OK lot of questions already submitted, let's get right to it. The decline of the Packers' defense has been surprising at least to me. They started so well, and even now they're getting a decent pass rush just sending four. But they're giving up big plays and are spotty at best stopping the run. Savage hasn't been as good since his return from the ankle injury, King does OK but gets thrown at a lot, Lowry and Lancaster aren't playing as well as they did at the start of the season, and they're not dynamic at ILB. I'm still to figure out how much of it is the players, and how much the teaching/coaching. I was impressed with what Pettine and his staff did last year, but its been trending the wrong way for the last six weeks or so this season.
The holding penalties jump out more to me. You're right, they are killers. I don't know if the refs are calling penalties on a technique that they didn't penalize in the past, or if Bakhtiari's not moving as well and thus holding. He's 28, I wouldn't think his feet would be an issue yet, that's one position where guys can play really well into their early 30s. I do suspect the inexperienced OL is an issue. The upside of having a young coaching staff is the hunger the bring to the job. The downside is adjustments, both in-game and during the season.
Scott did look really good early, boomed some great punts. The last I think it's four weeks have been really shaky. He's a talented guy, the most talented punter the come through here since Hentrich. He had a good training camp. For now I'm still just going to say it's a slump, like the slumps kickers sometimes hit. But they need him to snap out of it. He contributed to a lot of SF's points last week, that can't continue.
I don't know that I'd call them lucky to be 8-3, they played well often enough to win those games. They were fortunate in the sense of all those early home games and not having to face Mahomes. They caught the Vikings early when Cousins when struggling. They don't have a killer schedule, so 12-4 is very realistic, but they could get knocked out early in the playoffs even with that record. I try not to be a prisoner of what happened most recently, but after these two bad losses in three weeks it is tough to see them getting to the SB -- never say never, but I'm just not sure they can beat SF or NO in a playoff game, especially on the road. Still not sure about Minnesota, we'll get to see that in a head to head matchup in a few weeks. But their defense is trending the wrong way, and those two awful offensive games in three weeks are red flags.
It's interesting, I think most coaches look at each game as a separate entity, and what they do one week doesn't mean they'll do the same thing the next. They look at the defense and see different matchups they want to attack with and against. New England does that and it works because Belichick is just so good at identifying the best way to attack and then coming up with ways to do it. I don't know what LaFleur saw in SF that he thought would be the best way to go at them, but it was complete and total failure. He might have out-thought himself. I thought they probably just needed to do a lot of underneath throwing. Maybe playing Jones and Williams together occasionally, then splitting Jones out of the backfield because of his receiving skills to against run-defense personnel, would have worked too. I just wonder if he over-thought things. He also basically admitted yesterday that they probably have emphasized Adams a little too much int he game plans since his return.
I have to admit Sternberger was a surprise when he blocked so well in regular playing time a couple weeks ago. With Tonyan back playing last week, they left Sternberger inactive. I guess they don't think they have room for four TEs on the game-day roster. But I have to agree that he might help them, especially because he blocked surprisingly well, that was supposed to be the weak part of his game. I'll be very curious to see if he's active this week and whether they'll consider going with four TEs on game day. Yes they need to invest a higher pick at WR, though I still wouldn't rule out the younger guys improving some. Allison seems to have leveled off in his third year, but Valdes-Scantling and Lazard still might improve. They have their limitations -- Valdes-Scantling is more a straight-line guy, and Lazard lacks speed -- but they are big targets and still only in their second season out of college. They also have St. Brown, who was lost for the season in camp. But yeah, I'd be looking for them to draft a receiver in the first two or three rounds. Or who knows, if there's a decent one available maybe Gutekunst will go sign one in free agency.
It's definitely time to address the return game in a meaningful way. That minus-11 in punt returns for the season is absolutely mind-blowing. I don't know if there's anyone out there they could get now who'd be worth it, but they need to invest at least a fourth- or fifth-round pick in a return guy. Agree on Smith, he has the speed for KOR but is not a punt returner.
Lewis has blocked well in the run game, and that's helped the passing game with play-action and going against run-stopping defensive personnel when he's on the field. But he's not much of a receiving threat, that's for sure. I have trouble seeing them making Graham or Lewis inactive, but maybe it's time to do that, or at least get all four TEs active and get Sternberger some more playing time and target him a couple times. I guess one question is how well he knows the offense after he missed so much time, but at least he blocked pretty well when he played a couple weeks ago.
ILB, DL, WR, TE. I don't know if there's hope for Burks or not. The fact that he can't get on the field in his second season despite their glaring need for help at ILB is obviously a bad sign. I know he missed crucial practice time in his first two training camps, but still.
I'd think everything has to be on the table. Maybe it's just as simple as playing the way they did with Adams out -- spreading the ball around, more short quick throws, emphasizing getting the ball to Jones in the passing game.
