Since going on a four-game winning streak, the Green Bay Packers have lost two games. In a row. At Lambeau Field.
And it's hardly been about the absence of Aaron Rodgers. Instead, it's been about an underachieving defense that's getting torched both on the ground and through the air.
The Packers secondary has been especially atrocious. And while the cornerbacks shoulder some of the blame, the safety position has been inept.
Worst of all, this is a situation that may have been avoidable. The Packers have been presented with opportunity after opportunity to upgrade the position and declined to do so.
Where some have blamed general manager Ted Thompson for the failure of his draft-and-develop philosophy to produce a decent backup quarterback, the same could be said at safety as well.
Rather puzzling has been the recent regression of Morgan Burnett. In recent games, he's been missing routine tackles on running backs and getting caught out of position in coverage.
What's been so disappointing is that Burnett didn't allow these things to happen in 2011 and 2012, or if they did happen, it occurred only sparingly. Burnett hasn't been a playmaker that would come up with sacks and interceptions, but at least in previous seasons, he would rarely make mistakes, be it mental or physical.
Well, Burnett is making mistakes in 2013, and it's costing the Packers defense. Some may question the five-year, $26 million contract given to him in the offseason, but Burnett is actually the least of the Packers' worries at the position. He's the best of a bad group of safeties.
It's a sad state of affairs when Charlie Peprah circa 2010 would actually be a welcome addition to this defense.
The biggest mistake made by the organization was overestimating the value of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian. Certainly, there's nothing wrong in being optimistic that they'd develop into quality players, but the Packers clearly had no backup plan in case they didn't.
McMillian has been by far the more disappointing of the two. Whereas Jennings joined the team as an undrafted free agent, expectations were much higher for McMillian as a fourth round draft choice who appears to have regressed from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NFL.
When McMillian didn't grab the bull by the horns in the offseason program and run away with the starting job, warning bells went off. But unfortunately for the Packers, by the time training camp came around, they already missed several opportunities to add quality depth at the safety position.
The second mistake the Packers made was not adding a safety in this past April's draft, a year that featured the best class of safeties in quite some time.
No one will blame for not taking a safety on Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft, but there was ample opportunity for the Packers to take at least one of them over the course of their 11 selections in seven rounds.
The third mistake the Packers made was not making more of an effort to sign a safety in undrafted free agency.
Actually, they did attempt to sign one: Ben Ericksen of Illinois State. But Ericksen failed his physical and never even took part in a single practice.
If Ericksen was the best the Packers could do, however, they failed miserably. Granted, they weren't likely to find a Pro Bowler as an undrafted free agent, but there was a chance they'd at least find something better than McMillian or Jennings.
Two of the better safeties still available after the draft––Tony Jefferson and Rontez Miles––are now on the respective 53-man rosters of the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets. All it likely would have taken to get them is a generous signing bonus, which the Packers could have easily afforded.
Even after the draft and undrafted free agency, the Packers still had one last avenue to add depth, and that would have been to sign a low-risk veteran free agent such as Kerry Rhodes.
To not even explore this option is inexplicable. Rhodes could have probably been had for nearly an NFL minimum salary contract, and once again, even if he would commanded a little more, the Packers could have afforded it with so much room under the salary cap.
Furthermore, if Rhodes or any other veteran didn't pan out, they could have easily been cut with little cost to the Packers other than losing a small signing bonus or whatever guaranteed money they negotiated.
Now midway through this season, the safety position in Green Bay has little hope of improvement with no viable reinforcements coming until the next NFL draft.
Sure, Rhodes or free agent Michael Huff might be an improvement over Jennings and McMillian, but with just seven games remaining, it's probably not even worth getting them up to speed for the final month of the season.
This failure is on Thompson and the personnel department in Green Bay, one mistake, exacerbated by another and yet another. The result is the shoddy defense you see on Sundays.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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