Here are all of the answers to this week’s questions in the latest edition of Packers Mailbag:
Q: This will be your season ending #1 question, “Who Will Replace Dom Capers”, will it be Mike Trgovac or Kevin Greene internally or will they go outside for Lovie Smith or an equivalent experienced defensive coordinator. Deserved or underserved, Capers is about to become the next Bob Sanders. — Lou, Kohler, WI
Q: After 4 years of being on the bottom of the defensive ranking, when will we get Capers out of here and get a new defensive Coordinator. Maybe one that from this century? — Jim Lobin, Hudson, WI
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Q: While it is clear that the Packers have been struggling in many areas since Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury, the collapse of the defense has been particularly noteworthy. Dom Capers and his crew seem to have no solution to their deficiencies in either run or pass defense. If we assume for a second that it’s unlikely Capers will be back next year, wouldn’t now be the prudent time to see if either Winston Moss or Kevin Greene could breathe new life into this moribund unit? It might give the brass an idea as to whether or not Capers’ replacement can be found inside rather than outside the organization. — Ken, Colorado
Q: Why does Dom Capers still have a job? Would MM ever consider letting someone else call the offensive plays? He has become predictable. — Nick, New York
Q: Should Mr. McCarthy give up the play calling, finally? — Tom Champan, Madison
A: Unless Green Bay’s defense has a drastic turnaround in these final four regular-season games, it’s difficult to imagine the Packers still having Dom Capers on board in 2014. As Lou mentions, the bigger question is who replaces Capers as defensive coordinator. I think it will be an outside hire, with Lovie Smith being the name that fans are most often asking about. But with this season still not over, that’s something that will become more obvious beginning in January.
As far as Ken’s question about turning the defense over to a coach like Moss or Greene for the rest of this season, I don’t see that happening. Capers will likely get to finish out the year before the team then likely goes in a different direction. But it is an interesting idea to give that route a try, especially because A.) It can’t get much worse than it’s been over the past month, and B.) To evaluate a potential internal hire.
As far as the offensive play-calling, as I’ve mentioned in previous Mailbag editions, Mike McCarthy has considered giving it up in the past. At this point, though, I don’t see him doing so unless it’s a very unique circumstance.
Q: What is the problem on defense, coaching or players? — Darrell Genett, Fort Knox
Q: Hi Paul,Is it defensive scheming or players not willing to sellout to make a play? With the lack of interceptions and fumble recovery’s that is the way it seems — Allen Wilson, Hastings, Michigan
A: It’s both. The schemes being drawn up by Capers often aren’t working, but the players also aren’t playing nearly well enough. When things go downhill for an NFL team, it’s rarely — if ever — the fault of just one area of the team. Not picking up a single win in the past five games means there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Q: Is this the worst defense in the NFL? — Bob, PA
A: No. It’s certainly not a good defense, but it’s also not the worst in the NFL. Statistically, the Packers are ranked 24th in total yards allowed, 22nd in passing yards allowed, 26th in rushing yards allowed, 23rd in points per game allowed and 30th in interceptions. Those are near the bottom of the league, but it’s not last place. Also, Green Bay is ranked 3rd in the NFL in sacks, so that has been one thing that the defense has done well.
Q: The window is closing on Rogers and the Pack. If the defense doesn’t improve the window is closed. Do the Packers intend to ensure a furious pass rush with adequate safeties? Free agents? EX. White, Woodson. Great QB and offense, but without addressing the defense soon don’t plan on a super bowl in the near future as the window will close. — Dennis, Dervetski
Q: Put a fork in them, they are done! I would think this was their last year for a super bowl run. Too much money tied up in two players, so the rest of the cast will be well depleted, what do you think? — Gary, Shell Lake
A: I don’t agree that the Packers’ window for a Super Bowl is closed or closing. When the star quarterback just turned 30 years old as Rodgers did this week, there is plenty of time to turn things around. Granted, Green Bay proved this season that Rodgers pretty much entirely dictates the success of the team. Nearly every team in the NFL would be willing to trade their quarterback for Rodgers, even with his huge remaining contract. He’s still in the prime of his career and should still be performing well when he reaches the age of Tom Brady (36) and Peyton Manning (37).
