For the second time in as many years, the Green Bay Packers have started the season with five wins and three losses after eight games. In 2012, the Packers went on to win six of their final eight to finish 11-5. Replicating that finish will be infinitely more difficult in 2013, as injuries have decimated the Packers roster and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will miss an undetermined amount of games with a broken collarbone. Here's a look back at the midseason awards for this Packers team:
MVP, Offense – QB Aaron Rodgers. All the evidence needed to verify Rodgers' title of offensive MVP came Monday night, when the Packers starting quarterback left after one series and his backup was hardly competitive. This is a team that can weather injury at almost all positions, but quarterback is obviously not one of them. Through seven games, Rodgers was on pace to throw for 34 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards. How quickly he returns to health will determine how the Packers finish the 2013 season.
MVP, Defense – DE Mike Daniels. Clay Matthews and Sam Shields both warranted serious consideration here. Before his thumb injury, Matthews was looking at another 10-sack season, and he was also playing the run as well as he ever has. Shields has looked like a shutdown corner at times, but there have also been lapses. Daniels get the nod here because he's been Green Bay's most consistent pass rusher from Week 1 on, and no other Packers defender has a higher grade against the run at Pro Football Focus. He's been the complete package despite playing on roughly half of Green Bay's defensive snaps.
MVP, Rookie – RB Eddie Lacy. Green Bay's second-round pick is a no-brainer here. He's also a leading candidate to win offensive rookie of the year. Take away his one-carry afternoon against Washington, and Lacy is averaging a staggering 97.7 rushing yards a game this season. For context, consider Adrian Peterson is leading the NFL in yards per game at just under 90. Also, Lacy's 545 rushing yards since Week 5 are the most in the NFL and 74 more than the next best back. Patient and tough, Lacy has been the driving force of the NFL's second best running game.
Top assistant coach – Receivers coach Edgar Bennett/Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss. Multiple injuries typically take a position's depth to task. So far in 2013, Bennett's receivers and Moss's inside linebackers have answered the call when injuries struck. Bennett has been instrumental in grooming Jarrett Boykin, who has played a leading role while Randall Cobb and James Jones missed time. He's made undrafted guys into contributing role players. Moss has helped coax arguably the best professional season out of A.J. Hawk, and both Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore—two former edge players—have developed into legitimate starters inside. Once a college defensive end, Lattimore has been especially impressive. Credit Moss for providing the Packers a talented depth player and potential future starter.
Biggest surprise – The rushing dominance. Mike McCarthy was adamant this offseason that his running game would be better. Most dismissed his confidence as coach talk. Yet midway through this season, the Packers are second in rushing yards per game at 148.6 and first in yards per attempt at 5.0. This hasn't been a fluke; Green Bay has dominated the line of scrimmage, and Lacy and James Starks combine to create a tough 1-2 punch. McCarthy has wisely called a higher percentage of runs than at any other time during his run as Packers head coach.
Biggest disappointment – Unrelenting injury setbacks. Sure, injuries are a part of this rough and tough game. Every team deals with hurt players at some point in a season. But from the very start of August until now, the Packers have been dealt body blow after body blow. First, take away Bryan Bulaga and DuJuan Harris in training camp. Then strip the defense of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Might as well send Jermichael Finley to injured reserve and Randall Cobb to short-term IR. Now, Rodgers will miss time. The injuries have been as constant as they are significant, and the Packers finally look like they've hit a breaking point. The "next man up" mantra is being put to the test more so now than any other season in recent memory.
Biggest strength – Running the football. No one could have seen it coming, but the Packers are arguably the NFL's best rushing offense in 2013. Even when Rodgers went out early against the Bears, Green Bay ran full-steam ahead at loaded fronts and nearly eclipsed 200 total rushing yards. Four times the Packers have rushed for more than 180 yards this season. The challenge now will be to continue dominating in the run game when defenses creep up safeties into the box without Rodgers under center. Running against six and seven man fronts is one thing; doing it consistently when teams are concentrating their efforts against the run is entirely another.
Biggest weakness – Takeaways. For years, the Packers defense under Dom Capers survived (and occasionally thrived) off forcing takeaways. From 2010-2012, Green Bay averaged 31 takeaways a season—the most in the NFL over that span. That has all changed this season. The Packers have forced just seven turnovers in 2013, good for last in the NFC and 28th in the NFL overall. The defense's three interceptions are tied for last in the entire league. Green Bay has certainly been better about making stops, which might say more about talent and scheme than the luck of turnovers. But eventually, the Packers need to get game-changing plays from the defense, and especially if Rodgers has to miss considerable time.
Projected final record – 10-6. So much of this record is dependent on when Rodgers returns. If he's back before Green Bay's Thanksgiving showdown in Detroit, the Packers could realistically win five or six of the final eight games. Somehow, the Packers need to pull off one or two wins with Seneca Wallace under center. Getting to the postseason is still doable for this club, especially given the remaining schedule. But not having Rodgers for a stretch of games will really put pressure on the Packers to stay alive early in the second half.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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