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Everyone Knew the Danger that Lurked on Sunday

Everybody – yes, every Packer fan – knows the Packers are weak against the run. It’s been that way for years. The Pack ranked 17th in yards given up per game in 2017; they ranked 22nd in 2018; and last year they ranked 23rd. To date this year, they rank 15th, but are falling rapidly. You can’t be a serious postseason Super Bowl contender while having these percentages.

Everybody knew Blake Martinez would be leaving the Packers prior to the 2020 season. Given that the Packers use a 3-4 alignment, an enormous amount of the run-stop responsibilities fall to the inside linebackers. As I mentioned last week, through Week 7 Martinez, now in his prime and with the Giants, was ranked sixth best by Pro Football Focus out of 81 linebackers. It was incumbent that the Packers fill that large hole for 2020, but they did not.

Everybody knows that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is insistent on playing only one true inside linebacker on most plays, and using a defensive back instead of a second ILB. Such usage all but guarantees that Green Bay is going to be susceptible to offenses with strong run attacks.

Everybody knows that the Vikings have a strong run attack, and one of the league’s top RBs. Dalvin Cook was a two-time first-team All American at Florida State. He was a Pro Bowler last season. In his fourth NFL season, he’s nearing the peak of his abilities. Going into Sunday’s game, he had the league’s second highest rushing yardage.

Cook was unstoppable on Sunday: 30 carries, 163 yards, 5.3 yard average, four touchdowns. Add in his two catches for 63 yards and he went and you’ve got a 226-yard 4-touchdown (one through the air) performance. Everybody knew this was a possible scenario. Coach Mike Zimmer obviously based his game plan on the Vikings’ run game crushing the Pack’s suspect defense.

Minnesota ran the ball 34 times, but attempted only 14 passes. The rest of the league will take notice. Unless the Packers can shore up its run defense, we can count on many more run-heavy game plans in the final nine games.

Cook is now statistically the league’s top running back. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry has more yardage, but Cook is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, a half yard more than Henry. Cook also has more catches and receiving yardage than does Henry. Cook also now leads the league’s running backs with ten touchdowns, two more than Henry.

The question that is begged is: why has Green Bay done so little, especially over the past three years to strengthen its run defense?

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) rushes against the Green Bay Packers on November 1, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

Enter the Riverboat Gambler

Brian Gutekunst was selected by Mark Murphy as the team’s general manager, replacing Ted Thompson, in January 2018. It has been his responsibility since then to acquire the personnel who will improve the Pack’s run defense. Everybody should agree that he has abjectly failed at this assignment.

In the 2018 draft, Green Bay was in a healthy position: they had 11 picks, and seven of them in the first five rounds. Gutekunst did select an ILB, and in fact he traded up to get Oren Burks in round three, with the 88th overall choice.

Gutekunst’s first two draft choices in 2018 were both cornerbacks. The only other defensive help he got in his first draft ever as GM was to nab two defenders in the seventh round to no one’s surprise DE James Looney and OLB Kendall Donnerson made no impact whatsoever on the team. You might recall that Green Bay even tried to convert Looney into a tight end.

Now in his third season, Burks has been a colossal disappointment. After starting four games as a rookie, he has not started a game since. He has a total of only 32 tackles, and no sacks, no QB hits, and no tackles for losses. He’s had but eight tackles so far this season.

In fact, it came as a shock to the rest of the league when Burks was chosen, as no other team seemed to think he was more than a mid- to late-round prospect. Gutey took a real gamble on Burks, and it’s a mistake the Packers are still living with three years later. And let’s not forget that the Packers traded their fourth (101st overall pick) and fifth round (147th overall) picks to move up to get Burks.

In 2019, and still faced with the need for run-stopping ILBs, Gutey selected five defenders with his eight choices, though once again he skipped over ILBs. Top pick Rashan Gary was viewed more as a pass rusher than a run stopper. Fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke is a defensive lineman, not a linebacker. Ty Summers has actually seen some action at ILB, but that was due to an injury to Christian Kirksey. His play has been about what one would expect of a seventh-rounder.

