Behind Enemy Lines: Green Bay Packers

Our division experts join forces for this four-part series, leading off with the Super Bowl champs.

Our division experts join forces for this four-part series, leading off with the Super Bowl champions. Were our insiders surprised at the Packers' championship run and can they envision a run at a repeat? That plus much more!

Free agents

Based on the assumption that players with four-plus years of experience will be unrestricted and players with three years will be restricted.

Unrestricted: S Atari Bigby, OG Daryn Colledge, K Mason Crosby, FB Korey Hall, RB Brandon Jackson, DE Cullen Jenkins, WR James Jones, RB John Kuhn, S Anthony Smith, OL Jason Spitz, LB Matt Wilhelm.

Restricted: None.

Overview: Jenkins is the big name and is the top interior pass rusher in the NFL over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Colledge, who hasn't missed a start in three seasons, has been unselfish but inconsistent. Jackson handles third downs with aplomb, while Jones has been mind-numbingly inconsistent.


Transactions

Franchise player: None.

Transition player: None.

Players re-signed: LB A.J. Hawk: FA, had been released by Packers; $33.75M/5 yrs, $8M SB/$1.8M RB. S Charlie Peprah: Potential RFA; $2.25M/2 yrs, $150,000 SB.

Players acquired: None.

Players lost: TE Donald Lee (released), S Derrick Martin (released).


Five burning questions

As asked by PackerReport.com's Bill Huber and answered by VikingUpdate.com's Tim Yotter, BearReport.com's Jeremy Stoltz and RoarReport.com's Nate Caminata.

In light of their up-and-down season and ridiculous number of injuries, where was your level of surprise as the Packers earned two must-win victories to close the regular season and then stormed through the playoffs to win the Super Bowl?


Matthews and Rodgers celebrate after the Super Bowl.
Nelson Chenault/USPresswire
Yotter: It was a huge surprise that they made the playoffs. Throughout the season, I kept waiting for the folding tent and it never completely came. I figured the loss of Jermichael Finley would severely limit the offense, but it appeared that Aaron Rodgers just matured too much to let much affect him. He might have been frustrated at times, but he led an improbable run considering the injuries the team sustained.

Stoltz: The team showed a lot of character late last season, especially considering the injury issues. Yet it was the play of Aaron Rodgers that propelled them through the playoffs. It was one of the best stretches of play by a quarterback I've ever seen. His Super Bowl performance was legendary and has cemented him as one of the best in the game.

Caminata: The Packers did exactly what championship teams are supposed to do: They overcame adversity and flicked the switch once they entered the postseason. I was surprised if only because the Packers seemed to have weaknesses on the offensive line and backfield, yet there was no doubting the legitimacy of Aaron Rodgers — he was a championship-caliber quarterback all season along. And I think that underscores what was a quality decision to dump Brett Favre a few years back, a move once considered unpopular. After the embarrassing end to his career, and Green Bay's post-Favre success, who can doubt this franchise?

A lot of us here, whether it's fans or those intimately familiar with the team, think they've got a pretty decent shot at repeating. What is your outside perspective? And who do you think is the top challenger?

Yotter: There is good reason for optimism considering the players that will be returning. I still see the running game as a question mark, but there is too much surrounding talent to think they won't return to the playoffs. The biggest issue will be fighting complacency after winning it all. In some ways, I see the lockout as a benefit to the Packers because the schemes and coaches remain the same, and giving the players an extended period away from the game and the spring and summer grind could help them get right back into the weekly game-schedule swing much earlier.

Stoltz: If Rodgers continues his stellar play, it's hard to foresee any defense stopping him. That said, the team was able to get by last year with a subpar running game, which is a rare phenomenon in the NFL. If Green Bay wants a shot at a repeat, that area of the offense must improve. The biggest challenger in the NFC next year will be Philadelphia, which has made it a priority to improve its defense this offseason, to go along with that high-octane offense.

Caminata: It would be difficult to argue Green Bay's chances at repeating, especially given that the core of the team returns. Aaron Rodgers is clearly one of the league's better quarterbacks and belongs in the conversation with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. However, this is where the division becomes very relevant: The NFC North will be stronger and hungrier, and the Packers play each team twice, forcing them to improve upon their own championship success. And therein lies the rub. I think it's too difficult to suggest any contenders, but in the conference, you have to consider New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta in the conversation.

If you're picking a quarterback to start your team, who are you taking? The Packers' Aaron Rodgers or one of the other elite passers?


Rodgers dissected the vaunted Steelers defense.
Nelson Chenault/USPresswire
Yotter: Rodgers is top three for me right now, but I've always been a huge Peyton Manning fan. I think he's done more with less on that offense and hasn't had as big of a supporting cast on defense. His ability to get rid of the ball quickly and diagnose and maneuver defenses is still the best in the league, in my opinion.

Stoltz: If I want my team to win next season only, I would still go with Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, due mainly to their experience. If I want to win multiple championships over the next 10 years, I'm taking Rodgers.

Caminata: Rodgers clearly has earned his place among mention of the league's elite. Still, this is a quarterback-dominated league, and players like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Brady, either of the Manning's, et al, are capable of leading a qualified team to the playoffs and beyond.

OK, coaches. You've had all offseason to plot and scheme to beat the Packers. How are you doing it and is the team you cover capable of doing it?

Yotter: I would continue to put the pressure on Rodgers, like the Vikings did with Michael Vick last year. The Packers' offense is going to move the ball, but sending blitzes more than 50 percent of the time could create a few timely turnovers, especially since their running game is still a work in progress.

Stoltz: As far as defending against Green Bay's offense, the Bears did as good of a job as anyone last year. They held the Packers' offense to two touchdowns or less in all three matchups. No major defensive changes need to be made. Yet figuring out Dom Capers' defense is a whole different animal. Mike Martz should be spending a good chunk of his free time during the lockout designing game plans to actually put up some points against Green Bay.

Caminata: Do whatever the Lions did on Dec. 12. The Lions absolutely obliterated Green Bay's offensive line, holding a team that had been averaging close to 30 points a week to a single field goal. But the reason behind Detroit's destruction of the Packers was really an incredible start — they came out firing and tossed Green Bay off-balance, and the champs never recovered. Given the addition of Nick Fairley, there's no reason to suggest the Lions won't use that same methodology this season.

Your teams were pretty active during the offseason in terms of player-organized workouts. The Packers didn't do a darned thing. We won't know for sure until the season starts, but do you take that as a sign of complacency or do you see a team with almost no turnover on the coaching staff and minimal turnover on the roster and figure the Packers could use a break?

Yotter: More of the latter. The clock can turn quickly from the Super Bowl to the offseason conditioning program to minicamps and then training camp. The Packers went two weeks longer than the Bears and more than a month longer than the Lions and Vikings. The regular season is a grind; add four more pressure-packed games at the end and the player need that extra time to recover. If they come to camp in shape, they should be just fine because of the stability in schemes and coaches.

Stoltz: I don't think the player workouts have been all that important. They make great fodder for the media, and give Drew Brees some more camera time, but it's the hours the players spend with the coaches that prepares them for the season. The Packers will be just fine doing what they've been doing.

Caminata: Absolute complacency, but is complacency ever deserved? They did, after all, win the ultimate prize. Obviously, the Packers will be in a better situation than most teams that opted for a longer vacation, but it would be remiss not to question the leadership roles on the football club. Matthew Stafford and other team captains were responsible for arranging Detroit's offseason workout activities; why every other team (Green Bay, among others) didn't do the same appears largely inexcusable. If any of this translates into anything at all on the field, don't think that questions regarding the team's leadership and offseason apathy won't surface.


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