Saturday, February 1, 2014

Off Season Blueprint: Fixing the Pack

By Terranimal PackerAddicts Draft Chief

Here is a two part post from our Forum  outlining an off season blue print to fix the packers :

Part 1

"If not improving, others will pass you by. Standing pat is not an option."

In order to improve, one must take a long, hard impartial look at not only the team and coaches, but also at one's own self. Who in this case is GM/Vice President Ted Thompson.

Another season finished that saw GB go one and out in the play-offs. At the same time NE made it to the AFC Championship game.

Many are probably wondering what is the point of comparing these 2 teams?

Well both have one the NFL's best franchise QBs locked in in big salary cap deals. The Pack have the youngest team and the Pats have the second youngest team. Also one would be hard pressed to find any teams that have suffered more serious injuries to starters then these two teams did. Yet again one was one and done and the other went to the Championship game and was in it until they lost their Shut-Down Corner.

Many wish to blame GB's short comings on DC Dom Capers and DB Bush on the 9ers final series. However when breaking the play, it showed otherwise. Capers actually made the perfect call. The problem was execution. In breaking it down DL Daniels and OLB Mulumba were to do a stunt. That is they were to criss cross. But as they attempted to, they ran into each other and got caught inside, leaving the outside lane open. Bush did was he was suppose to by rushing the passer and then jumping up to block the pass. When that broke down, an injured Mulumba couldn't make the play. He shouldn't have even been on the field but we were down to one healthy OLB at that point.

Really that busted up play summed up the team: A lack of play makers on both sides of the ball. And yes this includes the offense as well. Because any time your defense holds a team to under 30 points we should win. More on players in a minute.

Instead of questioning Capers, who maybe over-achieved with what he had to work with, it is McCarthy who should be questioned on the offensive play calling side of the ball. Ever since we lost OC Philbin to the Phins, this offense hasn't been the same deadly offense it once was. Also of note seems to be at times McCarthy gets out coached when he goes up against second generation coaches like Belichick and Harbaugh. Yet McCarthy has one of the NFL's best QBs in Rodgers and what looks like one of the NFL's elite RB on the rise in Lacy.

So in a tight game with time running out why wouldn't one put the ball into one of the the 2 best play maker's hands? Cobb is a dynamic multi-weapon but hadn't run the ball since returning from a broken leg and who knows if he was even playing at 100%? The play didn't fool anyone and seemed ill advised to call at that point of the game and location on the field. Red zone efficiency has been a problem all season long this year.

Another question is why isn't the screen game used more? It was a staple of GB for many years and another tool to slow down the pass rush. Rodgers was constantly under pressure and had no running lanes and a screen game could have helped him.

Which brings me back to play makers. Many times when Rodgers went back to throw the ball the WRs weren't open. It's easy to say that it's because we didn't have Finley. But this team was w/o Finley the year we won the Super Bowl. So what's the difference? The year we won the SB, we had a legit #1 Go-To WR in Jennings. This team currently doesn't have a bonafied  #1 WR. Both Jones and Boykin were non factors in the final 2 games. Cobb is a nice multi-weapon, but both Nelson and Cobb are number 2 WR types.

This brings us to the head man in charge- Ted Thompson. He's in charge of bringing in players that are a fit for both the offensive and defensive schemes. His approach is of course Draft and Develop. Ideally this is what every team would like to do and Thompson is one of the best at it. The problem is that teams are taxed for success in the NFL. That is, the better your team does the lower your team picks in each round. It also makes each pick that much more important and leaves little room for error. But everyone knows that drafting is far from an exact science. Then add in losing players to free agency and unfortunate career ending injuries, and this becomes an over-whelming task.

Another question- What did all 4 teams in the Championship games have in common? They all used free agency. The 9ers and Seahawks signed both bargain free agents and big salary free agents thanks to having cheap starting QBs, that will catch up to them really soon. But both the Pats and Broncos have big salary franchise QBs and yet signed free agents. All 4 teams have also blended youth players with seasoned vets. And in the Pat's case, Belichick has also rolled the dice at times on good players with some character questions and got them on the cheap.

McCarthy at season's end admitted that due to injuries that young players were pressed into action. Translation- Players that weren't ready had to play.

Thompson for all his good traits has his staunch hard line on not using free agency and not having players over 30

Free agency can work if used correctly. Where most teams mess up is being desperate and get caught up paying good players star-like salaries or over-paying older players as if they were still the players they were in their prime.

Another issue is the elite players in their prime don't become free agents too often and when they do, they cost a lot. But if it fills a big need for a lost player and the draft has been unable to replace, then a team needs to do what it can to get the player. Back to this later on....

The current team has roughly a 1/3 of it's players due new deals. There's no way the team can keep everyone and no way the draft can replace everyone and fill every hole. Also drafting and reaching for need verses drafting best available player that also fills a need has been proven a bad way to go.

