2011 New England Patriots Preview

Somewhere in Massachusetts the question is still being asked; “What happened?” A Patriot team that re-invented itself on the move, by going back to the more conservative offensive approach that brought three championships earlier in Tom Brady’s career. Brady finished the season on an 11 game streak without throwing an interception.  A young defense that seemed to be jelling as the playoffs neared.  Jerrod Mayo led the league with 175 tackles while the Patriots held 4 of their last 5 opponents to 7 or fewer points.  Only 5 weeks removed from a 45-3 beatdown of division opponent New York, and here they were going into the rematch in the Divisonal playoffs…uh “What did happen?”

Will the Patriots march to another 14-2 record? What will Bill Belichick address with his stockpile of picks going into this year’s draft?  Did the New York Jets tilt the balance of power in their favor and did they gain a psychological edge over their divisional opponent?  Things to keep an eye on as this season unfolds.

Quarterback: There isn’t a quarterback in the NFL that rates as high as Tom Brady.  He won the MVP for 2010 unanimously for arguably the best of his 11 career seasons.  With a pedestrian receiving corps and series of backs, he threw for 36TDs and only 4 interceptions.  At midseason, we were unsure how Brady and the Patriots offense would fare after moving Randy Moss.  Tom made Julian Edelman, an older Deion Branch, and TEs Gronkowski and Hernandez look like seasoned pros as the Patriots moved to more of a possession passing game.  After setting the record for most pass attempts without an interception at 335, Brady set another career record for touchdown-to-interception ratio at 9.0. It seems time to remove Brady from contemporary comparisons and focus on his place in history.  He has an overall record of 125 wins and only 37 losses to go along with his 3 Super Bowl wins.

However there is a book on Brady as there is on every other quarterback, you have to hit Brady early and get him to look down at the rush.  This happened in Super Bowl XLII against the Giants and the camera caught Brady with that same flustered look in the loss to the Jets.  We have to remember that Brady is going into year 12 and his mobility is limited and seems to wince when someone is going to hit him in the legs.  This has become more evident since his 2008 knee injury.  When a team can get to him physically Brady can throw errantly as he did to David Harris of the Jets in the first quarter which set the tone in last year’s playoff loss.  Of course this is easier said than done yet Brady is going into the stage of being one of the game’s elder statesman and the question has to be asked;  How much longer can he play at such a high level?  At least another four years in our opinion.  Quarterback is Super Bowl quality in Foxboro

Offensive Backfield: This backfield is in need of an upgrade.  Danny Woodhead and Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis are marginal at best.  Woodhead played commendably during the second half of the season, rushing for 579 yards total.  Green-Ellis ran for 1,008 yards and 13 TDs and did not fumble over the entire season.  They ran for many yards out of passing formations and won’t be affective when game planned for.  When push came to shove and the Patriots had to run in the playoff game they couldn’t, as evidenced by their 5 for 16 effort in converting 3rd or 4th downs against the Jets.  If Belichick can get his hands on a solid, physical running back like Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech,  or Mikel Leshoure of Illinois.  With six of the first 33 picks in this year’s draft, its conceivable they could select both of these guys and return to having a real power back like a Corey Dillon.  Woodhead and / or Green-Ellis would be better served as 3rd down backs then they could release Kevin Faulk who is long in the tooth.  Woodhead was a great story and is this team’s version of Rudy which is nice but Rudy won’t run this team to the Super Bowl.  Serviceable to below average if they stand pat.

Receivers: Wes Welker is the best slot receiver in football and is as elusive a player there is in the NFL.  His numbers were down in 2010 with 86 catches for 848 yards v. the 123 catches for 1,348 he garnered in ’09.  It was the move to a possession offense that brought down his numbers with many of the receptions that he would have seen now being thrown to rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. In fact Gronkowski set a team record for TDs by a TE with 10 while catching  42 receptions and 546 yards for the season.  Hernanadez caught 45 passes for 563 yards and 6 more TDs.  The 2 tight end alignment became more prevalent after Randy Moss’ departure and the short passing game offset the rushing game.

