It’s Time to Stop Calling the Packers a “Contender”

Every year since 2011 before the season we keep hearing the favorites of the NFL to win it all.  It changes most each year though the Patriots still rank up as the favorites.  However, one team is constantly up there on a yearly basis aside from the Patriots and to a lesser extent, the Pittsburgh Steelers: the Green Bay Packers.

Now early on in that span, yes, they deserved the love and credit.  They won the Super Bowl in 2010 and had the best record in 2011 and winning the NFC North in 2012 and getting to the divisional playoff.  So, in that case, yes, they earned in that time period.  After 2012, while the Packers have been atop or near the top of the NFC North, they go into playoff games really not having a better team.  Some of the games they have won in the playoffs, they were the better team (Cowboys, Giants in 2016).  But we’ve seen Green Bay lose playoff games in what can really only be considered “magnificently” since 2010, getting blown out at home by the Giants, blown out against the 49ers, losing to the Niners at home, blowing a big lead in Seattle, letting Larry Fitzgerald run amok in Arizona, getting walloped by Atlanta, etc.

But to me after the 2016 run Green Bay had when they got spanked by the Falcons, the team was left exposed, notably on defense.  And no major upgrades were made on either side for the 2017 season.  So when the 2017 season started, who was the projected favorites?  The Packers.  Not the Falcons, who had a more complete team that year.  Not the Seahawks, who projected to still have a stout defense and Russell Wilson.  Not the Vikings, who also had a pretty strong defense.  Not the Cowboys.  Not the Eagles.  Nothing.

Of course, the Packers started out 4-1 and then Rodgers got hurt before the season crashed and burnt on Green Bay, ending 7-9 (as Rodgers made a last-ditch attempt to save the team).  The defense was being shredded, the offense without Rodgers was woeful.  Players got injured as well and the moves they did make, they did not pan out well.

So…….2018 begins and guess who is one of the favorites of the NFC?  Yep, Green Bay.  Of course there were three arguments:  “We have Aaron Rodgers!”  “We dumped our defensive philosophy and our coordinator Dom Capers!”  and “We have Aaron Rodgers!”

Let’s move to the defense bit.  The Packers defense, which has been without question a major weak link over the past 3-4 seasons, has gotten mixed results.  The passing defense is actually pretty stout.  They are second in yards allowed (though teams aren’t attempting to pass as much on the Packers).  They’ve had 16 sacks as well so that part of the defense has been fine.  The defense against the run has been a problem as it has struggled (4.2 yards allowed despite being a middle-of-the-road 15th in overall yards per game).  So the defense has been upgraded to pretty good this year though the running game will be an issue if the Packers defense remains to be not 100% healthy.

But let’s hammer out why I don’t view the Packers are a contender not only for the Lombardi, but also their own division notably from the Bears and Vikings.

(1)  Injury issues:  Every team has it.  Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison were out against Detroit in the Packers 31-23 loss to the Lions and from the looks of it doesn’t seem like they will play against San Francisco Monday.  Muhammad Wilkerson is on IR and while the Packers run game is inconsistent, the times they are down, they get religiously gashed (Adrian Peterson, Bears run game, Lions at times).  Nick Perry, Jaire Alexander, and others missing also hurt this team that just lacks depth on defense.

(2) Defense Improved, but….:  Granted last week for the Packers was an epic disaster in Detroit on numerous angles.  But trying to make key stops on third down both in the air and on the ground stung the Cheese.  And also, some of the Lions players played very physical on the Packers defenders (i.e. Kenny Golladay on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).  So Green Bay, while the numbers look much better, once they face off against the likes of the Rams and Patriots in a stretch of 4 of the next 5 games after the bye week are away from Lambeau (the other two being a surprisingly not bad Seahawks team and the Vikings).  If the Packers struggle in those games, then you have to think the defense is far away from that vast improvement from Dom Capers.

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(3) Mason Crosby:  We know the guy for his time in Green Bay has been overall money.  Was what Crosby had in Detroit (1-5 on FG and 0-1 with XP) an anomaly or was it maybe a sign of things to come?  Crosby from 2013-2016 had a FG % of 80 or higher.  Last year he was under that.  He missed a game-winning FG against Minnesota before that game went into a tie.  And he missed two extra points in the last two weeks against Buffalo and Detroit.  So maybe it is something to look very close at as this is been quietly going on.  And even the best kickers have that moment when they just lose it.  Happened to Jason Elam in Atlanta.

