In a lot of ways, I’m super excited the Packers have the Bears the first week of the season because it will be a very early indication of whether or not this team is for real.
After each impressive preseason win it got harder and harder not to jump on the “Super Bowl or Bust” bandwagon. It’s been very difficult to find a balance between being overly optimistic and being a complete Negative Nancy. Wisconsin sports fans know about hype and disappointment and years of suffering through 162 games each Brewers’ season has taught us not to get too wrapped up in each game.
People keep saying not to get too wrapped up in what happens in the preseason, reminding us that the Lions were undefeated in the preseason before going 0-16. And while that’s true, it’s not just the final score in the preseason games that has fans excited.
The new 3-4 defense has shown well. The best and most exciting part has been the use of Charles Woodson. Always a dangerous weapon, this new scheme with all its blitz packages seems to be made to use all of Woodson’s tools. In the Arizona game alone he had two sacks and two forced fumbles.
What hasn’t been assessed fully is how the defense will be able to handle the small, down-to-down stuff. We’ve seen that Dom Capers’ style is much more attacking and proactive than the bland, put-me-to-sleep style Bob Sanders had the team running. Though last season’s squad was big on impressive plays and interceptions, they had a problem stopping teams when it mattered. Many people remember that the team lost quite a few games in the fourth quarter, but no one seems to put the blame on the defense slowly letting teams put drives together.
So while the new defense has certainly come up with a ton of turnovers in the preseason, I’ll feel a lot more sure about it when I see that they’re able to control an offense for four full quarters and not give up all the stupid, dumb third down plays that continuously seemed to bite them last year.
Besides, it's not like it matters how great the defense is if the punting and kickoff units continue to give opposing teams outstanding field position. One of the most crushing things about last season's fourth quarter losses was when the Packers would march down the field and score to take the lead, only to give the other team the ball on the Packers 45-yard-line. A first down or two and the team's already in field-goal-range - it was so damn demoralizing.
Still, I’m cautiously optimistic. It's hard not to be after the thoroughly impressive preseason outings the first team has put together.
And the defense is the key.
Last season, the offense ended up ranked fifth overall. If not for the defensive breakdowns late in so many games, this was a formidable, point-scoring team. Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards. His numbers last season compare closely and favorably to both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (league MVPs for the past two seasons, respectively.) Donald Driver and Greg Jennings each caught for well over 1,000 yards.
Add a defense capable of keeping teams of the scoreboard and a healthy, talented offensive line to that formula and Green Bay's season would have ended very different in 2008.
Here's hoping the chemistry comes together in 2009.