The Packers opened the year guns blazing with six straight wins, including back to back home wins against the Seahawks and Chiefs. They seemed to be rolling just fine without their star wide out Jordy Nelson, but after week six they got a huge awakening when they went to Denver after their bye week. That beat down in which Aaron Rodgers was held to 77 passing yards led to a three game losing streak. While that streak was against two of the Super Bowl teams, it also included a home loss to the Lions, in which was their ugliest performance of the year. From there they finished with a ho-hum 4-3 that could have been worse had Aaron Rodgers not threw a miraculous hail mary to avoid being swept by the Lions. A lot of questions were brought up this season, but at the end of the day we have always learned to never count on Rodgers.
A lot of the problems seemed to be brought up in the coaching. Mike McCarthy was rumored to have been having a rocky relationship with Rodgers and the duty of play calling has been a passed around the team. Rodgers has thrown in a few subliminal digs, but from afar it is too tough to understand the entire problem here. Still, it will be something to monitor as this team looked lifeless at times during their 4-6 finish. On defense there is also the constant struggle and question as to whether the game has passed Dom Capers by, or if he just has a flaw, mainly with scrambling quarterbacks. Either way he will be retained.
As mentioned when you have Rodgers you have arguably the best in the league. He suffered a dip statistically, but it could really be chalked up to a number of things, and he won’t stand down in blaming himself as well. Still, there is no other quarterback you are more afraid to play due to his overall package of abilities. Scott Tolzien is a free agent but Brett Hundley should be given a go as the future back up, because at the end of the day this team is in trouble without Rodgers.
What does it say about Eddie Lacy that every year in the league his stats have basically gone down by the year. He is still a punisher, and honestly a great playoff back, but you have to be concerned about his conditioning, especially if you want him to be your back through the season. James Starks is a guy who is good for his role, but over a season cannot take a game over without Lacy. In the end, Lacy is a free agent after this year, and that will be the time in which the Packers either draft a running back early or resign him.
As the year went along you really could tell this team was missing Jordy Nelson. Guys like Davante Adams Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and Ty Montgomery all got time in trying to fill the void, but for one reason or another none got to keep the role. All three still seem to have upside, and with Nelson coming back along with Randall Cobb, it makes free agent James Jones extremely expendable.
At tight end Richard Rodgers started to earn Rodgers trust, especially in catching hail marys, and he even tied Jones for the team lead in touchdowns. The hope would be that Nelson is leading these categories now but to find young guys like Rogers is key, and if they draft a tight end it will be a late depth pick because Andrew Quarless is a free agent.
On the line, it seemed the injuries were not major, but were timely in being a big reason for the Packers late season struggles. David Bakhtiari missing time late was a big problem for the Packers, but at left tackle he really looked like one of the more promising lineman on the team. Josh Sitton is the top lineman on the team and played in all 16 games last year. The two will combine the left side which actually is a really solid left side. At center Corey Linsley missed some time but his job isn’t really in jeopardy, and the same can be said of TJ Lang. The whole line is young, and there are no glaring holes which kind of gives you a feel that with better health they may be really good next year.
On the line the Packers can say that they have Mike Daniels sured up. He is a menace and is great in creating lanes for linebackers with his power. Aside from Daniel’s however, there are some flashes of talent, but nothing really hit yet. Letroy Guion will probably get a chance to start as the Pack will probably let BJ Raji test the market in free agency. Guion started parts of the last two years and it could be a lateral move. Datone Jones, and Josh Boyd are some other guys who showed flashes, and can play in multiple schemes like the Packers do, so it doesn’t make the line a priority, but they will probably add a depth guy or two via the draft or free agency.
Talk about the multiple defense, Clay Matthews basically plays two positions. He rotates at both middle linebacker and pass rushing on the outside, but honestly when Julius Peppers is opposite Matthews is basically a SAM in a 4-3. Peppers led the team with 10.5 sacks and is a pure pass rusher in the defense. While Peppers is 35, the hope for Green Bay was that one of 28 year old Mike Neal and 25 year old Nick Perry would have started to show that they can either push Clay to a full time middle spot in a 3-4, or start to shove Peppers out the door. Unfortunately it hasn’t come and both are free agents. Perry will probably draw some interest due to his age and former first round status so something to watch will be how the Packers plan to replace Peppers at some point, or at least add to the pass rush they will be losing.
On the inside however, with Matthews giving help against the run, and rookie Jack Ryan showing he is a capable future starter the position is in good hands. Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington are guys who can step up next year and take snaps next to Ryan but middle linebacker may be addressed via the draft.
The Packers may be losing Casey Hayward due to free agency, but unlike at outside linebacker their plan may have worked out. Damarious Randall can take over the slot after getting time in his rookie season, and Quinten Rollins was drafted in the second round last year, and looked good as a rookie for the Packers. That along with Sam Shields still being a talented corner makes that position really one without need, even without Hayward. At safety, Haha Clinton-Dix is starting to get it together, and Morgan Burnett has been a solid veteran. Micah Hyde is another depth name who can take inside receivers and can play in dime sets. It gives them a chance with youth, and depth to have a really talented secondary next year.
Where do they go?
The start to me would be to clean up their front seven. Whatever was going on with Rodgers and his coaches can hopefully be buried under the bridge, and the return of Jordy Nelson should be major for the offense. Finding some help at pass rusher, and maybe some overall depth on the offensive line will be the Packers move. It seems simple, but teams like the Packers work that way, and they should be one of the top tier teams heading into the season.