(4)  Running game:  Green Bay’s running game is not bad, but not utilized as they should.  Which is stunning because Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, and Jamaal Williams isn’t bad.  But are they afraid of making one of the guys a feature back and getting stuffed after, or of the injury issues over the years at that spot and really gets no consistency at times.

(5)  Aaron Rodgers/Mike McCarthy:  When we look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL with Rodgers such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and even the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, you see there has been pretty much the same coach there (save Ryan), and those guys and the quarterbacks for the most part are on the same page.  It seems like while Rodgers and McCarthy have been there forever together, it isn’t really harmonious.  You see the likes of Brady, Brees, and others follow suit of what the coach wants.  They may not like it but the displeasure that is voiced is private (save last year with Brady).  They don’t seem to undermine the head coach.  With Rodgers and McCarthy, it doesn’t seem that way.  If McCarthy makes a move, it seems like Rodgers has to voice his displeasure whether in the public or to his close pals.  It doesn’t bode well for that relationship that needs to be on pace.  Yes, there are guys or assistants that quarterbacks would want the team and the coaches to keep, but they just can’t do it.  Rodgers as well is also showing more and more frustrations when he is playing like he plays sometimes when he is down.  Even when the Packers had a shot in the 4th quarter in Detroit, it felt like in the last drive, Rodgers was somewhat nonchalant and somewhat had given up on the game.  Also, what effect does it have on his teammates especially the ones who are replacing the guys he likes?  Jones, Montgomery, and Williams have been at the very worst serviceable and have done their part.  Rodgers has to understand while he is the franchise, he needs to grin and bear some of the decisions his coach makes and his GM makes.

(6) Offensive line woes:  Rodgers gets hit often especially with what you have to figure a bum knee since Week 1 against Chicago that what most people believe won’t be better.  On top of it, the Packers in 4 of their 5 games so far the quarterbacks have been sacked, which puts Rodgers in big trouble with that knee.  Two of the sacks the Lions had on Rodgers was out of the pocket and caused fumbles, which alongside the missed Crosby FG’s sealed Green Bay’s fate.  It’s not going to get any better, but far worse if it continues.

I was at the Packers/Lions game last Sunday in Detroit but heading back home and listening to NFL Network, I couldn’t believe the mess I was hearing about how Green Bay was the favorites in the NFC North as Minnesota (who beat Philadelphia on the road) and Chicago (since the addition of Mack has been legit) are not?  I didn’t get it.  Yes, I know there may be questions on the Vikings and Bears, but compared to the questions on Green Bay, they are minor and very few.  And honestly, how better are the Packers than the Lions right now?  I’m not saying Green Bay is the WORST team in the NFC North, but to say they are a favorite and a contender right now, it’s a joke.

I know the NFC has issues as only 4 have over .500 records.  But nobody can say the Packers are as good or better than the Saints, Eagles, Rams, Bears (I know they won Week 1), etc.  and even the next crew of the Panthers, Vikings, Redskins, etc.  The argument of “well they have Aaron Rodgers!” can work for so long.  Even the Saints with Drew Brees had 7-9 seasons until the team answered questions with the running game and the defense.  But even with Rodgers, and if he isn’t overly happy with the team situation, I am more inclined to think Green Bay may be more of a poisonous place than an ideal place.

The Packers are a talented bunch, but they don’t have anywhere the same balance as the teams I mentioned.  Yes, Rodgers can solve a lot of issues, but not all of them, and again, if he is frustrated with the team, it can be more of a hindrance than a help.  But either way, the Packers are far from a contender.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NFC North Preview-2018

Disclaimer: with all the LeSean McCoy troubles surrounding him, I’m revising my prediction to Buffalo being 6-10 in 2018 as regardless of the situation, the NFL will probably be suspending McCoy at some point.  Back to your regularly scheduled blog post….

The famed NFC Norris Division, the the Black-and-Blue Division, the physical and mean division…

We hear the division being called a lot of things over the years because of the long-standing rivalries the four teams have with each other.  And if you go to any one of the towns, there is disdain for their other three rivals like no other.  And while the NFC North to me isn’t the best division, it may be the fiercest one out of them in 2018 as four teams have plenty of Hope Springs Eternal going on.  However, all four teams have holes thus making it anybody’s division.

