The Packers took another step backwards in 2018. Poor drafts, poor coaching, and misses in free agency have all contributed to the team bottoming out after a long run of title contending.
There is hope, though. The Packers still have the best player in the game, even if he’s not playing to form, with some legitimate stars sprinkled around the roster. They have a lot of draft capital and more cap space than they’ve had in recent memory.
They can turn this ship around in a hurry.
Here are the keys to doing so:
Get A Top Edge Rusher In The Draft
The Packers pass rush from the edge was pathetic last year. Lead sacker Kyler Fackrell made most of his hay on hustle plays from coverage sacks – the teams needs someone to fly off the edge and strike terror into opposing QBs.
Top pass rushers always go early and the Packers haven’t picked this high in a while. In a draft rich with edge rushers, it’s imperative that they get one. Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Clelin Ferrell, Jachai Polite, Brian Burns, and Montez Sweat are all great prospects – the Packers need one of them.
(Update: Rashan Gary probably fits the bill here)
Keep Mike Pettine
For f#ck’s sake, this guy was such a boss. He lost the entire defensive line to IR, half his linebackers, all his safeties, and had corners rotating injuries every week. By the end of the year he was starting mostly undrafted free agents and he still put together an NFL defense.
He generated pass rush from nothing and made Kyler Fackrell a double-digit sack guy. His players love him and he’s an amazing game-planner. The Packers are going to get a new Head Coach, but the should make sure it’s someone who’s going to retain Pettine because the year two jump for his scheme promises to be productive.
(Update: This has happened)
Fire Ron Zook
He’s the Anti-Pettine. He put out the most embarrassing special teams group I’ve ever seen. Go back and look at every post-game article for the year to read my hatred for his awfulness, I can’t stomach recounting it all again. He was worse than Capers ever was and it’s an embarrassment that he hasn’t already been let go.
(Update: This has happened – hallejulah!)
Avoid Josh McDaniels
Don’t crash into the rocks like the Broncos and Colts did chasing the siren song of another doomed Belichick disciple. Sure, he looks like the brains behind a fantastic scheme in New England, but he’s also proved incapable of rising to the occasion of the demanding role of Head Coach twice. Sure he was burdened with roster management in Denver (which was a big part of his problems there) and he may have matured and learned a lot from his misadventures, but I don’t want to bet the twilight of Aaron Rodgers’s career on it.
(Update: This has happened and it looks like McDaniels will remain in New England for at least another year)
Hire Matt LaFleur
This is one of the biggest reasons the Packers should avoid Josh McDaniels – they can get a guy like this, who has proven himself capable of building an offense in multiple environments.. Everywhere he’s went, the offense has performed. Unlike McDaniels, who was a cog in the Patriots machine and only the Patriots machine (which has pumped out many a failed Head Coach), LaFleur has had the benefit of cross-pollinating his ideas in different environments:
- Redskins (QB Coach) Developed young QBs like RG3 and Kirk Cousins to take a floundering team to the playoffs
- Falcons (QB Coach) Turned Matt Ryan’s offense from a 4-12 and 6-10 unit to something that boat-raced to the Super Bowl – Ryan’s All Pro production fell off a cliff when LaFleur left (dropped by 900 yards and 18 touchdowns with 5 more interceptions despite starting 16 games)
- Rams (Offensive Coordinator) Moved Jared Goff’s quarterback rating from 64 to 101 overnight and increased team scoring from 224 to 478 (which is amazing)
- Titans (Offensive Coordinator) Had to figure out the sh!tshow offensive situation with a beat up Marcus Mariotta and Blaine Gabbert – perhaps his biggest challenge – and somehow cobbled together an offense featuring Derrick Henry that was good enough down the stretch to rally to 9-7 and make a push for the playoffs
He’s been around all kinds of offenses and proven he can make them work. That’s the kind of versatility and scheme experience the Packers need in their offense. Much like Pettine did for the defense, the offense needs a leader to utilize his players strengths rather than trying to jam them into a predetermined system. That’s what LaFleur has proven capable of.
Read more: What Makes A Successful Head Coach?
(Update: This happened – yes!)
Keep James Campen
I know when offensive head coaches come in, they want to bring in their own staff. I know that the Packers offensive assistants haven’t been money on the whole, but James Campen has done quite well. He’s been given zero premium picks over the years and usually has one of the top units in the league. Even with the talent level drop-off this year, he developed them into a functioning unit that gave Rodgers all the time he needed to dance around and not hit the check down. Whatever coach comes in would be wise to keep Campy on board.
(Update: This did not happen and he was replaced by Adam Stenavich; however, I’m optimistic that his pure zone-blocking approach can be an overall positive for the team)
Read more: Packers, Zone Blocking, and the 2019 NF Draft
Replace Jimmy Graham
Aside from being single-handedly responsible for every one of Aaron Rodgers’s interceptions this year, he couldn’t get separation, was an epic fail in the red zone, dropped passes, and was an utter embarrassment in “blocking” – he needs to go, no matter the cap implications.
(Update: It doesn’t look like this is going to happen since they paid him a $5M roster bonus on 3/15)
(Update: The drafting of Jace Sternberger goes a long way in fixing this)
Patch the Offensive Line
This would need a combination of mid-round picks and budget free agents (think Jahri Evans). No need to use a first or even second rounder to address the problem, just some solid mid round guys. Left Tackle is the premium spot and they have the best in the game. Center is important and they have a very good one. The rest of the positions can be filled by 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounders. The middle rounds are the place to find guards and right tackles.
(Update: This started with the free agent signing of veratile swing man Billy Turner)
(Update: The drafting of Elgton Jenkins also helps with this)
Read PackersForTheWin More Often
I can tell Mark and Gutey are on here, especially around draft time, when we have a pretty high success rate in predicting the Packers picks, but they clearly aren’t reading enough because Zook is still around and Jimmy Graham still shows up on the Packers roster.
(Update: As more of these things happen, I’m becoming convinced that Mark and Gutey are paying more attention)
None of the above steps require anything extraordinary. The fact of the matter is the Packers, despite a down year, are in pretty good shape to rebound next year. The recipe for success is clear.