By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A season plagued by injuries, inconsistency and ineffectiveness came to its inevitable conclusion in the Packers’ 35-11 loss Sunday at Detroit.
Green Bay’s weak defense overhauled with coordinator Dom Capers’ firing loss
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Green Bay’s 7-9 finish kept the Packers out of the post-season for the first time in nine seasons. It also led to major changes in the coaching staff, beginning with the defense.
As first reported here, the Packers did indeed fire defensive coordinator Dom Capers and at least two of his assistants as of Monday afternoon.
Capers could only watch as his defense was overrun by a Lions’ attack led by quarterback Matthew Stafford’s three touchdown passes. Three first-half turnovers by the Packers’ offense also helped Detroit grab a commanding 20-3 halftime lead.
The Lions (9-7) didn’t celebrate the victory.
Instead, Detroit fired head coach Jim Caldwell a day after he led them to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1993-95.
Chicago also fired head coach John Fox to complete a purge of half of the NFC North’s head coaches.
In Green Bay, major work needs to be done on both sides of the football.
Offensively, the Packers wisely signed center Corey Linsley and receiver Davante Adams to well-deserved, although pricy, contract extensions. That still leaves the offense with question marks at receiver, where Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb had subpar seasons, and at tight end, where Martellus Bennett imploaded and Lance Kendricks offered next to nothing.
Furthermore, the Packers have decisions to make with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is an exceptional talent when healthy. The problem is he’s been injured so frequently it seems as if he’s either going on or coming off an injury list.
The Packers cannot rely on Brett Hundley as their backup QB. They were shut out twice this season at home with him at the helm.
And at Detroit, after the benefit of seven starts, Hundley still looked like a deer in the headlights far too often.
He had two red-zone turnovers, which are inexcusable, and failed to threaten the Lions’ defense with either his throwing or running ability.
For my part, Hundley proved he is at best a so-so backup, but certainly nobody who could consistently lead a team to the a successful season, if called upon.
The Packers’ problems are more pervasive on defense.
General manager Ted Thompson has presided over 13 NFL drafts in Green Bay. Recently, he has loaded up on the defensive side with mixed trending toward poor results.
Kenny Clark, the first-round pick out of UCLA, came into his own in his second season. He is a legit stud and should be an anchor to build around in the defensive line. Defensive end Dean Lowry also has been an excellent draft pick. Clark and Lowry, along with inside linebacker Blake Martinez, have been the defensive stalwarts.
Beyond that it’s been sketchy.
Mike Daniels and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were up and down all season. Morgan Burnett was OK when he played, but most of the season he was either out or ineffective due to injuries. And age is going to take its toll.
Rookie cornerback Kevin King showed he can play in the NFL and clearly has terrific potential. But his season also was derailed by a shoulder injury.
So what are the Packers to do?
Firing Capers – as harsh as it sounds – was the correct call.
His defenses have gradually slid ever since the Super Bowl season of 2010, the last time they ranked in the top 10. And there has been a troubling lack of cohesion of late.
Clay Matthews still gives great effort when he’s healthy, but he is no longer the dynamic impact pass rusher he once was.
Nick Perry also was injured often – which has been his career history – and under performed after signing a hefty contract extension.
It left the Packers without enough play-makers, especially with Aaron Rodgers’ absence leaving the heavy lifting to a defense that wasn’t up to the task.
The Packers’ season-ending loss was regrettably typical for the season.
Stafford hit the Packers for two big touchdowns: a 71-yard strike to Golden Tate and a 54-yarder to Kenny Galladay.
The Lions mauled the Packers’ defense even though it ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing and was one-dimensional.
Now, head coach Mike McCarthy will busy himself with the task of selecting Capers’ replacement, while Thompson and the scouts devise an off-season game plan for talent acquisition.
To those who believe the Packers are in for a long, cold winter I say this: You’re wrong. It’s going to be an extremely busy off-season that’s just beginning to heat up. Let’s say consider this – it should be exciting. And next year we have AR back.