Keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy will be a key to success in 2014. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Even Aaron Rodgers can’t save this crumbling Green Bay Packers unit


We all await the return of Aaron Rodgers. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

We all await the return of Aaron Rodgers.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

 

Five weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers sat atop the NFC North Division with a 5-2 record and Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in the league, guiding a team destined for an easy playoff sport and a run at another possible Super Bowl.

Everyone was giddy and brimming with confidence and enthusiasm. The franchise and their fans were riding the wave of greatness for which they had all become accustomed.

Then we all heard the crack that resonated across Packers Nation and the entire league.

Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin (99) and cornerback Isaiah Frey (31) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in the 1st quarter at Lambeau Field. Rodgers left the game with a broken clavicle after the play. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In a single play, Aaron Rodgers’ clavicle and the name Shea McClellin became synonymous and were heard uttered surrounded by expletives that made us all cringe.

We would be OK. The Packers, built by the greatness that is Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, would weather this storm. No problem.

That was before we saw Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn in action. That was before the injuries continued to mount – especially on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive line.

Each week, our hopes soared. We all felt that with the weak sisters the Packers would be playing, that they could steal a win here and there as we patiently waiting for our savior, Aaron Rodgers, to recover.

But with each passing week, the hopes were dashed and more questions were raised. The defense couldn’t stop the run, the special teams were all but special, and the offense was just plain pathetic. The quarterback play was simply bad and Eddie Lacy, a rookie with an increasing workload, was carrying the team by himself.

Then came last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, when the Packers were humiliated, embarrassed and smashed to pieces by a Detroit Lions team Green Bay had beaten just a few weeks before. In essence, the Packers had transformed from contender to doormat … switching spots with the Lions.

One reader, Rick Giovengo, left a comment on a recent post of mine where I talked about how the inability of the Packers to tackle was causing huge issues. His comment astutely compared the Packers franchise to a bridge – one that hadn’t been maintained for some time and one that, like all bridges when not maintained, was beginning to crumble bit by bit.

Here’s how Giovengo described the issue:

Performance problems are like an old bridge, the bridge just does not collapse, there are little things that over time start to break until the entire bridge falls into the water. Currently the Packers are an old bridge that’s cracking.

He’s right. The issue of denial by McCarthy – going back a couple of years when the defense was pathetic and culminating in last year’s 49ers playoff game when the

Mike McCarthy
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Packers were gashed – is a leadership issue. McCarthy’s weekly irritation with the bad defense and then saying it would be corrected is denial at its best – I have nightmares of Forrest Gregg saying the exact same things a couple of decades back.

Giovengo says it better than I can:

… many organizations suffer from similar issues, the disease of denial. It is difficult as a leader to look inside face things that you just do not want to see. Every word out of MM’s mouth are words of denial. If you keep telling yourself everything is going to be OK, you start to believe it.

But football is a game of performance and action, not words. The Packers defense has been sub-par for two seasons now (I would actually say three, but to be fair…). The Packer organization must start facing up to the facts (and stats) for they don’t lie – people lie (or deny), facts and stats do not. The Packer organization is going to have to do some real soul-searching if they are going to be a contender with its current leadership. I respect the Packers as a team and as an organization, and their views on loyalty, but loyalty with no performance does not win games.

And to save this crumbling franchise will take hard work. Yes, Aaron Rodgers may give it his best shot and maybe with a little luck this team may even still have a shot at a playoff shot. But don’t fool yourself. Much better Packers teams in recent memory have been ousted quickly from the playoffs.

The problems here are deep-seated and it’s going to take time for the leaders of this organization to first, recognize the problems, and secondly, do something about it.

I’m afraid it’s going to be a long winter in Packers Nation as the season comes to an end before January.

But chins up, Packers fans. The franchise has been in the depths of despair in the past. Things can be fixed. We’ve still got Aaron Rodgers; we’ve still got Clay Matthews; we’ve still got Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson. There will be plenty of holes to fill and plans made. This team will be completely different next year than what we are seeing today.

My hope is that the repairs to the bridge are made and the crumbling stopped.

The Packers are the NFL’s premier franchise. They will be back. But it will take more than Aaron Rodgers to bring them back.

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  • Peter Maiz

    Well, I finally find Raymond Rivard telling it like it is. It’s about time a writer/columnist decided to tell us what is really happening, which many of us fans knew by intuition and observation. I say recruit Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator as he has had great results as a defensive coach/coordinator. You can’t go to the Super Bowl with concurrent bad defenses for some years now. It’s time for Mike to act and get rid of Capers for 2014, enough of being in denial.

    • HRGUY17

      Lovie is a 4-3 guy so you are talking about remaking the roster. You would be letting go of all your big interior defensive lineman and recrafting your linebacker core. Is the issue scheme, players, not executing or all of the above? Part of the issue that Rodgers’ absence highlights is the lack of ability to sustain drives and give the d a blow. Bears game was a win with Rodgers at the helm, lost the turnover battle (1-0). Eagle game – 2-1 turnovers, couldn’t tackle McCoy (lots of people can’t), 2 missed fieldgoals. Giants – 3-1 turnovers. D played well but the pick 6 killed them. One bad game and 5 straight weeks of pretty terrible QB play hurts. Everyone needs to take a chill pill…

      • Peter Maiz

        Agreed and Rodgers should be back for Dallas. Am not knowledgeable enough to have known about Lovie. I suppose the defense gets pretty exhausted not getting a break from a lack of sustained offensive drives. It seems to me that the stats for the defensive core for 2012 sucked, though. I just saw the Seattle defense and say “my God, Rodgers with a defense like that!”.

        • HRGUY17

          Yeah, Seattle plays fast defensively. Tell you what though, they are not big and can be beat with a power running game. I think the Pack showed that last year (if you recall, they ran well in the second half but just could not punch it in).