The Green Bay Packers are off to a shockingly-successful start in the 2019 season, as they’re 7-1 at the halfway point.
You’re not dreaming people, they’re really 7-1.
Most of the credit is going to the offseason work of new General Manager Brian Gutekunst. His roster changes have been praised the football world over.
He changed the Packers’ culture by bringing in the “Smith Brothers” to harass quarterbacks (and become leaders) and Adrian Amos to bolster the defensive secondary. He also made a plethora of lauded draft picks, including safety Darnell Savage and guard Elgton Jenkins who are, incredibly, bonafide starters already. We’ll see how Rashan Gary shakes out, but no one can debate his athleticism.
Gutekunst let multiple notable players walk as he completely reshaped the team. Most people are attributing the Packers’ success in 2019 to these moves. And there’s some merit as they’ve seemingly rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay, at times, looks unbeatable with Rodgers leading the way with this new defense behind him. Of course, first year head coach Matt Lafleur deserves a lion’s share of the credit in this culture change, too.
And it should be mentioned that the running back duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams stepping up in Davante Adams’ absence has been remarkable.
However, we believe that not enough people are focusing on the moves that Gutekunst didn’t make this year. Below we focus on the top five moves where “Gute” didn’t pull the trigger that are paying off for the Packers today.
For all of the changes, it really is these five moves that helped the Green Bay Packers take a giant leap in 2019. Yes, changes had to be made, but Gutekunst had the understanding and courage to not make too many moves — despite his nearly unchecked ability to do so.
F.B. Jevons once said, “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.” Yeah, we agree.
After two straight playoff-less seasons, he took the reigns and could have blown up the whole thing, but he didn’t.
Here are his (less talked about) non-moves that saved this season:
1. He Didn’t Move On From Bryan Bulaga
As we’ve been saying, Bulaga has been one of the best players for the Packers since the middle point of the 2018 season to today. The Packers, well, Ted Thompson that is, have long had a philosophy regarding linemen once they enter their thirties — cut ‘em loose.
Instead of being afraid of reinvesting in Bulaga, as he turned 30 this year after battling injuries throughout his career, Gutekunst saw his value. Aaron Rodgers’ jersey has been pretty damn clean this year and Bulaga is just about the biggest reason why. Bulaga, with left tackle David Bahktiari, form the best tackle duo in the NFL today. They’ve faced quite the slate of edge pass rushers in 2019, successfully.
Thank goodness he didn’t move on from No. 75.
2. He Didn’t (Really) Go Looking For A New Kicker
Mason Crosby’s career with the Packers has been quite interesting. He’s had some incredible highs, as he’s won many games with his right leg and is the team’s all-time leading scorer, but his lows have been pretty low, too. A low point specifically being last year against Detroit. However “Gute” decided to keep his trust in the wily veteran kicker.
Nothing is more deflating to a team’s confidence than not knowing if it can trust its kicker. This team can trust its kicker, so as the year rolls on and the games mean more — this team won’t hold its breath when Crosby lines up with points on the line.
Look at the Chicago Bears… how many more wins would they have the last two years if they hadn’t moved on from Robbie Gould? They lost in Week 8, again, because of a missed high-percentage field goal attempt.
And don’t be fooled, had the Packers moved on from Crosby, the Bears would have signed him ten minutes later. Look at it this way, he would have kicked the game-winning field goal for the Bears this week while Packers fans would be left hoping their new kicker is the real deal. Yuck.
3. He Didn’t Replace Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine
Gutekunst had complete authority to gut this team’s coaching staff from top to bottom. He was given the ability to remake this team, and its staff, in his vision. But he had the awareness to let the first-year defensive coordinator remain in his position despite the head coaching change. Keeping Pettine was a hope most Packers fans had last winter.
This defense is, arguably, the strength of this team and its undoubtedly because many of the best players are in their second year in the system. Pettine’s system kept the Packers alive when the offense was sputtering in the first month of the season. Green Bay’s defensive players aren’t having to think as much, they’re able to just react. In our opinion, Pettine has shown an incredible ability to let players play to their strengths. He knew how to integrate the “Smith Brothers” into this defense and allowed them to become the vocal leaders.
That’s the epitome of coaching successfully.
If Pettine was cut loose when Gutekunst took over, this team wouldn’t be in first place in the NFC North — we promise that.
4. He Didn’t Let Marcedes Lewis Walk
Who would have thought this would be a big move? Or a big non-move, that is. But it has paid massive dividends, against all odds. Most people thought that Lewis simply didn’t fit in with the Packers and that although he could block, he wouldn’t be a threat catching balls downfield. Well, what a difference a year makes.
Halfway through the 2019 season, Lewis has already more than tripled his catches and receiving yards from 2018. A few of his catches this season were game-changing moments, too. This new Packers offense, under Matt LaFleur, uses the tight ends with a little more creativity than the previous regime. “Gute” saw the value of having Lewis around for the 2019 season, although many others didn’t. Not moving on from him was a big move.
Side note, and we can’t believe we’re saying this, it’s beginning to look like keeping Jimmy Graham may actually have been a good move, too. Wow. But still, even if he catches ten more touchdowns this year he’s overpaid. OK, maybe not a good move, but not nearly as disastrous as it seemed a few weeks ago.
5. He Didn’t Panic Into Trading For A Veteran Wide Receiver
This was a huge non-move for us and it’s the one he made during the 2019 season when Davante Adams went down with a turf-toe injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. Many General Managers would have panicked and traded valuable future assets for a veteran wide receiver. Instead, he showed poise.
Many Packers fans were panicking! “We need Emmanuel Sanders” and so on.
Instead of trading for a receiver that has already peaked, “Gute” had the guts to let the Packers’ young wide receivers sink or swim — primarily Marquez Valdes-Scantling. All of the Packers’ depth receivers have responded to this challenge. MVS is developing into the deep threat this team needs. Allen Lazard and Jake Kumerow have both shown flashes of brilliance when needed as this team continued to win without Adams in the lineup. An amazing feat, really.
These young receivers simply wouldn’t have developed into the weapons they’re becoming if the Packers had simply brought in a bandaid veteran wide receiver (and lose assets along the way). Each one is gaining more chemistry and trust with Rodgers, a huge development for this team. It’s a process, people.
Just because “Gute” fixed the defense via free agency doesn’t mean the offense should be. At a certain point you have to trust the guys you’ve already brought in — especially when Rodgers is the field general.
These five moves, or non-moves rather, won’t get the press or praise that General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s offseason roster moves deservedly received, but it’s important to notice how good “Gute” has been since taking over from Ted Thompson. Sometimes it’s not the move you make, it’s the move you don’t make.
And we’re Thompson fans, really, but it definitely was time for a big change. Gutekunst has been that dramatic of a change so far, if he can keep this up absolutely great things are coming for this franchise. Perhaps a 14th World Championship. Who knows. But what we do know is that the Packers are about to get Davante Adams back and the team is relatively healthy. This team has an identity and, most importantly, you can tell how much fun they’re having.
We’re halfway through the 2019 season and Packers fans really couldn’t ask for anything more. If you’re not having fun right now, you never will.