Harmony in Green Bay
Many Packers’ fans stated unequivocally before last season began that the Packers will be a sleeper team in the regular season despite the fact that Green Bay posted a spectacularly disappointing 6-9-1 mark in 2018. However, all of that optimism was not just pie-in-the-sky, reckless optimism uttered by diehard Cheeseheads sporting rose-colored glasses. Green Bay rebounded remarkably in 2019 with a 13-3 regular-season record and was awarded a first-round bye for their efforts. As we all know, the Packers defeated the Seahawks, 28-23, in the divisional round but fell to the 49ers in the NFC title game.
But that was then and this is now. What can we expect from the Packers this upcoming season and was 2019 just a springboard for a Super Bowl title this year or have they peaked, with Aaron Rodgers now entering the twilight of a Hall-of-Fame career? Speaking of Rodgers, last season the 36-year-old produced his second-lowest completion percentage (62.0%) since he became a full-time starter in the league, but on the flip side, he tossed only four interceptions which proved to be the second-lowest total of his career, aside from 2018 when he threw only two picks.
Nevertheless, Rodgers still has plenty of gas in the tank and the changing of the coaching guard from what became a rancorous relationship with Mike McCarthy to a breath of fresh air with Matt LaFleur has reinvigorated the eight-time Pro Bowler. When asked about Lafleur’s inaugural coaching season, Rodgers commented, “I think Matt deserves a lot of credit for the way that we performed week in and week out. He would set the vision every week – very simple messaging. With his leadership and empowering guys the way that he did, and with Brian (General Manager Brian Gutekunst) adding pieces … I said it last week, the window is open for us.”
Last season Lafleur shifted the paradigm from a spread-oriented, shotgun style, West Coast style offense to more traditional formations with Rodgers directly under center. And clearly, the admiration is mutual between the star quarterback and blossoming young coach as Lafleur appreciated the fact that Rodgers was amenable to the changes and noted, “I think he’s still one of the most talented players out there. I know he seemed energized all season long, his mind is as sharp as they come. … He’s a true professional. He knows his body and he does a great job of taking care of his body.”
Contenders or Pretenders in 2020?
How well the Packers do with free agency signings and in the draft will go a long way towards telling the tale for this upcoming season. However, we do know that the straw that stirs the drink, Aaron Rodgers, will not only be under center for his 16th season but he is finally happy after a rift with Mike McCarthy proved irreparable, leading to his departure. According to Lafleur, Packers’ fans should expect the offense to be a bit more up-tempo than it was in his first year, keeping defenses on their toes and off-balance.
If Green Bay is to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender and wrest the NFC crown from the 49ers then they will have to address a gaping need for a bona fide No. 2 wide receiver. Davante Adams is a top-tier vertical threat but after that, there is no solid second option despite Allen Lazard being a nice role player in the passing game. In addition, the right tackle position must be solidified by re-signing Bryan Bulaga or bringing in a suitable replacement. Lastly, the Packers could use another tight end to pair with last year’s third-round pick Jace Sternberger who has shown flashes of becoming an offensive weapon.
On the defensive side of the coin, Green Bay must bolster their D-line and get tougher at the inside linebacker position. Images of San Francisco’s Raheem Mostert tearing through the Packers’ run-stop unit reverberates to this day and failing to improve this year will have consequences throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.
Certainly, there is cause for optimism in 2020 for a successful campaign but then again that begs the question – what is your definition is of success? It’s highly unlikely the Packers will revert to their disastrous 2018 performance but unless they improve in the areas stated above then a 13-3 season is, unfortunately, equally as unlikely.