Thursday, January 11, 2018

Eliot Wolf Leaves for Cleveland, Following Former Packer Executives John Dorsey and Alonzo Highsmith

When there's a change at the top of the organizational structure, it's not surprising that the ones who missed out on the promotion decided to try their luck somewhere else though it's unfortunate that the Green Bay Packers have lost both Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith.
Current Browns GM John Dorsey was in the Packers front office until 2013, when he was hired by the Chiefs to become their GM and work alongside his long time friend HC Andy Reid. It was surprising when Dorsey then lost his own power struggle in 2017 and was fired by Kansas City while Reid was given a contract extension.
And it is a big deal, though only time will tell if the Packers made the right decision to promote Gutekunst knowing that it would likely lead to losing Wolf and Highsmith. From an opportunity standpoint, there's a lot more upside for Wolf and Highsmith in Cleveland than Green Bay. If they stayed in Green Bay, they would have helped the Packers rebound from their first losing season in 10 years, which isn't a big story when you have a future HOF QB. But if they can turn it around in Cleveland over the next couple seasons, with all the high draft picks the previous front office had been hoarding and all the cap room available for a quality free agent or two, helping a team that went 1-31 in the past two seasons back to respectability will grab attention. If that happens, it wouldn't be surprising to see either Highsmith or Wolf leave Cleveland in the next two or three years for a GM position of their own.

Keeping Gutekunst while losing Wolf seems to have the support of the Packers' scouting department, whatever you want to read into that about them seeming to support Gutekunst over Wolf.

The demotion of Ted Thompson and the promotion of Gutekunst also led to more authority for team President Mark Murphy.
Murphy is the de facto owner representative for the team, so anytime you read that Murphy or the Board of Directors are taking more interest in personnel and coaching, there is the worry that they're meddling. But every team runs that risk. Something went sour at the end of Ted Thompson's time as GM and Murphy feels he needs to have more oversight, which he should because it could be his job on the line next if he becomes out of touch with the team.

So who's left? It's interesting that Ted Thompson is technically an assistant to VP Russ Ball, who's on the football operations side and not the scouting department. There have been a lot of stories about how Thompson is a scout at heart. The new head of college scouting is the same as last year, Jon-Eric Sullivan. Good luck getting an interview with him. He's got a long history around college football though he's only 41 years old. Who knows how much credit he deserves for last year's draft, but it wasn't a bust and the quality of the top picks is left to be determined. There was definitely promise among that draft class.

Also promoted last year was John Wojciechowski who should be leading the pro side of the scouting department now while Sullivan leads the college side. It does make this all look like the team has been planning this all for a year now. His background is a little unique because unlike Gutekunst and Sullivan, who have spent almost their entire careers working with the Packers, Wojciechowski spent 15 years working with Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and Dallas before joining the Packers a few years ago. Being the lead scout on the pro side is even harder to evaluate for the Packers because they sign so few pro free agents, and it's hard to tell their portion of the input on scouting each week's opponent during the season.

Overall the organization and Mark Murphy seemed to have handled it as well as they could have knowing they had more than one solid GM candidate for only one job opening. And they got their top choice in Gutekunst while leaving the scouting and football operations departments mostly intact and led by scouts who were already in leadership roles. Change is hard, and the Packers only have had subtractions from their brain trust with no additions so far, but the overall situation seems stable and promising going forward.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Packers Promote Brian Gutekunst to GM

When the news first broke that Ted Thompson was out as GM of the Green Bay Packers, team President Mark Murphy said he would hire a consultant to search for varied candidates outside of the organization. Instead the new GM is moving in from across the hall.
There were reports that they tried to interview Seattle's GM John Schneider and Oakland's GM Reggie McKenzie but the Packers were denied the request. The Vikings also denied a request to interview assistant GM George Paton. The only outside candidate they did appear to interview was former Buffalo GM Doug Whaley. If they could have gotten their foot in the door with either Schneider or McKenzie, they probably would have been hired barring a disastrous interview or compensation issue. I wouldn't have been crazy about Whaley. It looks like the Packers tried to look elsewhere but it wasn't meant to be. And they didn't want to leave the top job vacant for too long.

Gutekunst's background is in scouting though almost entirely all of his experience is with the Packers organization. He was strongly considered last year for the open GM position in San Francisco though the way the 49ers switched completely around from originally focusing on a true scout like Gutekunst to a splashy hire in former NFL player/broadcaster John Lynch makes me wonder whether he ever really had a chance.