Compounding issues has been Thompson's recent drafts. Think of Thompson's 1st round picks and two stand outs come to mind: QB Aaron Rodgers and OLB Clay Matthews. Dare you to name another hit from round one. Justin Harrell? Injuries and out of football. DL Raji? Been on the decline the last few years. ILB Hawk? Has matured into a solid but not special player that one would expect for a top 5 pick. OT Sherrod? Due to injuries hasn't done anything and even before injuries was being beaten out by Newhouse. Bulaga? Drafted to replace Clifton at LT and started at RT for an injured Tauscher. Has been on IR the last two seasons. OLB Perry? A converted DE that has also gone through injuries and yet proven to be the guy opposite of Matthews. DL Datone Jones? Was a role player/back up and book is still out on him. Though players taken in round one are suppose to be starters and provide impact.

Then there's the 2012 draft. What does it say when the best player from it is a later round, under-sized, over-achiever? (Daniels) Already covered Perry. @nd round pick DL Worthy was out all year after getting hurt his rookie year. Hayward is a star on the rise, but he too got injured and missed most of the year. The Safety of the future, McMillian was so bad he got cut half way through the season.

More food for thought: What does it say about drafting and the D-Line when the best player and leader of them is a player that was out of football the last 3 years??? (Jolly)

But this isn't a slam the Pack or knee jerk fan reaction and everyone must go piece. It's a realistic look at the team and what can be done to return the Pack to the top. In order to move forward, one has to know where they were, where they are at, and what it takes to move forward.

In Part two (hopefully up tomorrow night) will have the true Blue Print to make this team a Super Bowl contender once again. :)

Part 2 :

Free Agency:

One thing Thompson has done is hold on to a player too long. Kampman and Flynn are two examples of players that stayed a year too long and the Pack didn't trade them at their max value and get the most they could for them and instead got whatever the NFL decided to give us for a comp pick.

Right now the Pack find themselves in that position again. They have a young secondary that is deep in Corners. Casey Hayward was in consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season but got hurt and missed most of this year. His play was so good that the Pack decided to let an aging Charles Woodson go. Sam Shields was an undrafted free agent that seems to have developed into the team's best Corner and is due a new deal.  Then there is House and Hybrid Hyde behind them. Plus we have Nixon and some other Corners on the roster. Add in that Thompson has a knack for finding good Corners and this is a deep draft for Corners, so it would appear this is the time to trade Tramon Williams and get the most for him.

Shields is going to get his money either with us or another team, but would prefer it be with us. But this team needs a top notch Safety badly. Safety is a key position to making Capers' defense work. However, Safety seems to be a position when drafted, takes 2-4 years to see the payback.

So since it's so hard to find a good one and takes a lot of luck in the draft, I would go against the grain for once and dip into free agency and pay the price to get one. There are 3 of them out there imo. Meanwhile Thompson has signed guys and drafted guys and still hasn't been able to find the replacement for Collins. So this is the year to break down and get one via free agency. Currently on a team with many needs, have Safety as the number 1 need.

Most have the Jairus Bryd 5-10 200 as the top Safety and he will no doubt get the most money if not franchised. But I do have some durability concerns on him.

TJ Ward is right there too at 5-10 200 and is a very solid player in both run and pass.

Chris Coleman 6-1 214 is the one I lean towards. For one think he will be available, two is a ball hawk in coverage, three is a bit bigger than the other two, and four think he might be had for a little bit less than Ward and Byrd.  But would be happy with any of these three guys.

As for prioritizing our own big free agents, would try to re-sign Pickett, Jolly, EDS, Kuhn, and Quarless. (already covered Shields) Would let Raji, Neal, Jones, and Finley all test free agency waters.

Pickett though getting older, is still playing at a high level. The team is expecting big things out of Daniels next year and we have Worthy coming back, and Boyd who was coming on at season's end returning.

Jolly was our best run stopper and according to players was a real team leader.

Quarless is a Packer type player. Have seen a few times and have come away impressed by him each time. He seemed to be returning to form near season's end and shouldn't break the bank like Finley might. Plus Quarless takes pride in and is our best blocking TE. Important when thinking of protecting number 12.

Kuhn, as FBs seem to be a dying breed, probably has more value to the Pack then to other teams. Assignment sure, he is one of the best 3rd down blockers in the game.....again important when protecting Rodgers.

EDS is a tough and gritty Center that can also fill in at Guard. He seemed to be getting better as the season went along and has familiarity with the system and Rodgers.


Already covered Safety as number 1 need and we don't go get one in free agency, will be number one priority in the draft. But signing a free agent Safety would give us some flexibility for the draft. After Safety one could make an argument for any other position on the team outside of QB, RB, and CB. This team could use a WR, TE, ILB, OLB, and DL/OL depth.

Went through Thompson's first rounds in his time here. So unless a special player is there, could see trading down or out of round one this year for either more picks, a first in 2015 and a pick this year. This draft has a record number of underclassmen and should be a deep draft with quality players in later rounds and some going undrafted. Thompson has had pretty good luck getting WRs and TEs in rounds two and three. Also he might be the best or one of the best with finding players that go undrafted and end up players for us.

