How little has the 2011 draft class contributed to the Packers this season? Put it this way, fourth-round pick Davon House, who was benched on Sunday, has played the most snaps of the 10 prospects selected by GM Ted Thompson 2 1/2 years ago. Derek Sherrod (1st round) was just activated from the PUP list, Randall Cobb (2nd) has been on IR since the middle of October, Alex Green (3rd) is with the Jets, D.J. Williams (5th) is in New England, Caleb Schlauderaff (6th) is also a Jet, D.J. Smith (6th) is in Houston, Ricky Elmore (6th) is out of the league, Ryan Taylor (7th) is still with Green Bay but barely plays on offense and Lawrence Guy (7th) is in San Diego. Still wondering why this year’s team lacks depth at so many positions?
Running back Eddie Lacy, left guard Josh Sitton, tight end Andrew Quarless, defensive lineman Johnny Jolly and cornerback Jarrett Bush all had impressive games against the Falcons, but the best performance of the day may have been turned in by rapidly improving Nick Perry. The former USC star was strong against the run and disruptive as a pass rusher – even while lining up exclusively on the left side. While Clay Matthews was solid and Mike Neal made the play of the game, Perry was Green Bay’s best outside linebacker Sunday. It’s taken GM Ted Thompson forever to find a worthy partner for Matthews. The search may finally be over.
I’ve learned two things in the past 34 days. One, the Green Bay Packers are a bad team when star quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play. And two, it’s much easier to predict games when Rodgers doesn’t play. After going a pedestrian 4-3 through seven weeks, I’m 3-1-1 in the past five – with the one loss coming in the game No. 12 left in the first quarter. I’m tempted to pick against the Packers again, but I won’t. Call me crazy, but I still think there’s enough talent and pride left on this roster to be able to beat a 3-9 dome team that will be playing in single-digit temps and snow. Let’s say Packers 27-24. (Season record: 7-4-1)
After two games, I’m still not sure whether Matt Flynn should be Aaron Rodgers’ understudy next season. He looked good against an awful Vikings defense and he looked awful against a good Lions defense. If I had to make a decision today, I’d probably vote no on bringing Flynn back. Not only did his balls lack zip against Detroit, but he also missed wide open receivers and looked very skittish in the pocket. Granted, the Lions’ talented front four was in the backfield all game, but I still expected to see more poise and awareness from the six-year vet. If I had to choose which current backup to bring to training camp next summer, I think I’d go with young Scott Tolzien. But just to be safe, check back with me in about six hours.
Why did I bang the drum so loudly in September for the Packers to sign free agent center Fernando Velasco? You got the answer to that question on Thanksgiving when Evan Dietrich-Smith left the game against Detroit with a sprained knee. That one injury forced multiple changes on the offensive line. Had GM Ted Thompson simply signed Velasco, or any other veteran center, T.J. Lang could’ve stayed at right guard and Marshall Newhouse could’ve stayed on the bench. Then maybe, just maybe, backup QB Matt Flynn and the offense wouldn’t have looked like the Keystone Cops. Thompson’s shortsightedness could also be a factor today against Atlanta. EDS is questionable, meaning that there’s a decent chance Lang will once again have to play center and either Newhouse, Lane Taylor or Derek Sherrod will be forced to start. Good grief. Forget Velasco, where’s Jason Spitz when you need him?
I like GM Ted Thompson, but his refusal to attempt to upgrade the 53-man roster by adding proven veterans during the season has bothered me for years. One of the very few times he actually made the effort – defensive end Howard Green was claimed off waivers in 2010 – it helped the Packers win the Super Bowl. I’m not saying bringing in safety/kick returner Quintin Demps or tight end Tony Scheffler would’ve made the difference between winning and losing these past four weeks, but you never know. Instead, Thompson has stubbornly stuck with M.D. Jennings, Micah Hyde and Andrew Quarless, and the Packers have been stuck in reverse.
In a study conducted by the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, 84 percent of patients thought there was a difference between a fracture and a break, with 68 percent believing a break to be worse than a fracture. Based on what I’ve read and heard the past few weeks from Packers beat writers, it’s clear some of them think the same thing. But it’s not true. A fracture is any loss of continuity of bone. Anytime the bone loses integrity – whether that’s a hairline crack or the shattering of a bone into a dozen pieces – it’s considered a fracture. So a broken bone is a fractured bone, and vice versa. Something tells me that if more members of the media knew this fact at the time star quarterback Aaron Rodgers got hurt, fewer fans would have thought there was ever a chance of him returning in a month.
Let’s be very clear about this – the Packers aren’t going to “shut down” Aaron Rodgers. If the star quarterback doesn’t play again this season, it won’t be because the team has fallen out of playoff contention. It’ll be because his left collarbone – fractured on a Monday night in early November – simply isn’t ready for contact. However, if the collarbone is declared 100 percent healed at some point between now and Christmas, you can expect to see No. 12 throwing passes again in 2013. That’s just the way the NFL operates. Healthy players play. Nobody, from Rodgers to his teammates to his coaches, would accept anything else. So in short, his availability will come down to the results of a scan and not the results of a game.
