The 2013 season was a strange and frustrating one for Green Bay. The Packers eventually emerged victorious from an NFC North division in which the Lions and Bears both threw away winning positions to pick up yet another playing berth. Yet the season was effectively split into two sections; the games with Aaron Rodgers and the games he missed though injury. A slow start, including narrow defeats to fellow playoff teams in San Francisco and Cincinnati had been rebounded from effectively and the team were sitting comfortably at 5-2 when Rodgers was injured against Chicago. In his absence a trio of quarterbacks attempted to maintain momentum but failed miserably for the most part as the Packers did not win in 5 and dropped to 5-6-1. A resigned Matt Flynn managed to pull single point wins over Atlanta and Dallas (in a wild comeback game) to keep hopes alive before Rodgers return enabled a victory in the must win season decider at Soldier Field. Ultimately the 49ers proved too strong for a patched up side during Wild Card weekend, but the Packers season did highlight their ability to succeed in the face of adversity.
Rodgers’ passer rating of 104.9 shows his importance to the team, as he racked up 2536 yards and 17 scores is his shortened year. Flynn’s return was just about enough to ensure the division title; his 1146 yards and seven touchdown passes effectively came from impressive performances in those two late wins. Undoubtedly the success story of the offensive unit was the emergence of a Pro Bowl talent at running back. Eddie Lacy carried the team during Rodgers’ absence, finishing his rookie year with 1178 yards at 4.1 per carry and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 35 passes from the backfield to become an important cog in the team. The passing game was badly affected not just by Rodgers’ absence, but also by substantial injuries to key receivers. Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley were restricted to just 31 and 25 catches respectively having missed large parts of the season, whilst James Jones also missed game time and recorded 59 receptions. Jordy Nelson was the consistent factor in the passing game, hauling in 85 passes for 1314 yards and 8 scores. Keeping players on the field will ensure a more successful 2014.
Defensively, the Packers were not great. Giving up 372.2 yards per game placed them 26th in the NFL whilst they fared only marginally better in terms of points allowed. The 26.8 per game saw them ranked 24th overall. Clearly improvement is needed on this side of the ball. Clay Matthews’ absence hurt the unit due to his presence as well as his play making and the Packers need to keep him healthy next season. A.J. Hawk topped the tackle count with 118 and also chipped in with 5 sacks. Matthews still managed 7.5 sacks, Mike Daniels 6.5 and Mike Neal a further 5, but the addition of Julius Peppers from Chicago will give them more of a threat in terms of rushing the passer. Sam Shields was the pick of the secondary, with four picks and 16 passes defended. Tramon Williams picked off three passes and defended a further 11.
Kicker Mason Crosby was perfect from less than 40 yards and made 89.2% of his kicks overall. Micah Hyde took on the responsibility for returning all kicks, averaging 24.1 on kick-offs and 12.3 per punt return. He also managed to record a 93 yard return for a score. Punter Tim Masthay averaged a net of 39 yards per punt.
Mike McCarthy’s eighth season as the Packers’ Head Coach ultimately ended in disappointment, but to make the playoffs after being faced with so many injuries to key players was an impressive achievement. McCarthy is well aware that other teams in the division have strengthened, but in Rodgers they have the quarterback most likely to make a difference. He will also be aware that the fans will want a deeper run into the postseason next time around.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
The resigning of Sam Shields is an important move in securing a key member of the secondary and in keeping a player they know well, the Packers could have made a very shrewd move. Evan Dietrich Smith’s move to Tampa Bay has left a big whole to fill on the offensive line after a successful 2013. The defensive line has been bolstered by Peppers’ arrival, along with Letroy Guion from the Vikings and the retention of Neal and BJ Raji. In terms of draft targets, the Packers badly need a tight end to replace Finley and may look to bring in reinforcements at safety and possibly wide receiver. A young defensive lineman may also generate interest if one is available. With the pick of Lacy last year the tea, proved they can spot talent lower down the draft and will be looking to do similar this time around.