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The Packers Are Following a Winning Blueprint

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The Packers Are Following a Winning Blueprint

At first glance, deciphering all of the personnel decisions that the Packers have made this offseason could prove to be a difficult and frustrating task. The team let go of Jordy Nelson, traded away their best corner, allowed their defensive leader (Morgan Burnett) to sign elsewhere, and failed to address some of their biggest perceived needs. Yet if one were to take a step back and analyze their offseason as a whole, all the pieces of the puzzle start to come together.

The Packers appear to be emulating the model that allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Here’s why the Packers were in a position to emulate that model:

What They Had In Common

  • Strong lines on both sides of the ball

Strong lines are a key to success on either side of the ball. Super Bowl LII featured two of the league’s top five offensive lines, and very nearly had a matchup of the league’s two best defensive lines (had the Jaguars beaten the Patriots). It’s not a coincidence that most of the legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Eagles, Patriots, Jaguars, Vikings, Saints, Rams, and Steelers) boasted solid or improved offensive and defensive lines. The saying “Games are won in the trenches” is one of the most accurate clichés in all of sports.

When healthy, the Packers and Eagles have the two premier sets of bookend tackles that the league has to offer. David Bakhtiari and Lane Johnson are both top tier players at their respective positions. Jason Peters and Bryan Bulaga missed most of the 2017 season, but when they are on the field, few are better.

Defensively, the group of Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Chris Long were nearly unblockable last season. The Packers couldn’t quite match that level of talent, though they fielded a not-so-shabby group led by Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.

  • Elite talent at the quarterback position

Another huge key to success in today’s NFL is elite quarterback play. The Packers possess one of the all-time greats in Aaron Rodgers, while Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz owns a skillset that is not dissimilar to the one Rodgers has mastered.

  • Similar receiving corps

Much like Davante Adams, and unlike many other No. 1 receivers in the league, Alshon Jeffrey won’t consistently beat you with explosiveness and/or speed. Each of them uses their size and frame to beat you at the catch point and in contested areas (red zone).

In the slot, neither Nelson Agholor nor Randall Cobb are elite athletes, though both are savvy route runners who can block and make things happen after the catch.

  • Diverse backfields

After trading for Jay Ajayi, the Eagles had three backs with varying skillsets. Aaron Jones isn’t much of a receiver or pass protector, though he is elite as a runner, much like Ajayi. LeGarrette Blount and Jamaal Williams are power backs who can be used in third-and-short situations or at the goal line. Corey Clement and Ty Montgomery are receiving backs who can motion outside and create matchup problems for opposing defenses.

 

Here’s what the Packers have done this offseason that led me to believe they were attempting to emulate Philadelphia’s model:

What they have added

  • A Defensive Coordinator with a Jim Schwartz-like persona

Jim Schwartz is a fiery coach who is aggressive, unpredictable and holds his players accountable. Does that description sound familiar? It should, because it’s identical to the one that has been associated with the Packers’ hiring of Mike Pettine. Officially, Schwartz runs a 4-3 scheme while Pettine utilizes a 3-4, however, each of them will show you many different fronts come gameday. In the past, Pettine’s defenses have blitzed more when compared to Schwartz’s units – which have relied on gifted defensive fronts for pressure. That being said, I fully expect the Packers to blitz less and rely more on their talented defensive front to get to the quarterback.

  • A General Manager with a more aggressive mindset

It’s a bit early to compare Brian Gutekunst to Howie Roseman - who is quite possibly the most aggressive GM in the league. All that said, it is not too early to say that Gutekunst is more aggressive than his predecessor, Ted Thompson. The Damarious Randall trade and signings of Jimmy Graham, Muhammed Wilkerson and Tramon Williams would have accrued to be one of the most aggressive offseasons in Thompson’s tenure.

