Green Bay Packers: Will Clay Matthews III Come Back to Titletown?

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Well, Clay Matthews III might just prove Wolfe wrong for the second year in a row.

In 2019, even though Matthews wanted to remain in Green Bay and finish his career as a Packer, the team never gave Matthews a chance to stay in Titletown. Matthews was an unrestricted free agent and was willing to take less money to stay with the Pack, but that opportunity never materialized, as general manager Brian Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine thought they were set at outside linebacker with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency.

Plus the team also had Kyler Fackrell, who had led the team in sacks in 2018 with 10.5.

So, Matthews went home to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Matthews grew up in that region and played his college football at USC.

Matthews had a very nice year for the Rams, even though he missed three games due to a broken jaw. Still, No. 52 had 37 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles as a right outside linebacker.

And after the somewhat shocking release of Matthews by the Rams yesterday, there is a chance that Matthews could once again return to his first NFL home in Green Bay. But there will be other suitors as well, as Matthews was contacted by 14 NFL teams after his release by the Rams.

The situation has changed quite a bit for the Packers now at the linebacker position in terms of Matthews coming back to Titletown. The Packers have seen three linebackers leave the team in free agency, as Fackrell (New York Giants), Blake Martinez (New York Giants) and B.J. Goodson (Cleveland Browns) all moved on.

The Packers did sign free agent Christian Kirksey to handle one of the inside linebacker positions. But that still leaves a possible spot open for another ILB, although Oren Burks may be given an opportunity there, along with second-year ILB’s Tyler Summers and Curtis Bolton.

Matthews played very well at ILB in 2014 and 2015 when the Packers moved him there to shore up the run defense. Matthews was recognized for his efforts, as he went to the Pro Bowl in both of those seasons.

Matthews has the talent and versatility to move inside or outside depending on the situation. But it’s good to know that No. 52 has a great track record in either situation.

Matthews was originally drafted by the Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by then general manager Ted Thompson. Matthews was the second of two first round picks by Green Bay that year, as the team selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 and then Matthews with pick No. 26.

Clay and B.J. as rookies

The defense of the Packers became one of the best in the NFL in 2009 with the additions of Raji and Matthews, as Green Bay was ranked No. 2 in total defense that season after being ranked No. 20 in 2008. Matthews went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, as he had 10 sacks.

In 2010, the Packers once again had a great defense, as they were ranked No. 5 in total defense. Matthews was a big reason why. Once again, No. 52 went to the Pro Bowl and was also named AP first-team All-Pro.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six overall Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason. Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matthews has great lineage, as he is the son of Clay Matthews Jr., who I believe rightfully deserves a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Much like Jerry Kramer, when he was finally recognized in 2018.

The Matthews family has cast a large net over the NFL throughout the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 great years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. There is Clay III, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. In addition, there are Bruce’s sons, one being Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and also Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

Bottom line, time will tell, but it would be ideal if Matthews returned to Green Bay to finish his career, which is what he wanted to do all along. He fills a need, still plays fast, plus is very productive.

Let’s also not forget that the Packers were ranked just 18th in total defense least year and just 23rd in run defense, plus were embarrassed in the 2019 NFC title game trying to stop the run.

And just like he did in 2014 and 2015, Matthews can help shore up that issue at inside linebacker.

If Matthews did return, that would mean that there would be just four players on the Packers who were also on the Super Bowl XLV team. The other three are Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Tramon Williams.

Williams left the Packers for three years before he returned home. It’s only been one year for Matthews, but returning to his original NFL home in Green Bay would certainly be apropos.

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb Have Joined a Legendary Fraternity

Clay Matthews XLV (1)

Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.

Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.

Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason.  Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.

No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.

A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Most notable was Brett Favre.

After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.

No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year.  Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.

Plus there was Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966.  Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.

However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.

Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor in 1962

There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.

The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.

Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.

But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.

But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.

Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals.  Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.

Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19.  Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.  The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.  Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.

Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi.  The result of his tenure?  Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.

Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins.  The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.

People like Billy Howton, Tobin Rote, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Boyd Dowler, Elijah Pitts, Lee Roy Caffey, Donny Anderson, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Mike Holmgren.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.

That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.

The Track Record of Aaron Rodgers vs. the NFC North Gives the Packers Hope

Aaron Rodgers vs. the Vikings in 2016

Although the Green Bay Packers are 4-5-1 after 10 games in the 2018 NFL season, there is still hope that the Packers can still make the playoffs. The biggest reason is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as he will be playing all three of his NFC North rivals during the final six-game stretch of the year.

Rodgers is a combined 41-15-1 versus the Minnesota Vikings (12-7-1), Chicago Bears (16-4) and Detroit Lions (13-4).

There is a big reason for his success. It’s the numbers he puts up against those teams. Combined, Rodgers has thrown 122 touchdown passes compared to just 21 interceptions for 19,122 yards against his biggest rivals. That adds up to a combined passer rating of 109.4, which is even better than his all-time NFL best career mark of 103.7.

That rating is helped by his off the charts ratio of touchdown passes (332) vs. interceptions (79). That means that Rodgers throws 4.20 touchdown passes compared to every pick he throws.

No one else in NFL history comes close. In fact, Tom Brady (3.02) of the New England Patriots and Russell Wilson (3.01) of the Seattle Seahawks are the only other QBs in NFL history to be above the three to one ratio when comparing touchdown passes to interceptions.

Bottom line, since Rodgers became the starting QB of the Packers in 2008, Rodgers and the Packers have won the NFC North five times and have made the playoffs eight times overall.

Currently, the Bears lead the NFC North with a 8-3 record, followed by the Vikings at 5-4-1, the Packers at 4-5-1 and the Lions at 4-7. The Bears and Lions have played one more game, as they met in Detroit on Thanksgiving, as Chicago won 23-16.

Rodgers has had a very good 2018 season, as he has thrown 19 touchdown passes versus just one pick for 3,073 yards. Plus, he has played very well against his NFC North rivals as well.

Against da Bears and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the season opener at Lambeau Field, Rodgers had a 130.7 passer rating, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 286 yards. Most of this came after No. 12 had his season almost ended on one of the two sacks he took that night, as Rodgers suffered a knee sprain that saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But Rodgers was able to come back in the second half, as he led the Packers back from a 20-3 deficit, as Green Bay roared back to beat Chicago 24-23.

Aaron versus da Bears at Lambeau in 2018

In Week 2, versus the Vikings at Lambeau, on the same day the Packers put Jerry Kramer’s name on the stadium facade and he was given his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, the Packers saw a sure win taken away from them due to a very controversial roughing the quarterback call against Clay Matthews as he hit Kirk Cousins.

The game ended in a 29-29 tie, as Rodgers threw for 281 yards and a touchdown (without a pick). No. 12’s passer rating in the game was 97.4. And this all happened a week after Rodgers almost had his season ended against da Bears with his knee injury.

As it was, the Vikings sacked Rodgers four times.

In Week 5 against the Lions at Ford Field, Rodgers and the Packers were hurt by the kicking game, as kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point, as Detroit beat Green Bay 31-23.

Rodgers had a nice game, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 442 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 108.0.

