Beginning to Believe
Trying to project a team’s prospects based on a few pre-season games generally falls under the category of folly. Still, the early returns on the 2009 edition of the Green Bay Packers have to be encouraging for Packer fans.
The main focus throughout this summer has been on the improvement of the defense with the switch to the 3-4 alignment. Given the level of competition through the first two exhibition games, it would be easy to discount the performance of that unit. Tonight’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, however, may have provided a much better guage of where the defense currently stands. The Cardinals had one of the league’s top offenses last season in advancing to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, the Packers did give up a few big plays, but also created three turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery. To allow only 10 points in the first half while the starters were playing figures to be a confidence builder heading into the season. It’s also likely, considering that the Packers will play Arizona again during the regular season, that defensive coordinator Dom Capers dialed back some of his defensive schemes in order not to reveal too much before their next meeting.
The way the offense is playing, the defense can afford to make a few mistakes. Flying under the radar with the changes on defense and the fuss over predecessor Brett Favre signing with the Minnesota Vikings, quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks exceptionally comfortable under center entering his second season as a starting signal caller. Thus far, Rodgers has shown no signs of suffering a ‘sophomore slump’. The emergence of second year tight end Jermichael Finley and the healthy return of wide receiver James Jones gives Rodgers even more weapons than he had last year when he became only the 2nd QB in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in his first year as a full time player. If he ultimately makes the team, promising rookie running back Tyrell Sutton could add yet another dimension to the offense.
All this is not to gloss over the fact that some question marks still remain about this team.
As much as anything, success in the NFL is often predicated on good health. An injury to Rodgers would be devastating to the Packers season, especially given the quality of his backups. Matt Flynn has exhibited signs of being a “gamer” but is still very inexperienced. And one has to wonder how long the Packers can afford the luxury of holding onto a grossly overmatched Brian Brohm as a third string QB.
There is also the matter of the revamped offensive line. The early signs have been positive but it remains to be seen how well this unit jells once the games start to count. This is another area where an injury or two could have a great detrimental effect.
The kicking game is a work in progress and could cost the Packers a game or two during the season.
And while the defense has played well so far, remember that it’s still comprised largely of the same players who struggled through most of last season. To assume that there won’t be some growing pains in the transition would be unrealistic.
Even so, optimism is the order of the day in Green Bay. Truth be told, the Packers were probably closer to being a good team last season than many of their detractors would concede. If the offense can maintain it’s effectiveness, even a marginal improvement in defense and special teams should easily reverse last year’s 6-10 record. That would put Green Bay right in the middle of the chase for the NFC North title or at least a wild card playoff spot. After that, anything is possible in the NFC. If you don’t believe that, just ask the Arizona Cardinals.