  • A new and improved (hopefully) offensive playbook

Anyone who watched Super Bowl LII saw the sheer offensive brilliance of Doug Pederson and Frank Reich. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has been tagged as an “offensive genius” by many in the national media, though some people (including yours truly) have begun to question that label in recent years.

The Packers brought back offensive coordinator Joe Philbin early in the offseason and McCarthy has said that he will be taking a ‘scrub brush’ approach to the offensive playbook. That is certainly welcome news for most Packer fans, especially those who remember the unstoppable force the offense was just a few short years ago with Philbin at the helm.

  • An (potentially) elite interior rusher

During the 2017 offseason, some idiot (me) questioned why the Eagles were loading up on the defensive line when their secondary was suspect at best. As it turns out, a loaded defensive line will make a suspect secondary look good. A quick look at Pro Football Focus’s grades for Philly’s corners would tell you all you need to know: Jalen Mills’ grade went from 31.8 in 2016 to 77.1 in 2017, Patrick Robinson’s jumped from 45.1 to 89.8, and even Ronald Darby saw his grade improve by 21.5.

Did all of those aforementioned players improve considerably at the same time? I tend to doubt it. The reason they were so successful was in large part due to the play of the defensive front. That explains why the Packers would add a player (Muhammed Wilkerson) to an area of strength on defense when they could have allocated that money to, say, the cornerback position.

  • A Tight End who is a matchup nightmare and dominates in the red zone

The Eagles’ season would have looked very different had Zach Ertz’s game not improved as much as it did. Ertz proved to be too athletic for linebackers and too big for corners, while notably stepping up his game in the red zone. Graham might not be as lethal after the catch as he used to be, though his game does still compare favorably to Ertz’s.

 

Graham

Ertz

Height

6-7

6-5

Weight

265

250

40 time

4.56

4.76

3 Cone

6.90

7.08

 

As you can see, their athletic profiles are very similar. Even if Graham has lost a step, there isn’t a noticeable difference between the two players on tape other than the way in which they were utilized.

 

Here’s what the Packers still need to do in order to complete Philadelphia’s model:

What they still need to add

  • An additional edge rusher (or two)

The interior of Green Bay’s defensive line has enough talent to terrorize opposing defensive coordinators and free up one-on-one opportunities for their outside rushers. With that in mind, they do need to add another edge rusher(s) who can win in those one-on-one situations. Here are some potential candidates:

  • Draft, Day 1 – Harold Landry, Marcus Davenport
  • Draft, Day 2 – Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Lorenzo Carter, Arden Key, Josh Sweat, Rasheem Green, Kemoko Turay, Sam Hubbard
  • Draft, Day 3 – Duke Ejiofor, Uchenna Nwoso, Tyquan Lewis, Hercules Mata’afa
  • Free Agency – Junior Galette
  • An off-ball linebacker with above average coverage skills

Not all things are created equal, especially when talking about 4-3 versus 3-4 linebackers – but it’s worth noting that Philadelphia had a lot of success while pairing linebackers with vastly different skillsets. Nigel Bradham excelled in coverage (86.5 grade – sixth best amongst linebackers) while Mychal Kendricks shined against the run (87.4 grade – 13th best). Blake Martinez is elite against the run, leaving the Packers with a need for an inside linebacker who can be relied on in coverage. Here are some options to consider:

  • Draft, Day 1 – Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds
  • Draft, Day 2 – Leighton Vander Esch
  • Draft, Day 3 – Josey Jewell, Skai Moore, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Jack Cichy, Fred Warner, Dorian O’Daniel
  • Free Agency - none
  • Someone who can defend the slot

The Packers don’t need a Patrick Robinson, but they do need someone who can hold their own in slot coverage. Evaluating college corners is not really my strength, though I do like some of the day one options that might be available for Green Bay:

  • Draft, Day 1 – Denzel Ward, Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • Free Agency – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
  • An outside receiver, preferably one who can stretch the field

