WARNING: You are now exiting the no-spin zone. Stay tuned for the companion article, Volume 2: Pessimism
The Green Bay Packers, 2005:
A Season in Review
4-12. Seems like a lost season, doesn't it? What good could anyone possibly take from a 4-12 season? In most cases, nothing, and certainly the Packers have their share of problems. However, this is not a normal 4-12 team. This is not a habitual bottom-dweller with no signs of hope. Indeed, while the Packers faithful struggled through a season full of misery and heartache, leading to an offseason full of questions, the team still has a fair amount they can hang their hats on, in hopes for the future.
The first is the more obvious situation: the injury-plagued season. The Packers lost their top wide reciever during the first game. They later would lose their top 2 RBs for the season, their #4 WR for the season, their #3 WR for 5 games, their #3 RB for a few weeks, the #4 RB for the season, their starting SLB for two different stints with seperate sprained knees, their backup SLB for the last 3-4 games, their starting WLB for about 5 games, their starting DT for 5 games, their starting TE for most of the season and their starting C had tendonitis in his knee and later suffered from a sports hernia.
Any team that sustained such a rash of injuries should be expected to suffer. Sure, it can be seen as an excuse, but with one of the 3 youngest teams in the league combined with so many injuries, it is no wonder that the whole team had trouble developing a chemistry and a groove. The offensive production could never be expected to match its previous success, while the defensive injuries hit late in the season, breaking the strides the team had made on that side of the ball.
However, even with the players the Packers did field, the season was not a wash. The team actually managed to show a great amount of competetive spirit and fire throughout the season, minus the Ravens game. In fact, the Packers, despite losing 75% of their games, actually played well enough to win most games.
For instance, in 12 out of their 16 games this season, the Packers out-gained their opponents, yardage-wise. Those 12 games include 7 against winning teams, and a particularly notable game in which they out-gained the division-champion Bears 358-188 in a 12-point loss.
However, 12 point losses were not the norm. The Packers finished 6 games within 3 points of their opponent (5 losses), 7 games within 5 or fewer points (6 losses) and 10 games within 7 or fewer points (8 losses). In several of those games, in fact, the Packers actually had the ball in their possession while trailing by 7 or fewer points in the 4th quarter, meaning that as many as 7 or 8 of their 12 losses were just a play or two away from being victories.
It should also be mentioned that the Packers played 7 games against playoff teams this season. In those seven games, they were outscored by a combined 34 points and out-gained 6 of the 7 opponents, showing that the Packers were able to play and compete with the upper-level teams in the league. Difficult as it may be to beleive, the Packers were very close to being a respectable team this year, if not a winning one.
On defense, in particular, there are many reasons for optimism. The first is that prior to a run of injuries that affected the linebacking corps severely, as well as taking out a starting defensive tackle, the Packers' run defense was having a very solid season, allowing under 4.0 yards per carry in six of their first seven games. However, as that part of the defense was eroded away, the pass defense stepped it up a notch. They got past their early-season problems of being completely exploited by TEs and RBs out of the backfield (though there were still struggles) and rebounded to finsih the season with the number one ranked passing defense, in terms of passing yards allowed.
Overall, the defense improved from 25th in the league in yards allowed to a very respectable 7th in the league, continuing Jim Bates' streak as a coordinator and having a team ranked in the top 10 in either yards, points or both. While they still struggled in points allowed, that fact is greatly impacted by the fact that the offense led(in the bad way) the league in turnovers.
The offense, for all its struggles and injuries, actually finished the season on more of a high note... at least in the running game, which was a struggle throughout much of the season. In four of the last six games, the Packers averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. In fact, in two of those games they averaged better than 5.0 yards per carry. Particularly impressive is that these performances came against the Eagles, the Bears, the Lions and the Ravens--with the Bears and Ravens both being very quality run defenses.
Individually, too, the Packers had some promise. Samkon Gado emerged as a quality RB, at least in a part-time role, while Nick Collins continued to develop throughout the season and showed promise as a starting safety of the future. Al Harris had a borderline pro-bowl year, giving up 0 TDs through the first 13 games despite guarding the opponents' top reciever in most games. Nick Barnett appeared to take well to the new defensive system and became somewhat of a tackling machine in the middle of the defense, and perhaps most importantly, the young unproven defensive tackles emerged as a very solid rotation. Guys like Cullen Jenkins and Colin Cole allowed starters Corey Williams and Grady Jackson to get their rest and stay fresh without the defense suffering a major drop-off in their absence.
So while the season was painful to get through, and the bottom line came out way in the negative, much can be said about the Packers' upside. Considering the progress they made as the season went on in the running game and on defense, combined with the Packers' ability to play good teams close despite their insane amount of injuries, it becomes clear that, looking ahead and looking behind, the 2005 Green Bay Packers are not, in fact, that bad of a team.