GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers Packers averaged nearly 65 plays per game as an uptempo offense last season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't come close to playing that much in Green Bay's four preseason games - combined - this summer.
Considering Rodgers took only 45 snaps, had 42 official plays at the helm of the offense and didn't play in the final exhibition game last week, it begs the rightful question, if not a legitimate concern: Is the team's perennial top key to the season sufficiently prepared for the start of the season?
"I'd say Aaron's in his game-ready shape. He's been very sharp," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I feel very confident that Aaron's ready to go."
How ready will come to light Sunday, when the Packers get the 2013 season under way. They return to Rodgers' native Northern California to play the San Francisco 49ers in a marquee afternoon game.
The matchup comes eight months after the 49ers ended Green Bay's 2012 season in devastating fashion, winning 45-31 in the divisional round of the playoffs at San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
"You think about (that game), but that was (the) 2012 team," Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. "This is 2013, we're team 93, the 93rd team in Green Bay Packers history. So, now we have to build our own identity, set our own goals. And, to do that, we have to work together, keep pushing and grinding because it's going to be a hard-fought battle to get up to the top and ultimately get to New York for the Super Bowl" on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium.
While the Packers remain relevant in the conversation about NFC title contenders, as they have been every year since Rodgers helped lead the renaissance that has included a Super Bowl title in 2010, getting an accurate gauge on the two-time reigning NFC North champions this summer has been tough.
Injuries piled up from the first day of training camp in late July and cost Green Bay at least two projected front-line players for likely the entire season. Left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who had been moved from right tackle, and young halfback DuJuan Harris, who emerged as a starter at the end of last season, are on injured reserve after succumbing to severe knee injuries.
So, the "one-two punch" McCarthy envisioned with Harris and powerful rookie Eddie Lacy as the primary backs has given way to more uncertainty about how the Packers will resolve their deficiencies in running the football the last few seasons. The only other halfbacks on the roster are underachieving James Starks and Johnathan Franklin, a highly regarded rookie who struggled in the preseason.
Until the running woes are rectified, the Packers will have to rely on the pass perhaps as much as they ever have with Rodgers behind center since 2008. Whether Rodgers & Co. can click right away with the same precision and frequency of production of seasons past is open for debate.
After all, the offense never had Rodgers on the field at the same time as top receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in a preseason game this year. Nelson and Cobb didn't play the first three games because of knee and arm injuries, respectively. When they were cleared for last week's final game to make a cameo appearance of three plays, Rodgers stood on the sideline as since-released Vince Young made the start.
It was the first DNP (did not play) for Rodgers in a preseason game since the finale in 2010.
The difference from Rodgers' body of work in that preseason to this one is the team's longest-tenured active player played considerably the first three exhibition games three years ago and had plenty of success, completing 77.4 percent of his passes for 470 yards and six touchdowns without an interception for a sterling 141.2 passer rating.
This year, Rodgers ran the offense for only five series, resulting in just three field goals. He finished the preseason 17-of-24 throwing (70.8 percent) for 237 yards without an interception for a 102.3 rating. Rodgers didn't have a touchdown pass in the preseason for the first time in his career, and the pass attempts were his fewest in a preseason in his six years as the team's starter.
"For me, it's just about conditioning," Rodgers said about getting ready for the season with such limited playing time. "When you go from playing a total of probably in the 40s as far as plays ... (and the) five drives to playing 70-plus plays a game, you just have to make sure you're in shape."
Rodgers remains hopeful he, the offense and the team can get off to a good start this season, starting Sunday. He takes solace in that he was sacked only once behind an overhauled offensive line that now features rookie David Bakhtiari as the starter in Bulaga's place at left tackle.
"We had productive drives," Rodgers said. "The biggest issue is we didn't have our whole team together. But, the positives you take away from it, you've got to say (tight end) Jermichael (Finley) is playing at a really high level. He's playing fast, he's big, he's strong, and he's making a lot of good plays for us. (Receiver) James Jones has been healthy and made the plays that are there. (Receiver) Jarrett Boykin, after kind of a slow patch there in the middle of camp, I think really stepped up, especially the last two weeks and solidified his spot in this locker room. ... And, the offensive line - especially the three guys inside have been very consistent, playing well - (and) David's been getting his feet wet at left tackle and doing a good job, playing a lot of snaps and playing the right way, snap to whistle, all the way to the whistle.
"And, then lastly defense, I think our defense brings a different type of edge this year."
An edge that certainly was missing in the last game that counted for the Packers, when the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers battered a dazed and confused defense for 579 total yards in the playoff game.
Green Bay's defensive staff devoted some of its offseason planning to defending the option runs by Kaepernick that caused the unit fits back in January and had the players work on it daily in training camp.
"What my hopes are is we can take the next step," veteran defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "In terms of where that leads us, I'm not sure. I do know this, we've got more experience on this defense. Last year, we played an awful lot of young guys. We've added some young guys; I think they're going to help us."
The Packers' infusion of youth on the defensive side has included rookies Datone Jones (first round) at end and emerging playmaker Micah Hyde (fifth round) at cornerback, where Green Bay may be without the talented Casey Hayward for the indefinite future because of a nagging hamstring injury.
"He's certainly proven he deserves an opportunity to show us what he can do," Capers said of Hyde, one of 18 current players who weren't on Green Bay's season-opening roster last year.
The Packers' initial 53-man roster for 2013 also includes three undrafted rookies: safety Chris Banjo, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and guard Lane Taylor.