Here are all of the answers to this week’s questions in the latest edition of Packers Mailbag:
Q: Since Rodgers’ and Matthews’ salaries will be so high in coming years and so many guys to become free agents next year, do you think our Super Bowl dreams are over? Can’t win without a supporting cast.
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— Gary Johnson, Roberts
Q: With Rodgers and Mathews pay scale going way up next year, do you think this will be the Packers’ last year for a Super Bowl run?
— Rick E., Lake Elmo, MN
A: The $110 million contract extension signed by Aaron Rodgers (making him the highest-paid player in NFL history) coupled with Clay Matthews earning a five-year, $66 million extension is obviously a big chunk of the Packers’ salary cap in the coming years.
However, even with that, Green Bay has the majority of its supporting cast under contract as well. The Packers re-signed safety Morgan Burnett — one of the team’s most important players — in July to a four-year deal worth nearly $25 million.
The players who will be free agents after the 2013 season are: B.J. Raji, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, Sam Shields, John Kuhn, James Starks, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson. Could general manager Ted Thompson find a way financially to keep all of them if he wanted to? Probably not. But given Thompson’s philosophy of building through the draft and continually adding young players, Green Bay likely wouldn’t keep all of those players even if there was the cap room to do so.
To specifically answer the questions then, no, I don’t think this is the Packers’ last year for a Super Bowl run. Green Bay’s supporting cast isn’t made up of elite players (after all, that’s why they’re part of the supporting cast and aren’t the stars of the team). Without Rodgers and Matthews, the Packers would be in big trouble. With both of them on the roster, Thompson just has to keep adding talent around them and hoping that the team gets hot at the right time.
Q: Paul, we both remember, as well as all Packer fans, the 2010 season when it seemed ‘takeaways’ played a huge huge role in getting the Pack to the SB… it seemed the defense was always tearing the ball away from someone or coming up with the big pick. Do you feel that this has to happen again with this defense in order for them to make it back, not only to the playoffs but a trip to NY in Feb? Die hard Packer in Purple Country
— Jim C, St. Cloud, MN
A: It’s only been two games so far this season, but the Packers have the fewest amount of takeaways in the NFC (1). One takeaway in two games isn’t going to be good enough for Green Bay to have a successful season.
Last season, the Packers finished 10th in the NFC with 23 takeaways. In 2011, Green Bay tied for the NFC lead with 38 takeaways. In their Super Bowl year, the Packers ranked fourth in the NFC with 32 takeaways.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of turnover differential in the NFL. So, yes, if Green Bay doesn’t start getting interceptions and forcing fumbles pretty soon, it will be difficult for the Packers to reach their ultimate goal this season.
Q: I’m concerned our defense is not pressuring the quarterback enough? What are your thoughts?
— Gary Drew, Pardeeville, WI
A: This is another problem area for the Packers early this season. In two games, Green Bay has just three sacks, which ranks 24th in the NFL in that category. However, don’t discount how much playing two mobile quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick in Week 1 and Robert Griffin III — even with limited mobility right now — in Week 2) affected those numbers.
Now that the Packers will get into a portion of their schedule against teams with more standard drop-back quarterbacks — beginning with Andy Dalton this Sunday, there will be more of an opportunity to evaluate just where Green Bay’s pass rush is at.
Q: Did anyone look at the pitch Rodgers made on the last drive? It looked foward to me but they never showed the replay. Wouldn’t that give him one more yard and the record?
— David Cartwright, Northern VA
A: Rodgers will have to settle for a tie with Matt Flynn — which he said after the game he doesn’t mind doing — and share the franchise record with 480 passing yards.
Q: The more I watch the Lacy hit, the more angry I get. That hit was clearly an intentional use of the helmet and could have significantly injured Lacy. What should be the punishment?
— Mike, Saranac Lake, NY
A: Washington safety Brandon Meriweather was fined $42,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Eddie Lacy. However, Meriweather’s sideline hit on James Starks — in which Meriweather suffered a concussion of his own — was deemed to be a legal hit by the NFL.
There has been a lot of talk that Meriweather deserved a suspension for the hit on Lacy, but the league disagreed. If you compare that situation to the one that Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson is in (in which he was originally suspended for a game but had it overturned), Meriweather doesn’t have quite the history with these types of hits that Goldson has. So, if Goldson’s actions weren’t enough to keep his suspension on the books, then Meriweather certainly wasn’t going to get more than a fine.
