GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are counting on consistency to get them over the top after finishing a game away from the Super Bowl three of the last six years.
Green Bay returns much of the nucleus of a team that went 13-3 and won the NFC North while benefiting from good fortune. The Packers stayed healthy last season and also went 9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer.
“You can’t take anything for granted in the NFL, and no two seasons are alike,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “This year certainly has some unique circumstances, and we talked about that all offseason. Whoever can handle these circumstances the best will have a tremendous jump on everybody else.”
The Packers’ offseason moves indicated they believe they already have enough talent to contend for a Super Bowl berth.
Green Bay drafted with an eye on its ong-term future, as first-round pick QB Jordan Love might not take any meaningful snaps for the next couple of years. The Packers’ free-agent signings were mostly devoted to replacing guys on the way out, with Christian Kirksey taking over for Blake Martinez at linebacker, Rick Wagner getting an opportunity to succeed Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.
The Packers believe the offense will surge now that they’ve had a year to adapt to LaFleur’s system.
“I think the beauty has been the expansion of both stuff that we used to do and stuff that Matt brought with him,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I think that’s kind of the jump that we’re hoping for in Year 2 is to build on what we did last year and then to kind of expand on it.”
The defense must play better against the run after allowing 285 yards rushing in an NFC championship game loss to San Francisco. But the Packers have plenty of talent on that side of the ball with Kenny Clark at nose tackle, plus Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith as pass rushers.
“We’re going to be a confident group,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “There’s going to be high expectations. We were able to get to within a game of the Super Bowl. In this crazy year, you’ve got to feel like, you know what, if we play good defense, why not us?”
WHO’S HELPING ADAMS?
Adams earned his third straight Pro Bowl selection last year but was the only Packer to catch as many as 50 passes or accumulate as many as 500 yards receiving. Green Bay lost the main offseason addition to its receiving corps when Devin Funchess opted out due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Packers have some promising young wideouts in Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. At least one of them must step up.
The Smiths combined for 25 ½ sacks last year, with Za’Darius getting 13 ½ and Preston adding 12. The Packers hope the development of 2019 first-round draft pick Rashan Gary and other outside linebackers can assure that the Smiths don’t wear down.
“It’s going to help us stay fresh, and when the coaches build confidence in them to where we can rotate guys to keep guys fresh, you start to see a lot more higher production,” Preston Smith said. “But I mean, if me and Z get higher production, we’ll break a record together and we’ll be breaking a lot of records as a team.”
The Packers have numerous options at running back after adding second-round pick A.J. Dillon from Boston College to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones rushed for 1,084 yards and tied for the NFL lead in touchdown runs (16) and total touchdowns (19) last season.
Kirksey is a prolific tackler, but injuries have limited him to a total of nine games over the last two seasons. The Packers lack depth at inside linebacker and need Kirksey to stay on the field.
RIGHT SIDE OF THE LINE
One of the biggest preseason competitions in Green Bay is on the right side of the O-line with Wagner, Lane Taylor and Billy Turner essentially competing for two starting spots. Taylor and Turner each have over 40 career starts and can play both guard and tackle. Wagner, a pure right tackle, has been a starter the last six seasons for Baltimore (2014-16) and Detroit (2017-19). An arm injury has limited Wagner during training camp.
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