The Green Bay Packers entered training camp as the preseason favorites to win Super Bowl 50. And that remains the expectation for the team, even after losing star receiver Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury on Sunday.
“It’s tough,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a tough blow to our football, but as we spoke in the team meeting, nothing’s changed. Our goal hasn’t changed. When things like this happen, a good system with a good football team, adjustments are made. So, we will adjust and keep moving. We need to improve.”
The adjusting began at Tuesday’s practice. Randall Cobb assumes the mantle of unquestioned No. 1 receiver. From there, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis are taking a step up the pecking order. It will be up to the young receivers to quickly adapt to their larger roles and take advantage of new opportunities, because Nelson’s production is going to be incredibly difficult to overcome. He set a team record for receiving yards last season and ranks fourth in the NFL with 43 touchdown receptions over the past four seasons.
Without all of that big-play output, can the Packers still win the Super Bowl?
“Yeah, nothing changes,” Cobb said. “They’re still going to make us play 16 games. We still have to line up and go beat teams. Our goals haven’t changed. Every year, we’re chasing the same thing. We’re going to continue to do what we do with the guys that we have.”
To get there, the defense is going to need to elevate its level of play. That was obvious entering the season, anyway, but the Packers are going to have a hard time matching last season’s top-ranked 30.4 points per game without Nelson. If the offense scores one touchdown less per game on occasion, will the defense be good enough to make up the difference?
“That’s obviously something we talked about right away,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “During the Super Bowl run, we had a few injuries on the offensive side – especially to key players – and the defense really had to pick it up. Obviously, whether we like to admit it or not, it’s been an offensive team for the past several years with how well they’ve done on offense. It’s times like these that define a season as far as when a star player goes down. It’s time for others to step up, whether that be the other receivers, run game. But not only that, as a team, the defense stepping up. Stopping the run, creating turnovers, just giving it back to our offense in hopes they can put more points on the board.”
As Nelson pointed out, the offensive cupboard isn’t bare. Aaron Rodgers is “obviously the best quarterback” in the NFL, Nelson said. Cobb is a star and his teammates consider Adams a budding star. The running back tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks is one of the best in the business, as is the offensive line.
So, yes, the Super Bowl remains a legit possibility.
“There’s a lot of unknown out there, but I think if guys put the time into it,” Nelson said. “I think we’ve got a great defense and an offense that is extremely balanced in what we do, which is a great thing going in. I think in past years, we’ve been pass-game heavy based on what we had, so I think Eddie and James will be a huge factor there. But it’s what these young guys will do. It’s going to be a great opportunity for them. It’s going to be a lot of work for them, but they’ll put it in. Aaron will put the work in with them, and they’ll have a great opportunity. It will be fun to go out there and watch them make the most of that opportunity and do as well as they can. Even if I was healthy there’s no guarantee we’re going anywhere. There’s a lot of unknown. I know these guys will put the work in, do their best and that’s all you can ask.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.