But for the Packers to have any chance of making the postseason, either as division champs or as a Wild Card team, they have to certainly defeat the Vikings Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Rodgers can’t do it alone, but he has to play well for Green Bay to win. And as good as Rodgers has played in 2018, in spite of his lingering knee issues, he has also shown a few tendencies that have been rare throughout his career.

For one thing, Rodgers has just a 61.8 completion percentage this season, which is the second lowest of his career (64.9 average). Some of that could be due to his knee woes, plus he is playing with a number of younger wide receivers, including rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.

That has led to a number of inaccurate throws to open receivers. Besides that, we can’t forget that Rodgers has suffered two broken collarbones in his career, including the one from last season (after a hit by Anthony Barr of the Vikings) when Rodgers had to have 13 screws put in to repair his broken collarbone.

Still, Rodgers is still playing at a very high level, even though the Packers are 1-3 in their last four games. In those four games, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes without a pick for 1,076 yards. That adds up to a combined passer rating of 108.2.

Teams should not be 1-3 when their quarterbacks play like Rodgers has the past four games overall, but it goes to show that there are a number of other issues with the 2018 Packers.

And a lot of heat is going in the direction of head coach Mike McCarthy.

Besides utilizing the skills of Rodgers on offense, the Packers also need to rely on running back Aaron Jones more.

The defensive and special teams units have to play better as well.

All that being said, Rodgers is the best chance the Packers have in getting back to the postseason again in 2018, after missing out in 2017.

A lot of that is due to the great success Rodgers has had against his NFC North rivals in his career.

Jerry Kramer and the Packers Were Both Kicked in the Stomach at Lambeau vs. the Vikings

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

Lambeau Field sure looked like the place to be on Sunday. The 1-0 Green Bay Packers were hosting the 1-0 Minnesota Vikings, plus quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared to play.

This after the knee injury Rodgers suffered last Sunday night versus the Chicago Bears, as he led the Packers to a thrilling 24-23 victory over da Bears on basically one leg in the second half of the game.

The Vikings are the defending NFC North champs and together with the Packers, the two teams have won the division seven years in a row, with the Packers winning the title in five of those seasons.

The game on Sunday against the Vikings was also the first time Rodgers had played against Minnesota since Week 6 of last season at U.S. Bank Stadium when No. 12 fractured a collarbone. The injury occurred when he was thrown down by linebacker Anthony Barr after he had thrown the ball.

Lambeau was also the place to be for another reason. Jerry Kramer was in town to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring and to see his name unveiled on the facade at the legendary stadium.

Kramer became the 25th member of the Green Bay organization to have his name displayed on the southwest façade inside the stadium.

I had been in Canton for Kramer’s enshrinement and was invited by Jerry to sit with he and his family in his suite for the game. The Packers had arranged that Kramer and his family would be able to sit in the alumni suite, which is normally used by former Green Bay players.

Unfortunately and regrettably, I was not able to attend. But I truly appreciated the kind offer.

Joining Kramer and his family in the suite was one of No. 64’s old teammates, Donny Anderson.

You might recall a game that both Kramer and Anderson had key roles in from 50-plus years ago at frigid Lambeau Field. And unlike Sunday, when the temperature was hovering around 86 degrees, the classic game from New Year’s Eve in 1967 was about 99 degrees colder.

The organization of the Packers did a fantastic job in honoring Kramer, especially during the halftime ceremony. The website of the Packers did a very nice job in terms of filming the ceremony, taking excellent photos and also showing Kramer’s press conference with the media.

Larry McCarren was the emcee for the ceremony, plus both David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and Mark Murphy (President & CEO of the Packers) also spoke before Kramer talked to and thanked the 78,461 people in attendance.

Jerry being honored at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

Kramer was asked about how he felt when he saw his name displayed on the facade when he talked with the media.

“It felt like a kick in the stomach,” Kramer said. “It was a ‘oomph.’ It was a physical reaction and I wondered if I was going to faint or fall over or what I was going to do. It just lasted for an instant, but it was a noticeable shock.”

Very late in the game against the Vikings, the Packers also felt a kick in the stomach, but this one was painful. More on that later.

I had a chance to talk to Kramer today, as he was getting ready to fly out of Wisconsin and get back home to Boise, Idaho where he can relax (in his Big Chair) for a few days after a whirlwind of traveling over the past few months.

When I asked him about what he remembered most from yesterday, he said it was the response from the Green Bay faithful in the stands at Lambeau.

“It was very gratifying and also very humbling to see and hear the reaction that I received from the fans,” Kramer said. “As I was walking, section after section kept cheering for me. Old linemen like me aren’t used to that type of applause.”

Kramer talked about that dynamic at his press conference.

“It’s surreal, I think is the best way to describe it,” Kramer said. “Especially for a lineman. You know, lineman don’t do those kinds of things. Rarely do they do those kinds of things. It was a wonderful day.”

Surreal is a perfect way to describe yesterday, both in terms of honoring Kramer and also the ball game played by the Packers and Vikings.

The Packers were up 29-21 with less than two minutes to go in the game, when quarterback Kirk Cousins of the Vikings threw what looked like the game-clinching interception to Jaire Alexander.

This is when the Packers were kicked in the gut.

Clay Matthews hit on Kirk Cousins

startribune.com

You see, referee Tony Corrente decided to throw a flag. Corrente called a 15-yard penalty on outside linebacker Clay Matthews for unnecessary roughness after Matthews had tackled Cousins to the ground just as he had thrown the ball.

Matthews had used perfect form in tackling Cousins, as he didn’t hit Cousins with his helmet, leading instead with his shoulder. Plus, No. 52 didn’t hit Cousins high, as he tackled at the numbers.

But still Corrente threw the flag and gave no explanation to Matthews as to why he threw the yellow hanky.

After the game, Corrente said he penalized Matthews because he “lifted (Cousins) up and drove him into the ground.”

I don’t know what game Corrente was watching, but Matthews did not lift Cousins up and drive him into the turf at Lambeau.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Matthews said after the game. “Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within from his waist to chest, got my head across, put my hands down.”

That is exactly what Matthews did if you have looked at this play.

But still the flag was thrown and the gut was kicked.

So what should have been a 29-21 win turned into a 29-29 tie and a real nail-biter for Packer Nation in overtime.

Luckily, rookie kicker Daniel Carlson of the Vikings missed both of his field goal attempts in overtime, including a 35-yard chip shot to win the game at the end of OT.

I had a funny feeling Carlson might miss in OT, even though he was considered one of the best kickers in college football.

I saw Carlson play in the 2015 Outback Bowl when his Auburn Tigers took on the Wisconsin Badgers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Badgers won 34-31 in overtime, as Carlson missed a game-tying field goal in OT to give Wisconsin the victory.

So although the tie against the Vikings wasn’t great and the penalty called on Matthews was a terrible call, it could have been worse. As in a loss, had Carlson made his field goal attempts.

Rodgers played courageously in the game with limited mobility, as No. 12 threw for 281 yards and threw a touchdown pass without tossing a pick. Rodgers was also sacked four times for 28 yards.

Rodgers was obviously very disappointed in the tie.

“Close to an ‘L,’ ” Rodgers said after the game. “Doesn’t feel great.”

