The Green Bay Packers are bad. They’ve lost two New York teams that had top 10 picks last year in consecutive weeks, barely beat a third string quarterbacked Patriots the week before that and of course got murdered by the Vikings in week 1.
Of course, there’s probably a strong chance that the team turns it around. The offense might be close. The defense played well until the 4th quarter against the Jets. But it could also be a wasted year. So, how did we get here?
The offensive side undoubtedly starts with the draft. Outside of offensive line and Aaron Jones, there hasn’t been a great offensive selection in the last ten years or so of the draft who is still on the team. Romeo Doubs has shown great flashes for a rookie, AJ Dillon has had spurts of good play, and Jordan Love is a complete unknown but that’s about it.
That could be alright if Gutekunst added assets in free agency, but the biggest free agency acquisitions on the offense are always injured Sammy Watkins and glorified tight end Allen Lazard.
The great offenses of the past two years were built on the backs of superstar play by Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Now Adams is gone, Rodgers has fallen off (admittedly partially because of poor o-line play and poor chemistry with the new receivers), and there is not yet a substantial replacement for Adams.
Finally, the offensive scheme hasn’t adapted well this season. It doesn’t necessarily need less motion, as Rodgers has publicly demanded, but it probably does need to be simpler with its passing concepts and more creative with its run concepts.
It makes sense that if the offense loses its best player, has a performance drop in its next best, and then doesn’t change much schematically that it won’t be as good. The question is whether the coaching staff can turn it around. Get the offensive line back to where it can be. Get more creative running the ball (and honestly let Aaron Jones run far more than AJ Dillon). And get Rodgers and the receivers on the same page consistently.
You can start in a lot of places with the defense, I’d like to start with Dean Lowry’s second contract. Lowry signed a three-year extension In 2019 that gave him the cap hits of a plus starter on the d line. He has never been that for more than maybe a half of a season here and there. When he signed the extension, he was coming off a career-high 72.6 PFF grade.
If he had stayed on that trend, he would be good enough to have that cap hit and his place as a starter by now, but his PFF grades in each season since the extension have all been worse than in any season before.
The Packers likely have a budget for the capital spent on each position group and having one of the top-paid players in the group (Kenny Clark) and a highly-paid second defensive tackle takes away their ability to invest much capital on the D line in a defense that depends on the d line to stop the run. Various journeymen have played alongside Lowry and Clark over the past few seasons, this year’s version is Jarran Reed, but the team just hasn’t had a strong D line ever since Gute decided to extend Lowry and let Mike Daniels go.
Next, is linebacker. Quay Walker is an athletic marvel and De’Vondre Campbell was extended based on one good season, but neither is playing well this year. Joe Barry’s defense counts on the inside linebackers to have good instincts to make the d line right and tackle effectively and neither of the linebackers has done either of those things consistently this year.
In the defensive backfield, Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos are both having their worst year and Eric Stokes has backslid from his impressive rookie year. Jaire has been his always impressive self and Rasul Douglas has flashed, however. The defensive backfield is probably the group that I have the least anxiety about going forward.
I think the defense may need to add a run-stopper but will mostly improve from better execution and better scheme. I don’t think Adrian Amos and De’Vondre Campbell will be meh the whole season. I think the corners will get better as they’re used better. And Quay Walker and Darnell Savage will be better if they’re put closer to the ball (Quay on the edge and Savage in the slot).
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.