For years and even now many point to Green Bay as THE team to beat in that division because of one Aaron Rodgers.  Last year his injury knocked Green Bay out of playoff contention, sent the team to 7-9, a third place finish, and had been swept by the rival Lions for the first time since 1991.  Many view Green Bay with Rodgers as the team to beat in the NFC, but I think with holes on both sides of the ball that the Packers are in trouble, even in their own division.  The Lions despite going 9-7 last year, having back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1994-95, fired Jim Caldwell and hired Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to run things and have made a huge press to build the team on the lines.  They have the potential to be really good.  The Vikings added underrated quarterback Kirk Cousins to the mix to balance out a team with an assortment of good offensive weapons and a defense that is very physical and opportunistic.  And the Bears could be a sleeper in the division pending on how far young quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes them.  So the Packers division?  I don’t think so.  It will be a fight.

Minnesota

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

LAST SEASON: 13-3 (1ST PLACE, DEFEATED NEW ORLEANS IN THE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF, LOST TO PHILADELPHIA IN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Kirk Cousins (FA-Washington), DT-Sheldon Richardson (FA-Seattle), QB-Trevor Siemian (Trade-Denver), WR-Kendall Wright (FA-Chicago), CB-Mike Hughes (Draft-UCF), OT-Brian O’Neill (Draft-Pittsburgh)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Sam Bradford (FA-Arizona) CB-Tramiane Brock (FA-Denver), QB-Case Keenum (FA-Denver), RB-Jerick McKinnon (FA-San Francisco), WR-Jarius Wright (Released-Carolina), QB-Teddy Bridgewater (FA-New York Jets), G-Joe Berger (Retired), DT-Tom Johnson (FA-Seattle), DT-Shamar Stephen (FA-Seattle)

One of the most unexplainable things that happened in the playoffs last year was Minnesota falling on their behinds on defense starting in the second half to New Orleans.  The Vikings defense was rolling and then it just derailed the rest of the way.  Now they are trying to answer it by drafting Mike Hughes at corner and push the scrutinized Trae Waynes for that #2 cornerback spot.  If the secondary solidifies which they can, Minnesota will be a force in the NFC.  The Vikings made one of the bigger splashes in the off-season signing Kirk Cousins from Washington as he will end any quarterback controversy that had been rolling in the Twin Cities the last few years with Sam Bradford and Case Keenum.  Cousins threw for over 4,000 yards last year on a team that didn’t have an embarrassment of riches at receiver with the Redskins.  But he will have Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph.  Also, if Laquon Treadwell gets things going, watch out.  Adding on, Cousins will have Kyle Rudolph especially in the red zone and handing it off to Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook (whose season was cut short by an ACL injury).  Minnesota could have one of the strongest offenses to go with their physical defense and it could also be a memorable year in Minnesota. KEY QUESTION: Can Kirk Cousins guide the Vikings to a Super Bowl?  It’s possible, yes.  I think he is a far more effective QB than what they’ve had the last couple of years.  Minnesota can’t have defensive lapses though in January like they did.

MY PREDICTION: 12-4.  Vikings won’t miss a beat in 2018.  Their schedule is relatively favorable including an early road game in Green Bay which is more of an advantage to the road teams playing there as it doesn’t get bone-chilling.

Matthew Stafford

DETROIT LIONS

LAST SEASON: 9-7 (2ND PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: CB-DeShawn Shead (FA-Seattle), LB-Christian Jones (FA-Chicago), LB-Devon Kennard (FA-New York Giants), G-Kenny Wiggins (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), RB-LeGarrette Blount (FA-Philadelphia), TE-Luke Wilson (FA-Seattle), DT-Sylvester Williams (FA-Tennessee), TE-Levine Toilolo (FA-Atlanta), QB-Matt Cassel (FA-Tennessee), C-Frank Ragnow (Draft-Arkansas), RB-Kerryon Johnson (Draft-Auburn), S-Tracy Walker (Draft-Louisiana)

KEY LOSSES: TE-Eric Ebron (Released-Indianapolis), S-Don Carey (FA-Jacksonville), CB-DJ Hayden (FA-Jacksonville), TE-Darren Fells (FA-Cleveland), Haloti Ngata (FA-Philadelphia), LB-Tahir Whitehead (FA-Oakland), C-Travis Swanson (FA-New York Jets)

