The third preseason game has always been considered the most important, in terms of assessing where NFL teams are before regular season action occurs, because almost every team uses the game as an opportunity to actually game-plan for an opponent and gives the first team offense and defense the most work they will see in the preseason. For the Colts, without Peyton Manning on the field, that is only partially the case in 2011, but taking the field against the defending champion Green Bay Packers is worth a closer look than the Colts first two match-ups.
In order to do so, Coltzilla interviewed Packers blogger Andy Tisdel of OakCreekPatch. Andy’s responses were so well articulated and thorough we have broken the Q&A into two parts. The second part will run Friday morning, so stop in again.
Brett Mock – Winning the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of fans’ desires, in part because it is so rare. Repeating is even rarer. What has to happen for 2011 to be a success for the Packers and their fans? Any concern about a Super Bowl hangover?
Andy Tisdale – Well, the first item on most fans’ wish lists would be for the injury bug to please not strike again this year. The Packers put sixteen players on IR, just two less than the Colts if Wikipedia serves, and definitely suffered from it. Obviously they won a Super Bowl despite that, but there were some areas where the Packers were lucky to be relatively injury-free. The offensive line stayed healthy with the exception of Mark Tauscher, our starting RT at the time. The WRs were mostly healthy. Aaron Rodgers only missed one game. The cornerbacks were there almost all year. For a repeat to be in the cards, most or all of those groups have to remain healthy.
Beyond that, I think most fans are expecting the Packers to win the division this year at a minimum, and compete with the Eagles and Saints as one of the top three teams in the NFC. I don’t think a Super Bowl hangover is going to happen in this organization, and part of that is because of the NFL lockout. Instead of having all offseason to celebrate the Super Bowl, everyone had to work out on their own. Nobody really got a chance to become fat and happy. The players came back to camp hungry for the next one. Tramon Williams had a quote recently, I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like ‘We’re not defending the title. That’s in the books and no one can take that away from us. We’re going out there to get the next one.’ It’s that kind of attitude that makes me not worry about a SB hangover.
BM – Aaron Rodgers easily had the best season of his career in 2010. Not many quarterbacks are able to sustain a level of success from year-to-year. Think of Carson Palmer, Drew Brees was up and down and up again, etc. Any concern about Rodgers regressing at all with teams focusing more on his tendencies and ways to stop him?
AT – Well, Rodgers has every advantage in the world for a quarterback; in fact, he has a lot of the advantages Peyton Manning enjoys, that you talked about in your interview. This is his sixth season playing in the same offensive system. He’s in total command of the offense, which has been adjusted to fit him from the way it was in the Brett Favre years. He has an incredibly talented supporting cast, which includes six legitimate threats at WR or TE and two, maybe three, young, powerful backs. His offensive line is experienced. Everything’s there to help him out, and he has excelled.
As far as regressing, it’s always possible, but Rodgers has improved the weakest areas of his game so much. And that’s something he’s done throughout his career. Coming out of college in 2005, he was relatively slow and unathletic, so he spent three years focusing on athleticism and became a good running QB. In 2009 Rodgers got sacked fifty times, so he got better at staying alive in the pocket, avoiding pressure and throwing on the move. Every year he’s improved his weak points. It’s no longer really possible to rattle him with pressure, which was his Achilles’ heel in ’09. This is a long-winded way of saying, I think Rodgers is there to stay at the elite level.
BM – The Packers suffered a lot of injuries during the season like the Colts. In fact, I think the two teams may have been the first and second most injured teams in the entire league. How much better will the team be with the return of these players?
AT – The funny thing is that a lot of those players are now gone from the team.
Guys like Nick Barnett, who was set to be a $6 million backup, or Brandon Chillar, who tore his hamstring in off-season workouts, or a whole lot of other Packers who mostly would’ve been depth guys. The guys who are returning, however, are expected to be a major part of the team. Ryan Grant gives you power in the backfield. Mike Neal, if he can stay healthy, gives you a legitimate pass-rusher at defensive end that’s not B.J. Raji. Morgan Burnett has been much more physical this summer at strong safety. And Jermichael Finley is basically like a cheat code in Madden. He’s nobody’s blocking TE, but he can line up outside, in the slot, tight to the formation and get open. Finley’s incredibly difficult to cover because he’s 6’5”, 240, and moves like a 200-pound WR. He just opens up the offense for Aaron Rodgers. Linebackers are generally too slow to cover him and safeties aren’t tall enough. As good as the offense was in 2010, Finley and Grant make it even better.
BM – Picking at or near the bottom of the draft has been frustrating for Colts fans because it is so difficult to find really good players when you get out of the top 15 or 20. Did it seems like the draft was a lot less exciting in terms of talent this year than in previous years?
AT – In terms of talent, I would say the Packers did okay. They got Derek Sherrod at No. 32, who was pretty much the last good left tackle on the board, and they got Randall Cobb at #64. Cobb is a really exciting player. He’s a slot receiver on a team with three capable slot receivers already (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Finley) but he was also a dangerous KR/PR in college. That’s something the Packers haven’t really had since Will Blackmon. They didn’t have the sexiest draft in the world; every player taken projects as a backup this year, barring injuries, but I think they got some really talented players.
Coltzilla would like to thank Andy for taking the time to respond to our questions. Feel free to check out Coltzilla’s answers to Andy’s interview here. Also, stop in to read Andy’s work if you would like to learn more about the Green Bay Packers.