In the team’s most recent draft, almost everyone expected that the GM would expend one of its high choices on a run-stopping ILB to replace Martinez – but we were all mistaken. Gutey did draft a linebacker, but he waited until the fifth round to settle for Kamal Martin with the 175th overall pick. While Kamal has played little due to injuries, he’s shown some promise. Still, he was never expected to be a key component of the Pack’s 2020 defense.

Instead of drafting a high-quality linebacker, Gutey went to the free agency market, and signed up Christian Kirksey, who had been with the Browns for his first six seasons. Both Kirksey’s record there and the terms of his contract ($13M for two years) with Green Bay indicate he’s a mid-range talent at best.

Seven games into the season, Christian has missed the last four of them due to a pectoral injury, and he remains on injured reserve. This was hardly unexpected, as Kirksey only played in nine games total in 2018 and 2019. As I indicated last week, in the games he has played, Pro Football Focus gave him a 31.9 rating, food for 77th place out of 81 NFL ILBs.

In the absence of Martinez and Kirksey, Mike Pettine has tried a variety of unacclaimed guys – many of them defensive backs, not linebackers, including (defensive snaps on the season in parentheses): Chandon Sullivan (247), Krys Barnes (217), Josh Jackson (212), Will Redmond (200), Ty Summers (136), Raven Greene (134), Kamal Martin (71), and Oren Burks (46). Barnes, an undrafted guy out of UCLA, has been the best of the lot at stopping the run. Just think of where the team would be without his modest, but unexpected, contributions.

To try to harness Cook against the Vikes, Pettine principally used three linebackers: Krys Barnes (49 snaps), Kamal Martin (42); and Oren Burks, (9). Martin with three tackles, but also with several rookie miscues, was the only one who looked like he belonged on the field. Pettine’s ILB-by-committee approach allowed Dalvin Cook to have his best day ever in his fourth year as a pro.

As everyone saw, it was the Packers’ team-wide inability to get off blocks, fill the gaps, and tackle Cook that spelled defeat on Sunday.

Maybe Martin, Jackson, and/or Barnes will eventually emerge as a capable NFL linebacker. For the rest of this season, however, the Packers are going to give up a ton of rushing yardage simply because they lack players who have subnstantial ability to stop the run. But didn’t everyone expect that to be the case – with the possible exception of Brian Gutekunst – when this season got underway?

Packers vs. Niners

On Thursday, the Packers might face similar danger when they take on the 49ers. Everyone, including all of the Packers’ remaining opponents, is now fully aware that our team has a dearth of competent ILBs. One can go further: this simply is not a good tackling team across the board – an item that should figure into Green Bay’s decision to retain or release Mike Pettine at season’s end.

Despite all of their problems, Green Bay has some reason for optimism come Thursday: the 49ers are going through a plague of injuries. RB Raheem Mostert, who performed in Cook-like fashion in last year’s playoff trouncing of the Packers, went on injured reserve on October 24. RB Tevin Coleman, who had just returned last weekend after a month off due to an MCL injury, lasted only three runs against the Seahawks before being removed – I imagine he’s questionable at best against the Packers.

Next up, Jeff Wilson Jr., went down in the 49ers win against the Patriots on October 26, and is expected to miss several weeks. I’m not sure what the status of RB Jerick McKinnon is – he missed all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and he had only three rushes (for minus yardage) last weekend. McKinnon is yet another short but speedy (4.41) 49er rusher.

It looks like the 49ers will have to start JaMycal Hasty at running back. After going undrafted last April, Hasty recently moved up from the 49ers practice squad. He has the unusual 49ers’ RB distinction of not being blazing fast – his Combine 40-yard dash speed was 4.55 seconds. Hasty rushed 12 times, but for only 29 yards, in last Sunday’s loss.

In addition to their running back attrition, the 49ers should be without some other very recognizable names on Thursday: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, TE George Kittle, and WR Deebo Samuel.

Tags:
Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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29 Comments

  1. Ray Moffett November 4, 2020

    I think the whole organization is a mess. The defense has no identity and no leader that stands out. Bad picks and bad decisions have cost this team. good defensive players or get someone who will. Either bring in some Why is Pettine still here? Please stop worrying about the Titletown area development. You can’t be Titletown if you do not win titles and in this age that means win Super Bowls.

