Skip to content

Preseason Power Rankings No. 5: Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers AP

Forget about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or anyone else not named Aaron Rodgers.  The best quarterback in the NFL currently plays in Green Bay.  And that’s good enough to get the Packers in the top five as the 2014 season approaches.

They’d be even higher if Rodgers had the help that other franchise quarterbacks enjoy.  Specifically on defense.  And everyone knows it.  Maybe that’s why recent remarks from Rodgers that easily could have been interpreted as a slap at the front office and/or the locker room didn’t ruffle many feathers.

“We haven’t had the kind of physical talent as far as size here in a while,” Rodgers said last month.  “I think there’s been times — I think back to playing Jacksonville in ’08 in Jacksonville, some of the battles we’ve had with our division teams at times — where you walk on the field and feel like you’re kind of a JV team.”

Beyond Rodgers, the Packers have been a JV team, mainly on defense.  But the Packers may have improved just enough that they’ll be good enough to have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl.

Strengths.

On offense, it begins (and arguably ends) with Rodgers.  A high-precision passer who can run the ball, too, Rodgers knows how to gain yardage on the ground without putting himself at undue risk.  Last year’s broken collarbone happened not while he was being reckless but while trying to step up in the pocket.  Shea McLellin of the Bears shed a block and spotted Rodgers and closed ground and pulled him down before Rodgers knew what happened.  If he can stay healthy throughout 2014, the Packers will likely win the NFC North.  The real question becomes whether he’ll have enough help in the postseason to advance past the divisional round, or whether it’ll be another JV-level showing at single-elimination time, particularly from the defense.

The Packers rolled the dice last season on a pair of tailbacks, stopping Eddie Lacy’s round-two free-fall and snagging Johnathan Franklin, who appeared to be a perfect fit for the Green Bay offense.  A neck injury ended Franklin’s career before it could get started, but the gamble on Lacy ended up being a good one — especially since he eventually was able to pound out some strong performances even when the Packers were forced to implement a crappy backup plan for Rodgers.  If Lacy can match the quarterback when it comes to avoiding injury, the Packers could have the best one-two offensive punch in the NFL.

A bad defense would be a lot worse without linebacker Clay Matthews, who continues to be one of the better pass rushers in the NFL, but who has missed nine games over the past two seasons combined.  The arrival of Julius Peppers could make Matthews even better, even though the jury is still out on whether Peppers still has it like he used to.

The secondary has the potential to be very good, with highly-paid cornerback Sam Shields and first-round rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix potentially leading the way.  As a unit, however, the defense doesn’t belong in the “strength” category.

Weaknesses.

The tight end position holds little promise after the departure of Jermichael Finley.  He seems to want to return to Green Bay after neck surgery, but it seems highly unlikely that that Packers will clear him to play — or pay him what it would take to get him to walk away from his probably-too-good-to-be-true $10 million tax-free insurance policy.  The depth chart is so uncertain that the Packers have taken a chance on undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla, whose talent has been overshadowed by a litany of off-field concerns.

The offensive line continues to shuffle and rotate and generally underperform.  Bryan Bulaga moves back to the right side after a short-lived experiment at left tackle, which ended when his ACL gave out during an intrasquad scrimmage.  David Bakhtiari played well enough as a fourth-round rookie to keep the job, holding former Viking (new Bear) Jared Allen without a sack in two games and generally not being nearly as bad as some feared Bakhtiari would be.  Center Evan Dietrich-Smith bolted for Tampa Bay (to the chagrin of Rodgers), leaving the Packers to hope JC Tretter is ready.  Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang provide quality at guard, but the five-man operation as a whole allowed 45 sacks, ninth worst in the league.

Despite a few bright spots, the defense continues to be a liability, finishing in the bottom fourth of the league last year in yards allowed (372.2 per game) and points (26.8 per game).  Most of the blame lands on the poorly-toupeed head of coordinator Dom Capers, who should have been given a ticket out of Titletown after a playoff meltdown against the 49ers in January 2013.  Coach Mike McCarthy has opted for loyalty to a fault; that could end after the coming campaign.

Changes.

G.M. Ted Thompson stepped out of character in free agency, adding veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers.  Whether he plays linebacker or defensive end (he’s listed as both), Peppers could wreak havoc, if his play in 2012 was more about not being in the right frame of mind and less about diminishing physical skills.