Brad Edelman is a Welker clone and is serviceable but can’t get deep.  Deion Branch played several games like the Branch of old and may benefit after a full training camp. The new deep threat is Brandon Tate who is a burner yet needs to learn a few set up moves to get himself deep.  There are nuances a receiver uses to set up a cornerback to get behind them and Tate will be a better receiver once he learns them.  Its conceivable to see the Patriots address the receiver position as well with Branch going into his 11th season and Welker his 9th.  Injuries are starting to add up and there is a chance for these receivers to be tightly covered without any serious burners.  As a group these receivers are serviceable.

Offensive Line: Remember earlier when it was said that the best way to get to Brady was with a pass rush?  Well here comes the problem. This veteran line  was among the best at protecting Tom Brady coming in 3rd in fewest quarterback hits with 52, and 3rd in fewest sacks allowed with 25.  Starts up front with Matt Light at LT who takes on the best blindside rushers and keeps Brady upright.  A solid tackle whose fellow linemen G Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, G Dan Connolly, and fellow tackle Nick Kaczur may be the best offensive line in the biz.  They also paved the way for 1,973 yards and 19 TDs.  There were several times where this offensive line couldnt get a push on a critical third and two yet the Patriots make the most with astute play calling and short throws to the TEs to offset this.  The week of the Super Bowl the Patriots offensive line won the second annual Madden Most Valuable Protectors  Award for the most outstanding offensive line. This is a Super Bowl caliber offensive line and along with Tom Brady made some marginal RBs and WRs look like stars.

Defensive Line: The beef upfront starts with Vince Wilfork, the immovable DE / DT from “The U”.  As we go to press this week the ink is drying on the free agent contract for Marcus Stroud formerly of Buffalo.   Wilfork has been joined by Gerard Warren in clogging the middle of the Patriots line allowing for linebackers to make tackles unselfishly.  Evidence of this?? The leading tackler in the NFL in 2010 was Patriot ILB Jerrod Mayo with 175.  Thanks in large part to Warren and Wilfolk tying up blockers.  Mike Wright and 2nd year DE Ron Brace need to stay on the path to improvement that led to such a strong defensive finish.  However the Patriots could use 1 or 2 of those first 6 picks here to improve a pass rush that relies on ‘backers to get to the quarterback and not it’s D-Line. Thirteen sacks by the D-Line is not enough.  Steady up front but not spectacular.

Linebackers: This group begins and ends with the stellar play of Jerrod Mayo, who was a first team All Pro selection after leading the league in tackles with 175.  Following him along the Belichick learning curve is Brandon Spikes from Florida.  Entering his second season watch for teams to try and fool him out of position as they did early in his rookie season to no avail.  No one has been teaching excellent linebacker play over the last couple of decades like Bill Belichick, expect him to round these two into shape and anchor his defense for the next decade. If there is an injury that robs either of time, there is special team ace Gary Guyton to fill in nicely.  Decent set of linebackers with room to grow.  Throw in second year linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and you can see Belichick has much to tinker with.

Secondary: This was the area the youth movement on defense made some strides that may come to benefit the Patriots entering 2011.  Rookie Devin McCourty picked off seven passes on his way to his first pro bowl.  Brandon Merriweather the starting FS from Miami has to reel in a sometimes undisciplined approach that saw him gain notoriety from a head to head shot on Ravens tight end Todd Heap last season.  Aside from that this was a Pro Bowl safety with a penchant for making big plays in the secondary once teams made it past the linebackers.  Merriweather tied twin strong safeties Patrick Chung and James Sanders for second on the team with 3 interceptions.   There should be a spirited battle between former 1st round pick Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington for one of the corner spots.  This is a young, aggressive secondary.  One with two pro bowlers on it and with continued improvement could grow into the best in the NFL. With 3 quality corners and safeties, Belichick can turn them loose in very exotic dime packages to confuse rival passers.  A good secondary with a chance to be really good this year.