    Rob Born:
    “Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.”
    That comment is spot on by Rob Born

    Reply
  2. Stiggy November 4, 2020

    You only draft best player available if that talent is an undeniable talent.

    Ie: colts drafting Quentin Nelson.

    Reply
  3. PF4L November 4, 2020

    I think draft and develop works. The only integral ingredients to that is you have to draft and develop. A good healthy draft and develop team usually provides a team good depth.
    .
    When/if that fails through the years, you find your team having so many needs, you then (usually) draft to fill holes. You (usually) try to stop the bleeding. Then, if you still don’t draft well, you end up chasing your tail and being the talking point in blog forums.

    Reply
  4. PF4L November 4, 2020

    As far as the 49er game, this is a good as any chance of beating them.
    Although marginal (2-4 points), this seasons 49ers are not performing as well as the 2019 49ers, on both sides of the ball.
    Now you couple that with their injuries to key players out like Kittle and Samuel, they don’t have Sanders anymore and if Mostert is out, their run game seems non existent. Could the defense look good this Thursday night?
    .
    i’m assuming we get Jones back. They can play Tyler Ervin in the backfield, and of course they’ll call up Dexter Williams.
    .
    I’m not predicting a win, but i’m not predicting a loss either.

    Reply
    1. Howard November 4, 2020

      The word is the 49ers have shut down their facilities due to COVID test results. Not sure what it means, but sounds like 49ers have had at least one positive .

      Reply
      1. stiggy November 5, 2020

        word is the kid the niners are trotting out there tonight isnt a joke and they were very nervous about losing him before they hid him on practice squad. The niners may be missing people…but they still have a good O line.. and they wont be able to hide dean lowery per the norm. The niners also have a good defense. I feel the pack will win…but wouldnt surprise me if they lost as their schemes simply dont work against the niners.

        Reply
        1. stiggy November 5, 2020

          *kid they are trotting out at running back.

          Reply
        2. Howard November 5, 2020

          Stiggy, I agree the SF defense is still a very sound defense, even though they have been gashed in some games. The SF defense is much better/sounder than the Packers defense, and that may very well be the difference in the game.
          .
          I don’t know anything about the 49ers running back. I did watch the Seattle and 49ers game and who ever they had at RBs did not explode. I did notice the 49ers right guard and center (#50, #60) had some struggles against the Seahawks. Those two cannot be the same players the 49ers put on the field last year? Losing Trent Williams should also cause problems for the 49ers O-line. One thing the Seahawks did against the 49ers run game, is when the 49ers interior linemen would pull the Seahawks would shoot the gap off the pulling o-linemen’s heels, somewhat disrupting the run plays in the backfield. Pettine would probably never allow such bold moves as attacking a single gap, but Clark, M. Adams, and Keke are capable of such moves.
          .
          At this point I think the only way to hide Lowery is to force the other team to pass, then you won’t see him, unless no one blocks him. I think the Packers need to greatly reduce Lowerys snap counts.

          Reply
          1. PF4L November 5, 2020

            …………………and his salary

            Reply
  5. PF4L November 4, 2020

    The Green Bay Packers received some good news Wednesday ahead of Thursday night’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Packers had no new positive COVID-19 tests from Tuesday’s round of testing, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, per a source informed of the situation.

    Reply
    1. Howard November 4, 2020

      Per Adam Schefter as below.
      .
      The 49ers have closed their facility after receiving results for COVID-19 testing, per
      @AdamSchefter
      .
      They’re scheduled to play the Packers tomorrow

      Reply
      1. PF4L November 4, 2020

        Ruh Roh……
        .
        WR Kendrick Bourne tests positive for COVID-19

        Reply
        1. PF4L November 4, 2020

          Maybe they move it to Monday night, have another double header

          Reply
          1. Howard November 4, 2020

            If they move it now and not when the Packers had three players held out of the game, I will be pissed off big time.

