-A guest post by David Orgas.
I’ve been reading all the blogs, all the Op-Eds and listening to all the bar chatter. “The 2010 Packers will steamroll over the division and bring Super Bowl glory back to Titletown once again.” Whoa horsey.
While I am on-board with the excitement of the ’09 campaign and firmly believe this is a solid team built for a playoff run… I’m not ready to overlook a few basic facts as we head into the season. And you know how I hate being the devil’s advocate, but:
Last year’s team went 3-5 against playoff caliber opponents. That’s right. Did you forget so quickly that we were a sub .500 team versus quality opponents? It is easy to go 11-5 when you play one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Think about it. Detroit (twice), St. Louis, Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa (and we lost to the Bucs). PLUS one of the three games we won against playoff caliber opponents came against the Cardinals in week 17 when they pulled all their starters after one series. If you throw that game out, we were 2-5 against quality competition. But you could also argue that we could’ve/should’ve/would’ve beaten Pittsburgh except for that last play. So we’ll stick with 3-5 for now.
The 2010 season does not present nearly as many pushovers. In fact, there may be as many as thirteen playoff caliber opponents on the docket for this coming year. Minnesota, with or without the diva, is still a playoff contender and we play them twice. Chicago finished last season 7-9 without Urlacher and they will have him back. They also added Julius Peppers, and Packer fans should never underestimate the positive effect adding a dominant defensive end can have on a franchise. Over the last 4 weeks of 2009, Tommy Harris regained his Pro-Bowl form at DT, Daniel Manning started to look like a FS and they moved Chris Williams to LT (and he shut down the backside pass rush for Jay Cutler). They have also added Chester Taylor who is a custom fit for new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz’s offense, and Brandon Manumaleuna, maybe the best blocking TE in the league. The Bear’s, at least on paper, look like a playoff caliber team. The Lions are improving, but they still are the Lions and they suck. Outside the division, things get worse.
Our inter-conference rivals from the AFC East include three playoff contenders and two Super Bowl favorites. The Jets, the Patriots and the Dolphins. Both the Jets and Patriots are considered front-runners in the AFC and we play both on the road. The only “easy” team in that division is the Bills and we get them at Lambeau. Why couldn’t we get them on the road and the Patriots at home? We don’t even get Miami when it’s cold and snowy—we play them in mid-October, and the Fish with Brandon Marshall and a healthy Ronnie Brown are scary good. Add free agent pickup Karlos Dansby on defense and they’re a top quality team.
Our intra-conference divisional rivals include San Francisco, Atlanta and the entire NFC East. San Fran is the front-runner in the West now that Warner retired, and Mike Singletary’s squad just keeps getting better and better. They will be one of the most physical teams we play all year and we get them in Green Bay after back-to-back road games vs. Minnesota and the Falcons. If there is any road-rust, it will cost us dearly. Atlanta could be set for a long run as a playoff contender with Matt Ryan at the helm. Even without him for a long period in 2009, the birds nearly made the playoffs.
The NFC East might be the best division in the NFL and, lucky us, we play them all. The Cowboys are a legit Super Bowl contender but we get them at home (suckers!). The Giants were the best team in the NFL for the first five weeks of the season last year before injuries and poor defense (believe it or not) got the best of them. Now they’ve re-stocked the defense. The Eagles may be without Donovan McNabb but they’ve got Kevin Kolb (who is their version of Aaron Rodgers). We also have to play them on the road and Philly is a tough road city. The worst of the bunch is Washington. But the Skins now feature McNabb at QB and have Mike Shanahan calling the plays. Their defense was solid last season despite the record and they’ve strengthened the O-Line. The return of All-Pro Chris Cooley helps a ton since McNabb throws plenty of balls to his TEs. And we play at Washington. Every team in this division could be in contention for a playoff spot thru 14-15 weeks.
Count ‘em up. Minnesota (x2), Chicago (x2), San Fran, Atlanta, Philly, Dallas, NY Giants, Washington, NY Jets, New England, Miami. I count 13. Thirteen teams that could be playoff caliber in 2010. Take away Washington and Chicago and we still have 10 playoff teams to contend with. And we were 3-5 vs. those teams in 2009.
And what did we do to improve our team for 2010? A solid draft but nothing immediate. Bulaga is a great pick. A great pick. Could be a decade-long starter at LT. But not in 2010. Not unless Clifton gets hurt. I suppose he could play inside at LG for a year or two until Clifton retires but he’d have to learn a new position. He’s been on the edge for 7 years dating back to his All-State HS career in Woodstock, Illinois. Second round pick Mike Neal adds depth to the defensive line but he is not a playmaker. He is a strong point of attack run defender who did not make a ton of plays in college. Morgan Burnett is a ball-hawk. Good range, good ball skills, good tackler. Could step in and replace Atari Bigby right away (and not a moment too soon). But he did not play any SS in college. He played “rover” which is college jargon for “athletic guy who just reads the QB and runs to the ball.” He will need time to learn zones and coverage responsibilities. I expect him to play a lot like Bigby in 2010: make some splash plays, make some big hits, get burned quite a bit… come to think of it, sounds a lot like Tramon Williams too (minus the big hits).
But the fact of the matter is we came into this off-season with needs. We needed to improve our interior offensive line, we needed an OLB opposite Clay Matthews, we needed an upgrade at SS, we needed a RCB, we needed a 3rd down back, we needed more depth on the defensive line… Basically this was a really solid draft that will pay dividends in 2012 but it did not address our immediate needs for 2010.
Al Harris will turn 36 this season and is coming off a serious knee injury that occurred late in the season (week 11). To assume that he will be 100% by the start of the year is ridiculous. His replacement, Tramon Williams, is a decent nickel-back who gambles and makes some plays on the ball but gets beat consistently. Steve Breaston absolutely torched him in the playoff game (7 catches, 125 yards). We needed another RCB this off-season and didn’t go out and get one. My choices were: Either Marlin Jackson (ex-Colts), Richard Marshall (Panthers) or Ken Lucas (Seahawks). Jackson was my first choice because he has played all 4 defensive back positions in the NFL. It was his interception of Tom Brady that sent the Colts to their Super Bowl a few years ago. He has great size (6’0 200) and hails from Michigan (and we’ve done pretty well with former Wolverine cornerbacks).
All in all, the Packers are in for a much tougher road this season. A record of 7-9 is within the realm of possibility, but so is 10-6. Barring major injuries to our roster or that of our opponents, I’m guessing that 9-7 is the mark we’re shooting for.
- David Orgas is the writer and director of "Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story," and is capable of calculating complex salary cap problems in his head.