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Heart and Head Predictions For the Packers' 2015 Season

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Heart and Head Predictions For the Packers' 2015 Season

The time has come for prognosticators everywhere to start making their picks, and as has been tradition around these parts ever since we started this little blog back in 2007, I will throw my hat in the ring with two predictions for the Green Bay Packers in 2015. As always, I’ll give one from the heart and one from the head.

So, without further ado…

Heart: 14-2, Super Bowl Champs

Head: 12-4, Super Bowl Champs

Not much more can be said about the collapse in the NFC Championship game that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum, so let’s just leave the “How will the Packers bounce back?” nonsense for others to cover. What’s important is this team, as assembled for 2015.

Needless to say, I like what I see. Yes, the Jordy Nelson injury is a major test early on, but as I laid out over at FanDuel last week, McCarthy is more than capable of adjusting and re-tooling his offense for life-after-Jordy. Nelson going down early on in preseason rather than, say, the first month of the season should actually help McCarthy and the Packers as they try to pivot.

The James Jones signing helps, and I’m excited to see Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis develop. I think Cobb and Adams are in for big, big years. You’d like to see a bit more talent up and down the tight end portion of the depth chart, but I do think Richard Rodgers is going to take the proverbial “jump” from Year One to Year Two.

But let’s get real here: All that matters is that Aaron Rodgers is upright. Even hobbled at the end of last year, the guy tilted the field in his team’s favor. We are witnessing greatness while Rodgers is the quarterback of this team. We should never take it for granted.

Eddie Lacy will continue to truck fools and James Starks will continue to be an excellent change of pace. The offensive line, while perhaps not on the same level, talent-wise, as the Baltimore and Dallas’ of the league, is damn good.

I do tend to think the company line of “McCarthy’s best offensive line since he’s been here” is somewhat a case of damning with faint praise. Yes, it is indeed his best line, but part of that is because his teams have trotted out some truly sad offensive lines. (This franchise went 15-1 with Marshall Newhouse starting 13 games at left tackle. Another testament to Rodgers’ greatness.)

Tom Clements and Mike McCarthy should have the offense humming.

The worry, as always, is the defense.

First, the good news.

The new members of the secondary, Randall, Rollins and Gunter, all look like keepers. Randall, in particular, looks incredibly athletic with a nose for the football. Gunter’s success has been well-documented. Suffice to say it’s incredibly impressive that an undrafted rookie cornerback made this team in a year which saw Ted Thompson take defensive backs with his first two selections in the draft.

While it’s hard not to worry about the multiple injuries he dealt with throughout camp and preseason, Clay Matthews playing in the middle of the defense on early downs should bring athleticism and a much-needed dynamic presence to the middle of the defense.

Speaking of the middle of the defense, here’s where trouble comes in paradise. Nothing we saw from B.J. Raji this summer suggests he’ll be much more than a body at this point. Couple that with the early season suspensions of Letroy Guion and Datone Jones and we’re left looking at a lot of question marks up front. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about Bruce Gaston and especially Mike Pennel, but no matter how much promise they may have showed during camp and preseason, they are nothing but a giant question mark right now. Yes, Mike Daniels returns, and that’s a reason for hope, especially as he’ll undoubtedly be playing for a new contract.

It’s just hard to get excited by much in the middle of this defense, where you traditionally want your squad to be the strongest. Sam Barrington is the epitome of “just a guy” and you have to expect that we’ll be seeing Jake Ryan receiving significant snaps sooner rather than later.

It doesn’t help that Dom Capers sends out only two defensive linemen a majority of the time. But this is a defense that plays at it's best when it has a lead and can let guys like Julius Peppers (who I fully expect to see lots of action along the interior of the line this year) and Clay Matthews get after the passer. 

The safety position is solid, if unspectacular. One encouraging aspect of last year’s defense was the emergence of Morgan Burnett as an enforcer against the run. As 2014 went on, we saw him become an extremely effective presence down in the box and I expect that to continue. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix still has that bad habit of ducking his head when attempting tackles in space, but as long as he’s a capable center fielder deep, the Packers can live with it.

