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Five questions with Acme Packing Company: it’s time for the Packers to retool

The Bears’ rivals have fallen on hard times this season. But perhaps not all is lost. We get some insight from Acme Packing Company.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Bears can clinch their first NFC North title since 2010 with a win over the Packers this Sunday afternoon. The Packers, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times lately. They’re 5-7-1. They fired Mike McCarthy. And they’re on pace to miss the postseason in two consecutive years for the first time in over a decade.

In advance of Sunday’s matchup, Jason B. Hirschhorn from our sister site Acme Packing Company was kind enough to provide insight as to what happened with Green Bay this year, and how they can recover in the future.

Windy City Gridiron: The Mike McCarthy era reached it’s unfortunate end a couple of weeks ago after almost 13 years as Packers head coach. What ultimately led to the demise of one of the NFL’s most tenured coaches, and where do the Packers pick up the pieces with Aaron Rodgers at the tail end of his career?

Jason B. Hirschhorn: No single cause led to McCarthy’s dismissal as Packers head coach. The offense tapered off after the stretch between 2011 and ‘14, with the last two seasons highlighting some of the schematic issues. While McCarthy did adjust parts of the offense, he couldn’t manage to get Aaron Rodgers fully in sync with those changes. The loss to the Cardinals at Lambeau Field proved to be the final straw, but McCarthy had already sealed his fate weeks earlier. As a result, the Packers will now undertake their first full- scale coaching search in 13 years.

The pool of coaching candidates doesn’t appear as deep as in recent year. Josh McDaniels and Pete Carmichael’s names have surfaced as possible options, as have college coaches Pat Fitzgerald and Lincoln Riley. It seems the Packers will focus on an offensive coach to correct the issues on that side of the ball and maximize the remaining years of Rodgers career. That would rule out a defensive coordinator like Vic Fangio, but that could change during the interview process.

WCG: On it’s face, Rodgers’ production this year looks great. Particularly his NFL record 368 passes without an interception. However, there’s been lot of previously uncommon criticism bubbling over for the star quarterback, despite some of his gaudy numbers. The dangers of box score analysis. How would you characterize Rodgers’ play this season, and how would you fix him if need be?

JBH: Without question, Rodgers hasn’t played up to his standards. The interception-free streak has come out of his unwillingness to take enough risks with the ball. Entering Week 15, Rodgers has tallied more than 50 throwaways, over 20 more than the next highest total. That conservative approach does avoid interceptions, but it has also contributed to the Packers’ offensive issues.

Other issues have affected Rodgers’ play as well. For the vast majority of the season, the Packers have opted for kill shots on third-and-short situations rather than look to move the sticks and extend drives. While some of those plays have turned into large gains and even points, too many others result in punts. Fixing that approach would boost Rodgers’ play, as it did last week during Joe Philbin’s debut as interim head coach. Whether Philbin can sustain that third-down efficiency remains to be seen, however.

WCG: It’s been a long time since the Packers had to search for a new head coach, but they now have a head start on that search without McCarthy in the fold. What kind of candidate would you prefer for Green Bay, who are some early names being tossed around the ledger, and do you have confidence in young GM Brian Gutekunst to find the right guy?

JBH: Gutekunst will not lead the search for the Packers’ next coach. This past off-season, team president and CEO Mark Murphy reorganized the power structure to put the general manager and head coach on equal footing beneath him, a change that seems like a naked power grab that unnecessarily complicates the football operations. Regardless of how problematic it proves to be, Murphy will hire McCarthy’s replacement.

As mentioned earlier, the pool of candidates will leave some teams without an attractive option. The Packers should still land one of their top targets given Rodgers’ presence and recent extension as well as the young talent on the roster. I expect the team will focus on offensive candidates like McDaniels and Riley. Because of Murphy’s connections to Northwestern, perhaps Fitzgerald garners serious consideration as well. Ultimately, I think McDaniels or someone with a similar background gets the job.

WCG: The Packers’ playoff hopes are still alive, albeit slim. With a lot of help, the Packers can sneak into the postseason and potentially even have a matchup against the Bears in the Wild Card Round. If they don’t get into the postseason, it will have been the first time Green Bay has missed the playoffs in two consecutive years since 2005-2006. How do you see this playoff scenario unfolding, and what’s your plan to get the Packers back to their usual contending status where they don’t have to rely on assistance from a host of teams late in the year?

JBH: I don’t see the Packers sneaking into the playoffs. Granted, Carson Wentz’s back injury could sink the Eagles, and the Panthers and Vikings have apparently forgotten how to wins games, but each of those teams has at least as much healthy talent and better playoff positioning. Green Bay simply has too many strikes against it to make a compelling argument for a late-season surge.

But at the same time, the Packers don’t need a total makeover to return to perennial contender status. The advanced metrics make a compelling case for Green Bay as a regression team in 2019, something that doesn’t account for the extra draft capital Gutekunst acquired during his first year as GM nor Rodgers receiving a full off-season to rest his injured knee. The Packers also project to have around $46 million in cap space next year before any cuts, and the new front office has shown a willingness to use free agency to augment the roster. A lot remains unknown about their off-season plans, but they have all the tools needed for a quick turnaround.

WCG: Alright, no more mincing words. Prediction time. Who wins on Sunday, and why?

JBH: This looks like a fairly one-sided game. The Bears possess the best defense in the NFL (No. 1 in DVOA by a sizable margin) and, despite the mathematical possibility that the Packers can reach the playoffs, far more at stake. Perhaps if Chicago still had Chase Daniel at quarterback, this would look like a competitive matchup. However, as presently constituted, I expect the Bears to emerge victorious Sunday.

Thanks to Jason for his perspective on the Packers as the Bears and their rival close their 2018 season series up. We, of course, have our typical Q&A series up on Acme Packing Company, so be sure to check that out when you can before Sunday, folks.

Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.