The first ten games of the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 season have been pretty disappointing, to say the least. A 4-5-1 record is far short of the team’s and fans’ expectations, and barring a major turnaround over the final six games, the Packers face the very real possibility of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row and just the third year ever with Aaron Rodgers as the starting quarterback.
So with Thanksgiving week upon us, we want to look to the positive and continue what has become an annual tradition: discussing the things we are thankful for about this team. In this week’s Walkthroughs we are doing just that, and APC’s writers give thanks for everything from a new general manager to a budding star player to a specific second-half comeback.
Please share with us what you are thankful for in the comments below and, as always, Go Pack Go!
Evan “Tex” Western: extra draft picks in 2019
What the 2018 version of the Packers has shown is that the team needs another infusion of talent and depth. With that in mind, I’m excited for the fact that the Packers have a second draft pick in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, thanks to Brian Gutekunst’s shrewd wheeling and dealing this past April, as well as another fourth-round selection as a result of the Ha Ha Clinton-Dix trade.
Not only did Gutey trade back (and then up again) on the first day of the 2018 draft to nab that extra 2019 first-rounder from the Saints, but he also appears to have made a great selection in Jaire Alexander after doing so. The secondary looks like it is a growing strength on this team, as Alexander is taking control as a tone-setter and a true CB1.
Now it’s time to fix the pass rush, and having two early picks in 2019 is great. This draft class should be chock-full of edge and interior rushers, and I would not be surprised to see the Packers either draft a pair of them in round one or to package the two selections and move up to nab a really highly-valued player. Am I disappointed that the Saints are 9-1? You bet. That is making that second pick look like it will be in the low 20s, perhaps even the 30s. But for a GM like Gutey, who has shown himself to be more aggressive than his predecessor, that’s still more ammunition to move up.
The same can be said for the fourth-rounder, which I fully expect to be in the top half of that round after Washington lost QB Alex Smith to a brutal broken leg. That is still more ammo for Gutey to move up in day two of the 2019 draft. With the Packers’ 2018 struggles having me looking ahead to draft season earlier than usual this year, it’s nice to know that the team has an aggressive GM who has a lot of picks to work with.
Jon Meerdink - The Week 1 Comeback
The Chicago Bears currently lead the NFC North. This is regrettable. Even more regrettable is the fact that the Packers and Vikings have given little indication they’re capable of chasing them down over the season’s final six weeks.
Khalil Mack has made the Bears defense from a very good unit into a great one, and there was no finer example of his dominance than his first half destruction of the (very briefly) DeShone Kizer-led Packers in Week 1.
Until Aaron Rodgers erased it all.
Playing on one leg, Rodgers obliterated Mack and the Bears, whipping through their defense with an incredible rally, rendering Mack’s incredible first half a statistical footnote to Rodgers’ greatness.
It may ultimately represent winning the battle but losing the war as far as the two teams are concerned, but the important thing is this: Rodgers completely ruined Mack’s coming out party as a member of the Bears, and no success the Bears experience this year will ever bring that back.
In the only head-to-head matchup between the Packers and Bears that may end up mattering this year, Mack’s dominance amounted to absolutely nothing when it counted most.
Paul Noonan - Kenny Clark
We all know the secret of Kenny Clark, but not everyone does. The 23-year-old defensive lineman is not just one of the best players on the Packers, he’s one of the best players in the league. The Packer defense has been mediocre-to-bad for so long that it’s easy to forget that the Packers actually have one of the best lines in football, and in Mike Pettine’s system it’s finally showing it’s stuff. Clark is second on the team in tackles, and second on the team in sacks, which is insane for an interior defensive lineman. Combined with the fact that he’s a premiere run-stopper, Clark is a rare breed of every-down player, and the fact that he required so much attention keeps blockers off of Blake Martinez, and opens up space for all of Pettine’s blitzers. If you’re building a top-flight defense, Jaire Alexander and Kenny Clark are some of the best building blocks you could have.
Shawn Wagner - Brian Gutekunst is General Manager
It’s extremely early in the Gutey era, but like Tex mentioned above, his first-year moves should pay fairly quick dividends. After watching Ted Thompson rarely complete transactions in the free agency and trade markets and fall short on his final draft classes, it appears Gutekunst will be much more thorough in the next few years as a GM.
Although the Jimmy Graham trade was a bit perplexing at the time and hasn’t made the type of impact many hoped for so far in 2018, the move at least represented an attempt to jumpstart the Packers’ offense. On top of Graham, the Packers were aggressive under the new GM to add low-risk players such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams while locking up Aaron Rodgers to an extension. Despite the free agent activity, Gutekunst still put together what appears to be as rock solid a draft class as Green Bay has had in many years. The addition of Jaire Alexander while adding an additional first round pick next April may prove to be a significant long-term decision. And on top of adding picks, the Packers moved swiftly under Gutekunst to eliminate locker room distractions in the forms of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Ty Montgomery.
It’s not Gutekunst’s decision to make with Mike McCarthy’s future following this season, but it’s clear that change is in the air. In what may be a two-year rebuild, the Packers have overhauled the personnel on both the roster and coaching staff. Too much complacency surrounded Green Bay in recent seasons and hopefully, under Gutekunst, the Packers can soon return to their contending ways.
Bob Fitch: Increased accountability
Echoing Shawn’s point, the Packers have been unwilling to implement change for a while now. Going from Favre to Rodgers means something must have been working right, and Mike McCarthy is a highly successful head coach. The problem is, not highly successful enough. Ted Thompson was unwilling to make any major moves in free agency and relied solely on his draft and develop method and finding talent in the UDFA pool, and his recent misses in the draft has left the cupboard relatively empty of top level talent.
This year, however, changes are being made and they aren’t being made just for change’s sake. From draft day trades, free agent signings, player for player and player for pick trades, and even cutting two rotational players (miss you Whitehead) - Brian Gutekunst has shown a willingness to shake the branches of the most stubborn tree in the league. The results have not shown up this year, but hopefully with a coaching change after this season the transformation can really start to take hold.
Peter Bukowski: Mike Pettine
For all the #FireDom fans out there, the problem with wanting a change was always that the Packers seemed more likely to get a Gregg Williams as a Wade Phillips. Most teams are. Really good coaches are hard to find, but Green Bay found one and it’s been an essential part of the 2018 story.
Scheming blitzers free, something we haven’t seen the Packers do consistently for nearly a decade, playing with aggressiveness and edge, and Shawn and Bob hit on it: accountability. You couldn’t talk to a defensive player in OTAs and training camp who didn’t use that word to describe what has changed about that side of the ball. Pettine brings a cerebral approach to scheme while maintaining a somewhat old school approach when it comes to holding players accountable. ‘Do your job or we’ll find someone who will.’ Ask Jermaine Whitehead.
It would have been hard to believe a year ago, but the conversation has shifted so far, there is even momentum to try and find a McCarthy successor who would at least consider keeping Pettine (and there are several candidates you have to assume would do so for the chance to coach Aaron Rodgers and this team). At the very least, he’s injected vitality into a unit that hasn’t had it in years and it’s been a joy to watch unfold. He also proved the #FireDom crew had it right: Capers was doing less with more. Now, Pettine is doing more with less.