I did not anticipate writing a recap on the Packers 2011 season this early. Like everyone else, I thought they were going to make a deep postseason run. I had to take a week to step back and think about the season as a whole instead of just one game. We have plenty of time this offseason to dissect what went wrong in that game, but the purposes of this post is to grade out the entire season.
Everyone will put the majority of the blame of the Packers two losses on the defense. While there is a lot wrong with defense, the offense in those two games did not show up. Overall, I would give this offense an A- if I had to put a grade on it. They averaged 30 points a game a home, set numerous records and were extremely prolific. Aaron Rodgers had an MVP type year and there is really nothing more you can ask of the guy. He limited his INTs, hardly turned the ball over, distributed the ball evenly to all his weapons and utilized his legs when he had pressure to help keep the chains moving.
Even with how good Rodgers on this offense was, they still had their issues. The wide receivers almost played as well as Rodgers did, as Jordy Nelson stepped up to compliment Greg Jennings as a top-tier receiver and a deep threat. This group of receivers scored 38 TDs, which was 11 more than any other NFL wide recieving group.
Sacks and dropped passes did stall some drives throughout the season, and is something that needs to be corrected during the offseason. The Packers had a fewer percentage of running plays (39%) than they did last year and they also had no back who had a 100-yard game all season. Now, McCarthy is a pass-first offensive coach, but in in my opinion this is something they will need to adjust for next year. Overall, this offense should be good for years to come and will keep the Packers fighting for division titles.
Now, where do I even begin with the defense. They led the league with 31 interceptions but went from third in pass defense last year to 32nd this year. The secondary got caught taking too many chances that seemed to backfire. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields seemed to take a step back and Woodson wasn't as good getting off blocks and blitzing from the slot as he was a year ago.
A lot of the secondary problems could have been fixed with a pass rush. Clay Mathews had a good year, but was neutralized when teams realized all they had to do was slide 2 guys to his side because no one else was getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. B.J. Raji did not seem to play up to is 2010 year and seemed to get lost for several minutes at a time during many games. Mike Neal was a complete bust trying to replace Cullen Jenkins. The outside linebacker rotation of Zombo, Walden, Jones and So'oto was ineffective generating any type of pressure and was a musical chair all season. General Manager Ted Thompson is going to have to address this position as well as defensive end in the draft.
One of the GM's biggest disappointments on defense had to be AJ Hawk, who after receiving a payday, just did not live up to it. He does not have that nastiness or toughness that Desmond Bishop has and lacks the ability to cover a running back out of the backfield or a tight end down the field.
Even with all of these problems, this defense can be turned around fairly quickly. It doesn't have to be a top 5 defense, they just need to be top 15 for this team to compete for Super Bowls. Overall, this defense would receive a D grade for their performance.
I have to give credit to Thompson, McCarthy and the special teams coaches as this unit was much improved from last season. A lot of that has to do with the addition of Randall Cobb. He did lose 3 fumbles, but without an offseason, I think the rookie did a good job and gives us something to look forward to next year. The unit did continue to struggle in punt coverage. Overall I would give them a letter grade of B.
2011 was a very exciting year for the green and gold and their fans. They only lost one game during the regular season, won the NFC North Division, received the #1 seed in the playoffs and a first round bye. A lot to be proud of, but also some improvement that can be done to get back to the pinnacle of the sport.
This will be an interesting offseason for the team with Donald Driver's contract stituation, Jermichael Finley possibly receiving the franchise tag and then probably fighting it (he wants to be paid like a WR not a TE), center Scott Wells a free agent, and the Nick Collins injury, which we will hear more about in March. If Collins cannot return, this could be the offseason that management approaches Charles Woodson to move to safety.
Plus, don't forget some coaches are moving on. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and more changes could be coming. The future is bright for this organization but this is an important offseason for Thompson. Stay tuned as we will be discussing everything this offseason has in store for us.