By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A season plagued by injuries, inconsistency and ineffectiveness came to its inevitable conclusion in the Packers’ 35-11 loss Sunday at Detroit.
Green Bay’s weak defense overhauled with coordinator Dom Capers’ firing loss
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Green Bay’s 7-9 finish kept the Packers out of the post-season for the first time in nine seasons. It also led to major changes in the coaching staff, beginning with the defense.
As first reported here, the Packers did indeed fire defensive coordinator Dom Capers and at least two of his assistants as of Monday afternoon.
Capers could only watch as his defense was overrun by a Lions’ attack led by quarterback Matthew Stafford’s three touchdown passes. Three first-half turnovers by the Packers’ offense also helped Detroit grab a commanding 20-3 halftime lead.
The Lions (9-7) didn’t celebrate the victory.
Instead, Detroit fired head coach Jim Caldwell a day after he led them to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1993-95.
Chicago also fired head coach John Fox to complete a purge of half of the NFC North’s head coaches.
In Green Bay, major work needs to be done on both sides of the football.
Offensively, the Packers wisely signed center Corey Linsley and receiver Davante Adams to well-deserved, although pricy, contract extensions. That still leaves the offense with question marks at receiver, where Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb had subpar seasons, and at tight end, where Martellus Bennett imploaded and Lance Kendricks offered next to nothing.
Furthermore, the Packers have decisions to make with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is an exceptional talent when healthy. The problem is he’s been injured so frequently it seems as if he’s either going on or coming off an injury list.
The Packers cannot rely on Brett Hundley as their backup QB. They were shut out twice this season at home with him at the helm.
And at Detroit, after the benefit of seven starts, Hundley still looked like a deer in the headlights far too often.
He had two red-zone turnovers, which are inexcusable, and failed to threaten the Lions’ defense with either his throwing or running ability.
For my part, Hundley proved he is at best a so-so backup, but certainly nobody who could consistently lead a team to the a successful season, if called upon.
The Packers’ problems are more pervasive on defense.
General manager Ted Thompson has presided over 13 NFL drafts in Green Bay. Recently, he has loaded up on the defensive side with mixed trending toward poor results.
Kenny Clark, the first-round pick out of UCLA, came into his own in his second season. He is a legit stud and should be an anchor to build around in the defensive line. Defensive end Dean Lowry also has been an excellent draft pick. Clark and Lowry, along with inside linebacker Blake Martinez, have been the defensive stalwarts.
Beyond that it’s been sketchy.
Mike Daniels and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were up and down all season. Morgan Burnett was OK when he played, but most of the season he was either out or ineffective due to injuries. And age is going to take its toll.
Rookie cornerback Kevin King showed he can play in the NFL and clearly has terrific potential. But his season also was derailed by a shoulder injury.
So what are the Packers to do?
Firing Capers – as harsh as it sounds – was the correct call.
His defenses have gradually slid ever since the Super Bowl season of 2010, the last time they ranked in the top 10. And there has been a troubling lack of cohesion of late.
Clay Matthews still gives great effort when he’s healthy, but he is no longer the dynamic impact pass rusher he once was.
Nick Perry also was injured often – which has been his career history – and under performed after signing a hefty contract extension.
It left the Packers without enough play-makers, especially with Aaron Rodgers’ absence leaving the heavy lifting to a defense that wasn’t up to the task.
The Packers’ season-ending loss was regrettably typical for the season.
Stafford hit the Packers for two big touchdowns: a 71-yard strike to Golden Tate and a 54-yarder to Kenny Galladay.
The Lions mauled the Packers’ defense even though it ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing and was one-dimensional.
Now, head coach Mike McCarthy will busy himself with the task of selecting Capers’ replacement, while Thompson and the scouts devise an off-season game plan for talent acquisition.
To those who believe the Packers are in for a long, cold winter I say this: You’re wrong. It’s going to be an extremely busy off-season that’s just beginning to heat up. Let’s say consider this – it should be exciting. And next year we have AR back.
By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – There was nothing surprising about this.
Green Bay’s offense, Hundley can’t move against Minnesota’s ‘D’ in shutout loss
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Not the depleted Packers’ offense’s total lack of any semblance of success against the Vikings’ top-ranked defense.
