While the Green Bay Packers are not officially eliminated from playoff contention, they will be as soon as the Atlanta Falcons defeat the Tampa Buccaneers later tonight. And so as we all know, the nine-year playoff streak comes to an inglorious end.
This playoff streak, as all right-thinking people also know, is not a fortuitous set of circumstances. Quite the opposite. The Green Bay Packers, having been blessed with probably the best quarterback to ever play the game, have but one Super Bowl championship.
And with Aaron Rodgers now 34 years of age, the window is closing fast. A lot of less than fortuitous circumstances have contributed to this, including Lance Easley and the Fail Mary, the NFC title game in Seattle, Joe Phibin’s son stupidly getting himself killed that put the whole team in a state of mourning before that disaster against the Giants, and of course Olivia Munn, among many others. Aside from this succession of tough luck circumstances, there seem to be four causal factors that need investigation by fans, reporters and — above all — decision makers at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Most would agree all of these play some role. The question is the degree to which they are preventing the Green Bay Packers from fulfilling their destiny: a dynasty era of multiple Super Bowl championships.
With another year gone and the window that much smaller, more and more people are clamoring for Ted Thompson to step aside or, if he should not so oblige, be fired. While formerly an unabashed, absolute supporter of Thompson who still admires much of what he has done, this author sees this position as more and more reasonable as The Silver Fox has certainly lost a step in drafting since 2011. Beyond that, these calls will only become more and more credible with the increased likelihood that the New York Giants (or any other team) could poach Eliot Wolf from the Packers’ ranks. A brief survey of Ted Thompson’s drafts since the Super Bowl Championship in 2010 shows far too many busts for the draft and develop philosophy to work. And given the perpetual woes on the defensive side of the ball, the most glaring examples are on defense. Just some of the “luminaries” in this seemingly never-ending series of disastrous draft picks include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Jerel Worthy, DE, Michigan State, 51
- Jerron McMillian, S, Maine, 133
- Datone Jones, DE, UCLA, 26
- Khyri Thornton, DE, Southern Mississippi
- Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State
- Mike Neal, DE, Purdue, 56
While the jury is still out on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, the marked decline in play by both last year, followed by the selection of Kevin King — who himself has shown a dangerous susceptibility to perpetual injury — are far from encouraging.
There are other anomalies that may not be Thompson’s fault, including Eddie Lacy who had the talent and physique to be a perennial Pro-Bowl running back, uniquely suited for the Packers’ offensive style as a big, bruising back who often required three or four defenders to tackle him. That bruising, falling-sofa type of running back wears down opposing team’s defensive lines, giving Aaron Rodgers a free hand to tear them up through the air as pash rushers are forced to catch a falling sofa 20 times in the course of a game. That Mike McCarthy and the running backs coach, as well as player conditioning staff could not properly motivate Eddie Lacy certainly calls these elements into question as well, but it could also be the case that his personal character doomed him from ever reaching his potential no matter who took him under their tutelage.
Letting Julius Peppers and Charles Woodson go were, of course, also gigantic blunders that further blemish Thompson’s recent record, but can only be addressed summarily here. One certainly doubts if the collapse in the NFC title game would have happened with Charles WOODSON in charge.
Given some limited success in defensive picks and given that Thompson continues to have a very positive record in picking offensive players, both skill positions and offensive linemen alike, another culprit is also quite possible, albeit one that Thompson should still be accountable for as general manager.
Scouting and Evaluation
The shrouded veil must at long last be lifted on this nebulous topic. Who are Thompson’s scouts? Is scouting bifurcated between defensive players and offensive players? If so, why have there not been changes to avoid such a high number of busts on defense? In all cases, why has general management not brought in other experts who can help bring the Packers better luck in acquiring defensive prospects?
Or is it really the picks themselves, but a failure to properly coach and develop? Ted Thompson did make one of the better defensive picks in his career with Casey Hayward, but he as general manager let him walk, and then Hayward became one of the best defensive players in the league. Ultimately, the general manager needs to be held accountable for gaffes like this. But it raises other hard questions about the degree to which coaching staff and player evaluation are also causal factors precisely because 1) they failed to develop Hayward to his full potential 2) and at the very least acquiesced in letting him go.
Dom Capers and Assistant Coaches on Defense
When one considers the successes that Ted Thompson has had, mostly on all aspects on the offense, but also some far more limited success on defensive players, questions arise as to the degree which Thompson has fallen short in picking defensive players, and the degree to which Capers and his bevy of assistant coaches are failing to coach and develop players to their full potential. Were all of these players destined to be busts, or were some of them made busts?
