As we start off the year with the arch rival Packers, I reached out to Matt Matonich from the ACME Packing Company. I lean into this rivalry more than most, so usually communicating with anything green and yellow makes me nauseous, but Matt is a level-headed guy with some humorous takes.
Windy City Gridiron: 1. There seemed to be some trouble in paradise this off-season, with some grumblings from Aaron Rodgers. Then, Rodgers got all the money in a record breaking extension. Is everything good there or are there still some underlying issues with Rodgers and the front office?
ACME Packing Company: This has been the number one question that people asked me during the offseason. The optics of the situation seem pretty bad. Aaron’s QB coach and favorite wide receiver were both ditched without consulting him. The reality of the situation is that Aaron isn’t the general manager and the last time the QB was consulted on decisions like this, Mike Sherman was busy driving the team into the ground. Alex Van Pelt has likely hit the ceiling in Green Bay and moved laterally to be the QB coach of the Bengals. Jordy more than likely still has some gas left in the tank, but there’s little doubt that he would have disappointed at his $12.5 million cap number. Saving $10 million on the cap seemed a bit prudish in March, but I’m sure Rodgers isn’t complaining now that the move helped him secure the bag.
Any time I’ve discussed this on Acme Packing Company I have always included some form of, “Two of Aaron’s friends are gone. If your two favorite coworkers got booted one day, you’d be bummed too.” I should also note that shortly after Aaron’s comments, he became part owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. Most saw this as a sign of Aaron being in it for the long haul.
WCG: 2. What’s Mike McCarthy’s status with the organization and fans and just how important is delivering a playoff berth in 2018 to his future in Green Bay?
APC: When Brian Gutekunst was hired as the new GM, he was informed of the Packers’ new “separation of power” by CEO Mark Murphy. The basic idea is that McCarthy, Gutekunst, and Russ Ball (director of football operations) would form some kind of checks and balances system. The three ultimately report to Murphy, still. What this means is Mike should have more power and influence than he did previously. McCarthy also signed an extension to keep him under contract through the 2019 season.
Now, with all that said, McCarthy is still the coach of a team lead by a 2-time MVP. A playoff berth is definitely expected from the fans and more than likely expected from the team’s top brass. If there isn’t another significant injury to any of the most important pieces of the team and they miss the playoffs, Mike could realistically be in trouble.
WCG: 3. Davante Adams really stepped up as the WR1 last year, which allowed the Packers to part ways with longtime Bears tormentor Jordy Nelson. Is there another WR Bears fans should be wary of to fill the WR2 role?
APC: With Jordy gone and Davante as the #1, Cobb ends up as the de facto #2. He’s the most experienced receiver on the roster and will be expected to perform as such. That said, he has a build and skill set most suited for the slot. Right now Geronimo Allison is considered the #3 guy, but issues with his athleticism and hands might drop him farther down the totem pole. Fans are expecting one of the rookies to step up in a big way and become the #2 with a bullet. Realistically they all have gaps in their game. My pick for the best rookie after this is all said and done is 6th rounder Equanimeous St Brown. He compares in size and athleticism to the Lions’ Kenny Golladay and showed throughout camp and the preseason that he should be able to produce. With that said, the number of rookie wide receivers from the 3rd round and beyond who have produced more than 500 yards with 3 touchdowns is quite low. In fact, since 2010 only one 6th round selection (David Gettis) has done so.
WCG: 4. The Packers Achilles heel recently has been their secondary and they’ve thrown a lot of draft capital at the issue. What does that starting secondary look like and do Packers fans feel confident the issue has been solved?
APC: If you ask the average fan, they will tell you that “THIS IS THE YEAR BABY! #SNOWFLYZONE LET’S GO”. In theory they are closer to correct than in recent years. Ted Thompson had a tendency to draft players to play out of position. This hampered the defense at times and looking at the previous back-to-back corners tells a sad tale. Damarious Randall was a converted safety and Quinten Rollins was a converted point guard. Hindsight is 20/20, but Gutekunst going into this year’s draft and selecting two REAL corners is a big boon to the defense. Both Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson have shown flashes of greatness this preseason that Packer faithful are hoping carry over into the season. Last year, Tramon Williams showed he could still play while with the Cardinals and his veteran presence will definitely help bring the young guns up to speed. New defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, should also be noted. Dom Capers’ complex system of soft zone and exotic blitzing is gone. Mike prides himself on his defense being easy to understand and set up in a way to create free rushers on blitzes. Players knowing what their actual assignments are and actually pressuring the QB should help the secondary immensely.
WCG: 5. As an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, it disturbs me to no end that there seems to be a pipeline from Iowa City to Green Bay including Tackle Bryan Bulaga and this year with CB Josh Jackson. But the best Iowa product in recent memory might actually be Mike Daniels, the stud DE. Just how important is he to that defensive line and what is the outlook of that front 7 this year?
APC: It’s funny that you mention Bryan Bulaga first. APC’s managing editor Tex Western and I have a running bit where we do impressions of Bulaga’s introduction to each other: “Bryan Bulaga....IOWA” followed by a blank stare. It never fails to make us laugh. As for the other Hawkeyes on the team, Mike Daniels is absolutely the best one in my opinion. He’s a force to be reckoned with on the inside. He made his first Pro Bowl last year, but film junkies from around the league will tell you he’s been a snub for at least two others. His impact doesn’t often show on the stat sheet, but he’s the epitome of the draft profile staple “high motor high effort”. He’s a machine who never stops until the echo of the whistle. When you pair Mike with nose tackle Kenny Clark, you’re looking at two guys who often require double teams. Hopefully, Muhammad Wilkerson will return to form this year and complete the trifecta of defensive linemen. Outside of them, the OLB core is a bit lacking. Clay Matthews is getting up there in age and it’s starting to show. He’s no longer what I would call “disruptive” but he does still require a bit of attention. Nick Perry can also be quite good at times, but injuries are constantly a concern with him. Beyond those two it’s a bit of a wasteland. In the middle, Blake Martinez is coming off a season where he tied for the league lead in tackles. He claims he wants to break the NFL record this year. With the loss of Jake Ryan to an ACL tear, Blake will have extra work to do in run support. Honestly though, with Mike and Kenny up front, you can trust Johnny-off-the-street to be good for 80 tackles in a year.
WCG: Bonus: I like to end with a food question and since the Bears are traveling to GB this week, it seems only appropriate to ask - what are your 3 favorite cheeses?
APC: Oh man. There’s so much to choose from and context is absolutely a factor. Am I making a sandwich? Is this for a dip? Am I paring this with some kind of wine? Tell you what, I’ll list my three favorites in different scenarios:
1. If I’m making a sandwich, I can’t go wrong with Havarti. It has a great flavor that doesn’t overpower meat and it melts very well if I’m making a panini.
2. A really, really sharp cheddar will always be elite for making a dip or Mornay. Something that smacks you right in the face with “HEY THIS IS CHEESE” kind of flavor.
3. If I’m having a table cheese to pair with a wine or just eat on a cracker, you can’t go wrong with a properly aged and smoked Gruyère.
Hmmmm, my favorite is Khalil Mack and Cheese - it’s a blue cheese with a powerful punch, served twice a year for at least the next 6 years...
Thank you to Matt and ACME Packing Company. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @gridironborn and Matt’s is @CallMeMatub