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

But was great was seeing Rodgers get with Kramer on the field after the halftime ceremony.

“Yes, Aaron came up to me and congratulated me,” Kramer told me. “He was real cordial to me and we talked for a bit. It was a real classy gesture by Aaron.”

I reminded Kramer that it was against the Vikings at County Stadium in Milwaukee in 1961, when he suffered the most serious injury of his NFL career, when he broke his leg below the knee and separated the bones in his ankle.

I also reminded Jerry that the final score 29-29, which adds up to 58. Talk about surreal or apropos.

1958 was Kramer’s first year with the Packers.  That was the year he was part of the best draft class that the Packers ever had, as three of draftees ended up getting a bust in Canton. I’m talking about Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and now Kramer.

“It’s hard to believe that was 60 years ago,” Kramer said. “But what a wonderful journey it has been over all these years.”

When I talked to Kramer shortly after he was inducted, he talked about how much he was looking forward to not only being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but also about coming back to the stadium at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that,” Kramer told me back in February. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is seeing my name on the facade at Lambeau Field and being honored there in front of those great fans.”

I asked Kramer to describe the events from yesterday at the field he played on from 1958 through 1968.

“It was everything I expected and more. Much, much more!”

Will the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns Do Business Again During the 2018 NFL Draft?

2018 NFL Scouting Combine

General manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers and general manager John Dorsey of the Cleveland Browns worked together in the scouting department of the Packers for 13 years.

Plus, Eliot Wolf, who is now assistant general manager of the Browns, and Alonzo Highsmith, who is now vice president of the Browns, also spent many years together with Gutekunst in the Green Bay scouting department.

Those associations led to a trade the two teams made in early March, when the Packers dealt cornerback Damarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer of the Browns, plus the teams swapped of picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft.

That meant that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the upcoming draft.

Could there be another deal made between the two teams during the draft?

I’m thinking that there could be.

The Packers have 12 selections in the draft this year, which includes their own picks in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus have four compensatory picks (one in the fourth round, two in the fifth round and one in the sixth round), plus have another pick in the seventh round due to a trade.

The Browns only have nine picks in the draft, plus the team doesn’t have a selection in either the third or seventh round. But don’t go feeling sorry for the Browns, as they have the first and fourth selection of the draft in the first round, plus have the first and third selections of the second round of the draft.

It is at the beginning of the second round where I could see the Packers doing a maneuver with the Browns.

To get the third pick of the second round (selection No. 35), the Packers would need to give the Browns their own pick in the second round (selection No. 45), as well as the first pick of the fourth round (selection No. 101) and their second pick of the seventh round (selection No. 239) to make the deal.

Getting up to pick No. 33 of the Browns would cost a bit more, but not much. The Packers would again have to give up their own second round pick (No. 45), plus their first fourth round pick (No. 101), plus would have to also trade their two compensatory picks in the fifth round (No.’s 172 & 174).

The first scenario would still leave the Packers with ten selections overall, while the second would mean that the Packers still have nine picks. The key is that Green Bay would have two selections among the top 33 or 35 players in the draft, plus would still have their third round pick (No. 76) as well.

In both scenarios, Green Bay would also have selections in all rounds of the draft.

The Packers would only want to move up to the top of the second round (No. 33 or No. 35) if a player that they truly want is still on the board. Plus, the Packers would have figured that the player who they desire would most likely be selected before the Packers get a chance to pick at No. 45.

Who that player might be depends on how the draft plays out.

Round 1 takes place on a Thursday night (April 26). Round’s 2 and 3 take place on Friday night (April 27).

I always utilize NFL scout Chris Landry when I do any type of draft story. Landry has put together his own horizontal draft board for the 2018 NFL draft, which encompasses the best players overall, regardless of position.

In my most recent story about who the Packers might select with pick No. 14, I listed the 18 players who Landry gave 1st round value to:

7.4 – 7.0 = Superstar Ability
7.4 = 1st Pick Value

7.0 = Definite Top 5 Pick

RB Saquon Barkley–Penn State
OG Quenton Nelson–Notre Dame

6.9 – 6.5 = Immediate Starter
6.9 = Early 1st Round

DE Bradley Chubb–North Carolina State
S/CB/SLOT Minkah Fitzpatrick–Alabama

6.5 = Mid to Late 1st Round Value

QB Sam Darnold–USC
QB Josh Rosen–UCLA (Character)
DE Marcus Davenport–Texas San Antonio
OLB/DE Tremaine Edmunds–Virginia Tech
WLB/MLB Roquan Smith–Georgia
MLB/ILB Rashaan Evans–Alabama
SS/FS/SLOT Derwin James–Florida State
CB Denzel Ward–Ohio State
CB Mike Hughes–Central Florida
RB Derrius Guice–LSU
RB Ronald Jones III–USC
DT Viota Vea–Washington
DT Daron Payne–Alabama
DT Maurice Hurst–Michigan (Medical)

Okay, let’s say the Packers are fortunate enough to select DE/OLB Marcus Davenport in the first round with pick No. 14. Davenport is who I had Green Bay taking in my second mock draft.

Marcus Davenport III

Marcus Davenport

Now, let’s look at the 24 players who Landry gives an early 2nd round value (6.4) to:

QB Baker Mayfield–Oklahoma (Character)
QB Josh Allen–Wyoming
QB Lamar Jackson–Louisville
DE/OLB Harold Landry–Boston College
DE/OLB Arden Key–LSU (Character)
DE Sam Hubbard–Ohio State
WR Calvin Ridley–Alabama
WR Christian Kirk–Texas A&M
ILB Leighton Vander Esch–Boise State
OLB Lorenzo Carter–Georgia
CB Josh Jackson–Iowa
OT/LT Conner Williams-Texas
OT/RT Mike McGlinchey–Notre Dame
OT/LT Kolton Miller–UCLA
DT Taven Bryan–Florida
DT Harrison Phillips–Stanford
SS Ronnie Harrison–Alabama
CB Jaire Alexander–Louisville
OC James Daniels–Iowa
OC Billy Price–Ohio State (Medical)
RB Sony Michel–Georgia
TE Hayden Hurst–South Carolina
OG Isaiah Wynn–Georgia
OG Will Hernandez–UTEP

From that list, I believe there is a very good possibility that the first three names in that group would have been selected in the first round. Plus, I’m sure there are others in this list who will certainly selected as well. That still leaves a number of prospects who could possibly still be on the board at the start of the second round.

Just imagine if any of these players were still on the board at the start of the second round:

  • Landry
  • Key
  • Ridley
  • Kirk
  • Vander Esch
  • Carter
  • Jackson
  • Williams
  • McGlinchey
  • Harrison
  • Alexander
  • Wynn
  • Hernandez

While the Packers would certainly be intrigued by the offensive players in the group above, it is the defense of the team which needs to become dominant again. Similar to the 2009 NFL draft when then general manager Ted Thompson drafted defensive lineman B.J. Raji with pick No. 9 in the draft and then traded-up to select linebacker Clay Matthews with pick No. 26 in the first round.

