McGinn Wrap, Part 4: The Green Bay Packers' Team A grades
As he continues his look back at 43 years of covering the Packers, our resident Hall-of-Famer (and team historian!) Bob McGinn reviews all of the Packers best units from 1991 to 2021.
The spoils really do go to the victors.
The Green Bay Packers won the National Football League championship twice from 1991 to 2021, the 31 years that I graded them. And their two title seasons – 1996 and 2010 – accounted for 13 of the 24 grades of A awarded during those three decades.
In 1996, the team (16-3) led by Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre received an A in seven of eight categories (the rushing offense earned a B-plus). In 2010, the team (14-6) led by Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers earned A’s in five categories (the rushing offense was C-minus, the rushing defense was B and special teams were D).
It goes without saying that 1996 was the greatest Packers team I covered.
Only one other team received more than one A in a season. That was in 1995, which had three after playing in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the Ice Bowl in 1967.
Of the 24 team grades of A, passing offense was the runaway leader with eight. Favre orchestrated the A grades in 1995, ’96, ’04 and ’07 whereas Rodgers was the maestro in 2010, ’11, ’14 and ’20.
All eight categories of team performance made the A grade at least once.
The following are the Packers’ 24 team grades of A from 1991-’21 and excerpts from my grading comments that first appeared in The Milwaukee Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, BobMcGinnFootball.com, The Athletic and GoLongTD.com.
RUN DEFENSE: “Allowed just 85.2 yards per game, third best in NFL. Highest ranking for the Packers in 22 years … Followed that with a superhuman assault on Detroit’s Barry Sanders in the playoff, limiting him to minus-1 in 13 carries … Led by Reggie White’s team-leading total of 11, the Packers had 61 tackles for loss in 18 games, or 17 more than in ’93 … Only black mark was Sanders’ 20-carry, 188-yard explosion on Dec. 4 … Gilbert Brown, Bryce Paup, John Jurkovic, Sean Jones and George Koonce excelled as run stoppers.”
PASS OFFENSE: “Found the perfect combination: a slew of big plays and few turnovers … Everything stemmed from Brett Favre, whose rating (99.5) was second only to the Colts’ Jim Harbaugh … Seven receivers caught at least 25 passes in all games, led by sensational Robert Brooks (119) and Pro Bowl tight end Mark Chmura (60).”
COACHING: “Mike Holmgren’s finest season even though his record against Dallas fell to 0-6 … Dealt major blows with loss of Sterling Sharpe and zero free-agent pickups, but he and his cohesive staff developed their own players and made the offense better … Deserves kudos for masterful work with Favre … Smart, tough and responsive to players’ needs (brought Milwaukee-catered soul food into the locker room for lunch) … Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur’s game plan against the 49ers was one for the ages.”
OVERALL: “Outlasted fast-closing Lions in furious fight for first outright NFC Central Division championship in 23 years … Manhandled the 49ers in divisional road shocker in what was club’s most momentous victory since the Ice Bowl in ’67 … Virtually injury-free environment helped, but no more than team-oriented fervor that spread sans Sharpe … A team on the move with a young franchise quarterback and a clear vision from the front office and coaching staff.”
PASS OFFENSE: “In retrospect, the crisis at midseason was caused only by injuries to Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman and Mark Chmura … Two-time MVP Brett Favre made everyone around him play better. He was the one constant, never making excuses, lining up for every game and compiling a 19-game rating of 97.2. The man is money in the bank … The Packers completed 16 passes for more than 35 yards compared with nine in ’95.”
PASS DEFENSE: “The Packers led the NFL in every key category and was second (up from 27th in ’95) in interceptions … All-star secondary of LeRoy Butler, Doug Evans, Craig Newsome and Eugene Robinson intercepted 24 passes and tackled extremely well … Often with nowhere to go with the ball, opposing quarterbacks settled for a low, low passer rating of 53.4, including 16 touchdowns and 35 interceptions.”
RUN DEFENSE: “It started upfront with Reggie White scaring teams away from running at him and Gilbert Brown demanding and often defeating double-team blocks … It continued with solid linebacking … And it ended with four aggressive hitters in the secondary … This was a gang-tackling group with an attitude of dominance … The team ranked fourth in the regular season with a yield of 88.5 yards, then allowed an average of 52 in the playoffs … The one that hurt was Robert Smith’s 37-yard touchdown burst that led to defeat in Minnesota.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: “NFL’s seventh-best unit in the regular season simply exploded in the playoffs … The leader was Desmond Howard with 19-game averages of 16.2 (punt returns) and 23.8 (kickoffs), including five returns for touchdowns. He fielded 116 returns and fumbled just one time. Seventeen of his 67 punt returns measured 20 yards or more, and 10 went for more than 30 … Craig Hentrich’s 36.3 net tied for the best mark any Packers punter has had since the NFL first kept the statistic in 1976 … Chris Jacke beat the 49ers from 53 yards and made 76.5% of his field goals.”
PERSONNEL MOVES: “The Lombardi Trophy represented personal triumph for GM Ron Wolf and his never-ending pursuit of players … Not only are the Packers smarter than most teams, but they probably outwork a larger number, too … Enlightened personnel decisions still can overcome small-market revenue … Free-agent losses of Ty Detmer, Fred Strickland, Charles Jordan, John Jurkovic and Mark Ingram didn’t hurt, and free-agent acquisitions of Santana Dotson, Don Beebe, Bruce Wilkerson, Andre Rison and Desmond Howard really helped … Dumping George Teague and trading for Eugene Robinson was monumental … The ’95 draft – Craig Newsome, Darius Holland, William Henderson, Brian Williams, Antonio Freeman and Adam Timmerman – put the franchise over the top.”
COACHING: “In five of the last six games, the coaches whose teams were crushed by Green Bay included Mike Shanahan, Dennis Green, George Seifert, Dom Capers and Bill Parcells. In other words, Mike Holmgren has moved into select company among the NFL’s premier coaches … Somehow, he was able to create a harmonious environment in which such strong personalities as Jim McMahon, Sean Jones, Keith Jackson, Eugene Robinson and Andre Rison could be added to the roster in the last three years and the team concept not only was maintained but appeared strengthened … The creative design and play-calling of Holmgren on offense and Fritz Shurmur on defense was magnificent.”
OVERALL: Piece by piece, the Packers assembled dozens of good football players over the last five years and then exploded on the NFL in 1996 … This was a complete team in every sense of the word … In reality, there was no weak link … Furthermore, week after week the Packers had the edge in coaching, motivation and fan support, both home and away … And the feeling of unity and selflessness that flowed through the organization generally stayed strong even when the vehicles of self-promotion beckoned … This is no one-year wonder, either, as long as Wolf, Holmgren and Favre remain in Green Bay.”
PASS DEFENSE: “Opposing quarterbacks had a regular-season passer rating of 68.7 … Ranked third (5.2) in yards allowed per pass after ranking first last year (4.9) … Tied for third in interceptions with 24 and returned four for touchdowns, including two by Marques Anderson … Despite a raft of injuries, the high-energy pass rush ranked eighth … Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had 41 pressures, twice as many as runner-up Cletidus Hunt (19) … Coordinator Ed Donatell blitzed less than before, sending five or more on merely 19.7% of dropbacks.”