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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay’s battle cry should be “No Excuses … No Regrets!”
I would love to be a fly on the wall when Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gathers his players for their first team meeting on the eve of training camp in a few weeks.
- What is McCarthy’s overriding message going to be?
- How much if at all will he refer to 2015?
- Will the team’s stated goal be “Houston or bust”?
If it were me, I would ignore last season. I also would make it clear Super Bowl 51 is THE goal. I’d make darn sure everyone in the room realized the assembled group possesses the talent to win a title, but that talent alone isn’t enough.
Then, I’d send in a pass play and turn it over to Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers are a bona fide Super Bowl contender because of their offense, their play-caller and their quarterback. If Jordy Nelson returns to form, and Ty Montgomery and the rest get right, they also will have the play-makers to win it all.
Some point to the cliché: Defense wins championships. That is true.
However, I would add this: Offense wins a lot of games on the road to the title.
In 2011, the Packers went 15-1 and were summarily bounced from the playoffs. The Packers’ offensive machine flattened one opponent after another during the regular season.
Green Bay’s defense was good – and improving – but the offense was the driving force. Rodgers and his weaponry were special. They still are special.
The Packers are built to get a lead, make the opposing offense one-dimensional and then bury it.
That sounds like an “offense first” mentality. The reality is that it requires strong defensive play, especially early in games, in order to give your offense an early edge.
It also requires a defense that can rush the passer – repeatedly if necessary – and a secondary that can run all day if need be.
The Packers appear to have an abundance of both.
What remains to be seen is how Green Bay’s defense defends the center of the field. Will Jake Ryan, Sam Barrington, Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez be enough to stop the run on early downs and allow the defense to attack on later downs?
In 2011, Green Bay’s lack of balance was its downfall. Injuries also played a key factor.
This season, the Packers’ running game with a presumably sleeker, better-conditioned Eddy Lacy should provide balance. Also, tight end Jared Cook’s pass-catching ability and speed gives the offense another explosive weapon.
That, the upgraded defense and improved special teams play ought to put the Packers on the precipice of immortality.
So what will be the determining factors? Naturally, Rodgers needs to play better than he did last season. That will happen if the running backs are ready to roll and the offensive line remains relatively healthy.
Also, Rodgers will have a new weapon in Cook, an old reliable in Nelson and a refocused Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis will be better for the experience last season, and rookie speedster Trevor Davis adds a much-needed dimension.
I suspect we will know early on if the Packers’ offense is going to resemble its 2011 predecessors.
Clearly, the Packers’ defense has been buoyed by the draft. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark and linebackers Fackrell and Martinez are being counted on to play significant roles.
J.C. Tretter’s development and rookie Jason Spriggs’ presence, plus a healthy Josh Sitton and company, gives the offensive line a real chance to give Green Bay a real 1-2 punch in terms of its “first contact” (the lines) units.
Defensively, Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews continue to set the tone for an aggressive style. Julius Peppers is coming off a quiet 10 ½-sack season, while Nick Perry gets one more chance to sustain those occasional flashes of excellence.
Ultimately, the Packers have fewer questions than most teams entering the season.
The quarterback, offensive weaponry and linemen are A-OK. The receivers will be better if only because they can’t be worse.
The Packers have no excuses entering the season.
If they play with an aggressive, attacking style on offense, everything else should fall into place.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).
Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.