Packers Under Pressure in 2013
By Jon Krouner
Entering the 2013 season, the Green Bay Packers are again faced with great expectations.
During the offseason, the Packers signed Aaron Rodgers to the richest contract in NFL history and made Clay Matthews the highest-paid linebacker in the league.
Only a Super Bowl will do.
In light of those lofty expectations, we take a look at the Packers who are under the most pressure to perform this season:
1. Jermichael Finley, TE
Entering the offseason, many suspected that the Packers would release Jermichael Finley who is entering the final year of his contract in which he’ll make $8.25 million this season. But, with a dearth of options on the open market, general manager Ted Thompson decided to keep Finley aboard.
With the departure of Greg Jennings, the pressure is on Finley to perform now. The 26-year-old needs to realize the potential he flashed early in his career if he plans on cashing in next offseason.
In 2012, Finley had a respectable 61 catches and 667 yards, but just two touchdowns. Finley also had seven dropped passes in 81 targets or almost 9 percent of passes thrown his way.
Finley is paid like an elite tight end, but has hardly played like one during the past two seasons. Sure, he caught eight touchdown passes in 2011, but he had just 55 catches.
At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Finley is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, but he needs to be a more reliable target for Aaron Rodgers.
2. Offensive line
The Packers have a ton of cap space taken up by an offensive line that underperformed across the board in 2012.
Last season, Green Bay allowed 51 sacks, second-worst in the NFL behind Arizona’s 58 sacks allowed. The Packers also allowed 85 quarterback hits, a number that probably keeps head coach Mike McCarthy up at night.
Now part of those numbers are due to Rodgers’ mobility and ability to extend the play, but the offensive line simply needs to do a better job of protecting A-Rod.
In that vein, the Packers decided to make changes this offseason. Josh Sitton is moving to left guard while T.J. Lang is moving to right guard.
Meanwhile, the Packers are also moving Bryan Bulaga, who went down in Week 9 of last season with a fractured hip, to left tackle. Bulaga is now charged with the essential role of protecting Rodgers’ blind side. Green Bay better hope that his hip is fully repaired.
Finally, Evan Dietrich-Smith takes over for Jeff Saturday at center while Marshall Newhouse is in line to start at right tackle. Green Bay will find out this season if each player is a long-term solution at their respective position.
An improved rushing attack should help the Packers’ offensive line and keep defenses honest, but Green Bay’s line must do a better job of protecting the franchise’s most important player.
3. Mason Crosby, Kicker
28-year-old Mason Crosby suffered through the worst year of his career in 2012 and now faces competition entering training camp.
In 2012, Crosby made just 21 of 33 field goal attempts for a miserable 61.3% success rate, which was last in the NFL. As a point of reference, in 2012 Crosby made 21 of 24 attempts for an 85.7% success rate.
In just one season, Crosby went from penthouse to outhouse. Such is the life of an NFL kicker. Now, the pressure is on Crosby to keep his job and perform like his old self.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that seven of Crosby’s 12 misses last season were from 50+ yards. It also bodes well that Crosby made a respectable nine of 12 kicks from 40-49 yards.
Based on those numbers, Crosby’s season was hardly the disaster it was made out be.
Even so, Green Bay is bringing Italian kicker Giorgio Tavecchio to challenge Crosby in training camp. The pressure is on Crosby to validate his $3.15 million salary this season.