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Don’t get Blake Martinez wrong, he wasn’t happy about much of anything after the Green Bay Packers closed this past season with a dud of a performance in the finale at Detroit to finish with a 7-9 record.

But no one will ever be able to take one thing away from him in 2017: the second-year linebacker led the NFL in tackles.

It was his position coach, Scott McCurley, who informed him of the news after all the Week 17 games came to a close.

“He showed me a picture of the tackle stats and stuff to just congratulate me,” Martinez said.

And then the next day, McCurley was let go as assistant linebackers coach.

“I texted him after I heard the news; I was wondering what to say and how to go about it,” Martinez said. “I just said, ‘Hey, I heard the news and am extremely sorry to hear that.’ He just came back and said, ‘Hey, it’s part of the business. That’s what happens.’ I just told him you helped me tremendously these last two years just growing as a player, understanding the game of football that much more.”

McCurley had three players under his purview, and one of them led the league in tackles. Martinez finished in a three-way tie for the NFL tackles lead with Bills linebacker Preston Brown and Browns linebacker Joe Schobert. Each finished with 144 tackles.

Only one Packers defensive player was on the field for more snaps than Martinez was this past season. He played 979 of the 1,052 plays. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix led the team once again, but the big news was he finally missed a play – eight of them, to be exact. He played in 1,044 snaps a year after he played all 1,236, including the playoffs. Clinton-Dix was taken out of the game in Week 4 against the Bears and sat the final eight plays because the game was out of reach. It ended a streak of 2,033 straight snaps.

“It’s definitely tough not making the playoffs and doing that type of thing,” Martinez said of his season. “Obviously, I have two sets of goals – season goals, team goals of going to the Super Bowl, winning the Super Bowl. Then individual goals, and that was one of my individual goals, to lead the league in tackles. It’s just something I’m going to use to propel me into next season.”

One other noteworthy item as it pertained to playing time: cornerback Davon House will receive a $500,000 bonus for playing in more than 60 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps. He could have gotten another $250,000 had he topped the 70 percent mark.

Below are the snap counts on defense from the 2017 season, including playoffs. For comparison, here are last year’s defensive totals.

Total defensive snaps: 1,052

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The Green Bay Packers are only halfway to fixing their problems on defense.

The decision to change coordinators was the first step. Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired Dom Capers after Sunday’s season-ending loss at Detroit.

Whether it was Capers, the revered Fritz Shurmur or the inventive Buddy Ryan, it might not have mattered who devised defensive game plans and called plays for the Packers. The resources weren’t there.

Like most things in the NFL, it comes down to playmakers.

And that’s where general manager Ted Thompson failed Capers. Yes, Thompson devoted draft pick after draft pick to the defensive side of the ball, yet a dearth of impact players still exists.

Despite what coaches will say, the NFL isn’t about depth. Teams can lose players in bunches, but as long as they have one or two more difference-makers than everyone else, it doesn’t matter.

Quickly scan the Packers’ defensive depth chart — and consider the players on injured reserve, too — and it explains why Capers’ unit ranked 22nd in the NFL this season and hasn’t been in the top 10 since the Super Bowl season of 2010.

That Super Bowl defense had impact players at every level. There was B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett on the front line, and Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop at linebacker. The secondary was loaded with talent — Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams and a young Sam Shields.

Like this season, that Super Bowl team faced injuries in mass quantities, but the injured-reserve list isn’t about numbers but rather names. There were so many playmakers on the 53-man roster that it didn’t matter who was on 15-man IR list.

That defense, also coordinated by Capers, ranked No. 5 overall and came up with key takeaways in every postseason game, including Collins’ interception return for a touchdown early and the Matthews/Pickett forced fumble late in the Super Bowl.

What did Capers have to work with this season?

The veterans among his group were an aged Matthews, who still plays with high energy but hasn’t been as effective; an oft-injured Nick Perry, who was a risk to re-sign last year in free agency; an inconsistent Mike Daniels up front and Morgan Burnett, who for all his versatility in the secondary is a jack of all trades but master of none.

