The 2008 Green Bay Packers were unquestionably a major disappointment, but not for the reason we all would have expected (no Hall of Fame QB). From 13-3 and an overtime interception away from the Super Bowl, to 6-10 with a second-half of the season free-fall stopped only by the soft cushion of the Detroit Lions.
So what happened? One factor is that when you have a 13-3 season, you pay for it the next year with a much more difficult schedule. Another factor was the lack of a consistent running game and a slew of offensive penalties, which maddeningly always seemed to nullify big plays.
But far and away, the biggest factor was the decline of the defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Game after game, they let opposing teams drive down the field late in games to beat them. Third and long meant nothing to this group. Without having time to check with the Elias Sports Bureau, I’ll bet they led the league in giving up first down plays on third down.
That, my friends, is why all the defensive coaches were just kicked out the door. A fresh start was needed, and I give Coach McCarthy credit for doing it.
As for the defensive players, the term pass rush is an oxymoron when applied to these Packers—heck, Charles Woodson was the second-leading sacker on this team with three. And there are no intimidators on this defense—no one that opposing players have to always be aware of.
Sure, they had some injuries. Atari Bigby is a playmaker, but undisciplined. Cullen Jenkins was on his way to a Pro Bowl year when he got hurt. Finally, Nick Barnett going down was the backbreaker. I was never one who thought Barnett was a vital player—but I was wrong. When he was lost for the season, opposing offenses started putting up some gaudy numbers on the Packers.
But every team has injuries—it’s up to the coaches to find ways to minimize the damage. They failed, and now they’re gone.
So 2009 will bring new coaches and new players. Since it’s not Ted Thompson’s M.O. to make a big splash in the free agent market, let’s focus on the 2009 draft.
Many Packer fans are calling for a pass-rushing defensive end like Everette Brown from Florida State or Brian Orakpo from Texas. These would be safe choices, but most defensive ends need a few years in the league to bulk up and learn technique. I would look for a DE in the second or third round.
What Green Bay really needs is a wild-man defender who can start right off the bat and make up for his inexperience with crazed passion and toughness. That man is Rey Maualuga of USC. If you’ve seen him play, you understand.
His mentality for the game is perfect—here’s a recent quote: "I want to become the player that the offense gameplans around, that the offense fears coming into the game." I say “Hallelujah!” If he’s still there when the Packers pick ninth, he has to be the choice. Maualuga would give the Green Bay defense the edge it needs.
If he is gone, I would select any of these players who drop to that spot: Malcolm Jenkins—CB Ohio State, Aaron Maybin—DE Penn State, Aaron Curry—LB Wake Forest.
In the second round, I would look for the best available pass rusher (if they don’t get one in the first round). After that, their needs in this order are a big-body left tackle, a punter (GOD—Please!), a third down running back with good catch/run ability, then as many defensive players with special teams ability that can be had.
Despite their poor season, the Packers have a lot of talent and can afford to draft for need. If they can find a way to generate a pass rush and become intimidators on defense, they can win the types of close games they gave away this year.
Ted Thompson, you’re on the clock!