A season that once looked promising has mercifully come to an end for the Green Bay Packers. In the franchise’s 100th year, it seemed that little could go right for a team that many preseason predictions had contending for both the NFC North and a potential Super Bowl.
The Packers’ season finale, a 31-0 drubbing at home to the Detroit Lions, marked the end of football in Green Bay until next fall. And as the calendar turns to 2019, so too can the Packers’ focus on what should be an eventful offseason prior to next season.
Just what went wrong in Green Bay’s centennial celebration? A post-mortem would reveal a plethora of issues that doomed the Packers’ chances. Inconsistent play from the league’s highest-paid player, a stale approach to coaching, untimely injuries, and streaks of ineffectiveness in all three facets of the game can broadly sum up what went wrong.
Yet there were bright spots in the 2018 season that provide hope for the immediate future. Those positives, combined with some key offseason changes, can help Green Bay retool–rather than rebuild–and contend as soon as next year. So what has to happen for the Packers to get back to their winning ways?
Assemble an Improved Coaching Staff
The Packers are one of eight teams currently in the market for a new head coach. A number of candidates have already emerged, including Josh McDaniels, Matt LaFleur, Brian Flores, Jim Caldwell, and Mike Munchak, and several more will likely be thrown into the mix. Green Bay must be thorough and assemble a coaching staff that can solidify a team culture and get the most out of its players. Mike McCarthy was by no means a bad coach, but his message and style had simply run its course in Green Bay.
Offensively, that coach has to be able to get through to Aaron Rodgers. Rumors frequently swirled about ideological clashes between Rodgers and McCarthy, so it’s imperative that whoever Green Bay hires is able to challenge #12 and get the offense back on track. Mistakes like underutilizing Aaron Jones and having poor clock management can’t carry over again into 2019. The new coach has to be able to innovate the offense and adapt it to the creativity, speed, and effectiveness that teams like Chicago, Kansas City, and New Orleans are perfecting.
Defensively, the Packers should make it a priority to hold onto Mike Pettine. While the defense was far from stellar in Pettine’s first season, it was obvious that they were better off than in past seasons. They struggled more as the season went on due to the loss of several vital players like Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark. But Pettine displayed a creativity and ability to utilize his talent that should be retained moving forward.
The same cannot be said for special teams. Ron Zook should be shown the door early on in the offseason after yet another year in which the special teams looked terrible. It seemed like a weekly occurrence (and often times more than once per game) where major mistakes killed momentum or even cost Green Bay some wins. Priority number one for the Packers should be to give its roster a coaching staff that can best revitalize the team.
Retool the Offense
The offense already has talented players, but the Packers desperately need upgrades at some key positions. Davante Adams solidified himself as a top 10 receiver, and was arguably top five in 2018. Aaron Jones had a chance at a 1000 yard season before he got hurt, even after being horribly underused to start the season. Rodgers needs to bounce back to his end of 2016/beginning of 2017 form, and David Bakhtiari is still an elite left tackle.
But elsewhere, the team needs improvements. Green Bay lost Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb to injury for most of the year, hampering the passing game. Rookies Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling showed promise, but need to develop better chemistry with Rodgers to take the next step in their careers. The team still has not found an adequate tight end after Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, and Lance Kendricks proved to be hugely disappointing additions.
There are good options available in free agency, with players like Golden Tate and Adam Humphries set to hit the market. Cobb could still contribute, but would have to come back on a significantly cheaper contract given his recent production. But whether it’s through free agency or the draft, the offense needs more playmakers.
Dial Up the Pressure
On defense, the biggest issue is the team’s lack of pass rush. Statistically, that may not appear to be the case as the Packers tied for 8th in the league with 44 sacks. But Mike Pettine did an excellent job of scheming blitzes that allowed players to get to the quarterback. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, combining for roughly 12% of the Packers’ total salary cap, accounted for just five sacks last year. Twenty-one of Green Bay’s sacks came from non-edge rushers, and only Kyler Fackrell eclipsed double digits. There are a ton of good edge rushers in the draft who should be available at the 12th pick, so the Packers need to add one to fix a defense desperately in need of consistent pressure.
Make the Tough Cuts
In order for the Packers to re-tool their offense and add players capable of generating more pressure on defense, Green Bay will need to make some tough decisions regarding its current roster. To clear cap space and get its more productive players on the field, the team has to be willing to part ways with some of its longstanding members.
On offense, Randall Cobb likely won’t be back unless he takes a pay cut. Rodgers has frequently pushed for Cobb to be re-signed, and he’s a valuable slot receiver–just not for his current salary. The Packers also need an upgrade at tight end. Lewis and Kendricks hit free agency and should not be back in Green Bay next season. Meanwhile, Graham’s disappointing year could mean the team looks elsewhere for their primary tight end in 2019. Bryan Bulaga is still excellent at right tackle when he’s playing, but the team will have to weigh their options given his inability to stay healthy.
Similar tough decisions exist for the defense too. Clay Matthews has been the face of the defense for years, but no longer produces at the level his paycheck warrants. The same can be said for Nick Perry, who’s been ineffective and frequently injured since signing a new contract. Cutting a few, or all, of these players would free up both playing time for the more effective back ups and cap space to add new talent to the team.
Getting back to the postseason won’t be easy in 2019, especially given how quickly the Chicago Bears were able to re-establish themselves as contenders. The Packers are running out of time with Rodgers at the helm, and need to aggressively pursue players and coaches that can put the team on a championship track as soon as next season.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .