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Keys to success for Packers in 2011


The Packers will spend the bulk of Thursday night's preseason finale trying to find "the right 53," which is another way of saying the team that will be on the field for the season-opener next week is ready to go.

"I feel we're in good shape," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday after the Packers' final practice before they turn their attention fully to the New Orleans Saints. "I feel good about where we are."

Hey, wait a minute. Wasn't it a little more than a month ago that there was rampant concern for the quality of the product the NFL would put on the field this season following a nearly five-month lockout? What would we do without all of those reps that were lost? How about all of that angst for Packers players not organizing lockout workouts?

How is it that in a year that didn't have a March, April, May, June or much of July, and no mini-camp, OTAs or offseason conditioning program, the Packers don't even need a fourth preseason game to be ready to go for their season-opener?

Here are the answer options: A.) Football really isn't rocket science. B.) McCarthy and his staff are masterful teachers. C.) The Packers are a veteran team with a quarterback that retains what he learns. D.) All of the above.

Let's go with D.

Yeah, I really do believe the Packers are ready to go. I think McCarthy has his team ready to play the Saints today. I also think McCarthy runs the best practices I've ever seen, and that he's one of the most dynamic coaches in the game today, and maybe even beyond that. I also believe he's very fortunate to have Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback because if Rodgers wasn't the Packers' quarterback, all of the above would not be true.

He's "The Man," folks, and you gotta have "The Man" or you're goin' nowhere.

Thursday's preseason finale will give us a quick preview of the Packers' starters for the following Thursday's game, then Rodgers and company will quickly retire to the bench and turn Lambeau Field over to names and numbers that'll make us go to our flip cards. It'll be the most important night in the lives of those players, but our thoughts have already turned to the Saints and the 2011 season.

What are the realistic expectations for the Packers in 2011?

Contend to win a championship, right?

What has to happen for the Packers to realize that expectation?

All right, here we go.

Rodgers has to stay healthy. It all begins with that. His talent is so distinct, so dominant that no team could lose that degree of talent from its lineup and expect to win.

The defense will always be good as long as Dom Capers is its coordinator, but the talent on defense is tilted dramatically toward rushing the passer and defending against the pass, and every team on the Packers' schedule would love to find a way to minimize Clay Matthews' and Charles Woodson's effectiveness, and the best way to do that, of course, is to run the ball. With that in mind, the Packers have to stop the run. Last year's 18th against the run would be cutting it close. Something better is likely necessary.

A running back has to step forward as James Starks did late last season, except it needs to happen much sooner than later because a strong running game is the best way to protect the quarterback from being sacked, and the fewer times the quarterback is sacked the better the chance there is that he'll remain the team's quarterback.

The Packers need to find an identity. Last year's identity was resilience in the face of injury, but that's not something you wanna have to do every year. I suspect the identity this team wants to achieve is that of an offense that buries its opponents under an avalanche of points, which is what the Packers were doing in 2009 until injuries on defense created an avalanche of points by the Packers' opponents, too.

Will the no-huddle offense become this team's identity? Rodgers says it won't. He says the no-huddle has to be little more than a wrinkle in the offense, but I wonder.

I'm ready to go, too, coach.

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