Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Packers lose to 49ers, lose home playoff luster

Yes, Packer fans, it's taken me quite a while to get past the Green Bay Packers' loss to the San Francisco 49ers and post a wrap-up of sorts. Losing for the fourth time in as many games to these guys from the West Coast is getting old, especially when they knock you out of the playoffs two years in a row. And particularly when that other quarterback's legs seem too much for the Packers defense to shut down. Also, after a home playoff record of 13-0 at Lambeau Field through the franchise's history, since 2002 the record has now fallen to 3-5. The luster is off the home field playoff game advantage. Who'd have thunk it?

On the positive side of things, the Packers did win the NFC North Division when, after their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Lions, they were as good as dead. Teams tend to be what they are, especially down the stretch. The Lions were the Lions, Da Bearz were Da Bearz and the ViQueens...well, never mind. The Packers -- despite the multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball -- somehow were able to persevere and finish strong down the stretch. That's a testament to the coaches as well as the players who had to step up. They were the Packers. And that's pretty darn good.

Photo by AP on Packers.com

But we also need to be honest. Pretty darn good is not good enough, as the last few years have shown. While the offense looks as if it will be set for some time to come, barring injuries once again and the likely departure of TE Jermichael Finley, the defense needs an overhaul. Looking at the divisional playoff games this past weekend, especially in the NFC, the Pack's defense seems slow and soft especially down the middle. Questions have arisen once again from fans and pundits alike about the future of defensive coordinator, Dom Capers. In Mike McCarthy's last press conference of the season, he defended Capers. You'd expect no less. And to be fair, Wayne Larrivee, one of the best analysts in the business and the person who also just happens to be the radio voice of the Packers, has said repeatedly since the end of the season that he is convinced the problem does not lie with the coaching staff, but rather the personnel the Packers have.

The Packers will have lots of decisions to make regarding its players, particularly along the defensive front and in the secondary. It could also be argued that there needs to be some adjustments in the linebacker corps, as well. For even as much as the stats show A.J. Hawk is key in terms of tackles, defensive assignment calls, etc., it became more and more apparent that he is slow especially in coverage. Nick Perry, who was supposed to complement Hawk in the middle has basically been a non-factor in his brief time with the Pack. Clay Matthews is a beast, but in the last two years he has only been able to play in 11 and 12 games. No one can predict injuries, but when your best defensive player can't be on the field for an entire season -- especially at the salary he's being paid -- it takes its toll on the team in many ways.

CB Tramon Williams has already said that he thinks the Packers need to have more veterans on the team. GM Ted Thompson's ongoing reliance on young and unproven talent acquired through the draft works to a point. But look at what both San Francisco and Seattle did in the offseason to upgrade their talent through free agency. Then look at which two teams are playing in the NFC Championship this coming weekend. Perhaps Thompson needs to take another look at his approach. Salary cap will play a big factor in what he can and can't do given the salaries already tied up in Matthews and QB Aaron Rodgers. But one or two veteran free agents in key spots, even with the likelihood of overpaying, has to be a consideration. The Packers are clearly a step behind, literally and figuratively, on the defensive side of the ball and unless changes are made they will find themselves an early out in the playoffs next season, as well (and, yes, I'm assuming the Packers will be in the playoffs again next season).

There is so much more that could be said on this and related subjects. But we now have the entire offseason to kick all that around. It will be our own version of fantasy football. Keep checking back in. We'll have lots to say.