“I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT! LOUD NOISES!”
OK, I do know what everyone is yelling about and it’s understandable….to a degree.
The 2013 season has completely come off the rails for the Green Bay Packers who are 0-4-1 since quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down against the Chicago Bears with a fractured collarbone. Green Bay since then has gone through three starting quarterbacks (Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn) that have all struggled badly at some point. The Packers defense, meanwhile, has suffered a complete meltdown.
Unfortunately, though not necessarily surprising, so has a decent chunk of the team’s uber-passionate and ever loyal fan base.
Everyone knew it would be a struggle for the Packers to win without Rodgers. What so many didn’t expect, however, was that the team would basically not even be in any of the games since the 2011 NFL MVP went down. The defense in particular would have to step up and they didn’t. That’s not necessarily a surprise, either.
Many Packers fans, however, are suddenly in a white hot rage and ready to storm Lambeau Field with pitchforks and torches. Packers Nation consists of some of the most knowledgeable fans in the NFL yet the team’s longest losing streak in years suddenly has them thinking the return to the dark ages (post-Lombardi to the arrival of Mike Holmgren, Ron Wolf and Brett Favre) are suddenly upon us. They want to fire everybody, including the general manager that just three short years ago hoisted a Lombardi Trophy.
If this non-winning streak has taught me anything (it’s not a “losing streak” due to that tie against the Minnesota Vikings) it’s that Packer fans are the most spoiled fans in the NFL with the exception maybe of fans of the New England Patriots.
This is not to lecture fans about their passion for their team. That passion has made Packer Nation one of the most revered in the NFL and has sold out Lambeau Field even when the team was much MUCH worse than it is right now.
What I am saying is that Packer Nation needs to get a grip. There is no reason to fire Ted Thompson or Mike McCarthy. There is a definite argument for firing Dom Capers, but even some of the defensive issues have been out of his control.
What Packer Nation needs to comes to terms with is this: it’s the NFL. Stuff happens. Seasons like this happen to every team, even the good or great ones. Look at the Packers’ next opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. They were the number one seed in the NFC last year and were within a whisker of the Super Bowl and now are possibly in position for the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. They also lost a franchise player for the season in wide receiver Julio Jones.
The streak the Packers are enduring right now could easily happen to any other team with a franchise quarterback. How would the Denver Broncos do with Brock Osweiler instead of Peyton Manning? How about the Giants with Curtis Painter and not Eli Manning? The Patriots without Tom Brady? They’d more than likely be in the same predicament as Green Bay.
Some will argue “What about the Patriots with Matt Cassel?” keep in mind that was the exception not the rule. I’d counter with the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.
Many Packers fans are seemingly convinced major changes need to be made and that’s just not true. Look at the injuries the team had to endure this year, Rodgers aside. They’re without one of football’s most electrifying talents in Randall Cobb, they basically didn’t have last year’s best cornerback in Casey Hayward at all, Clay Matthews, the defense’s MVP, missed significant playing time and James Jones also missed a couple games. Arguably their best offensive lineman in Bryan Bulaga went down for the year during training camp.
The Packers overcame an injury epidemic in 2010 to win Super Bowl XLV and battled through a similar bout last season to make the playoffs, but fans need to realize that those types of seasons don’t occur too often. It’s a stretch to say to the Packers were “lucky” per se in 2010 and 2012, but don’t forget they still had Rodgers.
Looking to the rest of the season, 2013 is more than likely a lost season. It’s a tough pill to swallow for sure, given how good the Packers were looking heading into the game against the Bears when Rodgers went down. Fans have every right to (and arguably should) hold their team to high expectations. Thompson and McCarthy have the same goals. This season was the doomsday scenario and unfortunately, it became reality.
This isn’t to say Thompson, McCarthy and Capers don’t shoulder some of the blame for the year. The revolving door at the backup quarterback position caught up with them and the inability to find a suitable replacement for Nick Collins hindered the defense. Those are on Thompson, but that’s not worth firing him for. He undoubtedly has learned his lesson about the backup quarterback position and they will certainly address the safety position in the draft.