The one big worry, and I can’t really overstate it, is the special teams.

There’s no need to remind everyone how bad most of Shawn Slocum’s tenure with the Packers was. There’s no need to rehash an offseason which saw McCarthy pass over at least two experienced, available special teams coordinators in favor of Ron Zook, a coach who hadn’t coached special teams, prior to assisting Slocum’s competency-challenged crew, since 1998.

Anyone who watched last week’s Packer Transplants knows where I’m going with this.

An inept-looking return game. An absurd number of penalties. Speaking of penalties, it takes a truly special unit to be flagged for 12 men on the field on a punt...then come back out for the re-kick with 10 men. And to make it even better? Latter on in the same game, the Packers trotted out 10 men to receive a punt.

Look, I get that special teams is tough row to hoe in camp and preseason. 90 man rosters mean you’re dealing with tons of new, young guys and you’re trying to get a good look at as many of them as you can. Lots of moving parts, lots of guys in and out.

But that doesn’t excuse the lackluster display we’ve seen from the 11 (sometimes 12, sometimes 10) men actually on the field for Coach Zook. It doesn’t excuse the mind-numbing penalties. It doesn’t excuse chaos and confusion during what should be a basic substitution.

Throw in a punter who seems to have been working through a case of the yips over the course of the past 10 months, and this unit has disaster written all over it. Mason Crosby, it must be said, is a bright spot, and who ever thought that would be the case?

I’m willing to give McCarthy and Zook some time to see what kind of product they put on the field, but the early returns aren’t pretty.

While the special teams are a concern and the defense will, as usual, work best while protecting a lead, the good news is that Rodgers and the offense are in a position to provide it more often than not. Yes, the Nelson injury is a major setback, but as we saw back in 2010, McCarthy and his staff will get to work adjusting and carry on.

The division should once again belong to the Green and Gold. The Bears have a long road back, the Lions will make their usual noise and end up disappointing their fans (though I tend to think their defense won’t take the step back many think.) I actually think the Vikings will be Green Bay’s stiffest competition. I also expect the Packers to split (win at home, lose away) with both the Lions and Vikings. They should sweep the Bears.

With the division won, and playoff games in Lambeau, I fully expect great things.

And I fully expect to see this team in Santa Clara and to win the game they are there to play.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (47) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

EdsLaces's picture

I agree that the Vikings will be tough, but most importantly I am with ya on the SB Champions part. I think our defense takes a very tiny step in the right direction this year. Our offense stays about the same with Jordys catches being distributed to the TEs and JJ. Either way it's gonna be a great year ...go pack go!

vj_ostrowski's picture

Great minds think alike. (See my comment near the bottom of this page:

Mojo's picture

Excellent summation. You hit on all the major points - the players, coaches, units and division, highlighting the good and bad.

I too think Adams is going to have a great year. If I could give him advice, I'd say do whatever you can to become a great route runner. It served Jordy very well, but especially Greg Jennings. Both have had great careers as Packers (thanks to an assist from #12). It also made them a lot of money. Adams is an overall bigger better athlete than Jennings, so there's no reason he can't match or exceed him.

Once again the D is the big question mark. Lots of open items. The middle looks weak again. Perhaps Pennel will be the wildcard this year, plugging up running lanes and occasionally penetrating into the backfield. It would go a long way in protecting the ILBs.

I do think if CM3 played inside full time, we'd go from a mediocre to bad unit to one of the better ones in the league. He was that good last year. But I fear taking on RB's and charging o-lineman head-on instead of from the side could subject CM3 to elevated injury risks. As an OLB he was the hunter, but as an ILB he'll be the hunted by RB's and o-lineman getting to the second level.

The first time I saw Ryan he looked bigger than I anticipated. He's got good speed and hustle. I think when he gets experience, he'll be a major contributor in the second half.

