In this week's Walkthroughs, APC discusses our final thoughts on the 2017 season across the NFL and for the Green Bay Packers in particular.
Paul Noonan - The Fisher King
The NFL is extremely conservative, sticking with outmoded thinking and coaching retreads whenever possible, but I think change is about to get a kick in the pants, and we all have Jeff Fisher to thank or blame for it. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a season where coaching was so obviously a factor, but when Jeff Fisher was forcibly escorted from the coaching ranks, it quickly became obvious just how bad he was, and just how much could be gained from a more progressive approach. Sean McVay left Washington to helm the Rams, who went from laughingstocks to instant Super Bowl contenders with barely a personnel change. Jared Goff seemed like a different player, and Todd Gurley produced in the ways that scouts always said he could. Buoyed by newfound offensive competence, the defense put it all together as well.
But it wasn’t just current Rams that benefitted. Case Keenum, previously buried on the Rams bench, stepped in brilliantly for the injured Sam Bradford who was coming off a very good season for the Vikings after almost having his own career destroyed by Fisher. And to put the icing on the turd cake that was the last decade of the Fisher tenure, Nick Foles, who also almost had his career ruined by Fisher, lead a devastating Eagles offense to a Super Bowl championship.
I’ve always been obsessed with offensive scheme, game-planning, and play selection, and I’ve had many (very smart) people tell me that in the end talent usually wins out and a “good” coach is really all you need if you have the talent. I’m not sure that was ever true, but it definitely isn’t anymore. Coaching took a quantum leap forward this season, and there are going to be a lot of old guard who find themselves in Jeff Fisher’s shoes sooner rather than later.
Jon Meerdink - Balance is dead; long live balance
On the NFL’s biggest stage, the Eagles and Patriots set fire to one of the football’s most unkillable myths: the idea of balance.
Coaches love to talk about having a balanced offense. In some imaginary world, these coaches would end every game having called exactly the same amount of runs and passes, presumably because the defense wouldn’t know what’s coming if there was an equal chance of either being called.
The Super Bowl showed how flawed that conception of balance is. The Patriots called more than twice as many passes as runs. The Eagles nearly did the same. Both teams recognized that passing is the most efficient way of moving the football and structured their play calls accordingly.
But that’s not to say neither team ran effectively. Both teams scored touchdowns on well-executed runs and got key contributions on the ground from multiple ball carriers. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi were particularly fun to watch and showed the value of teams being able to run effectively in situations where running is advantageous.
Balance, then, is not calling the same amount of runs as passes. It’s being able to run effectively and efficiently so that your offense doesn’t have to rely on just moving the ball through the air. That kind of balance takes a lot more effort to achieve, but it’s significantly more valuable than the outdated version.
Evan “Tex” Western - Hoping for positive change
Regarding the Green Bay Packers specifically, my hope is that the struggles of the 2017 season lead to a significant recoil in 2018. This happened a bit in 2008, though for very different reasons. In both 2017 and 2008, the Packers entered the season coming off a loss in the NFC Championship Game, and in both seasons they ended the year under .500. The 2009 team bounced back, however, after major changes on the defensive coaching staff; Dom Capers’ arrival (along with that of Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji) vaulted that unit into elite status instantly, and the team outperformed even its 11-5 record.
I say that to say that I’m hopeful that the big changes in the coaching staff and front office over the past month, which seem to be largely due to struggles in 2017, bear fruit in 2018 and push the Packers to another Super Bowl.
Peter Bukowski - Adapt or die
The most adaptive and elastic team in NFL history lost a Super Bowl to a team that out-adapted them.
Can you tell the buzzword here?
First, the Eagles hired a coach who constantly evolves his offensive scheme to incorporate things he sees and likes. The “Philly Special” trick play was stolen from the Bears who took it from Clemson.
That’s before you consider the Eagles took the core of their offense, the RPO, directly from Saturday football.
Doug Pederson and his staff showed vision and guts in their aggressiveness in upending the NFL status quo, stealing college principles, and shirking off the conventional wisdom of going for two and going on fourth down.
And it helped them beat a team that had been doing all of the above for two decades.
Sean McVay completed one of the greatest turnarounds in league history following the same model and Matt Nagy snagged a head coaching job in Chicago thanks to his elasticity and creativity with the Chiefs.
The status quo is now disruption.
Adapt or die.
Kris Burke - Nick Foles made Mike McCarthy look like an idiot
As soon as Aaron Rodgers went down, the excuses already started for the Packers to have a down season and be OK with it.
“Oh, they lost Aaron. Any team that loses a franchise quarterback is bound to fall apart.”
Then Carson Wentz tore his ACL and Nick Foles promptly led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl.
As of this past Sunday, the above excuse just retroactively went up in smoke for the Packers and makes Mike McCarthy look like a stubborn mule. After it was clear Brett Hundley was nowhere near as good as McCarthy told us he was, the Packers could have signed a veteran and maybe the team would have been in a much better position than they were when Rodgers was healthy.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have worked either. You don’t know, but you have to try. Two of the four quarterbacks in the conference championships were backups and one of those won a ring.
To be clear, this isn’t to say the Packers could have pulled a Philadelphia. There was still the matter of a poor defense that finally cost Dom Capers his job. They would, however, have had a fighting chance.
Instead, they were on life support when Rodgers returned and required him to play like he never missed a game.
That strategy more than anything doomed Green Bay in 2017. That chapter is now thankfully closed.
Thankfully the Packers didn’t act all “woe is us” after the season and instead made wholesale changes. A new, young and probably aggressive general manager. A defensive coordinator that is much more adaptable and assertive than his predecessor. A rebooted offensive staff that will be rebuilding the playbook.
The Packers have reloaded, Rodgers is re-energized and 2018 looks to be an exciting year in Titletown.
Is it September yet?!