The year before that draft, the Packers were ranked 20th in the NFL in total defense. But by selecting Raji and Matthews, along with changing defensive coordinators (from Bob Sanders to Dom Capers), the Packers improved to second in the NFL in total defense in 2009.

And in 2010, when the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers were ranked fifth in total defense.

The Packers have an opportunity to create that same type of dynamic change to their defense, which was ranked 22nd in total defense in 2017. Plus, just like in 2009, the team has changed defensive coordinators, as Capers was fired and replaced by Mike Pettine.

By adding the likes of a Landry, Key, Vander Esch, Carter, Jackson, Harrison or Alexander to pair along with a talent like Davenport, that would give a dynamic change to the defense of the Packers in 2018. Similar to what occurred in 2009.

Every player listed above would enhance the Green Bay defense.

If Landry, Key or Carter were still available at the top of the second round, they could be paired with Davenport as bookends at outside linebacker.

Matthews can still bring it at OLB, as can Nick Perry, but Matthews might be better suited to play inside linebacker now, while Perry continues to have his share of injuries. The backups at OLB (Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel) have yet to show that they can be a force in rushing the passer in the NFL.

Both Fackrell and Biegel showed that they had pass-rush ability in college, but have yet to show that same effectiveness in the NFL. That being said, Fackrell definitely showed some improvement in 2017 with his play, while Biegel missed half of his rookie 2017 season with a broken foot.

Leighton Vander Esch

No. 38 Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch would also be an outstanding add-on for the Packers. He could be paired with Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Like Martinez, Vander Esch would be a tackling machine. In 2017, Vander Esch had 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, five passed defended, had two interceptions and forced four fumbles for Boise State.

Jackson, Harrison and Alexander would all be a big addition to the beleaguered secondary of the Packers. The team desperately needs to add talent and depth to the cornerback position. Jackson and Alexander certainly belong in that category. Harrison would be able to replace Morgan Burnett (left via free agency) at safety and join fellow former Alabama star Ha Ha Clinton-Dix there.

Bottom line, since Gutekunst became general manager, the team has been more aggressive in free agency by adding the likes of tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Tramon Williams.

Gutekunst also made a very difficult decision when he released one of the more popular players on the Packers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

Plus, Gutekunst made the trade with Cleveland and Dorsey before free agency began. The trade was made because of the comfort level that Gutekunst and Dorsey have with each other.

That comfort level could lead to another trade in the 2018 NFL draft. The Packers need to stay aggressive in their approach to improve a team (especially the defense) who was in the NFC title game just two years ago, while the Browns need to add as many assets as possible to a team which went 0-16 in 2017.

The trade I envision could do just that. The Packers would be able to get two great players among the top 33 or 35 prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, while the Browns would be able to add two to three more prospects in the draft.

To me, it’s a win-win for both teams.

A Scout’s Take on the State of the Green Bay Packers

Dom Capers III

For the first time since the 2008 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers will not be playing in the postseason. There are a number of reasons why the Packers are 7-7 and already eliminated from playoff contention in 2017.

Injuries are certainly one big reason why, especially the broken right collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, which kept him out of action for several weeks, a time in which Green Bay went 3-5, to put their record at 7-6 going into last Sunday’s game versus the Carolina Panthers.

Even with a gutty performance by Rodgers, who was hit a number of times during the game, it wasn’t enough, as the Packers lost 31-24, which more or less eliminated the playoff hopes of the Packers.

That became official, when the Tampa Bay Bucs lost to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in Tampa.

Rodgers was not 100 percent in the game against the Panthers, as one could tell with three deep passes that were under-thrown and picked off. Still, Rodgers did throw three touchdown passes as well for 290 yards and had the Packers in position to score the game-tying touchdown. But after Rodgers completed a pass to Geronimo Allison, the second-year wide receiver fumbled and the game was all but over.

After the Packers were officially eliminated, the Packers placed Rodgers back on injured reserve and ended his 2017 season.

But it wasn’t just the injury to Rodgers and to other players which torpedoed the 2017 season for the Packers.

There was also the uneven and inconsistent play on both the offensive and defensive lines. Being good in the trenches is a vital ingredient in terms of winning in the NFL or in any type of football.

The area that stuck out the most this year for the Packers, was the very disappointing play by the defense of the Packers.

This came after the 2017 NFL draft conducted by Ted Thompson and his scouting staff, which gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers the first four picks (CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DL Montravius Adams and OLB Vince Biegel) that the team utilized in the draft.

Add to that, Thompson also signed a couple of free agents to help the Packers on defense, which included former All-Pro and Pro Bowl OLB Ahmad Brooks.

But you wouldn’t know that based on the performance of the defense this season.

Going into Saturday night’s games versus the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the Packers are ranked 26th in total defense in the NFL. The Packers give up on average 356.4 yards per game, as well as 21.3 first downs per game. The “D” also gives up 5.6 yards per play. That just won’t cut it in today’s NFL.

It gets worse.

The Packers are ranked 24th in passing defense, as they give up 240 passing yards per game. What’s even more troubling, is that they allow opposing quarterbacks to have a 100.5 passer rating, which is third-worst in the league.

Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 26 touchdown passes versus just 11 interceptions, plus have been able make big plays, as they have completed 48 passes of 20-plus yards. In addition to that, the Packers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a whopping 68.4 percent of their passes, which is the second-worst mark in the NFL.

The Packers are also dead-last in the league in giving up first down completions. It seems like the defense just can get off the field, at least until after a score. Part of the reason that the Packers are susceptible in the passing game is the lack of a pass rush. The Packers have just 32 sacks, which ties them for 16th in the NFL. Compare that with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a league-leading 51 sacks.

In terms of stopping the run, the Packers were fairly solid in that area early in the season, but have fallen off as of late. Currently, the Packers are ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing defense, as they allow on average 116.4 yards per game and a 4.0 average per rush.

The bottom line is that the Packers allow 23.8 points per game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score, especially when you have a backup quarterback starting a game, like the Packers have done seven times with Brett Hundley. The third-year quarterback from UCLA now gets to start two more games to end the 2017 season for the Packers.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to get a read on the Packers by talking with one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry. I was able to do that on Wednesday, as I spoke to Landry 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

Before I talked with Landry, he and Duemig were talking about defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David of the Bucs. Landry had told Duemig that he had given both McCoy and David blue grades for their performance defensively in 2017 thus far.

Here is how the color ratings work according to Landry’s grading scale:

BLUE (B) = The best. The top line players in the league. Blue players make the plays that are the difference in close games. Superior talent, big plays and consistent.

RED (R)= Red players win for you. They have starter type production in the league. Top line Reds are usually Blues in either the running or passing game but fall short in the other. Red players are impact players and start on contending teams.

PURPLE (P)= Purple are players you can win with. They are usually Red in some areas and can match up with some Reds but overall fall a little short of Reds. A very good player. Solid starter who will usually get the job done at least in some areas. NFL scouting axiom is to not play anyone who is below purple.

Thompson, Murphy and McCarthy

Knowing all that now, I wanted to find out who on the defense of the Packers had a blue grade and also what the status of Capers might be.

