Packer Update

3 Key Issues Facing Packers

Wide receiver Jordy Nelson struggled at times to get open last season

Veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson struggled at times to get open last season

The Green Bay Packers reported to camp on Thursday and worked in shells on Friday and Saturday. Here are three somewhat under-the-radar issues facing the team heading into the first full week of practice:

CREATE MORE SEPARATION

It’s fair to blame the offensive line and the quarterback for the ridiculous number of sacks last season, but don’t give the receivers a pass. Without Greg Jennings, super-quick Randall Cobb was the only player capable of creating separation on a consistent basis. In the three games I attended live and the other 15 I re-watched on the All-22, I can’t tell you how many times Aaron Rodgers had nowhere to go with the ball.

Whether it was due to nagging injuries or having to face better corners due to the absence of Jennings for much of the season, Jordy Nelson struggled to create space between himself and defensive backs. And for all his acrobatic catches in the red zone, James Jones has never had much quickness into and out of cuts, so to get him the ball between the 20s, Rodgers is often forced to throw into very tight windows.

So how can things be better in 2013? Nelson has to stay healthy and the running game and tight end Jermichael Finley have to be much more consistent. If at least two those three things happen, the receivers should find more room to maneuver, and in the process, stand a better chance of getting open.

DEFEND THE MIDDLE

In the past two seasons, few teams were as bad as the Packers at defending the middle of the field. One big reason was personnel.¬†Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith – three of the four primary starters in 2011 and 2012 – weren’t very athletic. And while Brad Jones, the fourth member of that quartet, is certainly a faster and more fluid player, nobody is going to confuse him with Patrick Willis.

So how can things be better in 2013? Unless Terrell Manning develops, significant improvement won’t come from the personnel. A better rush and stronger play from the safeties would help, but at the end of the day, Dom Capers has to do a better job of designing schemes and calling plays. I can’t tell you how many times I saw enough unoccupied grass between the D-line and the secondary to lay down a putting green.

FIND A DIME

The Packers used extra defensive backs 67 percent of the time in 2012 – the highest figure in the NFL. And while the nickel package fared pretty well, things deteriorated a bit when a sixth defensive back took the field. That’s because both Charles Woodson and rookie Jerron McMillian were big liabilities in pass coverage.¬†That shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Woodson simply couldn’t run, and while the coaches insisted that McMillian could cover wide receivers, I never saw any hint of that last summer.

With Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward, Green Bay is one player away from having things covered – pardon the pun – in the dime. So who’ll be that player? The best option is probably Micah Hyde. The rookie lacks speed and is vulnerable to the deep ball, but his technique and instincts should allow him to succeed in the slot. The only question is whether he’ll be ready for such a key role this season.

If he’s not, the options are limited. Davon House will likely be the No. 4 corner, but he’s better suited to play outside. Moving Shields inside is a possibility, but that could weaken two positions. Hyde enjoyed a good offseason and he stood out on Friday. If his solid play continues, the dime has a chance to pay big dividends in 2013.

Have you been following the Camping With The Pack blog? That’s where I’m posting news and views from training camp. Visit there throughout the day for continuous updates and feel free to leave comments.

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5 Comments to "3 Key Issues Facing Packers"

  1. Nick Perry says:

    All excellent points/concerns Michael. I noticed that as well in many of the Packers games last season, the receivers just weren’t getting open. Not like they had in the past. I think that was partly to Nelson never really being just quite right. Something always seemed to be tweaked on Nelson. I really believe a lot of that can be solved with a running game. Alex Green is not a very good RB. I had read that Green didn’t even break 1 tackle last year, not a one. While I find that hard to believe I did watch Green in some of the Packers games from last year(Rainy days I’ll watch Packers victories on my DVR),. Not only did I see him NOT break a tackle, but he is always running up the rear end of his lineman, takes bad angles, and as a whole lacks the vision to be a even average RB in the NFL. As long as M.M. and Rodgers actually follow though and run the ball, the Safeties will eventually begin to cheat down closer to the line of scrimmage. When that happens the top will come off this offense, but it all starts with running the ball.

    Casey Hayward didn’t have a very good 40 time either. Maybe not as slow as Hude, but not a 4.35 guy either. While I’m not comparing the two, I think the Packers have themselves a football player in Hyde. I think Hyde, House, Shields, Hayward, and Williams are as a group one of the top 5 in the NFL.

  2. Aaron says:

    THANK YOU! The nfl pass all 22 helped me realize the receivers looked like they moved in slow motion all season except Cobb. Btw Cobb could’ve scored 5 touchdowns in the Colts game.

    Defenses covered Nelson easily on his dig/ china route and Jones was inconsistent in getting open down the field.

    Defenses also played a lot more man and challenged Rodgers to consistently make tight throws. Last year Rodgers hesitated more on the tight throw in lieu of looking for the “big play”.
    Still the best Qb in the league just needs to make 1 or 2 more tough 3rd down throws per game.

  3. CJS says:

    Agreed on “Separation”. Jordy has been dinged up and Jones is a possession WR. I think the solution is actually going to be the running game and Franklin catching passes in the flat.

    As far as the open middle in the D, that hole has been there since Hawk started in GB. I even think the large amount of dime we played was to get Hawk off the field because opposing OCs were designing plays all off-season to get Hawk matched up in coverage. Anyway, I agree with Nick Perry that we have 5 strong DBs and that we won’t have trouble finding a dime.

  4. Saguaro says:

    The cover 2 killed the passing game last year. It not only takes away the deep ball threat, it also takes away the back shoulder pass because the CB can trail the WR. Without the deep ball threat, neither Nelson nor Jones can cut well enough to separate. And without the back shoulder option, lack of separation is a killer. It also looks like Finley has lost a step since the knee injury ( I think Michael wrote about that), so he can’t split the middle like he used to. Maybe Quarless will allow some 2 TE sets to work, but I suspect it is going to come down to the OL and RBs to get a running game going.

    Green, btw, was still seriously hurt last year. He could hardly walk. There were times last season when teammates had to carry him up and down stairs. No wonder he couldn’t cut, find holes or get to the edge. He should have been PUP and maybe IR’d like Quarless.

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