Monday, September 3, 2012

Previewing the Green Bay Packers with Packers Blogger Andy Tisdel

Over the course of last season, Andy Tisdel of Oak Creek Patch had done a Q&A with me on a couple of occasions. This year, we have agreed to do it again. Last week, Andy posted my answers to his questions about the Detroit Lions. This week, I post his answers regarding the Green Bay Packers, the NFC North, and expectations for 2012. This is our story:

1) What in your opinion went wrong last year? Obviously, it's hard to complain about a 15-1 season, but no one in Green Bay was looking for a regular season championship. Was this a case of the Packers not playing their best football when they needed to, or was there something truly wrong with the team?

Andy Tisdel: Yeah, give me the Stanley Cup over the President's Cup any day. One thing that I think went wrong--and this was the case back in 2007 as well when the Packers went to the NFC Championship--was that the quality of play slipped a lot over the second half of the season, especially when the division title and so forth were in the bag. There was the loss to Kansas City. There was what was really a sloppy game against Oakland, even though it was a blowout win. There was that Week 16 game where we let the Bears' third- and fourth-string RBs roll up something like 200 yards rushing on us. In hindsight, there were a lot of ways that the Packers were kind of slowing down during the second half of the season, and they all came out against the Giants. There's been an ongoing debate over whether the Packers gave the game away or just got beat by a better team, played out among NY and GB fans and in the media; in my opinion, the Giants played a great game, but no sane person who watched the game thinks they beat the Packers on their best day. But at the same time, the playoffs are about showing up when you've gotta show up, and the Packers did not.

As far as something wrong with the team... I think there was a problem with handling the Super Bowl victory, and I think it was mostly on the defensive side of the ball. (This is mostly just my theory, so treat it as such.) The Packers are one of those teams with a head coach that mostly involves himself with one side of the ball. Mike McCarthy leads and speaks to and motivates the whole team, but he's heavily involved with offensive game-planning and scheming in a way that he isn't on defense, i.e. he interacts with the offensive players a lot more. McCarthy mostly leaves the defense to Dom Capers, our DC. And while Capers has a reputation for being a really good defensive schemer, I don't think leadership and inspiration and motivation are really his strong suits. This is all just speculation by me, since I'm not inside the building, but last year the offense was phenomenal and the defense was a plane crash. A lot of defensive players--B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, A.J. Hawk, etc. had down years or didn't play to their 2010 form, while the offense as a whole was even better in '11 than '10. Injuries were a factor in the defensive collapse, but it's my guess--one more emphasis on guess--that that organizational problem was a factor as well.

2) There has been a lot of talk about the NFC North and whether the Bears or Lions have closed the gap between themselves and the Packers. How do you see the North playing out this year, and who do you see as the Packers biggest threat?

That is a tough question. I would say the Lions--swear I'm not pandering--because they have had that extra year to build off of their successes, to build chemistry as an offensive unit. As far as I know, all of the offensive players that were essential to last year's success are returning. The Bears have some more uncertainty. Even with the offense tailored to Cutler and Marshall, Marshall is still a newcomer and adjusting is going to take time. Same with Hester and trying to make him into a WR again. Same with their perennial shuffles on the offensive line. It just looks from here like the Lions have had that much more continuity and opportunities to grow without new things to get used to. I don't see the Packers, Bears and Lions being separated in the final standings this year by more than two games total. I still think the Packers should be the favorites for a second straight division title, but they aren't going to run away with it like last year.

3) How worried should Packers fans be about their backup quarterback situation? With Matt Flynn gone and Graham Harrell struggling, do you see the Packers going after a new backup, like the recently released Vince Young? Are the Packers completely done if Aaron Rodgers goes down?

I would say fairly worried. I'm personally hoping we manage to trade for or claim Matt Moore off of waivers, but I think the issue has been kind of overblown. With basically any top-10 quarterback--Brady, either Manning, Brees, Romo, Vick, whoever--if they go down for the year, you're done. Season over. It's such a QB-driven league that even if you can make a playoff push, like the Patriots did in '08 after Brady went down, the odds are you're not going to go very far. (See: the 2011 Texans.) In that respect, whether it's Graham Harrell or Moore or almost any backup QB... maybe not completely done, but our Super Bowl hopes would go from 'well within the realm of possibility' to 'maybe an outside chance'. I don't see the Packers going after Young for any number of reasons--ours is an extremely complicated offense and he hasn't had success with those, he's got a reputation as a loudmouth, etc., but I would not be surprised to see us claim a decent veteran. (Also, not to pick on Young, but if you're released by Buffalo... I'm just saying, that's an indication he doesn't have much left.)

4) The Packers spent almost all of their draft picks trying to improve the defense. Do you expect to see a big improvement in the defense this year? Many believe the defense took a big step back last year, do you see it that way? Any rookie looking like they'll have a big impact this year?

To "did the defense take a step back", there's no question whatsoever. Like I was saying up above, a lot of players had bad years from an individual standpoint, but the combination of that + injuries to/release of key players/ + possible lack of attention from head coach was just a toxic one. It was one of the worst collapses from year to year that I've ever seen.

Having said all that, I do believe the defense will jump back to at least adequate this year for two big reasons. One is that Tramon Williams' shoulder is healthy, and that just opens up the defense so much for Capers. Williams is one of the best cover corners in football when he can play press coverage, which he couldn't do last year because of nerve damage suffered in Week 1. I think Capers can be a lot more creative with his coverages and blitzes, knowing that.

The other is that we finally, finally, finally have a legitimate pass-rush threat opposite Clay Matthews. This is something that the D has been missing since 2009. Last year, the Packers couldn't generate pressure from multiple angles; they just had Matthews moving around but no other credible threats. This year they should have at least two or three players who can rush the QB consistently. This goes back to your question about the rookies. Perry has a lot to learn about being an OLB (he was a collegiate DE), but he's shown a ton of athletic ability and raw power. Jerel Worthy is excitable and hasn't shown a lot of gap discipline as yet, but he also has potential. For both of them and for the other rookies, they have the potential to have a big impact, but the best thing they can do is create opportunities for the Packers' existing stars. Put another way, Perry will likely create more sacks for Matthews then he will create on his own... and he will benefit as well from Matthews' presence. For me at least, that's the biggest reason for optimism.

5) What is the biggest obstacle the Packers face on their journey to a second championship in three years? Lastly, what's your prediction for the year?

The Packers' biggest obstacle is going to be injuries. We've already lost one Pro Bowl-level player for the year in Desmond Bishop. Luckily, we're deep at inside linebacker, but there's an uncomfortably large number of positions where we aren't--offensive tackle, safety, quarterback and running back spring to mind. The 2010 Packers could absorb ridiculous numbers of injuries because they had good players ready to go and good coaches using them correctly. The 2012 Packers will need to stay healthy at those positions to capture another title.
They're also going to need to get it together when it counts. I think I can safely predict that the Packers will make the playoffs somehow if Rodgers stays healthy; they're just too good and too talented not to, despite all the Lions and Bears can throw at them (and it's going to be close). It's what happens once they're there that concerns me. Green Bay responded amazingly to adversity in 2010; as a privileged No. 1 seed in 2011, they collapsed. It's up to the coaching staff to coax the best out of the team when the time comes, and up to the players to give it. If they can do that--and I think they can--then Aaron Rodgers will get his second ring come February.


Andy Tisdel is the Packers blogger for Oak Creek Patch, and also runs his own site at Check them out!

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