Monday, January 1, 2018

Something Has to Give

All Downhill After the Onside Kick, Photo by Evan Siegle,
A disappointing season came to a fittingly disappointing end on Sunday, when the Packers lost to the Lions, 35-11, at Ford Field.  If it was unclear before the game (and it wasn't) that there is a problem with the Packers' defense, the problems could not be ignored after the game.  The Packers gave up passing TDs of 54 and 71 yards, to Kenny Golladay and Golden Tate.  Then, sort of as the cherry on top of the sundae, they gave up a 2-point conversion pass from Golden Tate to Matthew Stafford to close out the scoring.

The offense was again sub-par, although that perhaps was something to be expected given the absence of Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams.  If it wasn't for Randall Cobb and Trevor Davis, we might not have had any passing offense at all.  And Jamaal Williams again looked good, gaining 82 yards with a 3.7 yard average.  But when your starting QB throws for less than 200 yards and throws twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, you know you are in trouble.

In my house, we were calling for Joe Callahan no later than the third quarter.  Not because we thought Callahan was going to win the game for the Packers, but because we thought it was worth seeing what he looks like in live action, since Brett Hundley has so clearly failed as the Packers' backup quarterback.

I have nothing more to say about the game, other than to mention that some players were clearly not just mailing it in, players like Jamaal Williams and Randall Cobb on offense, and players like Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels on defense.  Good for them.

So what now?  Something has to give.  I have heard friends and family members calling for the firing of Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and Dom Capers.  We will know what happens not long after I finish this blog post, but my vote is to fire Dom Capers (or let him retire) and to retain McCarthy and Thompson.  There are, admittedly, problems with both Thompson and McCarthy.  Ted Thompson is ultimately responsible for the lack of a quality backup quarterback, and many other problems on the roster.  But he has a strong record of finding quality players in the late rounds and among unsigned players, and I think it would be a mistake to turn away from those talents.  He needs better marching orders (self-imposed or imposed from above), but with those marching orders he should be retained until he chooses to retire, which will probably be in another year or two.

I have many issues with Mike McCarthy.  In-game adjustments (the lack thereof), poor clock management, and an incredibly stubborn streak.  His reputation as a trainer of young quarterbacks is in serious question in light of his constant advocacy for Brett Hundley.  Could Hundley have been so much better in practice than in games, that McCarthy was just fooled about his talent level?  Or was McCarthy's judgment just way off in thinking that he had an adequate backup for Aaron Rodgers?  I think it has to be the latter.  But despite all that, McCarthy has had an extremely good record with the Packers, and I don't know where we would find a replacement who could step in and better manage the remaining years of the Aaron Rodgers era.  So I don't support firing McCarthy, and I doubt it will happen.

Finally, we come to Dom Capers.  I like Capers.  I don't wish him any ill will.  But I think it is time for him to go.  Obviously, there is more to judging a defense than looking at the number of points given up, but points given up in the regular season tell a devastating story in this case.  In Capers' first year, the Packers gave up 297 points.  In his second year, the Packers gave up 240 points, were second in the league in scoring defense, and went on to win the Super Bowl with a very healthy dose of a ball-hawking defense in the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

But since then, it has gone downhill.  The Packers have given up 323 points or more (20 points per game) in every year starting with 2011.  2013 was the low point, with 428 points given up, but in 2016 they gave up 388 points, and this year they gave up 384.  That is 24 points per game.  Even with Aaron Rodgers behind center, you are going to lose some winnable games if you are giving up 24 points per game.  And if you don't have Aaron Rodgers, well, we all know how that story ends.

So what happened?  Has the game "passed him by?"  I never know quite what is meant by that term, but I suppose one example would be where opposing offenses learn to adjust to the defensive coordinator's tendencies, and then the defensive coordinator doesn't make good counter-adjustments.  Is he too old, at age 67, to relate well to players in their 20's?  Has Ted Thompson failed to get him good players to work with?  Who knows what the problem is.  I don't think it is all explainable by lack of quality players, as the Packers have drafted some high quality defensive players in the last few years, but they don't seem to be getting the most out of them.  It is painful to see players (like Casey Hayward) leave the Packers and perform better elsewhere, but that has certainly happened in a number of cases.  At least some of that has to be put at the doorstep of the defensive coaching staff.  It is for this reason that I have become convinced that the Packers will do better with a new defensive coordinator.  My favorite candidate is Vic Fangio of the Bears, who I believe is available (especially now that John Fox has been fired).

2017 was a tough year both on the football field, and in real life for my family.  I am hoping for a much improved 2018.  Happy New Year!