            Reply
          2. PF4L November 4, 2020

            Because it’s so close to the game, i’d be surprised if it wasn’t moved. I’m not an expert on it, but if a player test positive, they shut everything down and have to go through the guidelines of protocol.
            .
            It seems they don’t use the test that give you results in 15 minutes, so everyone has to get tested. What i don’t know is, if each player needs two negative test to be cleared to play, and how soon they can they reopen the facilities.

            Reply
          3. PF4L November 4, 2020

            Oops….also…..
            .
            If Williams and Martin keep testing negative, i’d assume they can play because it would be past 5 days..

            Reply
          4. Howard November 4, 2020

            Looks like Aiyuk and Trent Williams are deemed close contacts and are also going to miss the game!

            Reply
  6. PF4L November 4, 2020

    Random…..
    .
    If Bakhtiari gets what he wants in a new contract, to be paid as well or better than Laremy Tunsil, What is Davante Adams going to want per year after next season, knowing Hopkins is at 27mill/year, and Julio Jones is at 22mill/year?
    .
    Something Gute may or may not know…
    By ignoring wide receiver, you are giving Davante Adams all the leverage in the world come contract time.
    .
    Random…..
    .
    Is Gute and Russ Ball looking at the contracts of some of his 2019 free agent signings, looking where he can gain some cap room?
    .
    BROKEN

    Reply
  7. Ferris November 4, 2020

    Rob sees what everyone else on the planet sees, with the exception of Gute. Don’t draft projects, QBs you don’t need or longshots. Trying to be a hero and finding a hidden gem may work sometimes, but it is usually by accident.
    Just ask Washington about Haskins. Love should have been Patrick Queen.

    Reply
  8. PF4L November 4, 2020

    Jerry Jones needs to be prepared this Sunday. I’d suggest stocking up on body bags as his Boys are playing the Steelers.
    Day gunna die!!

    Reply
  9. Mick November 4, 2020

    I would like to have been a fly on the wall on draft day. Who was it that made the final decision to draft for the future instead of addressing obvious needs on the team. Was it MM, BG or our coach? We heard no decisions are made without MM’s final say. My guess is that that decision didn’t come from LaFleur. I might be wrong but, isn’t the job of the GM, is to provide the coaches with the talent HE needs to improve the team? If they would have drafted a defensive lineman, inside line backer, (maybe 2); and WR in the 1st 3 rounds, that is also drafting for the future, and the present. On top of that, they still would have had the 4th round selection they wasted on reaching for Love. This is total ineptness. Of course, i’m basing this on Rodgers playing another 3 to 4 years.

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 5, 2020

      Yea baby!!…That’s what i’m talking about…critical thinking…i knew i liked you.
      Let me give ya’ll my educated theory, my educated opinion, my educated guess how all this went down.
      Why are these opinions educated some may ask. Because i’m a PackerFan4Life and i pay attention.
      ..
      Now….to your credit, you basically ask the question, who made the decision to build for the future and not try to acquire talent…to win now. A distinction made after the first pick was chosen.
      .
      I think….they all (MM,ML,BG) made the decision. I think they are working in concert. Gute isn’t going to trade up and pick a QB without telling anybody right? That flies in the face of logic.
      I think multiple meetings between the 3 took place, strategy sessions if you will, on how they wanted to move forward building the team. Gute and LeFleur are NOT going to make their own decisions after Murphy told Packer Nation who was King of the mountain, and he gives the final go-ahead.
      .
      This was a collective strategy, to build a team “post Rodgers”. One could intelligently argue it started in 2019 with the #12 pick of Rashan Gary, who was not needed for reasons i’ve mentioned 10 times before. Gee…Do we need a back up pass rusher or a wide receiver? Lets draft a back up at #12!! Does that scream….(win now!!) to anybody? Further evidence was Gutes 2019 obsession with Jordan Love and going to scout him in person during the 2019 college season. Not to mention the next pick with Dillon.
      It could be believed that these discussions on how the team should move forward, started early during the interview process. During which, there are discussions on team strategy, short term goals, long term goals, team building, etc.
      .
      What’s clear is, they devised a strategy to build for the future, they are all on the same page working in unison. This ISN’T a well kept secret. The National media knows (knew) it, Packer Nation knows (knew) it, and Aaron Rodgers knows (knew) it. I mean damn….my Grandma knew it!!
      Hell..after the draft it was all anyone could talk about nationally, hence why the Packers scored lowest in the league in draft grade.
      What’s really funny….concerning Will Fuller, was that some in the National media still seem surprised, that the Packers didn’t sign Will Fuller.
      .
      The best point Mick made was this……even if you draft for the future (excluding QB), you are drafting for now. Something the Packers brain trust don’t seem to realize.
      .
      At the end of the day….this team’s football operational decisions rise and fall on the approval of Mark Murphy. The man…..who has no NFL football operational experience.
      .
      How about an example…Gee…who is MOST qualified to pick a Defensive Coordinator? That’s a tough one isn’t it? Lets give it a shot.
      A) Mark Murphy
      B) Brian Gutenkunst
      C) Matt LeFleur
      …………………………………
      BROKEN

