College: Illinois St.
NFL Experience: 3 years
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Expectations coming into the season: After moving to inside linebacker,2015 was supposed to be a season where Palmer continued to learn the ropes of his (somewhat) new position and provide some coverage help when called upon. After Sam Barrington got hurt,that all went out the window and Palmer was called up to start and contribute. It didn’t go well.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Palmer got benched against Carolina,but managed to still hang onto his starting job for a couple more weeks before Jake Ryan took his spot full time. After struggling against the Bears in week 1 when he initially took over for Barrington,Palmer played OK over the next three games. Then Todd Gurley ran rampant for 159 yards in week 5 and Palmer’s play never really picked back up.
Level of Expectations met: You could say it was unfair to expect Palmer — a player new to the inside linebacker position coming off a recent major injury — to hold serve when called upon following Barrington’s injury. You could also blame Ted Thompson for failing to fix the inside linebacker position in the first place,which forced Palmer into a role he was not ready for. Both of those things would be true,but life often isn’t fair in the NFL. Palmer had a job to do when thrust into the starting job and he didn’t do it.
Player’s contributions to team success: Most pegged Palmer as a linebacker who could excel in pass coverage. Well,he didn’t. He also looked lost in the run game. Overall,Palmer didn’t appear to posses the natural instincts and reaction time to play inside,which isn’t surprising since he has minimal experience at the position. When Ryan supplanted Palmer in the starting lineup,it wasn’t an immediate and obvious upgrade,but Ryan was clearly the better,and more natural,player.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Palmer played on special teams,but that’s it.
Intangibles/misc: Palmer plays hard. Effort and want-to wasn’t an issue at all. You also have to give a player credit whenever he’s asked to play a new position and forced into a bigger role than he or the team probably planned for. Unfortunately,effort,flexibility and attitude wasn’t enough to turn Palmer into a contributing player in 2015
Overall Grade: D
NFL Experience: 7 years
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Expectations coming into the season: Packers general manager Ted Thompson once again did not address the inside linebacker position,leaving it up to Matthews to play the spot instead of his usual outside linebacker/pass rush position. Not only was Matthews expected to fill the void inside,he was expected to play well and help hold together the run defense. Matthews delivered. Unfortunately,Matthews didn’t have too many moments where he went beyond simply delivering.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Matthews’ six tackles helped hold Adrian Peterson to 45 yards in a must-win game against the Vikings on Nov. 22. Matthews’ two sacks against Kansas City in week three contributed to the Packers hot start. Down the stretch,Matthews failed to record a tackle in games against Oakland and Arizona. He also rarely beat his man when rushing from the edge as the season wore on.
Level of Expectations met: I can confidently say that Matthews met expectations. He even had a few games and key moments where he exceeded expectations. That said,I didn’t feel like Matthews made the impact of a star defensive player consistently enough. With a star player like Matthews,you expect expectations to be exceeded — especially during big moments. Is it unfair to expect a player to exceed expectations,especially when that player is playing a new position? Maybe. But I didn’t feel like Matthews made the impact that he typically makes. He rarely won his matchup when he did rush from the outside (especially late in the season) and he had too many moments in later weeks where he disappeared. Overall,it was a good season for Matthews,but not quite the type of Clay Matthews season we’ve grown accustomed to.
Player’s contributions to team success: Who knows what would have happened to the Packers defense if they were forced to play Nate Palmer,Joe Thomas or Jake Ryan full time inside instead of Matthews? I know I sounded critical of Matthews in the expectation section,but he really did everthing the Packers asked him to do. Without him,the Packers defense would not have had the type of year it had.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: The main thing preventing Matthews from earning an “A” for the postseason was his inability to win his matchup when rushing from the edge. How nice would it have been to have Matthews discard an Arizona tackle and sack Palmer late in that game?
Intangibles/misc: Matthews made himself a star by becoming one of the NFL’s best edge pass rushers. Midway through last season,the Packers moved him inside. Matthews wasn’t exactly overjoyed about the decision,but he’s played his tail off and did exactly what the Packers needed him to do inside. Matthews has also turned into an ornery son of a gun as he’s gotten older. Matthews attitude and aggressiveness has helped the Packers’ defense shed the “soft” label.
Overall Grade: B
After the Green Bay Packers lost the 1960 NFL championship,head coach Vince Lombardi told his team that they would never lose another championship game.
He was right. Lombardi and the Packers won their next nine postseason games.
Under current head coach Mike McCarthy,the Packers have lost seven playoff games. Of those defeats,five have come on the game’s final play.