I would look to move Randall into the starting CB spot opposite Shields as soon it looks like he's catching on. He's a better fit than Hayward who I think will struggle. Either way opposing teams are going to test our secondary early and often. I think we'll give up big chunks of yardage but at the same time get a lot of picks. It could be a wash when it's all said and done.

Do we get the D that kicked Seattle's ass for 55 minutes or the one that was a sieve in the last five. Considering how close we were to the SB last year, perhaps a marginally better D combined with a no where to go but up ST's will be enough to see it through.

Definite playoff caliber roster, but next time, when they're in a position to win it all, they have to seize the day.

BubbaOne's picture

Re the last 5 minutes of the NFCCG: I know Aaron said this has been talked about ad nauseum but I haven't seen too much written about Chris Myers comment. He was the sideline reporter at the game. He was asked on a Chicago radio station a couple weeks after the game what happened at the end. He said the Packers were not only celebrating beating Seattle but also going to the SB. MM giving up play calling will address this along w/ all the other positive changes.

That said, I think the Packers defense can match the way they played the last half of last season when they were a better than avg defense.

Side note: I wonder if TT signed Robertson Daniel (6-1 209 at his pro day) to be a FS or a Micah Hyde-bred. From DraftInsiders...POSITIVE: Nice-sized cornerback best in zone coverage. Fluid backpedaling, tracks the pass in the air and shows good route recognition. Quick up the field defending screen passes or the run, has a burst of closing speed and shows good anticipation.

Dan Stodola's picture

RE: Adams is an overall better athlete than Jennings.

Not true. Actually Jennings was a much better athlete.

Jennings 4.42 40, 4.18 20 yd shuttle, 6.69 3 cone, 33.5 vert,

Adams 4.56 40, 4.30 29 shuttle, 6.82 3 cone, 39.5 vert,

Adams is only better at the jumps, vertical and broad. Jennings is noticeably faster and quicker, similar strength. Jumping ability is nice, but speed and quickness are both more important than leaping ability in football.

I know we all want to believe current Packers are better than the ones that left (especially the way Jennings did), but its not true.

EdsLaces's picture

Adams doesn't need to be the speedster ....that's Cobbs job.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Cobb is not a burner by any means. 4.46 forty at the combine (about what was expected). He has good short area speed and quickness.

Dan Stodola's picture

With Jordy out the only player w/ deep speed is Janis. Cobb good speed, but not suited to outside deep threat. Jones and Adams are both relatively slow. Janis has the size/speed for a deep threat, but until he shows he's competent in the rest of the route tree, CB's will be sitting on him deep to make it harder for him to get behind them.

Packers are going to see a lot of teams sitting on short/intermediate routes for the top receivers making it more difficult to operate in those areas.

Nick Perry's picture

You and I always disagreed about these times Dan. The differences in the 3 cone and 20 yard shuttle are so small I just don't think it's that big of deal. Jennings was quick though and hand Excellent Hands. I've watched that 33 yard 3rd down conversion in SB45 at least 100 times, it still amazes me! That throw was one of the absolute best passes I've ever seen with a equally amazing catch.

G_is_4_Greatness's picture

Awesome piece as usual Aaron, you're spot on. Sunday can't come soon enough.

HankScorpio's picture

I'm going to quibble with a contention that Aaron made about defenses in general. He wrote "It’s just hard to get excited by much in the middle of this defense, where you traditionally want your squad to be the strongest."

If you look around the league at defensive contracts, it is edge pass rushers and corners that get paid. Those guys are the keys to the pass defense. And you can get by with a less than stellar run defense, particularly with a high scoring offense.

I do agree that the Packers defense is weak up the middle. And that is a concern. If the Capers that decided to use every arrow in the quiver over the 2nd half of last season shows up in 2015, I think the talent is there to be just fine.

PackerAaron's picture

Sacks get guys paid. No question. You still need solid play at DT, ILB and S.

"You can get by with a less than stellar run defense, particularly with a high scoring offense."


HankScorpio's picture

Completely agree. It's the difference between a the makings of a good defense and a great one.

Particularly Safety, which is the most under-valued position in today's NFL, IMO, and doesn't really fit the theory that you can be weak in the middle of the field as long as the edge is strong. I don't think it is any coincidence that the Packers had their best Safety group since Nick Collins went down and it was also their best defense since then. As I think your praise of Burnett and Clinton-Dix highlighted nicely.

Like I said, it was a quibble, not a full blown disagreement. And I was thinking more about inside of the front 7 and not the inside of back end.

porupack's picture

Hankscorpio, I see your point about edge rushers and corners are the keys to defense, and the middle-D is of third importance. I guess the middle field is primarily ILBs, and free safety.
So, why does DC take his premier (most expensive Defensive player), the feared edge rusher, a first rounder, and retool him to be an ILB? Wouldn't it have been better to draft Kendricks in the first round as ILB? I state this specifically knowing the draft-nicks repeated the know-it all mantra that "none of the ILBs are first round material" and that "ILBs aren't premier positions for your first round choice. But that is in effect what DC has done, make the ILB a premier, highly (-est) paid position. If TT drafted Kendricks, then it nullifies this CM3 substitution arrangement, and almost akin to drafting a pass rusher...because CM3 stays on the edge to rush.
And further to challenge the idea that the middle of the field (ILBs) are diminished role in the NFL, why was GBP so much better defense after CM3 move to ILB? Why are most of the feared defenses in the league centered around dominant ILBs-DL tandems? Could it be that a dominate ILB-DL tandem is in fact a better combo than a dominant OLB-DB combo? 49ers, broncos, ravens, bills, patriots, dolphins, cowboys, maybe lions all come to mind, and were tough opponents for high-octane offenses even tho GBP were victorious in most of those cases (sometimes in part b/c of luck and stupidity typical of the lions.

HankScorpio's picture

To me, the most simple explanation for Matthews moving inside is that he has the skill set to do so, far more than anyone else on the roster. He's relentless and athletic. He makes plays. It doesn't really matter where his feet are when the ball is snapped. He's gonna make plays.

There are a couple of secondary points, too. First, Matthews has a tendency to run to the ball vs the run. That's an outstanding trait for an ILB but opens the Packers to losing contain if he's OLB and the opposition cuts back to his outside. So Matthews inside on run downs improves two spots vs run.

Second, the OLB depth chart has progressed to the point that 3rd, 4th and 5th guys on it are significantly more impactful than the guys that are at the top of the ILB depth chart. As that applied to last year, it was better to have Nick Perry on the field than Brad Jones or AJ Hawk.

Lastly, when faced with the need to spy a mobile QB, there is really only one guy on the roster I want doing it...Matthews.

It was all about maximizing the available talent. Obviously having two stud ILBs would be nice but they don't. So they have to make due as best they can with what they do have.

In terms of why the Packers got so much better after he moved inside, as I mentioned (and stated previously), the run defense improved in two spots...the one he vacated and the one he took. That was the biggest impact. But he was much better at getting the QB from his outside spot once the offense had to account for moving him around. If memory serves he had one or two sacks at midseason and went on a tear after.

My point was that it is easier to mask weakness in the middle of the front seven than on the edge of it. That Matthews was so successful inside but not moved permanently tends to validate that point, not hurt it, IMO.

Sorry for the novella. But it's a really complicated issue.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Can't wait to read a reply to this one...

Damn it, Hank! The second I post those you reply. Ha!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Hank, don't apologize for the novella. Your post summed up all my inchoate thoughts about why CM3 should remain at ILB for the foreseeable future. I don't think ILB hurts him as a pass rusher overall - yes, probably fewer total chances to rush the passer, but he is much more efficient per pass-rushing snap. I blamed CM3 for problems with the run against Seattle and San Fran because he would take an outside rush and leave a giant lane for Wilson and Kaeperdork to run to daylight through. Yes, CM3 at ILB significantly improved the run defense support at both OLB and ILB, and the coverage at ILB immensely. Still does.

