A loaded pass rush draft class in 2019 has some in Cheesehead Land shouting for a mini-Process for the Green Bay Packers. With playoff hopes in 2018 season all but extinguished and Green Bay unlikely to be a threat even if it made the postseason, the argument goes that the team should just play DeShone Kizer, sit Davante Adams, and see what the kids can do. Lose as many games as possible, sneak into the top-5 and snag a blue chip prospect.
But there’s more to life than high draft picks.
Playing the youths in games that don’t matter isn’t nearly as useful in the development (or perhaps in this case re-development) of a young player in a winning culture. There’s an enormous difference in preparation, intensity, and game situations for games where the team is fighting for the playoffs and when they aren’t.
Just watch the Packers’ opponent this week. The Cardinals went up 10-0 on the Chargers on Sunday only to have 45 straight points hung on them afterward. After those first couple scores go on the board for the opponent, heads hang, focus wanes, and bad habits creep in as players become more worried about stats and staying healthy than they do executing their assignments. It’s just human nature.
No, this Green Bay team isn’t winning a Super Bowl this season, but that doesn’t mean these games don’t matter. Fans should much prefer Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson getting reps against Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones that could actually affect the outcome of the season. In what amounts to an exhibition game, what meaningful information can actually be gleaned?
The final five games of the season are as much about determining who is a part of this team’s future as it is about winning and losing. Evaluating players in games that still matter serve as a much better measuring tool than in games that don’t. Presumably, the Packers would like to get back to playing in high-leverage situations and they won’t know how some players react if they don’t actually see them.
Someone like Antonio Morrison, a heat-seeking missile of fury in his shoulder pads, may turn out to be a useful player for this team. If he’s only playing garbage time games, how will Brian Gutekunst actually be able to tell?
What if it turns out Robert Tonyan could be a helpful weapon in this offense? If neither team is playing for anything meaningful, are those reps legitimately useful in evaluating him?
With an enormous offseason looming, a likely coaching change in the works, and a critical talent acquisition period for Gutekunst, the Packers need to utilize every advantage at their disposal to acquire the most data they can about there this team is and what it needs to get where it wants to go.
If Mark Murphy thought firing Mike McCarthy would spur this team into the playoffs, he likely would have done it already. Instead, the Packers will have to hope for their deadcat bounce coming from playing two teams they should beat at home. Installing Joe Philbin as playcaller likely wouldn’t change much either with him as interim head coach or as the offensive coordinator calling plays for Mike Pettine. Staying the course gives this team the best chance to evaluate players in a system they already know.
There’s also the matter of the frustrated star quarterback. Getting on the same page with some of these young receivers could at least set the stage for confidence building in the offseason and into next year for this offense, regardless of who is calling plays. Green Bay is going to need Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in this offense next season and they haven’t consistently looked prepared to offer sufficiently consistent play. Getting them going with Rodgers sets the stage for a Year 2 leap this team could need.
And if they can’t, Gutekunst may need to take more aggressive action this offseason to upgrade the weapons at Rodgers’ disposal.
Of course it would be nice to see a player like Oren Burks get more snaps, or see Josh Jackson spend some time at safety. Fans want to see Big Bob Tonyan get more first-team reps and Kevin King develop some confidence in being healthy (assuming he can get healthy). Green Bay pushed out the young kids for the last two games of 2017 and helped determine someone like Lenzy Pipkins just wasn’t a part of its future. Trevor Davis simply isn’t an NFL receiver. These were important moments for those players, but it didn’t affect anyone of actual consequence.
The Packers should follow a similar formula in 2018. Try to win games for as long as winning games matters. Even if they win four of their final five, that’s still just an 8-7-1 record with a likely draft pick in the teens. A player like Kentucky’s Josh Allen could be there for them to bolster the pass rush. And if he’s not, another good player will be.
If they win the next two, a matchup with the Bears looms in Chicago. If Green Bay can’t pull out that win, then it’s time to close up shop for the season, sit Rodgers and let the young’ns handle business against the Jets and Lions. They might even be able to beat the Jets with Kizer at quarterback considering how often Alexander and Jackson may be seeing passes from Sam Darnold.
The Packers aren’t the Browns, no matter what their identical records say. Tanking for draft picks doesn’t help build this team up. If anything, it could only serve to deepen the fissures in the winning culture Mike McCarthy effectively installed post-Mike Sherman. Those cracks already serve as an inciting factor in McCarthy’s imminent ouster.
Mitigating the damage that has already been done by losing another season of Rodgers’ prime has to be goal No. 1 for this team to finish the season. That means staying in the playoff race for as long as possible, giving clutch reps to players who are a core part of this team, and setting Green Bay up for another offseason change. That’s the best way to ensure 2019 isn’t a repeat of a disastrous 2018.