The secondary was supposed to be built around Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2016. But he inexplicably regressed. Veteran cornerback Davon House provided the steady play the Packers expected when they signed him to a one-year deal in free agency, and he battled gallantly through injuries, but the young defensive backs were either too inconsistent (Damarious Randall and Josh Jones) or too injured (Kevin King and Quinten Rollins).

The best prospect Thompson acquired on defense is Kenny Clark, the 2016 first-round pick who finished the season strong with 4.5 sacks in the final five games.

It’s not like Thompson ignored that side of the ball and tried to load up with weapons for Aaron Rodgers, although perhaps that would have been a better roster-building strategy.

In his 13th draft as GM last year, Thompson used his first four picks on defensive players: King and Jones in the second round, defensive tackle Montravius Adams in the third and linebacker Vince Biegel in the fourth. King didn’t have an interception before he went on injured reserve in need of shoulder surgery, and Jones had just one. Adams and Biegel were non-factors after both suffered offseason foot injuries.

Assuming Clinton-Dix bounces back next season, it’s not a stretch to say he and Clark are the only two defensive picks in the past five drafts that could be considered young defensive playmakers.

As much as coaching has been to blame for the Packers’ defensive struggles, the shortcomings in personnel remain as big an issue — if not bigger — for a defense that’s now in transition.

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It’s a good thing this was a meaningless game for the Green Bay Packers, given their inactive and injury lists.

Or maybe the Packers shut down so many key players before things started Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings because it was meaningless.

Either way, what looked like a marquee Week 16 game in prime time when the NFL released its 2017 schedule in April turned into a glorified exhibition game, with players looking to make an impression for next season and coaches perhaps trying to justify their employment.

Yet very few did.

Other than Kenny Clark, the second-year defensive tackle who had a couple of sacks — giving him 4.5 for the season, all of which have come in the month of December — and first-year outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, who was promoted this week from the practice squad and hit Vikings quarterback Case Keenum more than once, there wasn’t much anyone could claim as progress in the Packers’ 16-0 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Packers were shut out at home for a second time this season. Before this year, no team had been shut out at home twice in a season since 2006, when both the Packers and Raiders were.

“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who had four catches for 22 yards. “Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did.”

Quarterback Brett Hundley, making his eighth start of the season, did nothing to change the narrative that he isn’t capable of taking over a game. He threw two interceptions, which means his home season ended with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions at Lambeau.

Dropping to 3-5 as a starter, Hundley failed to throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field once again. He set the record for pass attempts at home without a touchdown (162) in a single season, according to Elias. Along the way, he threw his third red zone interception this season, tied with Dak Prescott for the second-most in the NFL. Only (six) has thrown more red zone picks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In Hundley’s defense, the Packers dropped six of his passes, their most since Week 15 of 2014 at Buffalo, another game in which they dropped six, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

When it comes to the roster, general manager Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy likely wanted to use this game — and the regular-season finale next Sunday at Detroit — to evaluate who stays and who goes in the offseason.

But after missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009, McCarthy might have already made up his mind about changes to his coaching staff, even though Dom Capers’ defense looked respectable for a change. Still, the most likely change this offseason would be at defensive coordinator, unless, of course, team president Mark Murphy decides it’s time for Thompson to go.

Yes, the game was surprisingly still in play into the fourth quarter, as ugly as it was for the Packers’ offense, with five starters on the inactive list: receiver Davante Adams (concussion), linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (knee). That did not include Aaron Rodgers, who went on injured reserve earlier in the week after the Packers decided to shut him down the week after he returned from his broken collarbone.

Who knows how many, if any, of those players could have played if the Packers were still in the playoff race? Then it didn’t get any better when receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee) were lost during the game.

“I mean, it’s really hard,” Hundley said. “When you’ve got two big studs [Adams and Nelson] out there and then you lose them. Your right tackle goes down on the first play, then your running back goes out. I mean, it becomes really hard, but at the same time, a lot of people got reps and experience, and you’ve got find a way to win. That’s the name of the game.

