NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero was the first to report it.
It really seemed like the writing was on the wall with this decision. It came to a point where if the Green Bay Packers brought Mike Pettine back with a new contract offer, it would’ve been surprising. And let’s be clear: It was the correct decision.
Pettine seems like a good dude, likable, all that stuff. But what transpired in the NFC Championship, specifically in that first half, was the kind of play calling that set them up for failure (see Kevin King less than 10 seconds until halftime) and leads to a dismissal. It wasn’t just the NFC Championship game, but that’s the most recent and extreme example.
I understand why people advocated for Pettine’s return — or at least didn’t mind it. The Packers’ defense vastly improved in the second half. The run defense had taken drastic steps forward, Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos were playing perhaps as well as any safety duo in the league, and Jaire Alexander‘s play at corner was as good as it gets.
But there was always one lingering thought in the mind of many: Was Pettine maximizing the talent of the really good players on the defense? And was he consistently putting them in positions to succeed?
It’s easy to zoom out the microscope and say, Oh well, Za’Darius Smith was near the top of the league in sacks again. Jaire Alexander was a second team all-pro corner. And that’s true, but let’s clarify one thing: Jaire Alexander is far and away the outlier in this situation. Put that dude on an island. It doesn’t matter what scheme you’re running as a defensive coordinator; he’s going to ball out. And he did.
This, however, was a defense that had (and has*) Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary to go along with the likes of Za’Darius and Jaire. How was this not a dominant defensive unit every week? The overall rankings were fine but the Packers were still overly exposed way more than you’d think they should be with all of the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball.
For comparison, look at the Los Angeles Rams. They had the top-rated defense in the league and it was a wagon of a defense damn near every week. They have the profile names you know, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, just like the Packers do with Za’Darius and Jaire. But their second-tier defensive players constantly made plays. And they were put in position by their defensive coordinator Brandon Staley — who, oh, by the way, landed the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Chargers — to have those opportunities.
I just find it hard to believe with all of Green Bay’s talent all over the field on the defense that they couldn’t at least be a dominant top-5 unit. That’s where Pettine factors in.
It very much seems like a situation where many players on the defense are so gifted and so good that it masked some of the head-scratching decisions we saw from Pettine. The constant conservative nature on 3rd and long, playing the corners all the way back to the sticks only to give up the yardage needed for the offense. The lack of dialing up the aggressive blitzes when it seemed more than necessary. RUNNING COVER 1 ROBBER OR A VERSION OF IT AND PUTTING KEVIN KING ON AN ISLAND AGAINST SCOTTY MILLER AND THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS IN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP WITH 8 SECONDS LEFT AT HALF AND THE BALL ON THE 40 YARD LINE. Those sort of calls and decisions have the ultimate consequences.
Now, looking ahead some may be thinking, “Well, who’s out there that’s any better?”
Was Matt LaFleur a, lock it in, automatic, no doubt hire? Absolutely not. And that has worked out handsomely so far in the land of cheese.
So never settle just because it may appear at first glance that the pool of candidates is small and perhaps not as enticing. You don’t bring Pettine back because there may not be a better option; otherwise, you’re living in the same mediocrity on defense that we’ve seen under Pettine many a times, and most times, under Dom Capers.
This was the decision the Packers had to made. There is way too much proven talent and dominant playmakers on this side of the ball for them to be thinking they are anything other than a top-5 defense. It’s now the front office’s job to find the right fit.