Just six weeks ago, there was talk of chasing history. Of attempting to win back-to-back titles. Of staking an early claim to “team of the decade.” Of going for perfection.
We look back now and face reality. The defending champs, who went 15-1, were one and done in the playoffs. The Packers played the part of last year’s Falcons, unable to find the offensive rhythm they had all year and unable to mask their defensive shortcomings, when the Giants weren’t generous enough to turn the ball over.
Looking back at Sunday’s performance, the four turnovers remain the most difficult to swallow. Yes, there were a lot of drops–that was an issue all season. Was Rodgers as sharp as he’d been all season? No, but his performance was strong enough to bring home a victory. Just as the Saints found out the day before, putting the ball on the ground can energize your opponent, while at the same time demoralizing the offense, causing all the skill guys to think a little too much about ball protection and sapping their confidence.
Ultimately though, the failure of the defense to pick up the offense is what set this team apart from last year’s. In his end-of-season press conference, Mike McCarthy talked about a team-wide tackling issue. That this unit struggled to handle the most basic fundamental element of defensive play is beyond troubling.
The inability to rush the passer hampered the defense all season and you can bet Ted Thompson will upgrade the D-line and right outside linebacker position. No longer can he rely on late draft picks and street free agents to handle things. With apologies to guys like Jarius Wynn, CJ Wilson, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo, Thompson needs to find highly talented guys on the first two days of the draft to assume those spots.
The lack of pass rush forced the corners to play more zone and it didn’t suit their talents. Both Tramon Williams and Sam Shields took big steps backward, and Charles Woodson’s coverage ability has slipped. They need to play physical bump coverage at the line–Williams and Shields have the speed to keep up with any receiver. As for Woodson, a move to safety is a possibility for a guy who will turn 36 early next season. The prognosis on Nick Collins will go a long way in determining whether Woodson makes the move. At any rate, the Pack could use another corner and safety in the mix next season.
So, the players cleaned out their lockers this week and the coaches prepared for a week in Hawaii to coach the Pro Bowl–with extra time to think about what happened, why it happened and what needs to happen for this team to compete for their fifth Lombardi trophy next season. This is a young team, and for the most part it will return intact. The Pack are the early favorites in Las Vegas to win the Super Bowl next season–but it will take a renewed focus on the fundamentals by all 53 players and coaches to get there. And maybe a few less commercials.