The numbers are impressive, but they don’t begin to tell the whole story when it comes to Eddie Lacy. While a projected 1,150 yards is nothing to sneeze at, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The former Alabama star is one of the favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year despite having to line up behind street free agent quarterbacks Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn for the past five games and run behind a mediocre offensive line all season. Can you imagine how Lacy will perform if Rodgers stays healthy in 2014 and Pro Bowl-caliber tackle Bryan Bulaga returns from a pair of serious injuries? I’m think something along the lines of 1,500 yards and 5.0 yards per carry. And I haven’t even touched on Lacy’s blocking, which has been under-appreciated all season. Throw in more than decent hands and you have the makings of a true superstar. A true superstar who somehow wasn’t selected until late in the second round. Hey, drafting shouldn’t be that inexact of a science.
Let’s pretend for a minute that the Pro Bowl actually means something. How many Packers do you think are having a season worthy of ending in Hawaii? By my count, the answer is one. Injuries will likely keep Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews from taking their annual spots on the NFC squad, and an injury will definitely keep Randall Cobb a Pro Bowl virgin for another year. And while a case could be made for Jordy Nelson, I just don’t see him as one of the top four players at his position. That leaves Josh Sitton. Not only is the veteran guard deserving of a trip to the Pro Bowl, he’s deserving of a spot on the All-Pro team. He’s been that good. And in a season on the verge of going down the toilet, that shouldn’t be overlooked.
I’ve never been a huge Evan Dietrich-Smith fan. That said, I can’t imagine Green Bay without him in 2014. Not because EDS is a top-of-the-line starting center, but because GM Ted Thompson has no legitimate alternative at the position. Greg Van Roten is a fringe player and J.C. Tretter has never snapped a ball in his life. The rookie, who has been out all season with an ankle injury, started at tackle at Cornell. That’s a very difficult transition to make – especially for an Ivy Leaguer. And while I still think T.J. Lang could develop into a quality center, what’s the point in moving an already established guard? The best move for Thompson is to re-sign EDS in the winter, draft a center in the spring and see how Tretter looks in the summer.
I have no idea if Bob McGinn’s recent story on B.J. Raji turning down an $8 million per year offer is accurate, but if it is, the veteran defensive lineman needs to have his head examined. Other than a brilliant stretch late in the 2010 season and very brief spurts of dominance before and after that, the former Boston College star hasn’t done anything to merit such a lucrative deal. Don’t believe me? The next time you watch Raji play, forget that he was the 9th overall pick in the 2009 draft and forget the interception return for a TD in the NFC Championship against the Bears. Instead, just focus on how he actually plays on a down-by-down basis. If you still think he’s worth $8M per, you’re either his agent, his relative or the person who drafted him.
As much as the Packers need help at safety, the No. 1 priority for next season has to be finding a tight end. Coach and pseudo offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy relies on that position as much as any play-caller in the league, and without Jermichael Finley, he’s been working with one hand tied behind his back. While Micah Hyde could switch from corner and Sean Richardson has some potential, have you seen the slop at tight end? Only Brandon Bostick has any skills, but he doesn’t block, and at best seems destined to be this era’s Tyrone Davis. As for Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner, they should only be so lucky.
I’ve had a huge problem with Dom Capers’ predictable schemes and his lack of adjustments during games for the past 2 1/2 seasons. Now I have a huge problem with another thing – his common sense. Outside linebacker Nick Perry clearly does his best work from the right side, so what did Green Bay’s veteran defensive coordinator do last week against the Lions? He placed the former Southern Cal star on the left side 2/3 of the time. Not surprisingly, Perry’s strip-sack of quarterback Matthew Stafford, which resulted in the Packers only touchdown of the afternoon, happened when he was playing on the right side. I’m sure Capers will have an explanation for why he’s not putting a talented player in the best position to be successful, but like everything else about the defense lately, I’m sure it will make no sense.
Nothing has been announced by the team, but according to his Twitter account, veteran running back Kahlil Bell has signed with Green Bay. The move makes a lot of sense. After placing rookie Johnathan Franklin on injured reserve last week, the Packers entered their game at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day with only two running backs. Bell, 26, who was released by the Jets in September, rushed for a career-high 121 yards on 23 carries against Green Bay in 2011 while a member of the Bears. For what it’s worth, I’ve always liked the ex-UCLA star and was disappointed when the Packers chose not to sign him after a workout last November. You won’t find a better running back on the street at this point in the season.
Coach Mike McCarthy probably has too much respect to fire Dom Capers, but that doesn’t mean he’ll bring the beleaguered defensive coordinator back in 2014. Like he did with special teams coordinator Mike Stock after the ’08 season, there’s a good chance McCarthy will “urge” Capers to retire. As for a possible replacement, don’t be surprised if the Packers stay in-house. Who’s the best candidate? To me, Joe Whitt Jr. is a no-brainer. He’s young, bright, energetic, and most importantly, players have actually developed under his tutelage. Former street free agents Tramon Williams and Sam Shields became quality starters, draft choice Casey Hayward excelled as a rookie in 2012 and even Jarrett Bush has looked semi-competent lately. And let’s be perfectly honest, making Bush look semi-competent should probably earn Whitt not only a promotion but a solid gold statue built in his honor.