Multiple opponents stated they could tell what Green Bay was going to do on offense and that’s on McCarthy. I wrote earlier this year that the Packers offense was too predictable and was swiftly lambasted by many for it. I hate being right, because that means Green Bay struggled. McCarthy is still a creative offensive mind and he likely rested on his laurels of the team’s run from 2010-2012. This season is enough cause for the head coach to add some new wrinkles to the offensive playbook, especially with a (finally) established running game.
As for the maligned defensive coordinator, there is a better-than-decent chance that Capers won’t be back in Green Bay next season. Thompson did infuse the defense with new bodies via the draft and yet many of the same issues plaguing the defense in 2011 and 2012 carried over into 2013. Yes, there were injuries but the problems were there for two years and it’s not just injuries that led to them reoccurring again in 2013.
All these problems aside, the Packers will be right back in contention next season. Rodgers will be back. Randall Cobb will be back. Casey Hayward will be back. The team has at last a stud running back in Eddie Lacy which was having noticeable results on the offense before the Rodgers injury. James Jones will be a free agent, but the team stands a decent chance of retaining him. Jones needs to look no further than Greg Jennings to see what happens when a receiver leaves the Packers for alleged greener pastures.
Things are murkier on the defensive side of the ball, especially if Capers is fired, but the defensive line is much improved. Johnny Jolly brought much needed fire to the line and Datone Jones has shown promising flashes. The futures of the aging Ryan Pickett and soon-to-be free agent B.J. Raji remain in doubt, but Mike Daniels’ emergence will likely soften the blow of their potential departures.
The linebackers are in decent shape too. A.J. Hawk has played like a man possessed this year and Matthews will of course be healthy again. Nick Perry showed improvement over his rookie season and Jamari Lattimore could very well challenge Brad Jones for more playing time.
The secondary is the defense’s Achilles heel. Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings turned in poor performances this year and have made a safety a top priority for the Packers to address in the offseason. Sam Shields (assuming he stays and he should) and the return of Hayward give the Packers solid options at cornerback. The future of Tramon Williams is in doubt as he’s struggled since Collins was lost. He might get 2014 to see how he does with improved safety play.
Should Capers be fired, it’s unclear what defensive scheme Green Bay would utilize. Judging by the current personnel, the Packers seem committed to a 3-4 but depending on what candidates they would interview, a move to a hybrid-type defensive scheme could be possible but a total switch to a 4-3 shouldn’t be ruled out either.
The only thing that could keep Green Bay from returning to contention in 2014 is yet another injury epidemic. Given the Packers’ recent run of bad luck in concerns to the injury bug, one would think Thompson and McCarthy would prepare for 2014 assuming a bunch of players will again miss the season. While injuries are a part of football, you can’t just play that way. You just can’t assume Aaron Rodgers will go down. You can’t play this game scared. Injuries happen and the roster needs to be flexible enough to adjust. Thompson has done that fairly well over the years.
Green Bay has enjoyed such a brilliant run these past 20+ years that seasons like this suddenly cause a mass panic amongst the fans. A lot of younger fans weren’t around for the 70s and 80s. I was nine years old when Favre and Holmgren came to town. Still, I have watched enough football that sometimes seasons like this happen and that’s just the cruel nature of the National Football league sometimes.
Step off the ledge, Packer fans. Has 2013 been lousy? Sure. Don’t forget however that there are plenty of guys coming off injured reserve next year and that Rodgers guy will be back healthy and will be fired up like never before. Thompson will fix the roster. He’s still the same guy who has found gems all through the NFL draft. One losing streak (sorry, non-winning streak) has not changed that.
Let Detroit or Chicago enjoy their time at the top of the NFC North.
Green Bay will rise again. The Pack will be back.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke