ROB REISCHEL

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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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ted Thomp­son’s best de­fen­sive draft came in 2009 when he picked Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in the first round.

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