Offensively, Matt Flynn officially is back as the Week One backup to Aaron Rodgers, which is a much better plan that to have no plan for fear of jinxing Rodgers.  While not able to lead an offense, Flynn has shown that he can get it done when pressed into service.  The Packers wisely have decided to make sure he’s available to do what needs to be done, if Rodgers gets banged up again.

The receiving corps continues to be in a state of transition.  A year after losing Greg Jennings to the Vikings, James Jones signed with the Raiders.  Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb could be joining them a year from now, which perhaps suggests that the Packers realize a quarterback like Rodgers can make most receivers look good.

The biggest free-agency defection occurred when safety M.D. Jennings left for the Bears.  Rookie Clinton-Dix will be expected to fill the void right away, if he can.

Position battles.

Barring the unlikely return of Jermichael Finley, it’s time to find a new tight end.  Andrew Quarless is expected to get the first crack at the starting job, with others in place (like Richard Rodgers) to challenge Quarless for the top spot on the depth chart and playing time.  Colt Lyerla provides the most intriguing option.  If he can stay out of trouble and get the most out of his skills, Lyerla could be the next Finley.

Before we assume that Eddie Lacy will become the unquestioned workhorse, consider these words from coach Mike McCarthy about the tailback position:  “My depth chart looks nothing like your depth chart.”  James Starks and DuJuan Harris provide plenty of talent, when healthy.  If Lacy stumbles or gets injured, one or both of them could step up.

JC Tretter gets the first crack at replacing center Evan Dietrich-Smith.  Corey Linsley provides Plan B.  Plan C could be a lot of shotgun formation and plenty of roll-out passes.

At safety, converted cornerback Micah Hyde could delay the ascension of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the starting lineup, if the rookie struggles to make the transition to the next level.

Prospects.

Since winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have had three straight playoff appearances that resulted in disappointment, with a home loss to the Giants, a road loss to the 49ers, and a home loss to the 49ers.  The defense has primarily been responsible for the inability to progress beyond the divisional round, and if that happens again in 2014, it’ll be time for a new coordinator, at a minimum.

Chances are the Packers will be good enough on both sides of the ball to let Rodgers carry them back to the round of eight again.  It’ll take more than a mild improvement to get to the NFC title game, or beyond.  The Packers could be poised to do just that, and they’ll get a chance to show where they are when traveling to Seattle for the first game of the regular season.

Permalink 116 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Green Bay Packers, Top Stories
yo

PFT Live comes to you from Super Bowl Radio Row at noon ET

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Getty Images

We’ve drawn a day closer to the Super Bowl and gotten through Media Day, but there’s still plenty to talk about regarding the Patriots and Seahawks before Sunday.

We’ll be doing it with several great guests on Wednesday’s installment of PFT Live. Former NFL rushing leader LaDainian Tomlinson and former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward will give us the view from former NFL stars while current Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will share their thoughts on the Super Bowl while also talking about their own futures in the game. Greg Cosell of NFL Films is also scheduled to be on the show.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. You can call the show by dialing 855-323-4NBC, email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. And, again, you can also watch a simulcast of all three hours of the show by clicking right here.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Tom Brady Has a Cold

Tom Brady AP

As he met the Super Bowl media Wednesday morning, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared to be dealing with a cold, sounding congested, sniffling on occasion and wiping his nose on sleeve a couple times.

Asked about the cold, Brady indicated it was . . . well, a cold.

“Yeah, I’ve had it for four or five days,” Brady said. “My kids got sick, and then my wife’s pretty sick right now, so I brought it, unfortunately, to Phoenix. But I’ll be fine. I’ll be good.”

Asked a follow-up about how Patriots fans might be a little concerned about his health, Brady replied: “I’ll be at 100 percent. Yeah, I’ll be great. I’m not worried about it all.”

Patriots fans probably shouldn’t worry, either. And if they are, we have the perfect prescription to help pass a little time.

Permalink 8 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Washington hires Mark Clark as strength and conditioning coach

The Philadelphia Eagles play the Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Redskins continued turning over their coaching staff on Tuesday with a pair of hires.

The team made official the addition of former Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell as their new defensive backs coach and also announced that Mark Clark will be joining the team as their new strength and conditioning coach.

Clark worked for the Bears in the same role for the last three years and was in Kansas City for three years before that. His first NFL job came with the Seahawks, who hired him in 2004 and kept him on the staff until he departed after the 2009 season. He spent 23 years in the college ranks before that and was twice named the Strength Coach of the Year by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association when he was at Texas A&M.