The blunder of letting Casey Hayward walk lends strong credence to this theory, as he was not playing anywhere near his potential until he went to San Diego, hardly a sterling example of perennial success in the NFL. And while now a bust through and through, Datone Jones, as just one example, certainly seemed to have potential without the advantage of hindsight, raising the question that maybe he failed to reach that potential because of less than optimum coaching and development.
Through several years now, Dom Capers’ defenses have displayed a veritable Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde freak show, showing flashes of truly elite defensive play (including in some of the horrible losses with Brett Hundley) only to then to devolve into a ghastly number of festering, porous sieves that could not stop either a passing or rushing attack if you allowed them the use of machine guns on the field of play.
Despite an almost yearly plague of injuries to the Packers’ players, which does account for some of the underperformance that has plagued the defense, Capers — and his staff of assistant coaches — has to be some causal factor. The exact quotient may not be presently known or even ascertainable, but it certainly plays an important role.
Indeed, the question is not so much whether it is Capers—and almost certainly his staff of assistant coaches—failure to coach and develop, not to mention schematics in gameplay,are the cause, but rather the degree to which these things are one cause, and the degree to which poor draft selections are also a greater or lesser cause. When defenders miss assignments and blow coverages, as happened again yesterday, is that because that player was a poor selection, or that there is a failure in coaching and development? Or is it both?
Medical Staff, Player Conditioning, and an Unending Plague of Injuries
No matter the degree to which one puts blame on either Capers and his assistant coaches on one hand and Thompson and on the other, this was yet another year where the Packers were decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. ACL tears and pulled hamstrings seem to come up quite a bit, year after year.
Apologists and excuse makers will of course respond that injuries are part of the game. In any given year that is true, but this has become an unremitting problem year after year. No longer a fluke, it has become a pattern. This, particularly given the type of injuries that seem to come up again and again, calls into question both the medical staff and player conditioning. So bad is the medical staff, they failed to properly diagnose a player that was released, who only learned of the injury when acquired by the Cleveland Browns, the very paragon of dysfunctionality and refusal to win no matter what!
Thus, if general management and coach Mike McCarthy are to avoid the dubious distinction of winning only one Super Bowl championship with the best quarterback to ever play the game, there must also be a comprehensive audit and investigation in all facets of the Green Bay Packers’ medical and training staff. Of course, with the apparent uptick in injuries across the league, the collective bargaining agreement putting unreasonable limits on padded practices and other necessary preparation may also play a part. Notwithstanding that, the inordinately high number of injuries the Packers sustain each and every year demonstrates something else is afoot, and it is high time something be done.
New Dawn Continues to Fade?
Readers of this site know how passionate this author is about the Green Bay Packers. But in many ways, this is nothing unique or special. So many millions — in not just Wisconsin, but across the nation and around the globe — embrace this team with such fanatical passion and devotion. The Green Bay Packers are endowed with a unique history and tradition of excellence. A history and tradition of excellence that IS Green Bay Packers football. A history and tradition of excellence signified by those helmets marked with the Oval G Symbol and by those timeless, beautiful uniforms of Green and Gold, the green and white stripe down the gold pants, the green stockings matching the green jerseys at home and green lettering on the whites when away, not to mention the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field itself. And yet now when one beholds the Oval G symbol adorned on the helmets and by the many millions of fans that are the very minions of this unique and special entity like no other, can one still say that the Green Bay Packers presently embody this tradition and history of excellence? Or is it just that they ought to exemplify this tradition and history of excellence, but are wasting this opportunity to uphold this tradition while falling short year after year?
After 2010, many die-hard fans felt that, after Brett Favre only won one Super Bowl championship, now at long last we would witness a return of an era of Green Bay Packers football that would rival that of Vince Lombardi and the formative years of Curly Lambeau, distinguished by multiple Super Bowl championships. And now after seven years of dashed hopes and “flukey” misfortunes, those hopes are placed in ever greater peril with each succeeding year. Absent people in charge asking these and other hard questions, taking action and making people accountable, the Green Bay Packers will not realize the potential they have in Aaron Rodgers first and foremost, but also in other current Packer greats like Mike Daniels, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams (this coming from a former skeptic of “Dropvante”) among maybe a couple of others. These players, combined with the rise of a promising running-back duo of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones as one of the few bright spots in yet another lost season, as well as a few other promising young players, demonstrate that it is not yet too late! The Green Bay Packers may realize their destiny yet during the Rodgers-McCarthy era. But time is running out. And as this new dawn fades more and more into despair, that these and other questions remain asked but not answered or addressed can only suggest there can only be further disappointment and dejection ahead. And so it will be us Packer fans left “hoping for something more… hoping for something else.”