Thompson hasn’t upgraded unit
If defense doesn’t improve, Packers won’t advance
A great quarterback or an elite defense?
Defense or quarterback? Quarterback or defense?
This chicken-and-egg debate has raged through the NFL for years now as to which is more essential to winning a championship.
And while there’s no clearcut answer to this billion-dollar question, this much is evident: if you have both, hoisting a Lombardi Trophy becomes a distinct possibility. If you have just one, you’re typically destined for heartbreak.
That’s bad news for the defensively-starved Green Bay Packers who have treaded water — at best — this offseason. And unless Packers general manager Ted Thompson works some Penn and Teller magic in the next five months, Green Bay will likely go a seventh straight season without a championship.
Since the turn of the century, there have been 17 Super Bowls. It’s a good bet that the winning quarterback from 14 of those games will wind up in the Hall of Fame.
New England’s Tom Brady (five rings) is without question the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning both have won two championships, and in all likelihood, will also both wind up in Canton.
Peyton Manning won titles in both Indianapolis and Denver. And while Manning was on his last legs during the Broncos’ run to a title in 2015, defenses still treated him like the Hall of Fame player he’ll soon become.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans’ Drew Brees are virtual locks to reach the Hall of Fame when their brilliant careers come to a close. And while Seattle’s Russell Wilson has played just five seasons, he’s on track to eventually land in Canton, as well.
Baltimore’s Trent Dilfer (2000) and Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson (2002) were both game managers that won't get near the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket. And Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (2012) is a longshot, at best, to wind up in Canton.
With Rodgers still at the peak of his powers, the Packers have the first half of this equation solved. It’s the second half that should lead to sleepless nights for Packer Nation — even if Thompson never seems the least bit bothered.
Since 2000, 12 of the 17 Super Bowl champions have finished in the top 8 in scoring defense. Amazingly, six of those teams finished No. 1 in scoring defense, including the 2016 champion New England Patriots.
Eleven of the 17 Super Bowl winners finished in the top 10 in total defense. Four of the champions finished No. 1.
When the Packers last won a Super Bowl in 2010, they were No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense. Unfortunately for Green Bay, it’s been all downhill since.
Since 2011, the Packers have ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd in total defense. That’s a subpar ranking of No. 20.
As for scoring defense, Green Bay has ranked 19th, 11th, 25th, 13th, 12th and 21st for a mediocre average of 17th.
Now, stop and ask yourself if the Packers are any better on defense than the group that was destroyed by Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s high-powered offense?
Green Bay’s cornerbacks were among the worst in football at the end of 2016. And unfortunately for Rodgers and the offense, that group doesn't look much different.
Micah Hyde left for Buffalo in free agency, while former Packer Davon House returned. The free agent cornerback market has been picked clean, meaning Thompson almost certainly needs to use an early draft pick on another corner.
“The experience, No. 1, is so valuable,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of House at the NFL owner’s meetings. “Plus, we still consider Davon one of our guys. We drafted him, and I know he’s excited to be back in Green Bay. And it’s very mutual.
“I just look for him to come in here and claim his opportunity and make the most of it, and hopefully he’s here for a long time.”
Outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones departed in free agency, and for now, haven’t been replaced. Peppers slipped a bit during his three years in Green Bay, but still played above average in 2016. Jones never lived up to the billing of a first-round draft pick, but did lead the Packers with 14 quarterback knockdowns in 2016.
Chances are, Thompson will seek help here early in the draft. If not, unproven Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott will have to take massive strides.
And while Thompson added veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois in free agency, Green Bay might eventually part ways with troubled veteran Letroy Guion. If that happens, this exchange is a wash.
For those praying Thompson can fix this defense in the draft, you might want to grab another rosary.
The last time Thompson hit it big on the defensive side of the ball in the draft was 2009 when he landed B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews in the first round.
In the time since, the only defensive “difference makers” Thompson drafted have been Mike Daniels in 2012 and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2014. Instead, Thompson has swung and missed on early picks such as Jerel Worthy, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
There’s been a lot written and a lot of hot air spent discussing Thompson’s more active approach to free agency, and the exciting possibilities Green Bay will have at tight end in 2017. That’s certainly a thrilling thought for Rodgers and the offense.
But the bottom line is the Packers’ defense remains a dumpster fire. And until Thompson finally extinguishes it, Green Bay’s championship dreams will continue going up in flames.
Ted Thompson’s best defensive draft came in 2009 when he picked Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in the first round.