The Green Bay Packers now have nine months to digest and correct how and why their 12-win season in 2012 ended with such a thud at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers Saturday night in the NFC Divisional Round.
Losses like Green Bay's in San Francisco—which finished at 45-31 but hardly even seemed that close—can be precursors to extreme overreaction. But it's clear that the Packers have fatal deficiencies that need to be addressed before the start of the 2013 season if Green Bay is to return to the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
In the following slides, we'll present five ways the Packers can start addressing their faults this offseason.
The Packers defense finished 11th in the NFL in both yards (336.8) and points allowed (21.0), so it's not like Capers' unit failed to show improvement from 2011 to 2012. But a playoff destruction that included a franchise record for total yards allowed should put the jobs of each defensive coach under the microscope this offseason.
Capers' defense was woefully unprepared to face 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and any in-game adjustments Capers did try produced zero positive results. The result was nearly 600 yards of total offense and 45 points during a masterful performance from the 49ers against Capers.
At 62 years old, it's worth wondering if the game is starting to pass Capers by. As new, innovative offenses are sweeping the NFL, Capers' defenses have often lagged behind. A change at the front of the defensive room might be good for Green Bay.
The Packers defensive personnel on the field in San Francisco Saturday was a deadly combination of slow and soft.
Linebackers A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Erik Walden couldn't handle the 49ers' team speed. On the perimeter, Green Bay was too slow to keep Kaepernick from blazing untouched for 181 rushing yards and two scores or finding receivers open at every level of the field.
Up front, the 49ers' big and tough offensive line mauled a Packers defensive line that was exposed over-and-over as soft. At the second level, both Hawk and Jones were engulfed by monstrous guards in the running game.
The Packers can't fix a slow and soft defense in one offseason. But to close the sizable gap that remains between Green Bay and San Francisco, the Packers have to find a way to acquire more speed and toughness for the defense in 2013. Getting back Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry should help in the front seven.
The Packers weathered through some of the NFL's worst play from the center position in 2012.
Jeff Saturday, a 37-year-old signed in the offseason as a stopgap, played like an aging, regressing veteran. He was finally replaced in Week 16 by undrafted free agent Evan Dietrich-Smith, but the backup didn't show anything in four late-season starts to consider him a long-term option at center.
Center now has to rank as one of Ted Thompson's top priorities in the 2013 NFL draft. The Packers need an anchor at center: a player who can maul in the run game and still make the calls in pass protection. Those players are difficult to find, but Thompson needs to unearth one this offseason.
More than likely, the Packers' starting offensive line on opening day in 2013 will be Marshall Newhouse, T.J. Lang, an acquired center, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga. Not a great five, but not a bad one, either, especially if the new center turns out to be a good football player.
Still, if there's any position group that needs to take a step forward, it's the offensive line.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 55 times in 2012, and the running game averaged just 3.9 per carry. Adding depth could help take the group forward.
Don Barclay has earned a spot in 2013, and Dietrich-Smith is likely to be retained as a versatile backup. Derek Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2010, should also be healthy.
Expect Thompson to add at least one draft pick to the offensive line in April. Two is certainly in the cards. But the Packers need to be much better up front on offense to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2013.
Thanks to a bevy of factors, the Packers' passing game lacked the punch that similar offenses in 2011 and—to an extent—2010 possessed.
A breakdown of the offensive line, the lack of a true threat in the running game and elite receivers failing to get open on a consistent basis all contributed to Green Bay's passing game taking a step backwards in 2012.
By fixing the first two problems—along the offensive line and in the running game—the Packers can help return Rodgers' average yards per pass attempt to somewhere between 2010 (8.26 yards) and 2011 (9.25) levels. Receivers getting open is more an issue within schemes, which might highlight just how significant the loss of Joe Philbin was at offensive coordinator.
The Packers can win 10-12 games without the passing game being a consistently dominant force. But winning a Super Bowl might be out of the question unless there are schematic improvements from the 2012 season.