If ever there was a time Mike McCarthy might tell us it’s OK to look beyond the next game, this would be it. It’s OK to look past the Packers’ preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs and look ahead to the Packers’ regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s another opening-day beauty, a matchup similar to last season’s “Kickoff” game against the Saints, in that it’s a game between two NFC heavyweights. Some might even suggest, as they did a year ago, that the Packers’ season opener could be a preview of the NFC title game.
The reserves will mop up what’s left of the preseason next Thursday; preparation for the 49ers has already begun. It’s OK to look ahead. The Packers are already doing it.
“We need to be 1-0 when the regular season starts,” McCarthy said following the loss to Cleveland in preseason game No. 2.
No one will blame you if you attempt to attach too much importance to the opener against the 49ers. You may say it’s a game that could determine home-field advantage in a later meeting between the two teams, and you might be right. Yeah, it could turn out that way.
Exaggerating the importance of this game will be common among Packers fans. Packers fans are intense. They love their team. They fret over the potential for defeat. It’s only natural.
If you are one of those fans, then I would ask only that you remind yourself of this fact: The Packers defense is a work in progress, and the defense that would face the 49ers a second time in the 2012 season, would almost certainly be a lot better than the unit that’ll confront Alex Smith and company in the opener.
Though worry is a natural emotion, it must not override logic. Patience must not yield to passion. Be sensible about this. The defense with which the Packers ended last season was last in the league and getting worse. You don’t fix something like that in the space of one offseason and no games.
The Packers defense that’ll open the 2012 season will be dotted with draft picks from the last two years, and one of the key picks from those drafts, Davon House, might not even play. I’m not suggesting Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers is in a rebuilding job, but it would certainly qualify as major remodeling.
Indications of how the finished product might appear are already evident. Young talent in the secondary is emerging and developing. Competition at outside linebacker, the most critical of positions in Capers’ 3-4 defense and a position that was undermanned when last season ended, is surfacing. The defensive line has a couple of young lions.
The expectation is that, with time, those players will create roles for themselves that will allow Capers to blend those players into the kind of mix the Packers had on defense when they won Super Bowl XLV. Truth be known, that was not a great defense; it just had a lot of pieces with which Capers was able to paint a pretty picture.
Last year’s defense lacked a major piece. It lacked the pass-rush piece, and that missing piece created a trickle-down effect that couldn’t be reversed. The more the Packers didn’t rush the passer, the more opposing offenses attacked without fear of being sacked. It’s not good not to be feared.
So, as we approvingly look ahead to the opener against the 49ers, the question Capers’ defense is facing is this: Did the Packers find that missing piece? When the answer comes back yes, all will be fixed, but before we can know the answer, we must suffer patience and logic.