Overall: If you detected a pattern of looking back to the AFC Divisional loss to the New York Jets during this article, there was a reason for it.  This is the only team that stands in the way of the Jets playing in that elusive Super Bowl.  It will be the Jets v. these Patriots for the AFC Championship Crown.  A little improvement in the running game will benefit this team greatly.  Once teams realize Brady can’t get deep on them they will have the intermediate routes fully clogged with defenders to smother his hot routes and crossing plays.  If the Patriots stay pedestrian in the running game they will continue to lose during the playoffs and not get back to the Super Bowl and excorcise the demons of Super Bowl XLII and subsequent back to back home playoff losses.  Take some of the pressure off of Tom Brady and they can overcome the Jets, without that pressure, the Patriots pedestrian receivers will doom them against superior Jets corners again.  Thanks to the Jets winning last year, let it be known that a rivalry has been born.  Hatfield v. McCoys for the AFC Championship.  Rex Ryan said, in one of his rookie press conferences, that he wasn’t ‘brought in to kiss Belichick’s rings’ … What you going to do about it Bill??  A good draft by the Patriots can tilt the balance of power back in their favor. Can the Patriots match their 14-2 record??  I think there will be a slip from that to maybe 11 or 12 wins but they will be there battling in the end.

Next: 2011 Chicago Bears Preview

2011 New York Jets Preview

Twice to the AFC Championship Game and vanquished one game away from the Super Bowl.  Do they go the way of the 70s Houston Oilers or 80s Cleveland Browns who made it to the pinnacle of the conference only to fall back into obscurity. Or fulfill their promise like the ’94 49ers, after losses in ’92 & 93, then advance to a Super Bowl win?  Time will tell but as we go to press today, the Jets have released center turned tackle Damien Woody and are parting ways with DE/OLB Jason Taylor, NT Kris Jenkins, and OLB Vernon Gholston.  The loss of Jenkins and Taylor would hurt the team from a locker room standpoint yet Gholsten has underachieved to record levels.  Yet don’t be surprised when / if Jenkins or Taylor are brought back later.  I don’t see either being pursued  by other teams and no, Taylor is not going to go back to Miami.

The Jets have an ‘esprit de corps that permeates their roster yet they seem to be on borrowed time with a smaller window than most elite teams.  This is a veteran laden squad that really leans on veteran leadership to offset the bombast of Rex Ryan to keep the team on point.  There are moments where veteran players bridge the gap between Coach Ryan’s declarations and the work that needs to be impressed into the young players minds to make that happen.  Careful New York, don’t let too many of these guys get away.

Quarterback: Very young Mark Sanchez, whom former USC / present Seattle Seahawk  Head Coach Pete Carroll proclaimed wasn’t ready for the NFL.  (Cue laughter) This is the only quarterback in the NFL to defeat both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a single season playoff run.  Understand what you are seeing here and yes the Jets are a run first / pass second team.  Its a more traditional take on how to run offense yet no other quarterback in history was asked to defeat 3 consecutive Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in one post season run.  Yet he didn’t crack under the pressure and proved to be a leader on the rise until the bitter end.  After throwing for 5 TDs and only 1 interception in last year’s playoffs, Sanchez was seen rallying the troops on the sideline (most notably) on camera with Jerricho Crotchery that the cameras picked up in the waning moments of the AFC Championship.  This kid is the real deal.

Speaking of kid, its imperative that his brothers who run most of his business affairs, keep him from the pratfalls that could derail a tremendous career.  He’s a traditionalist in terms of finding a rhythm once the rushing game has established its dominance but hell Bart Starr played that way.  However look at the improvement Sanchez provided in year two: 17TDs to 13 ints v. 12 TDs to 20 ints in year one.  That same level of improvement, however unlikely, would be Mark throwing for 25TDs and only 6 interception and that I could promise you would be those of a Super Bowl champion.

Unlike Joe Flacco, Sanchez is improving as a quarterback.  His play in the second half of football games, AFC Championship included,  Sanchez has thrown for the go ahead touchdown on 4 occasions last year.  His improvement can be measured in the coaching staff asking him to throw more than his rookie season.  Although his completion percentage stayed the same (53.8 to 54.8) he threw for nearly 900 more yards.  He was asked to throw 507 times last year as compared to 364 times during his rookie year and he threw 7 LESS interceptions in his sophomore year.  Detractors of his play need to take a long look in the mirror because thats legitimate improvement.

Playing in the fishbowl that is the New York media, Rex Ryan has been brilliant at deflecting the heat of winning and losing onto himself allowing for his young quarterback to flourish with minimal pressure.  Mark Sanchize is on the rise.

