By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Less than three months away, Packers’ 2018 season may be Lombardi-esque if …
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Happy birthday to Vincent T. Lombardi, the NFL’s greatest coach, who turned 105 today.
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Lombardi’s story, and that of the 1960s Packers, remains among the NFL’s most compelling of all time. It was little old Green Bay versus the world and the Packers prevailed.
It was Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. It was Ray Scott’s call of “Dale to the right, Dowler to the left.” It was the Packers KO’ing the Giants, the Cowboys and yes, the AFL.
For all the players and titles and Super Bowls since the question still is raised: How would Lombardi have fared today?
That’s easy. If he’s got Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, he’d be fine. In fact, he’d probably build a championship-caliber team around Rodgers – much like Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is trying to do today.
Lombardi had some advantages. For instance, he didn’t have to deal with salary caps, padded practice limits or OTA’s, mini-camps (mandatory or otherwise) or the thing coaches occasionally refer to as “hell on earth” – social media.
It was Lombardi’s way or the highway.
McCarthy’s hands are tied to a degree, I’m sure, but in the wake of Ted Thompson’s change in job titles and GM Brian Gutekunst’s promotion, I’d like to see McCarthy assert himself.
This is the head coach’s time to run the show and set the tone.
Gutekunst, I believe, has done his best to give McCarthy a shot.
Many “excuses” have been erased.
The Packers signed Davon House and Tramon Williams to shore up a beleaguered defensive secondary.
They also signed defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who is hungry and talented, which can be a dynamic combination.
Oh, and on offense, they signed Jimmy Graham – the No. 1 weapon available in free agency – and salty veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis. They are big, bad and trouble for opponents.
Byron Bell, at 6-5, 320, is a versatile guard/tackle who will fill the void created by Jahri Evans at right guard and until Bryan Bulaga returns at right tackle.
The Packers also added what appears to be (fingers crossed) a talented draft class, including an additional first-round pick (from the Saints) in the 2019 NFL draft.
So how does this factor into McCarthy and the notion that he needs to assert himself?
Here’s how: He begins by making it clear exactly what is expected this season: An NFC North title, an NFC Championship and a trip to Atlanta for the Super Bowl.
Lombardi would expect no less. He’d certainly demand no less.
This past off-season McCarthy made it clear he wanted change in terms of the Packers’ player procurement. I’ve often felt McCarthy agreed to replace defensive coordinator Dom Capers (with Mike Pettine) in return for a handshake that the Packers’ new GM wouldn’t leave him with an unproven, untested bunch of DBs straight out of the nursery.
The Packers, and Gutekunst, seem to have listened.
Williams, House, Wilkerson, Graham, Lewis and Bell – with more to come, I suspect, before training camp – represent the “veteran leadership” aspect of the Packers’ roster.
They were brought in for specific purposes.
There isn’t any time to get acclimated. It’s about performing from Day One.
McCarthy’s “prayers” appear to have been answered.
That means it’s on him now.
His new defensive coordinator has enough pieces – some, I suspect, by his own recommendation – to put up a fight.
His quarterback has the weapons in Graham and Lewis to control and attack the middle of the field.
Rodgers readily admits that he hasn’t had two tight ends quite like this in his career. It’ll be interesting to see how he uses them. My guess would be, “To their fullest.”
The Packers’ mandatory minicamp practices this week should be a continuation of what we’ve seen, which is more double-tight end formations than I can recall in forever.
That’s got McCarthy’s fingerprints all over it.
It’s also got new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s prints on it. When the Packers really utilized the double-tight end personnel, as well as the running back corps, it was under Philbin’s watch.
It’s why I suspect McCarthy also may assert himself in terms of insisting the quarterback doesn’t audible away from the running game before it gets a chance to grow legs.
This is McCarthy’s team.
The defense is most assuredly going to be better under Pettine. His track record and the talent/experience influx demand it.
The offense is going to be whatever McCarthy insists it be. I’d like to see him double-tight end opposing defenses to death, with an additional dose of the run game for good measure.
It’s time Rodgers doesn’t have to be the first card played.
I’d prefer he be the trump card after McCarthy has exhausted other weapons – and the opposing defense in the process.
It means fewer passes, fewer sacks, a higher completion percentage and a greater number of big plays.
It’s time McCarthy’s offense controlled the game, not merely by quick strikes, but by taking apart an opponent, plank by plank, until there’s nothing left of the defense or the clock.
I’ll take a 27-10 butt-kicking, complete with a lopsided time of possession, over a 45-28 shootout any day … and twice on Sundays.
Lombardi, I suspect, might agree.
The Bears, and Vikings, are less than three months away.