“The Packers didn’t get any blue grades at all this year,” Landry said. “Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels were red-grade guys, who had pretty good year’s. To a lesser degree, you had Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, who were what we call high-purples and partly in the red at times.

“If you go on the offensive side, [David] Bakhtiari graded in the red. Aaron Rodgers is the only guy when he’s been healthy is in that upper tier, and he’s certainly a perennial blue-grade player. This year hasn’t been quite so much. Davante Adams is a high-purple and Aaron Jones has done some good things.

“But the biggest problem that they have is that I don’t think they are talented enough on defense. I don’t think they have enough bodies there. I think Dom is a good coach, but he could pay for this with his job. That’s just the way it works in this league. They’ve not been good enough on defense with him. Why haven’t they been able to consistently improve that defensive personnel, where it needs to be, particularly with edge-rushers, is beyond me.

“They have just missed. It’s pure and simple. They just haven’t been good enough in doing that. I don’t think their defense is very good. It’s quite frankly, a team which is built, or totally reliant on the quarterback. And I think playing him [Rodgers] last week is a perfect example. And I’m all for that. It’s the only chance that they got.

“And going into next year, if they don’t play any better, they are kind of in the same boat. And it’s unfortunate, because they have got an elite quarterback, as good as anybody in the league and one of the best of all-time in terms of physical skill-sets, to not have a defense, to not have a better running game, to not be a better team at the line of scrimmage, is almost criminal when you think about it from a football standpoint.

“They have just completely missed the boat. I don’t just dismiss the one Super Bowl, I don’t want to make it sound like that, but this is a team with this quarterback, that there is no reason why they couldn’t be what New England is, in the NFC. They are good enough with their quarterback. They go in every year with a chance. But the rest of the team pulls them back.

“I think that is a byproduct of them missing an awful lot in a lot of the personnel moves that they have made over the years. So, that’s my take on it.”

After that emphatic declaration, I responded that Ted Thompson also bares some responsibility with all the personnel issues which were brought by Landry.

“That whole staff did,” Landry said. “The whole personnel department. They have missed on some personnel moves.”

So what does this all mean? It means that the Packers won’t be playing in the postseason for the first time in almost a decade and there were definitely some reasons for that. Landry brought up a number of them.

Lack of talent on defense was his No. 1 issue. Is that because of the complicated schemes that Capers utilizes? Or it because Ted Thompson and his scouting staff just aren’t drafting or acquiring the right players? Or is it both?

No matter the cause, there is a sense that changes will definitely be made within the organization of the Packers this offseason.

It’s not that the Packers have not been successful under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy since they joined forces in 2006. Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 122-68-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

But as Landry noted, there should have been even more success over that time.

So now the onus is on team president Mark Murphy to see if he’ll dictate any changes in the front office this offseason. Plus, there will be pressure on McCarthy to make changes on his coaching staff, especially regarding the status of Capers.

Time will tell what will happen, but based on the comments from Landry, one of the best of his kind in the scouting business, something has to give.

Green Bay Packers: D is for Disappointing

Dom Capers II

This was going to be the year that the defense of the Green Bay Packers was going to approach the success it had had in the first two years that Dom Capers was the coordinator of the unit.

In 2009, which was the first year Capers became defensive coordinator, the defense was ranked No. 2 in the NFL. In 2010, the year the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the defense was ranked No. 5 in total defense.

Since then, the Packers have not come close to that success. From 2011 through 2016, the defense of the Packers has been ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.

Through nine games in 2017 the Packers are ranked 25th in total defense in the league, as the D is allowing an average of 357.4 yards per game. And based on the performance the defense had on Monday night versus the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, don’t expect the rankings to get any better throughout the rest of the 2017 season.

Just to illustrate how bad and inept the defense was on Monday night, the Lions did not have to punt once all evening. That is the first time that has happened for Detroit since the 1971 season.

Quarterback Matt Stafford just carved up the defense of the Packers, as there was little to no pass pressure from the Green Bay Front 7. The Packers did get one sack, but that was only when the Lions attempted a flea flicker pass.

In the game, Stafford completed 26-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. That adds up to a passer rating of 132.4.

That can’t happen against a Capers’ defense. Not if it wants to be successful. The key to any defense Capers runs, is putting pressure on the quarterback and disrupting his rhythm.

That isn’t happening in 2017 and that hasn’t happened consistently since 2010 either.

Currently, the the Packers are ranked 20th in passing defense, but that stat does not tell the total story.  The Packers are ranked 25th in the NFL in allowing opposing quarterbacks to have a very solid passer rating of 95.7.

And this is with a new and improved secondary, as the team drafted cornerback Kevin King in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and safety Josh Jones in the second round. Plus, the team added cornerback Davon House in free agency, which is his second stint with the team.

But even when there is more talent and athleticism in the secondary, that won’t lead to success if there isn’t pass pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, which is supposed to lead to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.

It also doesn’t help when the two starting safeties of the Packers have largely been non-factors this season. Morgan Burnett has been hampered by hamstring and groin injuries, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been largely invisible after going to the Pro Bowl and having second-team All-Pro status in 2016.

But again, the the number one reason why a Capers defense is successful is by bringing pass pressure and getting sacks. And that’s not happening this season.

The Packers are tied for 28th in the NFL with 13 sacks. That’s barely over one sack a game on average.

Clay Matthews can still play, but he is not the pass-rushing force he once was, as he has just 2.5 sacks so far this season. Nick Perry has been hampered by a broken hand, but does lead the team in sacks with four.

Meanwhile, Julius Peppers, who had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions (both for touchdowns) in three years with the Packers, left the team this past offseason via free agency and now has 7.5 sacks for the Carolina Panthers.

It is not known how much or even if the Packers made an offer to Peppers to stay in Green Bay, or if Peppers just wanted to go back to the place he started his NFL career and where he calls home.

No matter, Peppers would have definitely helped the pass rush for the Packers this season. Much better than the players who back up Matthews and Perry at outside linebacker currently, that’s for sure.

Kyler Fackrell has been almost non-existent when he’s on the field, as he has just nine total tackles, zero sacks and multiple missed assignments. Ahmad Brooks can help when he’s healthy, but he’s missed the last three games due to concussion/back issues.

Vince Biegel IV

Fourth-round pick Vince Biegel saw his first action of the season Monday night at OLB, after starting the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. It’s too early to see how Biegel might be able to help the pass rush.

Speaking of draft picks, general manager Ted Thompson traded back four spots when the Packers had the 29th pick in the first round.  The Packers then selected King in the second round with the 33rd pick of the draft, plus got another fourth-round pick which they used to select Biegel.

King looks like he has some excellent upside with his size, speed and athleticism. But Thompson could have stayed where he was at No. 29 in the draft and selected OLB T.J. Watt, who is having a great rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As a matter of fact, I had the Packers taking Watt in both my first mock draft and my last.

Watt has 28 total tackles, four sacks and one pick for a Pittsburgh defense that has gotten back it’s old swagger. The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total defense and are tied for fourth in sacks with 26. Opposing QBs only have a 74.4 passer rating against Pittsburgh as well.

That is how the a Capers defense is supposed to function.