Offensive Backfield: This backfield has one more season in its present state. Shonn Greene and Ladainian Tomlinson spelling each other allows the Jets to go with the hot hand during various games as well as share the pounding.  This allowed Tomlinson to have lively legs toward the end of the season.  But lets face it he came into the season with a chip on his shoulder to show that he can still play and came in in great shape.  This proud future Hall of Famer ran for 914 yards in his first season in Gotham, up from the 730 yards the season before, even though he ran 4 FEWER times than his last in San Diego.  He showed the burst that many thought he lost a few years back.  The Jets believe they can coax another season out of him and we believe so as well.  His locker room impact is even greater than his on field presence but his shelf life will run out after this season as a player.

As for Shonn Greene, he was asked to take on more of the heavy lifting at running back and had a decent second season.  However his averaged dropped to 4.1 per carry from 5.0 as a rookie.  Teams game planned for him more and were affective in slowing his production.  Greene has patient feet yet sometimes runs up the back of his blockers.  This can be seen as a positive or a negative depending on how the play ends.  One of the better plays came as he bounced out the game clinching touchdown run that sealed the Patriots fate in the playoffs.  Although he believes he can pound the football and move the pile, he can get thrown for an occasional loss.  Greene slip some of those solid hits and prolong your career.  He ran for 766 yards and may run for 900 this year.  Teams will plan for Sanchez to be better at throwing the football and allow for the Jets to run for even more yardage this year.  Greene will be the big beneficiary of that with LT taking more of a supplemental role earlier in this new season.  A draft pick should be spent at RB to prepare for LT’s imminent departure.

Receivers: Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are a good match as a set of receviers.   Edwards handling the intermediate routes and Holmes as the game breaker. Uh…well not quite.  A closer look at the numbers shows that they were close in receptions (Edwards 53 rec. / Holmes 52 rec.) yet Edwards gained 904 yards to Holmes 746.  Their combined 13 touchdowns and yardage should be up with a maturing Sanchez.  With that being the case look for fewer catches for Jerricho Crotchery who caught 41 passes last year.  This year there will be more plays called for Holmes to get short passes in space and gain yardage after the catch.  This is a solid threesome at receiver.  They could use a draft pick here to obtain a speedy receiver who could double as a returner.

Offensive Line: This team just took a hit with the loss of tackle Damien Woody.  Hopefully there is a succession in place because this team may need to re-sign him if there is a drop in production.  For this was the 4th best rushing offense in football rushing for 2,374 yards and a lofty 4.4 yard average.  As a group this team tied for 7th giving up only 28 sacks so hopefully this a cap relief and resign move.  Nick Mangold, Matt Slauson, D’Brickshaw Ferguson, and Brandon Moore make up the nucleus of a solid line that will be a cohesive unit for years to come.  With Moore the only linemen who has more than 5 years experience.  Mangold is a Pro Bowler center and first team all pro, who is in the prime of his career.  A solid anchor that will make all the blocking audibles along this very solid front.  This line is Super Bowl ready.

Defensive Line: Shaun Ellis is entering his 11th year and is still stout against the run but slowing as a pass rusher.  Well partly, a 3-4 end usually is running twists and stunts to free linebackers and other blitzers to get to the quarterback.  Rex Ryan would be happy to get more than 4.5 sacks out of his starting end to keep him from blitzing.  The Jets parted ways with NT Kris Jenkins who has been hit with too many injuries as of late.  Age and injuries have slowed one of the best run stuffers in recent years.  Don’t be surprised if they bring him back as an insurance policy when the playoffs near. DE Mike Devito is adequate but not spectacular. This team could use a few draft picks on their D-line, this team needs a jolt when it comes to rushing the passer.  They haven’t replaced John Abraham as a top shelf pass rusher.  Could easily see the Jets draft several pass rushers as they did with Abraham and Shaun Ellis back in 2000.

Linebackers: Absolutely the heart and soul of the defense. There isn’t a better set of inside linebackers than Bart Scott and David Harris.  Scott is the emotional leader and a physical hitter with great tackle to tackle range.  Playing next to a great talent makes one either shrink or raise their level of play.  The latter is what has taken place with “Hitman” Harris, who was designated this year’s franchise tag to keep him from leaving via free agency.  He’s averaged 107 tackles and 3 sacks over his 4 years in New York and also provided the signature play in the AFC Divisional upset of New England.  His 58 yard interception return in the 1st quarter was the first hint that Tom Brady was about to have a long day.

