Green Bay Packers: How Ted Thompson can fix broken defense
Poor defensive play once again proved to be the Green Bay Packers’ Achilles heel come playoff time, and the offseason focus must be on fixing this side of the ball.
As long as the Packers are quarterbacked by a future Hall-of-Famer, they’ll contend for Super Bowls, but there’s only so much Aaron Rodgers can do.
A lack of talent on defense isn’t a new phenomenon in Green Bay. Since their last Super Bowl victory six years ago, Dom Capers’ unit has become a postseason punching bag. Capers’ annual grilling by the Packers faithful roars louder than ever, but there’s little more he could’ve done without a single game-changer on his side of the ball. Not one.
The onus falls on Ted Thompson, the Packers’ general manager and man who built the defensive horror show with a handful of first-round selections. Count ’em up: Clay Matthews; Nick Perry; Damarious Randall; Datone Jones; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix; Kenny Clark. All six were selected during the draft’s opening day, but only the rookie Clark showed any resistance in Sunday’s hammering.
Rewind five years. Green Bay rolled into San Francisco for a divisional round showdown with the NFC’s second seed. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to 31 points against the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. His team was still blown out. Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Green Bay’s defending of the read-option was almost comical. Sunday’s debacle in Atlanta was jarringly reminiscent.
To Thompson’s credit, the Packers boasted championship-caliber defenses in 2014 and 2015. Talented, yes, but also inexperienced. Ted’s over-reliance on youth proved all too costly. That’s the nature of his draft-and-develop philosophy.
After a 57-minute masterclass in Seattle two years ago, the Packers’ young guns went into full meltdown mode to squander a shot at the Super Bowl. Brandon Bostick’s botched onside kick is remembered most, many forgetting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s pedestrian coverage on the Seahawks’ crucial two-point conversion.
Last year in Arizona, a blown coverage by Damarious Randall left Larry Fitzgerald wide open, and he scampered 75 yards before placing a bow on Green Bay’s season moments later.
How Thompson can put it right
The Packers won’t overreact. Dom Capers will likely stick around and Thompson will put his energy into this spring’s draft class. Thompson’s no-panic approach should be applauded, but he does need to open his mind to a talented free agency pool, if only slightly.
That’s not to say he should throw money at players like it’s going out of fashion, but adding a few veteran pieces here and there can make all the difference.
If the signings of Julius Peppers and Jared Cook over the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that you can strengthen your roster in March without breaking the bank.
Maybe the Packers agree. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Green Bay is expected to be more aggressive on the market.
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“There certainly are some indications that the Packers will be a little more aggressive in free agency this year,” Rapoport said. “From what I’m told, I would think the Packers are going to go and get some free agents this year, along with trying to re-sign Jared Cook, that is a priority for them.”
The Packers will have $35.7 million in cap space, per OverTheCap.com, a number that would increase to $47.7 million if they move on from Sam Shields and James Starks. So it’s certainly plausible to think the Packers may browse the market.
Be that as it may, it’s difficult to see Thompson abandoning his strict philosophy to go on a wild spending spree. But with the prospect of additional cap room to burn, he may be willing to dip his toe into the market, even if only briefly. The last time reports of this nature came to surface was in 2014, the year Thompson signed Peppers.
To restock a depleted defense, the Packers must use every means available to them. Peppers is likely gone, and Sam Shields may be heading the same way. Clay Matthews isn’t the same player he once was. That’s some serious firepower the unit is lacking.
Draft-and-develop isn’t just a catchphrase, and the second piece is equally as important to the first. The development of young corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, and linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez, will play a pivotal role in the unit’s growth. But Thompson can ill-afford to sit on his hands this offseason.
Next: The Eddie Lacy conundrum
Using free agency to add a veteran or two, likely cut from their previous team, as well as restocking in the draft, might be the route the Packers take.