Five things the Green Bay Packers must do to contend for the Super Bowl
1. Rush the passer better
Last season, the Packers finished a decent No. 12 in the NFL in sacks percentage, in large part because of defensive coordinator Dom Capersí zone-blitz schemes.
But they were gashed by the three best quarterbacks they faced ó Brett Favre twice, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner once each. The only way to slow the elite passers is with pressure, and if you have to blitz all the time, theyíre usually good enough to make you pay.
So, left outside linebacker Brad Jones has to be a decent rusher opposite Clay Matthews, and the Packers will need some inside rush they didnít show last year.
Maybe second-round pick Mike Neal or even seventh-rounder C.J. Wilson will help, and maybe a healthier B.J. Raji, who had an ankle injury in camp last year, will be better. Maybe Capers will get more out of inside linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar as blitzers.
But it has to happen, somehow, some way.
2. Aaron Rodgers must stay on the field
Trite but true. He did his part last year by developing into a true franchise quarterback. Now he has to stay healthy enough to play, as heís done since starting 32 straight games.
That means not getting him sacked 41 times in the first nine games like last season. Thatís a good way to get your most important player hurt. If Rodgers misses a stretch of games, the playoffs could be in jeopardy, and if heís out for the year, the seasonís over.
3. Charles Woodson must continue playing at an elite level
Thatís likely for the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, but not a given considering he turns 34 in October. Woodson has a rare mix of talent and intelligence that makes him an indispensable playmaker.
He stays in good shape, but any drop-off in play could have serious repercussions for the defense.
4. Special teams must improve in every way
Kicker Mason Crosby has to get past the technical problems that plagued him last year; Chris Bryan or Tim Masthay has to be a competent NFL punter; and return man Will Blackmon needs to stay healthy after missing most of last season because of a torn ACL.
Special teams donít have to win a team a lot of games, but it canít lose them either, and against the best opponents, the Packers will need every edge they can get.
5. B.J. Raji must become a player
GM Ted Thompson spent the No. 9 pick overall in 2009 on the defensive lineman because the Packers lacked game-changing players on defense.
Last year, Raji didnít make much of an impact after missing the first two weeks of training camp while his contract was negotiated, then sustaining a sprained ankle shortly thereafter that bothered him early in the season.
The Packersí defense needs another playmaker to go with Woodson and Matthews, and Raji might have the best chance of anyone. A disruptive nose tackle can create havoc by dominating the middle of an offense.
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