The aforementioned Bart Scott is the soul of this defense.  His intensity and strong play is why Ryan brought him in from Baltimore the moment he got the head coaching job in Gotham.  In his two seasons in New York Scott has averaged 86.5 tackles and is still in his prime entering his 10th season.  Scott and Harris punish runners and smother tight ends on underneath routes.  Hopefully the Jets can get an injury free season from OLB Calvin Pace who no longer has Jason Taylor sharing time with him.  Taylor was released earlier this week yet maybe a cap insurance policy to be brought back later in the season.  Pace will need to produce the 10.5 sacks that he and Taylor combined for in ’10.  With Bryan Thomas coming in from the other side (6 sacks) this is as solid a set of linebackers in the NFL. Near Super Bowl quality.

Secondary: OK I was guilty of giving Darrelle Revis grief for getting beaten a few times early last year but lets face it, he didn’t get a proper training camp in and was back to his usual self when he rounded into game shape later in the season.  His 0 interceptions last year was an anomaly and he will be there from day one of camp and will return to the shut down corner averaging 5 interceptions per year.  Antonio Cromartie came through with a good season also.  He battled Randy Moss to a standstill in that early season matchup against New England.  His long arms throw off receivers when he gets physical and jams wideouts and not depend solely on his athleticism.  Revis and Cromartie are entering their 5th and 6th seasons respectively and remind me of the Hanford Dixon / Frank Minnifield pairing in Cleveland in the 1980s.  Do not be surprised if they both make the pro bowl and a strong interception total by Cromartie as teams throw away from Revis.   A 10 interception season by Cromartie is not out of the question.  Nickelback Drew Coleman is a solid 3rd corner and affective blitzer.

Jim Leonard is quietly one of the leaders of this defense and is affective in keeping the secondary together.  A coach on the field also doubles as the team’s punt returner.  The Jets missed him in the playoffs and for a Super Bowl run they’d be better served with their captain.  Pool and Smith are solid at the free safety position as well.  As a unit, this could be the best secondary in football, certainly in the AFC and they are Super Bowl quality.

Overall: This team is primed to reach Super Bowl XLVI, make no mistakes about it.  A friend of mine, Randy Davis was right about this team being the real deal last year and I wasn’t sure.  After that playoff run I am totally sold.  This isn’t just Rex Ryan talk either.  If you analyze this team as I have you’ll see that there are no obvious weaknesses.  A quarterback who is growing in stature and on the verge of a breakout season.  An organization with a signature playoff win against New England that has them brimming with confidence.  The key is for them to not get overconfident and remember that sick feeling they had as the time ticked away in Heinz Field last January.

I can’t say it enough but Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of super stardom.  He’s young, mobile and grew a thick skin during the ’10 playoff run.  With the NFL having played exhibition and a regular season game in Mexico, where American football has tremendous popularity, its befitting to see a rising Hispanic star come to the forefront.  Uh…Pete Carroll you missed, this kid is ready and he already has the NFL all time record for road playoff wins with 4.  He will improve even further and once this team gets home field advantage…yes this is going to be the AFC participant v. the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLVI.  Move over Broadway Joe,  Mark Sanchize, Bart “Can’t Wait!” Scott, LT, David “Hitman” Harris and Rex Ryan are about to make a Super Bowl run.  Long suffering Jets misery should come to an end next February.

2011 Packers Preview

Alright we had a break after a breath taking Super Bowl where we watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the 45th edition.  So now we turn our attention to the upcoming football season.  We want to avoid the labor talks because we’ll all be inundated with that talk through television outlets and we want to keep the talk on pro football.  Where do we begin?  How about where we left off?  Going into 2011, we watched the Green Bay Packer’s 2nd string win the Super Bowl.  If we were to address issues with the defending champion where would you start.  Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson have to be grinning from ear to ear.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers joined the pantheon of quarterbacks that are the vanguard of future expected excellence at the quarterback position.  Accurate, mobile, and fearless he stands to wrest the mantle of NFL’s best QB from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with an excellent 2011.  Think about it.  Of the 3 Super Bowl seasons Tom Brady had the best statistically was 2004, where he threw for 3,690 yards 28TDs, and 14 interceptions.  Last year despite missing 2 games with injury, Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions for the Packers.  More importantly he didn’t have Corey Dillon run for 1,635 like Brady had either.  Rodgers had to manufacture yardage while the Packers ground game struggled to replace Ryan Grant.