Not their fans’ boos – clearly and understandably born of frustration – that cascaded around frigid Lambeau Field on Saturday night.
Not the final score: Vikings 16, Packers 0.
Minnesota (12-3) celebrated its second NFC North Division title in three seasons by mauling the erstwhile champs in their house.
The depleted Packers put up little fight.
This was the start of a long winter’s nap in Green Bay.
Some fans may have wanted them to treat this like a preseason game and a chance to move up in the 2018 NFL Draft.
I wanted them to make a battle of it. I wanted them to KO the cockiness out of the Vikings. I wanted them to remind the nationally televised audience that Green Bay isn’t anyone’s underdog, with or without the great Aaron Rodgers.
Oh, well, so much for my Packers-related wishes.
At any rate, the Packers’ offense got pushed around like a top-notch high school varsity team might beat up on the JV’s.
Brett Hundley’s eighth NFL start didn’t look much better than his first. He struggled to find any rhythm and consistency. To make it worse, he made a terrible decision that led to a red zone-interception, the worst kind.
Hundley completed 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards and two interceptions. Why in the world was Hundley asked to throw it 40 times in such unbearable conditions with so many of his weapons out?
Frankly, I have no idea.
How much of the ineptitude was Hundley? How much was it the Vikings’ dominant defense? How much of it was Green Bay’s depleted offensive weaponry?
Clearly, it was all of the above.
The Packers, at 7-8, are what their win-loss record suggests. They are a sub-.500 team with zero, count ‘em, zero Pro Bowl players in this year’s NFL all-star game.
The Packers played without Rodgers, who they placed on season-ending IR earlier in the week, plus receivers Davante Adams (concussion) and Jordy Nelson (early in the first half with a left hand/wrist injury). Tight end Richard Rodgers also exited with a shoulder injury.
It left Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and tight end Lance Kendricks to provide whatever points the offense could muster. The answer was a resounding zip.
Williams rushed 15 times for 58 yards with Jones managing only 13 yards in three attempts before exiting with a knee injury. Kendricks had four catches for 36 yards.
It was the fourth time in six games that Minnesota’s defense allowed fewer than 10 points. It also was the Packers’ second shutout loss at home this season.
The Ravens blanked the Packers 23-0 on Nov. 19.
“Injuries are unfortunate,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “We had a lot of opportunities tonight. We didn’t make the plays.”
The Vikings notched their first shutout since 1993 and could clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs by winning next week and having the Eagles lose out.
It was Minnesota’s first shutout of Green Bay since Nov. 14, 1971, back in the days of the “Purple People Eaters.”
“(The defense) has played pretty good all year long,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Proof will be in the pudding here in a couple of weeks.”
The Packers wrap it up at Detroit next week.
In the loss to Minnesota, I was reminded of several things:
** McCarthy doesn’t commit to the running game the way he should or needs to.
** Justin McCray is a very valuable, versatile offensive lineman.
** Green Bay needs a top-notch receiver to twin with Davante Adams, or to step up if Adams’ concussion history becomes a serious health issue.
** The Packers’ defense needs a new direction.
I won’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most or all of his staff is let go after the season.
** Finally, I’ll be disappointed if the Packers don’t step up and defeat the Lions at Detroit this week. For whatever reason, Hundley has been decent on the road. This is his final chance to show the Packers, and other NFL teams, what he’s made of.
It’s also a chance to cut loose the defense and the running game.
Let’s see if McCarthy makes it so.
By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Two of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks, albeit under highly different circumstances, led their teams into “do-or-die” games Sunday at Carolina.
Panthers’ Cam Newton fires four TD passes in a 31-24 victory Sunday
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In the end, Aaron Rodgers’ return was overshadowed by Cam Newton’s resurgence in the Panthers’ 31-24 victory over Green Bay at Charlotte.
This game turned on two players and one hit.
The players were Rodgers, who threw for three touchdowns and three interceptions, and Newton, who fired four touchdown passes to lead the Panthers to victory.
The hit was Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, Jr.’s helmet-to-helmet cheapshot on the Packers’ Davante Adams. The 15-yard personal foul penalty was inconsequential compared with the Packers’ loss of Adams early in the third quarter.