“Defense played their butts off. Offense, we didn’t capitalize on the plays we needed to, and that starts with me. I’ve got to be able to lead this team no matter who’s on the field and get us in better opportunities to put some points on the board.”

As bad as Saturday night’s game looked with all those players out, the finale in Detroit might be even tougher to watch.

“We’ve got to play better,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We have to find ways to win ballgames. We won’t take credit for anything. We’ve just got to continue to stay together, man, find ways to win ballgames, I guess. There’s a lot of things going on down here in this locker room, a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys not playing, a lot of guys not putting their best foot forward. We’ve just got to hold guys accountable. The ones that step on the field with us, let’s go to work. The ones that don’t want to play, just turn your pads in and wait for next year.”

 

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The Green Bay Packers lost Clay Matthews early and Kenny Clark late in Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and the latter injury, which appeared to be serious, did not sit well with members of the defense.

Clark, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2016, had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury that occurred while he was engaged with Ravens center Ryan Jensen.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said Clark was down on two knees and Jensen hit him repeatedly. The injury occurred during the fourth quarter of the Packers’ 23-0 loss at Lambeau Field.

“No. 66, I don’t even know his name, but he’s trash,” Clinton-Dix said of Jensen. “He’s a bad player. He doesn’t play fair. This is a game that we all love to play and love to enjoy, and you never want to see a guy get hurt when you’re playing overaggressive and doing things that you shouldn’t be doing. It’s uncalled for.

“[No.] 66, I don’t like him. He needs to tighten up on his play. Play ball. If you can’t whup him regularly, don’t cheap shot him. That’s what that guy’s been doing all year. I’ve been watching film of 66, and he’s a dirty player. I would love to have him on my team if he was like that, but at the end of the day, you can’t play like that and want to be a great in this league. It’s uncalled for.”

Clark was not available for comment after the game, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy had no update on his injured players.

“It was a play that a lot of us Packer players didn’t really like too much,” cornerback Davon House said.

Matthews sustained a groin injury in the first quarter, shortly after he ended the second-longest sack drought of his career. He dumped Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to force a punt on Baltimore’s first possession.

Matthews played the next series and then was examined on the sideline by the Packers’ medical staff. He returned for one more snap but limped off. He was then taken to the locker room early in the second quarter, then ruled out for the rest of the game.

Matthews had 2 1/2 sacks after four games, but then went the next five games without a sack until Sunday.

“It’s huge, man, especially the way Kenny got hurt,” House said of losing Clark and Matthews. “Guy’s a young guy, and for him to get hurt the way he got hurt sucks. Hopefully he’s all right, hopefully Clay’s all right too. They’re our big dogs. You need them. They do a great job rushing the [passer], collapsing the pocket for us. Makes our job a lot easier on the back end when they’re playing healthy and they’re doing what they’re doing.”

The Packers’ defense was already playing without two starters: cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) and safety Morgan Burnett (groin).

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The same unit that held back the Green Bay Packers when it mattered most last season remains so problematic that even Aaron Rodgers’ presence may not have been enough to get them back to the brink of the Super Bowl this season.

Without Rodgers to cover up for the missteps on defense, coordinator Dom Capers’ unit was exposed for what it is: a subpar unit that may have fixed some of the problems that ended their season in the NFC title game last year but ultimately has too many other issues.

From a pure rankings standpoint, the Packers are once again below average at best on that side of the ball. They finished 22nd in total defense last season and rank in the same spot after seven games this year. They stand better against the pass (16th this year compared with 31st last season) and worse against the run (27th now, eighth last season).

Things looked even worse in last Sunday’s 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. Two early takeaways — interceptions by a resurgent Damarious Randall and Davon House — only delayed the inevitable collapse against quarterback Drew Brees, who hardly ever tested the Packers deep. Instead, a variety of screens and short passes confounded the 11 on defense — when they bothered to field 11, that is. They had only 10 defenders on the field for Mark Ingram’s 12-yard touchdown run on a third-and-2 play in the second quarter.

“That was kind of a gift touchdown off having 10 people on the field,” Capers said.

This defense isn’t good enough to give anything away.

“We’ve got to be better there,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We talked about the communication; it was clearly not good enough. We’ve got to be way better than we were. We knew they were going to roll the personnel group in; they rolled in nine personnel groups [during the game]. They stretched you at the end of the 40-second clock. We weren’t even close to where we needed to be.”

The same could be said for the collective performance through seven games. Sure, injuries have ravaged the secondary, but at least on Sunday against the Saints they had all of their preferred players except for starting strong safety Morgan Burnett.

The issues that have plagued the defense have been many, missed tackles and the lack of a pass rush chief among them. The Packers rank 27th in sack percentage overall but 32nd (last) in the past three games, when they have recorded just two sacks (both by Nick Perry).

When the pass rush should be most effective on obvious third-down pass plays, it hasn’t been. Brees got the ball out quickly on a hitch to Ted Ginn, who converted a third-and-17. Earlier, tight end Coby Fleener was wide open for a 17-yard gain on third-and-3. On a third-and-9 play in the third quarter, Mike Daniels got to Brees a second too late to prevent a throw downfield to Michael Thomas for a 21-yard gain. On that play, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a Pro Bowler with five interceptions last year, sat back behind Thomas and did not make a play on the ball.

Although Clinton-Dix insisted he isn’t hurt, his play this season would suggest otherwise. He hasn’t been around the ball as much as he was last season, and when he has been he hasn’t made many plays. Without Burnett, who has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury, Capers has relied more on Clinton-Dix to get players lined up.

“He’s had a lot more on his plate, so who knows how much that affects people,” Capers said of Clinton-Dix. “When you get used to playing, he’s been playing with Morgan out there. Morgan takes on a different role and Ha can focus in on certain things, and now Ha’s had to pick up that role and it gives him a lot more responsibility.”

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One total was 181. Another was seven. The first was fantastic, the second not nearly enough.

The numbers represent the Packers’ rushing yards in Sunday’s loss to the Saints, and how many times Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett got their hands on the football.

When it came to reviewing the offensive performance, that discrepancy was something Head Coach Mike McCarthy was focused on. The big first number should have led to a much bigger second number, but it didn’t, and the Packers must capitalize on that moving forward with new quarterback

Brett Hundley.

“When you call a football game, you have to get the ball to your playmakers, and we didn’t get that done yesterday,” McCarthy said on Monday just after dismissing his team for the bye week. “Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb. Those guys have to touch the ball.

“How many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. We have a lot to build off of.”

The building will continue with Hundley, who McCarthy remains confident will play better, particularly if rookie running back Aaron Jones can repeat his 17-carry, 131-yard rushing performance.

McCarthy laid out numerous factors behind Hundley’s struggles in going 12-of-25 for just 83 yards through the air.

Two failed third-and-ones in the first half, both coming on the heels of the defense’s two interceptions, contributed to Hundley only getting 50 snaps by game’s end. His “time clock and timing” were not sharp in the drop-back passing game. It was better off play-action, but McCarthy said there were a couple of protection breakdowns on those plays. Finding out on Friday that right tackle Bryan Bulaga would play but left guard Lane Taylor would not, the exact opposite of what the coaches planned for early in the week, led to some last-minute adjustments as well.

Those are the issues McCarthy is focused on, not the swirling suggestions or criticisms that the game plan was supposedly too conservative and didn’t allow Hundley the opportunity to make enough plays.

That said, there will be a process to Hundley’s in-game development.

“Was the game plan as big as it was the week before (with Aaron Rodgers)? Absolutely not,” McCarthy said. “And frankly, it’s going to get smaller. We need to be more creative.

“I feel the same way today as I did going into the week. I know this young man. I believe in him. That’s the direction we’re going.”