WR- The NFL goes through trends. Watching the Championship games, am seeing a return back to Press/Bump man coverage with corners being more physical and not getting flagged. Watching the Seahawks Richard Sherman and can't help but be reminded of seeing a bigger version of Al Harris. While the trend across the league has been to go with smaller speed types, still prefer the WRs 6-2 or bigger w/ hands, instinctive, physical, and maybe more quick then fast off the line and out of their breaks. (translation: short shuttle more important than blazing 40 time)

This is a good draft to get one of these types with players like Penn St Robinson, Vandy's Matthews, Rutgers' Coleman, UW's Abberderis, just to name a few. Combine and Pro Days will be huge for these bigger WR types to see if they have enough quickness/speed for the NFL level.

TE: Trend has been for tall, basketball types that are an over-sized WR. That's all good and well, but if they don't have reliable hands, a willingness to block and toughness then they are one-dimensional. Would rather have a TE that is a 3 down type in the mold of a Jason Whitten/ Mark Churmura that has a 40 time in the 4.6 range or better.

Again quickness off the line and out of their breaks being more important with reliable hands, instinctive and being physical. This type of of TE keeps defenses honest as they don't know whether the TE will stay in to block or release and go out. A good TE is not only a safety valve for the QB, but clears out the short and intermediate areas of the field and is a red zone target. Pairing this type of TE with Quarless would not only help the running game, but offer more options in the passing game other than going 3,4, and 5 WR out or teams knowing to always look for the TE to be going out (like Finley who was used as a WR mainly). Also teams would have to account/guess on whether both TEs stay in, both go out, or which one goes. This team had troubles moving the chains on 3rd down, getting WRs open, and scoring in the red zone. Having a bigger TE like this along with a bonafied running game w/Lacy and a mobile QB in Rodgers, would make this Offense deadly again and be an answer to the Cover 2. Like Safety is top overall need, have this type of TE (unless a Go-To WR falls to us) as top offensive need.

ILB: In Packer circles there is talk how they miss the play, toughness, attitude, and leadership Desmond Bishop had. We also don't seem to have an ILB that can cover TEs and RBs, though signing a top notch Safety might help some of this out. But Jones, Lattimore, and Hawk all have had their share of troubles trying to cover. So we could use another thumper.

OLB: Struck gold in Matthews and have struck out ever since. So bad that we moved situational rusher Neal from DE to OLB. Drafting and moving DEs ro OLB has been a crapshoot at best. The good news is the team doesn't have to spend a 1st round pick to get one. Guys have been found from round one through being undrafted.

Contingency plan? If unable to shore up the LBer corps, Capers should follow the Pats coach Belichick's lead and be more flexible using versions of the 4-3. IMO both Perry and Neal would be more effective if they were used in a form of the Elephant D with their hand in the dirt. Matthews is our best and complete LBer that is good in all 3 phases of run, pass, pass rushing. In this form of the D, he could go back to  contain, blitz or cover again.

O-Line: A change has been happening around the NFL. Studies have been done in recent times. It used to be in Draft Theories that number 1 is getting the franchise QB and number 2 was getting the stud LT to protect the franchise QB. A stud LT isn't easy to find and the best odds are still in round 1 and 2 of the draft with teams often trying to trade up and tripping over each other for who they feel is an elite one at the top of the draft. It becomes a feeding frenzy and guys fly off the big board.

But what is interesting is that for every Joe Thomas, there are more busts then guys that became standouts. Also a stud LT costs a lot when they become free agents and are a big cap hit. With either a pocket passer w/ a quick release like Peyton or mobile QBs, the need for a stud LT is less needed.

The Pack still have Sherrod, with Bulaga expected back, and Newhouse expected to be gone. Bakhtiari graded out well and many think Barclay would make a better Guard and be our Swing OT. EDS is solid and most likely back and word is the team is high in Tretter. Plus we have hold overs Van Roten and Lane Taylor. No doubt Thompson always seems to take an OT every draft somewhere in it, but don't have OL rated high, especially when Bulaga returns, and can only see adding a body.

D-Line: pretty much covered this in the free agency section and if things go like what I laid out in that scenario, we will be in the market for another player. Think any way one slices it we will need to get one and most likely that one is a NT. Lucky this is a deep draft and also a deep free agent class so Thompson won't have to press or reach for a guy.

This has all been about improving the Pack to restore them as a Super Contender once again.  So far have covered subtle changes in play-calling on both sides of the ball, Thompson and free agency, and the draft. That leaves one area left.....injuries.

The NFL overall saw a rise in season ending leg/knee injuries this past season after the rule changes to avoid head injuries. Just what can be done is what the Competition Committee will be looking at.

But even so, the Pack have had more then their fair share of injuries from the 2010 year on. Word is that they as a staff will evaluate each injury, the strength and conditioning and see if anything can be changed or tweaked to lessen them.

This has to be a serious area of concern for the team. Of injuries are a part of the game, but the Pack have had more of them then most teams and we play on grass. So whether is because of players drafted had some medical questions, the way players play on the field, strength and conditioning, just bad luck, or some combination, something obviously needs to change to lessen these and injuries have led to more losses then everything else combined the last 3 seasons.

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