croatpackfan's picture

Well, Aaron, while you and lot of fans here is very concerned about ST, and that concern comes mostly from 2 aspects - Tim Masthay (I'm concerned about his performance, too) and lot of penalties from 3rd preseason game, I would say one thing: that was 3rd preseason game and lot of young guys was trying to impress coaches to prevent them of cutting them out of team. In that kind of efforts, especially unexperienced ones, lot of mistakes happened. I did not saw that much penalties in first 2 preseason games, and I did not saw that penalties during the final preseason game. Also, final preseason games brought solid ST performance (nothing special, but solid!)...
I do not claiming that ST will not be problem, but somehow I believe to Mike when he promised to improve ST. I have confidence in his promises. Maybe that want be noticeable in the first few games, but, remember last year D? When D starts to roll!
I said last year that 2014 is look out year for Packers ands I was right untill 4 minutes before the end of NFCCG... This year, I think it will be harder, but it will be with better record than last year... I'm more with your 14-2 or mine 13-3 than with your 12-4! Why? Because I really think it should be 14-2, but we knows that Packers always have one game during the season they forget to come and play (last season Buffalo Bills!)...
So, my prediction is 13-3 and NFCCG against Philly...

packerfan9507's picture

Football is chaos just like life, who knows what will happen, so just grab a beer and try to enjoy it.

PackerAaron's picture

This is pretty much perfect.

Evan's picture

I had no idea Rust Cohle was a Packer fan.

jh9's picture

Aaron - An excellent analysis of where this team is as we start the season. You pretty much covered all the major points and I don’t have much to add except to say that I believe these next two years will be legacy years for Aaron Rodgers, Ted Thompson, and Mike McCarthy. If AR can avoid a major injury, my head and my heart say back to back Lombardi Trophies are very possible.

I have been a Packers fan my entire life and I’ve never felt as much anticipation and optimism going into a season. I’m truly excited to see how these next two years unfold.

Green Machine's picture

"... I’ve never felt as much anticipation and optimism going into a season."

It's funny how people see things in different ways.

This is the least excited I've been about the start of a Packer season in the last 6 years.

I think they're going to have a hard time getting to the quarterback and I don't think their offense is going to be as potent as people think.

Please tell me the last Super Bowl participant that had a defense this bad.

Evan's picture

"Please tell me the last Super Bowl participant that had a defense this bad."

The season hasn't started yet...we have no idea how good or bad this defense is.

croatpackfan's picture

You obviously still taking preseason practice games as relevant data how team will play during season... By your estimation Packers will not even win the division, because Aaron Rodgers will play less trhan 10% of the snaps. Also, Packers released lot of players that played on O and D and ST. they'll have shortage of the men for games...
Good prediction...

HankScorpio's picture

How bad is the defense going to be? I'm not sure I accept the premise they will be bad until I see it.

I sure don't see them having so much trouble getting after the QB. They were top 10 last year and bring everyone that was important to that number back.

They lost Hawk and Jones, which is addition by subtraction in my book. I do think it is a blow to lose Tramon Williams and Davon House but they appear to have added 3 rooks that can play. That might make for a rocky start but I do think they can smooth that out by November-ish.

I think it all adds up to top half or better in terms of defensive ranking. They'll win some games on defense and lose some. But I don't believe it will be a matter of having to mask a bad defense each and every week.

On offense, they have only lost Jordy. He's really good and that is a blow. But with 12 directing the show I still expect top 5.

Green Machine's picture

I just do not like this D-line.
At. All.
And it all starts there.

HankScorpio's picture

I'm not so sure I disagree. Daniels is above average but far from dominant. After that it gets really sketchy.

But is the d-line any worse than last year?

Green Machine's picture

"But is the d-line any worse than last year?"
For the first 3 weeks, they sure are.

sheppercheeser's picture

I can't understand how MM can give up his offensive play calling duties so that (at least in part) he can focus on other aspects of game, especially the Special Teams, only to see that there is certainly nothing special about it!

croatpackfan's picture

Be patient. It will pop up in front of your eyes. Chinese says: from patience comes perfection!

