Insiders

Five Critical Questions Facing the Green Bay Packers

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The Green Bay Packers remain the undisputed kings of the NFC North and head into this season looking to win a fifth straight division title. It’s a reign of dominance that hasn’t taken place in the division since the Bears won the then-NFC Central crown every year from 1984-88.

But Packer fans go into this season stuck with a sense that their team should have accomplished so much more. Green Bay’s stunning late collapse at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game erased the good vibes from another quality regular season and their own great escape against Dallas in the divisional playoffs.

Here are five questions to help determine if the Packers will be able to both continue their run on top of the North and take care of unfinished playoff business in 2015.

How will the young secondary stack up?

To say the Packers are inexperienced at cornerback – and in the secondary in general – would be an understatement. Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett are both sixth-year veterans, but outside of them Green Bay will be counting on a multitude of guys with two or fewer years NFL experience.

A staggering 10 defensive backs with under two years experience will be in training camp. Not all of them will be on the roster come September, but you have to figure enough will still be in the playing rotation that maybe even Jay Cutler can avoid another multi-interception game against Green Bay.

Will Clay Matthews be able to move back outside?

Last season, the Packers took Clay Matthews from his strong spot at outside linebacker and moved him to the middle out of necessity. Everyone else was getting gashed, and having Matthews fortify the interior was worth the trade-off of having him less involved as an edge rusher.

But in an ideal world, the Packers will actually find someone competent enough to man the inside and benefit from Matthews doing what he does best. In order to move Matthews outside, two of the following three players need to prove they are capable of being the tandem – Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford or fourth-round draft pick Jake Ryan.

How will Mike McCarthy giving up play calling change things?

It was an under-the-radar move this offseason, but it may end up having major ramifications. In February, Mike McCarthy relinquished his duties as the Packers offensive play caller, handing them to Tom Clements. Clements has been the offensive coordinator for three years, but now has the nifty title of associate head coach (offense) to go along with it.

McCarthy has been Green Bay’s offensive play-caller since taking over as head coach in 2006. The primary reason McCarthy put Clements in charge was so he could divide his time more equally among the offense, defense and special teams.

We’ll see if Clements will be more aggressive in, say, an NFC Championship Game that could be over by halftime if the Packers hadn’t been settling for field goals.

Can Raji still Raji?

B.J. Raji once appeared in one of Aaron Rodgers’ State Farm commercials teaching people “how to Raji,” but as of late that has come to be defined by inconsistent play and sitting out with injuries.

After a strong start to the preseason, the nose tackle was lost for the year with a torn biceps. Now he is back on a one-year deal for $1.75 million, less than half of which is guaranteed.

Can Raji re-emerge as a force to be reckoned with in what amounts to his career’s last stand? Doing so would certainly make it easier to move Clay Matthews to outside linebacker and fortify a defense that was 23rd against the run last year.

Have the Packers mentally recovered from the NFC Championship?

Few teams have gone down in playoff fashion as agonizing as the Packers did at Seattle in the NFC title game. Yet the ones that do have often demonstrated an ability to bounce back.

The Browns recovered from “The Drive” against John Elway to reach the AFC Championship yet again the following year… only to suffer “The Fumble.”

The Bills lost Super Bowl XXV on a missed field goal, but recovered to reach three more in a row… only to lose them all.

The 49ers did recover from their NFC Championship letdown against the Giants in 2012 to make the following Super Bowl… which they lost.

But at least all of those teams proved somewhat resilient. And never count an Aaron Rodgers-led team out of anything in the mental toughness department. He got everyone to relax after last year’s 1-2 start, and he can do it again.


About Alex Hickey

Alex Hickey

Alex Hickey can vividly recall most significant NFL events going back to Walter Payton's final game in 1987, including the ones that didn't make him cry. Since 2008, his full-time job has been covering college football, specifically McNeese State, for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press. Free time is spent informing, amusing or annoying you for Football Insiders.