Since Mike McCarthy hired Capers in 2009, it’s not like the Packers haven’t been successful. In fact, they have been very prosperous. The team has been to the postseason for eight straight years going into this season. That includes one Super Bowl win, three appearances in the NFC title game and five NFC North titles.

But it is also in the postseason where we have seen some of the cracks and deficiencies of a Capers-run defense. Granted, in some case there have been injury issues, like in the NFC title game versus Atlanta last season, but for the most part, the defense has been exposed in many of those games.

Since the 2011 postseason, the Packers have played in 11 games, winning five of them. In the six losses, the Packers have given up an average of 33.8 points per game. That won’t get it done.

Plus, in those same six losses, the Packers offense averaged 22.3 points per game. Three touchdowns per game usually gets a NFL team a win in the postseason.

So, what to do? I’ve heard a lot of talk from Packer Nation about firing Capers immediately. That will not happen. I do believe the writing is on the wall for a change this coming offseason though.

But right now, the Packers have some other big issues. The team is on a downward spiral due to the broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers lost that game and the two games since then, to see their record fall to 4-4 and two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.

To make matters even worse, right offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a torn ACL against the Lions on Monday night and is out for the season.

Brett Hundley has struggled since taking over for Rodgers, but in the game versus the Lions, No. 7 showed some definite improvement.

Rodgers can come back from IR (injured reserve) in Week 15, but that will only happen if he his collarbone is fully healed and also if the Packers are still in postseason contention.

Aaron Rodgers after game with the Lions

This is what Rodgers said about his coming back last week when he spoke to the media.

“I want to be healthy. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said last Friday. “But if we’re healthy in eight weeks and it would make sense to come back, then I’m going to come back.

“The only reason to come back would be that I’m healed completely. If that doesn’t happen in eight weeks, there’s not even a conversation.”

There also won’t be a conversation if the Packers are out of contention for a spot in the postseason. There would be no reason to risk further injury to Rodgers for just the two remaining games of the season.

And based on the way that all three phases of the football team are struggling right now, the postseason does not look likely.

I do see the offense getting better behind Hundley at QB, but will that improvement be enough to overcome the issues that both the defense and special teams have right now?

To me, the answer is no.

Now, things could change. Maybe Biegel and fellow rookie Montravius Adams will add some spark to the pass rush. Adams would most certainly help, as the defensive line of the Packers has just two sacks this season, with Mike Daniels leading the way with 1.5.

But somehow things have to change on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that I’m still seeing effort from the defensive players. Blake Martinez is playing exceptional and is fourth in the NFL with 74 tackles.

But the scheme is not working. Maybe that’s because Capers doesn’t have the players he needs to make it more successful. If that’s the case, then part of the blame need to go to Thompson.

Still, Capers has been defensive coordinator for the Packers now for nine years. Based on what has happened this season and looking at the totality of the work done by Capers in his tenure in Green Bay, I don’t see Capers returning for a 10th season.

 

A Scout’s Take on the Addition of OLB Ahmad Brooks by the Green Bay Packers

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers addressed a depth problem at outside linebacker on Wednesday, as they signed Ahmad Brooks, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners cut Brooks last week, which gave the Packers a chance to add some sorely needed help at the outside linebacker position.

Injuries have been piling up at the OLB position, as Clay Matthews suffered a groin injury against the Denver Broncos last weekend in Green Bay’s third preseason game, plus Nick Perry suffered an ankle injury the week before playing against the Washington Redskins.

Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated to the media that both Matthews and Perry should be ready to go in the season opener versus the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on September 10.

Still, there is cause for concern, as the team expects the brunt of the pass pressure on opposing quarterbacks to come from Matthews and Perry, who both have had been somewhat injury prone in the respective careers.

In the past five seasons, Matthews has missed 13 games due to a variety of injuries, while Perry has never played in all 16 games in any given season in his career and has missed 20 games in his five years in Green Bay.

Matthews has 72.5 sacks in his eight-year career in Green Bay, but only has 11.5 sacks the past two seasons combined. It’s important to note however, that No. 52 was used mostly as an inside linebacker in 2015, plus also started three games there again last season.

Perry had a career year in 2016, as he had 11 sacks, which is almost as many sacks (12.5) as No. 53 had in the four previous seasons.

In 2016, Matthews and Perry were joined in the outside linebacker rotation by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. Both Peppers and Jones left the Packers via free agency this past offseason, so the Packers were hoping that both Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott would step up their play in 2017.

In addition, the Packers also drafted Vince Biegel of Wisconsin in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft.

Fackrell has been sort of a non-factor so far in his development, while Elliott has been hampered by a back injury.

Biegel has not been cleared to practice yet due to having foot surgery back in May and will most likely start the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.

That made the signing of someone with the background of Brooks somewhat imperative. The 6’3″, 255-pound Brooks was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, but was waived in his second year and picked up by the 49ers. It was in San Fransisco where the career of Brooks blossomed.

In eight years with the 49ers, playing OLB in a 3-4 front like the Packers use, Brooks had 370 total tackles, 53.5 sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown), 12 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Brooks was also named to the Pro Bowl squad in 2013, plus was named second-team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013.

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau

I wanted to get the take on the addition of Brooks by the Packers from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry shortly after the Packers signed Brooks on Wednesday, on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

“Ahmad Brooks has not played real well for the Niners,” Landry said. “He is someone who I expected to get another chance, as they [49ers] are getting a little younger there.

“We’ll see if Green Bay can get something out of him. Situationally on a better team, it makes more sense. They [49ers] were rebuilding and he really wasn’t all that thrilled with being a kind of guy who was going to lead a bunch of young guys in San Francisco.

“So we’ll see if it will work out. I would temper my enthusiasm. Other than getting him spot play, which he can be very effective in doing, his play has regressed quite a bit.”

The Packers plan to utilize Brooks in just the way Landry believes he will be effective. That is getting him on the field on a situational basis.

Before the Packers signed Brooks and he was just in for a visit, associate head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss said this about the possibility of Brooks playing for the Packers.

“He can do everything that we would ask him to do in our scheme,” Moss said. “He can play to the tight end side, he can play to the open-end side. He can play the outside linebacker, he can play the elephant. If he were to be placed on our roster – however that decision goes down – he could come right in and fit right in.”

Time will tell how things will work out with the 33 year-old Brooks playing for the Pack. Green Bay signed Peppers when he was 34 years-old and got three productive seasons (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns) out of him.

No matter what happens with Brooks, the Packers still need to get some production from Fackrell, Elliott and Biegel at some point during the 2017 season.

But at least the team now has a solid veteran who has only had less than six sacks in a season once in his career in San Francisco. That was when Brooks had five in 2010. Other than that, Brooks has always had at least six sacks per season in eight years with the Niners.

Brooks also plays the run well, which is also an important asset to have at OLB.

Bottom line, expect Brooks to be part of a four-man rotation at OLB in 2017 for the Packers, along with Matthews, Perry and Fackrell. Matthews and Perry will get the bulk of the snaps. If Fackrell doesn’t step up his play, Elliott will get his shot in the rotation, plus Biegel will get his opportunity as well once he is cleared to play.

