Green Bay Packers fans have been waiting on the squad to get past the NFC Championship game for almost a decade now, but they can never quite get over the hump. We fans wring our hands over a new excuse every year but the team can never just put it together for the final game. This year we even had it go through Lambeau to the same monotonous result.
Every other fanbase tells us to be grateful for where we are and these are good problems to have, but we have to face the truth that while these are “champagne problems”, they are still problems.
So what needs to be addressed and how can it be addressed?
Harken back to the beginning of 2020 when we all thought the worst part of the year (lol at that)was the Packers getting demolished by the San Francisco 49ers. The problem with the Packers was laid bare, for all to see- the run defense. The Packers were run over, run through, and run down by a 49ers team that didn’t even try to throw the ball. It was obvious that Mike Pettine and the crew had no answers early on and weren’t able to keep up with the adjustments.
I thought that for certain, the Packers would refresh the roster on the line over the offseason but surprisingly the Packers elected to mostly run it back with the defensive line group. Linebackers were a different story as Christan Kirksey replaced Blake Martinez and Kamal Martin/Krys Barnes were drafted. Brian Gutenkunst and Pettine must have really believed in the development of Kingsley Keke and Montravious Adams to take on a greater role since they didn’t bring in stronger outside competition.
While the defense was un-deniably better this season, especially against the run towards the end of the year, the NFC Championship game could have been played without a defensive line and I don’t think anyone would have noticed. Kenny Clark, the only guy who can consistently stay in the game and produce results, played 83% of snaps this past year and was gassed by the end. Tom Brady could just sit back in the pocket and know he could step into his throws at will.
This was a theme for veteran quarterbacks throughout the regular season. The defense could get in the heads of younger guys like Jake Luton and Mitch Trubisky but against Phillip Rivers and Brady, they were picked apart. While I think it’s likely that the Packers take a shot in the draft at Cornerback, you can take a few guys and see how they work out. The Packers don’t have time to waste on a long-term project for this right now since it’s one of the few positions on the team holding them back.
How Can They Address It?
Damon “Snacks” Harrison could be an answer here that’s already on the roster but given how he was used in the playoffs, he may not be able to stay on the field for meaningful snap numbers. Similarly, Keke could really leap forward next year but I wouldn’t keep that as my sole option to solve the problem.
Free agency would give the Packers a proven name but given the cap situation currently facing the league, I don’t think they will be able to do much more this year than try to keep as much of the roster together as possible.
That leaves the draft as the best avenue forward. The Packers own the 29th pick and if they are fortunate, the answer to this problem in the short and long term could fall right into their lap.
In this year’s class, there is a shortage of talent that is viewed as “ready” to contribute right away on an NFL unit. While Daviyon Nixon is everyone’s favorite sleeper and has some flashes of a freak athlete, his tape was inconsistent enough to give me pause on investing a first-round pick at the position. Similarly, Levi Onwuzurike had a great showing at the Senior Bowl but is also less of a sure thing compared to Barmore.
Christan Barmore stands 6’5″ and 310, which reminds me of Muhammed Wilkerson in terms of stature. A mountain of a man, he wasn’t a full-time starter with the National Champion Crimson Tide until later in the year (he was dealing with a knee injury) and was named All American. He is the player with the highest upside when it comes to defense lineman, and the Packers have shown they are willing to invest heavily on potential.
This is obviously dependent on Barmore falling down to 29, but one thing to keep in the back of your mind is that Brian Gutenkunst has made a 1st round move every year since he took the helm from Ted Thompson. If he moves up again, Barmore could be the guy.
——————Joe Kelley is a lifelong Packer fan born in Wisconsin and currently living surrounded by Patriots fans in New England- please send messages of support to @Jkelleylol on Twitter or @j.k.lolz on Instagram.