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2010 All Over Again?


Superficially, it feels a lot like two years ago for the Green and Gold – but is it?

@BreakTheHuddle

February 6, 2011, was the day the Green Bay Packers capped off their terrific 2010-11 NFL season by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Beset by injuries, the resilient squad went on a remarkable six week run, spanning the final two weeks of the regular season (at home) and four playoff games (all on the road) en route to the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy. It was a magical, unexpected and thrilling march to a championship, made all the more incredible in light of the maladies the Packers had to overcome to get there.

Injuries, inconsistency and a brutal schedule down the stretch couldn’t stop Mike McCarthy’s bunch. Sound familiar? For some Packer fans, the similarities between the current Packer incarnation and the World Champion 2010 version are uncanny, unmistakable and even cause for optimism. But so much has changed in 21 months – gas back then was $3.17 per gallon. Now? It’s all the way up to $3.22! Milk was $0.13 cheaper in those halcyon days – and technology misappropriated for sexual purposes was felling quarterbacks rather than four-star generals.

All kidding (and veiled references to Brett Favre’s sexting scandal) aside, the similarities between the fortunes, and play, of the 2010 Packers to the 2012 team are superficial and misleading. The schedule, the offensive line, and the injury issues all appear familiar, but a closer examination reveals the truth – what we are watching in 2012 is very different than two years ago. In some ways better, in some ways worse – but certainly not the same.

The Schedule

Superficial similarities:

YEAR

Record Win Streak Point differential OPP 1-9total win% OPP 10-16 total win%
2010

6-3

3

+78

.465

.589

2012

6-3

4

+52

.549

.552

By this chart, things seem pretty similar – this year looks even more impressive, considering the Packers played a much more difficult schedule in the early part of the season than the 2010 team did. The only teams the Packers have lost to this year – the Colts, 49ers and Seahawks – are possible playoff teams. In 2010, Green Bay dropped games to Washington (on the road) Miami (at home), two postseason nonfactors. So don’t the similar results against stiffer competition bode well for the green and gold?

The reality:

Wins over the Texans (on the road) and the Bears (at home) stand out, but the 2012 schedule is much tougher than 2010. Why? Chicago is only divisional foe the Packers have faced, and the rest of the division is much better than they were in 2010. That season, Green Bay went 4-2 in the NFC North – aided by a bad Vikings team and the scuffling Detroit Lions.

This season, Detroit (though still flawed) is much better than they were two seasons ago. Minnesota is a matchup issue for the Packers and possesses offensive weapons that keep them in any game. Chicago still gets to host Green Bay in the Windy City. It’s not a division of cupcakes in 2012 – rather, the NFC North might be the best division in football. It’ll be a slugfest to the end.

If ten wins is the benchmark to reach for a postseason berth, head-to-head victories mean everything, as several teams (the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Vikings, Packers, maybe even the Saints and Cowboys) have a shot at getting to double digit victories. While the Packers lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks (a nightmare scenario, should it play out that way), they control their own destiny with the Saints. The other teams (who don’t face Green Bay)- the Buccaneers (4),  and Cowboys (4) –  already have more intra-conference losses than the Pack do.

All that leaves us with is this reality: the ‘Border Battle’ games with the Vikings will be bigger than they have been the past couple of years. It’s always a rivalry game, sure – but this year, postseason berths will be on the line – and this Vikings team is proud, motivated, and talented. Ditto for the Lions – except their coaching is far inferior – and the Bears’ only losses in 2012 have come to the best team in the AFC (the Houston Texans) and, of course, on the road in Lambeau Field.

 

He hasn’t exactly been a Pro Bowler, but Bulaga’s consistency on the right side of the line will be missed.

The Offensive Line

Superficial similarities:

The core of the offensive line remains the same – the two guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and tackle Bryan Bulaga. Add veteran center Jeff Saturday, and progressing youngster Marshall Newhouse rather than the aging Chad Clifton, and this line should be about the same as the one two seasons ago… right?

The reality:

Jeff Saturday, brought in due in large part because of his deft ability to communicate in pass protection, has been abysmal in run blocking – at any rate, he’s been a downgrade from Scott Wells, who departed in free agency. Clifton held on as long as he could, and should go down as one of the most underappreciated Packers of the past decade. His replacement at left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, has been beaten on numerous occasions. Green Bay allows more than 3 sacks per game, a much higher rate than either of the past two seasons.

Sitton and Lang are their usual, reliable, selves – but an injury to Bryan Bulaga, quietly placed on IR this week due to a non-contact injury suffered in the Packers’ victory over the Cardinals, shifts Lang to right tackle and promotes Evan Dietrich-Smith from the bench to left guard. Such shuffling was commonplace on the 2009 offensive front – and results were disastrous, as Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-leading 50 times that year. Keeping Rodgers healthy the rest of the season is a tall order for a left side of the line as inexperienced as Newhouse and Dietrich-Smith. Speaking of health…

 

All the Injuries

Superficial similarities:

Year # Players on I.R. Starters on I.R. # Players on PUP list
2010

14

7

3

2012

8

4

3

Suffering a rash of cataclysmic injuries, the 2010 Packers, thanks to their organizational depth and savvy moves by General Manager Ted Thompson, stayed afloat. In 2012, pretty much the same thing has happened, right?

The reality:

The six most important people on the 2010 team were, in no particular order, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, and Charles Woodson. They missed a total of 2 games that season. Combined.

The six most important people on the 2012 team are, in no particular order, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. They have missed a total of 12 games already – only Rodgers and Matthews have been active for every game this season, and after Sunday, it’ll be just #12 (Matthews is likely to miss the game with a hamstring injury).

While nearly a third of the starters from the 2010 team were lost for the year, the core six were very durable, as was the offensive line. This season, there are injuries to the team’s blue-chippers, and the young players normally expected to fill their shoes (Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy) are also dinged up.

The depth of the team, particularly at receiver, is notable, but eventually injuries to the stars and the guys in charge of keeping Rodgers clean will catch up to Green Bay. While there are plenty of injuries, yes, these are different – in 2012, game-changers have been missing time, rather than placeholders.

Superficially…

The Packers will rely on their depth and coaching savvy, not to mention the arm (and feet) of Aaron Rodgers, to a playoff berth, where anything can happen. This is the optimist’s outlook as Week 11 approaches.

In reality…

Important people are hurt. The offensive line is in disarray – one more injury, and the team will be forced to use guys who were undrafted free agents this year (Andrew Datko and Don Barclay). The division is tougher, and five divisional games remain. I’m not saying the Packers won’t make it to the postseason; what I am saying, is, they’ve got a tougher road than many people think. They can’t afford any more injuries, especially on the offensive front. Realists have a grip on the obstacles in front of this team.

One thing both sides can agree on – all that’s important is making it to the postseason, because once it starts, anything can happen. That’s where optimism and realism collides.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

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