Just a few months ago the Green Bay Packers seemed to be on an upwards trajectory. New head coach Matt LaFleur breaths life into a team that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. Aaron Rodgers starts to show glimpses of his former fire-breathing dragon ways, and leads the Packers to a 13-3 regular season, a first-round bye, followed by a win over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round to set up an NFC Championship showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. Fast-forward four months and ask the question: why is the fan-base so pissed off? Well a few things happened between the Seahawks victory and now, a week after the NFL draft, to turn even the most hopeful fans into a bunch of jackals.
First the Packers got smoked by the 49ers in the NFC Championship 37-20. The Packers allowed 285 rushing yards and hardly touched Raheem Mostert all game long. This lackluster big game performance all but exposed the Packers as frauds and accentuated the team’s holes. Then the coup de gras happens during the draft. The Packers seemingly have glaring need at wide receiver, and fans are in luck, this happens to be one of the best and deepest receiver drafts in the history of football. What can go wrong? Well General Manager Brian Gutekunst trades up in the first round and instead of giving Aaron Rodgers an offensive weapon to help the team get over the hump, he bypasses the hopes and dreams of fans everywhere and takes Rodger’s backup and hopeful eventual replacement in quarterback Jordan Love. Fans have been outraged ever since and many NFL pundits are still confused by the move. Now that the draft is over and the ramifications of the Packers organizational shift are still being sifted out, what do the Packers do now heading into the 2020 season?
The first thing they need to do is tighten up their organization. The Packers can’t afford any more leaked conversations about how Aaron Rodgers seems extremely pissed off about the Love pick. Basically Packers brass needs to tell Brett Favre to shut the hell up until they get to figure things out and make sure they and Rodgers are on the same page. Then the Packers need to take this offseason and establish an identity. Green Bay needs to develop some kind of sense of who they are in year two under LeFleur. Year one was can be chalked up as a learning experience where players and coaches were feeling everything out and getting used to a new system. Year two is when the Packers must show signs of what style they have chosen to play. If the draft is any indication, it looks like the Packers are planing to get stronger, tougher, and lean on a power run game. Drafting running back A.J. Dillon in the second round and tight end/h-back hybrid Josiah Deguara in the third seem to inform that LeFleur is maybe trying to replicate the power running scheme he employed while working as the Offensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. If that is indeed the case, LeFleur will still need to scheme ways for breakout star running back Aaron Jones to get involved. A power running game could take some pressure off of Aaron Rodgers who enters his age 36 season in 2020, and hasn’t risen to his former elite level since 2016.
The defense will need to show vast improvement from the NFC Championship without veterans Blake Martinez and Tramon Williams who were lost to free agency. It will be up to a cast of mostly youngsters to turn the defensive ship around, starting in the secondary with budding star Jaire Alexander. Alexander at times over his first two seasons has show flashes of becoming a shutdown cover corner. At other times he has lagged off of his receiver and still allows a number of big plays. He and fellow young corner Kevin King will need to blossom into reliable starters and possible star caliber players if the Packers want to improve on last season.
While pessimism and organizational chaos have been the themes of the offseason for the Packers, fans can still be optimistic about the upcoming season. Rodgers is still a top ten quarterback in the league capable of taking a talent rich team to the Super Bowl in the same vain as John Elway during his late career resurgence. The talk of the offseason was the packers lack of depth at the receiver position, but the Packers still have plenty of offensive talent. Aaron Jones if coming off of a career year in which he scored 19 touchdowns. Davante Adams is still only 27 years old and one of the premiere receivers in the league. Throw in secondary options Jamaal Williams, Devin Funchess, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the Packers have enough fire power to be a competent offense. They might not blow your doors off, but enough of those guys can get the job done. The defense still has the Smith brothers coming off the edge generating sacks, and second year safety Darnell Savage could blossom into a Pro-Bowl level talent. The defense is still quite young and has the chance to grow into a top 15 defense in the league.
While the Packers likely didn’t make themselves much better this offseason, the players they kept around could be the right ones to still make a run at the playoffs. Unless Rodgers implodes or retires anytime soon, Green Bay should still be in the mix in the NFC this season.