There will be temptation to explain away the Green Bay Packers’ fourth straight loss – an indignity the franchise hasn’t suffered since 2008, Aaron Rodgers’ first season as a starting quarterback – by blaming the whole thing on injuries. After all, the Packers tried to battle the Redskins on Sunday night with four position groups – running back, offensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback – down to the bare minimum of bodies necessary to field a professional football team. So the effort before a late-game collapse was nice – and certainly something Green Bay didn’t put forth when it was blown out from the outset by the Colts and Titans the previous two weeks -- but the pain runs deeper than the trainer’s room in Green Bay. The finger has been pointed at quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the two-time NFL MVP is the only thing standing between Green Bay and a 2-14 record this season. As it is, this thing seems headed toward a possible seven-game losing streak with the Eagles, Texans and Seahawks next on the schedule before the Bears offer some relief. And if four straight losses and a bunch of injuries aren’t enough to convince you that an overhaul is overdue in Green Bay, what will things look like in mid-December if the Packers are 4-9? Rodgers isn’t – and shouldn’t – be going anywhere, but here are seven reasons just about everything around him needs to be scrapped and rebuilt in Green Bay. Let’s start at the top:
Team president Mark Murphy waited one year too long to ask Ted Thompson to step aside
The Packers don’t have an owner, so that means Murphy is in charge. This organization values stability more than perhaps any other, but it’s clear now that Green Bay’s implosion in the NFC Championship Game two years ago was the high-water mark for this group. When the team took a noticeable step back last season instead of using that collapse against the Seahawks as a rallying cry, it was a signal things were getting stale. The team has a GM in waiting in Eliot Wolf and a current one in Ted Thompson who has won a Super Bowl but who has put way too much faith in a draft-and-develop strategy that hasn’t surrounded Rodgers with enough talent since. Thompson has done enough that he shouldn’t have to be fired, but a quiet transition of power would have been the best thing Murphy could have done for the franchise a year ago. Now, change is a downright necessity.
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Ted Thompson hasn’t given coach Mike McCarthy enough to work with
Remember all those injuries? Thompson bet heavily on running back Eddie Lacy, who was out of shape all last season and has been plagued by ankle injuries throughout his career. Lacy is on injured reserve with another one, and Green Bay has been forced to use wide receivers at running back to make due. Thompson’s only offseason free-agent signing of note, Jared Cook, was supposed to plug last year’s gaping hole at tight end and ended up suffering an ankle injury that delayed his first meaningful contribution of the season until Sunday night. The defense, and its payroll, was once again built around Clay Matthews, but his sore hamstrings are a continuing issue. Thompson had answers for neither of these easy-to-anticipate problems nor the problems on the offensive line exposed by more injuries and initiated by his ill-timed release of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton on the eve of the season. The GM had a playoff team showing signs of slippage and added virtually nothing to it in the offseason. In hindsight, we should have seen this coming.
Mike McCarthy is no longer a 'highly successful NFL coach'
Moving down the Packers’ hierarchy, McCarthy felt the need to describe himself as such after getting scorched by the Titans last week, but he’s now 9-13 in his last 22 games, and his area of expertise – the offense – had fallen flat well before injuries hit. McCarthy is in his 10th season, and there have been whispers that he and Rodgers no longer have the best relationship. At the very least, there seems to be a need for a new Packers GM to take a close look at whether Rodgers and others have started to tune him out. As is the case with Thompson, that Super Bowl win after the 2010 season was a long time ago.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
The skill positions are a mess
How did this happen so fast? As recently as 2013, the Packers seemed loaded at these spots with Lacy rolling through an impressive rookie season, Jermichael Finley ready to bust loose at tight end and Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all in their primes at receiver. But Finley lost his career to a neck injury, Jones got old and was released (twice), Nelson and Cobb have taken a step back, and Thompson hasn’t replenished the receivers behind them in the same way he did when Donald Driver and Greg Jennings moved on. Green Bay now has a lot of money tied up in Nelson and Cobb and no reason to believe any of its young receivers will ever be ready to replace them as difference-makers. In short, the skill positions – the most important area of the roster as long as Rodgers is in his prime – need a complete rebuild.
Clay Matthews isn’t an impact player when he isn’t healthy
Matthews suffers nagging hamstring injuries most every season, but this year’s bout with the injury was more than nagging and kept him out of four games before he returned seemingly at half-speed Sunday night. He’s 30, and he’s signed through 2018 with cap numbers of $15.2 million and $11.4 million the next two seasons. Green Bay badly needed him back to bolster a defense that had been gashed for 33, 31 and 47 points in the previous three games, but Washington hung 42 on the Packers with Matthews on the field. Green Bay will need another pass rusher of the mid-20s Matthews ilk to turn things around on defense, and there isn’t one on the roster.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Aaron Rodgers is almost 33
There’s no reason to think Rodgers – like Tom Brady – can’t play at a high level until age 40. But he turns 33 next month, and this isn’t remotely the roster that will take him to his second Super Bowl. It’s been six years since his last one, and he’s getting further away, not closer.
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A roster shake-up is almost self-evident
It’s hard to believe this is being said about a team that was a favorite to reach the Super Bowl entering the season, but even if Thompson and McCarthy somehow keep their jobs when 2016 ends, how can a roster shakeup possibly be avoided? Looking at the Packers by position, only the offensive line (again, when healthy), quarterbacks and safeties are positions of strength. Every other unit is either ravaged by what seem like long-term injury problems, undertalented or both. And it’s hard to call any player – on offense or defense – other than Rodgers a true playmaker. Right now, this is a below-average NFL roster propped up by a great quarterback who has had too much put on him this season. Where else can you start to fix that but at the top?