Packers Exit Survey: 2017 Regular Season

It was a season of firsts for the Green Bay Packers. The team finished with a record of 7-9 for the first time in team history, missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years and played more than half of their games without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

As the Packers head towards an offseason of change, Jon and Gary sat down to share some thoughts on the regular season and what the future holds.

What is your tweet-length review of the 2017 regular season?

Jon: Take that Seattle! Tough loss but ok. Geronimo! Ha, Bears. Another Rodgers classic! Oh no. Oh no again. Brian Hoyer? Bye Marty. Ugh. Ha, Bears. Shutouts are no fun. A near upset. OT thriller! OT thriller! Hope! Sadness. Sadness. Final sadness. Bye everyone.

Gary: As Aaron Rodgers goes, so do the Packers. After almost a decade of constant success, Rodgers got hurt and the team got caught playing a backup who still looked raw in his third NFL season. Also, Martellus Bennett was here for a minute.

What’s your opinion on Brett Hundley’s future in the NFL?

Jon: I don’t think Brett Hundley has a future in the NFL, at least not as a starting quarterback. He had literally years to get ready for this opportunity, and when it came he couldn’t have had more support from the organization. The Packers’ personnel people refused to bring in a veteran backup (though they had limited options), and the coaching staff refused to make a change to Joe Callahan. It was all Hundley all the time, and it couldn’t have gone much worse.

I think it’s true that quality NFL players provide a smaller edge over opponents than people realize, and we saw that in spades this year. Even slightly better quarterbacking could have gotten the Packers one or two more wins, but Hundley seemed barely able to get players lined up on time. If that’s what the Packers have in him after three years, it’s hard to see much of a future at all.

Gary: One of the phrases that I hear often from Jon is “players, not plays.” The Packers coaching staff did an average job of retooling the offense after Rodgers was lost for the season, and Hundley was a mixed bag. He made some tremendous throws, but then set an NFL record for the most passing attempts at home without a touchdown pass.

2017 showed us that while it’s more about players and not plays, the players may be held back by the plays they ran. Jared Goff went from bust to star overnight in Los Angeles and Case Keenum had a career renaissance in Minnesota.

Hundley may not be in the right system, or the Packers offensive coaching staff may not be the best group to get the most out of him. Whether he’ll have another opportunity with the team’s revamped coaching staff or another team will be interesting to watch.

Who surprised you the most this season?

Jon: I was surprised how competent portions of the defense looked amid a dreadful overall product. Though he has his limitations, Blake Martinez showed up in a big way this year. Kenny Clark looks like a budding star. Clay Matthews was his best self since 2014. Damarious Randall looks like a competent starter, which is a lot more than we can say than a year ago at this point.

Even role players like Dean Lowry and Quinton Dial showed up in 2017. It made little difference overall, but even in a disappointing defensive season it was nice to see some bright spots.

Gary: By the season’s end, it was pretty clear that Kenny Clark had at least reached the same level of dominance as fellow defensive lineman Mike Daniels. Clark, the team’s first round pick in 2016, was still the youngest player on the roster in 2017 and continues to grow into a reliable star.

He finished the season with 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles. It’s exciting to daydream about how ferocious the Packers defensive line can be next season with a new coordinator in place.

Who took the biggest step backwards this season?

Jon: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a spectacular 2017 off the field. His charity work is commendable, he speaks thoughtfully on a wide range of subjects, and he seems to have many larger ambitions outside of football.

But calling his on-field performance a step backwards is a tremendous understatement. It was more like a step backwards down a flight of stairs, resulting in a long, painful fall that ends with a large thud at the bottom. Clinton-Dix had a woeful 2017 season with a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, culminating with a dreadful season finale in Detroit. I don’t recall seeing a young Pro Bowl player falling off so dramatically before.

Gary: Jordy Nelson went from the league’s 2016 Comeback Player of the Year to on the brink of retirement after Rodgers’ injury. Statistically, he failed to record more than 500 receiving yards for the first time since he became a full-time starter in 2011.

Nelson made his mark on this league because of his almost frightening unspoken connection with Rodgers. How many times throughout the years did the pair exchange just a quick glance and cause havoc on a defense? Without his quarterback, Nelson lost his edge over defenses.

I don’t know what the future holds for him. It’s likely the team tries to renegotiate his contract once a new general manager is in place. If this is the end for Nelson in Green Bay, it’s been a remarkable career.

At what point did you have a feeling the Packers weren’t going to make the postseason?

Jon: By halftime of the Week 7 game against New Orleans, I realized it probably wasn’t going to happen. Just a few days prior, I predicted at Acme Packing Company that the Packers could win six games with Hundley. Seeing him play after a full week to prepare, even against a stout defense, moved me from that opinion quite quickly.

