What else did we learn this past season? With every positive development, there was a negative or moderation counter to it.
1. The Packers exceeded expectations with their 8-8 record. They almost made the playoffs. They finished 5-1 in the NFC North Division and won their last four games. To finish four games better than last year is an achievement.
But ...with the exception of the Bears (13-3), they did not beat anyone with a winning record. Green Bay's other victories were over the Lions (3-13), Vikings (6-10), Cardinals (5-11), 49ers (7-9) and Dolphins (6-10). The Bears were the elite team in the NFC, but they had already clinched home field throughout the playoffs, so that must be taken into account when evaluating the game.
2. The defense allowed only 16 points the final three games of the season. They held the Lions, who rang up 39 on the Cowboys Sunday, to nine points. The Vikings only scored a defensive TD. The Bears scored a TD on a broken play.
But …they gave up 38 to the Jets, 34 to the Seahawks, 35 to the Patriots, 26 to the Bears, 34 to the Saints and 31 to the Eagles. They rank 12th in total defense, but 25th in scoring defense. That will need to improve next year.
3. The zone blocking scheme worked well enough. Ahman Green gained over 1,000 yards this season despite missing two games. Brett Favre was only sacked 24 times which was the fifth lowest total in the league. Considering that Green Bay threw more passes than any other team in the league makes it even more impressive. The three rookie lineman, plus Scott Wells showed promise.
But …they ranked 23rd in total rushing yards per game, just barely over 100 yards per. Favre's quick release and mobility contributed to the lack of sacks as much as the blocking. The architect of the scheme, Coach Jeff Jagodzinski is leaving for Boston College and Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher showed signs of wear and tear. Coach McCarthy was forced to scheme and game plan to help the pass blocking by keeping the tight end and backs in to help. More often than not, the Packers had only limited receivers running patterns, cutting down on Favre's options.
4. New players added to the roster this year made big contributions. Ryan Pickett was solid. Charles Woodson made some big plays. Greg Jennings was a nice upgrade at receiver. Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll gave a good effort when asked and will get stronger in the off-season program. Abdul Hodge showed some flashes in training camp. Ruvell Martin and Carlyle Holliday showed some promise against the Bears in the season finale. Dave Rayner and Jon Ryan were not awful.
First-round pick A.J. Hawk was good, if not spectacular. He led the team in tackles and was around the ball a lot. He is still learning as all young linebackers must do and will only get better. He made the team better and was a good solid pick.
But … Marquand Manuel was a bust. How could Ted Thompson watch him every day in Seattle and give him a free agent contract like he did. The team needed another receiver or two.
But … Robert Ferguson, Nick Collins, David Martin and Bubba Franks had bad years. KGB was benched on obvious run downs in favor of Jenkins late in the year. Ferguson and Martin are probably gone, but Collins and Franks need to step up. KGB's return is a toss up. He is basically a pass rusher now and his contract may exclude him.
6. Favre was Favre. He carried the team in more than one game. He is not the best QB in the game anymore, but he can still get it done.
But … his on again off again retirement talk is a distraction. If he does not come back next year, look for the Packers to regress. Aaron Rodgers looked good in training camp but struggled in his only game action against the Patriots and got injured. He is a question mark to say the least.
If Brett comes back and they get another playmaker or two, they will challenge for the playoffs. Another receiver, tight end and running back, plus a safety and rush end would be just what this team needs to get back on track. Without Favre, they would have been lucky to equal last year's output.
With a ton of money under the cap, look for the Packers to be cautious in free agency, front load some veteran extensions and build through the draft. So, not much has changed. Unless the guy under center changes.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.