The Packers’ season hasn’t even been over for a week yet, but it’s time to start figuring out how we ended up here.
What was this team, anyway? Were they always going to end up here? Could things have gone differently with a couple of different decisions?
We can’t say for sure, but what we do have is some gut-level reactions from our writing staff. Here are some quick takes on the life and death of the 2022 Green Bay Packers.
Justis Mosqueda: Disappointing but uncertain
I’ve been thinking about this season a lot for the last few days and have come away with more questions than answers. If there is an assessment of this team that dealt with a quarterback injury, weird rest splits and a youth movement, it’s that Matt LaFleur’s ability to get the team ready to play football early on in the season will be on full display going into 2023. It is not enough for the offense and/or defense to take strides in the second half of the season, even if defensive coordinator Joe Barry is to be retained. The condensed playbooks in the first two (three?) months of the season have been a regularity under LaFleur and the team is no longer talented enough to win with beige looks alone. This is the first time I’ve really felt that LaFleur’s seat is even the slightest bit warm, but a disappointing 2023 off of yet another slow start could be enough for the team to look in another direction. LaFleur vouched for his coordinator hires, doubled down by stating he’s not going to make staffing changes and better be right about it.
Matub - Half a movie
The 2022 Packers were the first half of the movie Tommy Boy. The window was closing and it was going to take a Herculean effort to save the team. However, it ended up as one “huge embarrassing failure” after another. And the worst part is: in the end Dan Akroyd (the impending cap crunch) is going to close down our factory (super bowl window). Chris Farley is dead and won’t be there to save us.
Paul Noonan: The 2022 Packers were all “just fine,” which is, in the aggregate, terrible.
One of the better scenes in the movie version of Moneyball involves Jonah Hill explaining the very basics of sabermetrics. That runs predict wins, that they lost x runs via the departure of certain stars, and that making up for those runs will require a composite OPS of .364 from new players, if memory serves. Much of what follows is a dramatic recreation of scouts yelling about the players they plan to acquire to meet these goals.
I like this scene because the team specifically outlines what must occur for the team to be successful, and makes often unpopular decisions, simply because anything else would lead to failure. The Packers seem to lack this attention to planning and detail, and the stomach to make it happen. I think this best sums up just how 2022 went, while also explaining just how 2021 failed. It’s extremely easy to look at the 2021 special teams unit and diagnose it as needing a severe upgrade. Part of the calculation should have been that they required an average special teams performance to win, especially in the playoffs. Poor special teams leads to high-leverage failures, and high-variance losses. It should not have been allowed to persist.
2022 did not have the highly visible failure of special teams. What it did have was a lot of tolerated mediocrity which, as a unit, made success impossible. Many of us advocated for more Christian Watson early in the season (and indeed, later in the season) for the simple reason that the formula for success required it. Even with his rookie mistakes, bugs, etc, relying on Sammy Watkins to produce instead of Watson is a recipe for failure, and they relied on this recipe for a very long time. Yes, he was injured for some of that time, but he was also benched for much of it.
Similarly, Amari Rodgers getting so many opportunities on special teams despite no demonstrated success cost them at least one game, and given Keisean Nixon’s brilliance, possibly more. Joe Barry didn’t have a terrible season, and put together a good stretch run, but the sum total of his efforts is still a bottom third defense, again, while Ejiro Evero is now a sought-after candidate after putting together a herculean defensive unit on an otherwise incompetent team. Barry wasn’t awful, he was fine. But you need better.
Rodgers himself clearly suffered an age-related decline. Nagging injuries are now a regular fixture in his world, and his mobility is poor. When projecting your old quarterback, if you expect another MVP season, you’re projecting wrong. You’re hoping, and hope is not a plan. Rodgers was fine. But he wasn’t Rodgers.
And Matt LaFleur, of the Kyle Shanahan tree, continues to run some occasionally fine offense combined with some asinine concepts that never work well with the current quarterback, while his mentor in San Francisco runs one of the league’s best offenses without his best receiver, and with literally any quarterback that just happens to be hanging around. What are we to think of LaFleur’s offense when it can’t even get a Garopollian performance from Aaron Rodgers? He was fine, but all of this fine just leads you to something like a .500 record.
When no one is awful, accountability can be hard, and here it looks as if LaFleur will fail by sticking with his coordinators, and failing to make major changes. As Rodgers drives the cap into red alert territory and the underlying talent on the roster continues to decline, “fine” isn’t going to work.
Jon Meerdink: A team with a clear, flawed plan
I think the Packers went into 2022 with their eyes wide open about the sort of team they wanted to be. They wanted to run the ball, they wanted to use Sammy Watkins to be a bridge player from Davante Adams while the young receivers matured, and they wanted their defense to keep them in enough games that the offense would be able to do enough while it figured out its identity.
That turned out to not be a great plan because of how many needles the Packers had to thread to make it work. Running the ball is a fine idea if you have a strong, healthy offensive line. The Packers didn’t have that for most of the season, and certainly not in the first half when they should have been running the ball the most. Sammy Watkins was never on the field enough to really serve as a bridge to anything — and the young receivers, by and large, also struggled with some health issues. First Christian Watson was hurt, then Romeo Doubs switched places. And the defense wasn’t consistently good enough to keep the Packers in games they could have won.
I don’t know if the plan itself was even that bad, per se, as much as fragile. They seemed to understand that 2022 would be a difficult year and a plan was in place to get the most out of it that they could. It’s just that the plan could be undone by so many small things that it fell apart quickly and put the Packers in such a hole that ultimately they could never recover.
Tex Western: A lesson in managing expectations
Coming into the 2022 season, Packers fans had high hopes for their team. Between the massive investment on the defense, both in free agency and early in the draft, plus the influx of rookie talent in the receiving corps, the sky was the limit. Or so we thought.
Instead, the defense scuffled, getting off to a dismal start in the season opener thanks to coverage gaffes all over, and then getting run all over in the trenches for the better part of 18 weeks. And somehow, the offense felt like an even bigger disappointment, with Aaron Rodgers – coming off a pair of consecutive MVP awards – playing at around a league-average level without Davante Adams to throw to and Nathaniel Hackett to draw up some creative red zone plays.
David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins would be back to their normal selves to start the season, right? Nope. Hoping for rookie receivers to be instant playmakers? Not really, though we finally got glimpses of Christian Watson’s potential in the final third of the season. And an easy run through the NFC North to a fourth straight division title? No such luck.
This is a season that will hopefully teach Packers fans not to get too high on their team. Because regression, injuries, and any number of unlyucky breaks and unforeseen circumstances can doom a team’s chances of being a real contender. Now that the team heads into 2023 with even more questions swirling around their soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback, nothing feels guaranteed – certainly not success next season, regardless of whether he comes back for another go.