At first glance, this may seem unfair to let these coaches go. After all, in 2007, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense. However, taking a closer look, we see a defense that has, for the last three years, been in the middle of the pack. Someone had to take the fall for these failures.
During Sanders' three-year stint as defensive coordinator, an average game for the Packers' defense looked like this: 324.9 (total yards), 114.7 (rushing), 210.2 (passing), and 21.5 points per game. These stats do not look those of a top shelf NFL defense. The lackluster run defense was the biggest part of the problem.
While this year, it was obvious that something was wrong with the run defense, the previous two years were not much better. The highest the run defense was ranked was 13th in 2006. Even though the 2007 defense overall was the best of the three, it was just as ineffective at times.
In 2007, the Packers gave up 3.9 yards per carry which is not much better than in 2006 (3.1 yards), and 2008 (4.6 yards). On top of this, from 2006 to 2008 the Packers gave up over 100 yards per game on average each year.
Another part of the problem is the lack of a true pass rush. Since Sanders took over in 2006, the Packers' sack totals have declined on a yearly basis. In 2006, they recorded 46 sacks (fourth in the league), in 2007 36 (13th), and this past season 27 (seventh worst).
Combined with the use of bump and run coverage used by the Packers’ secondary, this lack of pressure made them vulnerable to the deep ball. A memorable example of this was during last year’s NFC Championship game against the Giants.
Someone had to be the scapegoat for this mess and it was Sanders. McCarthy does deserve some blame as the head coach since he did hire Sanders. Fortunately for McCarthy, he was able to gain approval from the fans and management after taking a team that was 4-12 in 2005, to 8-8 in 2006, and to 13-3 and one game away from the Super Bowl in 2007.
This offseason will be crucial for McCarthy if he wants to keep his job beyond 2009. He will need to bring in someone who can get the defense to perform up to its talent level. Also, look for the Packers to bring in a defensive lineman to help out with the run and pass.
If McCarthy cannot turn around the Packers fortunes next season, he won’t have to look beyond his own office for a scapegoat.