To that point, Adams had five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. He was replaced by Geronimo Allison, who caught Rodgers’ last-minute pass before fumbling away Green Bay’s chance to pull out what would’ve been an incredible win.
Allison also had two other miscues while replacing Adams.
FOX analyst Troy Aikman – late in the game – said something like, “It’s difficult to put into words what it means for the Packers not to have Adams.”
Clearly it must’ve been because Aikman BARELY MENTIONED IT throughout the second half.
In fact, Davis’ hit on Adams altered the course of the game. While Adams stumbled off to the locker room to begin the concussion protocol, a distraught Davis held his head in his hands on the sidelines. Then, an apparently refocused Davis proceeded to hit Rodgers and raise havoc while Adams sat.
The NFL needs to do something about this rule, or lack thereof.
If a player takes out another team’s player, he should have to sit until the injured player is cleared to return.
At any rate, Rodgers was returning after breaking his right collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota. The injury required the insertion of two metal plates and 13 screws in order to hasten healing. Rodgers reached the 80-percent “good to go” threshold and was cleared to return for Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Meantime, Newton was coming in to continue Carolina’s strong pursuit of the hot contested NFC South’s title.
It hurt to see Newton’s four-touchdown performance overshadow Rodgers’ return for two reasons:
** Newton gloats with the best of them and I’m weary of his act.
** The Packers were “that close” to pulling this game out and reminding everyone from TV tandem Joe Buck and Aikman to the Panthers that it’s never over until Rodgers is finished.
This one might stop hurting in time for the spring thaw, but I doubt it. That’s because the Packers’ 2017 season died an understandable but no less painful death.
The end came abruptly, suddenly and unexpectedly.
Never mind that Green Bay’s successful onside kick extended what appeared to be a surefire defeat. The end was still too fast.
If I have to find fault it’s with Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s – and perhaps Rodgers’ – apparent unwillingness to stick with the running game.
Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones looked to be wearing down the Panthers’ defense, if not at least hitting it for considerable gains on a regular basis – if by “regular” one means once every blue moon.
McCarthy could’ve and should’ve kept pounding away with Williams and especially Jones, who repeatedly was within a whisker of breaking a long run.
It would’ve protected Rodgers and allowed for the possibility of some play-action passes, and perhaps Jordy Nelson’s participation.
Instead, McCarthy decided to have Rodgers throw it 45 times against a tough-as-nails Panthers defense. It makes no sense.
The best thing to come out of Rodgers’ injury was the ascension of the running back position. Yet, when the Packers could’ve ridden it to great effect, McCarthy goes pass happy.
It’s not a shocker. It is disappointing.
Rodgers was 26 of 45 for three touchdowns, three interceptions and 290 yards. No, I wouldn’t start him this week against the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, I wouldn’t play him.
There is no sensible argument in favor of it.
That said, McCarthy kept Rodgers in harm’s way throughout the afternoon by continually passing. It seemed he believed less in his defense than his running game, but for the life of me I have no idea why.
Green Bay (7-7) led 14-10 at halftime and seemed on pace to pull a significant upset.
Then, the Panthers quickly went up 24-14 thanks to a pair of Newton touchdown passes in the third quarter, and that was it.
McCarthy baled on the running game.
It left Rodgers to do what he always must: Make plays to pull off miracles. He didn’t do enough of the former to accomplish the latter.
It could be argued Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen, who caught nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, was the game’s true comeback player. Olsen was returning from a broken foot.
Christian McCaffrey also made me a believer.
He had 136 yards from scrimmage and I’m pretty sure the Packers’ defense couldn’t identify him out of a lineup today.
They never got close enough.
Now, the reality is clear: Sit Rodgers, start Brett Hundley and KO the Minnesota Vikings in Saturday night’s rematch. Finish with a strong victory at Detroit and get ready for the off-season.
The Packers aren’t that far away from being a serious Super Bowl contender, and anyone who believes otherwise is merely peddling the sexy and salacious.
That’s why Sunday’s loss at Carolina hurt.
The Panthers, one year removed from a 15-1 record, a league-record 500 points, and a Super Bowl berth, the Packers had them on the ropes near the end.
That they did so with a rusty quarterback, a pair of rookie running backs and a generous defense says a lot.
It says the Packers better plan to win it all in 2018.