In the aftermath of their Week 7 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it became abundantly clear that the Green Bay Packers needed to make significant changes to remain competitive in a quickly tightening NFC playoff field. The bye week seemed to provide head coach Mike McCarthy the perfect opportunity to self-scout and evaluate where to make adjustments while Brett Hundley could internalize the lessons of his first NFL start and improve. Instead, both let the Packers down in a lifeless effort against the division-rival Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
Coming out of a bye week, the Packers needed to gear the offense to Hundley by utilizing more spread looks. They didn't do so often enough, and that failure largely accounted for the paltry 5.5 yards per attempt Hundley posted before inflating his numbers on a final drive in garbage time against an indifferent Lions defense. For whatever reason, Mike McCarthy seems intent on making Hundley operate like a traditional West Coast quarterback rather than a modern, spread-pedigreed passer like many of his contemporaries.
McCarthy made meaningful adjustments to the Packers offense during the offseason, using more crossing routes and receiver stacking to help the unit become one of the best red-zone units in the NFL.
But Hundley deserves his fair share of the blame as well. He doesn't trust himself to make plays downfield and looks for check-down options too early in the play. That approach resulted in Hundley missing a wide-open Jordy Nelson streaking behind the secondary on the Packers' first drive. A starting-caliber quarterback identifies that receiver and makes a throw. Hundley took a sack, and the drive ended in a blocked field-goal attempt.
Those issues manifested throughout the game. During one of the Packers' other rare trips to the red zone, Hundley looked off Randall Cobb running open off a wheel route and took another sack. The inability to keep his eyes downfield ranked as one of Hundley's most glaring flaws coming out of UCLA, and he had shown signs of progress during his preseason work. However, since taking over for Rodgers, Hundley has regressed in that area, and the Packers offense has suffered as a result.
Good quarterbacks take smart risks; bad ones take risks with low upside. Hundley's risks now seem to involve throwing short passes into the middle of the field across his body, as he did on Monday night. Those plays don't offer much potential if completed, and too often result in a turnover.
Hundley has now played extensively in three games, including this most recent appearance after the Packers' bye week. He has shown only limited signs of improvement and some of his supposed strengths have deteriorated. He leaves too many yards on the field and can't seem to settle into the offense.
After the Packers' most recent defeat, McCarthy refused to blame Hundley. Though McCarthy deserves some of the responsibility himself, Hundley doesn't appear to have the potential the team envisioned. If the Packers hope to salvage the season, they need better play at quarterback. That could mean turning to a player not currently on Green Bay’s roster.
Dom Capers running out of chances
Few coordinators in Packers history have drawn as much ire from fans as Dom Capers, the team's top defensive assistant for the last nine seasons. Capers led a defensive revival in his first few years in Green Bay, contributing to a successful title run in 2010. However, in the time since, Capers' units have ranked near the bottom of the league roughly as many times as they've performed adequately, and this year's version appears on pace to finish as one of the worst of his tenure.
Monday night's game proved the latest example of Capers' struggles. The Packers defense put Detroit in numerous third-and-long situations, but they blew those opportunities nearly as often. The Lions converted on five of the eight times it faced third-and-8 or longer, good for a preposterous 63.5 percent success rate. That figure highlights the biggest issue with the Capers' defense: the inability to get off the field.
That failure directly results from the inability for Capers to generate pressure. Against a Lions offensive line playing without its top two options at left tackle, the Packers sacked Matthew Stafford just once and made contact three times. With all the time in the world, Stafford delivered one of the best performances of his career, completing over 78 percent of his passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Most damningly of all, Detroit never punted during the game.
Ultimately, the Packers might bring back Capers after 2017. After all, they've retained him after worse performances in the past. However, the defense has enough talent to perform at a higher level than it has, and a change at coordinator looks like the most viable way to resolve the problem.