The Green Bay Packers finished the 2011 season with a 15-1 record and had high hopes heading into the postseason. After all, the Packers had secured home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs and the team was the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophy.
However, all of that went down with a resounding thud on Sunday, as the Packers were beaten by the New York Giants 37-20 at Lambeau Field in shocking fashion.
There were several reasons for why the Packers lost the game vs. the G-Men. Among them were a lack of focus, four key turnovers, eight dropped passes, giving up big plays at critical times and also the fact that Aaron Rodgers did not play like Superman as he had done almost all of the 2011 regular season. A regular season that will most likely garner Rodgers the NFL MVP award the night before the Super Bowl.
But the biggest reason for the defeat was the main reason the defense of the Packers ended up being ranked 32nd in the NFL in total defense at season's end. That's dead last folks. The Packers could just not generate a pass rush all season long, including the playoff game against the Giants when Eli Manning was able to convert several 3rd and long situations because no one was in his area code putting pass pressure on him.
The Packers finished tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks with only 29 sacks. Clay Matthews who was double teamed constantly had only six sacks, after having 13.5 sacks in 2010. Why? There was no other threat on the team to consistently apply pass pressure.
Ted Thompson took a calculated risk and allowed DE Cullen Jenkins to leave the team via free agency. The Packers never recovered from that loss. Mike Neal, the heir apparent to Jenkins, tore cartilage in his knee in training camp and was a non-factor when he came back to play.
It is clear that the Packers have to utilize the 2012 NFL draft or free agency to get someone who can help to rush the passer. Since free agency is a dirty word in Thompson's vocabulary, expect help to come in the draft.
After the disappointing loss to the Giants in the one and done postseason for the Pack, the team now has the 28th selection in the 1st round. The Packers may have to trade up to get a prospect who Thompson envisions as a play-maker, much like he did in the 2009 NFL draft, when he traded up to get Clay Matthews.
I'm going to list four prospects that I believe will definitely help the pass rush of the Packers in 2012. Whether they become the type of play-maker Matthews became is another story. At least two of the prospects I'm going to list probably won't be there at pick No. 28.
If the Packers wanted to move up to pick No. 22 for instance, Thompson would have to trade his 1st and 3rd round picks to move up there. If the Packers wanted to move up to the 16th pick of the 1st round, Thompson would have to trade his 1st and 2nd round picks.
There is also QB Matt Flynn's free agency situation. The Packers will not franchise Flynn according to recent reports. The franchise tag would be used on TE Jermichael Finley.
That being said, the Packers still might be able to find some compensation (a sign and trade deal) for Flynn instead of the compensatory selection the team (probably a 3rd or 4th round pick) would get in the 2013 NFL draft if Flynn left as a free agent to a team of his own choosing.
There are a number of teams that would love to have a young veteran quarterback like Flynn as their starting QB in 2012. Two of those teams have direct connections to the Packers in terms of who runs their front offices.
One is the Seattle Seahawks (John Schneider) and the other is the Cleveland Browns (Mike Holmgren). The Packers have traded a young QB with Holmgren before. In fact, Thompson was working for Holmgren then in Seattle. The Packers moved up a number of slots in the 1st round when they traded QB Matt Hasselbeck to the Seahawks in 2001.
Ironically, the Browns have two 1st round selections in the 2012 NFL draft, with the second of the two being the 22nd selection of the 1st round.
So who knows what might occur in this scenario. All I know is that the Packers have to make getting a pass rusher a priority in the 2012 NFL draft. The earlier, the better.
Also, a number of events have to take place before the draft, so we can get a better read on the players and where they may be selected. Events like the East-West Shrine game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Plus the players will still have their individual Pro Days to improve their standing with each team.