Amidst the Green Bay Packers’ worst losing stretch in nearly a decade, Mike McCarthy remains hung out to dry by his general manager.
McCarthy, for all his faults, isn’t solely responsible for the Packers’ dramatic decline over the past calendar year. Stood helplessly on the sideline watching his defense surrender 153 points in four losses, McCarthy’s been forced to work with a defense decimated by injuries and lacking adequate depth.
That’s on Thompson, whose stubborn draft-and-develop philosophy is under more scrutiny now than ever before. In today’s age with a generational talent at quarterback, it defies logic not to equip McCarthy with a roster loaded with talent, acquired by any possible means. Thompson’s free agency snub requires hitting in the draft year in year out, a task not only close to impossible, but all the more difficult while picking near the bottom of each round.
Through all of the Packers’ struggles on the field, Thompson remains silent off it. His decision to avoid the media displays a refusal to accept accountability for his team’s deficiencies, while also showing no public support for his head coach.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke of a potential rift between McCarthy and Thompson following the conclusion of last season: “According to several sources, McCarthy is fed up with his boss’ unwillingness to take a chance and reinforce the roster with veteran players that might be unknown to the Packers but have the talent to contribute.”
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And who could blame McCarthy?
He is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, led by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is talented enough to win multiple titles, and McCarthy knows this.
A player here or a player there in free agency can make the difference between winning a championship or heading home early. The New England Patriots’ decision to sign Darrelle Revis to a two-year, $32 million contract in 2014 was bold. It was gutsy.
But it worked. He helped Bill Belichick claim a fourth Super Bowl ring in the Tom Brady era, before New England moved on from their star cornerback that offseason.
Jared Cook‘s arrival highlights the impact a free agent addition can make. Finally healthy, Cook hauled in six of 11 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to Washington.
Thompson’s philosophy requires patience while he places all of his eggs into one basket: The draft. In recent draft classes, Thompson has significantly shortchanged McCarthy.
Of Thompson’s 11 selections in 2013, only five remain on the roster. Of those is first-rounder Datone Jones, who in the fourth year of his career can be labeled a bust.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the only true hit from 2014, Corey Linsley a close second. Beyond that, it was an underwhelming class. Third-round selection Khyri Thornton was cut after just one season. Richard Rodgers, Carl Bradford and Jeff Janis have left a lot to be desired.
The Packers are relying on three of their top-four picks from 2015—Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Jake Ryan—to improve a decimated defense, yet all three have disappointed when healthy in 2016.
In desperate need of defensive help, Thompson snubbed the trade deadline when talent such as the Browns’ Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden was believed to be available. The Packers aren’t rebuilding, instead expected to compete for a Lombardi Trophy. Trading for Haden may have sparked a resurgence to a secondary getting torched on a weekly basis.
Thompson continues to protect the future, often compromising the present in the process. And when his roster turns to dust, he shies from the public spotlight and leaves McCarthy to fend off difficult questions.
When Thompson reemerges next spring, nothing will have changed. His focus won’t be on the pending pool of outside free agents that could help the Packers in the immediate future, but rather the cheaper, safer yet longer-term options presented in the draft.
Afraid of taking risks and without being forced to speak up under the media spotlight, Thompson is content to settle for mediocrity.
Defensive woes not all on Capers
Packers fans love to jump on Dom Capers’ case following poor defensive performances. His job, like many of his colleagues, may rest on the Packers’ final six games.
But while Capers must put his talent in the best position to succeed, his players simply aren’t executing. From LaDarius Gunter’s near pick-six of Matt Ryan that would have handed the Packers victory in Atlanta to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s missed sack against Indianapolis, Green Bay has had its fair share of opportunities on defense. These particular failings don’t fall on scheme, but execution.
When Capers doesn’t feel he can pressure the quarterback by rushing four, the need to blitz becomes more apparent. With more bodies rushing the passer, fewer remain to drop into coverage, leading to unfavorable matchups downfield. Washington exploited this.
This isn’t to say Capers is blameless. He became too blitz-happy against the Colts, leading to easy completions for Andrew Luck.
Maybe the Packers will benefit from a fresh start and a new coordinator in 2017. But the defense’s struggles are as much a result of Ted Thompson‘s flawed philosophy as they are Capers’ coaching.
Ground game holds the key
Offense is the best way to play defense. The Packers need to sustain long, successful drives to limit the time Capers’ defense is exposed on the field.
James Starks‘ return helps, as should the addition of Christine Michael. Running the football successfully is a means of controlling the clock and keeping your defense fresh. Green Bay’s short passing game mimicked the success of running the ball at times in Washington.
The Packers used this dink-and-dunk approach well in the first half, sustaining a 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that melted 8:29 off the clock. Following a Washington three-and-out, the offense added a field goal on a nine-play, 38-yard drive that wiped off a further 5:22. It’s these kind of long, sustained drives the Packers need to control games and give the defense a chance.
Running the football can achieve this. With a healthier Starks paired with Michael, leaning on the ground game more frequently is a smart move.
Defensively, the Packers aren’t built to win shootouts, and the offense should avoid them at all costs.