GREEN BAY, WIS. – Going into the season the biggest question and concern to the Green Bay Packers was injuries. Can the Packers offense still produce without key players such as Jordy Nelson, who torn his ACL during the preseason, tackle Bryan Bulaga, who injured his knee early in week one, and a not 100% Randall Cobb who also got injured during the preseason?
Despite all of these setbacks, including another receiver Davante Adams who injured his ankle in week two, the Packers are undefeated at 6-0 and are still considered the heavy favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50. All of this is possible because of the unsurprisingly elite play of Aaron Rodgers who has the ability, physically and as a leader to make an offense with any receivers produce.
A major surprise and a sight many Packers fans haven’t seen in a while is a much quicker and physical defense that can pressure the quarterback and create turnovers. This can only lighten the load for Rodgers and the offense, especially when the weeks get colder.
Midseason MVP: Aaron Rodgers. There is really no other choice as Rodgers is performing at an NFL MVP level even with the absence of Jordy Nelson, a banged up Randall Cobb and Davante Adams whom all three were his top targets coming into the season. Another reason and probably the biggest as to why Rodgers deserves this award is his command of the offense which is as good as it has ever been. This was never more evident than how he performed against the traditional power defenses of the NFL such as Seattle, Kansas City and St Louis, throwing for over 1000 yards, completing 68% of his passes, and having a 15:2 touchdown to interception ratio. His calming leadership presence has also gotten close and comeback wins against Seattle and San Diego.
Biggest Surprise: James Jones. A case could be made for second year undrafted linebacker Jayrone Elliott, who has already recorded two sacks, twelve tackles and an interception, but Jones’ production in the banged up Packers receiving core is only second to Aaron Rodgers as far as a single player who has kept that offense afloat. The production is 424 yards receiving and an NFL leading six touchdowns. Because of his experienced knowledge of seven years in Green Bay, before being cut by Raiders and the Giants during the offseason, the Packers were comfortable in signing the veteran and Jones hasn’t made Ted Thompson regret it.
Biggest Disappointment: Eddie Lacy. Even though he is also a little banged up and the Packers have been able to produce a running game behind James Starks and Rodgers himself, Lacy hasn’t looked like the power runner that the Packers have come to rely on the past couple years, having only rushed for 260 yards and averaging 43 yards a game. The good news for Lacy and fans is that he has always started the season slowly, but still managed to rush for over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his two seasons. Expect the Packers to utilize Lacy more as the games get colder with more touches, and goal line touchdowns.
Biggest challenge for the rest of the season: The schedule. The Packers toughest game could be next week when they go to Denver to play the undefeated Broncos, who also have the number one scoring defense in the NFL. The game after they have another road game against an undefeated opponent, the Carolina Panthers, who also have a high ranking defense and NFL MVP contender quarterback Cam Newton. They also have two games against rival Minnesota who are 4-2, a week 14 matchup against the Cowboys who could have Dez Bryant and Tony Romo back, a week 15 matchup against a young and talented Raider team at Oakland and a week 16 matchup against a high powered offensive and stout defensive Cardinals team at Arizona. These teams will test the Packers, and it’s unrealistic to think the Packers can go the rest of the season undefeated, but if they can get through the rest of the schedule unscathed it will further solidify them being the favorites coming out of the NFC, especially if they clinch home field advantage through the playoffs.
Key to the second half: Defense and the run game. The Packers will need to include Eddie Lacy more in their offense much like the second half in previous years. Even though Aaron Rodgers is the center of production for that offense, the power run game, especially in the colder weeks will lighten the load and pressure of Rodgers and his receivers. Defense obviously is something the Packers have struggled with in the second half and playoffs, specifically their ability to finish games and to get off the field. Creating turnovers has been a key to success the Packers defense has relied on in the past but that’s not a safe route as playoff teams tend not to turn the ball over compared to lower-tier teams.