This past week, Brian Carriveau of Railbird Central had me on as a guest for their most recent podcast. Brian and I discussed a plethora of topics. Things such as the Mike McCarthy firing, my recent article on Mark Murphy, and what general manager Brian Gutekunst needs to do this off-season to improve the roster. But Brian asked me a very interesting question: what should fans watch for the rest of the Green Bay Packers season. So, I thought it would be a good topic to dive into.
In all probability, the Green Bay Packers season will end after their final regular season game. Still, there are things that should interest Packers fans. We came up with five topics for fans, and what Gutekunst should be keeping their eyes on the rest of the season.
Now that the Packers have parted ways with McCarthy, the spotlight will be on Aaron Rodgers. The spotlight being on Rodgers isn’t anything new. But with all the speculation that one of the biggest reasons McCarthy was let go because of his relationship with Rodgers, the spotlight will be different for Rodgers.
Rodgers and the Packers once highly effective offense has sputtered this season. It appeared that McCarthy’s offensive approach had become stale. You didn’t have to be a body language expert to see that Rodgers had become frustrated with what McCarthy was trying to do offensively. Now that McCarthy is out of the picture, it will be up to Rodgers to show if it was the system that was truly holding him back.
Interim head coach Joe Philbin has said that he will call the plays. However, Packers fans should expect Rodgers not only to have major input in the offense but the capability of changing the plays at the line of scrimmage. Rodgers has illustrated that he loves the pressure. He will once again be facing pressure, now that McCarthy isn’t the man controlling the Packers offense.
For the second straight season, former second-round pick Kevin King will have his season cut short because of an injury. King was placed on injured reserve last season because of a shoulder injury. This season, it will be from a hamstring injury. King has shown promise when he is healthy, but he struggles to stay healthy. After going down for a second season in a row, many have started to wonder if King will battle injuries throughout his career and never reach his potential.
It is presumed that rookie cornerback Josh Jackson will step into a starting boundary role now that King is out. Jackson has seen quite a bit of time in the nickel and dime packages. Like most rookies, his play has been up and down. This opportunity will give Jackson some needed playing time to grow as a cornerback. He illustrated that he was a ball hawk while at the University of Iowa. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is hoping those skills will show up for the rest of the Green Bay Packers season.
It would be shocking if the Packers and Gutekunst re-sign wide receiver Randall Cobb after this season. The veteran wide receiver is in the last year of his contract and he hasn’t done much to earn another deal. Besides his lack of production, Cobb has battled injuries throughout this season. Those injuries have limited his playing time.
Cobb will still be called on, but the Packers might take this time to see if there is anyone who can take over for him once he departs. It is highly likely that rookie wide receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling will see some time in the slot. He was productive earlier in the season but has cooled as of late.
One thing that might prevent the Packers from seeing what Valdes-Scantling has to offer could be Rodgers. Cobb is a favorite of Rodgers and he has shown that he will lean on the players he is comfortable with. It will be up to Valdes-Scantling to show that Rodgers can depend on him. If he can do that, it will give the Packers a chance to see what they have in him.
The Depth at Offensive Line
Don’t expect Philbin to purposely use the rest of the Green Bay Packers season to see what kind of depth the Packers have at offensive line. There is no way he or the Packers organization will chance Rodgers health just to see what they have on the offensive line.
Although he won’t purposely do it, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. Bryan Bulaga once again has battled injuries, which has forced him out of games. The chances of him going down once again this season to an injury are very likely. If, or when, he goes down, the Packers will be forced to insert Jason Spriggs at tackle.
Spriggs has struggled when forced into action. He has seen action both on the left and right side and has struggled on both sides. It isn’t much of a reach to say he is playing for a job the rest of the season. Expect Gutekunst to address the offensive line this off-season. If Spriggs is going to be a part of the Packers offensive line next season, he will have to show he is capable of stepping in and playing well this season.
Tackle isn’t the only position that the Packers might need to look at what they have on their roster. Veteran Byron Bell has struggled at right guard for the Packers. So benching him wouldn’t be putting the Packers offense in a bind. With Bell’s struggles, it might be a good time to see what both Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick can do as a starter. Both of them might not be the long term answer as the starting right guard, but they could show they are capable backups for next season.
Job Interview for Joe Philbin
At Murphy’s press conference to discuss McCarthy’s firing, he stated that Philbin is a candidate to replace McCarthy permanently. Although it would be shocking, and upsetting to many Packers fans, if Philbin were to get the full-time job, there is a chance.
The rest of the Green Bay Packers season will be a very long job interview for Philbin. The Packers team and some would say the whole organization seems in disarray. If the team comes alive, especially the offense, under Philbin, he will have an outside shot of getting the full-time gig.
He has already shown that he isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. This week, he fired longtime assistant Winston Moss. Moss, the associate head coach/outside linebackers, had been on McCarthy’s staff since McCarthy was hired as the Packers head coach. This past week, Moss made a controversial tweet that might have led to the firing. Some have speculated that he might have made that tweet because he was passed over for the interim job, even while holding the associate head coach title. Whatever the reason, Philbin wasn’t going to have somebody that wasn’t buying into his program.
The move might not have been a major one, but it does show Philbin has a plan. Packers fans will wait to see if that plan leads to victories and to a Philbin being named the Packers long-term head coach.
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