It is more difficult to build a perennial contender with so much money tied up in two players (adding in Clay Matthews’ massive deal), but having those two players also ensures that the Packers will be a winning team as long as they’re both healthy. That makes building the rest of the roster easier knowing that those two are around.
Q: I feel the packers need to add a few well placed veterans to finish off the roster. Any chance you see Ted Thompson breaking away from his philosophy this off season and add some mid level free agents — Troy Melton, Orfordville
Q: Well, the playoffs are gone. I am a die hard Packer fan but this is not a playoff team. Paul, how many players would you keep on the defense? I realize it is his philosophy but why can’t Ted T ever supplement our young talent with a free agent or two. I am all for cleaning house (including coaching staff) – what would you do if you were Ted Thompson with the defense? — Tom K, La Crosse
Q: Do we just have a average players on our team ? I wonder that because we don’t send many players to the pro bowl. –Sean, Las Vegas, NV
A: I absolutely think that what happened this season will force Ted Thompson to temporarily — or perhaps permanently — move away from his reluctance to spend money on veteran free agents. The team’s devotion to almost exclusively going the draft-and-develop route has showed its shortcomings. If the only thing that Green Bay does this offseason is add players through the draft, I think it would show an unwillingness to adapt to the circumstances, and I think Thompson is too smart to let that happen.
To answer Tom’s question, the defensive players I don’t think will end up returning next season include B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and Tramon Williams. I also wonder if both Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk return, or if the Packers give other players a chance to excel as the inside linebackers. Jamari Lattimore certainly seemed deserving of that opportunity, though it may be a position that requires a high draft pick or a free-agent pickup.
To Sean’s question, I think what Rodgers’ injury has exposed is that, yes, Green Bay is lacking in top-tier players. The Packers have several of them (Rodgers, Matthews, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Sam Shields) as well as a handful of players who could evolve into that category (Mike Daniels, Casey Hayward, Nick Perry, Eddie Lacy and Morgan Burnett), but it’s clearly not been enough to get Green Bay any wins without its star quarterback right now.
Q: Were I Rodgers I’d not play again until 200% certain I was healed and ready. Let’s use the time see if either Tolzien or Flynn really has a future as back-up in GB. What do you think? — Denny Waldera, Portland, OR
A: Agreed. With Rodgers owed more than $100 million through the end of his contract in the year 2020 and him clearly being what makes the Packers a good team, there’s very little reason to have him risk any further injury. I’d have Rodgers let the collarbone heal entirely, come back next season fully healthy and let the front office make the necessary offseason adjustments to the rest of the roster to ensure that the team isn’t so dependant on him. It would also be useful to see if Scott Tolzien can be the No. 2 quarterback of the future, which the team seems to have intentions of doing. But let Tolzien prove that he can do that job well (especially if Green Bay is officially eliminated from postseason contention) before committing to that plan for next season.
Q: Do you think that Rodgers could have done any better than Flynn in the Lions game with the “O” line allowing so many sacks and no blocking holes for the running game? — G. Murphy, Ovando, MT
A: Absolutely he could have. Rodgers changes everything. Everything. The time of possession would have been different, thus the Packers’ defense wouldn’t have gotten so fatigued. Detroit wouldn’t have been able to play with eight men in the box like it could with Matt Flynn. The Lions would have had to respect the deep ball with Rodgers, freeing up more space for Lacy. When one player is so good and that player is at the most important position, there’s nothing that stays the same when he’s out. Green Bay still might have lost to the Lions, but the game would’ve been played differently in many ways.
Q: Realistically how many drafts will it take now to rebuild the O line, the defensive line, the linebacking core and the dback. I think we’re good at running and kicking. — Boris Battenoff, Moscow, IA
A: Offensive line: With Bryan Bulaga back in 2014 and Derek Sherrod much further along in his recovery by then, plus the addition of 2013 fourth-round pick JC Tretter (who’s been out all season with an ankle injury), that’s three important players being added to a group with two above-average guards (Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang), a young and improving tackle (David Bakhtiari), a reliable future backup (Don Barclay) and a center (Evan Dietrich-Smith) that Rodgers really likes playing with.