Gary: A few days after Week 7’s home loss to the New Orleans Saints. Hundley passed for just 79 yards (somehow the second-lowest mark of the season), and the Packers were headed into their bye week. After almost two full games of Hundley at quarterback, he had yet to prove he could do better than 2013’s patchwork group of backup quarterbacks.

The team stood pat at the bye week, and that was the first time I seriously contemplated the idea of the Packers missing the playoffs.

Though the Packers may have tried to lure Brian Hoyer to town, Thompson and McCarthy stuck with Hundley and won just one game the rest of the way.

How many more years will Mike McCarthy coach the Packers?

Jon: I would say there’s a 75% chance he coaches at least one more year in Green Bay and a 50% chance he coaches two or more.

Like Gary below, I’m not fully convinced that Mike McCarthy will be coaching the Packers in 2018. Though he did sign a contract extension, that barely qualifies as protection in the NFL. Contracts can be made and unmade at the drop of a hat, and the pending change at general manager makes it a virtual certainty that a coaching change will at least be considered. If it doesn’t happen now, I think the possibility will be revisited in a year’s time.

Gary: I’m not quite convinced just yet that McCarthy will be the team’s coach in 2018. Removing Dom Capers as defensive coordinator and re-assigning offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, along with the dismissal of a number of key assistants is no small change.

McCarthy is famous for being extraordinarily loyal to his staff (Shawn Slocum waves hello), and he’s pruned his staff more in a week than he has since he came to town.

If the team ends up promoting Eliot Wolf, Russ Ball or Brian Gutekunst to general manager, it’s a good sign McCarthy returns for at least one more season. However, an outside candidate would be completely justified in wanting to bring in their own coach.

So long as Aaron Rodgers is on the roster, the Packers head coach is the most coveted job in the NFL. Even if McCarthy is dismissed after the league’s six teams with a vacancy at head coach have hired a replacement, Green Bay will have no shortage of candidates willing to take the post.

Would you have signed Colin Kaepernick when Rodgers was injured?

Jon: At the time I said no, but looking back I think I would have.

Hundley clearly did not have what it takes to be an NFL starter, and while Colin Kaepernick is not a perfect quarterback, he’s not worse than Hundley. As I said above, competent quarterback play could at least have made the Packers competitive in a few more games (the New Orleans game, the Baltimore game, and both Detroit games come to mind), and it’s hard to fathom him putting up multiple games with less than 100 passing yards.

Gary: I don’t know and I won’t know the dynamics of the Packers’ locker room, so I don’t know how Kaepernick is viewed by the 60-some men who could have been his teammates.

It was disappointing to watch Green Bay play it safe and stick with Hundley for nine of the season’s final ten games. After Rodgers was injured in mid-October, the Packers merely signed Joe Callahan off the practice squad to backup Hundley.

Kaepernick could have joined the team shortly after the Vikings’ loss on October 15. The team would have started Hundley the next Sunday against the Saints, but a wonderfully placed bye week would have given the coaching staff 22 days from when Rodgers was hurt until November 6 when Kaepernick would likely have made his first start.

The Packers played it safe, and in the process wasted a season in the career of every player on the roster. It’s too bad.

What rookie heading into their second season are you the most excited for in 2018?

Jon: With a year of NFL experience and a surgically repaired shoulder, Kevin King should be ready to rock and roll in 2018. He fought for and earned a starting job ahead of Quinten Rollins and Davon House playing hurt in 2017, and the sledding is notoriously tough for rookie corners. With a healthy shoulder and some real-life playing experience, I’m excited to see what he can do.

Gary: Jamaal Williams was quite the breakout star as a rookie, but I think Aaron Jones has a higher ceiling for the Packers. Williams is the heir apparent to James Starks in Green Bay, a one-cut runner who plays hard.

Jones failed to see more playing time early in the season as his pass protection skills weren’t game-ready. As the season wore on, Jones was benched at least once for struggling to protect Hundley as a blocker.

Give Jones an offseason to sharpen his tools as a blocker, and it’s a good bet we’ll see him carrying the ball as the lead back in Green Bay next season.

What’s your boldest prediction for the offseason?

Jon: The Packers will retool on offensive in a surprising way, giving Aaron Rodgers another weapon heading into the stretch run of his career. With aging receivers (other than Davante Adams) and a void at tight end, the Packers could use another pass catcher, and I think the new GM brings one in via free agency or the draft.

Gary: The Packers will continue to be active in free agency this offseason, and I have a feeling the new general manager just may deviate from Ted Thompson’s wait and see approach to signings. I’ll guess that the Packers end up with a new, highly paid cornerback heading into next season.