The draft has come and gone for the Green Bay Packers. We’re all excited about the influx of young talent on the roster. It’s that wonderful time of year where everyone thinks, “This is the class that will push the Lombardi trophy back home!” They were also active enough in free agency to the point where people were close to pinching themselves to be certain they weren’t dreaming, drinking, or both. “You mean, they’re not going to solely rely on a 5th rounder from Middle Tennessee State to replace the second All-Pro guard they have let walk in the past seven months?! A veteran (Jahri Evans) with several years of success has been brought in to ease that transition?!”
So, the personnel overhaul has largely been completed going into next season. The other realm calling for revision is the strategic one. The Packers organization has delivered surprises with personnel decisions. Are they going to continue that with strategic ones? If they dare to traverse such territory, here are some changes that merit consideration.
Scrap the slow-developing HB toss play out of the shotgun
Any casual observer of the Packers in the past several years knows how this goes: Rodgers takes the snap out of the shotgun, tosses the rock to what was usually Lacy or Starks, several linemen pull toward the ball to start clearing real estate, and finally the carrier is tackled for a loss or a short gain at most. This was the result about 98% of the time this play was called. This was for several reasons:
- Lacy and Starks were not the shifty, elusive type that could rely on speed to improvise on a slow-developing play
- The O-line is constructed for zone run blocking, not with maulers who thrive on pulling across the line for backs.
- This type of play is better suited for a matchup of Elk Mound vs. Oostburg in the WIAA Division 5 state semi-finals.
There was one time last year where this toss play netted maybe 8 or 9 yards because of a Herculean effort by Lacy, but that’s about it. This toss play has never been effective. Let’s toss the toss play in the scrap heap.
Stop publicly committing to the run game
Year after year, Mike McCarthy stresses the importance of establishing the run game. Then, the pass/run ratio in the first half of the following game is 23/7. Someone with close contact to Coach Mike can tell him everyone understands that he has a legend at QB, and that throwing the ball a ton is an acceptable option. We understand that balance is a great thing to have, but if the running game isn’t gaining steam, then relying on your hall of fame QB’s arm is an acceptable alternative. Rodgers has publicly stated he would be fine with a pass play called on 100% of the snaps anyway.
If the new stable of running backs results in a reliable running game, then great! Naturally, that will stretch the field and create more dangerous play action situations. This would be fantastic. If not, then it’s not the end of the world. The offense has been elite for years under a pass heavy scheme.
Enough with the soft zone coverage on D
With a healthy and productive personnel group, this can work. It’s the “bend but don’t break” philosophy that will sacrifice medium gains to prevent the bigger ones. In 2015, the pass defense ranked 6th with solid depth at DB and an effective pass rush from Peppers and Nick Perry. In 2016, only Perry could provide a reliable pass rush while the secondary was decimated by injury, regression, and lack of discipline. Therefore, a soft secondary coverage scheme that still allowed big plays was deployed, thus becoming the worst of both worlds.
The culmination of this flawed scheme was on full display in the NFC title game in Atlanta. This was most evident when Julio Jones ran a crossing pattern where LaDarius Gunter covered him until he turned toward the middle of the field, where Gunter halted his coverage while pointing toward the middle of the field to apparently signal to the middle zone to cover. The problem was, nobody wearing a white jersey was visible in the area that the Fox Sports cameras could pan. This type of coverage has been frequent enough to create a legion of Capers haters (the guy, not the food). With added talent and speed in the secondary now, a more aggressive scheme should be deployed, and the defensive coordinator with the Lego Man haircut will avoid much of the heat that has fired his way.
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.