Clark replaces Ray Wright, who was fired early this month after five years with the club. The moves continue a busy offseason that’s seen the Redskins make defensive coordinator Joe Barry and offensive line coach Bill Callahan a pair of high-profile additions to Jay Gruden’s staff.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Seahawks G.M.: John Idzik just needed more time

John Idzik AP

Former Jets General Manager John Idzik was a part of a good front office in Seattle, and his old boss thinks the Jets didn’t give him enough time to succeed.

Via Brian Costello of the New York Post, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider thinks Idzik could have succeeded eventually.

I felt bad for him,” Schneider said. “I think that, it’s just my personal opinion that you should be able to hire a head coach. If you’re going into a situation like that, try to make it work with the coach that’s there and then if it doesn’t, hire your own coach and see where it goes. . . .

“It’s an entertainment industry, so you know going in that it’s tough, especially in New York City. We just talked about staying positive and what his next step is going to be. We’re just good friends.”

Of course, Idzik never got a chance to hire that coach, as he and Rex Ryan were swept out after two years, and it remains to be seen when or if there is a next step for Idzik.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

LeGarrette Blount admits Seahawks defense is “pretty good”

Super Bowl XLIX Media Day Fueled by Gatorade Getty Images

The Patriots have moved the ball well enough that they can be confident.

And they’re certainly not intimidated by the Seahawks.

Via Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount said about the closest thing to trash talk about the Seahawks yet.
“I don’t care about them being the top defense, that doesn’t bother me,” Blount said. “They were good enough to get here, just like we were good enough to get here. They’re not immortal. They can be beaten. . . .

“Obviously they’re a pretty good defense. They were good enough to get here, they were good enough to get here last year, so we are going to put a plan together to hopefully make sure we come out victorious.”

The Seahawks led the league in total defense this year, and were third against the run. For the Patriots to make a dent in that, Blount’s going to have to be at his best.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Aubrayo Franklin returning to 49ers as assistant coach

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

When defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin played for the 49ers, his position coach was Jim Tomsula.

Tomsula has moved up the ladder to become the team’s head coach this offseason and it looks like that’s opened the door for Franklin to return to the team. He won’t be playing on the defensive front this time, however.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that Franklin will be taking a job as an entry level defensive assistant coach on Tomsula’s staff for the 2015 season. Per Barrows, the 49ers want Franklin to serve as an “apprentice” to a more experienced and as yet unnamed defensive line coach.

Franklin played for the 49ers from 2007-2010, starting in 60 of the 62 games he played for the team. Franklin went on to play for the Saints and Chargers before playing his final NFL snaps as a starter with the Colts during the 2013 season.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jaguars hire Kelly Skipper to coach running backs

20150127-skipper

The influx of coaches from the league’s worst offense to its next-to-worst offense continues.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars have hired Kelly Skipper as their running backs coach.

While Skipper and new Jaguars coordinator Greg Olson presided over the league’s worst offense last year, their presence could still help the Jaguars, who were 31st.

Skipper’s actually a good coach, despite spending the last eight years with the Raiders. He’s also worked as an offensive coordinator at UCLA.

He’s also coming closer to family, as his brother Tim’s working at the University of Florida and his father Jim is coaching the Panthers’ running backs.

Photo credit: Jaguars.com

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Greg Roman giving EJ Manuel a clean slate

Cleveland Browns v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Doug Marrone regime didn’t give Bills quarterback EJ Manuel much rope in 2014, yanking him from the lineup after four games and turning the offense over to Kyle Orton for the rest of the year.

Orton retired after taking Buffalo to a 9-7 record and Marrone opted to take a $4 million payout and an assistant job on Jacksonville’s staff, which provides Manuel with some new life in Buffalo. New offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Tuesday that he’s been watching film on Manuel and that Manuel has the skills to play the position, but said that what happens in their work together will determine his role on the team in 2015.

“I’m not going to get into specifics,” Roman said, via the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “I think he’s done some good things and displayed some good traits. We just have to get his level of consistency a little greater. Once we get through this evaluation process, he and every player is going to have a clean slate. What they might have been asked to do in the past is really not relevant to what we may or may not ask them to do. For me to pontificate about this, that, and the other, it’s a little premature.”

When Orton retired, the Bills talked about adding one or two more quarterbacks to the mix, although that came before Marrone decided to opt out of his deal. With Jeff Tuel currently the only other quarterback in town, it’s a good bet that they will still be looking for other options at the position in the event that the new boss feels the same way about Manuel as the old boss.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bevell says Seahawks didn’t think about height when drafting Wilson

bevell AP

Russell Wilson was such a great college quarterback that it now seems obvious that he’d be a great pro quarterback as well. But, of course, it wasn’t obvious: He lasted until the middle of the third round of the 2012 NFL draft before the Seahawks got him.

Wilson would have been a first-round pick if he were 6-foot-3, but he’s not, and so he wasn’t. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell says the Seahawks had a simple approach to drafting Wilson: They’d ignore height.

“I think the first thing you have to do is be able to overlook the fact that he was 5’10 ½” to be able to take him,” Bevell said. “[General Manager] John Schneider did a phenomenal job in preparation for that and was able to look past that. We just tried to build our offense with what is best suited for our guys.”

Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin in the 1990s and still knew plenty of the Badgers’ coaches when Wilson was at Wisconsin, and he said that helped him research Wilson. Bevell also said that the Seahawks liked Wilson being a two-sport athlete — even though it was Wilson’s commitment to minor league baseball that led him to lose the starting quarterback job at North Carolina State and transfer to Wisconsin.

“Russell has great savvy and awareness,” Bevell said. “I think all the sports that he played as he was growing up have given him that. His baseball days with being able to slide – timing or whatever to get down. He’s played enough football that just his spatial awareness and his vision of being able to see where all the defenders are coming from and the understanding of how important that he is in our offense and he knows that he has to be able to get up and play the next play not just that one play. Again, he has great awareness; it’s kind of innate in him.”

Wilson has all the qualities an NFL team looks for in a quarterback, except height. The Seahawks were smart to overlook that one.

Permalink 51 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Justin Houston thinks Chiefs can win Super Bowl with Alex Smith

Justin Houston AP

The Chiefs have some contract decisions to make regarding impending free agent linebacker Justin Houston this offseason and it doesn’t sound like Houston’s feelings about committing to Kansas City for the long term are negatively impacted by the team’s offensive state of affairs.

During an interview on ESPN Tuesday, Houston said that he thought it was a “team effort” and that his view is that the team would have won more games if the defense had done a better job of stopping the opposition. He also feels that the team can win a Super Bowl with quarterback Alex Smith running the offense.

“I’m very convinced. The past two years we’ve had winning seasons. But we need some more pieces,” Houston said. “This year I feel our offensive line struggled a little bit. We had some injuries on our offensive line that caused him to get sacked more than usual. But I think we can do it with Alex.”

Among the pieces Houston thinks the team needs are wide receivers after the Chiefs became the first team since the Truman administration to go an entire season without a touchdown catch from a player at the position. Houston’s contract situation will impact their ability to do that. If the Chiefs can’t sign Houston to a long-term deal that spreads out a big cap hit, they’ll likely use the franchise tag on him and that hit would limit other things they can do to prepare for the 2015 season.

Permalink 31 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Darrelle Revis on Jets alleged tampering: I couldn’t say much on the subject

Super Bowl XLIX Media Day Fueled by Gatorade Getty Images

The Patriots have filed tampering charges against the Jets because owner Woody Johnson said he’d “love for Darrelle to come back” to the Jets while talking about Revis winding up in New England after being released by the Buccaneers last year.

Johnson’s comment could theoretically make it harder for the Patriots to renegotiate their deal with Revis, something that would make keeping him for the 2015 season plausible. On Tuesday, Revis gave no indication that Johnson’s comment is influencing his thinking about who will be signing his checks.

“I heard the Woody Johnson quote,” Revis said, via NJ.com. “If that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels. I couldn’t really say much on the subject.”

Revis faced another question about the Jets during Super Bowl Media Day when he was asked about Jets fans watching him play in the Super Bowl for the team that has ruled the AFC East for more than a decade.

“It’s not really my fault. I didn’t make the call,” Revis said. “Management made the call at that time and they felt it was best to get rid of me. So that’s the situation. That’s how I look at it.”

Revis also said he needed to find the “right team” to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time, something that stands as further suggestion that his career will continue to play out away from the team that first employed him in the NFL.

Permalink 19 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Dan Quinn says he’s focused on his current job, not his next one

danquinn AP

Although NFL rules prevent it from being officially announced until Monday, everyone knows that Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be the next head coach of the Falcons. But even though Quinn will take a big step in his career next week when he becomes a head coach for the first time, Quinn says all of his focus is on Super Bowl Sunday.

Quinn said at Super Bowl Media Day that he appreciates the NFL rule that allowed him to interview with the Falcons during the Seahawks’ bye week, and that he’s having no trouble keeping his focus on the Super Bowl.

