COMMENTARY | For the fifth consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers reached the postseason, and for the third straight year, it was by way of division title. But the magic ran out on Sunday evening at Lambeau Field as the Packers failed to advance past wild-card weekend, losing to the San Francisco 49ers on a last-second field goal.
Thus concludes the 2013 season for Green Bay, a team that has a bevy of issues to iron out before returning to action next fall. While reaching the postseason despite missing its starting quarterback for half the season was nothing short of miraculous, there are plenty of reasons why Round 1 of the postseason was where that mystique ended -- some of them more glaring than others.
It will be up to general manager Ted Thompson and the Packers' brass to address these five areas of concern in order for Green Bay to return to elite status in the NFL.
After yet another lackluster year on defense, there aren't many people left defending Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Significant injuries at each level of the defense (Casey Hayward, Clay Matthews and Johnny Jolly -- more on that later) certainly didn't help, but for the second time in three years, the Packers had one of the worst defenses in football.
Green Bay has clearly benefited from signing veteran defensive free agents in the past, something out of the norm for Thompson, including Charles Woodson, Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett. With no beneficial additions prior to 2013, the defense took another step back.
It's not just the overall defensive numbers that have been frustrating for the Packers, but the inability to find the answer for a specific player -- Colin Kaepernick. That's three times in 16 months that Kaepernick has befuddled Green Bay's defense, twice in the postseason.
Yes, the Packers lack the necessary personnel in certain areas of the defense (again, more on that later), and youth, inexperience and execution have all been issues, as well. But Capers and his complex 3-4 defense has run his course in Green Bay.
Perhaps the 3-4 defense remains, especially with a player like Clay Matthews around, but Capers cannot if this unit wants to take the next step and shake some disturbing trends.
The safety position
What's the Packers' biggest need in the 2014 NFL Draft, you ask? Safety, and it's because Green Bay had two of the worst in football this season, at least according to Pro Football Focus.
One of those safeties, Morgan Burnett, isn't going anywhere thanks to a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension signed last summer. The other, however, may have just played his final game in a Green Bay uniform, as M.D. Jennings becomes a restricted free agent.
There are some intriguing options on the open market at safety, including Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner, but as we know, signing top-tier free agents isn't how the Packers go about their business. Therefore, look for Green Bay to address the safety position via draft.
Whether Dom Capers is back in 2014 or not, the Packers need some help in the pass rushing department. Depending on whether Green Bay runs a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense next season, it could mean acquiring an outside linebacker or defensive end via free agency or the draft (a.k.a, the draft).
That's an area the Packers have devoted their first-round selection to in the last two drafts, selecting Nick Perry and then Datone Jones. Do they trust that they develop into more effective players, or continue adding players to a stacked position that really isn't that stacked?
Whether fans like it or not, the Packers appear to be set at inside linebacker. But with Clay Matthews developing an injury prone reputation and Green Bay's overall inability to get after the quarterback, the pass rush remains a pressing need.
The strength and conditioning staff
Talking about Green Bay's strength and conditioning staff may seem like a waste of breath, but think about it -- the Packers were absolutely riddled with injuries this season, and it's been a disturbing trend over recent years.
By the end of the regular season, Green Bay had 15 players on injured reserve, and against the 49ers on Sunday, four players were forced to exit with injuries. That doesn't even include players like Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb. Every year, the injury bug viciously bites the Packers, and while they somehow managed to overcome a rash of injuries back in 2010, it's not exactly ideal.
At some point, you have to wonder if it's more than bad luck, and if the finger needs to be pointed in the direction of the strength and conditioning staff. Is there something wrong with their routine? Their tactics?
Who knows if there is a true culprit, but don't hold your breath for any offseason changes when it comes to how the Packers train.
Who should stay and who should go?
The Packers have a number of players that are set to enter free agency in a couple of months. As of late, Green Bay has paid a couple of players that, quite frankly, didn't deserve to be locked up (see: Burnett, Brad Jones), so Thompson and Co. will want to pick their spots wisely this time around.
Some players that are a must-sign entering free agency? Sam Shields, who emerged as Green Bay's No. 1 corner this season, Evan Dietrich-Smith, an extremely reliable center for the Packers, and Andrew Quarless, who was the only viable pass-catching threat at tight end come season's end.
That likely spells the end of Jermichael Finley's days in Green Bay, especially when considering his spinal cord injury, and James Jones could also hit the open market. Other notable players that may also not return include Jennings, Pickett, B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly, John Kuhn, James Starks and Matt Flynn.
Among players currently under contract? It could be curtains for Tramon Williams, who is set to make $9.5 million next season, and the Packers need to begin considering contract extensions for Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who would otherwise become unrestricted free agents following the 2014 season.
Some difficult decisions await Thompson.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe.
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