Thursday, January 17, 2013

Packers Face A Critical Offseason

By: Matt Bove
After another playoff embarrassment, the Green Bay Packers find themselves in a very interesting spot this offseason.

The 45-31 loss to the 49ers marked the third time in the last four seasons that the Packers suffered a humiliating playoff loss. The Packers have several complicated decisions to make on players and coaches. This offseason may determine the direction they go in for the next few seasons. The Packers have championship talent, but they still have holes to fill before they can raise another Lombardi trophy.

Defensice coordinator Dom Capers has come under the most heat for the humiliating performance of the defense in Saturday's loss. He has come under scrutiny by even his own players for not having a gameplan and not making adjustments to defend Collin Kaepernick. Charles Woodson did not shed Capers in the best of light after the game. 

"I think it's the right defense. I just think when the game is going that way, you've got to try something different. It's hard to do the same thing over and over again and continue to get burned," Woodson said. "That's what I was talking about going forward. "We need to figure out, could we have done something different as far as our gameplan was concerned."

I think it was a combination of personnel and scheme that was the problem against Kaepernick. The Packers should have used a spy on Kaepernick more, but the few times that they did he toasted Brad Jones and Erik Walden. When you use a spy it is one less man rushing and covering, so it puts stress on your defense. The problem was that the only spy the Packers could have used that could have matched up with Kaepernick physically was Clay Matthews. They did not want to take Matthews out of the rush, so they could not use him.

The Packers are a very good team in man coverage, but are a suspect team in zone. So they had a pick your poison dilemma  They could either play man and be vulnerable to Kaepernick's legs or play zone and be vulnerable to his arm. Also, it certainly is not Capers' fault that Walden looked like he didn't even know what the read-option was on Kaepernick's 56-yard touchdown run.

With all of that being said, Saturday's night loss falls squarely on Capers' shoulders, and the Packers should go in a different direction at defensive coordinator. I'm not usually a knee-jerk reaction kind of person, but this is not a knee-jerk reaction. This is a culmination of allowing 51, 45 and 37 points in playoff losses in the last four years, having the 32nd ranked defense a year ago and looking helpless against elite quarterbacks. The Packers getting out-schemed has become to much of a pattern.

Last year, I argued that Capers did not have the necessary personnel to succeed. However, after Ted Thomson used the first six picks in the draft on defense the talent was greatly improved. Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry were big losses, but the Packers still had a solid secondary, two huge lineman to take on blockers and one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. There are no excuses that Capers did not have an answer for Kaepernick whatsoever. According to ESPN Stats & Info Kaepernick gained 178 of his 181 yards rushing before contact, which indicates just how many times the Packers were out of position.

Unforunately, it does not appear like Capers will be going anywhere. Mike McCarthy, who is resistant to making big changes, defended Capers Tuesday in his season ending presser.  

"I think it's ridiculous that I have to answer the question, frankly. I'm appalled by it," McCarthy said. "I would not do my job, I would not fulfill my responsibility if I didn't look at the job Dom Capers has done, the job Mike McCarthy's done, what Tom Clements has done, all the way down. I can promise you that's what's going to happen."

As for the rest of the roster, there is a good chance that there will be a lot of change this offseason. Long time great Packer wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are very likely to be gone. The Packers will have to make decisions on players with big cap figures like Charles Woodson ($10 million), AJ Hawk ($5.45 million), Jermichael Finley ($8.25 million), John Kuhn ($1.3 million) and James Starks ($1.3 million).

There is no chance Woodson will be brought back at his huge cap number. He will have to renegotiate his deal if he wants to return, and even then the Packers might not want him. Woodson has lost a few steps in coverage and the Packers might look to go with a younger player.

I think $5.25 million is way to big of a number for Hawk and I would cut him. Hawk has been known for as an assignment sure player, but that is not longer good enough. Guards getting to the second level have been a problemm but still Hawk should be better. He has not been involved in a turnover play in over two years and that is hard to do. The Packer seem to really like Hawk, which is how he has kept his job to this point, so who knows what they will do.

Jermichael Finley should and I think will be back after playing very well down the stretch. McCarthy greatly praised Finley in his presser on Tuesday, so it is a good bet that he will return. The offense just cannot afford to lose him and Jennings in one offseason. Finley is only on a one year deal, so the Packers are not committed to anything long term with him. Finley did not drop very many passes down the stretch and made numerous big catches in big spots.

The positions that the Packers need to address the most this offseason are safety, both the offensive and defensive lines and linebacker. At safety Morgan Burnett is solid, but counting on M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian if Woodson does not come back next season is an iffy proposition. The Packers can really use a big hitting and intimidating safety. The offensive line needs to improve at center and in it's overall depth since Bryan Bulaga and Derrick Sherrod are injury question marks.

The Packers need some added beef on the defensive line. Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji are great, but guys like Jerel Worthy, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal are small for a base 3-4 end. Getting another guy like Raji and Pickett would really help in stopping the run. Also, Pickett is getting up there in age, and you do not know how long he can continue his solid play.

Also, the Packers' linebackers unit could use some better talent. Hawk and Jones just were not physical enough this year. Getting Bishop back will be huge, but the Packers should cut Hawk and look for a new starter to go along with Bishop in the draft or free agency. All you have to do is take one look at San Francisco's defense to be able to tell what great inside linebackers can do for you. Also, getting Nick Perry back will be huge, but the Packers should still look for more pass rushing talent to go along with him and Matthews at outside linebacker.

Besides all of the personnel changes, the Packers will have to decide whether to give contract extensions to Rodgers, Matthews and Raji. It will be a very interesting offseason in Green Bay and it will be very interesting to see if Thompson and McCarthy are content with how the last two seasons have ended.

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