When it comes to postseason success,McCarthy is no Lombardi. But are the Packers playoff shortcomings – especially in close games – really McCarthy’s fault? Would Lombardi have fared different if he were transplanted to the modern era and roamed the sidelines during each of the Packers heartbreaking playoff defeats?
I have no idea. But I do know this: The Packers shortcomings during clutch playoff situations is maddening. Even after another miracle Hail Mary on Saturday night,in the back of my mind,I kept thinking,“That was awesome,but the Packers typically don’t win these types of games. Things will go south in overtime.”
Unfortunately,my negative mindset proved to be correct. Why have the Packers typically come up short when it matters most in the playoffs under McCarthy? Let’s try and figure it out.
We’ve touched on it a bit already,but is McCarthy the one to blame?
I pointed the finger at the coach after last season’s NFC title game meltdown. I’ve also been critical of McCarthy after other playoff defeats,but what coach isn’t going to face criticism after his team loses in the playoffs?
There wasn’t much to be mad at McCarthy about following the loss to the Cardinals. He added a few wrinkles to his normally static game plan that helped keep his team in it despite a long list of injuries.
I believe any criticism of McCarthy cannot be strictly based on his postseason results. What gets me frustrated at McCarthy is his stubbornness,unwillingness to make pass-protection adjustments in-game and set-in-stone pass concepts that don’t adjust to the personnel available to him or what the defense is doing.
When those criticisms carry over from the regular season to the postseason (and sometimes they do),then McCarthy definitely shares in a big chunk of the blame for the Packers playoff failures. But to say these problems are exclusive to McCarthy’s playoff game plans and that they happen every single playoff game is shortsighted.
The Packers typically have one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Does youth and inexperience contribute to late-game postseason meltdowns?
Maybe. But look closer at who’s been screwing up in the big spots during these nail-biting contests.
· On Saturday,Sam Shields – a veteran – dropped three interceptions that would have wiped 10 points off the board for Arizona.
· In last season’s NFC title game collapse,Morgan Burnett (veteran) picked off a pass late,then followed the instruction of Julius Peppers (another veteran) to kneel down despite a wide open field in front of him.
· In 2013,Micah Hyde had a game-winning interception slip through his hands late in the game. Hyde was a rookie,so maybe we can chalk that mistake up to youth.
· The overtime period of the 2009 wild-card game loss to Arizona saw Aaron Rodgers – in only his second season as a starter but his fifth season overall – overthrow an open Greg Jennings for a touchdown,then fumble on the game’s final play to give the Cardinals the win.
· Finally,it was Brett Favre – the most veteran of veteran players – who threw the overtime interception that cost the Packers the 2007 NFC title game against New York.
Obviously,there were more plays that led to each Packers loss in the aforementioned games than the ones I’ve highlighted,but it’s been more than the Packers young guys messing up when the game is on the line.
Nobody likes to use injuries as an excuse,but do the Packers have a case?
On Saturday,the Packers top four receivers when training camp opened were hurt. Rodgers was,basically,playing on one leg against Seattle in 2014. The 2013 loss to San Francisco featured a laundry list of injured Packers.
Every team is banged up when January rolls around,but the Packers seem to always be a little more banged up than others.
Whether it’s the regular season or the postseason,almost every NFL game comes down to a handful of key plays. For some reason,with the exception of the 2010 Super Bowl run,most of these plays have not gone the Packers’ way.
Was it luck that the Cardinals got two first downs by a single chain-link on Saturday night? Or that Russell Wilson’s desperation heave in 2014 on a late two-point conversion was caught by one of his own players instead of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? Or that Arizona got away with an obvious offensive pass interference on their last regulation touchdown on Saturday and a facemask on the game’s final play in 2009?
When the ball bounces late in these playoff games,it typically doesn’t bounce the Packers’ way (Saturday’s Hail Mary being a major exception,of course).
All of the above
If the Packers struggles could be tied to just one issue,they probably would have solved it by now. Unfortunately,it’s not that simple.
Everything I’ve mentioned here,and likely several other issues I haven’t even thought about,contribute to the Packers late-game postseason shortcomings.
Is this something that can be fixed? Can a study be conducted and specific changes made that will turn things around? Or is it just a matter of players stepping up,the coaches coaching better and the Packers’ late-game luck turning around?
That’s a question McCarthy will have to address this offseason. Maybe he needs to try a Lombardi-style speech where he tells his team that “They will never lose another postseason game on the final play again.”
Whatever might work,I’m all for it. We’re all sick of seeing the Packers walk off the field in defeat after another late-game playoff loss.