There’s plenty to clean up elsewhere, too. Four of the Packers’ eight accepted penalties occurred on special teams.

Also, because of players going in and out of the lineup during the game due to injuries, the Packers continue to have substitution problems on defense.

Once it cost them an early timeout, and another time only 10 defenders were on the field for Mark Ingram’s way-too-easy 12-yard TD run on third-and-1.

“It’s been excessive,” McCarthy said of the changing sub patterns and communication miscues. “Clearly not good enough.”

The loss of all-everything safety Morgan Burnett due to a hamstring injury the last two games hasn’t helped. If the defense has a glue guy from a communication and leadership standpoint, it’s Burnett, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers suggested his absence could be hindering the playmaking abilities of 2016 Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the back end as well.

At the same time, the play of tackling leader Blake Martinez and interception leader Damarious Randall, with three interceptions in the last three games, has been elevated. Rookie punter Justin Vogel had another field-flipping 60-yard boot.

The inconsistency in all phases can be maddening, but the most disheartening thing to McCarthy is seeing his team sharpen up some poor practice habits without getting the results in the game.

“We haven’t been very good the last two weeks. I told them before the Minnesota game they’re not practicing the right way, and this thing is going to bite us and we have to get on top of it,” McCarthy said. “We had a very good week of practice. We actually had our best week of practice. It happens. The Saints played a very good second half. We didn’t. So we’re not going to overreact to it, but we’re going to get better from it.

“We have to improve. You have to win your home games. To have opportunities and not take advantage of them, that second half of football, we have to be much, much better than that.”

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It’s no secret what the defense needs to do to become the unit the Packers feels it’s capable of being. The blueprint was laid out since the summer. It’s going to take big plays, turnovers, sure tackling and an ability to get off the field consistently on third downs.

While the Packers have had their moments in all four of those areas this season, they weren’t able to do enough to keep pace with New Orleans’ high-octane offense down the stretch during Sunday’s 26-17 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Saints, who entered as the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, produced 485 total yards against Green Bay, converting on 8-of-15 third downs and winning the battle for time of possession (36:56-23:04).

“We have to play better,” safety

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  said. “We have to find a way to get off the field on third down. That hurt us a lot today. We’ll look at the film (Monday) and figure out what we can work on to get better and go from there.”

For all the things that didn’t go Green Bay’s way in the second half, the defense couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start against the Saints.Cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Davon House  each picked off New Orleans’ 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees to end the Saints’ opening two series. Heading into Sunday, Brees had only thrown two picks in his first 183 passes this season.

Randall, who has an interception in each of the Packers’ last three games, halted New Orleans’ opening drive with a pick in Green Bay’s end zone for a touchback before House then pulled in a ball down the sideline intended for Michael Thomas.

House has missed three games this year due to a lingering quad injury, but said he came through fine in his first extended action since the opener against Seattle.

“I played maybe 80 percent, 85 percent, so it was good to know how good I did and was able to play at a high level,” House said. “To know I did that at 85 percent, I’m excited to see what I can bring to the table when I’m 100.”

Green Bay’s defense conceded 225 total yards in the first half, but only gave up seven points on the scoreboard in forcing the Saints to punt twice in the second quarter.

The second half was another story. The Saints scored on the opening series off a 22-yard pass from Brees to receiver Brandon Coleman, and then capped their next two series with Wil Lutz field goals to take a 19-17 lead with 10:21 left in the game.

The Packers, down to one inside linebacker (Blake Martinez , were forced to stay in their sub-packages on a critical series with 8:25 left, which ended with Brees sneaking in a 1-yard touchdown to pull ahead by two scores.

The one-two backfield punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara produced 217 total yards, with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. leading the Saints with seven catches for 141 yards.

“The first half I thought we got after them pretty well,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had three tackles (one for a loss). “But unfortunately in the second half, it was night and day. We obviously didn’t hold up our end of the bargain and gave up way too many big plays.

“It was just simple mistakes that they took advantage of when you have guys like their quarterback and running back. It was just too much, too much.”