Mobile, accurate, and fearless he is the first quarterback since Brady that we knew he had the better part of a decade left to shape his career after a Super Bowl triumph.  Barring injury, Rodgers would have thrown for 4,000 yards for a third consecutive season and second straight with more than 30TDs.  With Brady and Manning going into their “grey” years this is one of the quarterbacks that will own this decade.  Matt Flynn showed in the 24-21 loss to the Patriots he can move the football if Rodgers has some time away from the field.  As for Rodgers (shaking my head) Clearly on the rise…

Offensive Backfield: How can this team not get stronger with a return of a healthy Ryan Grant?  His 3,412 yards on 782 carries over the last three years is a lofty 4.36 yards per carry. Back to back 1,200 yard rushing seasons have shown that he can be a workhorse.  With his injury coming early in the season he saved his body from wear and tear and should be fresh coming into the new year.  James Starks and Brandon Jackson are serviceable.  I see the Packers exploiting Starks to spell Grant in the upcoming year.  He didn’t fumble in the playoffs as a rookie and had patient feet as a runner.  Jackson will be relegated to special teams since Grant is a good receiver out of the backfield.  Starks came into his own going into the playoffs and to play that well with the stakes at their highest, his confidence should be soaring coming into the new year.

Packers have a folk hero in John Kuhn whom fans relate to. His emergence along with Boise State product Korey Hall give Green Bay power backs to move the pile on 3rd and 1 or goalline offense.  However, both Kuhn and Hall have to get their noses dirty as blockers and each do so willingly.  The fullbacks will lose carries to Starks.   Look for the Packers to use Starks and his big body behind either Kuhn or Hall on most short yardage situations and save Grant from heavy pounding.  With all defensive eyes on Rodgers this could be quietly the best backfield in Packers history with a combination 1200 yard season by Grant and a 600-700 yard season by Starks. This of course barring injury.

Offensive Line: Although they tied for 10th in the NFL for most sacks allowed with 38, this group performed well in the playoffs.  They stymied the feared Steelers pass rush in Super Bowl XLV.  However this line did give up 15 sacks over the final 6 games of the regular season.  They must protect Aaron Rodgers better.  Rodgers made them look better with well timed escapes from the pocket that kept the sack totals lower than what they could have been.  Rookie RT Bryan Bulaga, 3rd year RG Josh Sitton, and center Scott Wells in his 7th season, simply need to get more push off the ball when rushing .  They tied for 8th with negative rushing plays running to the strong side with 17 during the regular season.  Again this is where they can improve and a bigger back in Starks may be the route they take.

On the left side is LT Chad Clifton, and another Boise State product in Daryn Colledge at left guard.  On the left side of the line the Packers were 24th with negative  rushing plays with only13.  A pretty good number for a team that runs a lot of draws and screens to their left.  Chad Clifton from time to time looks like he’s slowing down and then comes up with a big performance.  However facing the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and the Justin Tuck’s of the conference can wear him down.  The Packers may look to groom his replacement this year now they have the luxury of drafting for want and not need.  With Rodgers suffering two concussions last year, its imperative they protect him by getting those precious first downs rushing right (strong side) and protecting Rodgers from the weak side. Injured Tackle Mark Tauscher is getting a little older also and probably will be replaced permanently by Bulaga. Right now they are so set with the line with a good mixture of youth and age.

Receivers: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, an James Jones are deadly as a set of receivers.  Throw in a Jermichael Finley at TE with a mature Rodgers and this team can threaten some all time NFL offensive numbers.  Jordy Nelson’s growth and Super Bowl performance of 9 catches for 140 yards and a TD could spell the end of Donald Driver as a go to guy.  Not only did he not get down on himself during the Super Bowl after dropping several passes he proved to be more than an intermediate possession receiver.  He got deep, he made catch and run plays on digs or deep in routes and showed the burst that the fading Driver once did.  Driver is slowing down and a draft pick could be spent here.  James Jones had several key drops during the playoffs and the Packers aren’t sure which #89 is going to catch the ball.  Will it be the #89 that climbed the ladder for a spectacular leaping TD against the Atlanta Falcons, or the streaking #89 who dropped a sure TD in Philadelphia during the wildcard as well as the near TD that could have put Super Bowl XLV out of reach with a second 18 point lead.  Could see some change at receiver this year but at least two receivers two years from now.

