As soon as B.J. Raji was lost for the season this past August, my mind started to race.
I wondered if general manager Ted Thompson would pick up the phone and call Ryan Pickett. After all, the 6-foot-2, 310-pound defensive tackle played eight seasons for the Packers. He started all 16 games in 2012 and 2013.
I also wondered if Thompson would kick the tires on Johnny Jolly. He received medical clearance June 28 following his January neck surgery. Obviously Jolly would be more of a reach because of his injury history but he started eight games in 2013 and was a great vocal leader on a defense that needed a strong voice.
The reason those two names popped in my head then was the result of what happened this past Sunday. Matt Forte was average this season before taking on the Packers. His high total on the year was 82 yards followed by outputs of 21 and 33 yards.
That all changed when the Packers showed up to Solider Field with a soft interior defensive line. Forte didn’t do anything special against the Packers. He mainly ran between the tackles through the heart of the Packers’ defense — running plays that are seen plenty of times during a Friday night high school game.
Forte totaled 122 yards, good for 5.3 yards a carry. The last time he had that kind of efficiency on at least 23 carries was Week 15 of last year. Forte is a talented running back, but even a struggling LeSean McCoy will run circles around this defense in six weeks.
Starting nose tackle Letroy Guion only had one total tackle on Sunday, while backup Mike Pennel had two.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day Pennel said on Monday. “We’ll take the positives from the game and we’ll take the negatives and we’ll fix everything.”
That’s fair. But against the Jets at home, the Packers didn’t give up big chunks of yards but they lost the battle in the middle. And at Seattle, Marshawn Lynch made the middle of the field his prime real estate as the Seahawks totaled 5.6 yards per carry.
This has happened before. Teams spot the weakness in the Packers’ defensive line right away and expose it. To the linebackers credit, once the ball carrier gets outside the tackles, contain has been pretty good. It’s just the runs up the middle that must be stopped, because those are the runs that move the chains, extend drives and ultimately lead to points.
So getting back to Pickett and Jolly. The Pickett pipe dream was gone ever since he signed with Houston last week. And if the Packers haven’t called Jolly by now, why would they call him in a week or two if things get worse?
Thompson may have a different philosophy for this 2014 team, but it should be in win-now mode. With an offense that includes Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy and is led by Aaron Rodgers coupled with a defense that signed Julius Peppers and an improving secondary, this team is capable of big things.
The fact that Thompson didn’t place a priority on replacing a major defensive position seems baffling. I realize the Packers have only passed the quarter-pole of the season but stopping the run is pretty important in football. If a defense cannot consistently stop the run, an offense will make the game feel like torture.
Because even with an offense that seems to have found its magnetic north on Sunday, if the defense cannot get off the field because of up-the-gut gashes, there will be even more pressure placed on the offense. That unit will get less time to generate points to mount a quick lead, which will force the opposition to throw more.
Could Guion and Pennel jell to form a solid nose tackle force? Sure. But when Raji went down in August there was plenty of time to at least work someone out.
When does that sense of urgency arrive?——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn