The 2010 Green Bay Packers were a resilient group that somehow found a way to win a Super Bowl without several of their best players on the field for much of the season. The natural reaction is to assume the team will be even better next year. History reveals that it probably will not happen.
The last seven Super Bowls have produced a different champion although the Pittsburgh Steelers have won two championships during this stretch. The salary cap prevents the teams from keeping all but your very best players for more than a several year stint. The attrition of complimentary, but necessary talent, weakens the overall team. Of course, the looming lockout may make this a moot point.
This year’s team rarely made contests easy to watch. Particularly on the road or in a neutral setting such as the Super Bowl, the squad would generally bolt out to fairly comfortable leads only to survive a late rally as the offensive play calling generally tightened up and the defense played “prevent” right up to the very last drive and sometimes right to their own goal line.
Fortunately, the coaching staff did make some adjustments during the Super Bowl as the offensive play calling was aggressive on the team’s last drive, as they added on a field goal, stretching the lead to six points and running valuable time off the clock. The defense started out the Steelers final possession in a passive defense but dialed up the blitz on the last three downs as the Packers stymied Ben Roethlisberger and his offense on the final drive, unlike their last meeting in 2009 when Pittsburgh drove down the field and scored on the last play of the game to nip the Packers at the final gun.
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism for 2011 is the return of star tight end Jermichael Finley. However, there is only one football to go around. It is worth noting that stellar wide receiver Greg Jennings simply was not seeing the ball much while Finley was playing. It was only after the tight end’s season ending injury that Jenning’s play took off. It appears to be a zero sum equation with limited overall increased offensive production.
While the injury bug was defeated with extreme roster depth, the one area where it seemingly is virtually impossible to replace with the current state of the league was exposed in the Super Bowl. The Packers were fortunate for most of 2010 that their cornerbacks stayed relatively healthy throughout the season. It took only one drive late in the second quarter of the Super Bowl to realize that one probably can’t win an NFL championship in this pass-happy era without an abundance of cover guys. When Sam Shields, Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins went down with injuries, the secondary simply did not measure up. Fortunately, Shields made his return later in the second half and Collins recovered in time to play the whole second half. It was 2009 all over again until they returned. Remember the playoff loss to Arizona?
Many breaks went the Packers way in the playoffs, including the good fortune of playing indoors against two of the best teams they had to defeat during this Super Bowl stretch run, the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense and Aaron Rodgers in particular, were significantly more productive in a controlled environment as the spread offense was nearly unstoppable at times.
The last franchise Super Bowl victory occurred in 1996 as that team steamrollered through the season and the playoffs. Unlike this year’s team that was a sixth seed going into the playoffs, the ’96 squad was expected to prevail as a number one seed that destroyed opposing teams by an average of fifteen points a game. Brett Favre, Reggie White and Co. ran off an eight game winning streak to capture the title without any game being closer than an eleven point final spread during the latter stages of the regular season and in the postseason, the closest contest was the Super Bowl where the Pack prevailed by a “mere” fourteen points. The 2010 team ran off a six- game winning streak to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to its origin, but it definitely put a strain on the hearts of many a Packer fan.
Hope springs eternal and there is always the possibility that the 2011 Green Bay Packers will do what the 1997 Packers could not do and repeat as champs. They will go into next season as the probable favorite, but many as of yet unforeseen events will have to go favorably once again. The players will definitely need to be motivated by head coach Mike McCarthy as repeating brings out unique challenges. Let’s see if McCarthy can do what Mike Holmgren could not and repeat as champions. Just don’t hold your breath.