Watching the Packers lose their fourth game in their last five, it seemed obvious to me, just as it should to the entire world, that this is no where near the same Packers team that went 13-3 last year. The question is why. There is one obvious answer to that question and one not so obvious answer. You would have to have spent the past year in a cave to not know that after sixteen years with the team, Brett Favre is no longer the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. The other big difference between last year's team and this one is something a little more difficult to predict or control. That is health.
First, a closer look at what the change in quarterback has done to the team. The Green Bay Packers' offense was built around the abilities of Brett Favre. Most offenses are built around the ability to run the ball to open up the passing game. Not so for the Packers. The key to their offense was the ability and willingness to throw the ball and throw it effectively at any time. The wide receivers are possession receivers that work hard after the catch for extra yards. There is no great running threat. They have great offensive tackles, but the offensive line as a whole is a below average run blocking line and average pass blocking. The offense worked well because the the line did not have to hold their blocks long. Favre had the ball out of his hands quickly and the running game opened up after the passing game was established. While Aaron Rodgers is not a bad quarterback, he is not as good of a fit in the offense as Favre was. Rodgers is best throwing on the run. It is no secret that most rollout passes are based off of play action. The problem with that is you have to establish a running game before play action. As previously discussed, the Packers offense is not built that way. Still, the Packers have averaged 27.5 points per game, good for fifth best in the NFL. Do not let the numbers deceive, they do not have the fifth best offense in the NFL.
The bigger problem for the Packers this year is health. While their offense has not been immune to injuries, it has been a much bigger problem for the defense. Charles Woodson had to start at safety today because of the injuries in the secondary. AJ Hawk has been starting at middle linebacker for the injured Nick Barnett. The defensive line has also had to work through injuries over the year. This is on top of the fact that their defense was not one of the best in the league to begin with. Their defense is built around keeping leads. Their defense is below average against the run, a fact that is magnified when the Packers are trying to come from behind. It is no coincidence that the Packers are 5-0 this year when leading or tied at halftime and 0-7 when behind at the half. This is not a team that is built to be able to come from behind.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Packers will be able to mold their team into something that consistently win. The skills of their quarterback require a different style of team than what they have been in the past. Unfortunately, they simply do not have the time to do this as they are aging in key positions. Their two offensive tackles and two cornerbacks are all on the wrong side of age 30 playing positions that punish players that lose half a step. I hope I am wrong. I hope they have a good draft and set themselves up to make another run. I just do not see it happening after taking out the puzzle piece that all the other pieces fit into.