I know they were penalized for that once. I didn't notice that, but if it was egregious and they play again in the playoffs it's something LaFleur might alert officials to.
Last year Pettine said that one of the things he concluded during his two years away from being with a team was that simpler is better. He thought he had too many calls on his call sheet when he was Cleveland's coach, and that his players were thinking too much and it slowed them down. So he goes with a less is more approach. So I'm not sure it's that complicated, relatively speaking. The blown assignments on the 61-yard TD to Kittle was really surprising, because (as LeRoy Butler explained in his video breakdown with Tom Silverstein this week) both Amos and Savage blew the coverage. The Packers were in quarters, which meant the two CBs had the outside quarter deep, and the two safeties the inside quarters. But both Savage and Amos came up to cover a receiver going across the middle. Amos has been really solid most of the time, and Savage supposedly was ahead of the curve as far as a rookie understanding the defense. So that one was really surprising and basically finished off the Packers on Sunday night.
The deeper we get into scheme stuff in these questions, the more I'm out of my area of expertise. Agreed that the lack of athleticism in the middle of the defense is probably the biggest issue, as you say Martinez just can run with these athletic tight ends. They've got to do something to stop these TEs from killing them, that's for sure. The problem is, they've had issues stopping the run, too, that can end up compromising you in other ways.
I guess first I'd be curious to know what you were saying/thinking about Rodgers during the four games they won with Adams out. I thought he played at a high level in those games. Now, none of those defenses was at SF's level, but he also was missing his best receiver and put up a lot of points and yards, and was very much in command of the offense. Agree on the let-playmakers-make-plays. I realize the Packers don't have a super-talented WR corps, but I'm still not sure it's as bad as many fans/pundits seem to think after the two horrendous games against LAC and SF. So yeah, some of that is on Rodgers, to not think he has to make play after play, let other guys do it. That's what they did in the games Adams was out, and it worked. But he's still capable of making special plays and special throws, too. I'm not ready to dismiss all those games where the offense showed improvement week by week until the Chargers loss. I'd say let's see how the season plays out, but really NYG and WR on tap the next couple weeks, there's probably not much to learn from those matachups. The game that will be most telling is MV, though the Bears too because for all their issues they still have a talented D.
I thought in that stretch while Adams was out he played like an MVP candidate, and plenty of national pundits were saying that too, he was on the list of four or five six candidates everyone was naming. You're right that he's not as mobile as he was several years ago, no question about that. He has to adjust to that. No matter how things turn out this year, yes, I think QB has to be on the table starting in the first round. It's very much true that the hardest time to find one is when you need one. You can always adjust to the circumstances down the road -- if Rodgers becomes Brady and plays well into his early 40s, you can trade the drafted QB. But drafting one high has to at least be on the table starting in next spring's draft. Favre was 36 when the Packers drafted Rodgers; Rodgers turns 36 in December. Brady was 37 when the Patriots drafted Garoppolo.
Is Pettine on the hot seat? Maybe. LaFleur has no history as a head coach, so we don't know how he handles these things. So there's really no way to know. I thought he did well last year with what he had to work with. The D started so well this season but has been trending the wrong way for a while now.
I said in the moment he should go for the first down. I thought he needed to accrue points because they were going to be tough to come by against that D, and fourth-and-one was short enough to go for it. When he brought Jones in after the TO, I thought it would be a great time for a play-action pass because the 49ers would assume Jones was getting the ball. Seems like everybody thought he should have challenged the Graham play, but I'm very skeptical it would have been overturned. With the way they officiate catches, where the guy has to complete the catch by holding onto it after he hits the ground, I think they would have let that call stand. You can make a decent argument that it was the first half, so losing the timeout wouldn't have hurt much. But I personally very much doubt they would have overturned it.
Before the season I would have thought a playoff appearance was a decent year, considering they had a rookie head coach and all. But after the 8-2 start, a one-and-done playoff appearance seems light. I wonder if the reason the defense seems soft is the lack of explosiveness at ILB. That might account for it as much as anything.
I don't know why he's dropped off. He looked pretty promising early last season before the injury (I think it was core muscle) ended his season. He had a relatively quiet camp and just hasn't done much of anything this year. Several drops, which I don't remember being an issue his first two years.
OK, this will have to be the last question of the pre-Thanksgiving Day chat. So many questions, and yes, lots to wonder about this team after two awful performances in three games. Thanks to all for sharing your thoughts and questions. As for Gary, the thing that stands out most I guess is that he hasn't shown noticeable improvement during the season. That would concern me if I were the Packers. Maybe he's showing more in practice than he has in the games, but he just doesn't seem to be any better now than he was in early September. If I were them I'd try to see if he could help them some way other than just OLB. As I've mentioned here previously, maybe play him with his hand on the ground on early downs, see if he can be disruptive as a run defender. And with that we'll call it another chat. Look forward to chatting again next week. The home stretch is here, there will be plenty to talk about. Just want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! And safe travels for those going on the road.