Since '61's picture

Aaron - Nice job with the article. I'm going with13-3, division title, #1 seed and deep playoff run to SB. I'm not sure which game yet but I can see the Packers losing to either Seattle, KC or SF. My strongest thought is that the Packers will beat Seattle and lose to KC in a "letdown" game or if they make it to 3-0 lose to SF on the road because Kaep always gives our defense fits. Beyond that a road loss to the Queens is a real possibility and a road loss to the Cardinals. I was concerned about the Denver game because Denver is a tough place to play but the Packers rarely lose after returning from a bye. All of this is dependent on my 5 keys which I posted in Jason's article yesterday.
1. Stay healthy, especially AR and OL.
2. Improve run D and tackling
3. Improve STs
4. Eliminate or reduce dumb penalties
5. Play for 60 minutes regardless of score or opponent.

Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

egbertsouse's picture

I love these rules! 1. You can't use horrible preseason play to predict a bad season but you can use good preseason play to predict a Super Bowl. 2. You can't use historic bad performance by a player to speculate he might suck this year but you can speculate, without real game evidence, that someone will be great; eg., Raji, Datone Jones, Randall, Janis, Ryan, Hayward, HHCD, Rollins, Gunter, etc., will have a breakout year in 2015!

I'm not thinking about a Super Bowl until I see the defense and special teams in real games. Maybe they will be great, but they have to show me.

As long as Rodgers is healthy, I don't worry about the offense. I do worry about his health when I see Barclay on the field

vj_ostrowski's picture

If we were to take anything from the preseason, we should hand the division over to Minnesota today. How many of the naysayers think we should do that?

They looked incredible (starters especially), in nearly every facet of their game. Some of that will translate over to the real games, and Minnesota will be a stiff challenge this year. But that doesn't change the fact that they're at a different point in their arc as a team, and preseason was different for them than it was for us. Every team treats it differently.

Spud Rapids's picture

I'm still not sold that the special teams are going to suck this year... I don't trust the preseason results as a qualifying gauge. Who knows how many guys they were rotating in and out to get tape and evaluate performance. Now that the roster is set special teams can practice as a cohesive unit leading into the Bears game. The Bears always have good special teams so I think week 1 will at least give us a better anchor point to judge moving forward.

Dan Stodola's picture

Thank You. I was thinking the same thing. As usual you can't judge a unit's performance in preseason.

4thand1's picture

Its hard to judge anything in preseason. Except maybe kicking a ball.

Imma Fubared's picture

Last year I predicted they would miss the playoffs. So what the heck do I know. This team is more puzzling than last year. I think the first four games will tell us a lot. All I know is Rogers and Lacy can't do it all, we need pass defense to stop the other teams from quick scoring. Lets hope.

Evan's picture

"...we need pass defense to stop the other teams from quick scoring."

Top notch analysis.

vj_ostrowski's picture

If you couldn't see, even before the season started, how talented they were last year, I'm not sure there's much we can do for you. Sit back and enjoy the ride. We've got a good team again.

The story is the same every year, and it will be unless Rodgers is retired or injured, so I'd get used to a team that makes the playoffs annually.

zeke's picture

"All I know is Rogers and Lacy can't do it all..."

You're just being modest, Imma. I bet you know lots of stuff.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

LOL, Zeke.

4thand1's picture

Drinkin before noon again?

WKUPackFan's picture

13-3. Losses to Seattle, @Denver, @Arizona. Could be 12-4 if the Packers are in a position to rest guys the last game.

I think the Pack is better than Seattlle, it just feels like one of those slow start to the season games (not very sound analysis). Not too high on Denver, but it's a tough place to play. Same with Arizona, plus if Carson stays healthy Arizona could be good.

Evan's picture

The Packers are beating the Seahawks. Mark it down.

At Lambeau. The Seahawks secondary is in a bit of flux. Packers will be out for revenge.

FITZCORE1252's picture

I hope you're right, or it's gonna be a loooong flight home for me... going with a hawk fan.

WKUPackFan's picture

This is one time I'd be happy to be incorrect!

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"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."
"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "
"The Bears still suck!"