Defensive line: Datone Jones was a 2013 first-round pick. Mike Daniels is an emerging star. Josh Boyd and Jerel Worthy will both play bigger roles next season. That’s a good start right there, and is a lot of draft-pick investments already. Depending on what happens with Raji in the offseason, the talent of this group is there. Now they just have to perform better and be put in better spots to succeed (see: Dom Capers questions above).
Linebackers: The plan is for Matthews and Perry to start outside for the next few years. Even if Mike Neal is brought back, they still need to add quality depth at outside linebacker. On the inside, a shakeup could be in order.
Defensive backs: The Packers need to re-sign Sam Shields. He’s becoming one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. Hayward had a great rookie season and shouldn’t be forgotten just because hamstring injuries destroyed his chances of contributing this season. At safety, Green Bay absolutely needs to find a top-notch player to pair with Burnett. If all things were equal by the time the Packers are on the clock in the first round of the 2014 draft, I’d suggest they take a safety.
Q: Paul – Why do the Packers continue to go with only 2 defensive lineman surrounded by 2 Linebackers in what seems to be the majority of the time? Why not just go back to a 4-3 and get 4 legitimate pass rushers in there? I would love to see a front with Daniels, Neal, Perry and Mathews…don’t forget about Jones…our 1st round pick that doesn’t even fit the 3-4 body type. The fat guy experiment with the 3- 4 isn’t working and we are wearing out Neal and Mathews with double teams while Raji and Pickett play patty cake.
Also – am I the only person that thinks A.J. Hawk is killing this defense? ProFootballFocus has given Hawk only 1 positive grade in his NFL career. I know Lattimore was hurt today but he is clearly more athletic and seems to have a nose for the ball. Why don’t they find a way to get him in there even if it means giving Hawk less snaps? — Mike, Burlington
A: That’s the Dom Capers scheme. Like it or not (and I know that 99 percent of Packers fans would choose the latter right now), that’s mostly how it’s drawn up. Raji has even commented on multiple occasions that he understands his role is to take up blockers and free up room for the linebackers to make the plays. Raji’s desire to be allowed to play more aggressively could be what’s holding him back from agreeing to a contract extension with Green Bay right now.
As for A.J. Hawk, yeah, ProFootballFocus is not a fan of his. They have him rated as the Packers’ worst defensive player this season. Hawk has had his moments this season and is looked to as a leader on that defense (which has value that can’t be weighed statistically), but I agree that it’s time for Jamari Lattimore (when healthy) to get more chances. Lattimore capitalized on his playing time earlier this season when he was subbing in for an injured Brad Jones.
Q: Offensively, why not give Sherrod a real chance to succeed by playing him for some significant time – say the 1st & 3rd quarters of the game? Also, has Bostick passed his concussion medical – he can make up for the loss of Finley as a receiver, but his blocking still needs work. Do you think Tretter or Van Roten can be the permanent center over EDS?Defensively, give Boyd a chance to show something since both BJR & Pickett seem to have called it quits in my opinion. Please use Lattimore as much as possible for the rest of the year – the experience will be valuable next year when he replaces one of the ILB’s like Jones or Hawk. The latter is often praised for the no. of tackles he makes – however no one seems to mention they’re always 10 yards downfield! — Bob Colapinto
A: On Derek Sherrod, the team is being cautious with him. With Sherrod being away from the game for nearly two years, the Packers are obviously concerned that he can’t yet play starter’s minutes. If Green Bay is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, though, I would think it’d be wise to give Sherrod a lot more snaps and see what he can do.
Brandon Bostick has passed his concussion tests. He’s definitely the best receiving tight end that the Packers have now, but I’m not convinced that he can produce anywhere near the level that Jermichael Finley was able to. Tight end is another position of need for Green Bay going into next season. Bostick could be a nice No. 2 option.
I don’t think JC Tretter or Greg Van Roten will take Evan Dietrich-Smith’s job as starting center next season.
I touched on Boyd and Lattimore above, so we’re on the same page there, Bob.
** Thanks for all the questions this week. We’ll do it again a week from now to break down the Packers-Falcons game and look ahead to Packers-Cowboys.