by Michael Lombardi
January 14, 02010
QUOTE: “Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others; that is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it, so that we may not lose courage.” -- Albert Schweitzer
Wednesday, I wrote about the Patriots being fortunate to lose in the first round of the playoffs since it will allow them to be active in free agency. Well, the same can be said for the Packers, who also lost in the first round. However, the Packers have a completely different team than the Patriots in terms of youth and talent, and the cure for their ills won’t necessarily come from free agency. But there might be a blue-chip player who can make a difference if they’re open-minded.
On offense, the Packers have extremely talented skill players, but their needs are in the offensive line, where free agency does not often provide answers. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher played well down the stretch and solidified the line late in the season, but was their play perfect? No, but it was much better than having to put T.J. Lang and Allen Barbre at tackle. The Packers need help in their offensive line, which will have to come from the draft. Will Lang and Barbre get better? Maybe, but the Packers front office can’t hang their hopes on either player. They must be aggressive in their approach to securing linemen. The Packers must find linemen who can play with power in the run game and can keep the pocket clean in pass protection to afford quarterback Aaron Rodgers time. If Rodgers has time, if he has comfort in the pocket, there’s no telling how good he can be. With Rodgers playing at his current level, the supporting players around him will be easy to find, but finding quality linemen will be the stiffest challenge.
On defense, the Packers have to be concerned. They had the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL, but in each of their six losses, they gave up more than 30 points a game. Their inability to play effectively against top passing teams has to cause concern, but more than the talent base, they have to be concerned about how easily the Cardinals attacked their scheme last week. The Cardinals’ wide receivers weren’t just open, they were wide open, and this must force defensive coordinator Dom Capers to make adjustments. Clearly, the Cards copied the game plan of the Steelers by stacking their wideouts and creating problems for the Packers’ defensive backs. When playing a pure man-to-man team, stacking the wideouts allows the receivers to get off the line cleanly, but it also places a burden on the defense to sort out the coverage and communicate with each another — something the Packers failed to do. When a team can attack the scheme as well as the Cardinals and Steelers did, it has to force the Packers into making adjustments.
I know the Packers were missing veteran cornerback Al Harris, who would have helped sort through some of the calls, but if the Packers want to continue to play all this man-to-man coverage, they’ll need to add more corners. This may come from free agency, but knowing that Packers GM Ted Thompson doesn’t embrace free agency, I’m sure they’ll draft another corner.
Yet here lies the problem for Thompson. He has a very good team that’s one solid offseason from competing for a Super Bowl title, but all his needs will not be met in just the draft. He has to be more open-minded in his approach to free agency and try to fix some of the current concerns on the team before the draft. He should really give great thought to trying to add a player of the caliber of the Panthers’ Julius Peppers. If Peppers is a free agent, he’ll command a huge pay day, but he would be a perfect fit coming off the edge to help Clay Matthews rush. One more blue-chip player would really make a difference to the Packers on defense.
This is not to imply that Thompson should spend like a drunken sailor, but he should consider spending for quality. And he has to use every avenue available to improve his team because he can’t address every need in just the draft. He’s on the cusp of something very good in Green Bay, and he needs to just make a few moves to get this team over the top.
So like the Patriots, it might have served the Packers well to lose in round one of the playoffs. Thompson just needs to make a few moves in free agency to get this team over the hump.
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