The Green Bay Packers enjoyed their bye week being the only undefeated team in the NFL with seven wins and zero losses. The defending Super Bowl champions have obviously played well this year, but the intriguing thing is that the Packers as a team have not yet played up to their potential according to Mike McCarthy. McCarthy indicated this week that he expects improvements as the team approaches the halfway mark of the season this weekend.
The Packers’ defense has slipped somewhat significantly from last year’s performance. The Packer defense statistically rated in the top ten last year in most measures but have slipped a dozen notches or so thus far in 2011. The 2011 team is absent Nick Collins and Cullen Jenkins, both very good players in 2010, and they have others (Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams) who have been playing with injuries. Injuries affected the team last year too but new players stepped up big time then, and that hasn’t happened yet this year. Perhaps a defensive player or two will step it up in the second half of the season. Perhaps Mike Neal or Vic So’oto will be those players.
Special teams play in 2010 wasn’t very good and thus far in 2011 the performance is quite a bit better. Mason Crosby is outstanding with his kicking this year. Punter Tim Masthay has been OK and the addition of Randall Cobb as kick returner has been a plus. Coverage teams have been better than last year.
On offense, the Packer receivers have dropped too many balls this year and the running game has struggled at times. The offensive line has played about the same as last year. The key to making any offense click is the quarterback position, and the Packers have the best in the business right now. Aaron Rodgers has played lights out starting with the six game winning streak last year through the first seven games in 2011. He is the reason the Packers have won their last 13 games. Rodgers is on a schedule to break all sorts of records if he stays the course and has to be the leading candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. It was Rodgers who was passed over by just about all the NFL teams in the 2005 draft (the Minnesota Vikings actually had two chances to select him), and they all wish they had him now.
Lots of things can happen in the remaining games so time will tell, but Cheeseheads have to be very proud of their 2011 team. Watching some of the other NFL teams struggle and bumble during the bye week made me appreciate the team that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have put together and developed.
The Packers travel to San Diego next week being well rested, and they should be much healthier than before the bye. The Chargers have a pretty good team but Charger quarterback Phillip Rivers has thrown a bunch of interceptions this year. Look for the Packer defense to step it up a notch and pick up a couple turnovers but beware, teams coming off their bye week have a horrible win/loss record thus far this year.