Here’s how much the Green Bay Packers will focus on improving their pass defense this off-season:
“We may not run the ball until July,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday during his season wrap-up news conference.
It was a moment of humor during a serious answer about how to fix the Packers’ struggling defense and who will be the one to do it.
Yes, it sounds like Dom Capers will return for his ninth season as defensive coordinator. And no, the Packers aren’t going to sit around and just hope their No. 31 ranking in passing yards allowed was just a product of their injuries at cornerback.
“Will we spend more time in the OTAs on the passing game?” McCarthy said. “Yes, we will. That decision’s already been made.”
Although McCarthy still has to finish the end-of-season reviews with his coaching staff, he said he met with Capers for five hours this week and left little doubt about the 66-year-old’s future even after the Packers’ defense once again had another shaky performance in a playoff loss.
“This is no time for drama,” McCarthy said. “Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. That doesn’t change. He had a tough challenge in front of him this year. Once again, the coaching staff dealt with a lot.”
Sunday’s 44-21 loss to the Falcons was emblematic of the problems the Packers had on defense at various points during the season. Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
The Packers played most of the season with three second-year cornerbacks –Damariosu Randal, Quinten Rollins and La Darius Gunter — after veteran Sam Shields was lost to a concussion in the season opener. Randall (a first-round pick) and Rollins (second round) never took the Year 2 jumps that McCarthy expects after rookie years and also battled injuries, and Gunter (a former undrafted free agent) played well at times, but was exposed by Julio Jones (nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns) in the NFC title game.
It didn’t help that the Packers’ pass rush was nonexistent against the Falcons and was inconsistent throughout the season, the latter in part because of injuries to their best pass-rusher, Clay Matthews. McCarthy called cornerback and pass-rusher the “primary positions” on defense and said that the team handled injuries “better on offense than we did on defense. But in fairness to the defense, the challenge came in the primary position.”
The only staff change McCarthy announced on Thursday was that associate head coach/offense Tom Clements would not return. McCarthy said Clements’ contract expired. It will not be renewed . Just 14 months ago, Clements was in charge of the offensive play calling after McCarthy gave that up for the 2015 season only to take it back in December of that year. Clements also worked closely with quarterback Aron Rodgers. He was Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach from 2006-11.
“That will be the one change to our staff,” McCarthy said.
As for talk of any impending change atop the personnel department with general manager Ted Thompson, McCarthy did not see anything likely there, either. The 64-year-old Thompson is scouting at the Senior Bowl. He’s under contract through 2018 just like McCarthy is and even though one of his possible successors, Eliot Wolf, interviewed for the San Francisco GM job and will interview with Indianapolis, there’s no indication that Thompson will step aside or be forced out at this time.
“Ted is back,” McCarthy said. “I mean, I don’t know where the heck some of the articles come from. I don’t see any change in him. As far as his vision. I know when we have business conversations, which we haven’t had in quite some time, there’s a commitment to the contract that the organization has given us.
“We’ve got a lot of talented people in our organization, that’s a credit to everybody involved in football operations and I think it’s a compliment when you see your personnel guys get interviews and there’s an attraction to our assistant coaches that I’m dealing with right now,” McCarthy added. “That’s a credit to them as individuals, but it’s a credit to the success of our program. So we all understand, and the questions are fair. I mean, he’s not the youngest cat anymore. But he’s, he’s working. I don’t see any change in him.”