“The interview process allows us to go through it during the bye. I am appreciative of how the NFL does that. It is pretty easy to get right back into focus to play in this situation,” Quinn said.

Quinn said it would be crazy to be at the Super Bowl and allow his focus to be on anything else.

“This is such a cool experience,” Quinn said. “Where else would you rather be?”

Quinn has decided he would rather be in Atlanta than Seattle. But not until after the Super Bowl.

Permalink 24 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Josh McDaniels: We’ll be smart with Richard Sherman because he’s smart

New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman opted to pass on reviving their argument about who is the best cornerback in the NFL at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day, but the cornerbacks were still a topic of conversation.

Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin called Revis “one of the most patient cornerbacks” he’s ever seen while teammate Jermaine Kearse praised the Patriots corner’s physical play at the line of scrimmage. The words from the New England side were similarly complimentary about Sherman, including Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s discussion of the need to throw the ball all over the field while also being cognizant of what Sherman can do to stymie an offense.

“It’s not easy to avoid someone the whole game … just say you’re not going to throw over there,” McDaniels said, via ESPN.com. “But you have to be smart because he will take the ball away from you. There’s a reason he’s taken the ball away from people, because of his skill level. But there’s no way around it. If the coverage takes the play there, that’s where you go. But you can’t just start going right at him if the play doesn’t take you there. We want to be smart, make the smart plays. Because he’s smart, he’ll make the smart plays. … We’re not going to avoid someone throughout, but we’re not going to go out of our way to get in trouble.”

Four Patriots caught at least 50 passes this season, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen, so the Patriots are comfortable going all over the field to make plays through the air. That depth should make it easier for them to go after a variety of Seattle defenders throughout the game without having to force things in any direction other than the one that might be open on a particular play.

Permalink 14 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

NFLPA: NFL can’t mandate counseling for Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson AP

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson last season, he set April 15 as a date to consider Peterson’s reinstatement and mandated that Peterson meet with a league-approved psychiatrist for counseling after pleading no contest to a charge of misdemeanor reckless assault on his four-year-old son.

On Monday, the NFLPA filed a brief in federal court arguing that Goodell has no power to impose such a condition on Peterson. The union, which is suing to have Peterson reinstated as soon as possible in a case set to begin next month, argues that Goodell’s powers under the collective bargaining agreement are limited to fining players, suspending them or terminating their contracts.

“The collectively-bargained NFL Player Contract could not be clearer in expressly limiting the Commissioner’s disciplinary authority ‘to fine Player[s] in a reasonable amount, to suspend Player[s] for a certain period or indefinitely; and/or to terminate th[eir] contract[s],'” the NFLPA writes in the brief, via ESPN.com. “The NFL does not deny that the Commissioner’s imposed counseling requirement is neither a fine, suspension, or contract termination, nor would there be any other ‘plausible’ interpretation of this CBA provision permitting such a requirement. Instead, the NFL — like the [suspension] itself — entirely ignores the Player Contract’s CBA disciplinary limitation. As the NFL highlights, Arbitrator [Harold] Henderson sustained the counseling requirement of Mr. Peterson’s discipline not on the basis of any provision in the CBA, but by relying upon Commissioner Goodell’s unilaterally promulgated Personal Conduct Policies.”

Peterson met with a psychology professor from Harvard following his indictment in September and provided details to the league, which directed Peterson to meet with a different doctor from NYU. After his suspension was upheld by Henderson, Peterson told ESPN that he felt “like any type of process with the NFL is not the way to go.”

Permalink 40 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Bob Bicknell possible candidate for offensive coordinator role with 49ers

New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

An Eagles assistant coach is reportedly on San Francisco’s radar as it tries to fill its offensive coordinator vacancy.

Eagles wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell has been “discussed” as a potential candidate for the 49ers’ coordinator role, Albert Breer of NFL Media reports.

The 45-year-old Bicknell has been the Eagles’ receivers coach the last two seasons. Previously, he was an assistant with Buffalo (2010-2012) and Kansas City (2007-2009).

Bicknell has five seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator, with all of it coming in NFL Europe from 2001 through 2005.

Colts assistant Rob Chudzinski, expected to be a candidate for San Francisco’s offensive coordinator position, has elected to stay with Indianapolis, which named him associate head coach.

The 49ers and Rams are the only clubs with offensive coordinator vacancies.

Permalink 19 Comments Feed for comments Back to top