Clay Matthews SCOREBOARD MIKE MCGINNIS/GETTY IMAGES SPORT 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH WC DIV DIV SB WC REGULAR SEASON W-L 8-7-1 11-5 15-1 10-6 11-5 POINTS PER GAME 26.1 27.1 35.0 24.3 28.8 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 26.8 21.0 22.4 15.0 18.6 YARDS PER GAME 400 359 405 358 379 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 372 337 412 309 284 TURNOVERS 25 16 14 22 16 TAKEAWAYS 22 23 38 32 40 Chicago defensive lineman Julius Peppers. Peppers played much of last season out of position and will almost certainly be more productive as an outside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme. Having a second edge rusher should also take some attention away from Matthews. They will be joined by A.J. Hawk, a player who seems to have gotten a little better every year he’s been in the league. Hawk is a well-rounded linebacker and should be more effective with offensive lines working harder to protect their quarterbacks. B.J. Raji will also return to provide a run-stuffing presence on the defensive line. The biggest problem on Green Bay’s defense was in their secondary. The foursome of Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, and M.D. Jennings struggled mightily to defend the pass last season. To address this deficiency, the Packers spent their first round pick on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama. Clinton-Dix is expected to start right away but will have to play at a high level quickly to prevent this unit from being one of the worst pass defense groups in the NFL again. Expect improvement out of Green Bay’s defense overall due to Peppers’ arrival and the return of a healthy Matthews. However, the secondary remains a weak spot and it seems likely the Packers will once again have to be a team that wins shootouts against its opponents. Defensive Player to Watch Even at 34 years old, Julius Peppers is a player who is so talented that coaches can put him just about anywhere and he’ll be productive. Even so, having Peppers, an edge rusher with 118.5 career sacks, playing defensive tackle is a classic case of a man playing out of position. Unfortunately, that’s where Peppers ended up for much of the 2013 season after injuries decimated Chicago’s defensive line. Now Peppers has arrived in Green Bay and will be expected to play as a pass-rushing outside linebacker opposite Matthews. The prospect of Matthews and Peppers crashing in on the quarterback from both sides should strike fear in the hearts of opposing offenses. With Green Bay’s secondary a work in progress, the Packers will need that pass rush to get to the quarterback quickly. Look for Peppers to excel in what should be a natural role for him. Key Additions: DT Letroy Guion, DE Julius Peppers Key Subtractions: C Evan Dietrich-Smith, WR James Jones Rookies: S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams, DT Khyri Thornton, TE Richard Rodgers, C Corey Linsley, WR Jared Abbrederis, CB Demetri Goodson, WR Jeff Janis Packers Special Teams After a dismal 2012 season in which he made just 21 of 33 field goal attempts, Mason Crosby badly needed to respond with a strong effort in 2013. He did exactly that, making 33 of 37 field goals and taking over on kickoff duties in the middle of the season. Crosby will return to be Green Bay’s kicker again in 2014. With Crosby converting over 80 percent of his field goals in both 2011 and 2013, it appears now that the 2012 struggles were a fluke. Tim Masthay will handle the punting duties and may be asked to handle kickoffs again despite some struggles last season. Whether or not he kicks off, Masthay’s punting was very solid and not a cause for concern. Micah Hyde will be the return man. Last season, Hyde averaged 24.1 yards on kick returns and 12.3 on punt returns, scoring one touchdown. Prediction As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers should be able to score enough points to win 10 or 11 games and take another NFC North division title. However, the defense will probably not be strong enough to defeat the top teams in the league. Don’t expect to see Green Bay going further than the NFC championship game.
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