Josh and the Jaguars
The Packers are built to stop teams like the Jaguars, and the Josh Sitton cut remains a mystery.
The Jaguar offense reminds me a bit of some of the earlier Calvin Johnson-Matthew Stafford teams. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are a formidable duo of wide receivers, and Robinson in particular has the potential to be the league’s best at the position. The two Allens serve to make quarterback Blake Bortles look a little bit better than he actually is. Bortles has played well at times and he is a promising prospect, but while he put up some nice counting stats last season with 35 TDs (against 18 picks), he has yet to complete more than 60% of his passes in a season, and the advanced statistic of DVOA had him as just the 25th best quarterback last season just behind new Viking Sam Bradford.
What that means in practice is that Bortles’ gaudy numbers are a bit of an illusion, and the entire Jacksonville offense is itself a bit of an illusion due to the fact that they play in a truly terrible division. The Colts, Texans, and Titans have been struggling franchises for a long time, but while a few of them may show some signs of life this season, it is still one of the NFL’s worst. The Jaguars have a long way to go to be in the same class as the Packers, and for this game the Packers couldn’t really ask for a better opponent.
Jacksonville was not a good offensive team, but they were miles better on offense than defense, where they struggled in all areas, none more than pass defense. According to DVOA they were competent against the run, but basically the worst in the league against the pass.
They know this as well as anyone, and the front office spent six of seven draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, including super-talented UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. The talent infusion was sorely needed, but they are still a long way from respectability and in truth, everything about the Jaguars plays to the Packers’ strength. It’s possible newly acquired running back Chris Ivory could exploit the Packer run defense if the Jaguars get ahead, but the Packers probably won’t be the pushovers they have been in year’s past. To win, the Jaguars will likely have to pass, and their offense is based on an inefficient and turnover prone passing game that the Packer defense is built to stop. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers should have no trouble carving up their defense. It should be an excellent start to the season.
The Sitton Incident
Josh Sitton is almost certainly one of the five best guards in football, as is TJ Lang. Sitton has had some health issues with his back but in general, he’s been a durable player who has routinely saved Aaron Rodgers from big hits. The guards were crucial to the survival of the quarterback last year, and ultimately, while guards are a less important position, they can still get your quarterback killed.
This is what is so questionable about the decision to let Sitton go (to the Bears of all teams). Financially his contract was entirely reasonable, and as a 2017 free agent, they could have just let him go at the end of the season no questions asked. He remains extremely talented, and while 2015 was not his best season, it wasn’t a disaster, or the sign of an impending decline. He has had some nagging injury issues, but all football players can say the same thing, and other teams were lining up to sign him knowing he would have to pass a physical.
This is almost certainly a move to upgrade the team’s chemistry. I believe this because there is almost no other explanation possible, and because chemistry is a very real thing that impacts teams every year, but this is a very un-Ted Thompson maneuver. Almost no one is as calculating in terms of player acquisition than the Packers and a subjective move like this is newsworthy in its own right. Hopefully the team understands its own delicate balance of personalities, but this is a big gamble from Thompson. Josh Sitton isn’t just worth one Josh Sitton. On any given play he is worth a chunk of Aaron Rodgers, and Thompson has put that chunk up for grabs. If he’s not right, he will live to regret it.
Lane Taylor is Sitton’s immediate replacement at guard. He has been a disappointment thus far and J.C. Tretter will almost certainly assume the position one Corey Linsley is healthy enough to play center. In the meantime, Aaron Rodgers will be in jeopardy.
The other big surprise cut was Sam Barrington. Joe Thomas, Jake Ryan, and rookie Blake Martinez make up the sum total of the inside linebacking corps. There is some potential here, but no depth at all, and Barrington’s release cements the Packer philosophy of simply not caring about the position. It may not seem like much, but it means that Clay Matthews will be seeing more time than expected at inside linebacker. Matthews is happiest outside and while the inside positions are less valuable, Ted Thompson seems at risk of losing the forest for the trees on this front. Outside linebackers are worth more than inside linebackers...but not if you play your outside talent inside. Thompson may save a roster spot, but ultimately someone is going to have to play there, and it’s better for the team as a whole if that player wants to be there.