If anybody who knows me knows I grew up in the Detroit area and have followed the Lions.  They also know that I never have high hopes for the team especially when Detroit had Barry Sanders and failed to win in January football games.  And I jokingly go in denial whenever the Lions have made the playoffs with Matthew Stafford as the quarterback.  However, Detroit is an interesting squad.  Stafford is a quarterback I think that probably doesn’t get enough respect for what he’s done over the years.  Of course, his big-game/playoff woes have come to the forefront as well.  But he’s still one of the game’s top quarterbacks and one of the toughest ones around.  And he will have an offensive line that has been built and re-committed I think, which could make him very scary and a possible MVP candidate if things go well.  He has weapons of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, TJ Jones, and Kenny Golladay as Detroit’s receiving corps is pretty strong (key note: Tate and Jones both had 1,000+ receiving yards).  Detroit looks to be very committed to the run game with adding LeGarrette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson this off-season to go along with Theo Riddick.  They may once again not have a 1,000 yard rusher but I think somebody will end up with a couple of 100 yard rushing games.  Defensively there were some issues last year against the pass (27th in yards allowed-ouch) which is strange given the Lions pass rush was a solid one with Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel came on strong while the secondary has two pro bowlers in Glover Quin and Darius Slay.  Some of the issue resided on injuries to Tavon Wilson and whoever was the opposite of Slay (Nevin Lawson, though his play improved as the season continued).  The other issue was the linebacking corps was addressed when Detroit signed Devon Kennard and Christian Jones in the off-season.  Kennard had 4.5 sacks in 12 games while Jones registered 90 tackles as they join young linebacker Jarrad Davis to solidify that area.  So I think Detroit on defense will be stronger and the Lions improved on the two key things this off-season, which was the defense and the running game.  It may carry them to their first division title since 1993. KEY QUESTION: Can Detroit’s running game finally take off with Blount there now?  Not the ideal of running backs, but Blount does bring a seasoned veteran Detroit sorely misses in the backfield.  If the Lions have any kind of run game, it will add a dimension to the offense that can make them a top 3 offense in the NFL.

MY PREDICTION: 11-5.  Detroit doesn’t have the easiest of schedules including a stretch of seeing the 49ers, Patriots, and Cowboys early on, but it starts to ease up after their bye week and can make a strong run after.  They have a road trip of being at Arizona and Buffalo late, which could be a blessing if they are in the thick of a playoff push.

Green Bay

GREEN BAY PACKERS:

LAST SEASON: 7-9 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: DE-Muhammad Wilkerson (FA-New York Jets), TE-Jimmy Graham (FA-Seattle), CB-Tramon Williams (FA-Arizona), TE-Marcedes Lewis (FA-Jacksonville), OT-Byron Bell (FA-Dallas), QB-DeShone Kizer (Trade-Cleveland), CB-Jaire Alexander (Draft-Louisville), CB-Josh Jackson (Draft-Iowa), LB-Oren Burks (Draft-Vanderbilt)

KEY LOSSES: S-Morgan Burnett (FA-Pittsburgh), WR-Jeff Janis (FA-Cleveland), TE-Richard Rodgers (FA-Philadelphia), LB-Joe Thomas (FA-Dallas) WR-Jordy Nelson (Released-Oakland), S-Damarious Randall (Trade-Cleveland)

If you’re reading this and about to go out of your mind that I have the Packers 3rd, or at least the Packers behind Detroit, don’t.  Just don’t.  I’ve heard all the comments in response to why I don’t think Green Bay is higher than the Vikings or Lions even with a healthy Rodgers.  Yes, the defense should improve, at least the corners, but remember, Green Bay will still start two rookie corners to begin the year and to think they will just take the league over by storm in 2018, you’re kidding yourself.  Secondly there is still no pass rush on the defense and Clay Matthews isn’t the same guy he was 8 years ago.  It will also put more pressure on the corners if there is no pressure on the QB.  So I still expect the Packers to struggle defensively despite the secondary upgrades and a new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who will be a welcome addition but it may take a year or two before Green Bay’s defense is up to snuff with their NFC North counterparts.  Secondly, there is still problems with the running game, as in not upgraded in the off-season or the draft.  Aaron Rodgers will have a tight end to throw at in Jimmy Graham, who is still a force when used right and will still have the likes of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.  And Rodgers does have a knack of making a WR out of nothing so the passing game will be fine.  But another thing is a concern is that the Packers have an unhappy Rodgers as he wasn’t keen to some of the coaching changes, notably Alex Van Pelt and Edgar Bennett being dismissed.  And it also sounds like he is unhappy Green Bay cut his favorite target for years in Jordy Nelson.  And now talk of Rodgers wanting a contract extension is going on.  Now I have heard arguments “well, Rodgers has every right to complain.”  If he wants to complain, fine.  But don’t air it out to the media like he’s been doing.  Not even Brady or Brees has done that.  And I have a view where if you have a franchise QB who is an unhappy camper like Rodgers, only bad things happen for the franchise.  KEY QUESTION:  Will Rodgers be more of a drop-back passer given his moving around got him injured?  I don’t think it will, but Mike McCarthy may tell Rodgers to cool it.  Whether Rodgers listens to McCarthy or not is another issue in its own right.

