August 4, 2014

Green Bay Trifecta of 2010, Also a Winning Formula for 2014

The Green Bay Packers are three full seasons removed from their Super Bowl XLV victory but they know the recipe for a return in 2014-15 is largely the same. A play-making defense, relative health of key players and momentum in December. Let’s take a look into those three areas to assess how well positioned the Packers are for a February appearance in Glendale, Arizona.

Play-Making Defense
Clay Matthews’ painful and long recovery from thumb surgery is nearly over and that’s great news for Packer fans. The Packers get back their most explosive defensive player and perhaps most importantly, a six-year pro who knows what it takes to lead and win on the biggest stage.
Green Bay Packers starting defensive line

“We’ve proven that we can be a top-five defense,” Matthews said, referring to the 2010 unit which ranked second overall in team defense, surrendering just 15 points per game (pro football reference).

But he also knows a lot has changed since 2010 and sees his own role as a key driver in fueling a young and talented defense ready to step up.

“They see someone like me who brings the drive, leadership and passion…it’s infectious,” said Matthews, referring to how great defenses feed off individuals’ great plays.

B.J. Raji in particular could use some Matthews’ infection as he moves back to NT, admitting he didn’t have the right mindset after winning a Super Bowl and making the Pro Bowl in 2010.

Green Bay Packers 2014 starting linebackers“Honestly, I think my biggest hurdle was early success,” said Raji, responding to concerns about his drop-off in production the past few years. “I’m kind of fighting against myself and maybe I was a little complacent.”

But now the 28-year-old is playing for a payday, currently on a one-year contract resulting from a less than luke-warm free agency environment this offseason. Hopefully that and Matthews’ leadership is enough to channel the Raji of 2010.

Relative Health of Key Players
Mike McCarthy’s heightened sensitivity around preserving the health of his football team this offseason has been very apparent. A few steps McCarthy has taken include:

Said McCarthy about the above adjustments he’s made to the Packers program as a whole, “If I was going to grade myself as far as hitting targets in the offseason program, since the new CBA, I think this is the first year that I feel like I got it right." The team’s health going into September 4 will be the first true barometer of McCarty’s new plan.

Momentum in December 
Green Bay Packers momentum in December 2014Green Bay’s December schedule lines up well for a potential winning streak, at least compared to their September schedule. On December 8, the Packers face Atlanta (4-12 in 2013) at home on Monday night, the Packers then travel east to face Buffalo (6-10 in 2013) and then south to Tampa to play the Buccaneers (4-12 in 2013) – all very winnable games. The regular season ends with a showdown at Lambeau Field against Detroit, which has potential to decide playoff positioning. Keep in mind the Packers have won 23 consecutive games against the Lions in Wisconsin and McCarthy is 14-2 overall in his tenure against Detroit.

Given the Packers will be challenged early in the year with games at Seattle, New Orleans and division rivals Detroit and Chicago, you’d expect them to be ready for their December matchups and what will almost certainly be inferior competition. For more interesting notes on the Packers 2014 schedule, visit Fox 6 Now’s website where they break it down in detail.