Everywhere you turn in the Packer Blogosphere and even in the accredited media you find pieces about the Packers playoff chances, complete with examinations of the Packers schedule and how it compares with the Vikings and Bears, who they all play when, what might happen to the Williams brothers, etc, etc.
Sorry, but I just don’t see it.
I understand newspapers have a vested interest in keeping hope alive, but my fellow bloggers really need to take off the Green and Gold glasses. This team is not going to the playoffs, and if, by some miracle, it happened to find it’s way in, it would be embarrassed on a national stage once again. They have simply run out of competent players on the defensive line to mask Bob Sanders gross incompetence. It’s that simple, really. Last year, the defensive line was stacked with quality players and hid the fact that Sanders had zero imagination or ability to adjust his scheme, at least not until the end of the season when injuries had taken their toll and you saw the cracks start to show.
People talk about how trading Favre and going with Rodgers will define Ted Thompson’s legacy with the Packers. And on a storyline level, that’s probably true. But Thompson’s legacy will really be defined this offseason as he tries to fix what he broke this past year. Outside of the Favre trade and possibly the signing of Brandon Chillar, there’s not a whole lot that went right for Thompson in 2008. From trading Corey Williams to cutting Jon Ryan, from drafting Brian Brohm to resigning Ryan Grant to a big deal, almost every move seems suspect at best. Hindsight, of course, makes it easy to see the missteps, and I was on board with almost all of the aforementioned decisions, save for the signing of Grant. But the thing I got right and Thompson was seemingly blind to was what I wrote back in January:
The only way this team wins a championship with Sanders as its defensive coordinator is if the defensive line goes 8 quality guys deep for the whole season. No injuries period. Because otherwise, you’ll always get what we got this year – a great pass rush from the front four the first half of the season that fades away in December and January due to worn down personnel.
Now, obviously, Thompson can’t control injuries. He can’t control Harrell showing up out of shape or Cullen Jenkins tearing his pectoral muscle. But he can control depth, and his refusal to pay Williams a market deal, knowing that Sanders and his scheme were staying put, was a big error. I understand not wanting to break the bank for him, but if you’re not paying defensive linemen, who are you paying? We’ve seen how horrible this defense is without a line. It’s not pretty, especially when you have a coordinator who can’t draw up pressure. And that’s the problem, and has been since Jim Bates left.
It’s baffling that McCarthy and Thompson could spend the entire offseason reviewing tape of last season and not see the fact that they would need a deep defensive line rotation no matter what happened elsewhere on the team. It’s equally perplexing that they would need 13 weeks to see what the rest of the world could see in 6 – that Derrick Frost was terrible and that he was hurting the team. It’s a real red flag that perhaps Thompson’s confidence-bordering-on-arrogance regarding his ability to evaluate players caused him to refuse to believe he had made such a monumental error. (And what is it about the punting position that vexes GMs so much, causing them to always seek greener pastures to the detriment of their team? Ron Wolf maintains to this day his biggest regret in personnel was not resigning Hentrich)
No, in the end, this team simply doesn’t have a coordinator who can adjust or even call a game (did you realize that on 20 dropbacks by Delhomme on Sunday, Sanders blitzed one time? And it worked! God forbid – don’t do it again Bob!) It does have some quality personnel on the defensive side of the ball, that in more capable hands would be more than able to shut down opposing teams. But when you are giving up 51 and 35 points a game, you don’t deserve to go the playoffs. You deserve to get a new defensive coordinator.
All in all, it’s been an incredibly disappointing year. Yes, the Packers are still in it, and I will of course watch every Packer game with great interest. But I’m anxious to get the offseason started so that we can begin to see if Thompson steps up and corrects his mistakes. As I said back in Jaunary:
What did the Giants do to improve after they were bounced from the playoffs in ‘06? …the biggest change Tom Coughlin made was firing his defensive coordinator. And Mike McCarthy should follow suit.Now, I don’t write those words lightly. Unlike many fans, and even some media members, I understand there are many lives that are thrown into chaos when coaches are fired. Families are uprooted. But it’s part of the gig when taking a job as a coach, especially in the National Football League where the only thing that matters are results. And the results Bob Sanders produced with the talent he had on hand this season do not merit his return. His stubborn refusal, or inability, to diversify his approach to the scheme or the talent on hand is his biggest deficiency. His entire philosophy of getting pressure with his front four and playing hard man coverage is a dream if the defense has superior talent across the board.
…if the Packers plan to contend for championships, as McCarthy has maintained is his only goal, he needs to find a creative, hungry, young defensive mind, preferably one that has been exposed to a great defensive mind like Bill Belichick or Jim Johnson and that is not afraid to use a hybrid scheme, or indeed, an entirely new scheme all together. Because the scheme that Sanders is running has been figured out by the better offensive minds in the NFL. Sanders learned it from Bates, who learned it from Wannstedt, who learned it from Johnson while they were winning Super Bowls in Dallas. That was a loooooooooong time ago. (Perusing the list of Super Bowl winners, you have to go back to the Cowboys victory over the Steelers in 1996 to see the last time this defensive scheme won a championship.)
Mike McCarthy is the head coach of a Packers team that could be a contender for many years to come, but to make the final push he needs a coordinator that is able to scheme as creatively on the defensive side of the ball as McCarthy does on the offensive side.