Where Do We Go From Here?

Football Friday: The Packers home opener is against the Washington Redskins. Both teams are 0-1 coming off of losses to good NFC teams.

You’ll notice in the headline that I used the term “we”.  I’m not normally a “we, us, our” type of sports fan.  The exception being the two colleges I attended and now financially support  (albeit in a limited fashion).  The other exception is the Green Bay Packers.  I don’t know if it’s because there’s an otherwise meaningless piece of paper hanging on the wall in my home office that says I’m an owner of the team.  I don’t know if it’s because on my very first trip to Lambeau Field my best friend and I walked back to our hotel but not before being invited into someones garage for some warmth, a brat and a cold one. Maybe it’s a dirty trick by the marketing department at 1265 Lombardi that makes me feel like a part of a Packer family, but it feels like we’re all in this together.

Well what do “we” do now?  The season is over.  Another year of the Aaron Rodgers era is past us with no more World Championships to put up in Lambeau Field.  There are two ways of thinking about that and I’d like to think that I fall down the middle of those two ways of thinking.  The first way of thinking is that there are 31 other NFL teams.  Technically each season begins with a 1/32 chance of winning our coach Lombardi’s trophy (well really 1/31 the Vikings are never going to win a title let’s be real).   The other way of thinking is that we are wasting the prime years of Aaron Rodgers career.  Tom Brady’s prime yielded three Super Bowl Championships and 5 Super Bowl appearances for New England.  If one championship and one 15-1 season is all we get out of having the best player in football, isn’t everyone around here going to feel a little cheated?

Yes.  Yes to both.  There are 31 other teams that are competing for the prize.  Yes we do have Aaron Rodgers.  Yes he is the best player at the most important position in all of sports.  Yes it is a failure every season that he’s on the roster and the team doesn’t win a title, but I gotta tell you: it’s really really hard to win a championship.  It’s not going to happen every season.  When you consider, however, that the NFL has been in existence for 93 seasons, and the Packers (as the smallest market in the NFL) have 13 championships (14% of the titles) it’s pretty clear that we have been spoiled.

The Packers offense is going to be fine.  Coach McCarthy has been quoted as saying that he believes this offense would have eclipsed 2011’s if it would have stayed healthy and I agree with him.  Next year the Packers are going to be in the best position they’ve ever been offensively in McCarthy’s tenure, even if they let Starks and James Jones walk and don’t draft or acquire a single offensive player. It will start with a healthy #12.  Rodgers was not himself in either the Bears game or the playoff loss to San Francisco.  Secondly, the offensive line will be in a much better position to succeed.  Bryan Bulaga returns to either solidify the left side or make the right side a position of strength.  David Bakhtiari won’t be a rookie any more.  Derek Sherrod is finally fully healthy and JC Tretter will be either the starting C or in a competition with EDS.  Marshall Newhouse will not be a Packer. Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris and Johnathon Franklin will give Green Bay everything Lacy, Starks and Bell did this year. A receiving corps of Nelson, Cobb, Quarless, and Boykin is more than skilled enough to dominate with Rodgers getting a full offseason’s work with them.  Any additions to the offense are gravy.

The defense is a different story.  I’m ok with the perimiter of the D.  I think Nick Perry will be fine and Clay Matthews will be fine.  I’m comfortable with Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Even Jerel Worthy as DE prospects moving forward.  Where this defense is fundamentally broken is up the middle.  We cannot win a championship when this BJ Raji is our best DT.  We cannot win a championship when AJ Hawk is our best ILB.  We cannot win a championship when Morgan Burnett is our best safety.  All of these players are fine players and can be asked to effectively fulfill a limited role.  If there is a playmaker like Nick Collins next to Morgan Burnett he’s probably very comfortable and is playing well.  If there is a stud like (healthy) Desmond Bishop next to AJ Hawk, his solid steady assignement sure game is perfect.  If there is a Cullen Jenkins next to BJ Raji causing all sorts of problems, he is allowed to flourish. (side note: I would argue that this is very soon going to be Mike Daniels, if it isn’t already).  This team needs impact players in the middle of the field, releasing Packers fans from the agony of the “soft underbelly”.  The Packers defense doesn’t need to be dominant to win a title, it just has to be good enough.

The Packers aren’t by any means screwed.  Aaron Rodgers hasn’t “lost it”, and the team hasn’t missed their window.  The Packers have more draft equity (21st) this year than they have in the past and don’t have that many holes on the roster to fill.  A lot of what needs to be done can be handled by returning injured personnel.  The core of the defense, however, does have to be fixed, and when it is, the title can return to Titletown.

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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