Examining Ted's Biggest Mistake in 2011Posted:Dec 27th, 2011 4:38 pm
Let's start with the obvious. The reason the Packers sit atop the power rankings and are favored to return to a second straight Super Bowl is the unparalleled performance of Aar...I mean, Ted Thompson. He took an aging, Sherman-depleted roster and built a team that is set to contend for years.
But he made one big mistake in 2011 and it may cost the team a shot at a second straight Lombardi trophy. Let's start with all the cliches: "Hindsight is 20-20." "We don't know what was going on behind closed doors," etc, etc.
But Thompson's decision to cut loose free agent defensive end Cullen Jenkins, rather than pay him, has cost this defense dearly. The Eagles paid him $25 million over five years; I wonder if Thompson would like a do-over on this one. Jenkins could be maddening at times because it seemed like he could never stay on the field. He was often injured--not major injuries, but enough to cost him a game or two here and there. Thompson looked at a 30-year-old defensive end with a history of bumps and bruises and decided his defense could survive without him.
He was wrong. Jenkins has had a strong, healthy season for the Eagles, who obviously failed to live up to the "Dream Team" hype. Meanwhile, Thompson put a little too much faith in his guys, namely Mike Neal, who was drafted in the second round in '10 as Jenkins' heir apparent. Neal has yet to be healthy enough to even play and is inviting Justin Harrell comparisons. The other guys, Jarius Wynn and CJ Wilson have had their moments but are not long-term answers. A strong, punishing 3-4 defense begins with a bruising line (think of the Steelers and Ravens guys).
Jenkins provided stellar pass rush ability from the right DE spot, forcing opposing offenses to account for him. That opened the door for Clay Matthews on the other side to make plays. Part of Matthews' junior slump can be attributed to his achy hamstrings, but the absence of Jenkins is the bigger reason.
We all know that injuries happen. The loss of Nick Collins early in the season was a punishing blow. And the injuries to guys like Matthews, Pickett, Williams, Bishop and Hawk during the season weakened the unit.
But if you want to know why the top seeded Pack should fear potent offenses like the Saints, Giants or Patriots, it's because the D-line is a weaker unit without Cullen Jenkins lined up next to BJ Raji.