And that's why the Green Bay Packers can on one hand be seen as Super Bowl contenders entering the 2010 season but on the other hand be seen as a fringe contender, at best.
With Aaron Rodgers, the Packers obviously are set at quarterback. Just like during the Brett Favre era, Rodgers makes the Packers contenders this year and every year for the next eight, 10, 12 years. Of the top 12 quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of passer rating last season, Rodgers was the youngest at the ripe old age of 26.
To say having an elite quarterback is the key to success in the NFL is to state the obvious, but it doesn't hurt to lay out the facts.
Tom Brady (twice), Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have won the last seven Super Bowls. Of the last 21 Super Bowl winners, only Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Mark Rypien seemingly don't belong on the list. Even the Super Bowl-losing quarterbacks are an impressive bunch. In the last 12 years, that includes past Super Bowl winners Kurt Warner (two-time loser), Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and standouts like Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, Rich Gannon and Steve McNair.
Fortunately for the Packers, this isn't like Dan Marino trying to do it alone with the Dolphins. With Ryan Grant and his back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, the Packers have a solid running game, and the run defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season.
In today's NFL, however, running the ball and stopping the run has taken on a diminished importance. Instead, it boils down to passing the ball and stopping your opponent from passing the ball. Last year, the Saints finished third in the NFL in opponent passer rating in large part behind 26 interceptions. In 2008, Pittsburgh finished second in opponent rating and second in sacks. In 2007, the Giants finished 17th but led the NFL in sacks. The 2006 Colts were an anomaly, ranking 15th in rating and 31st in sacks. The 2005 Steelers ranked eighth in rating and third in sacks. The 2004 Patriots ranked seventh in rating and third in sacks.
Can the Packers — who believe it or not finished fourth in opponent passer rating but failed miserably against top quarterbacks — possibly match those numbers? Can they possibly play at an elite level against quality quarterbacks considering they didn't add any cover men or pass rushers?
It seems highly unlikely that the Packers can generate a championship-level pass rush, though their 37 sacks beat the league average of 34.4. The Packers need major improvement from Brad Jones, who posted a respectable four sacks in seven starts as a rookie. If Jones can't provide a reliable pass rush, then Clay Matthews III will see nothing but double teams and chip blocks and will find it almost impossible to match his 10 sacks as a rookie.
If the Packers can't rush the passer without Dom Capers bringing the house, then the impetus on being a championship-level defense falls on the cornerbacks — a position group in which there are questions galore.
Can Charles Woodson get even close to duplicating his nine interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two sacks and three touchdowns from 2009? Even if he wasn't 33, being able to repeat that ridiculous production would be far-fetched.
Woodson, of course, is the least of the Packers' troubles. Tramon Williams makes a lot of big plays but gives up even more of them. And Al Harris, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon are all coming off of season-ending injuries. Harris has missed 10 games over the last two seasons, Lee has missed 27 games over his two seasons and Blackmon has missed 32 games over his four seasons. Unless a Brandon Underwood or Josh Bell makes a bold move forward, that injury history is not a good omen if the goal is keeping Jarrett Bush off the field.
Championship teams must pass the ball, and with Rodgers, the Packers have a puncher's chance of winning it all this season. The flip side is the need to play pass defense, and the Packers' two biggest question marks are their ability to pressure and cover.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.