In terms of the 2016 NFL playoff race, the Green Bay Packers are toast. While still mathematically alive, for all intents and purposes, this team is out of the picture.
Besides, to be a playoff contender, you need to be able to win a game. And right now, after a month of losing, it’s not clear when this Packers team will be capable of that again.
But beyond this season, the Packers face much bigger questions, such as how did this happen and where do we go from here?
How did a team that two years ago, was among the best in football, become one stuck in the middle. The signs were there last season, especially on offense, but they went ignored.
Somehow, the Packers assumed the return of a 31-year old receiver, recovering from a serious knee injury would save their offense. That and their running back losing about 15 pounds. Oh and free-agent tight end in Jared Cook, who probably would have played well had he avoided injury.
Defensively, the Packers felt good enough at corner to let Casey Hayward walk. Bad idea. Not only is Hayward excelling in San Diego, where he has five interceptions this season, he was cheap. And he would have help Green Bay avoid this crisis at corner.
LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson can’t cover anyone. Neither can Micah Hyde, who never has been able to cover, so it’s unclear why Green Bay thought he could now. Quinten Rollins has taken a step back and so has Damarious Randall.
Sam Shields may also never play again. Now some of those things were hard to foresee. But Hayward was a good player and he would have cost less than Nick Perry. Green Bay had the money, it just overvalued its current talent. Now, the Packers are paying the price.
The reality, as hard as it is to accept, is that some players just aren’t who they used to be.
Nelson is one of them. Yes he has nine touchdowns and has decent stats, but if you think he’s the same player, you aren’t watching the the same games I am.
Nelson looks slow and is having a hard time beating man coverage. You can just see it, he lacks explosiveness and right now, defenses don’t fear him.
It’s his first year back and he will likely be better next season. But will he ever be the old Jordy? Probably not. Father time has a way of shutting down even the most skilled superstars.
Randall Cobb has also never been the same since getting his big contract. He needed to step up and he never has. The Packers should seriously consider cutting him, unless he’s willing to take a pay cut, because paying to average wide receivers around $25 million, as Green Bay will next year to Nelson and Cobb is insane.
And with all the needs everywhere else, the Packers simply can’t afford to.
Green Bay also needs to watch Clay Matthews closely the rest of the season.
Yes, he has been battling injuries, but even before that, he had just three sacks. He hasn’t been the same player and made literally no impact Sunday night in D.C.
Getting rid of Matthews seems drastic and I am not advocating that, but the Packers need to stop over-valuing talent. They are paying him to be a premier pass rusher and if he’s not delivering, something needs to be done. At the very least, there needs to be accountability and right now, there seems to be none.
It’s all well and good to give people a chance. I think Mike McCarthy deserves the rest of this year and next to right the ship. He won a Super Bowl, took the team to seven-straight playoff appearances. He has earned it. The Packers owe him that much.
But things need to change. Dom Capers needs to go. Eddie Lacy needs to go. These young players that aren’t producing, like Carl Bradford, who has been in Green Bay for years, yet still has never been more than a practice-squad regular, need to go.
Thompson and McCarthy need to send a message to this team and this organization, that complacency will not be tolerated.
Complacency is what I believe has caused these problems. It seemed like the Packers thought, as long as they had Rodgers, they could contend. And that is partly true, but in order to win championships, a deep and talented team is needed.
More and more this team is looking like the Packers of the early 2000’s when Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman were at the helm.
Those teams also relied heavily on Brett Favre. They won a lot of games, but in crunch time, if he didn’t play incredible, the rest of the team simply wasn’t good enough, particularly on defense, to win.
From 1998-2006, with Favre still very much in his prime, the Packers failed to get past the divisional playoffs. They won just two playoff games in that time frame.
Right now, the Packers are headed down that road again. Rodgers has a few prime years left and if Green Bay isn’t careful, he will waste them toiling in mediocrity, just as his predecessor did.