While he didn’t put up much production, Torrey Smith did open things up for Philadelphia’s offense. As a result, the 29-year-old speedster was on the field for 65 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. The Eagles traded away Smith this offseason, but replaced him with another speedy receiver in Mike Wallace. I fully expect the Packers to take a receiver on day two, and here are some names to keep in mind:

  • Draft, Day 1 – None
  • Draft, Day 2 – D.J. Chark, D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton, Michael Gallup, Anthony Miller,
  • Draft, Day 3 – Equanimeous St. Brown, Deon Cain, James Washington, Tre’Quan Smith, DaeSean Hamilton, Allen Lazard, Dante Pettis
  • Free Agency – Dez Bryant
  • Insurance at tackle and right guard       

Bulaga is not a lock to be ready for week one and the Packers currently have no clear starter at right guard. Gutekunst could definitely stand to benefit from adding an offensive lineman or two in the draft:

  • Draft, Day 1 – None at 14 (Quenton Nelson won’t be there). In the event of a trade down – Mike McGlinchey, Kolton Miller, Isaiah Wynn
  • Draft, Day 2 – Will Hernandez, Joe Noteboom, Brian O’Neill, Austin Corbett, Braden Smith
  • Draft, Day 3 – Scott Quessenberry
  • Free Agency - None
  • Another body (or two) at corner

There’s no question that the Packers need to add some talent at the cornerback position. There are some options left in free agency should they choose to go that route:

  • Draft, Day 1 – Denzel Ward, Josh Jackson, Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • Draft, Day 2 – Mike Hughes, Isaiah Oliver, Jaire Alexander, Donte Jackson, Tony Brown, Carlton Davis,
  • Draft, Day 3 – Quenton Meeks, Greg Stroman, Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Nick Nelson, Kevin Toliver II
  • Free Agency – Bashaud Breeland, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Delvin Breaux
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (32) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

It's very true that no one saw the Eagles coming. Could the Packers get an impact rusher and another talented corner in the draft and plug their holes? Could Bulaga be back by week 1? Could they (for once) stay healthy?

Yeah. Could happen.

Will it? If half those things happen, they'll be there at the end of it in January. That's why they play the games. :)

GBPDAN1's picture

Obviously, the Eagles have a much more rounded roster than GB and with out many weaknesses. They drafted better lately and used FA well ( which TT didn't).

But a huge difference between the Packers and Eagles is the Eagles have a Pro Bowl caliber QB on a 'rookie contract' and can spend more and the Pack doesn't. And, the Eagles have a top tier back-up QB when their starter got hurt and the Packers had garbage as a backup. Thanks, Ted

Turophile's picture

Nicely written Elisha, makes some sense.

Donster's picture

"Could the Packers get an impact rusher and another talented corner in the draft and plug their holes?"

Tune in tomorrow night for this seasons first episode of 'As the Stomach Churns'.

stockholder's picture

Very Nice Article. "The packers are following a winning blue print!" But the comparison is not even close as you suggest. They can't match the eagles talent on defense. The trench still needs more. And you don't draft edge rushers to improve it. It's Rotation, and the eagles had it. The packers don't. They put up a good front. But more is needed. PUSH!!! Much more push. And as long as this team wants to Boast Adams were in deep do do! The eagles had TEs and what we have isn't nearly as impressive. But we do have A-Rod yet. And that is what gives the packers a CHANCE.

kevgk's picture

every superbowl team is loaded with talent until the next team that had mostly the same roster they had previous becomes "loaded with talent"
My point is that its hard to say they aren't exceptionally good when they won the SB, but they really aren't exceptionally good. Packers have the potential to have pretty similar Dline talent if they hit all green lights. Don't forget they gave up a ton of points in the SB too

Cubbygold's picture

For sure, the winning team gets so hyped up after they win, like it was inevitable. The eagles were had the 19th best odds to win the superbowl coming into last year. Right now, #19 is a tie between Denver, KC, BAL, CAR, and NYG.