The 2017 NFL Draft: The T.J. Watt to the Green Bay Packers Bandwagon is Growing

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

Almost a month ago, I put out my first and only 2017 NFL mock draft for the Green Bay Packers thus far. I plan to put out three more before the actual draft begins on April 27, including one later this week. But in my first mock, on February 10, I had the Packers selecting linebacker T.J. Watt of Wisconsin with pick No. 29 in the first round.

Since then, that prognostication has picked up some steam and the Watt to the Packers bandwagon is growing.

This past weekend, Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote that Watt is well-positioned for the Packers to select at pick No. 29.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com put out a mock draft yesterday in which he had the Packers selecting Watt in the first round as well.

NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah was on the Watt bandwagon early like myself, when he had the Pack taking the Wisconsin linebacker at pick No. 29 in early February.

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock won’t put out an actual mock draft until the night before the draft, but he did compare Watt and his skill set to that of Clay Matthews of the Packers recently.

“The easy comparison is Clay Matthews. He’s an edge rusher who fits best into a 3-4 system,” Mayock told MMQB. “He has a similar game to Clay — an edge who can drop in coverage and has a motor that just won’t stop.”

Watt also told the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday that he will be meeting with the Packers soon. That sure won’t stop any speculation about him going to Green Bay in the draft.

Watt certainly didn’t hurt himself in the workouts at the combine on Sunday either. The 6’5″, 243-pound Watt did well in all categories.

Watt finished 12th among linebackers in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.69. Watt also had 21 reps on the bench press which placed him tied for eighth.

But in the other five workout categories, Watt was at or near the top in every one of those drills.

T.J. Watt at the combine

Watt finished second in the vertical jump with a leap of 37 inches. The Pewaukee, Wisconsin native was also tied for first in the broad jump with Jabrill Peppers of Michigan with a jump of 10’8″.

Watt finished second in the 3 cone drill with a time of 6.79. The former Badger also tied for first with Ben Gideon of Michigan in the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.13.

Finally, Watt finished first in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.20.

As Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote this past weekend, the primary needs of the Packers are cornerback, inside linebacker and outside linebacker.

Green Bay must feel pretty fortunate going into this draft, as those three positions appear to be very deep.

It might come down to the old best player on Ted Thompson’s board at pick No. 29 when the Packers make that pick.

The outside linebacker position will probably have some clarity for the Packers at the time of the draft, as I expect Green Bay to re-sign Nick Perry and Julius Peppers.

The agent for Peppers, Carl Carey, confirmed to various media outlets today that Peppers will indeed play in the NFL in 2017.

“There has been communication with the Packers, and there’s a tremendous amount of mutual respect between Julius and the Packers organization,” Carey said. “They’ve been great to him over the years, and that carries a lot of weight with him. Of course, free agency is unpredictable, so we’ll see what happens over the next several days.”

Peppers has been injury-free during his three year tenure with the Packers, but he’s also 37 years-old and will be playing in his 16th NFL season. Like in 2016, I expect his snaps to be limited at times in 2017.

Perry (two games missed in 2016 and 20 games missed in his five-year career) and Clay Matthews (four games missed in 2016 and 15 games missed in his eight-year career) have been anything but injury-free, which is another reason why selecting someone like Watt makes a lot of sense.

The Packers also like the upside of second-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, but as Mayock has said, Watt has the playmaking ability of Matthews. That type of ability is hard to find, as No. 52 has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), plus has six interceptions (two for scores) in his career.

If the Packers did select Watt with the 29th pick of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, it would be the first time since 1948 that Green Bay selected a Wisconsin native who also played his college ball for the University of Wisconsin in the first round.

The Packers selected back Earl “Jug” Girard of the Badgers in 1948. Girard hailed from Marinette, Wisconsin.

Finally, the Packers have to be looking at the lineage of the Watt family in the NFL. Brother Derek, who also played at Wisconsin, is a fullback with the now Los Angeles Chargers and is 24 years-old.

But the brother that people will certainly compare T.J. with is J.J., who has won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times with the Houston Texans.

Like his brother J.J., who will turn 28-years-old on March 22,  T.J. first started out as a tight end in college and then became a talented late-bloomer on defense with the Badgers. The comparisons are striking.

Bottom line, if the Packers do select T.J. Watt and if he comes anywhere close to the production of his brother J.J. in the NFL, the team would have to be ecstatic.

Green Bay Packers: Offseason Priorities

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When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was just phenomenal in the 2010 postseason run which led the hoisting of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In that run of four games that postseason, Rodgers threw nine touchdown passes versus just two interceptions for 1,094 yards. That added up to a 109.8 passer rating, as well as No. 12 becoming the MVP in the Super Bowl.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers and the Packers came close to getting to another Super Bowl, but didn’t quite make it. You certainly can’t blame Rodgers for the Packers not getting to Super Bowl LI.

In fact, the stats of Rodgers this postseason are almost identical to what he did in the 2010 postseason.

In the 2016 postseason, Rodgers once again threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,004 yards. The passer rating ended up being 103.8.

Rodgers put up those stats in three games in the 2016 postseason, as opposed to four games in the 2010 postseason.

It’s pretty easy to surmise that the play of Rodgers was not the reason why Green Bay isn’t playing in Super Bowl LI.

The reason why is pretty obvious. It’s the inconsistent and mediocre play of the defense for the Packers.

When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the team went into that postseason with the No. 5 rated defense in the league.

The defense played like it that postseason as well. The Packers had 11 sacks, eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and four recovered fumbles in four games.

When you add that performance and that of Rodgers and the offense of the Packers, one can see why the team won Super Bowl XLV.

The 2010 season was the last time the Packers have had a top five defense. As a matter of fact, the Packers have not even had a top 10 defense since then either.

In his career, Rodgers has a 9-7 record in the postseason. Why the seven losses? Is it because of his performance in crunch time? No. In 16 playoff games, Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes versus just 10 interceptions for 4,458 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 99.4.

Those numbers might get a quarterback a NFL MVP award in a particular season.

In the seven losses the Packers have had with Rodgers at quarterback in the postseason, the offense has averaged 26 points a game.  That’s not too shabby. When a team averages 26 points a game in the NFL postseason, the odds should be pretty strong that a victory should be in order.

Not so with the Packers in those seven games. Why? The defense has given up an average of 36 points per game in those losses.

Something has to change this offseason. That means either a coaching change or a concept change in getting talent for the defense. Perhaps even both.

If you saw head coach Mike McCarthy’s postgame press conference after the Packers were beaten 44-21 in the NFC title game by the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, one could see he was not happy at all with the performance by his defense.

McCarthy has been very loyal to his assistant coaches over the 11 years he has been head coach, but he has also made some key changes to his staff as well when he deemed it necessary.

It might be a necessity to move on from defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In his first two years in Green Bay, Capers had top five defenses playing under him. In 2009, the defense was ranked No. 2, while in 2010 was ranked No. 5 in total defense.

But nothing close to that has happened in his tenure in the six years since. Starting in 2011, the defense of the Packers has ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.

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This past postseason reflects why the defense needs to get rebooted in 2017. In three games, the Packers had four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. In the NFC title game, the Packers were shut out in all three categories.

