Mid-Season Report: Packers are Running Under the Radar
As the first half of the NFL season comes to a close, the Green Bay Packers sit at a comfortable 5-2 and look like a strong contender to return to the playoffs once again. Their season thus far has had its up and downs and the team has been hit hard by injuries. With injuries keeping key parts such as Clay Matthews (thumb), James Jones (knee), Jermichael Finley (neck), and Randall Cobb (leg) from action for extended periods of time, the team has managed to keep moving forward and playing at a high level. And with some uncertainty around Sam Shields (toes) at the moment, the depth of the Packers in all aspects of the game is being challenged.
Aaron Rodgers is playing at an elite level, as is expected of him. Green Bay is currently ranked in the top five of each of the major offensive categories. They rank third in the league for points scored, second in the league for yards per game, fifth in the league for passing yards and a very surprising third in the league for rushing yards. Eddie Lacy, James Starks and when called upon, Jonathan Franklin, have provided the Packers a potent running attack, something the team has lacked year in year out.
Green Bay stumbled out of the gate early in the season starting 1-2 with losses at San Francisco and at Cincinnati. The teams week three loss to the Bengals was especially difficult given the late fumble by third string running back, Jonathan Franklin that gave the Bengals a late lead that they hung on to until the end of the game. Since that loss, Green Bay has responded with four consecutive wins over the defending Super Bowl Champ Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings.
On the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay has been relatively average in most categories ranking 16th in points allowed, 11th in yards allowed and 20th in passing yards allowed. The Packers have been strong in stopping the run ranking a very impressive fourth overall in running yards allowed per game.
In the Aaron Rodgers era of Green Bay, the team has often been poor on the defensive side of the ball, lacked any running game, however compensated for both with a potent passing attack. With the 2013 version of the Packers, the running game is as strong as it is deep with three backs that can move the ball down field and a defence that is one of the best in the league at stopping the run. This year’s Packers team can win in more than one way and we have seen it already this year with some modest performances from Rodgers.
The Packers have a relatively weak schedule coming up with games against the under-performing Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants. In addition to the rest of their divisional match-ups, they also face a trio of other under-performing teams in the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Detroit Lions hope to compete for this year’s NFL North title, they are going to have to do a lot of winning. It seems to be a safe assumption that despite the plague of injuries that the team is currently facing, they should be able to withstand the season and be healthy in time for the playoffs.
In recent Super Bowl odds, the Packers seem to be underrated to some extent with some of the teams that have been placed ahead of them. This isn’t something that should upset Packers fans; recent history indicates that this is a team that excels in the underdog role. With New Orleans losing this week to the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks finding themselves in a surprisingly competitive game against a much lesser opponent, the balance of power in the NFC seems to becoming much more cluttered at the top. The Seahawks, universally understood to be the class of the NFC, has had some strange games this season. Five of their seven wins were a one score win, over teams like the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of their two wins by more than one score, Jacksonville accounts for one. So they have certainly proven to be able to win the close game, but they find themselves in a lot of close games that really shouldn’t be close.
At the mid-way point, the Packers seem to be viewed as a second-tier team in the NFC. While I feel they are right there in the mix with Seattle, New Orleans and San Francisco, the fan base shouldn’t be too quick to object. If Green Bay can sustain this running game throughout the season and into the playoffs, they are going to be a tough team to handle.
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