MY PREDICTION:  9-7.  I don’t want to hear “Rodgers is great enough Green Bay can’t finish worse than 10 wins!”  How many years have we seen Drew Brees put up numbers galore in New Orleans and the Saints finish at 8-8 or 7-9?  The Packers still have holes, but I do like the upgrades in the secondary.  They aren’t as strong as the others in the NFC in general, not just the North.

Chicago

CHICAGO BEARS 

LAST SEASON: 5-11 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Allen Robinson (FA-Jacksonville), WR-Taylor Gabriel (FA-Atlanta) TE-Trey Burton (FA-Philadelphia), QB-Chase Daniel (FA-New Orleans) OG-Earl Watford (FA-Arizona), LB-Roquan Smith (Draft-Georgia), C-James Daniels (Draft-Iowa), WR-Anthony Miller (Draft-Memphis)

KEY LOSSES: OG-Josh Sitton (FA-Miami), LB-Pernell McPhee (Released-Washington), S-Quentin Demps (Released), LB-Willie Young (Released), LB-Christian Jones (FA-Detroit), K-Cairo Santos (FA-New York Jets), DE-Mitch Unrein (FA-Tampa Bay), C-Andrew DePaola (FA-Oakland), OT-Tom Compton (FA-Minnesota), WR-Cameron Meredith (FA-New Orleans)

Well, the off-season was a simple one for Chicago: give Mitch Trubisky weapons.  They gave a lot of money to former Jags #1 receiver Allen Robinson and Falcons slot receiver Taylor Gabriel while bringing in Eagles tight end Trey Burton.  Trubisky showed flashes of being an NFL QB but had issues in his rookie season.  But he will have one of the best one-two punches in the NFL at running back to give him some help.  Even though it will be his 2nd season, any regression will make Bears fans wonder the high price they paid to get Trubisky in the 2017 draft.  Chicago’s defense is trending up and may have the best defense in the division from that standpoint and they added Roquan Smith at LB, thus giving hope he may be the next great Bears linebacker following Urlacher, Singletary, and Butkus.  If you saw Smith play at Georgia, you have to think Chicago got a steal.  But the Bears offense needs to step up and I’m still not sold on Trubisky at QB though.  He will have to step up in a division that has Rodgers and Stafford in there and it may be tough.  KEY QUESTION: Is Mitch Trubisky the right guy in Chicago?  No, but the Bears will die trying to see if he is.

MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Trubisky I think will still be turnover prone but I think Chicago is taking the right steps to contend.

 

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Who is Brian Gutekunst?

Earlier today the Green Bay Packers announced the hiring of new General Manager Brian Gutekunst. 99% of Packer fans had never heard that name until about a week ago when a list of possible Ted Thompson replacements was released. So lets get you up to speed, briefly, on who Brian Gutekunst is.

In 1998 Gutekunst was hired by then Packers GM Ron Wolf as a college scout for the east coa. For the next 2 years Gutekunst would be responsible for scouting the following future Packers: Vonnie Holliday (UNC), Matt Hasselbeck (BC), Antuan Edwards (CLEM), Aaron Brooks (UVA). Gutekunst then transitioned to the South East for the next 13 years where he scouted future Packers such as: Bubba Franks, Chad Clifton, Robert Ferguson, Javon Walker, Najeh Davenport, Craig Nall, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Scott Wells, Nick Collins, Jason Spitz, Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, Jordy Nelson, Brian Brohm, Josh Sitton, Matt Flynn, Morgan Burnett, and Randal Cobb. He was merely a scout and ultimately the Packers organization were the ones to pull the trigger, but as you can see he has a keen eye for talent.

In 2012 the Packers saw fit to promote Gutekunst to director of college scouting where he would oversee every Packers draft pick for the next four years. Some of the more notable picks during this time were: Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Jeff Janis,  Ty Montgomery, Jake Ryan, Aaron Ripkowski, Kenny Clark, Kyler Fackrell, Blake Martinez, and Dean Lowry.

Since March 21, 2016 Gutekunst has been serving directly under Ted Thompson as Director of Player Personnel. He has been in most player acquisition decisions. This is seen as a “home run” hire by many inside the organization and will likely sooth the ruffled feathers of HC Mike Mccarthy as there has been friction between Mccarthy and top GM candidate Russ Ball. With a 5 year deal in his back pocket, Packer Nation is excited for GM Brian Gutekunst and the future of the football team.