That's why we love the NFL so much, the parity is incredible.

kevgk's picture

yeah it really comes down to depth, staying healthy, getting lucky, and home playoff games more than people give credit for

4thand1's picture

1 DAY 21 HOURS 58 MINUTES

nostradanus's picture

Well thought out article, that said wow the Packers have a lot of holes to fill! Too many draft misses the past few years and too many un-drafted free agents filling those missing holes. This team is miles away from the Vikings right now unfortunately

kevgk's picture

vikings last year were the 2016 cowboys. And no they didnt upgrade at qb, look at his stats

John Kirk's picture

Left turn at Backup QB...Kizer wholly unproven while Foles had success in the NFL. That's a fork in the road for the blueprint.

Hey, if anyone knows how to find Colin_C, I wanted him to see this:

https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/a-letter-to-nfl-gms-ant...

dobber's picture

Miller is one of my favorite players in this draft. Versatile, uber-productive and competitive, high football character, strong, plays fast...he's almost a prototype TT WR aside from his height. There's a lot of the good Greg Jennings in this guy. I think he can contribute right away...that said, I like DJ Moore better, but they won't get him.

Seeing that it's unlikely the Packers go WR in round 1 (unless they trade back), getting a defensive player who can contribute right away either off the edge or at DB AND a WR in round 2 who can potentially step in and be your #3 would be a great start to this draft.

Oppy's picture

Sweet baby J, could you imagine how many heads will explode across cheesehead nation if Brian Gutekunst trades back from 14?

Can you imagine if he trades out of the 1st round completely?

Man, that'd be absolutely great/painful to watch.

dobber's picture

This...place...would...blow...UP!

LambeauPlain's picture

I actually hope Gute either trades up or trades down.

He might be able to trade up to #10 with his friend McKenzie by offering his 14 and 3rd rounder...might have to sweeten it with one of his late 5th round comp picks. He could also get a new 3rd rounder by trading both of his 4th rounders with say the Steelers.

If he stays put to see what is available at 14 and none of the players named Chubb, Nelson, Ward, Edmunds, Fitzpatrick, Smith or James are there....trade down for more picks to harvest his board with high value selections in the mid-late 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

He might consider staying at 14 if Vea is there. But I would not reach for Landry or boom bust pick Davenport.

Cubbygold's picture

As long as the trade gets the appropriate return, I'd be cool with it

LambeauPlain's picture

Miller would be an impact player this year and could be Cobb’s replacement in ‘19 if he leaves in FA.

Miller absolutely took over games last season. And like Greg Jennings, had off the charts college production and caught a ton of passes.

In addition to his impecable ability running the route tree at all 3 levels like Greg Jennings did...he has something Greg didn’t...his ability to separate from DBs with his cat quick fakes during the route. I cannot recall another receiver who has his ability to leave DB jock straps all over the field. Aaron would get many clean targets with Miller.

egbertsouse's picture

Kizer is Brett Hundley 2.0.

Cubbygold's picture

Kap would have been significantly better than Hundley. I'd love to see him brought in to compete, though his time away from football is starting to add up. I'm sure he's still capable, but he needs to get on a field and start performing

kevgk's picture

Not to create an argument, but I feel teams are avoiding him due to his veganism more than kneeling. A football player needs a real protein diet, and I don't think he can throw it far or break ankles with his speed anymore

croatpackfan's picture

1. An outside receiver, preferably one who can stretch the field

Free Agency – Dez Bryant ?????

2. Insurance at tackle and right guard

Free Agency - None! (Jahri Evans maybe?)

These two claims are, by my opinion, not good. Why release Jordi (humble, experienced WR, good for team, team player) and replace him with more expensive jerk who is obviously in decline...

