With little hesitation and less remorse, Green Bay Packer’s GM Ted Thompson fired Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders on Monday. Knowledgeable fans were neither shocked nor dismayed that Sanders 3 year stint ended, but rather that it took management a full week to finally decide who was at fault for a disappointing 2008 season.
As early at Oct. 6th, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy realized “the way we're situated and organized on defense, it's very evident when something goes wrong, someone not being in their gaps almost like we took turns doing it, was guys trying to do too much.”
Sander’s acknowledged that his scheme was not effective this year in preventing opponents from scoring, oftentimes in fourth quarter situations. “The scheme has brought a lot of good plays”, Sanders stated earlier today, “and a lot of good wins. Certainly I know what this scheme can do. At times, I didn't get the job done. I understand that."
Along with Sanders, the entire defensive coaching staff was released because of the team’s dramatic drop in performance. This move opens the door for a new strategic approach for the team in 2009 by switching from the 4-3 scheme used by the team the past three seasons into a 3-4 system used by some of the best defensive teams in the league like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Dallas Cowboys.
This schematic move is reinforced by the fact that Green Bay kept Winston Moss, the defensive linebackers coach, as the sole survivor from the wave of dismissals on Monday. Moss has developed the four outstanding linebackers of Chillar, Poppinga, Barnett and Hawk to make the transition over the 3-4 system that much easier.
McCarthy remained non-committal on keeping the Sanders era, more aggressive 4-3 system during his season ending press conference last Wednesday at Lambeau Field. "All of our schemes are under evaluation right now," McCarthy said. "That's what you do right now. That's what this time is for."
While Sanders receives the lion’s share of blame for the 2008 season, his unit also received similar praise for a triumphant 2007 season. As the Packers offense jumped off to early leads, Sanders defensive was able to play more aggressive football and pressure opposing quarterbacks with only a minimal pass rush.
In 2008, key injuries reduced Sander’s strategic effectiveness. The front line was depleted by the trading of Corey Williams and loss of Cullen Jenkins for the season, along with an injured Atari Bigby and Al Harris. Relegated to a “defense by platoon” system, opponents needed little opportunity to exploit Sanders ineffective 4-3 scheme all season.
Clearly this is a wake-up call for Ted Thompson. He must immediately improve the defensive depth at multiple positions by acquiring key veteran free-agents. A healthy Packers defensive can properly execute any system with veteran, Pro Bowl caliber players like Woodson, Kampman, Collins, Hawk, Barnett and Harris.
Regardless of whom the new coach is, as long as these needs are not addressed via free agency or the draft, the Packers defensive will again continue to be outplayed all season long just as they were outplayed and out of position in the most critical situations during the 2008 season.