The Green Bay Packers ended a somewhat disappointing regular season with a 10-6 record and their first non-NFC North winning season since 2010.
But despite the down season—by Green Bay standards at least—the Packers still had a respectable five players selected to the Pro Bowl after injury and Super Bowl replacements were announced.
Linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, offensive guard Josh Sitton, and fullback John Kuhn will all play for Jerry Rice’s squad, while Green Bay’s fifth pro bowler, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, elected not to participate to recover from an injury.
The Packers who were selected, as well as those who were not, serve as a reflection of the difference between this year’s team and the offensive juggernaut that went 12-4 a season ago.
In 2014, the Packers finished the season with the league’s highest scoring offense, a 4000-yard MVP quarterback, a 1000 yard rusher, and two 1000 yard receivers. The 2015 Packers had none of those things.
Last season Green Bay saw its two dynamic receivers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, play in the league’s all-star game. Eddie Lacy, who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season of 2013, was just as deserving last year but fell short of a selection despite over 1100 yards and double digit touchdowns.
But the 2015 team saw a significant drop off in the production from its core skill position players. Lacy ended the season with a career-low 758 yards, Cobb managed just 829 yards as the team’s top receiver, and Nelson missed the year with a torn ACL.
Rodgers, the Packers’ offensive leader, made the Pro Bowl in both 2014 and 2015, but even he had a less than stellar year. He posted the lowest quarterback rating of his career (92.7) and threw for his lowest yards per attempt (6.68) and completion percentage (60.7%) in his eight years as a starter.
Looking at the Pro Bowl roster, despite its bad reputation in recent seasons and the plethora of replacements stepping in for “injured” stars, still paints a telling picture of the Packers’ offensive decline during 2015. The fact that the Pro Bowl selected a record number of players and Green Bay’s top running back and receivers (who were all former Pro Bowlers) were not among them reflects just how unproductive the Packers’ offense core was.
Meanwhile, two players who were selected to the 2015 Pro Bowl for Green Bay show where this year’s team saw marked improvement. The Packers had their best defense since the Super Bowl-winning team in 2010, and its two leaders, Peppers and Matthews, were rewarded with trips to Hawaii.
It was the defense that guided the Packers to the postseason when the offense failed to hit its stride, and it is fitting that two of the team’s defensive veterans were recognized for what they contributed. Matthews played at a Pro Bowl level in his first full season as an inside linebacker, while Peppers led the Packers with 10.5 sacks despite being the oldest player on the team.
The two Green Bay linebackers will start Sunday’s Pro Bowl game, reflecting their importance to the team and the resurgence they helped create for the Packers’ defense. They anchored a defensive unit that is definitely trending upward as the 2015 season draws closer to its official end.
Being selected to the Pro Bowl no longer holds the same prestige that it once did, but the Packers’ representatives still show how the 2015 unit changed from last season.
It was the Green Bay defense that led the team through its toughest season in the Aaron Rodgers era, so it is more than appropriate that its defense leaders represent the team in Honolulu.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .