The Green Bay Packers went 12-4 in 2014 earning their 4th straight NFC North title and sixth straight playoff appearance. Green Bay was 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road led by MVP Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay beat the Patriots, Jets, Vikings, Bears, Falcons, Panthers, Eagles and Lions* on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. Packers snuck by Dallas in the divisional round of the playoff. The Packers lost at Buffalo to Yosemite Schwartz, at New Orleans, at Seattle to open the season and in the NFC Championship game in a comeback loss. North fans are thankful for Butterfingers Bostick and poor late coverage by Green Bay. Most importantly, Green Bay lost at Detroit in Week 3 with star studded FYS writer, Russ Thomas in attendance.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy begins his 10th season with the Packers in 2015. Dom Capers runs the defense in his 7th season as DC for the Packers. Long time OC Tom Clements takes over play calling from McCarthy this season.
Stats and Upgrades
The Packers had the top ranked offense in 2014. They scored an incredible 30.3 PPG and were 10th in yards per carry behind Lacy running the ball. Aaron Rodgers won his second MVP throwing for 65.6% completion with 38 TDs and only 5 interceptions. Rodgers may be the greatest QB of all time. Rodgers was only pressured 26.5% of his snaps which was 3rd best in the league. Green Bay was sacked only 30 times (Rodgers 28) and turned the ball over only 13 times aiding, a league best, plus 14 turnover differential during 2014. The Green Bay offense carried the team in 2014.
The Packers defense was middle of the pack allowing 21.8 PPG (13th). Dom Capers’ defense forced 27 turnovers (8th) but allowed 4.3 YPC (20th) rushing. The Packers brought above average pressure with 41 sacks, 61 QB hits and 182 hurries led by the trio of Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Daniels.
The Packers covered well with the 7th lowest QB rating against them in the league but lost two good corners in Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were cut and left in free agency after disappointing seasons at ILB for Green Bay. The Packers added two rookie CBs in Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins in Round 1 and 2 of the 2015 NFL draft and Ty Montgomery in Round 3 for slot WR depth and kickoff ability.
Aaron Rodgers is an incredible QB and got good support to let his greatness shine. He had protection, a good run game, healthy weapons, and can carve up defenses. Rodgers can carry the Packers to double digit wins in any season if he continues this strong play and staying healthy. He gives the Packers a chance to win any game. Rodgers struggled on the road against good defenses in 2014 but we will see if he bounces back from that in 2015.
Eddie Lacy is a beast notching 4.6 YPC on 246 carries with 9 TDs. He is a workhorse back that can break tackles and make tacklers miss. James Starks is a solid backup despite only 3.9 YPC on 85 carries in 2014. Green Bay has a run game they can count on with good run blocking. Sitton (+1.9) and Lang (+10.7) are great run blockers at left and right guard. Rookie Corey Linsley had a good first year (+5.4) run blocking too at center. The tackles and TEs have some blocking problems for the Packers. Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga is average with a +.3 run grade but Bakhtiari struggled heavily with a -13.2 run grade. Both tight ends were poor in run blocking. The Packers can run up the middle but must work on running on the edges.
The Packers are loaded with weapons. Jordy Nelson had a great year with 91 catches, 1,519 yards and 13 TDS. Randall Cobb in the slot had 1,287 yards 14.1 YPC and 12 TDs. They are a dangerous one two punch that should be doubled more.
The Packers need some growth from year 2 players to complete their weaponry. Rookie Davante Adams was below average as a 3rd weapon with 31 receptions 443 yards and 3 TDs (-8.6 grade for Adams). Rookie TE 3rd round pick in 2014, Richard Rodgers, had 20 catches 225 yards and 2 TDs. However, most rookie TEs struggled. Andrew Quarless is looking at suspension following his gun violence in the 2015 off-season. Ty Montgomery was drafted in Round 3 to backup the slot in case of another Cobb injury (2013). 2014 4TH round pick Jared Aberderris is a possession receiver coming off a torn ACL from 2014 training camp. The Packers have some talent at 3rd, 4th, 5th WR and TE but much of it is still unproven. The offense can still survive and excel with Nelson, Cobb and Lacy carrying the load. Adams and Rodgers developing in year 2 would make the Packers even more dangerous.
Rodgers was the 3rd most protected QB in the league. This allows him to carve up defenses. Bakhtiari, Sitton, Lang and Bulaga were all excellent in pass protection. Corey Linsley had a good season at +2.5 in pass pro surrounded by talent. If the Packers offensive line stays healthy, they should have a top 5 offense in 2015.
The Packers pass rush did an above average job in 2014. The pass rush was top heavy with Clay Matthews (11 sacks, 10 hits and 28 hurries), Julius Peppers (7 sacks, 11 hits and 31 hurries) and Mike Daniels (5.5 sacks, 11 hits and 24 hurries) bringing most of the pressure. The Packers pass rush is a wild card because Clay Matthews may move inside more in the 2015 season. This would hurt the Packers pass rush. Julius Peppers played well in 2014 but is also 35 years old. Finally backup OLBS Nick Perry and Mike Neal must step up with Clay inside. Neal has a terrible -14 pass rush grade and Perry marked a -1.9 pass rush grade. The backup OLBs must provide more consistent pressure. Datone Jones added 1.5 sacks, 2 hits and 15 hurries in limited time. The two former 1st round picks (Jones and Perry) must step up in 2015 to offset Matthews’ part time move inside.
The Packers performed well in coverage in 2014. However, this is a weakness because the Packers lost Tramon Williams (+2.7 coverage and 3 interceptions) and Davon House (+1.7). Sam Shields is a solid number 1 corner but had a -1.8 coverage grade against big time talent. Strong safety Morgan Burnett struggled with a -4.4 coverage grade.
Casey Heyward was excellent in the slot with a +8.7 coverage grade and 3 interceptions. However, Heyward moving to the outside with his size could be a potential issue for the Packers. Hayward has a few strong grades on the outside but he still has more to prove. Moving Hayward outside hurts the Packers on the inside. Micah Hyde was only average with a -.6 coverage grade which is a downgrade from Heyward in the slot. Second year and former 1st round pick Ha Ha Clinton Dix development will be the key. Dix had an average -.5 rookie coverage grade in 2014 but should grow in year 2 of his career at free safety.
The Packers added two rookie CBs in Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins in Round 1 and 2 of the 2015 NFL draft. Randall is converting from safety to corner and Rollins only has one year of college experience after playing basketball for 4 years at Miami of Ohio University. Both of these young corners are talented with a good skillset, size and speed. It may take some time before they are NFL game ready as an asset to Green Bay. 2016 is a more realistic expectation for good production from these young corners.
Green Bay allowed 4.3 YPC. BJ Raji returns from injury but Raji had a terrible -20.2 run defense grade in 2013. Clay Matthews had a surprisingly negative -5.2 run defense grade and fellow ILB Sam Barrington had a -5.0 grade. Rookie 4th round pick Jake Ryan was added to help the run defense.
Guion, Raji, Boyd and Datone Jones all struggled against the run on the defensive line. Julius Peppers had a -1.1 run defense grade but a good +2.5 coverage grade. Mike Daniels is the lone bright spot with a+9.4 run defense grade. The Packers will have issues stopping the run. Running on the Packers and controlling the clock is a good way to beat Aaron Rodgers if you can’t pressure him consistently with four defensive linemen.
Schedule and Outlook
The Packers have a tough schedule with an improved NFC North twice, NFC West, AFC West and Dallas/at Carolina on the docket. The Packers have a bye Week 7 with 4 home games and 2 away games to start the season. After the bye, the Packers have 3 of 4 on the road then a 3 and 3 split between home games and away to finish the season.
The Packers square off against the Lions, Vikings, Bears, Chiefs, Chargers, Cowboys, Seattle and Rams at Lambeau Field. Green Bay should be 6-2 at least at home at worst. A 6-2 Packers home record is the best case scenario for the other North teams since the Packers have a daunting road schedule. Seattle, Dallas and Detroit following a bye are the best bets to steal a game in Lambeau. Kansas City’s run game and defense gives them a chance too.
The Packers travel to Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Denver, Oakland, Carolina, Arizona and San Francisco on the road. Packers could lose 4 or maybe even five road games. It will be up to Detroit to continue winning at Ford Field and the Bears and Vikings to actually do their jobs in home division games. Denver, Carolina, Arizona and San Francisco are all talented enough to beat the Packers with the home crowd. Packers losing two at home and having either four or five road losses might be the difference in 2015. Green Bay should be in the playoffs with at least 10 wins; but this season it might not be as a division winner. The Packers did pretty well in their last wild card role though in 2010. Green Bay will always be dangerous with Aaron Rodgers no matter how many defensive issues they have. With some good health, 10-6 with a wild card berth is my prediction for Green Bay’s 2015 season.