      Reply
  10. PF4L November 5, 2020

    Random…….
    .
    What was worse…..
    .
    Mike McCarthy hiring Mike Nolan?
    .
    Mark Murphy’s “football operation decision” to force Matt LaFleur to keep Mike Pettine?
    .
    A) MCarthy
    B) Murphy
    C) To close too call

    Reply
    1. Howard November 5, 2020

      B and you know the reason why. The owner or team president hires the GM. The GM then hires the head coach he wants. The head coach then hires his assistant coaches. The head coach may allow the D and O coordinators to suggest and or hire certain position coaches with the head coaches approval.
      .
      This formula allows a clear line of authority, and RESPONSIBILITY for mistakes. Murphy set the system up so he can make decisions without being responsible for those decisions. I bet Murphy sets up committees for cover in almost, if not all decisions he has made in his career, even when he was an athletic director.

      Reply
      1. PF4L November 5, 2020

        Great answer. I also like the use of the word formula in context concerning authority and responsibility. Of which, i may or may not touch on how it relates to which “version” of facts we choose to believe, concerning the 3 different scenario’s described to us on how the Ted Thompson’s dismissal developed.
        .
        As a footnote concerning the irony of each situation. All indications, including (some speculation) are that Jerry Jones forced McCarthy keep Kellen Moore on as offensive coordinator and Jerry Jones announced to the media that McCarthy wouldn’t be calling plays, which may or may not have been the first time McCarthy was made aware of that.

        .
        My own thoughts further explained when i give my hypothesis concerning Micks comments above, when time allows.

        Reply
        1. PF4L November 5, 2020

          I gotta tell ya my friend. The more thought i give Mark Murphy, the more i dislike the man. I try to live my life hating no one, and forgiving everyone. That hasn’t changed, but as i wrote my comments to you, it lead to me thinking about how he concealed McCarthys contract extension.
          Of which i don’t believe he had any right to do, morally, or ethically.
          If he was the sole owner of the team, that’s a different story, he answers to only himself.
          When you represent a publicly held team, doing business in secret and concealing it from it’s ownership, is just cause for dismissal in my eyes.

          Reply
  11. Mick November 5, 2020

    Yup, Murphy has spun himself a nice tight web around himself. Strongest part of the web is authority.

    Reply
  12. CJ November 6, 2020

    I was livid after they selected Love. First words out of my mouth was they just turned their back on Rodgers. To this day I am not over it. Never will be. Cannot get past the absolute stupid ass thinking of this FO. What is more disturbing is they all get away with it. No one to answer to. Ones to suffer are the “true” fans. Exec Board is so enamored with the Titletown District they just don’t give a shit about the W L record. Why would they? Stadium is sold out for the next 40 years. I am a stock holder and was once a prideful fan. But I am now to the point of hating this organization and everything they currently represent. Not the players. The FO and the Executive Board. They are all inept and unable to think strategically. (They think Titletown District is strategic. Give me a break). They should all be fired. Easily could have gone “all-in” with Rodgers and still protected the future. As mentioned….stadium sold out for next 40 years. What the hell was the big hurry to move on from Rodgers. What a bunch of dumb F_ _ _ ers. All about the ego’s boys! Legacy’s. It’s not about Super Bowls anymore in Green Bay. Its about entertainment and just being competitive. Murphy is a piece of shit.

    Reply

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