Greg Jennings is an ultimate pro and team player.  Please pay attention this is a great player in the prime of his career. Entering his sixth season, this is a receiver who makes big play after big play when the Packers need it.  He’s had 3 straight 1,000 yard season with 2 back to back over 1,200 yards.  The last two years he has had touchdown longs of 83 yards and has caught at least 6 passes over 40 yards over the last three years.  Go back to the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh had swung the momentum, who came through with a 31 yard catch to turn the tide back to the Pack??  On third down to boot!!  He remains injury free he will go by many of Sterling Sharpe’s numbers. He’s not better than Sterling, he……I digress.  Jennings is going to be making music with Rodgers for years to come gang.

Defensive Line: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji are decent at the point of attack but could be better anchors in keeping offensive lineman off of the linebackers. A little more push against the passing pocket could make a good defens a great one. In fact the key play that turned Super Bowl XLV was when backup Howard Green hit Roethlisberger which force the interception by Nick Collins and a 14-0 lead. Cullen Jenkins is a solid DE.  I could see a draft pick being used here as well.  The Packers could use a more impact player at the DE position.  Raji is a keeper but he does need to provide a little more push when rushing the passer.

Linebackers: Did the mantle of greatness leave the Steelers linebackers and thrust onto this team’s set?  Think thats overstated?  I watched James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and James Farrior combine for 4 tackles in the Super Bowl when Clay Matthews out did that hmself and forced a crucial 4th down fumble.  Clay Matthews came in 2nd in the voting for NFL Defensive MVP yet did get many votes to be Super Bowl MVP.  He,  A.J. Hawk, and their hair were the two starters who remained injury free and were the playmakers among the front seven.  Hawk became the linebacker the Packer’s brass envisioned when they drafted him from Ohio St.

I still am scratching my head thinking “They won the Super Bowl without Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett?”  To me, Poppinga had been the most complete LB before his injury and Barnett its soul.  Matthews has taken that mantle from them both.  As a unit this team could be frightening and their depth has to be considered a strength now that Zomba #58, Desmond Bishop #55 played admirably throughout the playoffs.  Throw in Brandon Chillar and I’m seeing a linebacking corps without a weakness.  Against the run, pass, rushing the QB, show me where they are deficient?  I’ll wait…

Clay Matthews is some kind of beast.  I thought his father was great, yikes.  This is going to be one of the faces of the NFL as Ray Lewis’ fades out with retirement.  The Packers should pull a coup and draft Casey Matthews of Oregon, yes his brother, just to confuse teams with the name and the hair when preparing for them.  LOL  In all seriousness being coached by Kevin Greene who is in tune with his young protege’, who told him in the Super Bowl that it was time for him to make a play.  Next play he forced the Mendenhall fumble.  We’re watching the beginnings of perhaps a Hall of Fame career and he did get my Super Bowl MVP vote for that fumble.  Hey, I like linebackers.

Secondary: Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had just as good a year in 2010.  The emergence of Sam Shields (from the U) allowed him to blitz from the nickel back  spot just as Dom Capers did with Rod Woodson some 15 years ago in Blitzburgh. Sam Shields as a rookie got better as the season wore on and capped his season with two timely interceptions in the NFC Championship Game v. Chicago.  Did I say two interceptions in a playoff game?  Well Tramon Williams #38 performed that feat in the divisonal round and put that game against the Falcons out of reach with a pick six of Matt Ryan on the last play of the second quarter.  Did I say intercepti0n for a TD?  Well isn’t that what Nick Collins did in Super Bowl XLV to put that game out of reach?  I know it was only 14-0, but no team has ever come from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl, so that play was that big.  This is a cornerback threesome that is headed to a great 2011.  Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are the NFC’s best set of safetys.  Please show me what this secondary can’t do.  Support the run, defend the deep ball, blitz the quarterback…very little holes.

This is a team that will draft for want more than need.  They almost have a free agency type of impact just coming off injured reserve.  Aside from a few spots on the defensive line and possibly the offensive line this team damn near doesn’t need to even attend the NFL Draft.  They can address future needs at receiver also.  Right now Coach McCarthy, Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson are toasting somewhere with grins from ear to ear.  The Packers are set for a five year run at the top of the NFL easily.