Also, Jahri Evans is FA, no matter that he is listed on Packers.com. But he is listed as FA.

dobber's picture

Just like the draft, a player's value lies in what he gives you and what you give up for him. If they sign a Dez Bryant or a Brandon Marshall later in the FA period on a cheap, incentive-laden one-year deal, I suspect either one would outplay that.

I just don't think WR3 for the Packers is currently on the roster, unless you want to call Jimmy Graham WR3.

Oppy's picture

I think WR3 is very much on the roster, and that's Randall Cobb. He's your y receiver all day long.

The question is, who is WR2 ?

I would expect the packers to draft at WR somewhere in the middle rounds, but I think they go into the season with someone on the roster playing opposite Adams for now, but who knows.

Honestly, I'm not overly concerned about the WRs. They could certainly stand to add another big time WR (you always can) but I am more concerned that the QB utilizes all the personnel on the field on any given play to their fullest potential. Rodgers needs to push through his "trust" issues with receivers and give these young guys opportunities to grow.

Cubbygold's picture

Dez can't stretch the field, he's an overpaid overhyped wr

Evans needs to be signed after the draft if GB doesn't get an absolute steal on day one or two

Elisha Twerski's picture

I did say "preferably" to a WR who can stretch the field. Signing Dez would likely accomplish the same thing. The idea is to draw the defense's attention, and Dez can certainly still do that.

You're right about Jahri Evans. I meant to include him but it slipped my mind.

dobber's picture

There are as many blueprints for winning the SB as there are SB winners.

LambeauPlain's picture

Wolf had a great blueprint: Get an excellent QB then surrond him with an outstanding DEFENSE.

It was truly a head scratcher why his protege Ted did not believe in the Wolf Way.

Wolf actually built the strength of the Schumer Defense...the D line...all through free agency: White, Dotson, Brown, Jones. All FAs.

Oppy's picture

It might have something to do with Ron Wolf's "one regret", which both he and TT have mentioned on numerous occasions, "I wish I would have surrounded Brett with more weapons." It is clear that TT made that a priority, regularly drafting WRs in the second round, for instance.

I think TT did attempt to build that defense. Unfortunately, it was through the draft, and it just didn't work out. Too many misses on D over the last many years.

To the end about Wolf building the D via FA, you are correct, but I don't know that you could realistically put together a super group via FA in today's climate. Players and agents have a generation of experience in free agency today. Wolf was navigating during a brand new, unknown era of FA. Today, it would cost far too much to put together an equivalent DL, much less an entire D, via FA, IMO. I guess teams are trying. We'll see what the Rams experiment nets.

LambeauPlain's picture

Good article and an interesting read. I really think the D’s holes are smaller in 2018 vs what we saw in 2017.

The reason? Pettine replacing Capers. Capers playbook was a foot thick and every O coordinator in the NFL had it and had two decades of film on his D’s to attack his tendencies which he almost always displayed. And he demanded his players learn the thick, exotic look playbook for his situational D to confuse the opponent. Mostly he just confused his own guys.

Pettine’s playbook is very thin. He has said he builds a specific playbook every week based on the opponent. He likes versitile players who can play in several spots and roles. He will build a weekly game plan to maximize his player strengths to attack the opponent in unexpected ways to get the QB off balance. And he said his practices will spend a lot of time on 3rd down, red zone and goal line work where Capers D’s have been awful in recent years. He said he will work on the other downs too, but the other three determine wins or losses...and it isn’t even close.

And when asked if he will play a 3-4 or a 4-3 he said “yes”!

Cubbygold's picture

I'm so pumped to see if this is true, if Capers really was as big of a drag as we fans hope. It would be excellent if the guys on defense suddenly look quicker and more impactful, simply because they're positioned in a way that allows them to play to their strengths. The lack of defensive FA acquisitions seems to imply that Pettine is satisfied with the quality of players on this roster.

Elisha Twerski's picture

I very much agree with this. Even though it might feel like they have more holes, the changing of the playbook in it of itself could make a world of a difference.

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