Yes, I know there were multiple injuries this season on defense. But that is where quality depth would come in handy if a certain general manager changed his course of talent additions to the team just slightly.

Yes, I’m talking about Ted Thompson. Thompson’s draft and develop method for acquiring talent has been outstanding for the most part in the tenure in which he and McCarthy have piloted the ship of the Packers.

In 11 seasons, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

A lot of franchises would be thrilled to have a track record like that.

But when you peel back the onion and take a closer look, there are some obvious issues. McCarthy is 10-8 in the postseason as a head coach. But with just a little luck, the record of McCarthy in the postseason could be favorably compared to Bill Belichick.

McCarthy has lost four games in the postseason in overtime, plus lost another one on a last second field goal. His 10-8 record might be 13-5 or better with another Lombardi Trophy or two in the Packers Hall of Fame with some fortunate bounces.

Belichick more times than not gets those fortunate bounces in his postseason wins. In Belichick’s four Super Bowl wins, the victories have been by a combined 13 points.

Bottom line, it’s the defense which is the primary culprit as to why the Packers have had to go home early at times in the postseason in the Thompson/McCarthy era.

So to me, you have two choices. Either you make a coaching change (or at least a philosophy change) or you rectify the way you add talent to the defense. Again, maybe you do both.

Let’s say that McCarthy decides to stay with the status quo and keep Capers as his defensive coordinator. In that case, all of the burden to improve the defense will be put on Thompson, if indeed he stays on as general manager, which may not be a given.

Thompson will have some very difficult decisions to make regarding maintaining, adding and subtracting talent to the defense.

The first thing I would do if I were Thompson, is to look at the great success I have had in adding talent for the team in free agency.

In 2006, Thompson added defensive tackle Ryan Pickett via free agency and then also added cornerback Charles Woodson to the team after he became a free agent after his release by the Raiders.

Both players had excellent tenures in Green Bay, as Pickett was very solid in his run-stopping ability in eight seasons, while Woodson was just tremendous in his time in Green Bay.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume.  Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns.  Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more.  Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

Add to that: Woodson was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  No. 21 was also named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.

After the signings of Pickett and Woodson, Thompson basically went into the sleep mode in terms of signing free agents for a number of years. Thompson still signed “street” free agents (like Erik Walden) and undrafted rookie free agents (like Sam Shields), but rarely looked at NFL veterans who had solid careers in the league or at least showed flashes.

In 2012, Thompson signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrave and center Jeff Saturday in free agency, but neither made big splashes in Green Bay. Hargrave didn’t even make the final roster, while Saturday ended up losing his starting job at center late in the 2012 season to Evan Dietrich-Smith.

In 2014, Thompson made another excellent free agent signing when brought in defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers after he was cut by the Chicago Bears.

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Even though he was 34 years-old at the time of his signing, Peppers put together three nice years in Titletown, as he had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and also had two interceptions which  were both returned for touchdowns.

Peppers has also earned his money in the postseason, as he has had 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in three years.

Thompson also really helped the offense by adding tight end Jared Cook via free agency after he was released by the Rams prior to the 2016 season.

So, what should Thompson do this offseason to try and add some defensive talent to the Packers? Definitely utilize free agency, without a doubt.

The Packers are in decent shape currently regarding the salary cap, as the team is 10th in the NFL in terms of cap space available ($9.4 million). The team can add another $9 million approximately after the team releases cornerback Shields due to his concussion issues.

In terms of current players on the Packers who will be unrestricted free agents, I would bring back a number of them, both on offense and defense.

Right now there will be 11 UFAs on the Packers once free agency starts. They are Peppers, Cook, running back Eddie Lacy, running back Christine Michael, guard T. J. Lang, outside linebacker Nick Perry, outside linebacker Datone Jones, longsnapper Brett Goode, offensive lineman Don Barclay, offensive lineman JC Tretter and defensive back Micah Hyde.

On offense, I would certainly re-sign Cook, as his presence was a major reason why the offense clicked after he came back from an ankle injury starting in Week 11.

I would also bring back Lacy with a one-year deal, which will more or less be a prove it to me deal.

Lang also deserves to be rewarded for all he has done on the offensive line through the years, which not only includes great play on the field, but also playing hurt.

I would bring Barclay back, but only at the minimum salary. Mostly because of his versatility to play all the positions on the offensive line.

Goode also has proven to be one of the very best longsnappers in the NFL, so I would bring him back at a minimum salary, just like Barclay.

On defense, re-signing Perry would be my priority. No. 53 was the best player on the defense for almost all of the 2016 season.

I would also bring back Hyde because of all the versatility he can provide in the defensive backfield.

If Peppers wants to come back, I would offer a one-year deal which would amount to about half of what No. 56 currently makes, which would put him at approximately $4 million a year. That would be very fair, especially if Peppers has limited playing time.

My friend Pete Dougherty of USA Network-Wisconsin wrote a piece today about the 11 UFAs the Packers will have.

Dougherty agrees with me on a number of the players I would re-sign, but he wouldn’t bring back Peppers, plus he would re-do the contracts of both Clay Matthews ($11.1 million) and Randall Cobb ($9.5 million). Dougherty brings up an excellent point, as Matthews and Cobb will have the second-and third-highest salaries on the Green Bay roster in 2017.

Time will tell what will occur with both Matthews and Cobb, as injuries have definitely been a major reason why both have not performed up to the level of their pay-grade, but the release of Shields will definitely help to bump up the cap space for the team.

In terms of acquiring players from other NFL teams via free agency, I’m sure Thompson will first focus on players who will get released by their current NFL teams (usually due to cap reasons), looking mostly at defensive players. Again, that is route he took in acquiring Woodson, Peppers and Cook.

Those additions worked out pretty good.

If Thompson wants to look at a “pure” free agent who can help his defense, the No. 1 player I would look at is cornerback Stephon Gilmore of the Buffalo Bills, who was recently named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Gilmore is just 26 years-old and already has 14 interceptions on his resume in his five-year career in the NFL. The 6’0″, 190-pound Gilmore, who played his college ball at South Carolina, ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

I’m sure Cook, who is also a former Gamecock, would put in a good word about coming to Green Bay to Gilmore.

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In the 2017 NFL draft, I would advise Thompson to use the strategy he used in the 2009 draft. That is, trading up to get a player who can definitely help his defense, especially if it’s an elite cornerback or pass-rusher.

In the 2009 draft, the Packers traded back into the first round of the draft to acquire linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick of that particular draft. It cost the team a second-round pick and two third-round picks, but the trade-up tuned out to be a great move by Thompson.

Matthews has been hampered by injuries at times as I mentioned earlier, but he still has had an excellent career in Green Bay, as he has 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, six picks (two for touchdowns) and also has been named to six Pro Bowl teams.

Like Peppers, Matthews has also excelled in the postseason, as he has 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Bottom line, something has to change this year with the defense. Either with the coaching philosophy or the means of adding talent to the squad.

Just look at how Albert Einstein defined insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That is what the Packers have been doing since 2011 trying to improve their defense.

And that’s also a major reason why the Packers have not been in another Super Bowl since the 2010 postseason.