2014 report card: Built to contend, Packers fall short

Weston Hodkiewicz
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The Green Bay Packers against the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC conference championship game Sunday, January 18, 2015, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

This was the year.

After three seasons of plugging holes only to see another spring open, everything seemed to finally be falling into place for the Green Bay Packers to have a sustainable Super Bowl run. That's why their collapse in the NFC championship game was so demoralizing.

The coaching staff made wholesale changes to the defense and found answers to the injury bug that's plagued the team for the past few seasons. General manager Ted Thompson absolved whatever issues arose with smart drafting and veteran acquisitions like Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion.

The plan nearly worked.

It took time, but the team that jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead over Seattle last Sunday bore little resemblance to the one that lost by 20 points in the regular-season opener. The 60 minutes couldn't tick off the clock fast enough, though.

Recurring issues throughout the season showed up before the Packers could escape CenturyLink Field with the George Halas Trophy. The defense recoiled in the fourth quarter, giving up touchdowns on the Seahawks' last three possessions.

A lackluster special teams unit bottomed out with Seattle converting a fake field goal for a touchdown and tight end Brandon Bostick muffing the onside kick prior to the Seahawks taking the lead, one of the lasting images of the Packers' eventual 28-22 overtime loss.

Aaron Rodgers' injured calf will heal and the Packers will have another shot at a fifth Lombardi Trophy in 2015, but they'll have a lot of thoughts to ponder until then.

The season culminated in the Packers' coaching staff earning a B-minus for the second consecutive year in Press-Gazette Media's annual report card. Coach Mike McCarthy embraced sports science to help remedy the team's recent rash of injuries. While early offensive and defensive changes didn't take, a midseason edict for improvement propelled the Packers in the second half.

The decision to move Clay Matthews to inside linebacker helped turn the tide for the defense. However, lingering problems on special teams went unsolved and the offense sputtered at times, particularly in the red zone late in the season.

Thompson and his front office jumped a full letter grade to a B-plus for having the foresight to bring in Peppers and Guion without jeopardizing potential compensatory picks. The Packers also drafted a capable safety in first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and unearthed starting center Corey Linsley in the fifth round.

The one area the personnel department didn't address was inside linebacker. Without any renovations, the position fell apart when A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones badly regressed. The Packers had their eye on inside linebacker in the draft, but none fell into their lap. They still could have used a free-agent reinforcement.

Four players finished in the A-range: quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left guard Josh Sitton, receiver Jordy Nelson (minus) and Matthews (minus). Linsley's B graded out the best among the rookies. Hawk and Jones toppled from the C-range to failing grades, along with Bostick, who was unable to secure a role at a weak position on top of his playoff miscue.

— and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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