Q: With James Starks having a stellar game against the Redskins, do you think he may have taken over as the #1 RB? I like Eddie Lacy a lot, but he may be out for another game and that would clearly open the door for Starks, especially if he has another good game.
— Dan K, Madison
A: As McCarthy said Wednesday, Starks will start for the Packers in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. That decision was made regardless of what Lacy’s status ends up being Sunday. Even if Lacy is medically cleared, Starks earned the starting job — at least for one game.
After the season-ending knee injury to DuJuan Harris, Green Bay had no plans of using a one-two punch at running back. It was supposed to be the Eddie Lacy Show, with Starks only carrying the ball on a relatively rare occasion. If Starks performs well again this week, it may give McCarthy enough reason to use the bye week to ponder having a running back duo. But, in order for that to be strongly considered, Starks has to be good again. He has to follow up on the success that he had against Washington. And the Bengals’ front seven is a lot better than Washington’s, so it will be a difficult task for Starks.
Q: Could the Packers win a game with their current roster without Aaron Rodgers?
— Dennis Fullerton, Crivitz, WI
A: Against certain teams, sure. The Week 7 home game against the Cleveland Browns (who now traded away their star running back, Trent Richardson) would probably be winnable for the Packers with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. But going to Baltimore, to Minnesota, hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s difficult to imagine Green Bay winning the majority of those games with Rodgers out.
It’s easy to forget just how great of a quarterback Rodgers is, but every team in the league would trade their QB for him (yes, even the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints — after all, don’t forget that all of those teams’ quarterbacks are much older than Rodgers).
Q: Is there any word on the time frame for Derek Sherrod to attempt a comeback from the PUP?
— Bill, Manitowoc
A: Sherrod, like all players on the Physically Unable to Perform list, have to sit out the first six regular-season games. At that point, Sherrod has five weeks to begin practicing, if he’s healthy enough to do so. Once Sherrod does practice, there’s a three-week window in which the Packers have to decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve.
Q: Pittsburgh looks like they picked up a serviceable center from free agency. Why wouldn’t the Packers go after a guy like that since there does not seem to be a good backup center option?
— Iowa Packer, Iowa
A: The Packers are committed to developing Greg Van Roten as their backup center. It’s true that the Steelers signed 28-year-old center Fernando Velasco just 10 days ago and that he performed well as Pittsburgh’s starting center in Week 2. But, as is almost always the case in Green Bay under Thompson, the team will often prefer to get its own players ready rather than sign veterans.
Q: This may sound a bit ridiculous, but could you see Green Bay drafting a dual-threat QB within the next few years? I know we have the best and highest-paid QB in the league, and he will obviously be the starter for quite a few years, but I honestly could see Thompson potentially drafting a dual threat to see how it works out.
— Robert, Beloit, WI
A: Well, it’s obvious that the Packers somehow need to find a reliable backup for Rodgers before the 2014 season. Graham Harrell couldn’t cut it, neither could 2012 seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman, nor could Vince Young. Right now, Green Bay has Wallace as its backup and is just hoping that Rodgers stays healthy. If that plan backfires, so does the Packers’ season.
Having a good backup quarterback can be the most important or unimportant position on a team. If Rodgers is healthy for 16 games, it doesn’t matter who’s behind him. But if Rodgers has to miss a drive, a half, a game or a month, Green Bay doesn’t have a great plan in place. It’s one of the few times that Thompson and McCarthy have looked unprepared at any position heading into a season.
As far as the type of quarterback that the Packers might draft, maybe a dual-threat player would be in the cards. But, if that were to be the case, don’t expect McCarthy to ever take Rodgers off the field just to give the opponent a different look. No team is better off with its best player on the sideline.
Q: Is James Campen on the hot seat? Our offensive line play has been pitiful (I think Sunday’s performance against Washington was a mirage).
— Mark, Arcadia, WI
A: No, offensive line coach James Campen isn’t on the hot seat whatsoever. Keep in mind that the Packers’ starting offensive line consists of three fourth-round picks (Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari) and two undrafted players (Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay). Compare that, for example, with the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line that has three first-round picks among its starters. If Green Bay had Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga healthy, that would help any offensive line look better than it does in not having two first-round picks on the field. But, even with the group that the Packers do have, their offensive line is ranked among the Top 10 in production through two games.
** Thanks to everyone for their questions this week. We’ll be back next week after the Bengals game but will be off during the bye week and back after the game against the Detroit Lions. **