Mike McCarthy refers to the bye week as a time for self-scouting. OK, let’s take a look at where the Packers are today, as compared to where they were a year ago.
Through nine weeks of the 2011 season, the Packers offense was No. 4 overall. It was 20th in rushing and third in passing. Through nine weeks of this season, the Packers offense is 18th overall. It’s 23rd in rushing and 12th in passing.
Analysis—A slow start, particularly in the opener against the 49ers and in the eight-sack first half in Seattle in Week 3 and in the second-half collapse in Indianapolis, put the Packers offense in a deep hole. Slowly, it has moved up the rankings, but every time it seems to have been ready to explode, an injury has doused the fuse. That explosion might occur when Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Cedric Benson are all healthy again and back in the lineup.
Through nine weeks of the 2011 season, the Packers defense was No. 30 overall. It was eighth against the run, 31st against the pass and 17th in the league in sacks. Through nine weeks of this season, the Packers defense is 12th overall. It’s 10th against the run, 20th against the pass and No. 1 in the league in sacks.
Analysis—The improvement on defense is dramatic. A year ago, the Packers were on their way to becoming the worst overall defense with the worst pass defense and fewest sacks per pass play in the league. A year later, the Packers are on the verge of becoming a top 10 defense, again, or better. It’s a unit that’s making big plays with young players, and injuries are forcing it to build and reveal depth. Injuries, of course, are the big concern. The Packers may have reached the saturation point, especially at linebacker.
Through nine weeks ago year ago, Packers special teams were playing at a high level and getting better. Through nine weeks of this season, they’re not only playing at a high level, they’re making game-winning plays.
Analysis—Kicker Mason Crosby’s recent failings – he’s converted only five of his last 10 field goal attempts – are the only reason for concern. Randall Cobb exploded onto the NFL scene with a 108-yard kickoff return in his first-ever game. He has a punt return for a touchdown this season and he is one of the most feared return men in the game.
Given that statistical information, the Packers would seem to have one gear to hit in what remains of the 2012 season: They need to hit a higher gear on offense.
Here are 10 things the Packers need to do to make it into the playoffs.
1. Win the division games—The Packers have five left, including three on the road. Should they win those games, they will likely win the NFC North and the guarantee of at least one home playoff game.
2. Stick to the run—If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the first nine games of this season, it’s that a respectable running game is the best means for protecting Aaron Rodgers.
3. Increase Randall Cobb’s role—He’s the Packers’ new star. He’s their hot player and the receiver that’s caught the fancy of Aaron Rodgers’ eye.
4. Look to youth on defense—Is there any other option? The Packers have lost Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and Nick Perry for the season. The linebacker corps is at a stress point. Young players such as Jamari Lattimore and Dezman Moses might be key figures in the Packers’ stretch run.
5. Be ready to go—The Packers’ first two games coming out of the bye week are at the Lions and at the Giants. That’s a one-two punch that will go a long way toward deciding the Packers’ fate.
6. Grow as a team—They did that in 2010 as they fought their way through injuries and a rugged schedule. Did they do it in 2011 en route to 13-0? There has been significant growth this season. That must continue.
7. Get help—Houston and San Francisco can give that to the Packers by beating the Bears over the next two weeks. Without help, catching the Bears will be very difficult.
8. Ride Rodgers—He’s “The Man.” He’s the guy who drives this team and he willingly accepts the burden for producing victory. As Aaron Rodgers goes, so go the Packers.
9. Make the kicks—The Packers are last in the league in field goal percentage. That’s not a formula for winning at crunch time.
10. Know who you are—You are the Green Bay Packers. The postseason is more than an expectation, it is your destiny. Anything less would be grossly under-achieving.