Scouting might be the most common background for a GM but the job is so much more than scouting including management, public relations, and hiring/firing coaches. I could never make an informed decision on whether someone might make a good GM. Former Packer great LeRoy Butler thinks Gutekunst is a great guy and that has to do it for me.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mike McCarthy's New Year's Resolution Is To Fire All His Assistant Coaches

The Green Bay Packers formally announced yesterday what was reported everywhere on Sunday and Monday - DC Dom Capers has been fired, along with DL coach Mike Trogvac and ILB coach Scott McCurley.
Then it was reported from multiple sources that QB coach Alex Van Pelt would not return and OC Edgar Bennett would no longer be the offensive coordinator, though Bennett remains under contract.
For a conservative organization that usually makes few changes in the offseason, this is an amazing turn of events. It's also odd considering the player contract extensions handed out the week before. Right before the front office and coaching staff is undergoing a complete overall, they took steps to bring back the same players for next season.
Adams was their best receiver last season and it makes a lot of sense to bring him back despite already having two other high priced receivers on the roster (Cobb, Nelson). The Packers have the cap room. Linsley probably had his worst season as a pro in 2017 which probably not coincidentally was his first season not playing alongside either Sitton or Lang at guard. He did get better throughout the season though.

As for Van Pelt, he was originally hired in 2012, seemingly at the request of Aaron Rodgers, as a coach with prior NFL QB experience though he wasn't officially his QB coach until a couple years later. Unlike most NFL OC, the job requirements in Green Bay aren't exactly clear, because on game day it's Mike McCarthy calling the plays. I've always thought the OC got the offense ready to play their next opponent during the week leading up to the game with few duties during the game itself. Van Pelt was usually seen on camera during games sitting next to Hundley with a tablet showing him what he just missed on his previous 3rd down incompletion.
No matter what QB statistical list you pull up for 2017, it's likely you'll find Hundley at the bottom of it. I think his worst stat of the season was being the starting QB for two home shutouts. It looks terrible in hindsight that in response to a question about Colin Kaepernick, Mike McCarthy went off on a rant about the three years he spent developing Brett Hundley. That's not to digress about whether the Packers should have signed Kaepernick, it's a look back at how very wrong him and his coaches were about Hundley and why two of them probably lost their jobs because of it.

These should not be difficult jobs to fill. Any ambitious coach looking to rise the coaching ladder would love to have "worked with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay" on his resume. The offense with Rodgers has been mostly great over the past two seasons, but it's also lacked any of the new innovations that other offenses have been trying in recent years. Bringing in a new coach or two from the outside with a new perspective could be a big help.

Also, improving the backup QB position is probably high up on the to-do list this offseason. There's little financial cost to bring Hundley back for the final season under his rookie contract, while also drafting/signing an undrafted rookie free agent to develop behind him. Based on the results from last season, it would be a good idea to let an unbiased eye spend a year with Hundley in 2018 to see what can be done with him.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Ted Thompson Steps Down as General Manager of the Packers

I was blown away by the news and it didn't look like that I was the only one. Before I digress into the strange and sudden timing of it, first and foremost it has to be said that Ted Thompson has been one of the best ever for the Green Bay Packers.
That's the short list. He has been amazing.

But the reason why this is happening now, suddenly after the season, is the bigger story. At first, I couldn't write anything it because if this was just a football move, an overreaction to the first losing season in almost a decade, it was terrible. There had to be more to it and Bob McGinn had the details.
Last month, Thompson was just gazing into space hardly mindful why he was attending a meeting of team executives, the source said.
The incident was one of several in the last six months that called into question Thompson’s fitness for performing such demanding work. It also opened the Packers to embarrassment for having a man with apparent health and focusing issues directing their football operation.
The entire article should be read, here's the screen shot from December 23rd that he mentioned in the article.
Team President Mark Murphy was quick to dismiss Bob McGinn's report that the Board of Directors forced him to remove Thompson. That part involving the Board of Directors seemed unlikely, it hasn't had a strong hand in regard to on-field decisions since the 1950s when Vince Lombardi ended their meddling.

But then Murphy says this change began over a year ago which seems unlikely given how it surprised almost everyone. I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle. Thompson isn't himself anymore, though the board didn't officially force Murphy to act, and there was not going to be no good way to do to fire/demote him based on what he's done for the team while avoiding any discussion about his health.

