an open receiver.
But their offense was so high powered that oftentimes they were able to just outscore their opponent, regardless of how their defense was playing. That “bend don’t break” attitude only works for so long, however, and we saw that in the NFC Championship against the Giants.
As improved as I think the defense will be this season, I don’t have total faith in their ability to keep teams out of the end zone. I foresee some games going just like last season, when they unnecessarily came down to the wire simply because the defense had lapses at terrible times. That is why I think Mason Crosby will be so important this season.
Since his rookie year, he has established that he’s one of the best kickers in the league. His accuracy and leg strength aren’t a problem, but I do question his concentration at times because he seems to randomly miss a field goal here and there when you’d think it would be nearly automatic.
How many games a season do we see decided by a field goal? Quite a few. And if the Packers defense is as spotty as it was a season ago, we’ll need Crosby more than ever in order to stay in the Super Bowl picture.
Which brings me to Graham Harrell. We all saw him this preseason and cringed as he did his best Matt Flynn impersonation. Towards the end he looked leaps and bounds better, but the question remains if he can be a quality backup in this offense. Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s quarterback school seems as though it could turn Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico into a productive quarterback, that’s why I find it hard to believe that Harrell just isn’t good. It just appears as though he hasn’t progressed the same way other backups have in the system.
In the past two seasons we saw Matt Flynn twice in big games. He nearly led the Packers to a comeback victory over the Patriots in 2010, and last season he set the Green Bay record for most touchdown passes in a game in the season finale against the Lions. He performed when given the chance, however rare it was.
Thus far, Rodgers hasn’t had any major injuries aside from his concussion. And with the increased protection that quarterbacks get from referees the likelihood seems ever slimmer. However, football is still a game of violence, and as long as that remains true there is always the chance that he could tear, break, or severely injure something.
If that happens and Harrell is unprepared, the Packers immediately go from a Super Bowl contender to an outside chance. People had confidence in Matt Flynn. Not everyone has confidence in Graham Harrell. If he gets a chance again he needs to show he’s someone that can be relied on.
I know these picks are against the grain, but I firmly believe that these two positions are vital for the success of this year’s Green Bay Packers.
But I’ve been wrong before.