GREEN BAY — If there are any significant changes in the offing for the Green Bay Packers after their first playoff-less season since 2008, the clock is already ticking.
Coach Mike McCarthy made that quite clear on Thursday.
While the Packers have two regular-season games remaining — Saturday night against Minnesota and Dec. 31 at Detroit — the big-picture evaluation of where the team stands and where it’s headed is already underway, McCarthy said.
“Unfortunately, I can do that right now,” the 12th-year head coach said. “That’s the unfortunate part of where we are as a team.
“Listening is probably the most important part of communication. Watching is another very important nonverbal information that you can gather in these next two weeks. I think you have to make sure you look at everything and be direct and honest and keep the emotion out of it. I think having two weeks to think about it will take the emotion out of it. We have to get better through the adversity that we’ve been through this year.”
What’s McCarthy looking at?
For starters, a team that struggled mightily without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed 7½ games with a fractured right collarbone suffered Oct. 15 at Minnesota. The Packers were 4-1 at the time but lost that game and then went 3-4 in backup Brett Hundley’s seven starts, beating the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns — teams that entered this week a combined 8-34 this season.
Rodgers returned from injured reserve for last Sunday’s game at Carolina, but he showed some rust (three interceptions) and didn’t play like a two-time NFL MVP with a shot at a third — which is how he played in the season’s first five games and during the team’s run-the-table eight-game winning streak to reach the NFC Championship Game last January.
Meanwhile, the Packers defense, in a season where the group needed to elevate its collective game with Rodgers sidelined, has delivered more of the same. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ group enters Saturday’s game ranked 26th in total defense, 21st in scoring defense, 20th in rushing defense and 22nd in passing defense. In two key areas, the Packers defense ranks among the league’s worst: 30th in third-down defense and 31st in red zone defense.
The Vikings, by comparison, have a unit ranked second in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense and third in passing defense — while playing journeyman Case Keenum at quarterback with former first-round picks Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford sidelined for much of the year.
While Keenum has played well — his passer rating for the season (98.9) is actually higher than Rodgers’ (97.2) — the Vikings’ defense has carried the day, which is something that the Packers haven’t been able to say about that side of the ball since the 2010 team won Super Bowl XLV.
“We have to be honest about the patterns of negativity and positivity,” McCarthy said. “What comes from that, how do you learn from that, how do you improve? To win championships, you have to go through adverse moments. We’ve had plenty this year. Not hitting our goal, not playing to the standard of the Green Bay Packers is definitely an adverse situation we need to learn from.”
The 67-year-old Capers, finishing his ninth season in Green Bay, has given no indication that he plans to retire from coaching, saying Wednesday, “If I ever feel like I can’t come in and give as much as I’ve got and do the kind of job that you want to do, then I won’t do it anymore.”
McCarthy has stood by Capers despite seemingly annual defensive meltdowns in the postseason. Perhaps McCarthy, whose first three seasons as head coach were with Bob Sanders as defensive coordinator before he fired Sanders following the playoff-less 2008 season, will decide it’s time to go another direction defensively — whether that’s promoting one of the position coaches already on staff or looking outside for another veteran coordinator who comes available.
While McCarthy, who has one year remaining on his contract, has the power to hire and fire assistant coaches, general manager Ted Thompson holds that power over the head-coaching position, and team president/CEO Mark Murphy oversees Thompson, whose contract runs through the 2019 NFL Draft. Murphy hasn’t shown any signs of dissatisfaction with Thompson, who was hired by former president/CEO Bob Harlan in 2005, and Thompson, who rarely speaks to reporters during the regular season, hasn’t given anyone reason to think McCarthy is going anywhere.
“I’m the coach, so I’m always looking at how to improve, whether it’s 2010, 2015 and no different this year,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s important, especially these next two weeks. Improvement comes through evaluation, application and the hardest part is continuation. I think the eight years of making (the playoffs) is a reflection of that.
“This is a dip below the standard line, and everybody that has a part in it needs to be accountable and responsible, and that’s how we will grow moving forward.”
McCarthy ruled wide receiver Davante Adams (concussion) out for Saturday’s game, one day after saying Adams was “angry” about being in the concussion protocol and desperately wanting to play. … The Packers listed outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) as questionable and outside linebacker Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) as doubtful, consistent with McCarthy saying earlier in the day that Matthews was closer to playing against the Vikings than Perry, who has been battling various injuries for several weeks. … Veteran right guard Jarhi Evans, who hasn’t missed a snap this season, is questionable with a knee injury sustained against Carolina. … Cornerback Davon House is also questionable after missing last week’s game with a fractured transverse process in his back.