I'm not sure how this is going to unfold but it's already gotten a little messy with Alonzo Highsmith leaving quickly for Cleveland after 19 years in Green Bay. It's going to be an attractive job, a winning franchise with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. I'd be happy with an internal replacement but it's worthwhile reaching out across the league to see who might be interested.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Packers Just Finishing Out The Season With Losses vs. Vikings and Lions

Current mood after the Green Bay Packers were completely outplayed in consecutive weeks to end the season...
I would write about their embarrassing loss on New Year's Eve in Detroit except I would say the same things I said about their embarrassing loss to Detroit at Lambeau last month. I didn't have the heart to write about last week's shutout loss to Minnesota at Lambeau last week Saturday because I would have written the same things I wrote about their shut out loss at home to Baltimore. At first I was worried that the Packers were just mailing in their last two games of the season, but they didn't. They've just been this bad for several weeks with this defense and Brett Hundley starting at quarterback.
Um, no. A defense that can allow fewer touchdowns and 3rd down conversions would have given the offense a couple more possessions per game. The overall record might have still been 7-9 but they would have made some of these games competitive.
Now onto the what they have to do to improve their team for 2018, other than just getting Aaron Rodgers back to full health.
And that's a start. I've been surprised since the end of the 2013 season (and the end of the 2015 season) that Dom Capers was still in charge of their defense. But that might be the only significant move for a pretty conservative team.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Aaron Rodgers Returns But Packers Lose in Carolina, 31-24

There shouldn't have been high playoff hopes for a Green Bay Packers team that barely avoided losing to the winless Browns in OT last week, but the return of Aaron Rodgers gave me hope. Honestly I was torn on whether he should even return this season when the playoffs seemed so unlikely. He's probably not at 100%, but there's no keeping him off the field once the doctor cleared him. Unfortunately with this loss, and if the Falcons win on Monday night, the Packers are eliminated from the playoff race. This was the start of a three game late season schedule (Panthers, Vikings, Lions) that they had to win and it immediately got off to the wrong start.

Before I get to Rodgers's return, I want to throw some more dirt on another awful season from the defense.
I don't know if this is being outcoached or outplayed, but it's embarrassing. It was probably both, the players got beat but the coaches didn't have them in a spot to succeed either. It occurred on the opening drive for the Panthers and set the tone for the game. Cam Newton outplayed them all, and they had no answer against either Christian McCaffrey or Greg Olson. This season, McCaffrey is a ranked negative as a runner, and Olson is negative as receiver, according to Football Outsiders (Newton is ranked No. 19 overall) but they all looked like Pro Bowl candidates against the Packers. And "Who's That" WR Damiere Byrd had the first two TD receptions of his NFL career against backup CB Josh Hawkins.

But still the biggest problem was the total, missing pass rush. LB Clay Matthews has had some good games this season, but he was shut out against Carolina. Only NT Kenny Clark recorded a coverage sack. But, credit where credit is due, this was probably the best game of the season for OLB Ahmed Brooks.

Overall this was a defense built and led to go nowhere this season.

As for the offense, I think this comment means that they intended to throw the ball no matter what.
They ended up throwing the ball almost 5 times for every run, though RB Aaron Jones managed to gain still 47 yards on the only 3 carries he had. That pass-heavy game plan worked for the most part, Rodgers really had a great game passing against a tough pass defense, but he showed some rust with an uncharacteristic trio of INTs into multiple coverage. Carolina has a very good run defense, so it's understandable to want to avoid it, but their pass defense is just as good. There was no reason to abandon the running game like that.

Right now, this feels like the end of the season. There are still two more games remaining, which gives them a chance to play the spoiler against two division rivals, but that's all there's left to play for assuming the Falcons win on Monday night.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Packers Avoid Embarrassing Loss To Browns in OT, 27-21

It was a battle of two teams featuring two of the worst QBs this season, Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer, and the Green Bay Packers almost let the winless Browns get the best of them. It took a team effort to struggle badly for the first three quarters, before every unit (including a big punt return from Trevor Davis on special teams) on the team contributed to the win. A lot of players deserve mention for turning it around (Davis, Davante Adams, Damarious Randall) but this was the play that set them up for the win.
But it's depressing to even write about them having to come back. While the offense and defense eventually made the plays in the 4th quarter and OT that led to the win, those same two units led them into this deficit in the first place.

Hundley's day was statistically solid, but there was one stat that shows the problem; 5.8 ypa, which is about as bad as any quarterback is going to deliver. There was no vertical threat and the deep passes that were attempted were commonly thrown into double-coverage. Combine that a ground game that only produced 3.1 ypc, and early game struggles on 3rd down, and it led to an anemic offense for most of the game. The only quick fix to these problems is the return of Aaron Rodgers.

This quote summed up the current state of the defense:
The Packers’ pass rush was almost non-existent and defensive coordinator Dom Capers couldn’t blitz because of the coverage situation. Trying to win against the Panthers playing that way will be difficult.
The run defense got mauled too, but that's a lesser problem behind being unable to rush the passer and cover receivers. They can't do anything too aggressive to try and stop the passing game, instead they just play it pretty much straight with an ineffective 4-man rush and a mix of zone and press coverage (sometimes on the same play) to try and confuse the defense. If it's not confusing or slowing down DeShone Kizer, then I'm not sure who it's going to confuse.

Nothing would have been worse than a loss, but this win showcased all the things they haven't been able to do on offense or defense for most of the season.